Willows are popular among gardeners for their ornamental looks. Aside from that, their strong root systems also make them popular in landscaping, working well as a form of erosion control.
Unfortunately, their powerful roots, coupled with their love of moisture, can make them problematic. One reason is that their roots can seek out underground pipes or sewers where they sense moisture and cause expensive issues for the homeowner. As such, it is best to plant them away from your properties and underground pipes. Nonetheless, don’t be put off from planting willows as these elegant trees and shrubs have much to offer.
The willow has over 400 species in existence. If you are looking for a willow for your garden, here are some of the most popular types:
1. Dappled Willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki')
This willow grows as a very beautiful small tree or shrub. Despite being deciduous, it offers year-round interest due to its brightly colored branches. It has a compact habit with graceful stems and branches, from which variegated foliage grows.
The leaves emerge entirely pink in spring, which graduates to various shades of green, cream, and pink, before becoming entirely green at the start of fall. As fall progresses, the leaves turn yellow and drop to the ground to reveal striking coral red bare branches. In colder climates, only the new growth will be colored red, while warmer climates will see all of the branches presenting as red.
This type of willow is very easy to care for, and it is a visual feast for the eyes. As such, it’s not hard to see why it has been the recipient of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.
The dappled willow grows best in full sun to part shade, ideally with some shade in the afternoon. It is hardy through USDA growing zones, and it reaches heights of between four and six feet.
2. Goat Willow (Salix caprea)
The goat willow is native to Europe and some parts of Asia. It is a large deciduous tree with a long lifespan of up to 300 years. Also, it is often referred to as pussy willow because its male catkins resemble the paws of a cat. However, there are several other types of willow, which are commonly known as pussy willow. As such, it is best to always refer to the botanical name to avoid confusion.
The leaves of the goat willow, unlike most willow trees, are oval. The foliage can be recognized from the dense coating of fine grey hairs on their undersides. The twigs of the tree also have a hairy surface, but develop a smooth texture as the tree gets older. Under direct sunlight, the branches of the tree have an orange hue. Aside from that, this type of willow can grow up to 30 feet. Moreover, it enjoys moist conditions, growing in USDA hardiness zones four to eight (Woodland Trust).
3. Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
The weeping willow is probably the most well-known of the willows, with its dramatic appearance of drooping branches and long elegant leaves. It is native to China, and it only has an expected lifespan of around 30 years, though during this time it can grow very quickly to reach maximum heights of 50 feet.
The tree's foliage can be up to 6 inches long and a medium green in color, which becomes yellow in fall. The tree blooms in spring with an abundance of delicate flowers, giving it a more uplifting feel than usual. The weeping willow is hardy through USDA growing zones four to 10, and it is best grown in full sun.
4. Bebb Willow (Salix bebbiana)
The Bebb willow is native to North America, and it is found growing in the wild throughout zones two to four, typically around wetlands where it forms thickets.
As an ornamental specimen, it can either be grown as a shrub or small tree, reaching heights of anywhere from 10 to 30 feet.
The Bebb willow is not popularly used in landscaping because it has a short life span. Additionally, it is also prone to diseases and pest infestations. However, its wood is used for carving.
The Bebb willow does have some good qualities. For example, it is drought tolerant once mature, which is unusual among willows because they are renowned for being moisture-loving. It is also versatile in terms of lighting, and it will grow anywhere from full sun to shade.
5. Arctic Willow (Salix arctica)
The Arctic willow is a tiny shrub, and its height does not exceed six inches. It is adapted to survive in cold, arctic conditions; hence, its name. It is also the northernmost woody plant in the world.
The plant has round glossy leaves of around an inch in size, with silky grey hairs. The catkins differ between male and female plants. To be specific, the male plants have yellow catkins, and the female plants have red catkins.
Surprisingly for its size, the arctic willow has a long lifespan of over 200 years. Some of its parts are edible, sweet-tasting, and high vitamin C. Because of this, the Inuit and the Gwich’in people have used it as a food source.
6. White Willow (Salix alba)
The white willow is the largest among the willows, reaching heights of over 80 feet. It has a weeping habit, and it is often found around lakes and along riversides where the branches drape into the water, providing a protective shelter for wildlife.
The leaves of the tree are long and slender. They also have a pale appearance, thanks to the fine white hair on the underside of the foliage.
This fast-growing tree should be planted in a position with plenty of space, as it grows rapidly to a large size. It is hardy through USDA zones two to nine, and it is happy in full sun to part shade. The wood of the tree is quite weak and susceptible to breakage in heavy wind and storms. Nonetheless, the stems of the tree are commonly used in basket weaving.
7. Peach-Leaf Willow (Salix amygdaloides)
This tree is native to North America, growing through zones three to five. It grows quickly to a height of up to 50 feet, and it is a good choice if you want to rapidly fill empty spaces in your garden. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a long lifespan, and you need to replace it when it dies (Iowa State University Extension). Even so, it is effective in controlling soil erosion.
This type of willow will grow anywhere from full sun to partial shade, but it does require moist soil to thrive. As such, it is natively found alongside rivers and streams.
A distinct characteristic of this tree is its foliage, which closely resembles that of the peach tree. Furthermore, it has elongated leaves with a yellow-green hue. Though this willow is typically found as a tree, it can also take the form of a shrub. Unlike many willows, it does not propagate easily, and it is best grown from seed.
8. Purple Osier Willow (Salix purpurea)
The purple osier willow gets its name from its branches, which are a deep purple color when the plant is young. It is a tall shrub that grows between eight and 10 feet in USDA hardiness zones three to seven.
This plant works well for erosion control; thus, it is commonly planted around streams and lakes, where it benefits from the moisture in the soil. It is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. It also grows best in a position of full sun.
9. Corkscrew Willow (Salix matsudana 'Tortusa')
This tree is native to China, and it is commonly known as curly willow and twisted willow, thanks to its branches, which have a naturally spiraling habit. It is a popular ornamental tree because the curled branches give interest all year round, even in the winter when its leaves drop. It is hardy through USDA growing zones four to eight, and it thrives in full sun.
10. Yellow Willow (Salix lutea)
The yellow willow is native to North America, occurring naturally from central Canada to the central US. It is a shrub, but it can grow to a height that rivals trees, reaching as tall as 20 feet. It is a popular food source among beavers, elk, moose, and sheep. For this reason, it is best not to plant the yellow willow in your garden if you are trying to deter wildlife.
The plant is hardy through zones two to nine, and it prefers to be in a position of full sun. Like many willows, it propagates easily from stem cuttings, thanks to the naturally occurring hormones in it that make it take root rapidly. You can actually boil parts of the yellow willow stem in water to create a rooting solution to use when propagating other plants.
The pussy willow can be grown as a shrub or small tree. It naturally has several branches growing out of the ground, but these can be trimmed away, leaving the sturdiest branch to form a trunk if you wish to create a tree shape with it.
The branches of this plant are highly ornamental, and they are frequently used in floral displays or landscape design. The pussy willow is native to North America, growing from USDA hardiness zones four to eight. There are several varieties of this species, which range from just a few feet tall to 25 feet in height.
Which type of willow tree is your favorite? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to share this page with others who may interested!