The Q&A Archives: Propagating Willows

Question: We have some Laurel leaf willows planted in our back yard that have done really well. They were given to us by someone who cut the ends off of some of their branches in the spring and soaked in water until they started to form roots. Last spring we did the same and planted them in a different area, but they all died. During the summer I directed the septic tank effluent to the trees for watering and I am wondering if that is what killed them. Could you please advise me to the proper preceedure for this type of planting so I may try again in the spring.

Answer: Willow trees are very easy to propagate, and the process is best begun in the summer by cutting a few pencil-thin shoots from the tree. Strip the leaves off the shoots and cut them into 3" pieces, making sure that each has one or more leaf scars (called nodes). Lay each piece, node side up, on moistened potting soil and cover the ends with additional soil. When a new shoot sprouts from the node, roots will have formed beneath. Your new tree can then be planted in the ground. Or, you can simply take cutting from the ends of branches and start them in water as your friend did. Either way, willows are extremely easy to propagate.

Willows thrive in moist soil and will readily seek out moisture, so keep them planted well away from your septic system and drainfield or you'll be sorry you ever planted them!

The septic system effluent may or may not have affected the tree's health. There's all manner of potential problems in using "gray water" for irrigation, including residues from soaps, bleaches and oils, not to mention bacteria. If water is scarce, try collecting rainwater to use in your landscape when the dry weather arrives.

Good luck with your new willow trees!

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