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Gardening Articles: Health :: Garden Crafts

Pussy Willows (page 3 of 3)

by Patricia Acton with the NG

Forcing indoors

The best time to cut branches for forcing is when the catkin buds are just beginning to swell. It will take 2 to 4 weeks from bringing the branches indoors before the catkins emerge.

With a sharp knife, scrape off 2 inches of bark above where the branch was cut and lightly crush the scraped area. This helps the branch take up water. Arrange the branches in an attractive deep container of room-temperature water and place in bright light.

How to Grow

Willows are not fussy plants. All prefer full sun, but most tolerate some shade. They uniformly prefer wet, even soggy soils, but most adapt just fine to dry soils, though supplemental irrigation may be required. Some, such as S. caprea, thrive in relatively barren soil and also tolerate salty seaside conditions. All willows are fast growing and short-lived, and their wood is notably weak and prone to breaking.

Occasionally, aphids, scale, and Japanese beetles are a problem, and powdery mildew and rust diseases also sometimes appear. In every case but the Japanese beetles, pruning to the ground in spring after flowering reduces or eliminates the pest. Even normal pruning will usually rejuvenate the plant. "Willows are so vigorous that these [pests and diseases] will rarely kill the plant," says Ray Prag.

Most willows need pruning for two reasons: to maintain a convenient size and to stimulate growth of long stems for cutting. Heavy pruning (all the way to the ground) also stimulates more vigorous growth, which results in larger catkins. However desirable for the above reasons, heavy annual pruning may also produce a somewhat rangy-looking plant. If your willow is positioned in a prominent location, so that appearance is important, prune out a third of the oldest wood each year. Older wood is more susceptible to disease and pest problems. Prune just before the leaves come out, in late winter or early spring.

It's easy to propagate willows by cuttings. Start with an 8-inch leafless section of stem in spring. Plant it in a 4-inch pot filled with moist potting soil, then place it in a cool, shaded location. As soon as roots emerge from the pot's drainage hole, plant it in a permanent location or transplant to a larger container. Alternatively, you can plant willow cuttings directly in the ground in spring.

Patricia Acton writes and gardens by the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland.

Photography by Kate Jerome

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