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Everything To Know Before You Buy Weeping Willow Trees

July 15, 2014

Written by Siobhan Barton.
Weeping Willow Tree On Golf Course

My grandmother’s house, in rural eastern Connecticut, is surrounded by farms and horses. It looks a lot different today than it did twenty years ago when, as a five-year old girl, my grandfather cut down the Weeping Willow that had gracefully adorned the front yard for generations. I’d heard stories about that tree: aunts who’d climbed and put on lipstick in its boughs and magical fairies that lived in its gnarled, fractured bark and layered root systems. Alas, I was too young to climb that tree when it came down, but the memory of it has meandered its way into my heart. The Weeping Willow is only one variety of the Willow family, of which there are approximately 400 species. From shrubs to swaying mammoths, the Willow family encompasses a match for you.

Willows grow best east of the Mississippi River, though some varieties have strayed their way down to the Midwest, Texas, Oklahoma, and even parts of central and southern California. The Willow Tree is resilient; some varieties will even re-root from cut off branches. Best in full sun with access to plenty of water, the Willow will add provide a gentle peace to the yard in which it is planted. Between its many varieties, the Willow can grow between 2 inches and 65 feet. Whether it is the grassy shrubs of the Dwarf Willow or the meditative boughs of the Weeping Willow, the Willow Tree varieties are sure to delight.

Weeping Willow On Farm

Quick Tips

Enjoy some quick tips here. For more complete information, read about these hints in more detail below.

Sunlight – Plant in full sun, allowing the tree to obtain some partial shade at times. Full sun encourages the plant to grow more fully.

Soil – Plant in well-drained, wet soil. Frequently found in the wild along creeks, streams, and rivers, the tree will do well in acidic, alkaline, and other soil varieties from sand to loam.

Water – Plant in evenly moist to wet soil, with access to constant water resources if possible. Irrigation will be necessary if it is planted in sandy or drier soils.

Pruning – Pruning can be done throughout the year. Resilient, the tree will be urged to grow new, green healthy growth.

The Best Places to Plant a Willow Tree

The Willow Tree, though surprisingly resilient and adaptive, is a bit picky. Although stunning and full of grace, the Willow does not do well in urban or dry environments. Willow Trees require full sun and plenty of access to water. This may not come easily. Since its leaves are small and lateral, sun is an important factor in gaining the fast growth for which these trees are known. Willow Trees are desirable in areas prone to erosion, as they grow well on the banks of streams or lakes. The roots will take hold, at times growing aerially till they find fitting soil and new water.

Willow Trees’ need for balance is essential. Explore your property to find areas where the soil is wet and the sun is strong. Underground streams may reside in your area, and these can make an enormous difference to the Willow Tree. Take a handful of soil from below the top layer of earth and squeeze. If the soil clumps or water emerges, the soil should be a good fit.

Do not despair if the soil is a dry. If your heart is set on a Willow (as is mine), then simply employ the use of judicious irrigation systems. Underground irrigation systems work well for Willow Trees, though sprinkler systems can work, too. The Willow Tree will, no matter which way you plant it, require a great deal of water.

Additionally, the Willow Tree you plant may have slightly different needs based on its variety. The Weeping Willow, which is most popular, thrives on the conditions mentioned above, but alternative varieties, such as the Bayberry Willow and Prairie Willow, are more resistant to drier soil or inconsistent water access. With its 400 varieties, you are sure to find one that can add some peaceful charm to your abode.

Large Weeping Willow Tree

Growth Rate and Mature Height

The Willow Tree can be inconsistent in height. The tiny Dwarf Willow, reaching a diminished height of only 2 inches, grows almost as a grass in flood plains, whereas the Weeping Willow can grow up to 65 feet in height and spreads out to at least 40 feet in width. Willows are fast-growing, and grow best when in full sun with access to water, gaining more than 10 feet a year.

The Willow Tree Invasion

The Willow Tree is not classified as an invasive species, but it may very well be on its way there. These trees grow quickly, and some states, such as California, have issued warnings that these trees should only be planted in rural areas. The reason my grandfather uprooted the gentle giant of my youth? The tree’s roots had begun to damage the sewage tanks in their home. Willow Trees are beautiful and graceful, but as with all of nature’s beauty, they must be respected.

Variants of the Willow Tree

The genus Salix refers to over 400 varieties of trees, all of them Willows. From the Red Willow (Salix laevigata) to the Silky Willow (Salix sericea), or from the Alaskan Bog Willow (Salix fuscescens) to the Almond-leaved Willow (Salix triandra), the Willow family is sure to have a variety suited to your aesthetic desires. Different varieties grow better with variances in water access, soil type, and sun availability, so find a Willow that is sure to grow in your location.

Curing Headaches Since at Least the 5th Century B.C.

You may notice the similarity between the genus name Salix and the root word for salicylic acid (don’t worry if you didn’t). This is because the leaves and bark of the Willow contain salacin, which is metabolized into salicylic acid, providing temporary, albeit nauseating, relief from headaches. In 1897, Felix Hoffman was able to use the stories of the ancient Assyrians, Sumer, Egyptians, and Native Americans, as well as the work of both the Reverend Edward Stone and Henri Leroux, to synthesize an altered version of salacin. His new creation, named acetylsalicylic acid, is what we now know as aspirin. The next time you have a headache, thank the Willow you’ve planted in the front yard.

Noteworthy Tips on the Willow Tree

– Willow Trees are a common theme in many mythologies, religious ceremonies, and folktales, often providing other-worldly advice, a gentle guiding voice, or even protecting people from evil.

– Jewish worshippers use the Willow on the holiday Sukkot.

– For Buddhist worshipers, the Willow characterizes Kwan Yin, representing compassion.

– In China, Willow trees are thought to ward off evil spirits.

Comments 25 comments

  1. February 18, 2015 by Damien

    I have a quick question on a newly purchased/planted weeping willow. The willow is about 2 inches in diameter and about 10 feet tall. It appears the center shoot is cut, is that a normal occurrence? The landscaper that planted the tree indicated if I want it to grow tall to tie up a branch so it grows vertical. Thank you for any help!

    Damien B.

    1. February 25, 2015 by Dean Stelfox

      If this willow is already 10 feet tall it won’t need any staking to develop a vertical branch. Weeping willow grows in an arching pattern, adding layers as it grows, so it doesn’t naturally have a single central stem and it would be hard to develop one above the first 6 or 8 feet. The way to get a tall, single central trunk is to cut off lower side branches gradually over a few years as the upper part develops. It there is a fork in the trunk low down, trim the branches on the lower and/or weaker half of the fork and leave the upper one alone. That way the upper branch will grow stronger and thicker, so that in a couple of years the weaker part of the fork can be pruned off to leave one trunk.
      If the central shoot has been cut or has broken the tree will naturally quickly develop new shoots going upwards. Just make sure that there is a clean cut, just above a side branch, sloping slightly away from the branch, so that the cut area quickly gets absorbed into the stem as it grows.

      Hope that helps!

      1. November 15, 2018 by PAMELA A COLLINS

        Dean, regarding the central shoot – if broken in a 5-7 year old tree, how do you treat this in order to attempt to save it? We had an ice storm last night, 11/14/18 and the top third of the tree has snapped off.

        Thank you for any advice which may help save my prized Willow tree.

  2. August 5, 2015 by Barbara B.

    Thanks for your web info! We just moved to the Kansas City area and want to plant some type of a weeping willow tree. Our daughter passed away and it was her favorite tree. The sun is good where we want to plant and that area of the yard has access to irrigation. We would like it to grow to a mid-size tree as we are in a subdivision. Can you suggest a species of tree with the beautiful weeping branches that doesn’t grow into a monster but would do well in the Midwest? Thanks!

    1. Salix Babylonia has green barked branches and will survive.the problem with it is Poor tolerance of ice storms as the vigorous growth is heavily pendulous and doesn’t seem to harden off with day length shortening and cooler weather.foliage is 5 to 8 inches long and ribbon like in appearance widely serrated leaf margins.Early fall 23f to 28f freezes cause die back of soft growth, foliage often remains green up to a hard killing freeze and causes the foliage to turn brown and fall off.salix Tristis (hybrid between Salix Babylonica x white willow) has the yellow bark is far hardier and offers much stronger resistance to ice storms, foliage will begin to turn yellow as day length shortens.frosts and a hard freeze 23f and a period of warm weather following the freeze will make the entire tree become a golden yellow color.foliage is 4 to 6 inches long and finely serrated.White willow has a columnar growth habit and pendulous habit.foliage remains green into December.foliage is smaller 3 to 5 inches and finely serrated and more rounded than Salix Tristis. With a small lot
      I would recommend white willow or one of the cork screw varieties.I hybridize and grow magnolias and other trees south of Kansas City. Much of my work and experience comes from growing plants and trees and hybridizing magnolias in Green Bay, Wisconsin with a good friend who passed away last year.I can be found up at KC River Market in spring 2017.

  3. What is the growth factor used to approximate the age of a weeping willow?

    1. Consider the growth rate.how much vigorous growth is there.is the tree growing near a pond or drainage basin? Willow can be tricky as they can grow very fast.trees that are regularly trimmed and pruned will grow faster than untrimmed trees that get bulky and full.I have a 5 year old (salix tristis) weeping willow planted in Liberty, Mo. (in 2011 it was a twig and got started from a 6 inch long x 1/8 inch diameter cutting from the terminal end of the previous year growth) that now is 25 foot tall tree and has a 15 foot branch spread.The main trunk is nearly 15 inches in diameter.it is planted in a drainage basin that remained overly wet and muddy now is fairly solid ground.even with excessive rainfall water doesn’t sit around long.The last two springs I have pruned the tree to about 8 ft from the ground and it grew it all back and added considerable height and crown spread to the tree.

  4. March 31, 2016 by Hovik Gh

    Would it be wise to plant 2 of the weeping willow trees on a hillside … a flat area 11 ft by 35ft that are in a tiered format yard,,, there are small retaining walls and a stairway connecting the lower area to the upper area
    the house is on the lower side
    no pipes or anything on the uppser area
    thanks

    1. Not unless you have very wet ground where your considering willow trees..I would go with some smaller trees and shrubs and dress up the landscaping. It sounds like there is potential good ground space to be creative and have fun with.
      I would plant a weeping willow far enough away from the house to allow for the tree growth habit otherwise you will be trimming branches and cleaning gutters every year once it gets big.

  5. May 15, 2016 by Vanessa

    Quick question! My heart is set on a willow and we live in Texas, our backyard is always mushy when it rains and thus I thought a willow would be great! The soil isn’t soil per say more like clay:/ my biggest fear is pipes! Will the willow take hold of the sprinkler system underneath?? What else is it capable of crushing?

    1. I would recommend not planting a big growing tree over a sprinkler system.They usually will leak within a few years of install and you may not know there is a leak until your water bill is elevated and notice wet ground while the rest of the lawn is dry.French pussy willow with its red twigs and pink spring blooms and dappled willow with variegated foliage are relatively shrubby and do not have overly aggressive root systems.Dog wood would be a flowering shrub to consider as well. If you must have it, the weeping willow I would recommend far away from the house and sprinkler system. You would be busy watering and pruning the tree yearly and it could get messy with self pruning twigs and clog gutters from dropping leaves once it got large.

  6. February 17, 2017 by doris donovan

    I purchased a small willow tree and potted it in a large ceramic pot, it is growing well but seems to be growing towards the sun and the leaves have slight curl to them the trees looks as if it is weeping already is this possible. with one large branch aka baby shoot

  7. May 8, 2017 by Doug

    Had a Very Hard Frost here(Colorado) just last week. Our Willow tree was greening up nicely, now all the leaves have fallen off. Frost kill, I notice sprouts(suckers) on the trunk gr owing but very little growth on the upper part. Will it survive ? 8yr. Old tree about 20 ft.tall.

    1. May 23, 2017 by Mari Shaw

      ours did the same thing here in northern wisconsin. We are just sick! The branches above are a combination of green and dead 3 or 4 times on each branch. then it sprouted from the bottom part of the trunk. we had really dry weather for several weeks and didn’t water it and then rain for several days and it looks to be coming back by the look of the sprouts. wondering if we should chop it all back and hope for the best? only 3 years old. Tom where are you??? Need help!

  8. June 7, 2017 by Janet Woo

    A few years ago, I planted a small willow tree in my Midwestern backyard where the previous owner had planted a failed lilac. The area is always wet when it rains, and the tree has dramatically reduced the amount of water that pools and forms a swale to the street. My problem is this – I have a line of pine trees, between 8 and 20 feet from this willow. They now seem to be dying, and I’m wondering if that’s because the willow is taking all their water away. I’d like to replace them because I would prefer my backyard to be screened from my neighbors views, but am unsure what else to put there. An arbor vitae that’s about 30 feet away from the willow is thriving. Please help! I’d like to replant with more pines this year…

  9. September 7, 2017 by Teresa Torres

    Hi would love to plant a willow tree in my yard but I don’t have a lot of area to work with. what would you recommend for a medium size weeping willow that would give lots of shade.

  10. April 2, 2018 by Tina K-T

    I have recently purchased a dwarf weeping willow salix caprea pendula. It is hand grafted onto a 1 foot root stock. What will the final dimensions be approximately? Am I right in thinking root stock will pretty much determine height?

  11. April 26, 2018 by Nuala jordan

    I’m looking to plant a weeping willow in northern California, area has lots if sun and a year round pond. Will it work? Thanks Nuala

  12. June 6, 2018 by nancy farrington

    This is a very interesting group. I came here to ask about trimming a willow that I planted this year.It would not stand up. I learned a lot more than that. I have two willows. that died, of old age, I think. My house was built in 1946 and I’m sure the trees were planted at at the same time. I’ll be back..

  13. is willow wood good for burning?

  14. August 18, 2018 by Shirley

    Will my dragon willow live through a freezing winter with snow

  15. September 3, 2018 by Michele Duncan

    I just planted a weeping willow 3 days ago, some of the leaves look like they are drying out. We are watering twice a day . It’s in full sun and about 10 feet from a pond. Is this normal?

  16. August 30, 2019 by Melissa

    I was wondering, can you plant and grow a weeping willow in Alaska (Fairbanks).

  17. February 12, 2020 by Ellen wood

    Question. Do the stems (guessing what to call them) that the leaves grow on need to be trimmed before spring on my tall weeping tree? They are hanging down almost dragging the ground however not dead.

  18. April 21, 2020 by Bonnie Mower

    My best friends husband just passed and she want to plant a tree in his memory

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