Colorful foliage is always an asset in the garden, and when we find it on a fast-growing tough and adaptable plant, and when the colors are vibrant and changing through the seasons, that plant becomes not just desirable, but essential. No other plant combines such vigor and reliability with the remarkable coloring of the Flamingo Willow. There is so much this plant brings, and it is so adaptable, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Let’s start with the plant itself. The Flamingo Willow is a deciduous shrub or small tree, normally regularly pruned, but capable of becoming a 20-foot tree if left to grow naturally. The younger branches are bright yellow-green in spring and summer, turning rich red in the winter. Unusually, they develop most red color in warmer zones, with only the most recent growth turning red in cold regions. This is a very fast-growing tree, capable of adding as much as 3 feet a year, or even more, so it should be trimmed regularly. This also encourages the most colorful growth, and what colors they are. We don’t know another plant with such a range of vibrant colors in the foliage. The leaves are long and slender, between 1 and 4 inches long, and ½ to 1 inch wide, with a smooth surface and a slightly curved, lance-shaped form.
New growth in spring and summer on the Flamingo Willow is brilliant flamingo pink, making a powerful impact in the garden, and shining out like a beacon. As the leaves mature, they become a dappled and irregular mixture of white and apple-green, with no two leaves looking alike. This white variegation also shines out, making this one of the most striking and conspicuous plants in any garden. As the leaves continue to mature they become greener, so if you don’t trim it, over the months of summer its brilliance will fade a little. With the cold nights of fall the leaves turn bright yellow, before falling and revealing the coral-red stems, which stay bright all winter.
As well, in early spring, just as the leaves are beginning to sprout, small catkins, reminiscent of pussy willow, but yellow rather than silver, appear all along the younger stems. These also make the tree look beautiful, although in a much more muted fashion. They last for a short time, before disappearing among the emerging foliage.
Use the Flamingo Willow wherever bright color is needed, in both sun and partial shade – and where don’t we want bright color in our gardens? Since it is easy to control both the size and form of this plant, it is incredibly versatile. Grow it as a specimen in a shrub bed, to really liven things up. Plant it in groups or in a row, for a vibrant accent along a path, driveway or fence – you control the height. Train it up into a single stem and keep it clipped into a rounded shape, for a fabulous accent plant in the garden or in a planter. From perhaps 3 feet tall, to 10 or 15 feet tall, you can control the size with pruning, and create a whole range of plants of different sizes. This plant grows well in damp or wet soil, and it looks beautiful bordering a pond, a stream or a lake. It can be a splash of color in a woodland garden too, beneath larger shade trees.
The Flamingo Willow will grow in full sun or partial shade. In hotter zones some afternoon shade is beneficial, as the leaves can scorch in the hot sun, especially if the soil is dry. It will grow in all garden soils except for very dry and sandy ones. That includes wet, boggy areas, and this plant is ideal for sites like that, where most other plants won’t grow. It is not normally bothered by pests or diseases, and it is very, very easy to grow. Controlling the size and look is best done by two different methods. In late winter or early spring, before the new growth begins, carry out a full pruning, removing older branches and shortening back the remaining ones, to make the plant about two-thirds of the size you wish it to be in summer. Alternatively, maintain a framework of a few trunks, and prune back hard to the same places each year. Then, when the new growth fills in, trim regularly with shears to keep it well-shaped and controlled, to the size you want it. Every time you trim it will bounce back with a new flush of those wonderful flamingo pink shoots. Alternatively, if you are not so concerned with exact size, simply cut back almost to the ground in late winter each year or second year, and let it grow naturally after that. No matter how you grow it, you will love the versatility and beauty of this fabulous plant.
The Flamingo Willow is a unique form of the dappled willow, Salix integra. It grows in Japan, Korea, and northeastern China, as well as in the far southeast of Russia. In 1979 the Dutch botanist Harry van de Laar was in Japan, and he found a unique plant, with tri-colored leaves, growing there. It was called ‘Hakuro-Nishiki’, which in Japanese means ‘hello to you’, and he brought it back to Europe. In 1996 Peter Bontekoe, a grower specializing in willows, was growing this plant in his nursery, Salixkwekerij Bontekoe, in Boskoop, the Netherlands. He spotted one plant in the row which stood out, for its extra-bright pink new shoots, its darker-red twigs, and its sturdier, more upright growth habit. Its leaves are also more resistant to sun-scorch. He named it ‘Flamingo’ and patented it in America in 2007. Our plants are produced under license, and they are exactly this improved form of the Flamingo Willow. Every time this plant is available, it is snapped up by eager customers, so don’t hesitate, order now, because these plants will be gone very soon.