Sunday, March 29, 2009

Repairing the willow tree!

Last year I started to experiment with growing "homemade" willow trees in pots. This "Harlequin" or "Belgian" tree I made from rods of Salix koriyanagi 'Rubykins', the one year growth of which is a pale greyish-green colour. This is how it looked just after I had made it.
32 rods are woven in a harlequin pattern and the fresh willow rods will root and start to grow. As they grow all shoots appearing on the "trunk" are removed to keep the woven pattern clean.
By June most of the rods were growing and the crown of 'Rubykins' was a beautiful fresh green with coppery tips on the shoots.

Some of the rods had not rooted, but the "big picture" was still pretty during the summer.

I was prepared to replace the dead rods this spring and yesterday the tree was fixed. At a closer count it turned out that almost half of the rods had not rooted and had to be replaced. The dead rods had dried out, shrunk, and changed to black or a light straw colour. The growing ones had increased in diameter and also changed colour. Now they are multicoloured olive green and different shades of rosy-brown.
I replaced one rod at a time by carefully pulling the dead one out and weaving the new one down towards the pot. In the image to the left the new rod is almost at the bottom where it has to be pushed about 25 cm into the "soil". (As a gardener can imagine, there is not much soil left when 20+ willows are growing in one single pot). The other image shows the tree after the full operation has taken place.
Now I really hope that the new rods will be able to compete with the already established ones. Only time can tell!
January 2012:
The repaired tree looked OK most of the summer with someof the new rods growing. During the following winter though, most of the new rods died as they couldn't compete with the established rods. So, even though the planter was fairly big, if you want to make sure that your tree will stray strong and healthy you must transplant it to your garden by the end of the first growing season.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Willow rods are harvested during the plant's dormancy, between November and April during which time the bark sits tight on the rods.
When you coppice (cut off close to the ground) the willow plants they will throw long, straight rods without any branching, ideal for weaving and other willow works. Here is my first row of Salix 'Americana' with one year old rods after it's second year in the field.
I just harvested those yesterday and they delivered between 5 and 21 rods per plant, each rod being 120-180 cm in length.
When the willows are planted close together the shoots are competing for the sun and thus forced upwards. The first year after planting in the spring the number of shoots are limited and often they are quite branched too - that differs a lot depending of the variety. Over the next few years the rods will increase in both number and length and there will typically be less branching as well.
You can see the base of some of my 'Americana' here. Next year I should be able to harvest more and longer rods.
This year I cut my willows by hand with shears as I only have a small field. Now it looks like this. I'll be looking out for new shoots soon!!
More to come about my harvest soon!