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.


  1. I have never seen this done before. It really is quite spectacular.

  2. I don't think I've seen this before either. The stems look beautiful in the intricately woven pattern. It will form quite a thick top this year, if all of the replacemnt twigs take root. Do certain Salix work better for this?

  3. keewee, Tatyana, and Northern Shade,
    Yes, it is unusual, isn't it! I made a few different "models" and I will make many more this year - they will be posted as they are made.
    You can use a lot of different willow varieties for this. The most vigorous ones (as for example viminalis, dasyclados) are not good, as they grow too un-controlled.
    To get the long, unbranched rods you have to coppice the willows in the winter - some day I'll post about that.

  4. Excellent job!... I suppose it requires committment and discipline to achieve such a spectacular showpiece.... congratulation! cheers ... ~ bangchik

  5. Salix - Great post - have you tried using willow water to help the rooting process?

  6. Thanks for visiting and your comment Bangchik and Kakdah!

    Weaving Willow - I didn't think of willow water as it is willow that I am planting! I don't know if it will make a difference, but then again, it wouldn't hurt, would it? I will do that - thank you!

  7. That is awesome. You have the patience of a saint.

  8. Thank you Jim - I don't know about that - ask my husband!!

  9. Skickligt gjort, att klara av att ersätta de grenar som ej rotat sig. Det blev ju väldigt vackert med två färger!!! Ha det godt!! /Ruben

  10. Wow! What a beautiful piece of 'living art'. How did you winter it over (I assume that you left it in the pot). Did you just leave it outside?
    I miss the Niagara Peninsula. I grew up there and my dad always referred to it as Gods Country. I enjoy your blog.

  11. Thank you, Deborah.
    Yes, willows are hardy and you just leave it outside, making sure that it doesn't get too dry before winter starts.

  12. This is truely amazing Lene! A work of art!

  13. Salix, what happened with the harlequin repairs. How many of the replacement rods rooted and do you think the willow water helped?

  14. I found some willow trees in my village. I going to try it this after noon.
    I don't think they will make roots before winter, but i'm going to practis the weaving first.

    Next year, i hope to make one for in my front garden at spring.

    Do i have to put the stems in water first ?

    Thanx in advance.

  15. Lovely example! I attempted one today- I could do the Harlequin pattern okay, but could not keep the structure from getting narrower at the top end. How do you keep it straight!?? Please.


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