Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Propagating willow

After harvesting my willow beds during the dormant period, I used almost all of this years rods for propagation.These are samples of cuttings from a few varieties, ready to be planted.

I made a total of 7600 cuttings that were stored in closed plastic bags (to prevent them from drying out) in our dark garden shed until it was time for me to plant in the field.

Willow bark contains a natural growth hormone making it very easy to propagate willow from hardwood cuttings which produces plants of each variety with exactly the same genes as the mother plant. It is particularly beneficial when growing willow for weaving to know what the plant's characteristics are and willow weavers around the World all have their favourites.

I have chosen to mulch the willow field for two reasons. First, the plants can't compete with weeds during the first couple of growing seasons and our soil being heavy clay, it is not possible for me to weed mechanically around their new, shallow roots. The second reason being the new plants' need for moisture until roots have developed and the plants are well established. Since I started my first willow beds, I have used different kinds of mulch. First I used a geo-textile, only to find out that it wasn't dark/thick enough to prevent weeds from growing underneath it. The weeds were growing very well, competing with the willows and by mid-summer I had to cover the textile with grass cuttings. This is a Black Maul cutting with new shoots - the competing weeds underneath the mulching geo-textile.

So last year I made a larger investment in a woven poly-cover (the kind nurseries use for ground cover in display areas) as this was recommended to me by another willow grower. Just like the geo-textile water and air were able to pass through the cover to benefit the plants. It seemed to be the perfect solution until later in the season when the faster growing varieties started to get strangled by the weave. The plants were not harmed, but after harvesting this spring I started to make cuts around each plant (about 1500) as most had a thread or even a "piece of cloth" embedded in the growth. Cutting holes in the poly-cover will allow weeds to grow around the willows. I hope however, that the plants are big enough this year to quickly produce shade to out compete the weeds.

This year I used left over material from last year and then bought a heavy plastic from a greenhouse/nursery supplier. It is common to use black plastic for this purpose, but I was afraid that with the high temperatures during summer, the new roots of the plants would get fried. The plastic is black on one side and white on the other so we put it down, white side up which will reflect the sunlight on the plants.
INFORMATION ADDED LATER: Do not put the plastic down with the white side up. It will reflect the sun and make it too hot for the plants. Place it with the black side up!

The cuttings are planted before, or just as they break dormancy and these were planted on April 19, 2009. In this photo from May 1st new shoots are visible on almost 100 % of the cuttings. That's exciting - it doesn't mean that they have rooted already, but they are alive and have enough energy stored to start growing and rooting.
I'll have to admit that my main reason for all this willow stuff is a plan to be able to run a willow based business with the raw material coming from my own field.
And that is a LONG-TERM commitment............
I started in the spring of 2007 and it will be at least another couple of years before I will have enough material to work with. As time goes by, those of you who are interested will be able to get more information on the web-site that I will be setting up in a few months.


  1. Salix - thanks for a very educational post, best wishes for your willow venture. The photo of cuttings is stunning, a beautiful change in your title. What variety is that breathtaking orange at the right?

    Will you have cuttings for sale spring 2010?

  2. Great to see something so upto date, and laerning from you mistakes.
    Will keep my eye on this.David Lincs.

  3. Thank you both for your comments.
    The orange one far right is Salix alba 'Chermisina' and I may very well be able to sell cuttings next spring.
    Glad that others can learn from my mistakes - hope that I won't make too many!!

  4. I was wondering if you saw an article on willows that was published in BBC Gardens Illustrated magazine on willows. It was written by Kevin Lindegaard and can be seen on his website: http://www.wondertree.co.uk/Gardens_illustrated.pdf Some very nice photos.

  5. Hi Steve, thanks for the link. I didn't see the article before and I really like Lindegaard's web-site.

  6. I'm in awe of your hard work. I'll have to come and see your willow farm in the summer. I wouldn't mind adding to my willows here too, but for ornamental purposes. Our property is moist, perfect for willows.

  7. I am looking forward to seeing you - and you can certainly have some cuttings from here. Now we're finally getting some spring here and things are happening fast - I constantly feel that I am running behind, trying to keep up with the weeds, the lawn, the veggie garden preps and all my perennial seedlings.

  8. your willow operation is fascinating and it looks like you are enjoying some great success. all the best with your business plans.

  9. Thanks, Irena for visiting and the encouraging words.

  10. What a perfectly beautiful photo of the colorful twigs/cuttings. Very artistic. Very informative and inspiring post. Would be great to work with this natural material. Glad to find you on Blotanical, Alice

  11. Alice, I agree that natural materials are superior to work with. Have to admit that I haven't logged in to Blotanical for a while - will do that soon.

  12. Mark Disero suggested your blog to me because on Twitter I asked if anybody had a living willow fence. Then I realized that we'd already talked via e-mail (through Frances Thorn)! My first year's willow garden has grown beautifully (with the heavy black weed barrier & straw mulch). Have you begun a fence yet? I've read conflicting advice - some say start with cuttings; others say start with 7-8' lengths.

  13. Hi Jane - my answer would quite long, so I'll send you an e-mail.

  14. Just found your site - looks fun, and I hope things are progressing. I offer this: I've gardened and tree farmed for years, and tried all the mulches/covers, etc. the BEST thing I've ever used is newspaper. It is free at your recycle center. It's no more trouble to work than those damn cloths. Put on thick, NOTHING will grow under it. It degrades into soil. Worms love it, and they politely till and fertilize your soil. As you may have found, all the "cloth" covers eventually fail, and then you have a hell of a mess to rid yourself of it. Cover your paper with hay other mulch material to hold it down and look pretty. Happy growing!


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