March 10, 2010

Bravely Pruning a Dappled Willow

Salix integra 'Hakuro-Nishiki' 
(by the way, see the end of this post for updates and photos added in 2012 -- the willows were much improved in three seasons!)
I had odd results with the dappled willows I planted in 2008.  I put three in along the side of the house.  In 2009, their first full year after transplant, they grew with abandon, and I loved the wild arching branches.  They put on a lot of size, but the leaves on all three were sparse.  When I looked closer, I saw that the leaves were spread along the branch at one foot intervals; there was a tuft of leaves, then a foot of bare branch, then some more leaves, then another foot of empty space and so on.  There seemed to be leaf buds along the bare spots, but no leaves.

The leaves that did emerge were reasonably pink and cream tinged, the major attribute of this beautiful shrub.  But they were skimpy.

I don't have a picture of the strange growth on my shrubs, but this photo from Wayside Gardens is how it is supposed to look.
I'm hoping it was first year funny business, maybe transplant adjustment, even though the willows were putting on exuberant growth.

I figured I better prune them for this season to maximize health and form.  So, in the beginning of March, I had at it, nervously.  I've cut out dead rose canes before, and I have hacked at a spirea that laughed at me and grew twice as big after pruning.  But I'd never done major pruning of an "artistically" shaped shrub like the Hakuro Nishiki willow.  I was pretty intimidated.

I did not coppice them (cut them down to the ground) because they've only been in the garden for a year.  Later, when they are mature shrubs, I will do that, which should encourage the pink and cream new foliage.  I hope.  I only cut out the larger older stems, as the pruning guides advised.

Here's the willow before pruning:

And after:

Does this look like a problem?  The brown spot in the trunk was on only one of the cut branches, and all three willows had the odd growth.

I saved some slender bendy twigs to weave into the slats of a trellis for a vine that I'll plant later in Spring:
It was my first foray into major pruning, and it wasn't that hard.  Fortunately willows are pretty forgiving and I doubt I did any irreparable damage.  I'm just hoping the new season brings the lush, full, colorful foliage that I planted these for.

I'm so encouraged by my new pruning skills, that I'm going after the redtwig dogwoods tomorrow.  Be warned.  I'm pretty good at this.

Here are some updates on my dappled willows, as of 2012: 

And this is what they looked like in the summer of 2011:


  1. They look good to me. I also have these willows, but I coppice them to the ground every year(well, I have only had them for three years). I actually put the branches in water, and the leaves come out, a bit of green at a crappy time of year.I do not know what the brown spot is though, I hope that it is normal.

  2. I'm very afraid to prune anything except honeysuckle and roses. I've found it's hard to screw those two up. Anything else, and I get a little freaked out lol.

  3. Those Redtwig Dogwoods are beautiful. I can't give any advice about pruning willows, as we only have the wild kind here and they are indestructible. I like the soft shimmery colors of that one, it's very unique-looking.

  4. Deborah, Kyna and sweet bay, Thanks for coming by to check out the willows. I think they are sort of indestructible, so I can't have hurt them too much. I like the idea of bringing the branches in to force them.

  5. We have always coppiced ours, even when first planted, as we wanted the whitest and pinkest new growth. Sometimes we are late in doing it, like this year, but it won't matter, the new regrowth will be those delicious colors, like flowers. The stems root ridiculously easily just stuck into the ground. Your red twigs are gorgeous!

  6. Frances, that's good to know about coppicing, I probably should have done that even this year. Will definitely coppice them next winter. Thanks.

  7. I am curious... How did this turn out?

  8. Anonymous, these willows are stunning this year. Huge, arching, flowing, and the leaf color is softly pinkish and variegated. I will do a post this month on them. They recovered from my tentative amateur pruning beautifully.

  9. I was wondering if I can prune in late fall or if is necessary to wait til spring. They look kind of crazy right now and it is only August!

  10. You can prune in late fall, it won't hurt them.


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