Pussy Willows

Salix discolor in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Salix discolor (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

There’s one good thing about the month of March . . . well, actually two.  First, it’s only another four weeks (give or take, depending on Punxsutawney) before spring.  And second, irresistible pussy willows!  When Salix discolor‘s playful buds start emerging, it’s a sure sign spring isn’t too far away.

As a child, I remember how enchanting those soft, stroke able buds were.  I thought they must come from some sort of tree crossed with a furry bunny.

The bunny soft flower of pussy willow in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The bunny soft flower of pussy willow (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Alas, Salix discolor is really a willow tree, native to the wetlands of North America.  In the wild, you may come upon a Salix discolor that is over 10′ tall, with its fuzzy catkins far from arm’s reach.  Like other members of the salix family, pussy willows will need some regular pruning to keep them within the realm of your landscape.  And the pruning will be well worth the effort when you’re able to cut some ornamental stems to decorate your spring table.

** WITCH HAZEL is another shrub that produces quirky, fragrant flowers in early spring **

Salix gracilistyla 'Melanostachys' in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’ (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Thanks to modern intervention, there are a few nice options for a landscape pussy willow:  The stunning and rare black Asian native (Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’) is my favorite, with ebony buds around an inch long that cover the stems and provide a dramatic contrast against winter’s crisp blue sky.  The pink pussy willow (Salix discolor ‘Rosea’) isn’t as showy as the black, but its pearly mauve buds are fuller and shimmer in the morning sun.  There is also the European native Salix caprea, or French pussy willow, which has slightly larger leaves and tighter, more abundant clusters of silver buds.

The dramatic black pussy willow in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

The dramatic black pussy willow (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Pussy willows are a dioecious shrub, which means there are males and females, and you may notice subtle differences in the catkins for each gender.  Some suggest that the male buds appear a little sooner than the female, and that the male may be a little plumper.  All varieties will grow in full sun and wet (not underwater) to average soils in zones 5 – 8.

** You may also enjoy growing DRAGON CLAW, another willow member **

Spring Container with Pussy Willows in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer https://agardenforall.com

Spring Container with Pussy Willows (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Salix is also very easy to grow from stem cuttings, simply take cuttings that are the thickness of a pencil (and about a foot long) from the newer growth of the shrub.  You can root them in water or insert 2 to 3 inches directly into the soil.  Cutting and planting should be done when there is no longer a chance for frost (late spring, early summer).  Another option is to use some cuttings as decoration in a spring container with pansies, or other cold tolerant flowers.  By the time the stems have started to root themselves, you’re ready to change-up your container to the summer plants.

Comments

  1. Maria Ortiz says:

    I too had a pussy willow tree when I lived in New York. It grew so nicely, and then I moved. I tried a few times to plant a pussy willow tree here in South Jersey but they would never grow. The branches had a lots of roots when I planted them but still died. I will try again in March. I love Pussy Willow tress.

    • Thanks for writing, Maria. Pussy willows are pretty easy to grow, but I tend to start young twigs in wet areas to ensure they don’t dry out until established. Don’t give up, they’re worth the effort!

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