Weeping Willow Trees

The weeping willow, (Salix babylonica) is a species of willow native to dry areas of northern China, but cultivated for thousands of years elsewhere in Asia, often being traded along the Silk Road to southwest Asia and Europe.

The weeping willow is a medium to large-sized deciduous tree, growing up to 60 feet tall. It grows rapidly, but unfortunately has a short lifespan. The shoots are a yellowish-brown, with small buds. The leaves are alternate and spirally arranged, narrow, light green, with finely serrate margins and long tips; they turn a gold-yellow in autumn. The flowers are produced early in the spring.

Seasonal information: The weeping willow is a medium- to large-sized deciduous tree, growing up to 60 feet tall; with growth throughout the year but encouraged in summer by warm climates. They grow well on most continents.

Location: You should plant your weeping willow in full sun or partial shade at least 35 feet from your septic system or leach field. Weeping willows develop an aggressive root system that gravitates to water. Tiny roots will infiltrate the smallest crack and quickly fill your septic system, clogging or splitting pipes.

Planting instructions: Dig a hole three times the width and just as deep as the root ball on your tree. Then remove any debris like rocks, grass or soil clumps from the hole and use a shovel or a pitchfork to loosen the soil around the sides of the hole. Place your tree in the hole and make sure that the root collar, or area where the roots meet the trunk of the tree is level with the surrounding ground. Then make sure your tree is standing straight up. If you aren’t sure if your tree is straight or not, use a level. Next, gently backfill the soil and tamp it down. After this process is complete give your tree a long drink of water until the soil becomes moist. Spreading a layer of mulch that’s about three inches thick around the base of your tree will help the soil retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing.

Watering: You should regularly water your weeping willow for the first year to keep soil evenly moist. Water your weeping willow only during dry periods in successive years. Although weeping willows prefer moist soil, they adapt easily to drier soil.

Fertilization: Fertilize the soil of the weeping willow using fertilizer that contains nitrogen after placing the tree in the hole parallel to the ground. Fill the hole with planting soil or the original ground soil, mixed with fertilizer. Avoid applying fertilizer directly to the tree. Choose a brand that has equal parts of each chemical component, such as Miracle Grow 10-10-10 or 20-20-20, or a similar product, for optimum results. Applying fertilizer that contains nitrogen produces greener, lusher plants, and accelerates growth. Wear protective gardening gloves to reduce the possibility of scratches or cuts from tree roots or branches.

Weed Control: Control weeds to keep them away from weeping willow. Keep them at least two or three feet away from the tree, especially when it is young. Use mulch, but not herbicide, to control weeds to keep the tree healthy.

Pests and Disease: Like any tree, the weeping willow is also victims to pests and diseases. The gypsy moth is an invasive species that originally came to the United States back in 1869, but it soon got out into the environment and began breeding and killing weeping willows, as well as a host of other trees. A fungus called Venturia saliciperda is responsible for causing willow scab. Willow scab is a disease in which the fungi infect new or young leaves and cause brownish or black lesions on the leaves. Another disease affecting weeping willow is crown gall, caused by the bacteria Agrobacterium tumefaciens.

Pruning: Air circulation is key for weeping willow pruning. Weeping trees in general develop a thick cluster of branches that can become top heavy or be susceptible to environmental damage from snow or ice. Thinning cuts down on the likelihood of this damage. Thinning the crown increases air circulation, which pushes wind through the tree instead of pushing the thick cluster of branches around, and also keeps disease away. A good rule of thumb is 2 inches between branches at the top of the tree.

Aside from thinning the canopy, you need to trim back branches so they do not drag on the ground. Clip branches back by several inches to maintain the weeping form without having branches drag on the ground, where they could pick up disease. Side growth on the tree detracts from its form. Pinch or clip off nubs that grow from the trunk to maintain the weeping shape, where all branches grow up then fall. Also clip off broken branches, dead branches, or diseased wood to maintain tree health.

Pollination: Several reproductive characteristics of weeping willow allow for a sometimes extremely rapid spread of the species. weeping willow is dioecious (having separate male and female plants) and wind-pollinated. Seeds are spread both by wind and water; and although seeds only remain viable for a short period of time and the optimum, continuously wet germination conditions are uncommon, the large volume of seeds produced and rapid germination and growth make weeping willow aggressive in native and nonnative habitats.