Willows are very thirsty


You don’t have to be a tree expert to recognize a “Weeping Willow” tree. Native to China, Salix babylonica, commonly called weeping willow or Babylon weeping willow, is a medium to large shade tree with a stout trunk topped by a graceful broad, rounded crown of branches that sweep downward to the ground. It grows to thirty to fifty feet tall and wide, sometimes even larger.

The weeping willow can be a spectacular specimen at the edge of a pond with its branches gracefully weeping down to touch the water. Of all the commercially grown willows, Babylonica is the most handsome. Its corky bark is gray-black. The long, drooping branchlets are typically green or brown. The weeping willow by our pond is a Salix alba “Tristis”, a cousin of the Babylonica. The Latin “Salix alba” means “white willow”, but the variety “Tristis” (sometimes labeled “Niobe”) is commonly called the “Golden Willow”. It has brilliant yellow branchlets, and showy yellow foliage in fall.

Here’s an interesting explanation we’ve heard as to why so many willows overhang ponds. Like most fast-growing trees, willows attract quite a few insect pests, many of which drop into the water. This attracts fish that spend their time in the shade under the overhanging branches. Practical-minded farmers would often plant willows along their pond banks to take the guesswork out of finding a quick fish dinner.

Willows have an aggressive spreading root system, so they should not be planted anywhere near septic fields. Willow roots can spread three times as far as the branches. They will not disturb water lines, but they can interfere with septic lines, drain tile and leach lines. Their roots can extend to three times the diameter of the tree drip line, so you need to be careful!

The right place for a weeping willow tree is a spot that’s constantly wet, like a pond bank or wet-weather spring. Willows are very thirsty. Even a short period of dryness will cause them to sacrifice their drooping branchlets, or even entire limbs! In the wrong location, a willow can be the messiest of all trees. Even growing in standing water, a willow can keep you busy cleaning up a shower of twigs and branches. Still, in the right spot, a weeping willow is a classic, postcard-ready show-stopper.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

No posts to display