How to Grow Pussy Willow

How to Grow Pussy Willow

Grow Pussy Willow

This article will tell you how to plant and care for your pussy willow shrub so it grows healthy and flourishes as well as how to root cuttings to make more Grow Pussy Willows.

ABOUT PUSSY WILLOW

The pussy willow plant also called the glaucous willow, is a narrow shrub or small tree that can reach heights between six and 36 feet tall and spread from four to 15 feet wide. It has a scaly bark that is dark gray and grows from multiple trunks. The pussy willow is deciduous, which means it sheds its leaves each year. These plants grow in wet, marshy low-lying areas such as stream beds and ditches.

The pussy willow plant is known for its iconic catkins, the oblong buds with a furry texture that tip the branches in late winter and early spring before the shiny, vibrant green leaves emerge. The pussy willow’s catkins are the first of the willow catkins to grow each year and are recognized as a herald of spring. Male pussy willow trees produce gray catkins sooner each year than the female trees and tend to be more highly sought after for this reason. The female trees produce smaller catkins that are green instead of the pearly gray that the males produce.

The buds explode early in the year to reveal soft, silky fur known as pussy fur. Between February and April, pussy willows blossom in tiny flowers full of pollen that come in hues of white, green, yellow, pink, and brown.

This unique addition to the garden has the added benefit of attracting butterflies and bees, which is great for neighboring plants that need the help of pollinators. Pussy willows are a larval host for the mourning cloak and viceroy butterflies, which means their caterpillars feed on its foliage. The foliage is also food for deer, squirrels, and birds, so pussy willows in the garden tend to attract this wildlife. If you don’t want these animals munching on your pussy willows, you can surround the plants with chicken wire to provide a barrier.

Grow Pussy Willow
Grow Pussy Willow

VARIETIES OF PUSSY WILLOW

Salix caprea: Eurasian pussy willow, is also called goat willow.

Salix capreapendula:  Also called weeping pussy willow; grows as a ground cover instead of the upright as a bush

Salix cinerea: This variety of pussy willow is known for its white catkins.

Salix discolor: Most commonly cultivated pussy willow; native to North American wetlands

Salix gracistyla: Native to Japan, Korea, and China, this pussy willow variety has pinkish gold catkins.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR PUSSY WILLOW

Pussy willows are hardy in USDA growing zones 4 to 9. They grow best in areas of full sun (six hours of direct sunlight per day), but they will tolerate partial shade. The more sunlight a pussy willow gets, the more catkins it will produce. This plant can tolerate humidity well and is used to cold winters, growing more slowly in locations with warmer climates.

When given the growing conditions they prefer, pussy willows send out lots of suckers and grow invasively. Because of these invasive roots, they should be planted with plenty of space between them and water lines, sewer lines, or septic tank fields. One of the benefits of the pussy willow plant is that it helps to prevent soil erosion.

Because they’re native to wetland areas, pussy willows can be cultivated in low-lying areas that get poor drainage, though they prefer well-draining soil. These plants require lots of water to grow. Pussy willows are happiest in moist loamy, rich soil with a pH level between 6.8 and 7.2. (If you’re not sure about the pH level of your soil, this Gardening Channel article will explain how you can test it soil pH level to find out.)

HOW TO PLANT PUSSY WILLOW

While it is possible to purchase pussy willows as young plants, they are very easy to propagate from cuttings. (Planting from a cutting is also more economical than purchasing a plant). To learn how to root pussy willows from a cut branch, see the sections below under “How to Propagate Pussy Willow.”

Because the roots of the pussy willow plant will grow to be far-reaching, select a location that’s far away from your home’s foundation and any sidewalks or fences. Choose a spot that gets full sun if possible, though partial shade will do. Before planting, incorporate a hefty pile of compost, leaf mulch, or peat into the soil where you’ll plant to give the pussy willow some added nutrition.

Dig a hole that’s three or four inches deep by three or four inches wide. Place the pussy willow plant in the hole you’ve dug and fill in around the edges with soil. Tamp the soil around the plant down lightly. Water your pussy willow daily for a few weeks until it’s well established.

CARE OF PUSSY WILLOW

Pussy willows grow quickly, so to encourage new growth and larger catkins, gardeners should cut them back heavily every couple of years during the late winter season after the flowers have faded. Flowers appear on the previous year’s growth, not new growth, so wait for flowers to fade before pruning your pussy willow

If you don’t want them to achieve their full possible height (which can be up to 36 feet tall), prune into a rounded shape to keep them small and shrublike. Proper pruning also helps prevent the challenges of disease, fungi, and insects. If your pussy willow plant becomes too sprawling and you want to really start things over, it will tolerate drastic pruning and can be trimmed all the way back to ground level.

Because pussy willows are at home in the water, they need plenty of moisture to thrive. If rainfall doesn’t provide them the hydration they need, give them water once or twice per week. Gardeners should ensure pussy willow plants aren’t subjected to drought in order to keep them growing strong.

Fertilize your pussy willow plants after they’ve reached one year old annually in the fall with compost, peat moss, leaf mold, or a balanced fertilizer. Give them half a pound of fertilizer for each half-inch of trunk diameter, and spread the fertilizer 18 inches past the drip line of the plant’s branches. Be careful not to let the fertilizer you apply touch the trunk of the pussy willow directly.

HOW TO PROPAGATE PUSSY WILLOW

Willows are some of the easiest plants out there to grow from cuttings. They’ll take root in any well-draining soil, or you can start the roots growing in water. You do not need to use a rooting hormone because willows naturally produce their own rooting hormone that helps them take root quickly. In fact, if you’re propagating other plants at the same time, placing them in the water with the willow will let them enjoy the benefits of the willow’s rooting hormone as well.

PROPAGATING PUSSY WILLOWS IN WATER

To start rooting a pussy willow in water, first take a cutting of a branch that’s between 12 and 16 inches long and about half an inch to one inch thick. Choose a cutting from new growth, not the older, grayish branches, and cut on an angle. Place the branch in a container of water, and remove any leaves that will fall underneath the waterline.

Find a location for the container that’s cool and shaded from direct sunlight, and keep the branch there for a few weeks until roots start to appear. Watch the water level, and refill the container as the water evaporates. Once roots have developed, you’re ready to transplant the pussy willow into moist soil outdoors.

PROPAGATING PUSSY WILLOWS IN SOIL

While you can choose to root pussy willows in water, they’ll actually grow faster if you go ahead and plant them directly into the soil. That’s because water roots and soil roots are not the same, so the roots that grow when the branch is in water will take time to adjust to the soil once the pussy willow is transplanted.

If there’s no more danger of frost in your area, you can propagate a cutting of new growth that’s between 12 and 16 inches long and half an inch to one inch thick directly into the soil outside. Make your cutting on an angle. If the weather doesn’t permit planting outdoors, you can root pussy willow in containers kept indoors. Bury a few inches underneath the surface of the soil, keeping a few nodes above soil level.

GARDEN PESTS AND DISEASES OF PUSSY WILLOW

While pussy willows are easy to care for, they can fall prey to a variety of pests and diseases. Methods of identification, prevention, and treatment for the most common pussy willow ailments are listed below.

Aphids: Shriveled or distorted leaves, branch tips, or flowers signal an aphid infestation, or you may see the tiny white bugs on the underside of foliage. A common treatment for aphids is a homemade spray of one part apple cider vinegar to three parts water, or you can use half a teaspoon of dish soap in one quart of water. Read more for 20 ways to fight off aphids.

Borers: Borers can cause new growth to wilt in spring, and later in the year can be spotted due to the little piles of sawdust, called frass, they leave behind. If your pussy willow is afflicted, you can treat with insecticide before blossoming and again when petals fall, catch with pheromone traps, or fight them with parasitic wasps. Read more about borers.

Black walnut toxicity: Prevent issues with black walnut toxicity by simply putting plenty of space between your pussy willow plant and your black walnut tree, if you have one.

Cankers: Cankers are diseased lesions that occur when a plant has an open wound that’s infiltrated by bacteria or fungi. Avoid injury to pussy willow trees in the first place. They are difficult to treat, so it’s best to simply prune away any affected areas

Caterpillars: You’ll know you’re dealing with caterpillars when you see holes and jagged edges in leaves where they’ve feasted. You can fight them off by placing cardboard around the base of your pussy willow plant or using Bacillus Thuringiensis (botanical Bt). For more information, check out our guide to botanical Bt.

Deer: Deer are attracted to pussy willows because they like eating the foliage, which may be a plus for some wildlife-loving gardeners. Other gardeners would rather avoid the damage to their plants, which can be achieved by cordoning off the plants they’re interested in with chicken wire.

Gray scab: True to its name, the fungal disease called scab leaves plants with scab-like wounds. Treat with a fungicide, and continue treating in years following an occurrence.

Lacebugs: Lacebugs are evident by the reddish cast they leave behind on the underside of leaves. Cultivating a diverse garden can help keep them at bay, as can using mulch and compost. If those tactics fail, you can turn to natural insecticides such as neem oil.

Leaf spots: There are a variety of fungal infections known as leaf spots, recognizable by their hallmark circular spots on leaves for which they’re named. Prevent by spacing plants well apart to increase air circulation, or treat with fungicide.

Powdery mildew: This fungal disease starts with gray or white talcum-like spots on leaves. To prevent, avoid applying nitrogen to the garden in late summer, and keep the garden tidy by removing debris and dropped leaves from underneath plants. For more information on powdery mildew, you can turn to our article on the topic.

Scale: Scale insects resemble lumps and bumps on a shrub’s branches. You can remove them with a scrub brush, prune away impacted areas, or treat with neem oil. More information is available in our guide to controlling scale insects.

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