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Living Willow  -  Cuttings and whips

How to grow them.

To grow willow from unrooted cuttings or whips, the willow should be cut and planted after leaf fall and before leaf bud - that would usually mean Late November to early March.

Unrooted willow cuttings and whips should ideally be ‘planted’ immediately upon receipt, however, if this is not possible, store them somewhere cool and aim to plant within a few weeks.

Having said this willow is very tough and determined to survive.  Cuttings that have lain around for months without protection will still generally root easily, and ‘sticks’ pushed into the ground upside down to act as markers have rooted!!! 

We would recommend, however, that the more careful approach is taken for maximum success and growth !!!

Site Preparation

An ideal soil would be a good moist loamy one, but Willow will do well in most soil conditions. For best results, the site should be dug over and fertiliser/manure added.  If the soil has a tendency to dry out quickly organic matter should be added.  We have a heavy clay soil which we have improved with farmyard manure where the willow beds have been planted and they grow very well. Planting through an appropriate membrane or good mulch will help in weed control later on but is not essential. Tree guards can be used if you have a particularly bad problem with hares, rabbits or deer.

Whips for living willow structures and fedges should be pushed about 6 to 9 inches into the ground.   Short unrooted cuttings should be pushed into the prepared soil to approximately half their length. 

Planting distances depend on the vigorousness of the variety and the density required but we would recommend that cuttings for hedges be planted 18” to 36 “ apart (see descriptions for strength of growth) with willow specifically intended to be harvested for weaving material being planted 24” apart in blocks for thin straight rods. A double or triple row of planting will provide a much denser windbreak or screen much more quickly.                                                                                    


Cuttings  -  Weeds must be controlled for the first year or so and the willow must be kept well-watered.  After the first year’s growth the willow should be cut (ie during December to February) to ensure more/dense growth in the next year. If you wish to retain a screen or windbreak you could just cut half of the stems. Cutting each year ensures growth of good straight rods and, of course, if you are growing for winter colour, then stem colour is best on one year old growth.  NB stem colour can vary slightly on different soil types and in different amounts of sun.  Leaf litter from the trees provides their own fertiliser. Willow cuttings will start to sprout new growth in March/April. 

Living willow structures  -  Again, weeds should be controlled and the whips must be kept well-watered, especially during the first growing season.  New growth will start to sprout in March/April and can be can be woven into the structure, as soon as it is long enough, to give more strength and shape - this is actually part of the fun of having a ‘living’ structure.  
Alternatively, the new stems can be trimmed at any time if the growth is encroaching onto other plants or paths - but it should be remembered that trimming, of course, results in denser growth.
Otherwise, the ideal time to cut back is between December and March when the leaves have fallen.  The fresh whips or cuttings can then be used to develop the original structure, create a new one or use the material harvested for weaving.

Weaving material  -  Cuttings grown for weaving material require regular annual cutting to produce a good supply of long flexible rods.  Weaving rods should be cut in winter as per for cuttings, but cannot be used straight away and need to dry (season) before use as they are too pliable when ‘green’ and any close woven work will dry to be too loose and ‘gappy’. Cut willow rods should be stored for a few weeks in a dry airy spot.  For use later than April/May they  will then need to be soaked in a tank/bath/ pond for around a week before they are pliable again. 

“Lunar Willow growing and Harvesting”

According to ‘Old Wives Tales’ it is best to harvest rods for weaving under a waning moon - and willow grows best when cuttings are planted on a waxing moon!   Apparently the planting rule has been found to be true when tested  -  each year we mean to do a trial but pressures of time mean we always forget  - why don’t you try it?

Please also see our FAQ page
for further information and advice.

NB: Willow as a tree must be planted carefully, and the general rule is that it should be planted one and half times its final height away from buildings etc.


Having planted
your unrooted cuttings in winter, this photograph shows the amount of growth you can expect in early Spring.

A large half-bower made
using some 11/12 ft long whips.
Above, as just planted.
Below, in the second year of growth

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