General Planting Advice for Living Willow Structures
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
Long unrooted willow cuttings (whips) can be used to make functional and attractive structures/barriers in the garden that grow and develop throughout the years as well as the seasons. For example, woven screens, arbours or bowers over seats, arches, tunnels, children's play domes (which could be interconnected with tunnels if you have the space), and then you could use them to support climbing plants such as roses, honeysuckle, golden hop or clematis. You do not need to be especially creative and even the simplest structure can look very impressive, and there are no rigid rules to follow - just handy guidelines - and once you have made your own first living willow structure you will have your own ideas.
Any variety with sufficient growth can be used but the faster growing varieties that produce long straight whips are best especially for larger structures. Viminalis varieties are probably the most suitable but others can be used for varying stem colour/leaf/catkin interest within the structure. This year we are offering long whips of Salix Viminalis ‘Bowles Hybrid’ only (although if you would particularly like longer cuttings of other varieties please get in touch and we will see what we can provide)
Firstly, prepare the site.
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.
Woven living fences/hedges (hence ‘Fedge’) made from whips 6 ft or longer : Push unrooted whips about 6 inches into the ground at an angle of 45 to 60 degrees about 12 inches apart along the line of your required Fedge. Then go back the other way planting in between the first whips at a similar angle in the opposite direction. Either, just tie together where they cross or, as you are planting weave the whips ‘one in front, one behind’ and you will find you have a very rigid structure. You can then plant some verticals which you bend over to join each other to form arches, add some further weaving, create circular windows …………. whatever you wish.
NB. As an example, using 6 ft willow whips planted at an angle of around 45 degrees the basic height of the initial fedge will be around 4 ft - but the willow will sprout growth which will easily double that height.
Arches/Tunnels/Arbours : Push the longest sturdiest whips about 6 inches into the ground vertically to make the main structure, bend over and weave and tie together. Then add diagonals interwoven for strength to create an open lattice interlinked feature where the tension of the willow generally holds the structure together. Willow or synthetic ties can be used for extra firmness of hold which should, long term result in pressure grafting of the willow stems together.
Also : For any structure remember that vertical whips tend to sprout fresh growth only from the top, whereas diagonally planted whips should sprout along the full length giving a denser growth to the structure.
Willow will start to sprout new growth in March/April. The new stems can be trimmed back or woven into the structure as you wish.
If you want to make your own living willow structure . . . .
. . . . you can either work out your own design and order the number and size of whips you need . . . .
. . . . or you can order one of our kits.
They provide you with all the willow whips needed to make straightforward simple structures, and detailed planting/design instructions are provided. Please click on the link at the top of the page to be taken to the ‘Kits’ page.
or Click Here to visit our pages that show how easy living willow structures are to make, and also to see more photographs of completed structures.
Please also see our FAQ page
for further information and advice.