When Do Willow Trees Bloom in the UK? A Journey into Their Enchanting Beauty and Timing
Willow trees are known for their weeping branches and the elegance they add to any natural landscape. But do willow species produce flowers? From weeping willows to pussy willows, there are many different trees to explore in the Salix Willow family. Growing in most hardiness zones across the UK, Europe, Asia and North America, some of the finest tree varieties can be grown in your garden – including some trees that are recognised and awarded by the Royal Horticultural Society!
But growing a willow tree does come with some problems. Though they enjoy moist soil, heavy clay soils that don’t drain well can lead to root rot. And let’s not forget how willow blight can lead to dead trees if not caught early.
Despite these drawbacks, from the willow bark to elegant foliage to the pretty flowers, there is much to admire about weeping willows. So, let’s learn more about their flowering habits and how these deciduous trees change from season to season.
When to expect willow tree flowers
Most willow trees will flower in the early spring to mid-spring, usually in April and May in the UK. Depending on the variety, they may flower for only a few weeks. You probably know the yellow flowers better than catkins. These furry little buds are petal-less flowers that grow along willow branches. As the weeping willow tree is dioecious, it will either grow with subtle female flowers or more showy male flowers.
From a distance, the weeping willow tree will appear a light green colour in the early springtime as the foliage begins to grow. When it appears to turn yellow, you can examine the branches more closely for the catkin flowers.
To encourage the pendulous branches of your weeping willow to bloom, make sure the tree is in the optimum condition. Most prefer direct sun over partial shade and well-draining yet moist and slightly acidic soil.
From the willow wood to the catkins and elegant foliage, these trees are a visual spectacle. However, if you were hoping for more bountiful blooms, then other ornamental flowering trees may be more appealing. For a UK favourite, we recommend Magnolia Trees.
Types of willow tree flowers
Growing a willow seed into a tree requires a lot of patience and nurturing – with many dead willows along the way. An easier way to make weeping willows thrive is to purchase young saplings instead. This also allows you to enjoy the flowers of weeping willow trees sooner.
Here are four types of willow trees that produce eye-catching flower catkins for your garden.
Elegant weeping willow trees
Weeping willow trees include several varieties, such as the Salix Babylonica (Babylon Willow) and Salix Alba ‘Tristis’ (Golden Weeping Willow). The weeping willow tree is characterised by drooping branches that sway in the breeze – they are truly beautiful trees and can reach incredible heights and sizes.
Weeping willows are a common site along rivers and streams across the UK, with their willow stems draping into the water. The flowers of a weeping willow are typically long rather than short catkins and are soft yellow in colour against the green foliage. Some varieties, like the Golden Weeping Willow, will have warmer hues and even golden-yellow stems.
On the subject of colours, brown spots and marks on the leaves of any willow are an indication of willow scab, a fungal disease, rather than the natural colouring of the tree. Powdery white marks, on the other hand, could indicate willow powdery mildew which is a fungal condition common in hot, humid climates.
Dainty flamingo willow trees
Another willow variety that is popular for smaller gardens is the Salix Integra ‘Flamingo’ better known as the Flamingo Willow Tree. Available as small tree and dwarf varieties, they grow in a rounded shape and are popular Lollipop Ball Trees. This willow grows happily in a pot with fertile soil types to feed the root ball. It is trained to grow with a central leader, with a ball of stems at the top. This willow has narrow leaves that emerge in a pretty pink shade as new growth, fading to green as they mature.
Like most willows, it prefers full sun and moist soil. However, the yellow catkins tend to be early risers, popping up in late winter and early spring on the bare branches. Growing these varieties as separate plants in pots, rather than shrubs, is popular. However, to keep the catkins coming back each year, it’s important to ensure it is adequately watered – it is possible that these trees defoliate when stressed.
Pussy willow trees
The Pussy Willow also referred to as the Goat Willow in the UK, is another popular variety. There are actually several Salix plants called the Pussy Willow. Salix Caprea, for example, is common in Europe and across Asia, sometimes referred to as the Great Sallow. The American Pussy Willow, however, is Salix Discolor and tends to be more like a shrub.
Pussy willow catkins tend to be small and furry, pale in colour. The male catkins often emerge earlier than the female catkins, so if you see the furry buds emerging in late winter you know that they’ll be male. Like other plants in this family, if you want the willows to bless your garden with hundreds of pretty catkins, avoid planting the trees in a shaded area – they prefer unfiltered sunlight and moist soil.
White willow trees
There are many different kinds of willow and weeping willow trees, some with different names depending on where they are grown. Salix Alba is a good example. While the Salix Alba ‘Tristis’ is the Golden variety of willow, the Salix Alba is also known as the White Willow Tree. There’s a finely toothed margin between their care requirements too – most willow branches prefer to be in direct sun over partial shade, with moist soil.
That being said, some willows have more drought tolerance than others and come in varying shades – from white to light green to yellow catkins. You can also find other unusual Salix trees and shrubs growing around the world. A good example is the Salix Purpurea or Purple Weeping Willow. This variety has white flowers in spring and a purple-blue tint to its foliage. It is also fully hardy and grows well in all soil types.
The Dragon Claw Willow, Salix Babylonica Tortuosa, has small yellow-coloured catkins. But that’s not the main draw to this stately tree. Unlike the cascading branches of a weeping willow, this tree has unusual twisted branches and claw-like leaves that retain visual interest through summer and autumn after the catkins in spring.
Willow trees throughout the year
Weeping willows turn yellow in the springtime when their catkins emerge, but what about the rest of the year? Here is what you can expect from weeping willow trees (and most other varieties) throughout the seasons in the UK.
During spring, weeping willows will begin to emerge with their yellow flowers (catkins) and foliage. The foliage will start off with small buds that grow into narrow leaves. In some varieties, the new leaves may have a different shade than the mature leaves in summer.
If you are growing a sapling, spring is the time to ensure any required rooting hormone or organic matter compost is accessible to the roots. This is the season of the most growth, so supporting the weeping willow will help it produce those lovely catkins.
Unfortunately, if you spot branches competing with the one central leader or damaged/broken branches, then you’ll need to wait until winter for pruning.
By summer, the Willow Salix will be enjoying the full sun (no partial shade, no matter how hot it gets) and the foliage will be full and green. For all willow tree types, not just weeping willow trees, it is important to ensure the soil types remain moist. Willows naturally grow by riversides so plenty of water is key – the weeping willow doesn’t have great drought tolerance.
There tends to be less growth in the summer compared to spring, but with the foliage in full swing and the hot sun bearing down on the tree, you shouldn’t attempt any pruning. Just sit back and enjoy the partial shade, leaving your willow gardening tasks until winter.
As the seasons start to change, weeping willow trees begin to drop their foliage like a mourning cloak. The exact time that the willows drop their leaves depends on the varieties and the hardiness zones they are growing in. Furthermore, an unseasonably warm autumn with plenty of full sun could see the leaves clinging on until early winter.
If you are planning to plant a willow tree, autumn is the best time for a bare-root tree. While a tree sapling with a root ball will give you more flexibility, it’s still a good idea to plant when the trees are dormant from autumn until the last weeks of winter.
Like all deciduous trees, willows will show changing colours in this season. Depending on the variety of weeping willow, you can expect yellow-golden shades, orange-red shades, and in a few cases, maroon-purple shades.
Finally, winter. During the coldest months of the year, the tree will enjoy full sun whenever it can but won’t produce any catkins or leaves – it is in a dormant state. This goes for all willows, from the Salix Babylonica to Salix X Sepulcralis. The trees will reveal their bare branches and so, this is a great time to prune back weeping willows.
However, don’t leave it too late in the year. As some willow varieties can begin to produce catkins and leaves on that divide between winter and spring, it’s often best to do your pruning at the beginning of winter instead.
If you would prefer a tree that has more visual interest in the winter months, we recommend exploring an Evergreen Tree variety, like the Cotoneaster and some specific varieties of Oak Tree. You can find these tree varieties and more at Gardeners Dream.
Do willows have flowers?
Yes! The willow tree will produce small flowers, but they are usually missed due to their size and short flowering time. Most willows, including weeping willows, will produce catkins that are far more interesting visually.
Do willow trees lose all their leaves in winter?
Trees in the Salix family, including the weeping willow, will begin to lose their leaves in autumn with all their leaves falling by late winter. They are a deciduous tree variety that changes with the seasons.
Do willow trees grow in the UK?
Yes, the willow tree grows well in the UK including weeping willows and numerous tree varieties that are native to Asia (specifically China), Europe and North America.
Should you prune willow trees?
The weeping willow and other willow trees should be pruned towards the end of winter, before growth in the spring. This will prevent sap bleeding and keep the tree healthy. Most willows need pruning when they are young to remove crowded branches and produce a nice shape – they need far less pruning once mature. Read When to Prune Willow Trees to learn more.
Where can I buy a weeping willow tree in the UK?
Weeping willows, one of the most popular varieties in this category of tree, are available to buy across the UK. Some garden centres may have a weeping willow variety or two, but the easiest way to purchase a high-quality tree and have it delivered to your door is with Gardeners Dream.