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Salix - Willow Trees

From the white willow, Salix alba, to the long beaked willow, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to shopping this tree variety! Here at Gardeners Dream, we have a wonderful selection that can revitalise your garden, from patio varieties to full-grown sun-loving weeping willow tree types. Read our full guide to other willows here, then shop for your favourites with free UK delivery on every order. The willow family, genus Salix, includes over 400 different types of trees and shrubs. They are classed as moisture loving plants because they grow well in wet and fertile soil. Willow trees grow well in temperate climates - predominantly in the northern hemisphere. Willows come in all shapes and sizes, from extremely large 90 ft trees to small ground level shrubs. If your garden suffers from wet or boggy soil, planting a willow tree can help consume some of the standing water where the tree grows. And if you don't have the space for a willow tree, check out our shrubs as well. All of this comes with free UK delivery. 

Introduction to the Willow Tree

So, what exactly is a willow tree?

Willow trees are also known a Salix in horticultural circles and are characterised by brittle wood. The foliage can vary between tree species and some willows have spear-like leaves while others have rounded leaves.

You're probably familiar with willow trees from your favourite childhood storybooks like The Wind in the Willows. The book highlights some of the classic features of willow trees because the setting is a country river community - somewhere willows grow extremely well.

In fact, if you visit any British watercourse, you are likely to find willows lining the banks with the foliage overhanging the river. Because they are such beautiful trees, willows often feature in famous works of art that depict traditional country landscapes.

Now we have established some fun facts about willows, which one should you pick to grow in your garden? This guide looks at a range of willow species to give you some ideas which will grow best in your garden. Let's explore this wonderful tree further.

Oh, and if you're interested in growing some fruit trees in your garden too, we can help there as well!

Willow Species

You're spoilt for choice when it comes to picking a willow tree. As mentioned, there are over 400 varieties to choose from. Below we have outlined the most popular willow trees to grow in the UK, many of which are available in our online plants catalogue.

Purple Willow (American Pussy, Glaucous Willow)

As you might have guessed, the Purple Willow also goes by the monikers American Pussy Willow and Glaucous Willow. They are commonly grown by florists and used in floristry because of their purple stems and branches. The bark on the twigs is quite lovely too.

If you're considering growing the Salix purpurea, you should ensure your garden has enough rainfall as they are water loving trees/shrubs. They grow well in wet gardens and are often incorporated into hedgerows.

Speaking of hedgerows, have you seen our range of hedging plants at Gardeners Dream? It's extensive!

Coyote Willow

The Coyote Willow is native to North America and is a threatened species, making it of particular interest to gardeners looking to plant species that are dying out in the wild.

They are deciduous shrubs and reach about 7 metres in height with good growing conditions. The catkins appear in early spring and then flower in late spring/early summer, like many of our magnolia trees at Gardeners Dream.

Almond Willow

Native to Central and Western Asia and Europe, the Almond Willow is a water loving willow like most species. They grow well in rainy gardens, wetlands and alongside watercourses. They have distinctive broad leaves that look quite different to other willow species. Male catkins produce flowers with three stamens, allowing gardeners to discern between female catkins which grow on separate trees. This means it is easy to gender an Almond Willow.

If you have ever encountered woven willow baskets, you will probably have seen Almond branches which are mostly used in willow basket weaving. Ornamental trees never fail to surprise us!

Goat Willow

The Goat Willow is also sometimes referred to as Pussy Willow. They are either small trees or large shrubs. The Goat Willow is mostly chosen because they produce displays of puffy catkins, which we think are just as pretty as our flowering tree range.

They are easy growers, so they aren't typically used in hedgerows, though if you carefully prune them on a regular basis they can be used for this purpose.

If you're concerned about your tree propagating and other trees popping up unexpectedly, the Goat Willow is excellent as they don't easily propagate. Both male catkins and female catkins are needed to pollinate in order for the Goat Willow to reproduce. They are native to Western and Central Asia and Europe and can grow to around 30 ft. in height.

Weeping Willow

If you were picturing a willow tree at the beginning of this guide, it would undoubtedly have been a Weeping Willow. They are used extensively in garden landscapes and are especially popular in the gardens of stately homes.

Weeping Willows have slender branches and green leaves that cascade over the main trunk like a giant green fountain or waterfall. They grow to large sizes and as a result they aren't really suitable for small gardens, instead preferring large open spaces to grow and spread.

Our range of large trees wouldn't be complete with the weeping willow - and thank goodness we offer free delivery on these growing giants!

Despite their fragile appearance, the trees are quite wind resistant and will blow/sway in the breeze. It takes a very strong gust to pull branches from the tree.

The Weeping Willow is like the 'shooting star' of garden trees, they grow and display excellently for a short period but only have a lifespan of around 30 years. That means you will probably need to plant a new tree or two in your lifetime. Because of their short lifespans, they grow rapidly, sometimes even adding 10 ft. of vertical growth per year.

Surprisingly, although they are a common feature of British country scenes, they are native to Northern China.

Pussy Willow

The Pussy Willow encompasses other willow trees mentioned in our list;

  • Goat Willow or Goat Sallow

  • Grey Willow or Grey Sallow (sometimes written as 'Gray Willow')

  • American Pussy Willow

They are known for their furry catkins which resemble small cats (hence the name pussy) that appear in early spring. Male catkins or 'pussies' (fluffy catkins) of Pussy Willows will produce full flowers. The shoots of the Pussy Willow are used in floral displays and religious ceremonies around the world.

When they aren't displaying their catkins, they are commonly referred to by their alternate names. Don't worry - we have clearly named and described each high-quality plant in our online store here at Gardeners Dream.

Other Willow Species

Alongside the abovementioned popular species of willow, there are many other less well-known varieties that grow very well in the UK. Below we discover some of these varieties!

Dwarf Willow

If you're looking to incorporate a willow into a small garden, then a Dwarf Willow is probably your best bet. When picking a Dwarf Willow, you should be wary that these trees (like all willows) are very water hungry. If your garden isn't particularly wet or boggy, a willow will literally suck up any moisture it can and deprive other plants around it of water.

This can of course create real problems so you should make sure your garden is wet enough to not only support a willow, but all surrounding plant species as well.

Arctic Willow

The Arctic Willow is a small creeping willow or dwarf variety that is native to North America. They are good for planting in colder regions of the UK such as Scotland because they have adapted to grow in cold, bleak conditions such as the Arctic tundra. They are a low-lying shrub and rarely reach above knee-height.

The male catkins and female catkins are actually separate plants, and you can opt to grow one or the other if you want to avoid propagation. This is especially useful because the catkins display differently, and you may prefer one gender over the other in your garden.

Unlike the Weeping Willows we mentioned earlier, the Arctic Willow is an extremely long-lived species and can live over 200 years.

Beaked Willow

The Beaked Willow is another smaller willow shrub and grows well in North America and the UK alike. They do well in full sun and partial shade conditions - mostly preferring full sun areas with adequate water.

They grow quickly and if you're looking for a willow that establishes itself in the soonest time to attract wildlife then you can't go wrong with the Salix bebbiana. The foliage is attractive to livestock and if you're looking to add an additional food source on your smallholding or farm, this willow won't disappoint.

If you're in need of a fast growing tree, make sure you browse our range of small garden trees next.

Sandbar Willow

Moving on to a slightly more sombre story, the Sandbar Willow is now an endangered species, and it is something gardeners are working hard to preserve. You might find it difficult to obtain in some locations due to its scarcity. They are very pretty willows as well which adds to the sadness of their vulnerability, producing catkins, seeds, flowers and fruits!

It is grown mainly in ornamental gardens in the UK and has been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society prize for 'Garden Merit'.

Scouler's Willow

Another willow species that is native to North America, the Scouler's Willow, also grows well in the UK. It also has a number of other names that you may find it under when browsing our online garden shop;

  • Salix scouleriana

  • Fire Willow Tree

  • Nuttall Willow Tree

  • Mountain Willow Tree

  • Black Willow Tree

Surprisingly the Scouler's Willow bucks the trend when it comes to willows and grows well in drier conditions. As you might have guessed from the name 'Mountain Willow', they also grow better in cold regions and elevated conditions. They can grow quite large as well, sometimes even reaching heights of 20 metres, like our tallest conifers.

Growing Willow Trees

The crucial thing when growing willow trees is the type of soil you have. If you have boggy or waterlogged soil in your garden, a willow tree can be an absolute godsend as they soak up excess water and can actually transform waterlogged soil into well drained soil. This makes them ideal if you're looking to introduce plant varieties that are less water-tolerant alongside your willows.

If your soil is well-drained, you might find a willow tree has a problematic effect on your garden and transforms good fertile soil into parched or dry soil. With respect to this, planting willow trees can have a big detrimental effect as rival planted species vie for water. Because willows are such moisture loving plants, your other plants will likely lose that battle.

Caring for Willow Trees

The key to success with willow tree care is ensuring they have an adequate water supply.

During droughts or hot summer months, a willow may begin to suffer, and it is important to keep them hydrated. Propagating willow trees can be easy or difficult, depending on the species, as some have separate male and female plants while others produce both male and female catkins on the same plant.

The root networks of willows can be extensive with interlacing roots that can act as fish traps on rivers. Because of this you should avoid planting willows too close to other trees or structures like your house as the willow roots can interfere with your foundations.

If you're desperate for some greenery close to your home, consider a climbing plant instead.

Differences in Species

Most species of willow are moisture loving plants, but you will also encounter some varieties that grow in mountainous areas like Western North America and dry regions like North Africa that aren't too water happy. If the willow is from North Africa, you should be careful about where you plant your tree as they don't like too much wet ground but will need some wet ground.

The foliage varies greatly between willow branches with some having lance shaped leaves while others have round leaves. Some shrubs are multi stemmed shrub types while others are single stems, with crack willow bark in green, brown, or white.

And that concludes our list! From the purple osier willow to the white willow (Salix alba), there are so many types of willow in the Salix genus to explore besides the classic weeping willow. To find the perfect variety for your garden, explore the full range of willow trees at Gardeners Dream.

Our seeds and pot-grown garden plants are ideal for creating a beautiful summer garden, while the branches of a weeping willow tree create beautiful winter interest in the colder months. Check out our other house plants too. 

Shop all other willows at Gardeners Dream today.

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