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Propagate Like a Pro! Rooting Willow Shrubs is Easy, Inexpensive

| 2/27/2020 9:26:00 AM


Like most gardeners, late winter is when our green thumbs begin to itch, and the need to get to work in the garden is too hard to resist. But, if you’re like me and live in a climate that’s not quite warm enough to spend much time outside, you have to resign yourself to indoor tasks, such as seed starting and propagating. 

I must admit, however, that seed starting is one of my favorite gardening jobs. It’s when I get to make my final decisions for the spring and early summer garden, dig through my box of seeds, take inventory of my supplies, and get my fingers in a little dirt to prepare and seed my pots with a variety of edible plants and flowers. And it’s a heck of a lot easier on my back than hauling wheelbarrow-full loads of goat manure and straw mulch.

One task that is perfect for this time of the year is propagating shrubs and trees that root easily. This year, I decided that I needed a few more Salix discolor (American pussy willow) shrubs to add to my butterfly garden. And it’s easy and inexpensive (practically free in my case) to propagate willows by taking cuttings of mature plants.

Now, I feel like I should write some kind of disclaimer here because I know those pesky social media trolls might comment about nuisance willow roots without even reading this article. I am not, repeat not, talking about a weeping willow tree, Salix babylonica. Yes, I know that the roots of the weeping willow are invasive, and I do not advise anyone to grow those trees in a suburban yard. You will have problems with tree roots in your sewer lines and foundations. If you read a comment about the roots, rest assured that that person did not read this article. The roots of a 15-foot shrub are not as deep and invasive as those of a 50-foot tree (this is a “duh moment”). 

Propagating a Willow Shrub

Native to North America, Salix discolor grows in many states and southern Canada, zones 4 - 8. And just like Salix babylonica trees, it thrives in full sun with moist soil. Growing up to about 15 feet, Salix discolor can be a hefty deciduous, multi-trunk shrub, or trained into a small tree with pruning. The leaves are shiny green during the summer, turning yellow in the autumn. These shrubs make a lovely hedge or specimen plant in a flower garden, paired with other butterfly-attracting plants, such as milkweed, monarda, and buddleia.

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