Propagating Willow Shrubs

Suggestion for readers: propagate willow shrubs, nontraditional sauerkraut, passive solar roofing, dunnage, and Dandelion elixir.

| February/March 2021

 willow-shoot
Pussy willow cuttings will root in water in a week to 10 days. Photo by Corinne Gompf

Late winter is when most gardeners’ green thumbs begin to itch, and the need to work in the garden is hard to resist. One task that’s perfect for this time of year is propagating shrubs and trees. Last year, I decided to add a few more American pussy willow shrubs to my butterfly garden. Propagating willows by taking cuttings of mature plants is easy and inexpensive — practically free, in my case.

Note that I’m not recommending the propagation of the weeping willow tree (Salix babylonica); its invasive roots cause problems with sewer lines and foundations. Instead, I’m focusing on
S. discolor, a deciduous shrub whose roots are nowhere near as deep and destructive.

S. discolor is native to North America and grows in Zones 4 to 8, spanning many states and southern Canadian provinces. It thrives in full sun with moist soil. Growing up to about 15 feet high, pussy willow can be allowed to grow into a hefty multi-trunk shrub, or pruned into a small tree. The leaves are shiny green during summer, and turn yellow in fall. These shrubs will make a lovely hedge, or a specimen plant in a flower garden when paired with other butterfly- and moth-attracting plants, such as milkweed, beebalm, and buddleia. The silver-gray catkins that emerge in late winter and early spring attract pollinators, and serve as a pollen source for honeybees.



You’ll need to cut back, or coppice, S. discolor every few years to promote new growth, discourage pests and diseases, and maintain the shape. This is a great time to propagate the pruned branches into new shrubs. Or, ask your gardening friends if they have a pussy willow from which you can take a few cuttings.

Pussy willow is one of the easiest plants to propagate. Follow these steps:





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