How to Plant a Weeping Willow

Graceful and elegant, the weeping willow is a great way to add drama and interest to a landscape. The drooping branches of these weeping trees cascade down to the ground, creating a showy spectacle. The trees sweeping branches are also a natural way to introduce shade and privacy to outdoor spaces.

Originating in Asia the weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is hardy in USDA Zones 2 to 9. Ideal for moist and full sun positions, the delicate branches can break in high winds or storms.

Adding a weeping willow to your garden is not only a great way to add interest, it is also incredibly easy. Here is how to add a weeping willow to your garden.

1 The graceful weeping willow
The graceful, drooping branches of the weeping tree are an elegant addition to any garden.

What is a Weeping Willow?

The weeping willow is a specimen tree that is part of the willow family. In the wild these trees are usually found growing close to streams and rivers.

The weeping willow is easily identified by its arching stems that fall elegantly down towards the ground.

In addition to the weeping variety, there are a number of other attractive willow trees. These include pussy willows, known for their springtime fuzzy catkins, black cultivars, which are native to North America, corkscrews, known for their spiral stems, and the colorful gold or white willows.

Growth Habit

A weeping willow can reach a height and spread of 50 ft. Flowering in late winter or spring its catkins sit alongside the tree’s lance-shaped foliage. A deciduous perennial the foliage yellows in the fall before dropping from the plant.

2 The plants distinctive catkins
The distinctive catkins emerge every spring, bringing early season interest to a garden. 

Planted in a favorable position a healthy tree can grow over 24 inches a year.

On average the plants live for 30 years, but if well cared for they can last for about 50 years.

Different Varieties of Weeping Willow

The most common variety is the plain Salix babylonica. However if you have particular growing conditions, or if you just want something a little different, there are a few other options.

Salix babylonica x Salix pentachdra or the Wisconsin weeping tree is ideal for open areas and particularly wet positions. A fully mature tree can have a height and spread of 30 to 40 ft.

The Golden weeping willow, Salix alba Tristis reaches a height and spread of 50 to 70 ft. Hardy in zones 3 to 10, in the fall the green foliage drops from the plant revealing golden colored twids.

Finally, Elegentissima is an elegant cultivar known for its long, arching branches. This cultivar is hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9.

3 Different varieties add color and interest
Golden cultivars add both color and soft structure to your garden. 

Bare Root Trees and Cuttings

Many garden stores or plant nurseries sell young saplings which are ready for planting. These saplings, or bare root trees, are usually about 1 year of age.

You can also propagate your own tree from cuttings.

Cuttings are best taken in the fall when the foliage has fallen from the tree or when the temperatures are regularly below 32 ℉ at night.

To propagate from a cutting you will need to take a cutting from a live terminal branch. A terminal branch is one that emerges from a secondary branch. The cutting should be about 18 inches long. Remove any foliage from the lower half of the cutting.

Plant the cutting into a pot filled with moist potting soil. You can also plant it in the garden. Keep the soil moist until roots form. To check that roots are forming gently tug the cutting, if you feel resistance it means that roots are forming.


Plant cuttings in early spring or late winter. Keep the soil moist for the entirety of the first growing season.

Where to Plant

Select a position where the tree’s root spread won’t disturb other plants or structures. Avoid planting near pipes and structures such as walls.

The weeping tree does best in an organic rich soil. Use a soil test kit to gauge your soils condition before planting. This gives you the opportunity to amend the soil. Before planting, enrich the soil by working in plenty of compost.

Weeping willow trees grow in full sun and partial shade positions. Ideally the tree will enjoy about 4 hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight every day.

You should also amend the soil if it is too alkaline. There are a number of ways to make the soil more acidic or neutral.

How to Plant

If you are planting bare root saplings you will need to prepare them slightly before planting. Soak the root system in a bucket of water before planting.

Use a robust shovel to work the soil over to twice the depth and diameter of the root spread. This helps the root system to easily establish itself.

Unlike other plants there is no need to add a shovelful of organic matter or fertilizer to the bottom of the hole. Doing this can encourage the root system to remain in the hole instead of spreading out through the soil.

Position your tree in the center of the hole. Cover the roots with soil. Make sure that you push the soil into the gaps below and between the roots. Aim to fill all the gaps in the hole as completely as possible.

Once the gaps have been plugged continue to backfill the hole. When it is half full, fill the hole with water, about 2 gallons should be enough. Wait until the water has completely drained away before continuing to fill the hole.

Gently firm the soil down and water well.

If you are planting in a particularly open area, you may choose to install a stake or some form of support. These trees can be vulnerable to wind damage, particularly when they are young. The robust support offered by the Kradl Tree Staking Kit helps to keep the plant in position, preventing wind damage.

Lay mulch in a 3 ft circle around the base of the tree. Don’t allow the mulch to contact the bark. Mulching in this way helps to prevent weeds from emerging.


Protecting Young Trees

Weeping willow trees, particularly young specimens, often suffer from animals, such as rabbits and deer from nibbling their bark. A tree collar or protector helps to protect the bark from any undue attention. The Skoolix Plastic Tree Trunk Protector is easy to install and pleasingly durable, offering vulnerable saplings protection from pests.

Weeping Willow Care

As the roots establish themselves aim to keep the soil evenly moist. Don’t overwater and allow the soil to become soggy, this can cause rot.

Once established ongoing care is light to moderate.

4 The weeping willow is low maintenance
Once established these trees are pleasingly low maintenance. 

When to Water

Once established you need only water the plants during periods of drought or when the soil is beginning to dry out.

Do I Need to Fertilize my Tree?

Apply an all purpose fertilizer in early spring, this helps to boost fresh growth.

Spread the fertilizer evenly under the tree canopy. This ensures that the roots get an equal amount of nutrients.

A balanced fertilizer, such as a 20-20-20 fertilizer, should always be used because this nourishes the entire tree. The nitrogen supports foliage production while the phosphorus encourages healthy roots, stems and flowers to emerge. Finally, the potassium helps the tree to maintain its overall good health.

Steer manure is a good organic alternative to chemical fertilizers because it offers a balanced combination of key nutrients.

Pruning your Tree

Use a tree lopper or long handed shears to maintain a healthy shape. Lower limbs may need to be pruned to make ongoing maintenance easier. Some people like to regularly prune their trees to keep them neat and organised. While pruning the tree when it is young, so that there is only one main or central leader stem, is recommended once a healthy shape is achieved, this usually occurs naturally, you need only remove any old or dead wood.

5 Prune to promote robust growth
When the tree is young prune to encourage only one strong central stem. This helps to create a more robust tree that can cope in windy or exposed conditions. 

If you want to promote lots of vigorous new growth snip all the branches in February or early March. This encourages new sprouts to emerge.

While pruning is minimal, try to train the tree to encourage wide branch crotches. A crotch is the angle between two branches. Wide crotches are less susceptible to wind damage than narrow crotches. A narrow crotch is usually less than 45°.

Prune away young branches or stems that appear to be too narrow. You can also train the branches with wire, or by tying them down, to create a wider angle. Threading the wire or rope through a section of old garden hose helps to protect the bark from damage. Use a brick or something heavy to weigh the rope down.

Common Problems

Regularly inspect your specimens for signs of infestation and disease. In general these are pleasingly robust plants that rarely suffer from issues. However if your weeping willow does develop a problem it is easy to solve, particularly if you notice it in its early stages.

A number of pests, including aphids, borers and gypsy moth can all target the trees. Regularly check the foliage for signs of infestation. If you notice any pests an application of homemade insecticidal soap can be used to treat most infestations.

Other common diseases include rust, black canker, lead spot, root rot, powdery mildew, willow scab and willow blight. Most of these issues cause dieback, loss of foliage and, if left untreated, death.

Planting correctly in a favorable position and providing the right care helps to keep your trees healthy and disease free. Also, try to keep the area around the tree tidy, raking up and removing leaf litter. Gathered leaves can be fed into a leaf mulcher to create compost. If issues are a serious problem, try growing disease resistant varieties.

6 Weeping willow is an elegant specimen
With a little regular care, the weeping willow is a graceful, eye-catching addition to any outdoor space. 

A great architectural specimen, the weeping willow is a naturally elegant plant. Thriving best in moist conditions or near water, these trees are a particularly useful way to clear up soggy areas of soil in your garden. A great way to bring natural privacy and shade to a garden, these are timelessly attractive trees that work well in almost any planting scheme or garden.

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