All you need to know about living willow
If you are thinking about having some living willow installed in your outdoor space, there are a few important things to think about that will help you come to the right decisions regarding design, placement and suitability.
It can be easy to forget that your willow dome or tunnel is actually an interwoven web of trees, each needing light, water and care just as any other tree would. Here are the 3 main points to consider to help your willow have the best chance of survival:
Willow loves light. When considering where you would like your dome/tunnels to be, go into the space and pay attention to how much sunlight there is. It's ok if the sun doesn't hit the area all day long, but it needs to be in the light for at least part of the day. If there are mature trees or large buildings nearby make sure that they are on the North side of where you would like the willow to be so that the light won't be blocked by them. Basically, the more sunlight hitting your willow the happier and stronger it will be.
Willow loves water. If you can remember that each stem of willow we plant to make your dome is actually one tree, you may start to see that it does need a good amount of water to make it really thrive. The root system of willow is very fast growing and it can normally search out enough groundwater to be able to flourish in most places, but if you have any particuarly wet or boggy areas then introducing willow can be a great way to reap multiple benefits in one go - the willow will soak up the water and thrive, and your wet spaces will balance out, expanding the space you have to play in without constantly needing your wellies. Think carefully about the flow of water underground - a dome planted on top of a slope will have much less water than one planted at the bottom of the slope. It may survive just fine on the top also, but won't grow as quickly or be as resistant to long, hot, dry spells as one planted at the bottom.
If you plant your willow too close to mature trees or large established hedgerows they will have to compete for groundwater, so please leave as much space as you can, generally we recommend around 3-4 metres minimum.
Avoid building foundations. As mentioned above, the root system of willow can be very fast growing and incredibly strong. Please don't plan any living willow within at least 3m of a building, as the roots can damage the foundations.
If you consider the 3 points above your willow will stand the best chance of growing beautifully.
On the morning we come to plant your willow we can help to advise you on the most suitable places if you're unsure. We understand that sometimes you just don't have the space available to provide the most ideal conditions as stated above, if you are aware of the risks that it may have a larger chance of needing replanting in the future and are prepared to spend a little more time taking care of it, (eg. by watering it if needed during the first few months) we are happy to go ahead with your planting, so long as it is more than 3m away from a building.
The willow that we use is a hybrid variety, grown here in Yorkshire and is particuarly known for being fast growing, adaptable to many different environments and very resistant. Unfortunately however we cannot guarantee that your willow will survive, it is a living tree and very very rarely, for unknown reasons it may not survive. By advising you on the best location and offering after planting advice we hope to avoid this from happening, but if it does we will carefully look at the reasons why this may have occured, and either offer to replant the dome in the same place or move it to a different location, at a discounted rate from the full price.
First care steps for your new willow
So you have had your new living willow structure planted. What next?
Your willow will have been planted in the winter, whilst the tree is dormant. There will be no leaves as all of the energy of the tree is working on building up a healthy root system, getting ready for the spring when it will burst into visible life. During these first few weeks it is crucially important that your structure has enough water to get the roots off to a good start. If it rains heavily at least once a week (as our UK winters often go) and the ground is saturated, then you don't need to do anything. But if it is particuarly dry then you will need to give your willow a good soaking about once a week, for at least the first couple of months to get it started. You really cannot over water your willow, remember that each stem is planted about 12 inches deep, so you do need a good amount of water to reach that soil depth. If you have some keen children it is a lovely time for them to be involved with the care and take ownership of their new willow, if not then a helpful caretaker with a hosepipe is a very useful thing to have.
If there are no signs of life by late spring please get in touch with us, and we can advise on possible next care steps.
Once a year, after the summer growth period, your willow will most probably need a prune and a re-weave, to keep it in the desired shape. The new growth will nede to be woven back in to keep the shape, and any growth going off in undesired directions will be pruned away, and can be replanted back into the structure to fill any gaps or to strengthen the shape.
How reguarly to do this depends on how quickly your willow grows, and if it is growing out of shape. Some domes need a prune once a year, whilst others can be every 2 or 3 years. The best advise we can give here is little and often - if you leave your dome for more than 2 or 3 years and it is growing well, the stems will be too thick to re-weave (they lose their suppleness as they mature) and it will need a severe haircut to generate new fresh shoots to weave in the following year. If you keep on top of it and have a maintenance visit once a year you are sure to keep your dome in the best shape, and be able to weave the majority of the willow into the shape, making it wonderfully dense and healthy. A maintenance visit is also a great opportunity for us to give your willow a health check.
If you have green-fingers we are really happy to advise you on how to do this re-weaving yourself. The best way to go about this would be to wait for the first maintenance visit after the end of the first growth season, (sometime in the winter the following year after planting) and then arrange for all interested people to come along and we can maintain the willow together, giving you all the confidence and knowledge to be able to keep on top of it yourself in the future.
Pests and problems
Willow is a native, incredibly hardy tree. It rarely suffers from many problems, but there is one in particular to be aware of - aphids.
Aphids are small mostly wingless insects that are especially fond of willow. They drink the juice of the willow and can do terrible damage when in large numbers. They also secrete a sweet honeydew substance, which can attract ants and wasps who particularly like to eat this. Sometimes it is the very appearance of the wasps that can alert you to the fact that you may have an aphid problem.
The aphids eggs hatch in the spring, and it is from this point on that if you look closely you may see them living along the branches of your willow.
Fortunately, though an aphid infestation can be a problem, it is also usually easily solved. As the aphids can't travel very far and are wingless for most of their lifecycle, if they are knocked off the branches onto the ground they can rarely travel far enough to find their way back again.
If you notice aphids on your willow, using a high pressure attachment on a normal hosepipe spray the stems thoroughly, about twice a week for 2 months in late spring. In most cases this deals with the problem, but always keep an eye on it and give it regular health checks after this to make sure that they don't return. If they still persist after this, please let us know and we can advise you on some safe natural pesticides that can be used as a next step.