The Dancing Trees Living Willow supplies, cultivation of willow cuttings, maintenance and preservation of willow structures

Cultivation instructions for living willow cuttings and rods
For information on suitable sites, ground preparation, care of cuttings and rods, planting instructions,
mulching, protection and maintenance for willow beds,
living willow structures, windbreaks, fedges and sculptures please see below.

living willow bed of young Salix Viminalis second year from cuttingsliving willow, curly, corkscrew growth habit     living willow, green bark Salix Viminalis

Planting time
The willow rods and cuttings for living willow structures/beds are best planted in the early spring (February to March)

when the soil is warming up and frosts are less likely to damage the new young growth.
If planted  during the colder winter months, the willow may be slower to root
and the young growth damaged so severely it may not recover.
In sheltered conditions earlier planting may be possible.

Choosing a suitable site
To establish good, long term growing conditions for your willow, whether it is to make a willow bed for harvesting
or a living willow structure or sculpture, a well chosen and prepared site is essential.
A mainly sunny position is preferable, partially shaded for some of the day will not be too detrimental.

NB Take care to keep willow well away from buildings, walls, stonework, paving, ornamental ponds, drains and drainage systems.
Willow consumes vast amounts of water during the growing season
and its roots will actively seek out water, undermining any obstacles in its way, subsequently causing damage en route.
Take heed, a 30 cms willow cutting of a vigorous variety, can, if left to grow unchecked, grow into a massive tree within a few years!
A waterlogged soil is not a good growing environment for the young willow.
Large established willow trees may have adapted to this environment,
small saplings and cuttings may find the conditions hostile and fail to thrive.
Preparing the chosen site
Clear site of pernicious weeds and vigorous grasses well in advance either by carefully digging out unwanted plants and all their roots,
or cover with a light obscuring membrane (black polythene matting or similar alternative)
or kill off the weeds and grasses with a suitable weed killer.
Willow will tolerate most soil types, a good depth of top soil, moisture retentive and humus rich, is desirable.
Double dig the site if necessary incorporating plenty of organic material, garden compost,
well rotted farmyard or stable manure, willow is a voracious feeder!
Care of cuttings prior to planting
On receipt, remove cuttings from packaging, either place with bases in few cms of water in a cool, dark,
airy and frost free place eg. shed or garage.
Or ‘heel in’ the cuttings (up to 20 cms depth) in moist sand or soil in a shady, frost free, sheltered area
of the garden or as above in shed. Do not leave too long before planting.
Willow roots very easily, and long, fragile roots will quickly form and make planting more cumbersome.
Instead of simply pushing the base of the cutting into the soil they will need a hole made with a dibber,
then back filled with soil after placing in hole.
Care of rods, binders and weavers prior to planting
On receipt, release the ties holding the bundle, letting the air circulate round the willow lengths.
As with the cuttings above, place in bucket of water or ‘heel in’ the rods in damp soil.

 living willow, yellow bark

living willow, red bark colour


Planting the cuttings and rods
Lay a water permeable ground cover membrane, black polythene sheeting or similar material to exclude light
to prevent recurrence of weeds, over and beyond the boundaries of the site.
Make sure the ground is thoroughly soaked through before laying the membrane,
preferably wait until after the site has been drenched in rain.
Make holes with a pointed dibber at the appropriate planting distances (see below), push the cuttings through the holes into the soil,
the pointed tips of the triangular buds should be heading towards the sky.
Willow will root over the whole length so do not worry if you make a mistake and plant them upside down.
For 30 cms cuttings – planting depth 20 cms approx,  for 60 cms – depth of 25-30 cms,
for 90 cms – depth of 25-30 cms.
For rods a planting depth of 40 – 60 cms is required depending on length,
both for stability and to encourage a greater root forming area to sustain the growth of essentially a very ‘large cutting’.

Planting distances
This varies with the vigorousness of the variety used and type of structure or purpose intended.
For willow beds for harvesting plant cuttings 30-40 cms apart along row, 60 cms between rows,
woven lattice willow fences / hedges plant 30 cms apart,
single row shelterbelts, windbreaks and screens plant 30 to 60 cms apart, 2 / 3 staggered rows, 60 cms between rows.
Living willow structures planting distances as per instructions or as necessary to produce framework.

Mulching the planting site
If a membrane to keep weeds at bay is not used, a good thick mulch of compost,
bark chippings or few cms of an alternative material will help retain moisture around the cuttings
and help control the unwanted growth of pernicious weeds and vigorous grasses competing for the moisture in the soil.
The new growth on the cuttings can be swamped by the stronger weeds,
depriving them of moisture and obscuring light, causing failure to thrive.

Watering the cuttings
Willow consumes vast amounts of water, keep the site liberally watered,
soil to remain damp at all times, particularly essential during the first year spring and summer months.
The cuttings will not survive dry soil and drought conditions.
From the second year, with the climate changes and possibility of hot, dry summers, be vigilant.
During prolonged dry spells in the spring and summer continue to keep the willow site well watered.

Protection from damage by animals
Grazing animals love the fresh, young willow shoots and bark.
Rabbits, sheep, deer, hares and horses given the chance will destroy the young willow by grazing them down to the ground.
Protect the taller cuttings with plastic tree guards or homemade equivalents,
or if major problems with invaders, fence the site off during the first year or two until established.

Care of willow bed for harvesting withies and rods
The first years growth can be a little ‘spindly’, the root system is establishing itself in preference to shoot production.
Cut the first year growth down after leaf fall, from late November through to February, to establish stronger growth the following season.
If left, these rods will branch in their second season.
Subsequent years cut back annually, leaving 15-25 cms or a few visible buds above ground level, for long, straight rods depending on variety.
Apply a thick mulch of compost, well rotted farmyard / stable manure or whatever organic material is available at least annually.

Care of willow for winter colour
Willow varieties also grown for winter colour of their bark, generally have a readily branching habit.
Their growth should be left over winter to enjoy the display.
To retain the annual colourful show, cutting back half the saplings alternate years works well.
The intensity of bark colour of these varieties can vary with the soil type and position of the site, particularly level of exposure to sun.
Apply a thick mulch of compost, well rotted farmyard / stable manure or whatever organic material is available at least annually.

Care of living willow structures and sculptures
It is essential to control growth of vigorous grasses and pernicious weeds round the growing area,
to prevent competition for moisture, particularly in spring and summer.
As the willow buds produce shoots, these can either be periodically cut back encouraging denser growth
or if long enough, woven into the framework.
Apply a thick mulch of compost, well rotted farmyard / stable manure or whatever organic material is available at least annually.

Care of living willow ‘fedges’, shelterbelts, windbreaks, screens
It is essential to control growth of vigorous grasses and pernicious weeds round the growing area,
to prevent competition for moisture,particularly in spring andsummer.
Apply a thick mulch of compost, well rotted farmyard / stable manure or whatever organic material is available at least annually

Long term care and maintenance
The willow takes a couple of years to establish.
On a well positioned site with good growing conditions the vigorous varieties can produce rods of up to 3m and way beyond annually.
NB If a willow bed is not harvested annually, very tall trees can grow in a short space of time.
Similarly, if a willow structure is not annually maintained by pruning and cutting back,
an ‘interesting’ group of trees can materialise.
So beware! Good planting and good luck!

Preservation of dried willow structures and sculptures

Willow is biodegradable within a few years if left outside exposed to the elements all year round.
a. Simply placing the sculpture under cover in dry, airy surroundings during the wettest months of the year
(if not in use or required for display) will prolong its life span.

Repeated freezing and thawing in winter months will have an adverse effect on the dried willow,
as will repeated wetting and drying by the sun and wind.
b. Siting the base of the willow sculpture on a bed of gravel or free draining soil (well dug and with added gravel)
is also beneficial in helping to preserve its life span.
c. The basic shape of a dried willow sculpture can be preserved by allowing a slow growing willow species, branching shrub
or climbing plant (preferably nothing too vigorous so as not to swamp the framework) to scramble through and over it.
This will require maintenance by regular clipping and pruning of the growth back to the sculpture framework.
The outline of the sculpture will be preserved by the growing plant
after the original dried willow has partially succumbed to nature and the elements.

Application of wood preservatives

Alternatively, the life span of a dried willow structure or sculpture left outdoors can be increased
by an annual application of wood preservative. The willow must be thoroughly dry before treatment.
A newly made structure using green willow will need to be left to dry naturally from a few weeks
to months depending on prevailing weather conditions, before its first application of preservative.
A change in colour of the bark (usually to brown/olive green) will be evident as it dries out.
The following types preservation methods are recommended:
1. If children, animals and birds are likely to visit the site of the structure and come into contact with it,
(similarly plants, grass and trees}, choose a preservative recommended as harmless to humans, animals, fish, birds and plantlife.
Various brands are readily available at DIY stores and garden centres. Usually colourless and odourless, easy to apply by brush.
Please read all instructions carefully and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and safety procedures.
2. A creosote substitute can also be used with care in situations where there is little risk of contact with children,
animals, birds, plants and trees. It is not plant/wildlife friendly
and it is advisable to keep creosote substitute well away from children’s play areas or where they are likely to visit.
Creosote substitute has a strong, lingering odour lasting from a few days to weeks,
stains the structure brown and is messy to apply by brush.
Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines, application instructions and safety procedures carefully.
3. The base of the structure in contact with the soil can be soaked in the chosen preservative for a few hours for added protection.
Siting the base on a bed of gravel or free draining soil (well dug and with added gravel)
is also beneficial in helping to preserve its life span.
NB Please read carefully and follow the manufacturer’s safety procedures and application instructions
for all types of preservative and creosote substitute used.
4. The traditional method of preservation is to use a mixture of boiled linseed oil and traditional turpentine in the ratio 50:50.
Lightly paint with a brush or carefully spray the willow, repeat the treatment until no more is absorbed,
reapply the mixture annually after first making sure the structure is thoroughly sun/wind dried.
5. Alternatively use a mixture of 3 parts boiled linseed oil to 1 part white spirit.
 Again lightly paint with a brush or carefully spray the willow, repeat the treatment until no more is absorbed,
reapply the mixture annuallyafter first making sure the structure is thoroughly sun/wind dried..
Methods (4 and 5) are recommended for indoor willow art and sculptures.