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Salix alba (photo courtesy of Science Photo Library/Alamy)
Salix alba (photo courtesy of Science Photo Library/Alamy)

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Zones A2, A3, 1-11, 14-24
Full Sun
Ample WaterRegular Water
Ample, Moderate

Salix alba

White Willow
Deciduous, Trees


Classic streamside trees, willows are fast growing, weak-wooded, and short-lived. Weeping willows are best used as single trees near a stream or lake, though they can, with training, become satisfactory shade trees for a patio or terrace. They leaf out very early in spring and hold their foliage late. Shrubby willows are grown mainly for catkins (this group goes by the name “pussy willow”) or colorful twigs, as screen plants, or for erosion control on stream or riverbanks. For this last purpose, locally offered native types are best. Pussy willow branches can be cut in bud and brought indoors to bloom. Willows take any soil; most even tolerate poor drainage. All have shallow, invasive roots and are difficult to garden under; don’t plant near sewer lines. Most are subject to pests (tent caterpillars, aphids, borers, and spider mites).

Twig blight may be a problem in the Northwest (spray copper fungicide on new foliage); Texas root rot may cause trouble in the desert. Species hybridize readily, resulting in much confusion of names in the nursery trade.

Salix alba

This tree is from Europe and North Africa. Upright grower to 75–100 ft. tall and 50–100 ft. wide. Yellowish brown bark. Narrow, 1 1/2–4-in., bright green leaves are silvery beneath, may turn golden in fall. The following forms are valued for colorful twigs.

S. a. ‘Tristis’ (S. babylonica aurea, S. ‘Niobe’) (Golden weeping willow). Grows to 50–70 ft. tall and as wide or wider, with pendulous form. Young stems are bright yellow. Among the most attractive weeping willows.

S. a. vitellina. Upright, with brilliant yellow twigs in winter. Can grow to tree size, but cutting back gives best color display: lop to 1 ft. high yearly, just before spring growth begins. Stems may grow 8 ft. in a season. ‘Britzensis’ has red or orange-red winter stems.

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