Every time I go for a walk or take a drive, I like to observe the numerous species of trees that grow in our area. It is amazing how many of the same species of trees take on a different shape depending on where they are growing. Give them the room they need and they will take on their character form, but crowd them in with others and watch them become very unique and interesting.
Ash trees usually take on a round to oval form whereas lindens take on a pyramidal shape. Oaks will be broad and rounded, and many types of poplar will be tall and narrow. Some trees are ridged in structure like the oak and walnut, and others are very graceful like the willows and aspen. With the numerous varieties of trees to grow in our area there is a shape, character, color or ornamental element to each and every one of them to fit your needs in the landscape.
I have many favorite trees that always stand out to me, but above all others the one that sits on top of my list is the Willow species. Of course, out of that group, the weeping willow takes the lead above all else. There are many people who will say the willow selection is a very messy tree and that after every wind there are branches to pick up, and they may be right. To me, I see it as kindling that I can use in the fire pit the next time I have a quiet evening where I want to sit by the fire. The silver maple is a very common species that tends to lose many branches also in a wind, but once again, this is not an overwhelming thing to me.
Willows have been around for centuries and show great resilience in so many ways. They are water lovers so they are often planted in low spots or areas close to water where they will thrive. Throw a willow in the water for any long period of time and it will drown and die like any other tree, so be aware of the limitations.
The root systems of a willow usually form an interwoven mass and are great to hold banks together along waterways. Another thing to be aware of is that these same roots can invade a septic system or drainage field resulting in major problems. Placement of this tree is vital to avoid problems down the road.
With most of the major willows, these can become quite large trees so not every property owner will have the space for one. For those homeowners maybe a smaller type like the artic, pussy or slippery willow will suffice. Yellow, black and weeping willows become quite the impressive tree once mature!
One of the elements I really enjoy about the willows is that most of them are easy to propagate from just a cutting. There are a few exceptions like the lesser found Peach-leaf Willow. Most you can take a thin branch and place it in water and watch it develop roots within three to six weeks. At that point, you can plant it where it will take off from there.
Most willows have very pliable wood also and these branches have been used for hundreds of years for making baskets, fish traps and even can be used to tie things together. Long ago, people used to use the wood for boat making as it was so flexible, yet strong. One of the reasons this wood is used in weaving is because of its pliability when it is green and the fact that it doesn’t split when working with it.
Willows tend to like an abundance of sunlight to keep their shape even and balanced, but can grow in semi-shady areas also. Moist soils are ideal that do not have sitting water in them or along waterways in which their massive roots will find the way for a drink. They take well to pruning and always fill in an open space if a large limb happens to break out of a tree. I have seen instances where an entire tree will split in a storm or fall over and then continue to grow in its new position without hardly missing a beat. This doesn’t work for most in town homeowners, but in an area where you have a vast space, it just adds a new character.
The weeping willow has always had my heart. I love the tall and narrow shape of some to the broad and rounded shapes of others. Their stems can grow anywhere from 3 to 12 feet in a season and the slightest breeze will cause the pendulous branches to just flow in the wind like waves. There is something very tranquil about this variety and it is one that has grabbed my attention from the start.
Willows are one of the first trees to leaf out in the springtime as all they need are a few days in the 50s to get the sap flowing and the buds ready to pop. They are also one of the last to lose their leaves as it takes daylight hours to drop below 10 per day to shut them down. Some will turn yellow and others will just dry up to brown and fall off. The yellow or beautiful flame willows have brilliant stems in early spring as they will change to bright yellow to a fiery orange attracting attention from quite a distance.
Many people do not like a tree they have to clean up after, but as with any tree, shrub, or flower sometimes you have to weigh out the pros and cons to see which one wins. Mine happens to be the willow.