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Focus on Salix – Willows

With some areas of the country having been affected by wet ground and flooded landscapes over the course of this winter, we have been thinking about trees and shrubs that are resilient enough to withstand waterlogged or wet conditions.

One such species that can be effective in these conditions are Willows (Salix species), which can be used for a variety of purposes in soil that tends to be wet.

Ornamental, yet functional trees

When established, specimen trees that can withstand wet sites actually help to reduce water in the area. Their roots are notable for their durability: they can absorb water through the roots, which are then carried through the tree and transpired out through its leaves.

Willows can be used as specimen trees – such as the iconic Salix alba chrysocoma (famously known as the weeping willow) and are often seen beautifying river banks and ponds, but they also have many uses as shrubs.

 

Salix

Basket making

Traditionally willows have been used in basket making, with the common osier or Salix viminalis commonly used for this purpose; other varieties such as white willow and scarlet willow (Salix vitellina and Salix alba britzensis) can be used for basketry too.

 

While plants are usually kept coppiced (i.e. cut close to the ground to encourage further growth) to provide stems suitable for basket making, they can also be left to grow as a single stem and pollarded (cut higher up) to avoid damage from any curious, passing animals.

Stabilising river banks

Planting willow by rivers or streams is thought to help reduce bank erosion and prevent flooding. While native shrubs and taller plants are useful, willow trees are an ideal choice for this purpose, as they root easily and are quick growing.

Design

Willows are an ideal specimen shrub to feature in a winter garden. To be planted in broad drifts and pruned in the spring to encourage the brightly coloured new growth, Willows can be used to startling effect alongside bulbs such as snow drops, and with trees such as the white stemmed Himalayan birch (Betula utilis jaquemontii)

English Woodlands supply Salix willow bare root trees and shrubs from November to March in varieties suitable for coppicing, hedging, river side planting and ornamental use in the garden as well as specimen trees in containers all year round - it is a genus well worth discovering!

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