Over the years, my parents and I have had pussywillow trees at our houses. Our pussywillows came to up, via my Mother’s sister Mary’s garden. Aunt Mary, garden maven that she was, most likely started her own tree from a branch picked off of a pussywillow tree, that grew at the edge of the woods, by Grandma’s house.
To get some pussywillow branches to start your tree, first ask around, telling relatives and friends what you are looking for. If no one has any, look in / ask at the florist department of your local supermarket, or go to a florist store in your area. Pussywillow branches will only be available for sale in late Winter-early Spring when the catkins (velvety flowers) of the pussywillow are about to, or just came out.
Pussywillows are sold in bundles, because they are often displayed by themselves in mass. You will also see a few pussywillow branches stuck into arrangements that are made up with tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths, because they are also a harbinger of Spring.
When selecting pussywillow branches, try to get the longest and straightest ones that you can find. The longer and straighter the branch, the taller and straighter your pussywillow’s trunk will be.
If you buy pussywillows in a bundle from the florist, take the straightest and thickest 3 to 5 branches from that bundle, and put them in a tall vase or bucket with 8 to 10 inches of water in it. Put the rest of your pussywillows in a vase with no water in it, so they will dry and stay exactly as open as they are at that moment. This way you will be able to keep them for a long time.
Rooting Pussywillow branches ..Pussy willows are a bit messy and smelly during the period when they are growing roots. Find a place in your house where you can leave them to root, like a spare storage room, light filled back hall, sun room, garage with windows, or any other kind of space that does not have to be completely neat and pristine.
Unfold a couple of sheets of newspapers and put them down on the surface where you will be placing the vase / bucket, this will protect that surface, and make for easy cleanup.
Over a period of a few weeks, while the branches are rooting, the pussywillow catkins (velvety flowers) will greatly expand (looking like a caterpillar) and then they will start to fall off. At that same time they will form sweet-smelling pollen that will also drop.
After the catkins have fallen off, new green shoots will start forming here and there toward the upper part of the branch. At the same time, white roots will start to grow out from the lower part of the pussywillow branch, that is below the water line.
Let the roots grow to about 3 or 4 inches all around the stem. At that point, from the 3 to 5 branches that you have rooted choose the one that looks to be the healthiest, with vigorous root growth and some nice looking new shoots and leaves on top. That is the one to plant on your property. If you don’t have room for the others, offer them to gardening friends or throw them away.
If you try rooting a pussywillow branch in late Spring or early Summer after it has already leafed out, take off all the lower leaves from the branch, so just a clean stem is under water.
Plant your new Pussywillow Tree in a spot that gets full sun to partial shade. Full sun is 6 plus hours of direct sunlight each day. My parents had pussywillow trees on both the north and south sides of their house. Mine grew on a shady side of the house that only got morning light.
Plant your pussywillow in a part of your garden that is far away from underground water pipes, wells, sewer lines, or septic tanks. Being part of the willow family, you don’t want their roots traveling toward, and affecting anything like that.
Now look at illustration 1. That is what a new pussywillow branch should look like the first year you plant it. It is most likely forming roots and establishing itself.
Illustration 2 shows a pussywillow that has formed some long branches, and it has also started forming some small secondary branches toward the tops of the long branches.
At the end of Winter / early Spring, when the pussywillow is starting to sprout its catkins again, you MUST cut back all of its branches, just leaving the trunk, like illustration 3. This will encourage the tree’s trunk to grow wider and stronger, and the next crop of new branches will all be / grow long and straight. They will be the perfect shape and length for arrangements.
The yearly chore of cutting off all the branches in late Winter or early Spring must be done so the pussywillow does not ever grow side branches. If the side branches form the tree will start to change shape, and only pussywillow catkins will grow at the ends of the branches. A pussywillow that is allowed to grow naturally can get 20 to 30 feet tall.
Our pussywillow trees lasted many years before they finally got cut down or died. They produced many bundles of branches that we decorated with, gave to friends, and I sold them at Spring Art Shows, back in the day when I did Art and Craft Fairs.
Companion Post .. Make an Easter Egg Tree, Celebrate Spring 3-21-2011, How to Plant (Design) a garden. Mass versus Specimen Planting 2-17-2011