It’s Easy to Grow PUSSYWILLOWS

Growing Long Branched Pussywillows

Over the years both my parents and I have had pussywillow trees at our houses. Our pussywillows came to us, 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 own tree with, first ask around, telling relatives and friends what you are looking for. If no one has any, look in the florist department of your local supermarket, or go to a florist store in your area, one of those places will most likely have, or be able to get some for your. 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 and is somewhat warm.

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 branches. At the same time, white roots will start to grow out from the lower part of the pussywillow’s 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 like fishing poles; which will be the perfect shape and length for arrangements (illustration 4).

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 (illustration 5).

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 Posts
Roses..Planting, Pruning and General Care 5-11-2011,
Starting a Rose Bush and other plants from a Cutting (Slip) 6-17-2011,
My Hydrangeas Don’t / Won’t Bloom is a Lament uttered by Many 6-21-2012
Make an Easter Egg Tree, Celebrate Spring 3-21-2011,
How to Plant (Design) a garden. Mass versus Specimen Planting 2-17-2011,
Planting Hellebores (Lenten Roses) to Celebrate Spring 4-25-2013,
Daffodils…Planting, Fertilizing and Maintenance 4-8-2011,
Tulips…Planting Fertilizing and Maintenance 4-19-2011,
Neatening up a Rhododendron after it Blooms 6-3-2011,
Growing a Topiary from an Upright Yew 6-15-2011,
When Designing a Perennial Garden it’s ALL about the Shapes of Leaves 1-15-2011


About fredgonsowskigardenhome

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This entry was posted in Bushes, Shrubs, Trees, The Spring Garden, The Winter Garden. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to It’s Easy to Grow PUSSYWILLOWS

  1. Pingback: Propagating Pussy Willows «

  2. Kathleen says:

    Thank you. This is very informative (much more than the others I looked at). I still have a question, though. I live in southern Spain and the other day I saw pussywillow branches at the Eroski (like a Walmart). I hadn’t seen one since I was little growing up in Houston so I got a bunch. I’ve put them in water but once they start to root will they really grow here? Our zone is more or less 9 – LOTS of sun and heat and little rain. I realize I’d have to water it a lot but should I really plant the thing (assuming it roots) in FULL sun? Full sun is a LOT of sun… When it actually grows and gets big, does it have leaves in the summer? Would it be a good shade tree or not? Thanks very much for your help! -Kathleen in Spain

    • Hi there Kathleen is Spain, The Pussywillow has a smallish leave, so it would produce a filtered shade, not complete shade. The tree, here in America, looses its leaves in Winter, so I don’t know how it would do in your country. I say plant it in a place where you would like it to be, and water it often for the first year, until it establishes itself, and hopefully lives. You will never know if a pussywillow can grows in your part of the world, unless you try.

  3. Kathleen says:

    Forgot to ask: will it grow in a big pot??

  4. Pingback: It’s Easy to Grow PUSSYWILLOWS | teampendley

  5. I have just planted 6 pussy willow branches in our backyard for kinda a privacy fence since we are not allowed to have a fence. My question, how fast will these branches grow, it’s been 3 weeks now and they are about a foot high with leaves branching out. Want them to grow tall and fast. Thanks

    • Hi there Barbara, have you ever heard the adage about plants…The first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap. I would say it will take three to four years for the main stem to be thick enough to produce a good amount of branches.

  6. Martha says:

    I have a massive pussywillow tree in my backyard. It’s a beautiful tree. It’s at least 25-30 feet tall, and I can’t reach the pussywillows at the top! It has grown rather sideways … it’s actually my neighbours tree, and has grown under the fence in into my yard! It’s a perfect climbing tree for the kids! And loads of wildlife feed from it year round. However. It is rather large. And I’ve learned in two years that it’s growing fast! I’m wondering how to prune it. I can never reach the top branches, but it’s rather extending over the whole yard, because it’s growing sideways. I wish I could send you a picture. The best way to describe it, is that I thought years and years and years ago it must have survived Hurricane Hazel but that it got pushed sideways and it grew from there. … But my neighbour assures it me that it’s only about 20-25 years old! …. I don’t want to hurt it. But i seriously need to reign it in. Any suggestions?

    • Hi there Martha, is the tree growing in the direction of light? Trees on the north side of a building or property. grow east, south and west toward the sun. I would say have someone (a professional arborist) come in and give it a good trimming, the tree could have selective branches eliminated to reshape it and keep it healthy. The only problem with any kind of trimming is that the tree will naturally fill in, in three or four years and you will be back to where you are. My neighbors had trees taken down on their front lawn, two maples by the road were left. The trees that were left were completely bare on the sides that butted up next to the trees that were eliminated. In just three or four years, nature took over and the empty sides of the trees are full and thick and you would never know they ever were once bare on one side. The pussy willow being a fast growing tree will probably fill in quickly, so you will be where you are today.

  7. Elizabeth Floyd says:

    Hi, how far away from pipes is far enough? I am currently rooting some pussy willow and the only place where it will get enough sun is on the side of my house. About 15 from my house and 20 ft from my neighbors. Is this far enough way?

    • Hi there Elizabeth, 15 feet could possibly be OK, but I’m not really sure about giving my thumbs up on our place to plant the pussy willow. Sorry, but I’ve had friends with root and piping problems and it was quite a costly annoyance.

  8. Joe Paulson says:

    We have a 60-year-old pussy willow tree that has the trunk roughly 5 feet in diameter and it’s starting to rot I was wondering if there’s anything we can do her it’s just coming to the end of it’s life?
    We have a 60-year-old pussy willow tree that has the trunk roughly 5 feet in diameter and it’s starting to rot I was wondering if there’s anything we can do her it’s just coming to the end of it’s life? Today I am going to trim it all back down to about 10 feet.
    I wonder if you have any suggestions to prevent the right from happening.
    Thank you.

    • Hi there Joe, no suggestions, except to take branches (not too long or too thick), put them in water, root them, and start a new tree somewhere on your property. Old cultivars of plants have been saved for gardening now, by starting new ones from tips of plants that have been found. Old varieties of roses, trees, etc have been found by rundown houses, at abandoned cemeteries, etc, which are no longer for sale in the market, and have survived and are again being propagated. Good luck with your project.

  9. Rachel says:

    Hi! Great information and love the drawing. Wondering when the trimming is supposed to take place once the tree has been established? I intend the sell the branches with catkins. Would the trimming basically be me harvesting the branches in the spring? Would that be too late… info seemed to suggest needed to be done just as the catkins were sprouting. Thank you!

    • Hi there Rachel, Harvest the branches just when they are starting to puff up in and Spring, and are at the desired look. They should instantaneously , because being cut and out of water, stay exactly as you picked them. IF you pick them and put them in water, for any portion of time, the catkins will expand and look like caterpillars, get really smelly in a sweet way, and then fall off. When I did art and craft shows, years ago, I sold them in small bundles tied with string. I didn’t price them too high, as I didn’t want them to stand around and not still be looking perfect. Back in the day, I priced them at like $5. a bunch, they sold quickly. Also, when picking them to sell, some people like short bouquets of pussywillows, and others like really long stems for floor vases, so have both for customers to choose from. You have to trim the branches, in the Spring off of the pussywillows, NO MATTER if you sell them or not, to keep the stems “fishing pole” straight. If you Do Not, the long stems will have side stems and you will only have pussywillow catkins at the ends of the new growth.

  10. Roseann says:

    Do the roots in the ground get big enough that they start coming through the upper part of the ground and do they start growing all over the place

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