Dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’) is a recent addition to the landscape, gaining popularity after the turn of the century and recognizable by its mostly white foliage. However, dappled willow has specific cultural requirements for success. With a little simple care, dappled willow will flourish. But if neglected, it will turn into a landscape disaster that puts forsythia to shame. This article will discuss the secret to successfully growing dappled willow.
Dappled willow is sold as both a tree form and a bush form. The tree forms are grafted onto a stem, and are generally pruned regularly to keep their form. It is important to keep an eye out for shoots growing below the graft. These will usually have green leaves and contrast from the rest of the plant. Prune these out, as they will compete with and ultimately kill the grafted part of the plant, and are much less desirable in growth habit and color. Other than this, pruning is the same for the tree and bush forms.
Dappled willow as sold in the garden center looks like a unique shrub that gives a different color and looks like it will fit perfectly into any area of the yard. Dappled willow can grow ten feet high and wide, and is a vigorous and aggressive grower, growing over two feet a year especially when young. Do not plant dappled willow and expect to not trim it, unless you desire a large shrub or a naturalized border plantation.
Pruning of dappled willow can be done at any time of the year and the tree can be pruned back to any length, as it will set new growth from any wood. Ideally, it should be pruned before growth begins every year. Do not prune below the graft on a tree; always keep a core of dappled willow growth lest you lose the value of the tree.
Dappled willow can be kept as a medium shrub of wispy or airy texture by pruning it back hard every spring and letting it grow freely throughout the year. Always leave a little wood at the base at each pruning to allow for good growth, but encourage new shoots at the base to grow and then cut out knobby growth to keep the core of the bush fresh. The shrub can also be pruned in late fall but you lose the winter effect of the red stems.
To keep as a small shrub, let it grow in spring until it starts to lose its color or starts to get scraggly. Then prune it hard but leave some foliage and let it break over again. Don’t worry about losing ground each pruning, as you are going to cut it back harder at the beginning of next spring.
To keep as a specimen or shaped shrub, prune repeatedly at the desired shape every time the foliage starts to turn green or get unruly. Don’t be afraid to concede an inch or two every pruning. Eventually, the bush will become too large, at which point give it a hard pruning and let it break over again.
Dappled willow is relatively insect and disease free although it is affected sometimes by insects and disease. Minimizing stress on the tree is the best way to prevent disease. Avoid having the tree sit in water or dry out completely, and provide some shelter from afternoon sun and you have the perfect growing conditions for your dappled willow.
By keeping on top of pruning your dappled willow, you can prevent it from becoming a headache in the landscape. Dappled willow is versatile and adds its unique character to the landscape and will last for many years if maintained.