Flamingo Willow Plant Profile

Flamingo Japanese willow with new growth in spring.
David Beaulieu

Flamingo willow (Salix integra 'Flamingo') is one of two popular cultivars of S. integra. The other is S. integra 'Hakuro Nishiki' (dappled willow). Like all willows, including its cousin the dappled willow, flamingo willow is a very fast-growing deciduous broad-leaf shrub that prefers constantly moist or wet soils. Flamingo offers nice stem and foliage color; the foliage is variegated with three colors during spring—white, green, and touches of pink—giving way to white and green in summer. The red branches offer good winter color, similar to those on red-twig dogwood.

The flowers are insignificant, appearing as catkins, similar to those on other willow shrubs. While this is one of the most colorful of all willow shrubs, Flamingo willow is such a fast-growing plant that it requires constant pruning in order to keep its landscape appeal. It can be planted as a specimen plant, in small groups, or as hedge border. It requires a moist location and is ideal for rain gardens and other damp soils.

Botanical Name Salix integra 'Flamingo'
Common Name Flamingo willow, Japanese flamingo willow, flamingo dappled willow
Plant Type Deciduous broad-leaf shrub 
Mature Size 4 to 6 feet tall, with a spread of 5 to 7 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun to part shade
Soil Type Moist, fertile, well-drained soil
Soil pH 5.6 and 7.8
Bloom Time Early spring 
Flower Color Yellowish
Hardiness Zones 5 to 7
Native Area Species form is native to China, Japan, Korea, and southeastern Siberia
Salix Tortuosa planted by a glass home
Suzie Gibbons / Getty Images

How to Grow Flamingo Willow

Flamingo willow is best planted in soil that is moist but well-drained, in a full sun location. The plant will form an attractive arching habit if left unpruned, but pruning is necessary to take full advantage of the tri-colored leaves and red stems. It may require several prunings over the course of the year.

Light

Full sun will produce the best foliage color, but the shrub will tolerate some shade and may prefer shade in very hot climates.

Soil

This plant likes moist but well-drained soil that has ample organic material.

Water

Flamingo willow requires frequent watering, especially in dryer climates. Unless the soil has natural moistness all the time, water this plant twice weekly during periods when there is no rainfall. In dryer soils, apply a thick layer of mulch to help retain soil moisture.

Temperature and Humidity

Best foliage color will be achieved in cooler climates north of zone 7. This plant tolerates a wide range of humidity levels.

Fertilizer

Feed in spring with a general-purpose balanced fertilizer or compost dug into the ground around the base of the plant. Additional feeding is not necessary.

Propagating Flamingo Willow

Like all willows, flamingo willow is very easy to propagate:

  1. In spring, cut 8-inch lengths of softwood stems with no leaves.
  2. Fill a small garden pot with a good quality potting soil and place the cuttings in it.
  3. When the root system is visible through the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot, the willow is ready for transplanting.

Varieties of Flamingo Willow

The Salix integra species includes one other popular cultivar in addition to the flamingo. Dappled willow (Salix integra ''Hakuro-nishiki') is a very similar plant to the flamingo. In fact, the flamingo willow is a sport of the dappled willow, achieved by propagating a genetic mutation of dappled willow. The growth habit of the dappled willow is identical to the flamingo, but it lacks the tri-colored foliage.

Pruning

To achieve the best color, fertilize Japanese willows in spring and maintain the following pruning regimen for them:

  • Prune heavily in early spring, when still dormant. This will create the best leaf color.
  • Prune again in late spring to early summer.
  • Prune again in August.

Cut 1/3 of the older branches right down to the ground in spring, and trim back the top growth (1 foot or so) on the remaining branches. The goal is to stimulate new growth, which will let you enjoy the red stems in winter and good variegated leaf color in the spring.

Comparison With Other Willows

Flamingo willow bears a close resemblance to several other willow species used in landscape applications. Remember, though, that these are plants that should not be used around septic systems, underground pipes, etc. The best known related species include:

  • Weeping willow (Salix babylonica), is fast-growing, medium-to-large tree often planted around bodies of water.
  • Pussy willow (Salix discolor), is a classic willow shrub that is considerably larger than flamingo willow. It is often grown for its decorative catkins.
  • Rosegold pussy willow (Salix gracilistyla) is similar to S. discolor, but has catkins that turn pinkish, then orange, then yellowish.
  • Goat willow (Salix caprea) is an old-world version of North America's pussy willow. It is a large shrub or small tree, depending on how it is tended.
  • White willow (Salix alba) is quite a large tree, growing to 50 to 80 feet.
  • Coral bark willow (Salix alba subsp. vitellina 'Britzensis') is a cultivar of white willow with stems that are orange-red in late winter. Uncontrolled, it can grow to 80 feet, but it can be controlled with frequent pruning.

Common Problems

A variety of diseases can affect willows, including blights, crown gall, powdery mildew, leaf spots, scab, rust, and cankers. Insect pests include aphids, scale, borers, lace bugs, beetles and caterpillars.