The weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is probably the best known of the weeping trees, with gracefully arching stems that dangle delicately and shiver in the breeze. The leaves of this deciduous tree are lance-shaped and grow 3- to 6-inches long; they turn yellow in the fall before dropping. The weeping willow's bark is rough and gray, with long, deep ridges. When the tree blooms in late winter or spring, yellow catkins (flowers) appear.
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Weeping willows are fast-growing trees, adding up to 10 feet per year when young, but their average lifespan is a relatively short 30 years.
Plant your weeping willow in the fall to give the root system time to establish itself before the warmer weather.
|Common Name||Weeping willow|
|Botanical Name||Salix babylonica|
|Mature Size||35–50 ft. tall, 5–50 ft. wide|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Winter, spring|
|Hardiness Zones||4–10 (USDA)|
Weeping Willow Care
Because weeping willows can reach 50 feet in height and width, they need a wide swath of lawn or yard to stretch into. They work well in areas that are naturally quite moist, but they tend to shed a lot of leaves and twigs so avoid planting them where falling branches can cause damage or injury.
These trees also should not be planted near sewer drains, septic systems, or water lines: Their root systems are aggressive—sometimes stretching wider than the tree is tall. Not only do they seek out the nearest and most abundant source of water, but they are attracted to the nutrients in the soil around a septic system, as well as the oxygen in the drainage lines.
Full sun, or partial shade in the southern end of its hardiness range, is best for this tree. It needs at least four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day.
This tree is tolerant of a wide variety of well-draining soils and soil pH (4.5-8.0). Although it prefers moist, slightly acidic soil, it grows well in alkaline, loamy, rich, sandy, and clay soils. If your soil is too alkaline, add some organic matter to lower the pH.
Willows like standing water. Their long, far-reaching root systems can be helpful in clearing up puddle- and flood-prone areas of a landscape. They also like to grow near ponds, streams, and lakes.
Temperature and Humidity
Weeping willows have some drought tolerance and can handle the winter cold. The tree can also tolerate summer desert heat as long as greenery and water are not too far away.
A mature weeping willow does not require fertilizer if it is planted in rich soil and its leaves are a healthy green or nearby lawns are fertilized regularly. However, you can supply fertilizer to support lush growth.
Perform a soil test before adding any soil amendments, with the exception of slow release organic fertilizers, such as mulch.
Types of Weeping Willow
There are several excellent varieties of weeping willow, including:
- Golden weeping willow (S. alba 'Tristis') has green leaves that turn golden in fall, adding autumn interest.
- Wisconsin weeping willow (Salix x pendulina) is a hybrid that grows quickly to 30- to 40-feet tall and wide.
- Thurlow weeping willow (Salix x pendulina 'Elegantissima') is a pyramidal weeping willow with longer, pendulous branches.
While the tree is young, prune it so that there is only one central leader. It should also be trained to have wide branch crotches to help prevent breakage, as the tree is somewhat brittle and can be susceptible to wind damage. It is a good idea to prune a weeping willow in February or March, snipping back all its branches. This will trigger the sprouting of new branches and will give the tree more vigor.
Propagating Weeping Willows
Propagation of Salix babylonica is done through hardwood cuttings.
- Take cuttings from the base of a mature tree when the tree is dormant in the fall or winter, after the leaves have fallen in autumn and temperatures are consistently below 32 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The cuttings should be all hardwood with no soft tissue and at least 2 feet long.
- Make a straight cut at the base of the cutting below a bud, and a second, diagonal cut at around 9 inches, above a bud (you'll get two cuttings out of one piece).
- Place cuttings directly into the soil with the straight cut down, about 4 inches deep in the ground. Mark the location well. A more controlled way of rooting the cuttings is to plant them in pots filled with compost, also 4 inches deep. Dipping them in rooting hormone is optional, willow often roots on its own.
- Keep the soil evenly moist. You should see new shoots in the spring. Let the saplings develop strong roots for at least one growing season before transplanting.
Common Pests & Plant Diseases
Weeping willows can be struck by several pests, including the gypsy moth, aphids, and borers. These insects are difficult to control—especially on large trees—but targeted spraying with pesticide can help. Young weeping willows are also tempting to deer, elk, and rabbits; place a collar around young trees to protect them from wildlife.
This tree may be affected by several ailments and diseases, including willow scab, crown gall, willow blight, fungi, cankers, leaf spot, tar spot, powdery mildew, rust, and root rot. Symptoms include branch or twig dieback and defoliation, but in some cases, the disease can kill the tree. To minimize problems, provide adequate water to keep the tree healthy, since healthy trees are better able to fend off disease. Rake up and remove leaf litter promptly, to control the spreading of disease. If these methods do not work, fungicides might.
Are weeping willow roots invasive?
Weeping willows are one of the trees whose roots can cause major problems. The roots are invasive and aggressively grow towards sources of water, including sewers and septic systems, potentially reaching farther than the tree's height.
Do all weeping willows have flowers?
What is the difference between a willow and a weeping willow?
SALIX BABYLONICA: WEEPING WILLOW. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.