The Lament of the Tri-color Willow


Author’s note : this was originally written as part of my ‘President’s Notes’ for NHLA newsletter

It’s a hot, humid, sticky day, yet I’m lying on the ground in the shade at the base of at least a 12’x12’ Salix integra ‘Hakura Nishiki’ starting to compose this month’s Presidents’ Notes; when what I should be doing is sawing a bunch of 2-3” limbs trying to get this puppy reduced to the size that is advertised to be, which is 6 feet. It is no easy task, nor will it look pretty for at least a month, before it has sends out a bunch of new shoots, most of them growing to 6 feet or more and by the time I get done, my truck will be loaded with what I had to remove. You all know this plant the famous tri-color willow and it comes in a tree form too and heaven help does folks who think “wouldn’t this cute little shrub or tree look good by the front door”.

Back to willows and such, I looking up at this plant from the inside thinking of the different descriptions I have read about this plant such as “a lovely small shrub …… … with dappled green, pink and white foliage. Stems are graceful and spreading” 4-6 feet or larger” or “……outstanding tri-color variegation ….. This more compact growing pussy willow -6 to 8 feet”. And then, “Graceful medium size shrub with slender arching branches that turn red in the winter. Vigorous growing – 6 to 8 feet.” Meanwhile all I can see is this huge octopus of limbs over my head and I have to saw some pretty good size branches knowing the only way I can ever hope to keep this plant at 6 feet is if I prune it to the ground ever year or two. There are times and situations when I would like to prune some of these willows to 6 inches below ground; start fresh with something more in scale with the space. I knew someone who about 6 years ago had gotten 5 of these with the plan that these would serve as the backbone for a “moon garden”; I can imagine now that it is a wall rather than some accent plants in her back yard.

I can understand it is hard sometimes when you’re looking for plant material and you have to rely on the information that you have before you. So you go to a nursery and you read the plant tag for that information. So I have seen Syringa patuta ‘Miss Kim’ be listed as growing to 3 to 5 feet or 5- 6 feet though I have seen many that get to the more 8 to 10’; so I guess if you want to use one in a small space you might go look for the ones who’s tag says 3 to 5 feet.

We all know that the information is referring to some point maybe 5, 10 years out and that they don’t stop when they get there; if they are alive, they grow. It just that many customers and a few landscapers who don’t know and they’ll stick one these Salix integra ‘Hakura Nishiki’ by the front door, giving it 6 feet to grow only to find that after a while they need to carry pruners with them so they get in and out their house.

Well, my partner and wife is pruning some shrubs around the corner and I’m sure she wondering why this willow isn’t getting any smaller, so with that I will wish you a good September  and I’m wondering if you are looking forward to the beginning of fall, given the summer and the season we had.

20 thoughts on “The Lament of the Tri-color Willow

  1. Can’t believe everything you read, can you! Even when the tagging is relatively accurate in identifying ‘norms’, it can’t account for the specifics of the situation where your plant will live, let alone any anomalies that arise in its place and time. Tricky, that Mother Nature!

    1. I agree, and it is one of the things I’m always arguing with growers when they decide on a size based on age usually 5 to 7 years yet they know they are keep growing if they’re alive. And I’m not a believer that everything can keep to a desired size with pruning. Thanks for the comments

  2. I had to smile reading your article. A number of years ago I planted a “dwarf crabapple tree”
    On either side of the walkway to the front door about 10 feet out from the house. For last five years I have been engaged in three-dimensional war while trying to keep the plants attractive and alive. Their original appearance made them look almost like bonsai trees and I have always loved them. But I’m beginning to suspect nurseries lie about size to get you to sneak the their plants onto your property before you know the size of the project you’re taking on. LOL

    PS: thank you for reading my work.

    Alexander

  3. Isn’t it amazing how often cute little garden shrubs can get all upset if they aren’t talked to nicely and they grow into huge big trees that get under foundations and have to be chainsawn down.

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