Willow is a powerful ally and incredible support species in any home garden, permaculture system, or large scale agroforestry project. It grows impressively fast once established, offering shade, habitat for birds, insects and small mammals. Due to its rapid growth it makes an excellent source of biomass for mulch making or even simply “chopping and dropping”. It is one of the toughest plants around, tolerating a wide range of conditions and requiring no care after establishment. At Plant Path nursery, Dan made the very wise decision of lining the north end of the property with willow cuttings in the spring of 2018. All of those trees are now more than 30 feet tall and have created a beautiful living fence that discourages deer, gives birds a place to rest (those same birds help to control insect populations and bring fertility to the garden), and offers us some protection from the cold harshness of the north winds.
Willow also has a very unique kind of chemistry that includes some powerful plant auxins (growth hormones) which help to facilitate rooting in cuttings. Additionally it makes a superior biochar due to its incredible porosity and can “greatly increase amount of readily plant available water (between matric potentials −10 and −316 kPa) in clay soil irrespective of soil initial structure. The result suggests that biochar amendment would help plants to withstand moisture stress during dry periods and/or vigorous growth state.”
On a more traditional level willow is one of the preferred materials for a wide range of crafts and projects, from living willow domes, to long lasting willow baskets, the strength and flexibility of willow has been long valued by crafts-people the world over.
Last but certainly not least is willow’s incredible potential for watershed remediation, and protection. One of the biggest threats to our watershed is the steadily increasing flow of nutrients, and algae blooms that arise from these nutrients. Willow not only helps to absorb large amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus before it can enter a stream, it helps to keep the stream cool which promotes an oxygen rich condition that facilitates a larger diversity of aquatic life.
Willow propagates very easily from cuttings and can even be “live staked” in the cool rainy season, meaning the 6-48” cuttings are buried directly into their final dwelling space and left to root naturally under normal weather conditions. If possible some irrigation is advisable during the establishment phase/first 6 months to ensure the highest possible rate of success. For living fences that will keep deer out, we recommend a minimum spacing of 1’ between trees. Willow is also very amenable to coppicing which means the trees can be cut off at any height twice a year to maintain the desired fence height. Alternatively they can be left to grow to their natural height of 40-60’ depending on your goals and desires.