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Willow Planting Guide

Willow Planting Guide

willow planting instructions and care

We cultivate nearly 1/4 acre of basketry willow, grown to produce long, thin rods perfect for weaving baskets! We absolutely love growing this plant, and sell cuttings https://underthetreefarm.com/collections/willow Here are some of our tips and tricks for growing willow on our farm.

Willow is highly adaptable, and will tolerate a range of soil types and microclimates. You can stick the cuttings along a stream bank to prevent erosion, in your perennial garden for a pop of winter color, plant your own living structure or decorative/privacy fence, or plant them in rows in your garden or on your farm to harvest for basket weaving like we do. If you have a seasonal wet spot in your yard where not much else will grow, willow will likely thrive! 

Storing your cuttings until planting:

It is best to keep your willow cuttings in a zipped plastic bag your refrigerator until you plant them. This will help keep them dormant, and will encourage them to callous. After a while in your refrigerator, the cuttings may appear to crack open and look whitish all along the stem. If this happens, don’t worry, this is a good sign! This just means the willow is ready to grow roots.

Choosing a spot:

Considerations when choosing a spot to plant your willow include: plentiful sunshine, little to no weed competition, and access to irrigation water the first year when the cuttings are being established. It is acceptable to plant your willow in a location that is seasonably wet (i.e., in the spring or winter), but it is not recommended to plant your willow in a location that is always submerged in water. 

It is important to plant your willow far away from your septic system. Willow’s deep roots will travel to search for water, and can easily clog your leach field, necessitating a costly repair. 


The most important thing to remember when you are planting your cuttings is to plant them with the triangular-shaped buds pointed upwards to the sky. If you accidentally plant them upside down, your cuttings will not grow.

Before planting each cutting, pay attention to which direction the buds are facing, and make sure to orient the buds upwards. 

It is best to plant your cuttings in the spring after the danger of a hard freeze. If you plant them and then it is forecast to get very cold at night a few nights, you can cover them (very carefully so as to not rub off buds or shoots) with a piece of row cover or even a bedsheet.

To plant our cuttings outdoors, we use a scrap piece of rebar to poke a hole into the soil, then insert the cuttings (with triangular buds pointed upwards!) into the soil, leaving about 3-4 buds above the soil line.  You can also dig a small hole with a trowel and backfill the soil once your cutting is in the ground. If you have loose soil with few rocks, you may even be able to just carefully stick the cutting into the ground without any tools. Once the cutting is in the ground, it is important to make sure it has good soil contact for the roots to grow properly. Use your hands or feet to press very firmly on the soil on all sides of the cutting. 

Alternatively, if you have a greenhouse or a very sunny windowsill indoors,  you can jumpstart the season by planting your cuttings into pots, and growing them indoors until planting them outside. We like to use 4.5” deep square plastic pots we get from our local farm supply store to grow out our willow in the greenhouse for our local plant sale in May. It is important to provide greenhouse-grown cuttings with fertilization until planting, either by feeding weekly with a water-soluble fertilizer, or by using a potting mix that includes time-release fertilizer. After about 2 ½ months in pots, the willow will have grown about a foot tall, and its  roots will be eager to grow out of the bottom of the pot. If you start your willow indoors, as with any transplanted plant, it is important to first harden plants off before planting them outside, or they may experience transplant shock.

Plant spacing

Planting and management instructions vary based on how you plan to use your willow. In general, if you are planning on growing willow for basket weaving, it is best to crowd plants close together to promote thin, straight rods. If you just want a few decorative willows in your perennial garden, you can plant them a few feet apart and let them grow bushier. 

We grow our willow for basketry purposes in rows spaced 4 feet on center, with plants 8-10” apart within rows. We like this spacing because it allows the willow to compete with each other while still allowing us to walk down the rows midsummer (just barely). You can put your rows closer together, but it makes it much more difficult to walk through the patch to monitor for insects and disease.

We also have willow planted as accent bushes in our perennial garden. For decorative purposes, we space them about 4’ apart. 

If you are planting a living fence or structure, you can plant your willow cuttings close together in your desired shape, then weave the shoots together after the first year. Alternatively, you can plant a patch of willow elsewhere, then in winter,  harvest the long rods and plant the entire rods come spring, tying or weaving them to adjacent rods to create a living woven willow fence. 

Establishing your new willow patch: 

It is important that your willow has little-to-no weed competition while getting established. You can accomplish this by hand weeding and mulching with wood chips or straw to prevent annual weeds from germinating, or sticking your cuttings into plastic landscape fabric or even cardboard boxes. 

Our willow is planted in rows 4’ apart, and we use 3’ landscape fabric for the walkways between the willow, with a 1’ wide strip of wood chip mulch around the plants. (See diagram on the left.) We have found this to be an excellent way to manage weeds in our willow patch. 

We’ve found that the most pesky weeds in our willow patch are perennial weeds that are difficult to get rid of, like quackgrass and wild brambles. With vigilance and hand weeding, we keep perennial weeds at bay. Once your willow is established, it can tolerate some weed pressure, and will grow quickly each spring and will shade out annual weeds in the understory. 

We provide our newly-planted willow cuttings with ample water the first year, especially when the cuttings are first breaking bud and leafing out. Pay attention to how much rainfall you get after planting, and provide additional water to your plants if needed.

It is important to pay close attention to insect pests, especially when establishing your willow patch.

Insect pests:

We have found spongy moth caterpillars, potato leafhoppers, aphids, and especially Japanese beetles, to be our most common willow pests. Usually, the Japanese beetles and spongy moth caterpillars do the most damage, and sometimes need to be picked off by hand and squished if the infestation is bad enough. Spongy moth caterpillars can be easily controlled by the organic spray, bacillus thuringiensis (BT), a soil bacterium that will kill caterpillars. Spongy moths especially love tender young willows, and tend to descend on the willow right as they begin to grow in the springtime, munching the leaves. They can wreak havoc on young plants! We had a terrible spongy moth infestation in our area the year we planted our willow patch, and had to diligently monitor and spray BT and squish caterpillars for weeks.

Japanese beetles show up in full force in midsummer in our area, and also can do a lot of damage on willow plants! They take gigantic bites out of the willow leaves and growing tips of the rods, usually causing the willow rods to branch at every spot where they take a bite. Their feeding is highly dependent on cultivar: we’ve found that the beetles especially love Salix Americana. There is not much you can do organically other than remove them by hand. If the infestation is bad enough,  you may decide to use a conventional spray to control the beetles!


Since our willow planting is relatively young, we have not yet had personal experience with willow diseases, but there are various fungal and bacterial diseases you may have to contend with. Here is an informative publication from The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station https://portal.ct.gov/CAES/Plant-Pest-Handbook/pphW/Willow-Salix


We manage our willow patch by coppicing, or cutting all of the year's growth to the ground each winter when the plants are dormant. This promotes a flush of thin, straight shoots every year, perfect for weaving willow baskets! It is important to only prune your willow plants when they are dormant, or you will significantly reduce the vigor of your plants. We use this method for our willow in our basketry patch, and the willow we planted in our perennial flower garden.

You can also manage your willows by pollarding them, or letting them grow a permanent trunk higher off the ground, then pruning back to a certain height every year.

If you plant a living willow fence or structure, the general concept is you create a permanent framework of willow, then prune back to that framework every winter, letting the willow resprout every spring from the same place.

You can also just plant your willow and let it grow wild! It is really up to you.

Willow for weaving:

If you are planning to weave with your willow, you must first dry the willow out completely, then soak it in a tub of water to make it flexible again before weaving. You can weave with freshly harvested “green” willow, but as your basket/woven creation dries, the willow will shrink significantly, and your weave will become loose. Drying the willow and then soaking leads to less shrinkage in your weaving.


We are happy to help answer any questions you may have about growing willow. Don’t hesitate to reach out! We hope your willow plants bring you joy!

Happy planting,

Crystal & Scott Van Gaasbeck

Under the Tree Farm