Neil Moran is a garden writer living in Sault Ste. Marie. Read about his trials and travails gardening in the cold climate: North Country Gardening.

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Dappled Willow Worth Pruning Tasks
by Neil Moran    

The new growth on the dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’) has a pink hue.1

One of the more popular ornamental trees for the Midwestern landscape is the dappled willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro-nishiki'). It appears to have everything going for it: a weeping appearance and grayish green foliage that is highlighted with streaks of pink and white. It is also fast growing, offering the lure of instant gratification.

Let’s not forget it is also a willow, which as we well know, can get a little unruly. Which is not to say you shouldn’t plant dappled willow, but rather a-gardener-beware warning appears to be in order. Dappled willow sprouts branches and shoots from just about every possible growing point. Despite it having the discipline of a young puppy, it is still a worthwhile plant for the landscape and will withstand the most brutal winter Mother Nature can throw at us. It is also listed as deer resistant.

The Japanese cultivar of dappled willow, ‘Hakuro-nishiki’, has been growing in my backyard for about three years. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t part with it anymore than I’d discard my favorite gardening tool. I just need to accept a few realities about growing this beautiful dappled willow. Following are a few tips.

First, you need a fairly moist soil and a sunny to partially sunny location. Dappled willow will like a spot in your yard where water naturally runs after a rain, including rain gardens. Allow your dappled willow plenty of elbow room. It will grow to 15-20 feet high and just as wide if you don’t keep it pruned. It grows best in fairly moist soil that has been amended with compost. Avoid planting dappled willow in a sandy upland area, where it’s dry. It is best to plant dappled willow in early spring or early fall, while there is still good moisture in the ground.

We’ve got our dappled willow growing in an island bed in a sandy loam soil that never needs watering, even during summer dry spells. We quickly found out that nearby shrubs were planted too close to the willow. Keep shrubs and perennials at least 6 feet away from the trunk of the willow. Like any tree, add mulch around the base of the plant to help maintain moisture and keep weed trimmers and mowers from damaging the trunk. Be sure not to let the mulch touch the trunk of the tree.

Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ can be pruned in midsummer after the variegation of the leaves fade. In just three years, this specimen has encroached on its neighboring shrubs, which will have to be moved.2

Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ can also be pruned as a shrub or grown as a standard, where all the branches are pruned.

Expect to prune this plant fairly often. Suckering around the base of the plant can be downright problematic, dictating that you prune them once or twice per season.



The other type of pruning required is the type that will keep this tree from getting too tall and wide. Late winter, or in summer after the variegation has faded, are the best times to do this. Use loppers and pruning shears to keep this ornamental tree tamed and contained. If you’re not experienced in pruning you should probably read up on it a little before getting out the snips. What will be required is some thinning of the branches and heading-back the terminal growth. This keeps the tree contained at about 10 feet tall and about 8 feet wide.

Salix integra is a species native to Japan and Korea, and is associated in those countries with streams, seeps and marshes. Harry Van Der Laar, a famed Dutch Hosta breeder, introduced Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ to the west in 1979. The species Salix has been associated with basket making throughout the ages, and the bark of certain willows contains aspirin compounds, which have been used by moms and apothecaries alike.  

Tips for planting dappled willow:

•    Plant in early spring or fall.
•    Plant in moist soil and a sunny to partially shady area.
•    Water frequently the first year.
•    Fertilize once a year in the early spring.
•    Be prepared to do some pruning of suckers and the actual branches.
•    Salix integra is hardy in USDA Zones 4 through 9.


1. Photo courtesy of © Blackosaka
2. Photo courtesy of Neil Moran


Posted: 02/11/16   RSS | Print


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