How to Plant Willow Cuttings: A Complete Step-by-Step Guide

Willow trees are beloved for their graceful, weeping branches and rapid growth rate. These attractive trees are also relatively easy to propagate from cuttings. With just a few tools and basic gardening skills, you can grow your willow tree from a cutting in no time.

In this complete guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to plant willow cuttings. Here’s what we’ll cover:

Why Grow Willows from Cuttings?

Taking cuttings from existing willow trees is the easiest and most reliable way to propagate new ones. Here are some of the benefits of growing willows from cuttings:

  • Fast growth: Willow cuttings root quickly and proliferate once established. You can have a good-sized tree in just 3-5 years.
  • Genetic identicals: Cuttings produce genetically identical trees to the parent plant. This ensures you’ll get consistent growth habits and appearance.
  • Inexpensive: Taking cuttings costs nothing. All you need is access to an existing willow tree and essential gardening tools.
  • Ideal for wet areas: Willows thrive in damp soil and are excellent choices for stream banks and shorelines. Propagating more trees helps stabilize these moist soils.
  • Applicable materials: The flexible branches can be used for basketweaving, wreaths, and other crafts. Certain willow species also have medicinal benefits.

Now that you know why growing willows from cuttings are so useful, let’s review the steps for successfully doing it.

How to Take Willow Cuttings

How to Take Willow Cuttings

Using the proper methods to cut trees at the right time is key to propagating willow trees from cuttings. Follow these tips:

Choose One-Year-Old Growth

  • Take cuttings from the fast-growing, one-year-old branches for the best rooting results.
  • Older branches often turn hollow and rot rather than forming roots.

Take Cuttings in Early Spring

  • The time of year influences rooting success. Early spring before the buds break is ideal.
  • Take cuttings in late winter or early spring from healthy, dormant trees.

Select a Terminal Cutting

  • Terminal cuttings are taken from the tips of branches’ roots quickest.
  • Make a diagonal slice just below the tip and bud. Aim for cuttings 6-10 inches long.

Make a Clean Cut

  • Use sharp, sterile pruners or scissors to prevent crushing.
  • Make a clean cut below a leaf node where roots will emerge later.

Keep Cuttings Moist

  • Prevent cuttings from drying out before planting them.
  • Wrap the stems in a damp paper towel or bag to retain moisture.

Now that you know how to take proper willow cuttings, let’s look at preparing them for planting.

Rooting Willow Cuttings

Willow cuttings root rapidly when given warm, moist conditions. Here are some tips for quick and successful rooting:

Use Rooting Hormone

  • Dip the bottom 1-2 inches of each cutting in rooting hormone powder.
  • The active ingredient indole-3-butyric acid stimulates faster root growth.

Stick in Moist Potting Mix

  • Stick cuttings 2-3 inches deep in pots filled with moist potting soil.
  • Mixing half potting soil and half sand or perlite ensures good drainage.

Provide Bottom Heat

  • Placing pots on heating mats or above radiators keeps the soil warm, around 70°F.
  • Constant bottom warmth accelerates rooting.

Enclose in Plastic

  • Cover pots with clear plastic bags or cloches to create a greenhouse environment.
  • This keeps the humidity very high so that cuttings won’t dry out.

In 4-8 weeks, your cuttings should have enough roots to transplant outside into the garden.

Planting Willow Cuttings Outdoors

Planting Willow Cuttings Outdoors

Once rooted and established, willow cuttings can be transplanted into their permanent spots outdoors. Follow these guidelines:

Wait Until Dormant

  • The ideal time to plant willows outdoors is in late fall or early winter when they are fully dormant.
  • Dormant plants experience less transplant shock.

Select a Sunny, Wet Spot

  • Willows thrive in full sun and consistently moist soil. Pick a site that fits these conditions.
  • Areas along ponds, streams, ditches, and shorelines are perfect.

Give Them Space

  • Allow plenty of room between trees, at least 10 feet apart. Willows proliferate.
  • Make sure they have space to reach mature size without crowding.

Dig a Wide Hole

  • Willow roots spread horizontally. Dig a hole 2-3 times wider than the root ball.
  • Loosen the soil around the edges so roots penetrate easily.

Remove Container

  • Carefully remove the pot and loosen the circled roots before setting them in the hole.
  • Position the top of the root ball so that it is level with the ground.

Backfill and Water

  • Fill the hole with native soil, tamping down gently to eliminate air pockets.
  • Water thoroughly until the soil is moistened 6-8 inches down.

With the proper planting site and attentive care, your willow cuttings will flourish into beautiful trees while establishing.

Caring for Young Willow Trees

Patience and attentive care are required while your willow cuttings transition to established trees. Here are some essential tips:

Water Regularly

  • Check soil moisture frequently and water whenever the top few inches become dry.
  • Consistent moisture is vital while roots are established in the first two years.

Stake Taller Trees

  • Staking provides support against winds while the trunk is weak.
  • Drive a sturdy stake beside the trunk and loosely tie it with a soft cloth.

Apply Organic Mulch

  • Spread 2-3 inches of bark chips, compost, or leaves around the base.
  • Mulch conserves moisture and discourages weed competition.

Control Weeds

  • Pull any weeds that sprout near the tree by hand. Don’t use herbicides.
  • Weeds steal water and nutrients essential for the young tree.

Avoid Fertilizer

  • Too much nitrogen from fertilizers stimulates excessive growth, which is vulnerable to breakage.
  • Wait until the second year to add balanced organic fertilizer if needed.

With attentive care and ideal growing conditions, your willow cuttings will rapidly grow into mature, graceful trees.

Troubleshooting Problems With Willow Cuttings

Troubleshooting Problems With Willow Cuttings

If your cuttings fail to root or your new trees struggle to establish, a few issues may be to blame. Here are some common problems and solutions:

Cuttings Drying Out

  • Increase humidity around cuttings by enclosing them in plastic or misting foliage daily.
  • Ensure potting media stays consistently moist but not soggy.

Poor Drainage

  • Repot in a mix of half potting soil and half perlite or sand to improve drainage.
  • Be sure containers and planting holes have drainage holes at the bottom.

Root Rot

  • Fungi cause root rot to thrive in overly wet soils. Allow soil to dry between waterings.
  • Report affected plants in fresh, sterile potting mix.

Sun Scald

  • Singed, stunted leaves indicate too much direct sun before roots are established.
  • Filter sunlight with a shade cloth or situate in part sun until more vigorous.

Damage from Wind or Animals

  • Protect tender growth with fencing or wire cages if winds, deer, etc., are problematic.
  • Staking provides support against strong winds.

With attentive care and quick remedy of issues, your willow cuttings will thrive into beautiful, graceful trees.


Growing graceful, fast-growing willow trees from cuttings is a fun and rewarding form of propagation. By correctly taking cuttings and giving them the proper care over their first couple of years, you can establish beautiful willow specimens that will thrive for years.

Willows are ideal trees for wet areas or as living baskets along shorelines. Plus, their weeping branches add gorgeous ornamental value to any landscape. Once mature, you can continue multiplying your willows by taking cuttings from your trees.

With the helpful growing tips above, you now have all the information needed to plant and establish willow cuttings successfully on your property. Just give them plenty of room to expand to full size. The right planting site and consistent moisture will keep your willow cuttings flourishing into amazing trees.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How big do willow cuttings need to be?

Most experts recommend taking 6-8 inch long cuttings from the fast-growing tips of young branches. The cuttings should be about the thickness of a pencil. They need to have several leaf nodes where roots will later emerge.

2. Can I grow a willow tree from a branch?

You can root a giant willow branch to grow a new tree. However, rooting success is much lower with thicker, older branches. Stick with young, whip-like shoots for best results.

3. How long does it take for willow cuttings to root?

Given warm soil temperatures around 70°F and constant moisture, willow cuttings usually take 4-8 weeks to root sufficiently to transplant. Be patient; some can take up to 12 weeks, depending on conditions.

4. Should I prune my new willow tree?

For the first year or two, refrain from pruning except to remove any dead or damaged branches. Let the young tree focus on establishing roots before removing any foliage. Once mature, willows can be pruned to shape or contain their vigorous growth.

5. What are the best willow species for cuttings?

Some of the most accessible willow varieties to root from cuttings include:

  • Salix alba (White willow)
  • Salix babylonica (Weeping willow)
  • Salix integra (Dappled willow)
  • Salix matsudana (Chinese willow)
  • Salix purpurea (Purple osier willow)

Test different types to see which flourishes best in your growing conditions.

Bruce Curtis

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