Weeping willows are trees that we can count among some of the most recognizable of all. Their cascading branches fill with delicate-looking leaves to provide an inviting shelter underneath. They’re a popular feature in many landscapes, especially those near water.
Weeping willows do best planted near water. It’s not for aesthetic appeal, rather, it’s because willows thrive with an abundant water source. They can tolerate standing water for a period of time, and even help prevent soil erosion. Plant weeping willows at least 50ft away from any structures.
There’s plenty more you should know about how and where to plant weeping willows- and of course, why you should be doing it.
Keep reading through this guide to learn why weeping willows are so adapted to planting near water, and why you should choose to plant them rather than another species!
Weeping Willows Provide Benefits To Many Landscapes
Before we get into reasons why it’s good for weeping willows to be planted near water, there are plenty of reasons it’s beneficial to the ecosystem to plant weeping willows near water.
Willows are inherently beneficial to the wildlife that surrounds them. They provide crucial shelter for birds and small animals and even provide food and water. Many of these are native species that dearly need shelter when other woodlands are being destroyed.
Weeping willows also produce lovely yellow flowers in spring, which further supports the local pollinators. But get this – there are a bunch of different varieties of willow trees, that all provide some amazing things for our landscapes! Check our article comparing and contrasting willow trees to see what’s right for you!
Weeping Willows Help Maintain Erosion
There’s much we can say about how weeping willows support creatures that are naturally drawn to the water.
However, willows are also a key factor in maintaining the balance of land and water.
This is because weeping willows are masters of preventing and halting erosion. Their extensive root systems thrive on the readily available hydration that seeps into the ground from the nearby water.
A Weeping Willow’s Roots Hold Soil Together
As the willow’s roots dig further into the soil to get access to the moisture, they provide an important natural framework that holds the soil together deep below the surface.
Because of this, many people plant weeping willows near the shore to keep them from slipping into the water.
Whether or not you’re a big fan of the tree’s appearance, it certainly might be worth planting one if you want to keep the land and water lines where they are.
Weeping willows are one species of tree that really doesn’t mind having wet feet.
Where other trees need soil that drains quickly and remains damp at most, weeping willows can tolerate excessive moisture. And that’s not all.
Weeping willows can even tolerate standing water for a number of weeks!
Weeping Willows Can Store Excess Water
Naturally, standing water isn’t a condition they can tolerate continuously. However, they will be able to make use of the extra water to a certain point and store it to use to further their growth.
However, because of its storing nature, a benefit that homeowners will love is that the weeping willow tree can actually help soak up spots that tend to hold too much water like for instance, a low point in your yard.
Keep in mind that weeping willows take up more water than other species because they also release more through transpiration.
Their Aggressive Root Systems Help Reach Water
Weeping willows are known to have extensive, and aggressive root systems. Because of this, they are rarely planted right next to sidewalks and roadways.
Any plant that has particularly intrusive root systems has them because they need to expand and reach moisture wherever it’s available. Hence, the reason why willows have a reputation (even if ill-founded) of seeking out septic systems and water lines to get their hydration.
Whether or not this is the case, providing weeping willows with an accessible water source can prevent problems with their extensive root systems.
Just to add, since they DO have an aggressive root system, it’s not a great idea to grow certain plants under willow trees.
Can You Give A Weeping Willow Too Much Water?
Of all trees, weeping willows are some of the most flood tolerant and easily accepting of extra moisture. And of course, people are actively encouraged to plant them near rivers, lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water.
But the question is, can you give a weeping willow too much water? In fact, you can.
Too Much Water Can Reduce The Amount Of Oxygen
Just because they can survive extremely wet conditions doesn’t mean they can thrive in them.
Over a period of time, flooded soil actually reduces the amount of available oxygen to the roots.
Excess Water Can Make The Surrounding Soil Compact
Not only that but once floods or standing water recedes, the soil naturally compacts to make up for the absence of the water that expanded it.
Just as the water takes up room that would otherwise be available for oxygen, the compacting of the soil also allows less room for oxygen.
Whether it’s because the soil becomes too compact, or because the continuously submerged roots can’t get new oxygen from the water, the roots can suffocate or drown.
Excess Water Can Cause Fungus
Another issue with too much water in the soil is the pathogens and microbes that take up in the environment.
The best example of this is the fungus that causes root rot, known as Phytophthora. This fungus isn’t exclusive to willows. Root rot can happen to any plant when the roots are in wet, stagnant conditions for too long.
When this fungus takes hold, it decomposes the roots and ultimately harms the tree as a whole. As we’ll cover in more depth later in this article, fungi are one of the vulnerabilities of weeping willows. As such, it’s important to prevent standing water whenever possible.
How And When To Water Weeping Willow Trees
So, whether or not or not you plant your weeping willow directly near the water, or whether you decide to plant it elsewhere, you need to monitor the water going to your weeping willow.
Even when weeping willows are planted near the water, that may not guarantee that their roots are getting enough water.
One thing you should know is that soil can hold water deep below the surface. However, because weeping willows have root systems that can go deep enough to reach water pipes, but can also grow quite shallow, and therefore close to the surface.
As a result, the water that they’re planted near may not always be available to them. Not only that but bodies of water do rise and fall naturally depending on the climate and rainfall.
When Should You Water Weeping Willows?
One thing you should know is that younger weeping willows need more water and more attention than established trees.
After you plant your tree, the soil should remain moist. That means in most cases you’ll need to water weekly, for up to an entire year after initial planting.
At the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm the young tree with water. Make sure there isn’t standing water, and keep a couple of uppermost inches damp.
Once your tree is established, you simply need to ensure the soil doesn’t become dry. Again, the soil should be damp to the touch on the upper layers.
You can use a soil meter like the XLUX Soil Moisture Meter to help you keep a closer eye on the soil.
Weeping Willows Tolerate A Variety Of Soils
How do you find the right balance, and the right soil, for your weeping willow? The good news is that weeping willows are trees that can tolerate an impressive range of different soil types. Like anything else, however, this is within reason.
Weeping willows can tolerate both acidic and alkaline soil to a certain degree. But, if the pH veers too far on either end of the scale, the tree won’t be able to grow as well.
One reason weeping willows are great to grow is that they can still thrive in difficult soil that many other trees cannot.
These trees can grow in sandy, loamy, acidic, alkaline, or even rocky and clay-filled soils.
One thing to note is that if you’re planting your willow near water, chances are that the soil is already somewhat fertile.
But, Not All Soils Provide The Best Nutrients For Weeping Willows!
Although it can grow in different soils, if the soil has a lot of clay, and sand, or is somewhat rocky, it won’t naturally have as many nutrients as the weeping willow tree needs.
However, that’s not a huge problem though, because you can take measures to enhance the soil – like with fertilizer!
Next, we’ll talk some more about making sure your tree has the nutrients it needs in the soil.
How To Fertilize Weeping Willow Trees
Even if you have excellent soil, with plenty of nutrients, your tree will inevitably use up the nutrients unless more is put into the ground.
If you notice lighter ends of leaves, it’s a sure sign that your tree is experiencing a mild nutrient deficiency at the least.
Before you plant your weeping willow, mix some compost or natural fertilizer with the soil.
You don’t need to go too deep when adding the fertilizer. Adding it to the upper layers of the soil is just fine.
There are a couple of ways to approach fertilizing your tree after planting it.
And, as luck would have it, we recommend using more than one of them alone. One of the first measures you can take is mulching.
Mulch not only helps to insulate the soil, which is great for trees in less temperate climates, but helps to retain moisture, which is ideal if you’re struggling to get your willow enough water.
Mulching also allows organic material to slowly break down and release nutrients into the soil over time.
How Much Fertilizer Do You Need?
When you add fertilizer to your soil, you should typically add at least one cup of fertilizer (mixed appropriately) for every inch your tree’s trunk measures around.
Of course, this is just a general rule of thumb, and you should always make sure to distribute nutrients evenly over your tree’s root zones.
If you’re not sure where to start with fertilizer, check out this TreeHelp Premium Fertilizer for Willow. This is specifically designed for weeping willow trees, to give you all the best nutrients your tree will need to thrive!
What Else Do Weeping Willow Trees Need?
We’ve talked a lot about water and soil, and how that affects weeping willows.
However, any plant needs more than the right amount of water to achieve its best growth.
Next up, we’ll look at the requirements for weeping willows to grow.
Weeping Willows Need Plenty Of Sun
Weeping willows do best with full sun, but can also tolerate partial sun.
To put it simply, they need a minimum of 4 hours of sun, although at least 6 to 8 hours is ideal.
The good news is that these trees often take care of the problem of getting enough sunlight themselves.
Sun Helps Them Grow Tall!
Weeping willows can easily reach 50 feet tall, allowing them to reach above the shade of other trees.
Younger trees, and therefore smaller trees, don’t yet have this advantage, although, with the other right conditions, they soon will.
These trees are exceptionally fast growers, and can easily add 5 to 8 feet to their height in a single year. Of course, you should still take note of the sunlight an area receives before you plant there.
Willows Need Routine Prunings
We all love the sweeping branches of weeping willows, and because of that, many people are reluctant to prune those branches away.
Younger weeping willows will need more extensive, regular pruning. This is because it actually helps the young tree to grow back more vigorously. You can choose to either prune at the beginning of spring, or as winter begins.
Older weeping willows require much less maintenance. You won’t need to prune as thoroughly, but you do need to keep an eye out for damaged or broken limbs.
One other thing to keep in mind when you prune weeping willows is that some branches will rub against, and possibly damage others. If you notice that certain branches are interfering with others, you need to prune to allow the other branches to grow properly.
Always Remove Broken Or Damaged Branches
Remove damaged branches to help maintain the health of the rest of the tree.
Another key thing you should keep an eye out for is branches that hold enough weight to stress other branches on the tree.
Branches that are too heavy are more likely to break, which opens the possibility of other health issues such as infection and disease.
There may also come a time when your weeping willow tree should be cut down. As much as we’d hate to admit it, it can be dangerous to keep a weeping willow tree standing when it is having issues! Check our article for signs that your weeping willow tree needs to be cut down.
Weeping Willows Need To Be Inspected For Pests
Pests are something no gardener wants to deal with. For all its other strengths, the weeping willow is susceptible to some types of pests or infections.
One way to help your tree is by inspecting it and looking for signs weak branches and oddly colored foliage. Because weeping willows should be water adjacent, the fungus is a common problem (and this is one of the reasons why snakes love willows!)
Other problems can come in the form of insects that like to prey on weeping willows. The good news is that if you catch an infestation quickly enough, you can usually prevent major damage and get rid of the pests in question.
Use Preventative Measures To Keep Pests Away
One way to keep pests at bay is by using regular preventative measures.
Certain insecticides are made to target many of the insects that regularly target willows.
The best thing to do is to spray before you have to deal with an existing infestation. Depending on which product you choose, you’ll either spray once or twice yearly.
Because weeping willows should be planted near water, it’s especially important to select a treatment that won’t hurt other plants and wildlife. So using a natural pesticide like this Bonide Captain Jack’s Neem Oil 3-in-1 Treatment is a great option.
When you’re looking at places to plant a weeping willow, you may wonder if you can plant one near your home, and yes you can, but you need a large area to do so.
Otherwise, these trees are great for shade, preventing erosion, and adding some privacy to your property.
There’s nothing wrong with planting one on your property, but you do need to be wary of planting them a good distance from your home and other significant structures, because they grow large, and their expansive root systems can destroy foundations and structures.
Because they constantly seek water, their roots are adapted to spread out and go through soil both deep and shallow.
How Far Away From Your House Should You Plant A Weeping Willow?
The general guideline is to plant weeping willows a minimum of 50 feet away from your home, any structures, and septic tanks.
This allows the roots plenty of room to expand, without risking them interfering with any other structure that would otherwise be in their way.
Can You Plant A Weeping Willow In Dry Areas?
While nobody likes to come down to semantics, technically, yes, you can plant a weeping willow in a dry area.
However, if you plant this tree in a dry area, it’s going to take a lot of work on your part to keep it healthy and growing normally, including an extensive irrigation setup.
When the trees are fully mature, they can tolerate some amount of drought. Unfortunately, being able to tolerate a condition does not mean they can thrive in it.
For more information on the best places to plant a weeping willow tree – we’ve got you covered with a really in-depth article about the best places where they will thrive!
The fact is, weeping willows are ideal trees to plant near water. They thrive on extra moisture, enough so that they can even help tidy up extra wet spots.
And planting weeping willows near water isn’t just good for them. It’s good for the ecosystem around them. From housing wildlife, to purifying water, to helping to prevent erosion, this is a tree you’ll want growing near water.
Kefeli, V., Lininger, C., & Shultz, R. (2007). To chemotaxonomy of willow species.
Latch, B. J. (1980). Weeping willow rust in New Zealand. New Zealand journal of agricultural research, 23(4), 535-538.
Pauliukonis, N., & Schneider, R. (2001). Temporal patterns in evapotranspiration from lysimeters with three common wetland plant species in the eastern United States. Aquatic Botany, 71(1), 35-46.
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