all hail pussy willows

Pussy willows. I love them and have a bunch. Mostly giant pussy willow: Salix chaenomeloides and one black pussy willow Salix chaenomeloides. I want a pink pussy willow next. Of course I have to find a spot, but I digress.

In one area where pussy willows are they are 14 feet tall and higher it gets partial sun. The other side of the property they get full sun. I got lazy and didn’t give them the chop back they needed at the end of the growing season last year and I am going to pay the price now once they leaf out. I am planning on taking at least 4 feet if not more off of them. And that’s pretty much every bush. The black pussy willow is about 8 feet tall so only take about 3 feet off of that may be a little less.

The black pussy willow anchors a large long perennial bed. It is the third thing I planted in this garden, and because I bought a large specimen at the time, it is one of the few things I have had professionally planted. The giant pussy willows are all planted on the edge of my woods in two different locations.

Anything I have in the willow family is NOT planted near our well or septic. If I was on public water I would not have them near any water pipes underground. They can cause damage with the roots. So you need to take that into consideration when you were contemplating a location.

We have a regular willow tree on one side of the front lawn near the garage. The reason we planted that was to medicate a really soggy lawn, runoff and a wet garage when we bought the house. We planted the willow and it’s like natures sponge. Our lawn is not wet now and the garage has not had water in it since we planted it.

I have to treat my weeping willow for spotted lanternfly. In addition, Japanese beetles are overly fond of my black pussy willow. So I do treat the lawn with nematodes. That helps not only the black pussy willow but my roses. I don’t use Japanese beetle traps because the lure attracts Japanese beetles from miles around. I made that mistake once, never again.

Willows are the genus Salix. My research indicates that this genus has over 400 species of deciduous trees and shrubs. That kind of blows my mind!

Now I am going to share some pruning advice for the giant pussy willows after they leaf out from a gardening mentor who is kind of like my unofficial plant father Chris Sann. He has always been so helpful to me and one of the few who can get me to try plants I would never imagine I could grow. He has among the best knowledge bases of anyone I know. He has the mind of a scientist and heart of a gardener.

And I have a lot of his plants. He owns the boutique nursery business Applied Climatology which is at the West Chester Growers Market in West Chester, PA. This is his giant pussy willow pruning advice, and I will be doing what he says once they leaf out:

📌“I would treat them like the red twig dogwoods. Cut back dead branches or for shape any time, but periodically – especially it the new stem production is starting to slow down – cut all older stems to 8-12″ height and feed with a good slow release or organic type fertilizer and/or seaweed extract in the spring once it has begun to leaf out and again in late Summer when nighttime temperatures consistently fall into the 50s. The cutting back every couple of years increases more stem growth, plant vigor and blooming!”📌

So my pussy willows have a pruning in their future. They are a few years old now, so I will have to use my heavy loppers. Some of the older stems are 2 to 3 inches in diameter.

I have always loved pussy willows. When I was a little girl my father would buy bunches early every spring from a man named Mr. Cullinan who was like a flower huckster. He drove a VW van, and didn’t have a store. I don’t know how you got on his list, but he would appear once in a while. He was a plantsman and I think a farmer. He would always give me a pussy willow stem of my own. I loved the velvety catkins.

I will finish with the pussy willow poem and illustration from Cicely Mary Barker. She did the flower fairies. She was a British illustrator who lived 1895-1973. Her drawings are lovely if you can find them. I gave a few prints I found to a friend for her granddaughter’s nursery. Thanks for stopping by and here’s the poem:

The Willow-Catkin Fairy
Poem and art by Cicely Mary Barker

The people call me Palm, they do;
They call me Pussy-willow too.
And when I’m full in bloom, the bees
Come humming round my yellow trees.

The people trample round about
And spoil the little trees, and shout;
My shiny twigs are thin and brown:
The people pull and break them down.

To keep a Holy Feast, they say,
They take my pretty boughs away.
I should be glad—I should not mind—
If only people weren’t unkind.

Oh, you may pick a piece, you may
(So dear and silky, soft and grey);
But if you’re rough and greedy, why
You’ll make the little fairies cry.

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