My Love Affair with Willow

I'm sure I've mentioned it about a million times now but, just for safety's sake, I'll say it again - Madison is a unique place, full of unique people and opportunities.

One of my favorite, unique-to-Madison occurrences are the annual "Plant Guys" sales. The Plant Guys are a group of friends who garden perennials and then sell them "yard sale" style at their homes. Generally, there are about 6  sales per spring season and you can buy nearly any kind of perennial you can imagine. I can honestly say that about 80% of the plants in my yard are from the plant guys. They've introduced me to so many types of flora, I can't begin to describe their impact on my gardening.

Last year, they sadly announced would be their last. They were retiring after lord-knows-how-many-years of doing these sales. More time to spend on their own (glorious, I might add) garden. I nearly broke down in tears as I paid for, what would certainly be my last, Plant Guys purchase. I hugged them both even though I'm sure they have, at best, a vague memory of who I am...

The thing is, because of the threat of never having this resource again, I bought LOTS more stuff than normal -  including a curly willow tree. I figured I'd find somewhere in my garden to plant it...

My fave neighborhood curly willow.
 The one of the plant guys gave me the rundown on the curly willow:
  1. It is super-hearty 
  2. It can be grown from cuttings (that's how they propagate new ones to sell - they just trim their own tree)
  3. It can be left to grow in a pot (ever bigger pots as the tree gets bigger) for YEARS
  4. It can be totally neglected over winter and will still bounce back in the spring
  5. It is curly!
I looked at their mature tree - planted against a side fence - and wasn't crazy about the way they had it pruned. However, I knew I didn't have to prune it the same way.

I looked at their "teenaged" plant - still in a GIANT pot - and loved the way it looked with all it's crazy curly branches.

And I took one home.

It did great all summer. Lots of delicate little leaves on an ever-expanding system of little, curly branches. My neighbors all asked about it. I put it in a larger pot and took great care of it.

When fall came, the leaves dropped and I, dubiously, put the tree, in its pot, in the garage and neglected it for nine months. As soon as I knew that the temperatures wouldn't drop to freezing again, I brought back out to the patio, soaked it with water and waited. About a week later, I had baby leaves. I couldn't believe it!

My willow - still in the pot - after being neglected all winter. LEAVES!

A week or so later, I was walking the dogs and noticed a HUGE pile of curly willow cuttings in front of one of my neighbor's houses. I ran home, got my clippers and went back to salvage some cuttings. I wanted to see if I could propagate curly willow too. The neighbor was all too happy to let me take as much as I wanted. So I cut a bunch - all different size pieces - and put them in a huge vase of water in the middle of my dining room table. A friend called it the Tim Burton centerpiece.

Lo and behold, within a few days I had baby roots sprouting. This past weekend, I bought pots, picked the healthiest looking trimmings and potted them.  So far they seem to be doing well. Fingers crossed!

My willow babies

This phenomena of propagating from cuttings means that the plant has some special kind of rooting hormone. As it turns out, you can "harvest" this hormone and use it to help other plants to root. I found this amazing tutorial, from Mr Brown Thumb, on how to make your own "willow rooting hormone" for use on seedlings, plants, etc. All you need are some willow branches, a mason jar, and some hot water. Easy-peasy!

My friend, Johanna, says that curly willow is an invasive species and, as such, she is not supportive of my growing them but I love them. I love their crazy curly branches and their even crazier ability to live all winter with no water or sun. I love their tenacity and their flexibility. I aspire to be as awesome as the willow.

- Alex

P.S. My cherry tree is blooming!


  1. I have never heard of this Curly Willow! But congrats on all of your little babies! Do you have space in your yard to plant them all?

    1. Emily - Assuming my babies all establish well, I'm happy to share!