Friday, 22 April 2011

Willow planters thumb.........

Apology, for the lack of communication here - I've been tree and hedge planting (65 trees and 1000 willow cuttings). Haven't they done me proud, that lovely tree up there, all neat and hospital corners on the plastic and lovely cosy tree guards, how cute do they look? When tree planting here - the best way advised is to plant with a mulch mat of plastic (or carpet would do - its just to keep the weeds down  and the moisture in whilst the tree grows and establishes). I'll do a crazy tree planting post to let you see how I did it in my own unique 'jazz' gardening style - and thankfully it worked! I've great hopes for them and thank you to the lady who taught me how to plant them, she knows who she is!

However, I have to say, I have tree stake and willow planters thumb joint, where I kept hitting my thumb joint with a hammer. I'm blaming my bruised thumb on my inept ability at co-ordinating a hammer towards the stake, or the hard wood cutting, rather than it being the hammers fault. Honest injun. I can still type, therefore I need to stop moaning and get back to the point. Lets have a lovely look at my little trees to be, my willow hedge cuttings, ready for action - a forest in a bowl, cool huh.........?
As for the hedge - first we soak our little cuttings in a bit of water for 24 hours to let them get a good start - no specialist equipment here - a jug, a bow, a bucket - just remember to put them in the right way up!!!The buds face up, not down as I appeared to have done with one set - whoops! Turned them right way quickly! The latin for willow (salix) is from the Celtic meaning - 'near water'. Very apt as willow loves the wet and does well in our lovely rainy climate. They also tolerate the wind, well there was a book wasn't there? The wind and the willows, how very apt that is - willow goes well here despite our windy weather - it makes a great windbreak hedge. Best get on with it eh?
There we are with all the bits and bobs, getting ready for planting out watch out for that pesky hammer - its not as innocent as it looks! Don't be alarmed, willow hard wood cuttings are as tough as old boots and when you plant larger cuttings sometimes a bit of a knock in with a hammer gets them lodge into the soil nicely and safely - we'd not want them to blow away would we?! Its not cruelty to plants, its helping them out and they are still asleep when I do it - so they don't feel a thing!  
Now we've soaked hard wood cuttings we can get going, for the hedge I'm planting at them 50 cm apart in staggered rows. Again through plastic dug into the ground (a couple inches either side, trenched to keep it down covering the soil), just to keep the weeds down whilst it gets going! Planting willow as a hedge is as simple as planting chunky pencils (bear with me!) - they establish brilliantly from pencil-esk sized cuttings, just pushed into the ground - as long as you've weed cover, they will grow beautifully. But, they don't tolerate weed competition at all - they are a pioneer plant (a plant that takes over in a new patch of ground so they don't like competition, especially from weeds).
A few of the cuttings laid out (or pencils if you like!) - yellow, red, brown, basket and a big leaved one for shelter.......They have all come from a local supplier and a few from a couple of friends with a bit of willow. I've made a mixed willow hedge to give me different interest at different time of the year - I love the different colour of the stems and how the leaves/flowers will emerge at sligthly different times. Kris (who left a comment last time is right) willow is a brilliant addition to a garden for an early nectar/pollen source for insects and bees. But remember - willows are not like alot of normal plants who have both boys and girls ont he same plants willow are single sex - you get a girl plant or a boy plant so if you want a bit more diversity, make sure you get a variety of willow cuttings to get girls and boys on different plants.  

As taking hard wood cuttings is 'vegetative propagation' or 'vegetable proposing' as the cellist says [chucks up images of carrots asking each other out, or is that just me?]. Anyway, you maybe want to be sure you take or get cuttings from more than one plant, as you'll only have the sex that plant is. Its not important, but as willows are terribly promiscuious - you might as well let them have a bit of fun.....(!) and see if you end up with any hybrid baby seedlings of something fun! I mean what if the black stem ones meet up with the yellow ones - and they get on with each other, will they end up black, yellow or stripey babbies? Ok enough with the willow jokes. Ahem.

Anyhow, enough with the nattering, for this hedge I needed to get the spacing right - so I cut a bit of bamboo cane to 50 cm and then I knew that all my cutttings were the right distance apart. And, less faffing about with a tape, easier to just use a bit of cane. I do this if i'm planting veggies too - keeps me right and they get spaced properly, only takes two ticks.
OK for a small area - maybe you don't need to do this but on the other hand, if things not being spaced properly will drive you crazy, then do it - it took a couple of minutes and meant that I have confidence I've spaced it correctly. (And of course it means, very simply, I/you can work out how many cuttings are needed for the length/depth of the hedge). For this one - 1m wide - three rows of willow - staggered at 50 cm apart will give me a lovely deep and wind proof (ish) hedge. Perfect! Next a few handy bits of kit for you're average willow planting person! Eat a hearty breakfast, tree and willow planting is tiring work - you need energy - so get some lovely food down you - in my case boiled eggs - and a silly stripey bowl to make them look pretty. And, yes I did pause before eating and take a photo - how gorgeous are the lovely chookies eggs?

OK, full of grub, next I found my dibber - to make a hole, if needed (kind of like back up, probably not needed but handy to have if required) but mostly the hard wood cutting will pop right into the soil really quickly - but if not making a hole with a dibber (again classic non-tree planting tool) helped to get the cutting deeper into the ground. The children think this is a vampire killing device, but in real life, it's an innocent dibber - not a vampire killer honest....normally it plants leeks - not willow!! Unless it leads a double life?
And, of course, the trusty (albeit turncoat) hammer - is also needed for the stakes and those stubborn willow cuttings - and if you feel the need to hit your thumb joint (often). I'm a champion of odd tools for gardening - I figure why pay premium prices for a tree stake hammer - when in real life a hammer will do the same thing.....
 A pair of gloves (which I never normally wear) but after the tenth time I hit my thumb or hurt my hand pushing in willow cuttings into the ground - I put them on!
 Ta da! One section of hedge finished - 100 m to go!!!! They look like they are all in rows, the middle row is actually staggered distance between the two outer rows, to help it thicken up quickly. I've planted at 8 plants per metre - a bit above the recommended 5-6 a metre but its windy here and I want a really thick hedge. Willow is good at jostling for space and I'm sure they'll all be happy having a wee chat with each other.
In a couple of weeks they will be in leaf and growing - its amazing to think if you plant a stick, up comes a tree - this truly is an amazing plant! By the end of the summer- it will be about 1 m high and helping to keep a bit of the wind out, year two it will be 2-3 m high, year three it will be 4-5 m high but they don't get much taller in our wind but even saying that its pretty impressive - willow is a really great shrub in a windy true blue peter style - here's the first one I did earlier last March!
The last one, planted in March/April 2010 - photo taken in late summer 2010 - 5-6 months after planting the willow hedge is about 1m tall just tucked at the really does work! Work we've done here suggests that unlike normal coppicing (cutting the hedge back to the ground after a year to thicken it up) we are better to have a look at our hedge after the first year and if the growth isn't really vigorous - then wait to cut it back until the next year. That way they establish better, but its entirely depending on how it grows.

But remember, the best advice I can possibly give you, a hearty meal before you plant it all! Watch your thumb.........! AND if you can rope a friend into help you - then do - its quite hard work!!


  1. The yolks on the eggs look amazing, really yellow. Southern softy shop eggs dont look like that!

  2. What a wonderfully informative post, Fay. Lots of pics and tips! Although I've not connected with a willow cutting supplier yet, I did make a local purchase this week. Not a basket or furniture grade willow, but a purely decorative one: Hakuro Nishiki. My plan is to cut rods from this plant and root them in deep pots then create a decorative hedge in front of the house. If I can't find other willows this spring, at least I can 'play' with this one. BTW - do you sell cuttings on your eBay account?

  3. Hey vicki the gals lay lovely eggs don't they.....! Hope family good!

  4. Kris I will do willow next year. How long does post take from here to you? I think it's a bit late this year o post hard wood cuttings, but if you want to try an experiment or we can try next year ae ail me. Next year I'll b selling 10+ types of willow via internet.

    Have you googled willow biomass cuttings near you or just looked for a local good patch by your home and asked permission for a couple of cuttings!. My hard wood citing are 20cm long, thicker than a pencil, a thumb size is perfect, 3/4 cutting into the ground..... Good luck!

  5. All the information required, and delivered in an entertaining manner. Looks like you have taken to the Orkney's and will be there long term.

  6. Very interesting post.

    I've been mulling putting in some willow here on the Isle of Lewis so it's great to see in detail what I'd need to do.

    (And an excellent tip on using carpet - I've just ripped out some old carpets so it'd be great to use them for something rather than just throwing them away).

  7. Thanks guys. Alistair we've only 4 years left but I do love it you are right!

    Tony,nice to see you on here. If I can be any help send me an email. I know far too much about willow and windy islands! Good luck!

  8. Fascinating. I'm looking for a source of willow for weaving. Not so easy to find in urban northern California