By Amanda Rose Newton
There are few trees as graceful and effortlessly elegant as the weeping willow (Salix babylonica). The long green branches sway gently in the breeze adding an instant Zen-like quality to the landscape. In these uncertain times, creating a tranquil, reflective space at home can help melt away anxiety and concerns beyond our control. To make sure your new tree causes more Zen than frustration, we have compiled a list of considerations to ensure success.
Weeping willows like wet feet
Willows tend to be found along stream banks, ponds, lakes, and marshes. To use a horticultural term, these trees love having, “wet feet”, meaning they perform their best in moist conditions.
If you do not have a pond in your backyard, they can be grown as a specimen tree if they are receiving regular watering.
You will know it is not getting enough water if it starts dropping leaves! Watch Out Below!
How tall do weeping willows get?
Weeping willows in Florida do not get quite as large as what is seen commonly up North. While Northern specimens can reach upwards 50 ft, here you can expect 20+ ft, if that, which makes it an appropriately sized tree for many.
However, the root system on these trees is not messing around! It is important to make sure they will not encounter underground septic systems, pipes, or be planted near sidewalks as they can lift concrete.
Part of what makes this tree so attractive is its sprawling form, which can be problematic for a smaller residential lot.
Native Florida willow species
There are several smaller native Florida willow species that may suit smaller yards, including the pussy willow (Salix humilis), Florida willow (Salix floridana), and the Heart-leaved willow (Salix eriophala). These trees also happen to serve as an important host plant for both the Tiger Swallowtail and the Red-spotted Purple butterflies.
Growing a willow tree
Weeping willows in Florida perform best in full sun or light shade, and are happy in just about any soil type.
In order to maintain that elegant look (they do not wake up looking like that), they need to be trained and pruned when young to encourage a strong central trunk, that will allow for arching branches.
This practice also helps increase the longevity of the tree, with their typical lifespan being roughly 30 years. If pruning makes you nervous, be sure to check out our pruning videos with Brian!
Pests and Disease
Pests and diseases tend to be commonplace with the willow, but it would take several large infestations of scales, caterpillars, borers, or aphids in order to do them in. A few bugs here and there should not be a concern.
Confused about how much is too much? Feel free to send us a picture to [email protected], and we will quickly asses the situation for you and provide a treatment plan.
Due to their love of moisture, willows tend to be susceptible to many types of fungi, including your standard powdery mildews and rusts.
In rare cases, root rots, cankers, and scabs can form due to fungal interaction. If you suspect an unwelcome fungus might be to blame for your tree’s issue, feel free to bring in a sample (in a bag) for diagnosis or send us a picture.
Fertilizing your weeping willow
Generally, when planted in the right location, willows have minimal fertilizer needs.
If you feel so inclined, they can benefit from applying a basic organic fertilizer like Espoma Tree Tone, twice a year. (In Brevard county, do not apply fertilizer during the summer months.)
Apply ½ cup lightly over the root area to start.
Once they reach maturity (2-3 years), adjust to 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer.
When planted in the right place, the weeping willow can provide a touch of tranquil elegance to your landscape, just what we could all use right about now.
Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Nelson, Gil. Florida’s Best Native Plants for the Landscape. 2003. University of Florida Press. Gainesville, Florida.