Over the Garden Fence: Pussy willow trees an easy way to bring back childhood memories

Pussy willow plants are a sign that spring is around the corner.
Pussy willow plants are a sign that spring is around the corner. AP, file

I recently saw pussy willow trees for sale at Lowes the other day and they brought back memories of my mother taking cuttings and putting them in a vase. I always am reminded of that spring ritual every time I see a pussy willow tree. There is one at the Pine Grove Mills Post Office that I have admired over the years.

It is fortunate that the pussy willow tree (Salix discolor) is easy to grow; care of the small tree is minimal when it is planted in the right place. A few tips on how to plant a pussy willow tree and the care of pussy willows are in order.

Because the pussy willow is one of the first trees to break bud in late winter or early spring, learning how to grow pussy willows provides the garden with unique interest from the furry catkins, which are soon followed by whitish, yellow flowers, when much of the landscape is still asleep and seemingly lifeless.

For best results in growing pussy willows, pay careful attention to the location where it is planted. They like constant moisture and full to part sun. If there’s a boggy area in your landscape with room for roots to spread, plant it there. That makes it kind of unique in the landscape.

One word of caution on where to plant your pussy willow tree to avoid some potential problems down the road. You may have expensive problems if the tree is planted near water lines, sewer lines or septic tank fields. Pussy willows have deep spreading roots that can be considered invasive when planted in the wrong place. If you are unsure where the lines run in your landscape, contact the water or utility company before planting. They will come out and mark the lines before you plant — normally free of charge. This is a good tip when planting anything that might be near a utility line.

The deep spreading roots of the pussy willow makes it a good choice for holding the soil on a hill and in erosion control. This is possibly the most important function of the pussy willow. Choose the type of pussy willow that will fit the area when mature. When growing a pussy willow tree, there are a variety of mature sizes available for planting. Don’t create unnecessary work for yourself in the care of pussy willows by planting in the wrong place.

Pruning pussy willow is another important aspect of its care. If your current specimen is too big for the space in which it grows, pussy willow care can include pollarding, a regular all-over pruning for the sake of size. Regular renewal pruning should become part of pussy willow care as well, regardless of where it grows. The technique of coppice, severe renewal pruning, is often successfully used as part of pussy willow care too. Branches of the pussy willow are somewhat weak, so yearly pruning when flowers are spent encourages new growth for the next year.

Cutting branches for indoor display, as my mother did, is an excellent use of catkins and flowers when growing a pussy willow tree. Cut branches with buds and place them in a tall vase in bright sunlight. You’ll be rewarded with indoor blooms before the outdoor tree breaks bud, in many cases.

Purchase a pussy willow tree and maybe you will create some childhood memories for your family.