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Hort in the Home Landscape

A blog devoted to sharing timely horticulture topics and answering the questions of gardeners and homeowners.
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Plant of the Week: Pussy Willow


Spring is upon us, so it's time to get started with some plants of the week again! This morning I looked out my kitchen window to see that the buds on my pussy willow had started to break! Upon closer inspection, they looked even more beautiful with the morning rain drops gathering on them.

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) is known for it's late winter display of gray catkins. What's a catkin you might ask? A catkin is a slim, cylindrical flower cluster, with inconspicuous or no petals at all,usually wind pollinated but sometimes insect-pollinated, as is the case with Salix species.

 

Before the foliage emerges in the spring, male trees produce a showy display of catkins, about 1-1.5" long and pearl gray and silky. The female trees produce smaller, less attractive, greenish catkins.This plant is a dioecious species, meaning that male and female catkins appear on completely separate trees. If you are growing Pussy Willow for this ornamental feature, then be sure you're planting a male tree.

These catkins are said to resemble the pads on a cat's paw, hence the common name.

Pussy Willow is most often seen as a large multi-stemmed shrub that gets to about 6-15' tall. If you wanted to keep it as a smaller plant,the shrub could be cut to the ground every 3-5 years to maintain a smaller shrub shape.

This particular willow is more tolerant of drier soils than others and prefers a full sun location.

Unfortunately, if you refer to Missouri Botanic Garden's plant information on Pussy Willow, the problems with the shrub can be numerous. They note that Pussy Willow are susceptible to numerous disease problems including blights, powdery mildew, leaf spots, gray scab and cankers. It also is visited by many insect pests including aphids, scale, borers, lacebugs and caterpillars. The wood is weak and may crack. Branches may be damaged by ice and snow. Litter from leaves, twigs and branches may be a problem. Shallow roots may clog sewers or drains and make gardening underneath the plants difficult.

So that's not great..but if you're able to overcome those issues, then I think Pussy Willow can be an interesting shrub to add to the landscape. As a florist, I'm probably a little biased as well because I love to cut the branches early and force them indoors for floral arrangements!




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