Unexpected color in the garden
The dappled willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki') is a lovely small tree or shrub that has a wide range of uses. It is also known as the variegated willow or tri-colored willow because of its unique foliage and new growth branch color. Native to northern Asia and Siberia, this attractive plant makes a great impact statement or a lovely hedge, depending on how it is pruned. Hardy from USDA zones 4-9, it enjoys full sun to partial shade conditions and grows well in damp conditions where other trees and shrubs may struggle. However it can tolerate drier areas if supplemental moisture is given during drought. Mine enjoys a spot at the north east corner of my home a little ways from the central air conditioner unit. The evaporator drips excess water on to the ground and the ground is always moist there in the summer.
The dappled willow works as both a hedge or a landscape tree
The foliage is lovely, especially in the spring. New leaf growth emerges a pale pink with splashes of white that is quite charming. As the season progresses, the pink fades to green and the white mutes to a lighter shade of green. This is why many gardeners like to use this plant as a hedge. They prune it severely in late winter or early spring and the new growth makes a wonderful contrast to the ordinary boxwoods that are commonplace in many suburban lawns. The foliage isn't the only interesting feature. The new growth stems turn a deep coral as the season progresses and when the golden foliage drops in autumn, makes a bright spot of color through the winter. If trained as a small tree, which tops out at about 20 feet, the pink foliage will only be at the tips of the new branches, however as the little tree matures, the branches droop slightly, giving it a bit of a weeping appearance. The size estimates on the plant tags are not accurate. Without yearly hard pruning, this willow will reach 15 to 20 feet tall which is still small for a tree, however, you need to be aware that it will exceed the six to eight foot estimates on the tags and plant it accordingly. Either way you grow it, the dappled willow is charming and for gardeners with small properties, it is a nice choice. For those of us with more land, it makes a great statement tree to be admired from a patio or porch swing.
Growing the dappled willow
The dappled willow likes soil conditions that are slightly acidic with the pH ranging between 5 and 7 and while it does prefer moist conditions it doesn't grow well in standing water. Common pests and disease that sometimes plague the plant are tent caterpillars, spider mites and powdery mildew. Since this is a fast-growing and forgiving plant, most gardeners simply prune affected stems and destroy them. Powdery mildew is a less frequent condition if your willow is planted in a sunnier spot. The colors will also be brighter where the dappled willow receives more sun. Deer tend to avoid this plant and other willow species unless weather conditions such as drought stress other food sources. This is true for rabbits as well, although small, young transplants should be protected until they reach a bigger size. Remember that the root systems of willow trees are quite large and often invade sewer systems and cause problems with concrete patios. Plant your dappled willow, or any other willow well away from any potential problems.
Willows are useful
Humans have valued willows and used them for millennia. They are easily propagated from cuttings and gardeners can increase their dappled willow numbers by taking hardwood cuttings in the late winter and placing them in pots of damp potting soil. New roots appear in about 6 weeks. The fast growth and long, straight stems made them an essential item for early basket makers. Willow baskets are strong, lightweight and flexible and are still being made today. The dappled willow would be a good addition to a basket-maker's garden. The flexible stems also make excellent rustic furniture and paper makers often use willow pulp for hand-crafted paper. Willow trees are also a source of salicylic acid and was a part of early herbal pharmacies. It is the compound that modern aspirin was derived from and tea made from the bark relieves minor fevers and pains.
Dappled willows are budget friendly and easy care
Whether you use the dappled willow as a hedge or as a stand-alone specimen tree, their light, lacy appearance will most definitely brighten up your property. If using the dappled willow as a hedge, plant about three feet apart and they should fill in quite nicely in two or three seasons. They are easy to care for and quite forgiving if hard pruning is necessary. Dappled willows are easy to propagate, however they are offered at many nurseries and big box stores at very attractive prices. Mine came from my local big box store and a bushy, 3 foot plant was only about 25 dollars so they make a great, economical choice for a hedge as well. This little tree should be used more often in the landscape since gardeners with a wide range of needs and conditions find it an excellent fit. Whether you have a small, suburban lot or several acres, the dappled willow can find a home in your garden.