AROUND THE GARDEN: The Amazing Pussy Willow

All politics like weather is local. Locally, we are thirsting for sun, warmth, and signs of spring, which is only 13 days away. Hard to believe daffodils will be blooming soon.

Published March 7, 2014 5:00 AM
3 min read

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pussywillowthumbAll politics like weather is local. Locally, we are thirsting for sun, warmth, and signs of spring, which is only 13 days away. Hard to believe daffodils will be blooming soon.

 

By Chris Cohan

pussywillow2All politics like weather is local. Locally, we are thirsting for sun, warmth, and signs of spring, which is only 13 days away. Hard to believe daffodils will be blooming soon. Rather than wait any longer, consider forcing branches of forsythia, cherry, and common pussy willow indoors for a jump on the season.

For many, the fuzzy silvery-gray catkins of the pussy willow (Salix discolor) are a harbinger of spring. It is one of the easiest to force. Just before submerging in a vase, cut the bases to ensure good uptake of water.

Pussy willow is dioecious, meaning it has male plants with male flowers and female plants with female flowers. The flowers are called catkins, a botanical term for modified flowers. Appearing in late winter or early spring, it is the fuzzy, one-inch long silvery-gray male catkins that are showy, of course.

They are often found along streambeds in gravelly, sandy soils and tolerate wet soils. Providing winter interest and beloved by birds and other wildlife, pussy willow is a good choice for pond edges, meandering streams or swales, or in soggy low-lying areas in the yard. It prefers full sun to partial shade, responds well to pruning, and can be trained into thick vertical hedges.

We aren’t the only ones who look forward to pussy willow blooming. It is one of the best large shrubs for bees because it blooms especially early in the year. Beekeepers often plant them close to the apiary to help bees through the pollen-scarce months of March and April when little else is in flower. Birds are attracted to pussy willows because they play host to many insects such as flies, leafhopper, cicadas, and aphids. They are host to butterfly and moth caterpillars, too.

Pussy willow grows rapidly into thick multi-stemmed tall shrubs that provide protection, nesting, and food for a variety of birds. Ruffed grouse eat the buds and tender twigs. Mallards and wood ducks dine on the catkins. Birds and animals, however, utilize the pussy willow at all stages of its growth. Goldfinches often make their nests in its branches. The ruby-throated hummingbird uses the fuzz on willow seeds for nesting material.

When forcing indoors, remember to keep the stems submerged in water. You will be surprised how quickly they sprout roots. If and when the weather ever warms up, cut the top back by half, plant, and watch it grow. In a few years you will have a sizeable shrub. It will provide you with many branches for late winter forcing, spring color in the garden, a home to birds, and host to insects and caterpillars.

 

 

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