Thursday, May 9

How to Propagate Pussy-Willows

One of the first signs of spring in Maine is when the furry little catkins of the pussy-willow develop. On Easter this year, my daughter cut some branches from her grandmother's pussy-willow tree, stuck them in her brown thermos with water, and set them on the window sill. She watched, somewhat sadly, as the fuzzy catkins turned into leaves. Since then the can of branches sat on the sill, pretty much forgotten.

 
Until this morning when I decided maybe it was time to chuck them in the compost pile. 
But, when I pulled them out of the stinky water,  I found long healthy roots!
So, we planted them in some light seed starting mix. 
In a few weeks, we'll transfer each one into its own pot. 
and, with luck, have five healthy pussy-willow saplings to plant in the fall.

Propagating pussy-willows is so easy it happened by accident for us, but here are some tips to guide you:

1. Cut branches early in the season.
2. Choose healthy branches about 12 inches long.
3. To improve success rate, scrape the bottom inch or so of the branch with a knife.
4. Remove leaves below the water line to keep away that rotten water smell.
5. Pussy-willows like wet conditions, so don't let the soil dry out.
6. Transplant in autumn.
7. Choose a location with plenty of space. Pussy-willows will grow into good sized trees.
8. Prune in any shape or fashion desired. 

Interestingly, pussy-willows produce a growth hormone, so rooting powder is not necessary. In fact, you can add cuttings from other plants in with the pussy-willows to take advantage of the natural rooting hormone.  Water in which willows have steeped is known as willow water and was used by ancient peoples to encourage root growth.

Pussy-willows have been enjoyed in many cultures over the centuries. In China, the plant was used in Chinese New Year celebrations. In some cool climates, pussy-willow branches were used in place of palms for Palm Sunday services. In my family, the little catkins become mice for dollhouses. Pussy-willow branches make lovely additions to flower arrangements and can also be used to make wreaths. 

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