Corkscrew Willow Care: Tips For Growing A Curly Willow Tree

Corkscrew Willow Care: Tips For Growing A Curly Willow Tree


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By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Also known as curly willow or tortured willow, corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortusa’) is easy to identify by its long, graceful leaves and curly, contorted branches, which become especially noticeable during the winter. Unfortunately, although corkscrew willow is a fast-growing tree, it isn’t long lived and tends to be susceptible to breakage and insect problems.

In spite of its downfalls, growing a curly willow tree is a worthy endeavor, and with proper care, you’ll enjoy this fascinating tree for several years. Keep reading and learn more about how to grow corkscrew willow trees.

Curly Willow Growing Conditions

Before growing this tree, you should know where to plant curly willow. Corkscrew willow is suitable for growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. The tree develops a short root system that remains near the surface of the soil, so it should be planted a safe distance from buildings, driveways, sidewalks and sewer lines. Plant curly willow anytime during spring or summer.

Curly willow isn’t fussy about soil and adapts to clay, loam or sand. Similarly, it tolerates either sun or partial shade. However, ideal conditions for this tree are well-drained, moist soil and full sunlight.

Corkscrew Willow Care

For the most part, corkscrew willow care is minimal, but the tree likes moisture. Water regularly during the first year, then water generously during periods of hot, dry weather. A 2- to 3-inch (5-8 cm.) layer of mulch will help keep the soil moist, helps keep weeds in check, and protect the trunk from damage by weed trimmers and lawnmowers. However, leave a few inches (8 cm.) of bare ground around the base of the tree, as mulch that piles up against the trunk can attract a variety of pests.

Corkscrew willow generally requires no fertilizer, but if growth appears weak, you can apply a cup of balanced dry fertilizer around the tree every spring, then water deeply. If your tree is near a fertilized lawn, it probably already receives adequate nutrients.

Prune corkscrew willow regularly to allow air and sunlight to enter the center of the tree, as a healthier tree free of damaged or dead branches is less prone to insect damage. However, problems to watch for include pests such as aphids, borers, gypsy moths and willow beetles.

The tree is relatively disease-resistant, although it is susceptible to powdery mildew and leaf spot. The diseases tend to be relatively mild and usually don’t require treatment.

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As its name suggests, the corkscrew willow tree's most notable features include its curly, twisting leaves and branches. Individual leaves reach 3-to-5 inches in length and 1/2-inch wide and have serrated edges. The green leaves turn yellow in the fall. Young branches emerge as yellow twigs with a fuzzy covering. Mature limbs sport grayish-brown bark with ridges. Corkscrew willows produce an upright, oval growth habit and have a mature height of 20-to-40 feet with a spread of 10-to-30 feet.

Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4b through 8a, corkscrew willows grow best in moist areas, although they will tolerate some drought. Not picky when it comes to soil, these deciduous trees grow well in clay, sandy or loamy soils with acidic or alkaline pH levels. Corkscrew willows do require fast-draining soils since standing water or sogginess cause their roots to rot. A site that receives full to partial sunlight is best. Corkscrew willows tolerate salty soils and salt spray, making them a fitting choice for coastal plantings.

Corkscrew willows require only minimal care to keep them healthy and thriving. Supplemental watering is needed only when rainfall is scarce or when the soil dries to a depth of 2 inches. Deep, infrequent watering promotes healthy, extensive root systems. A yearly application of a basic 10-10-10 nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium fertilizer in the spring just before leaf emergence will supplement the soil with needed nutrients. A general rate of 1 tablespoon per square foot of soil is sufficient however, check the recommended rate on the label before spreading the granules. Keep the fertilizer 6-to-12 inches away from the tree's trunk to prevent fertilizer burn.


Pros and Cons

There are several pros and cons to growing this tree in the home garden.

Reasons for Planting

On the plus side, its interesting branch structure, beautiful fall color and fast growing habits make it a desirable specimen tree. If you're designing a garden for four season interest, you can't go wrong with the corkscrew or curly willow, for its branches are dramatic and interesting when the leaves are gone. It is also good for areas where you want almost an instant tree since it grows to its mature height very quickly.

Downsides to the Tree

The downside to growing this tree is its short lifespan. Homeowners investing in their landscaping often want a tree that lasts for decades, not years. The tree tends to have a weak trunk and is prone to weather damage and cracking.


How to Grow a Curly Willow Tree

A curly willow tree (Salix matsudana) is also sometimes known as pekin willow, hankow willow and corkscrew willow. It is a medium growing, decidious tree usually reaching a height of 25 to 35 feet with a spread of approximately 15 feet. It is an easy to recognize willow tree thanks to its twisty, 2- to 4-inch long curly foliage and twisted branches. It is hardy in the USDA zones 5 to 8.

Set the bare-root curly willow into a bucket of water to soak for three to four hours to help plump up the roots in case they have dried out.

Dig a planting hole for the curly willow that is three times the diameter of its root ball and 1-1/2 times its depth. Mix into the soil that was excavated from the planting hole 1 to 1-1/2 cubic feet of dehydrated manure or aged compost.

  • A curly willow tree (Salix matsudana) is also sometimes known as pekin willow, hankow willow and corkscrew willow.
  • Dig a planting hole for the curly willow that is three times the diameter of its root ball and 1-1/2 times its depth.

Scoop in a few shovelfuls of the soil and organic matter mixture until the soil is approximately ½ filled with soil. Remove the bare-root curly willow tree from the bucket of water and set it into the planting hole. Spread out the roots in the planting hole. Make sure the tree is sitting vertically in its planting hole while you scoop in garden soil to fill the hole about ½ way.

Pour water into the planting hole to about ½ full. Fill the hole with soil after the water has dissipated, tamping down the soil as you go.

Create a 2- to 3-inch high circular dam of dirt approximately 20 to 24 inches in diameter around the curly willow tree. Water the curly willow tree, letting the basin you created with dirt fill up with water.

  • Scoop in a few shovelfuls of the soil and organic matter mixture until the soil is approximately ½ filled with soil.

Place a 5- to 6-foot high planting stake about 5 to 6 inches from the curly willow. Make sure the planting stake is well-secured. Secure the trunk of the tree to the stake with strips of burlap or gardener's twine.

Choose the planting location for the curly willow carefully. According to the University of Florida, curly willows can be problematic due to their aggressive root system.

Prune back all dead or broken branches from the curly willow tree during the winter.

Fertilize curly willow trees regularly during their growing season using a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer. Use 15-15-15 or similar type fertilizer. Read the manufacturer's instructions.

Water curly willows at least once a week during the summer season. Particularly while the trees are being established.

Plant bare root curly willows during late winter to early spring. From January through February.

Curly willow trees are known for having weak wood, and a planting state can help prevent the trunk from splitting or breaking if there is a high wind.


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A curly willow tree, also called a corkscrew willow, is a willow tree that grows up to 9 m (30 feet) tall and, as the name implies, has twisted branches. The tree originates in China and can be grown in most parts of Europe.

Growing a curly willow tree is not difficult as the plant roots easily and quickly from cuttings. With a little knowledge on how to manage the cuttings and young willow plant, you can grow your own corkscrew willow.

  • A curly willow tree, also called a corkscrew willow, is a willow tree that grows up to 9 m (30 feet) tall and, as the name implies, has twisted branches.

Take a cutting from an existing corkscrew willow in the early spring, right after the last frost date. Find a healthy branch about the diameter of a pencil. Measure 12.5 to 22.5 cm (5 to 9 inches) from the end of the plant and make a cut.

Choose a spot to root the cutting with well-drained soil in partial sunlight. Some shade is necessary to root the tree, although it is possible to move the curly willow to full sun once it is established. Work the soil in this spot with a trowel.

Stick 1/3 to 1/2 of the willow cutting into the soil, with the cut end facing down. Tamp the soil around the base of the cutting. Applying a rooting hormone to the bottom of the stem may be beneficial before planting, but is not absolutely necessary for the willow to take root.

Keep the soil moist at all times, never letting it dry out while the willow cutting is taking root. This process should take about a month and the cutting should develop a strong root system by the end of the growing season. Allow plant to go dormant in the winter, watering less often if at all. In subsequent seasons water only when the soil is very dry.

Fertilise the plant with a general purpose fertiliser during the growing season. Follow the directions on the package for application instructions.

Prune the curly willow in the winter, after the tree is dormant. Take off any dead, diseased or broken branches to promote new, vigorous growth in the spring. Also prune away any branches competing with the leader to establish a strong trunk.


How to Root a Corkscrew Willow

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Imagine a willow tree with its branches and leaves contorted into curling spiral shapes. That is the corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana), and it's a popular tree for landscaping all across the country. If you're lucky enough to know someone with a corkscrew willow, you can easily create new trees by rooting branches you cut from the original. Willow trees are so easily rooted that they almost seem eager to sprout, so novice landscapers are able to complete this project with success.

Cut several branches or twigs from a corkscrew willow. Choose twigs that are about 1/4 inch across with several buds on them and cut them in 12-inch lengths.

Poke six holes in the bottom of a plastic bucket with a screwdriver. These holes allow excess water to drain away from the rooting twigs.

Fill a bucket with clean builder's sand. Use a light-colored bucket so it won't attract too much heat from the sun if you plan to store it outside.

Bury the twigs completely in the sand. Make sure no part of the wood is sticking up into the light.

Water the sand until it is all moist and the excess water drains out of the holes in the bottom. Place the bucket in a warm place that is out of strong afternoon sunlight.

Check the bucket every week to water it and look for sprouting shoots coming up from the sand. Allow the shoots to grow 12 inches tall. Carefully dig up the sprouted twigs and transplant them into a prepared place in your yard.


Watch the video: Corkscrew Willow pre-bonsai