Willow Growing Instructions
It is important that the setts (unrooted cuttings) are planted as quickly as possible. If it is not possible to plant immediately then store them in a cool shaded place in the bag they came in. Warm conditions will cause root growth, this must be avoided. In winter, setts may be stored for a few days before planting, so long as they are kept cool (0-5degC) and out of direct sunlight and drying winds.
Willow is easily grown from cuttings, but needs weed free conditions to thrive and produce a good crop.Willow grown for basketry purposes is generally spaced around 30-50cm between cuttings to ensure fine upright growth.Biomass and woodfuel willow is grown at wider spacing with 1 to 3 cuttings in every 2 square metres. See our Growing Fire Wood Logs from Willow guide.
The following guidance applies to all willow crops.
Willow grows best in fertile weed free soil that retains moisture. Permanently waterlogged, very sandy and some peat soils are not suitable although if in doubt it is worth trying as willow will grow pretty much anywhere.Where soil hasn't been previously cultivated we recommend planting through a woven plastic membrane. This way you don't need to clear the soil of weeds and grass and you won't release carbon dioxide from the soil. The weeds and grass will rot down underneath the plastic and improve the soil structure. The plastic will also warm the roots encouraging strong early growth.
Willow cuttings can be planted any time from late November to the end of March. Later planting will reduce the number of cuttings that root successfully. If planting whole rods they are unlikely to take after the end of March as the roots won't establish before the rods start leafing.
You will need to mow long grass and cut back any weeds so that you can lay your groundcover sheeting and peg it every metre around the edges.Using a metal rod make a hole through the plastic and 8" (20cm) into the soil.Push your cutting into the hole. If the plastic is loose or the cuttings are widely spaced then peg or weigh down the groundcover next to each cutting to ensure it doesn't lift and rub against the willow cutting.
If rabbits are likely to be a problem consider fencing the whole area with 1050mm high rabbit netting. Fencing is relatively easy as it does not need to be dug in and posts can be spaced quite widely. The netting fence should be a minimum of 90cm (35") high with a further 15 cm (6") lapped on the surface of the ground to the outside of the fenced area.Turfs of grass should be placed on the lapped netting at 1m (3') intervals to hold it firmly in place; vegetation will later grow through the mesh to complete this job. The netting should be attached to straining wires (one at the bottom of the fence and one at the top) with galvanised fence rings or thin galvanised wire and the straining wires supported by wooden fencing stakes (2-3") in diameter. The 5ft or 6 ft high stakes can be placed 5m apart. More sturdy posts need be placed at the ends of the fence and at bends.
Maintenance during the first 2 years.
At the end of the first growing season slit the groundcover plastic around the base of each willow plant to stop it constricting the trunk. A Stanley knife is ideal; the cut should be at least 6” (15cm).If you have used wire pins or pegs next to your setts then remove them, this will prevent damage to the willow as it grows.
Managing Pests and diseases
Willow attracts a wide range of bugs, but most are harmless and the costs and environmental disadvantages of spraying outweigh any benefit. If you are growing for basketry rods you may find that aphids are a problem because they can cause the some varieties of willow to branch. The major disease affecting willow is rust; you will almost certainly come across this at some point (orange coloured deposits on the underside of the leaves). Rust will have an impact on the yield, but isn't generally fatal. In dry periods the lower leaves of most willow will yellow and drop, this is normal.