Willow seed is very light and fluffy, which makes it perfect for being distributed on the wind. This trait makes them difficult to collect though as there are no large berries or nuts to easily pull off the tree.
If you go down this route, seed can be collected in late May or during June before it’s blown away. Vacuum cleaners have been used for this! Alternatively, sensitive removal of a small branch or two with fruits still attached and just ready to release the seed makes life easier.
Extraction and Storage
No further extraction is necessary (or possible because of the fine nature of these seeds).
Willow seed is not dormant, so no pretreatment is required.
The seed will only remain viable for a few days and should be sown immediately. It should be sown onto very well prepared seedbeds or into fresh compost in pots. If you collected branches, push these into your seedbed at regular intervals so the seed, when released, will fall onto your soil.
Grey willow grows in moist soil, so it is important to provide plenty of water for the seeds and young plants. The seeds are tiny, so they cannot be allowed to dry out!
During the later part of the spring and into summer you can reduce the amount of water to the plants (unless nature has other ideas!).
Provided they receive enough moisture and are fed regularly (you can use a liquid or granular feed every 4-6 weeks until the middle of July), grey willow will grow quite fast. You might manage to produce a 50cm tall plant in one season.
Prepare the site well by clearing away any weeds or grass and make a hole big enough to accommodate the root ball. Place the roots carefully in the hole (removing the pot if they had one). Make sure the stem is at the same depth as it was in the pot/ground, and firm back the soil.
Vigorous young shoots, about 1-2cm in diameter, are best used to produce cuttings. In the nursery, we use material from ‘stool beds’ – a bed of willow plants that are cut each year to produce further cuttings. If these plants are cut down to the ground, they will produce the perfect material for next year’s cuttings.
Each stem is trimmed just above and below two nodes to produce a cutting about 20cm long. A sloping cut at the top helps us to remember which way is up!
These cuttings can be stored for a few weeks as long as they are kept moist.
Cutting are simply pushed into the ground about 15cm apart to leave two or three buds above the soil surface. Roots will appear from the shoots below the ground, shoots from the buds above.
Just like the seed from willows, moisture is important at all times.
Provided they receive enough moisture and are fed regularly (as for seeds), grey willow will grow quite fast. You should produce a 50-100cm tall plant in one season from cuttings.