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JPR Environmental
The Malthouse
GL10 3DL

Tel: 01453 822 584
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living willow structures

willow cuttingsWillow Cuttings

It is easy to grow willow from willow cuttings, making propagation easy

You too can grow your own willow for weaving or perhaps in the garden to enjoy the early spring catkins and winter colours that are typical of willow species. JPR Environmental has over 20 varieties of willow growing at our coppice in Gloucestershire. You can see a list of the varieties available and a brief description of their attributes by looking at our willow varieties page.

Live willow cuttings are available from December to March. They are 25-30 cm long or 1m long and vary in thickness depending on the variety chosen.

Success at growing willows from cuttings depends upon good site preparation, correct spacing, careful planting and a long term plan for dealing with weeds.

Site Preparation

The amount of preparation required on a site identified for planting depends very much on the scale of planting being undertaken. Whatever the scale, good weed control in the first 2 or 3 years is very important to allow cuttings to establish effectively.

With large scale planting the usual practice is to spray the site in the late summer with a broad-spectrum contact herbicide, plough to 300mm/12 inches depth and power harrow in the spring. This provides a good weed free tilth that makes future weed control measures more straightforward.

If planting on a smaller scale cultivate the soil to a depth of 300mm/12 inches to produce a fine tilth. An alternative to using sprays for smaller areas is to use either a plastic sheet or a water permeable woven polythene sheet. The cuttings are planted through the sheet which increases soil temperature in the spring and retains water during the summer months. The thinnest sheets will only last a year but in our opinion using a sheet that will last at least 3 years is well worth the investment in the long run.


The ideal time for planting is from mid January to the end of March. Planting in the autumn risks the cuttings rotting off and planting later in the spring risks damaging the root nodules that will have started to sprout. The cuttings supplied will be between 250-300mm in length. Cuttings should be planted as soon as possible after receipt. If this is not possible they should be stored in a fridge until planting can be undertaken, though remember the sooner the better. Cuttings are pushed vertically into the soil leaving about 20mm proud of the surface. If the soil is such that you are having to force the cutting in then make a hole in the soil with a metal rod, basically you are trying not to damage the bark of the cutting when planting. Firm up the soil around the cutting. Make sure that the cutting is the right way up, buds pointing upwards - they will grow upside down if they have to but they prefer not!

Optimum spacing arrangements for growing large numbers of willows depend on which varieties are being grown, what size rods are wanted, what the weed control methods will be and how the willows will be harvested - no wonder everyone will give you a different opinion! The closest we have heard is 25cm x 25cm and the furthest apart (for biomass production) 1.5m x 1.5m - not counting cricket bat willows which are spaced 25m apart! Generally the taller and thicker the rods required the further apart they should be spaced. A common spacing is around 30cm x 50cm for fine basketry willows and 40cm x 80cm if tall osier is required for hurdle/sculptural work.

Long term weed control

Weeds in this case are defined as plants which cause either a reduction in the number of shoots from each stool or a reduction in the size of the rods. Plants, such as nettles, that have a rapid spring growth will cause a reduction in the number of shoots that will survive as the willow struggles to reach the light. Other plants which cause problems in a willow bed include bramble, docks, couch grass and the dreaded bindweed.

Though, this said, it may be that having a low growing ground flora is actually beneficial to the success of the willow because it provides a habitat for insects that feed on aphids and other willow pests.

There are three principal weed control alternatives:

Spraying with a foliar acting herbicide when the stools are dormant, usually restricted to large scale growers. The most appropriate herbicides are only available to licence holders and need specialist equipment to ensure the correct dosage.

Hand weeding with hoes and hand hooks. This has the advantage of being able to target undesirable species though on large plantings can be somewhat daunting. Regular and often should be the mantra to those using this method - this will save time in the long run.

Mulching. This can be done with ground sheets (best done before planting), straw, cardboard or other organic material. It is important not to smother the growing shoots which can happen if the wind blows the material around. Remember that adding too much organic matter may cause more problems later with nettles etc. that invade the rich soil.

If you have any questions regarding the use of willow please contact us.

For more information on how live willow cuttings can be used to stop riverbank erosion, please go to our wildlife landscaping site.

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