Mickey Rathbun: Growing pussy willows is easy

  • Close up of pussy willows as a spring symbol jojoo64—Getty Images/iStockphoto

  • Primroses are on display at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston iStockphoto

Published: 4/28/2016 4:21:23 PM

One of springtime’s happiest sights is pussy willows. These soft silvery catkins are native wetland plants that thrive in New England.

They are a wonderful addition to spring flower arrangements and equally attractive by themselves in a tall vase. You can buy pre-cut bunches at local nurseries, but you can also grow your own.

Growing pussy willows is easy. All you need to do is put cut pussy willows in water and wait for roots to sprout. Leaves are likely to sprout on the branches, too. This takes two to three weeks.

Of course, if you want your pussy willows to stay soft and furry, as they are when you bought them, don’t put them in water. If kept dry, they will retain their original form for a long time.

Pussy willows produce a natural rooting chemical which is beneficial to other plant cuttings as well. You can place cuttings from other plants in with the water with the rooting pussy willow shoots to take advantage of the natural rooting hormone.

When the pussy willow stems have produced roots that are a few inches long, you can either plant them outside in a sunny, wet place, or you can bring them along for a few more weeks in a pot filled with potting soil and a cup or so of peat. Keep the soil damp.

Pussy willows root so easily that you can stick them directly in the ground and let Mother Nature take it from there. If you go this route, keep in mind that you will need to have pussy willows with stems at least pencil-size and at least a foot long. Plant to a depth of about 2 inches and leave at least a few bud nodes above ground. They will root in a few weeks.

Be careful when choosing a place for your pussy willows. Like all willows, they have deep, spreading roots that can wreak havoc with water lines and septic systems. If you’re in doubt, call your local water company to mark out the lines so you can steer clear of them.

Pussy willows like sun and lots of water. They’re not too fussy about soil, but they will benefit from an addition of peat, leaf mold or compost. Once your pussy willows are established, you can prune them after their spring blooming season. Every few years you can cut the tree back to a 6-inch stump. It will come back stronger and with bigger catkins.

Pussy willows are the many smaller species of the genus Salix (willows). They play a role in various cultural traditions. They are favored for Chinese New Year because their silky buds and pale green shoots represent rebirth. The Chinese decorate the stalks with red and gold ornaments and printed texts that convey happiness and prosperity.

Pussy willows also are used in place of palms on Palm Sunday in places too far north to grow palms. These include Ukraine, Poland and other Eastern European countries. Some Polish-Americans have continued this tradition, blessing pussy willows along with palms in church. I like to think of these far-flung traditions when I see the humble pussy willow budding forth every spring.

TRANSPLANTING SHRUBS AND SMALL ORNAMENTAL TREES

We’ve all had this problem: We have a shrub or small ornamental tree that’s in the wrong spot. Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge is offering a hands-on shrub and tree planting and transplanting workshop Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

All aspects of successful planting will be demonstrated as participants assist in transplanting a multi-stem shrub and in planting a small tree. Those attending will learn to successfully time the transplant to create minimal disturbance to the plant’s lifecycle and to ensure a smooth transition to its new site. Bring work gloves and dress for the weather. The cost is $20 for members $20; $25 for nonmembers.

For more information go to:http://www.berkshirebotanical.org/ Or Phone: 298-3926 Or Email: info@berkshirebotanical.org

PRIMROSES ON DISPLAY

Primroses come in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes and are a delightful sight in New England gardens in early spring. If you’re a connoisseur of primroses or if you want to learn more about these hardy plants, be sure to check out the primrose show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston on Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. till 5 p.m.

BERKSHIRE BOTANICALGARDEN PLANT SALE

There are lots of great reasons to become a member of Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. One is that membership will allow you to enjoy early buying privileges at Plants and Answers, its 39th annual Plant Sale on May 6 and 7. They are offering some of their past favorite plant selections as well as exciting new varieties this year. On May 6, from 9 to 11 a.m., the sale will be open to members only.

Then, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. it’s open to the general public as it is on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

BBG is also looking for volunteers and vendors for this event. If you would like to volunteer or are interested in becoming a vendor, contact info@berkshirebotanical.org or call 298.3926 ext. 10.

The plant sale will include a tag sale of garden and patio items.

Mickey Rathbun can be reached at foxglover8@gmail.com.




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