When it comes to planting willows, I like to think that we're experts here. I'm sure there are plenty of "actual experts" who would disagree but they're much too busy to argue about it (I hope).
When we bought this farm all those years ago, most of my memories are of being freezing cold and blindly pushing willow cuttings into whatever ground wasn't completely frozen. Only about 50% of those willows took due to poor experience on our part but we took the hit and tried again the next year. This time we had actually learned a lot more about willows and our land and we had a much higher survival rate (and warmer hands).
My number one top tip is pretty simple:
- Don't use cuttings that are too thick or too thin
My reasoning behind this is that, in winter the ground is often freezing or frozen. cuttings that are too thick are way too hard to push in by hand and super thin cuttings are more likely to snap! We tend to send out the perfect size cuttings unless a certain diameter is specifically asked for. Obviously if you're planting in boggy or very wet ground then completely ignore this and use what ever size cuttings you want!
My second tip will save you from a lot of hard labour but might not be instantly accessible to all:
- Use an electric drill with a 12" masonry bit
We stumbled upon this idea after lots of complaints of bruised hands (after planting about 2000 cuttings by hand in the frozen ground). This allowed us to plant loads more in way less time and stopped stoney and frozen ground from being an issue. The best way to do this is to measure out the spacing between each whip (we advise between 10-30cm apart) and use your 12" masonry bit to drill each hole into the ground. Willows need to be planted at least 10" deep so the 12" bit will give you plenty of space! Once the holes are drilled, just drop each cutting in and voila! A large garden fork can also work in a pinch but the spacing between the holes isn't normally ideal for willow planting.
My third tip is super easy and surprisingly effective:
- Soak your willows before planting them
Pre soaking willows has been proven to increase survival rate and root growth. If you look online you'll see anything from 5-14 days soaking time recommended. However, as long as the water is kept clean/changed , you could soak them for as long as you want. I would definitely advise at least 24 hours of soaking just to prep your cuttings.
I'm sure I have plenty more tips and tricks that we used to fix our many mistakes but I think 3 is probably enough for now.
Please feel free to comment below or contact us for any more info and we'll do our best to help!
For now though, happy willow planting!