Living Willow Maintenance Guide (Draft v0.1)
Whether you are planting willow as productive coppice for basketry or have embarked on creating some structure for the garden, its important to keep up with some maintenance otherwise you may risk creating your own willow jungle! This maintenance guide is intended to provide some practical tips for looking after your living willow, so that you can enjoy it for years to come.
At Deeside Willow we are always happy to receive any questions and/or your feedback, so that we can continue to improve these notes for our future and existing customers, community groups and friends. We hope you find the guide useful!
Useful tools for maintaining willow
Safety Glasses / Gardening Gloves
Secateurs / Loppers
Jute String Ties
General Living Willow Maintenance
Keeping willow clear from weeds (at least 6-10" around bases) until fully established is essential to support healthy growth.
In dry spells (particularly in the first year of planting), water the living willow structure well. and if at all possible – a good drench once a week.
If no maintenance or coppicing is undertaken then the most likely outcome will be a loss of structure (for living structures or an unproductive willow bed - both ultimately becoming willow trees!
If rabbit and/or deer protection measures have been taken (e.g. fencing etc.) then ensure these have also been maintained (e.g. fencing checked for any holes, wires tensioned etc.).
Where possible, we try to hold back on hard coppicing until the catkins have appeared for the pollinators to enjoy.
Willow Bed Maintenance (e.g. for basketry or other productive coppice)
After first growing year and in the dormant season (typically end-Oct/Nov->) March, we would recommend the following...
Cut/prune willow back hard to a few inches (10-15cms) above the ground. Note, if growing through weed-suppressing membrane we allow the willow to grow higher because in windy weather the membrane can rise above the top of willow - which can be a nuisance to rectify.
Replace any failed cuttings using willow coppiced from the strong growth of willow grown in the same bed. Cuttings made from the butt (thick) ends of strongest growth is recommend - read our general planting guide for further guidance on planting etc. (Willow Cuttings - Growing & Aftercare - A Simple Guide (deesidewillow.com)
In following years, willow beds should continue to be coppiced every year, with the goal to establish and shape productive rounded stools. We have found that coppicing just above the last bud on the previous year's growth helps to develop the stool. Pollarding is also possible, cutting back to around waist height has the benefit of adding protection from animals, as well as making maintenance kinder on the body.
Living Willow Structures Maintenance
Willow will start to sprout new growth in March/April. When the new growth is long enough, it should be woven into the original structure (again, weaving as diagonally (low-angles) as possible to help produce a more dense structure). Alternatively willow can be trimmed, but we recommend keeping this to an absolute minimum in the first growing season to allow the tree to establish. If growth is too vigorous, trimming back the new growth from the top of the living structure can help to maintain the structure. When trimming, pruning or coppicing we always look to cut just above a bud.
In the first dormant season (late-Oct->March) following planting. Weave or trim willow if needed - as above. Dead rods can be removed and should be replaced using willow coppiced from strong growth from the structure itself. For some types of structures, inserting a new willow whip alongside the old whip can be easier - rather than trying to remove them, which can cause damage.
Willow can pop out of the existing ties, in this case these need to be retied in the first couple of years and later these can be removed.
After a few years and the willow having established it is possible to simply prune a little in both the growing season and/or the dormant season (rather than weave in) to save maintenance time.
Hedges & Windbreaks Maintenance
Hedges can be maintain using a combination of the approaches above. In the first dormant season after planting (late-Oct -> March), we recommend cutting willow right-back to a few inches above the ground (or to a height of where new growth is intended). In general, the thickness of your hedge is determined by how hard you intend to prune annual growth in the first few years.
In the next few years that follow, new growth can be trimmed as required. If growth is too vigorous, trimming periodically during the growing season is also recommended. Once established, a willow hedge can be managed (trimmed) as you would other hedging plants.