Pussy Willows: Exactly How to Care For This Beautiful Plant

Ed Wike
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Pussy Willow Overview

The pussy willow (sometimes called pussy-flowered willow) is a flowering tree that is known for its soft, furry, grayish to brownish, fuzzy appearance. It is also sometimes known as the pussy-cat willow, pussy-plants, pussy willow, snowballs, Tammany pussy willow, and pussy oak. Some of the distinctive features of the pussy willow include papery white stems, round leaf-like bracts, and large fuzzy flowers that are soft and furry and arch out like a cat’s paw. The pussy willow is native to the northern hemisphere and is most commonly found in Canada, Asia, and Siberia. Its native range also includes parts of northern Europe. However, the pussy willow rapidly grows and spreads, and it is now naturalized in the United States as well. In fact, this is the pussy willow’s most well-known range. While this plant is technically a tree, its size is most comparable to a large shrub. Pussy willows can reach heights of 1.8 to 19.7 feet and widths of up to 3.3 feet.

Pussy Willow Varieties

Pussy wildflowers, otherwise known as Salix, are easily identifiable by their leaves. Pussy willows are beautiful low growing shrubs, which are often found growing along riverbanks, near bodies of water, or standing alone.

Their willow leaves are a perennial, and usually have a different shape than the willow tree. While the Japanese pussy willow will have smaller, rounder leaves which resemble little cat paws. The pussy willow flower normally comes in pink, lavender, or white. All pussy willow varieties have the same care requirements, though where they are located does affect how much water they need and how much sunlight they receive.

A pussy willow shrub can be used as a single plant, or can be grouped together with other pussy willow varieties like the fastigiata to create a dramatic statement in your flower bed or garden.

Pussy Willow Care

Pussy willows bring their name from the fur like down that surrounds their stems. These native plants are found and grow naturally in the state of Texas and in many other states of North America.

When purchasing a pussy willow, look for a plant with plump buds.

These willows can be planted in pots, or directly in the garden.

Pussy willows are pollinated by bees and other insects. Each February, the flowers of a pussy willow will produce catkins. The stems from a pussy willow plant can reach a height of about 18 inches before blooming. When there is frost on the pussy willow plant, the stems will die back. They can also die back by getting old.

In Tennessee, pussy willows grow wild in woodlands. They can grow as trees or shrubs.

The hardy pussy willow plant will do well in a variety of soils, except for ones that are extremely dry.

If you don't want pussy willows to spread, you will have to take steps like cutting the multi-flora rose back before it produces its seed. Pussy willows can be planted in the spring or in the autumn, provided that the soil is very well drained.

Light

Pussy willows, also known as osiers, are native to all of the lower 48 states, but are most prevalent in the northern United States and Canada. Like all willows, pussy willows require moist, acidic soil and partial shade. They are very adaptable to slightly dry soil when planted in their ideal conditions. In fact, the trees will even grow through ice in the winter if there’s still enough moisture under the snow.

Many varieties of pussy willow grow as shrubs, although some varieties grow into small trees. The willow will grow up to 5 feet tall and wide, and the catkins will grow up to 3 inches long. It’s not important how large your pussy willow gets, it’s more important to take proper care of it.

Pussy willows prefer sunlight that hits them at an angle. If you notice growth of brown spots in your pussy willow’s leaves, it could be from direct sunlight.

It’s important that the pussy willow gets sunlight throughout the entire day, so recommend placing it outdoors.

Water

The water needs of pussy willows change with the seasons.

In the fall, when the weather is cooler, water your pussy willows less frequently, about once a week. They like a deep soak. In fact, over watering your pussy willows in the fall can be harmful to their growth.

In the spring and summer months, water your pussy willows more often.

Also, during the growing season your willow will need more sunlight. A good rule of thumb is to water approximately an inch per watering. Check the root ball regularly with the help of your finger. If it is still very moist down at the roots, don’t water. Make sure the soil stays evenly moist around the roots. Do not overwater. This can cause mold and fungus. Shearing is also very important for the health of your pussy willow. This is a necessity for a balanced plant. You do not want to be bald willow! Make sure to trim dead branches as well as those that are growing toward the interior of the plant. Just like the cattail, trimming or shearing your pussy willow will encourage branching.

Soil

Pussy willows are easy to care for. They are an adaptable plant that is cold hardy and will grow outside in warmer climates. They can also be grown in an indoor environment. A willow prefers a good organic rich soil with a pH of 6.5. It will need to be watered often to avoid fungal infections. Pussy willows require fertile soil, but they do not like to be overwatered. The willow has a layer of fine roots which helps protect it from overwatering.

The willow requires partial to full sun and can be planted in almost any type of soil but prefers a well-drained soil.

Fertilizer

Interior grown pussy willows can be fertilized as you would other houseplants. You should fertilize them with every watering.

A balanced liquid, such as Miracle-Gro, works well as long as it promotes blooming.

While giving your pussy willow fertilizer, loosen the soil.

Dig around a couple inches and loosen the roots with your fingers or a homemade soil tool.

If your plants are outdoors, the soil is usually richer than the soil used in pots, so you should not give it fertilizer.

You can add compost and organic mulch to provide a rich organic mulch.

This is often enough fertilizer.

Propagation

Need Pussy Willow seeds to start your garden of these graceful, beloved plants? Collect ripe seed pods, carefully removing the small seeds from them. Seedlings will need plenty of light and water to thrive, and can take up to a year to mature.

Pussy willow is also easy to clone from root cuttings, a very seldom used technique for propagation. This is best accomplished in early spring when the plant is most active and the roots are still able to grow. Using a sharp knife make a vertical cut on top of a healthy root crown looking for the area of the root that is closest to the crown. Remove the top of the cut and place the crown in a dark, warm area. Keep the soil where the cutting is somewhat wet but not submerged. Roots can begin in as little as six weeks.

Pruning

The best time to prune the pussy willow is in the fall for the next year. While pruning flowers can be an exciting task for some people, it is important to know its proper method beforehand. While there are many parts of a pussy willow, focus on the main stem, that is the central trunk and main portion of the branches. Pruning this part of the plant properly encourages more branching, stimulates growth, and generally makes for a healthier plant. Plus it will be prettier!

Several techniques can be used to prune the willow tree, and the choice of technique depends on the maker.

The first technique is a selective pruning, so that you can prune some parts to make them bigger and prune some to make room for the rest of the plant. This method can help ensure that the central trunk can have plenty of light and reach its full potential. This is because you can prune the less significant parts, such as, unwanted branches, twigs, and even root clusters.

The second is to cut the plant in half. When you do this, you will be left with a two different plants. Regardless of the methods you use, you will need to water and take care of the willow after you have pruned it. Weeds can be an issue so cover the willow after it has been pruned with mulch or other plant cover to help deter them.

Repotting

The first thing you want to do is take your pussy willow outside. Don’t repot them indoors, because they’re very sensitive to the change in the air pressure created by opening and closing doors and windows.

The second thing you want to do is get a new plant pot. The willow tree should be planted in a pot large enough for the roots to stretch out. You can make a homemade pot from a large bucket. Just cut the bottom off the bucket and the sides cleanly and use the top to make a new pot. This bucket-to-pot conversion works well even with large trees.

Once you’ve made your new plant pot, spread a thick layer of compost on the bottom, and then push the tree roots down into the soil. If your tree isn’t in a plastic pot, remove the other and stick the bare roots in place of the soil.

Before you fill the pot with soil take care to remove all the twigs and leaves from the plant. Make sure you get all of them. Your willow is going to be confined to the pot, and the more room it has to grow the less chance it’s going to grow around the pot and get stuck.

Problems

Pussy willow is a very delicate and beautiful thing. It is a bit odd to feel a sense of pride over the beauty and cleanliness of the bush as the entire thing can be ruined by a small speck of dirt or a dirty sparkly ball.

The buds for these plants are typically strung into balls to hang on your Christmas tree, but they are most often used as centerpieces to decorate the dining room table. The best way to keep your pussy willow plant looking beautiful is to keep it covered.

A proper pussy willow plant will thrive with the sun slightly blocked and the soil kept damp at all times. When beautiful pussy willow flowers are not treated properly, they can droop. If this occurs, the plant is not receiving enough light. If succulents are not watered with enough frequency, they can wilt.

One of the best ways to care for your pussy willow is to know when to cover it. As previously mentioned, a covered pussy willow plant will thrive in the sun with small amounts of direct light shining, but it yet does not want to be in direct light.

A suitable covering would be a sheer material, such as cheesecloth, that can let in a small amount of sunlight that will nourish pussy willow. This must be placed loosely, because if it is placed too tightly, your pussy willow will die.

Growing Problems

If when you first got your pussy willow plant, you followed the directions that came with the plant, you should have no problems. Just follow basic guidelines, like ensuring that the pot you use is big enough for the plant to put out plenty of roots and then be watered regularly.

If your pussy willow is refusing to grow or is struggling, there are a few common problems that need to be addressed. One of the most obvious problems is not enough light. Just like any other plant, pussy willows need plenty of light. Ideally, the adult size pussy willow needs some direct sunlight. If that’s not possible, they will survive if you provide indirect light. If your plant is putting out new leaves or stems, the light is poor. If the leaves are a yellowish-green color, it’s time to move it under better light.

Pests

Pussy Willows are vulnerable to pests and diseases, which is why you need to know how to recognize and treat them.

One of the big problems with pussy willow is that they are growing in popularity and also, are now shipped where they used to be unheard of in the past. This means that the problem is present to some extent and a greater amount of people will end up getting them.

These simple little plants are very sensitive to the presence of pests and diseases and it’s actually doing very well in the wild. This points to the fact that plenty of people have taken up keeping them, and they have managed not to run into problems. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that these plants are native to Siberia and Asia, and also all over the US. In these areas, there is not much of a concern for pests and diseases. However, here in the US, the pests and diseases that can afflict a pussy willow are rather rampant.

This means that if you want to keep the plant alive, you’ll have to make sure you give it the best care. It is possible to do so, even under the harshest conditions, if you know how to care for it the right way.

Diseases

Pussy willows are super easy to care for and will probably not get sick.

That said, care should be taken to prevent diseases and keep the catkins clean.

Diseases can be caused by improper watering, poor air circulation, nutrient deficiencies, and infestations such as spider mites, aphids, and beetles.

The best thing you can do to avoid disease is to keep the roots moist. Pussy willow does not like to dry out.

Improper watering can lead to root rot and fungal diseases. To keep the roots healthy, water between 1.5 and 2 times the volume of the pot every 7 to 10 days.

Pussy willow is somewhat toxic to cats.

If you have other cats in the house, just keep them away from the pussy willow.

If you do have a cat that will not leave the pussy willow alone, you can put it in a kennel or keep it in your garage.

Another thing to keep in mind is to wash the catkins frequently.

Spider mites, aphids, and beetles love pussy willow and it can be a good idea to hose off the plant every couple of weeks to prevent these pests from becoming a problem.

Frequently Asked Questions

Pussy willows are one of the most popular flowering trees used in flower arrangements. They are known to be fragile and need a lot of attention and care.

Since the pussy willow can only be grown outdoors in cooler climate and can only be grown home in areas with milder winters, you may receive pussy willows grown commercially in your area. Here are some common concerns regarding this plant:

How can I make my pussy willow bush bloom?

This will depend on the type of pussy willow tree you own. Most pussy willow bushes bloom from the bottom and top, beginning in the early spring. You can encourage this by pruning your pussy willow shortly after blossoming. When buying a pussy willow tree, you can buy one that needs little care and is self-pollinating. You can also choose one that blooms late in the season and adjusts to late pruning.

How do I stop my pussy willow bush from wilting?

This problem most likely occurs because you overwatered this pussy willow plant. When this happens, it's best to remove the wilt and allow the soil to dry out. Should the soil be too soggy, the plant may use too much energy and attempting to the wilt.

My pussy willow plant is starting to freeze but it still flowers. How can I save it?

Q: What can you do with the branches?

A: The wood from pussy willow branches can be dried out and used to make various things. You can make Christmas ornaments, wreaths, even a birdhouse.

If you're not ready to use the branches right away, you can preserve them for long-term use. Drying them out will preserve your branches from mold or mildew. Why preserve them? So you can enjoy them for years to come. Just take small clippings, 1-foot long, and dry them in the shade outdoors. Then braid several together and hang up in an area where they will get plenty of air circulation and a little sunlight.

You can also make florist's cuttings. These handy branches are at just the right length to be used in arrangements. To make them, just cut the long side of the branch at an angle. I prefer to cut them at a 45-degree angle. They dry out more quickly and don't get as heavy as the straight cuttings.

Q: What’s the best way to dry branches for arrangements?

A: There are two ways to dry branches for arrangements.

The first is called air drying. You can simply pull the branches of the willow tree out of the water and place them upside down. If it is cold or rainy, put them in a garage or basement where the temperature is about the same as the outside.

In the summer, place the branches outside upside down. The idea is to allow the water to come out the stems and dry out the branches.

The second way is to dry branches in an oven. This is the way to go if you want to get back into your house after a few hours.

Set your oven to about 200 degrees. Use a cookie sheet that has separate bottom so you can put a little water underneath.

Spread out the willow branches and place the cookie sheet on top. In about 4 hours, you should see that the branches are ready to use.

Do not put the branches in the oven if it is humid outside. This will only cause mold to form on the willow branches and mess up your arrangements.

You can place the willow branches upside down on the counter or in a small glass vase until they are dry.

This trick works really well if you have collected a lot of willow branches and don’t have the time to air dry them.

Q: Is there really a pink-colored variety?

A: Shrubby pussy willow (Salix discolor), is the dependable pussy willow that ranges from a cool blue-green to a lush dark green. The leaves are flat, with pointed ends and a round, silvery patch in the center of each leaf.

The pussy willow flower is a delicate catkin, that is, like a long, slender twig, and consists of spiky-looking, needle-shaped, tiny pinkish catkins. The 8 or 9 female flowers are only about 1/2 inch long, and are arranged in a cluster. Male flowers are smaller than the female, and are on a different plant.

Q: Are there any other uses I should know about?

A: Pussy willows are known for their unique ability to help with PMS symptoms. During the week before your flow starts, try giving yourself a few baths with the blossoms from your pussy willow. They’ll help soften your skin and fight acne.