Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Giant Pussy Willow

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Giant pussy willow's biggest show is the bright red-mahogany covering that protects the pussies before they emerge.  These bud-scales' combination of size and color is unique in willows, and make the shrub one of the joys of Fall and Winter.

 

The willow's long wand-like growth makes it a natural to cut for bouquets, so a sheaf of twigs can be grouped more densely than is possible on the shrub itself.  These are mere twigs of growth; Salix chaenomeloides also produces wands six to eight feet long, perfect for the grandest restaurant, event, or lobby vase.

 

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As the large silver pussies begin to expand, they push the bud scales off for a second cold-weather show.

 

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Here's how exciting the aptly-named giant pussy willow is in full flower.

 

Here's how to grow this unique willow:

 

Latin Name

Salix chaenomeloides

Common Name

Giant pussy willow / Japanese pussy willow

Family

Salicaceae, the Willow family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 8

Habit

Multi-stemmed, as wide as tall.

Rate of Growth

Very fast.

Size in ten years

If allowed to grow free-range, fifteen to twenty feet tall and wide.  Best when coppiced in Spring, annually or semi-annually, in which case the shrub can still be eight to twelve feet high and wide.

Texture

Medium.  Spring through Fall, the generic willow foliage is good for background filler at best.

Grown for

its buds: The pussies are sheathed in a large glossy cap—the bud scale—that is red-mahogany, and enlarges impressively as the pussies swell.  For my money, the bud-scale display is vastly more interesting than that of the pussies themselves, large and profuse as they are.  Everyone knows what pussy-willow pussies are; the display of bud scales is unique in hardy trees.

 

its pussies: The silvery male catkins range from one to three inches long, but are they truly "giant?"  Or is the shrub, overall, unusually large-scale?  Nope: the generic pussy willow, Salix discolor, grows as large.  Whatever:  "Giant" pussy willow it is.

Color combinations

In the warm months, Salix chaenomeloides provides just the generic green of its foliage, which goes with anything.  Only in the cold months, when the bud scales are impressively showy, does the shrub provide a color that lends itself to more specific combinations:  A shade of mahogany so warm it verges on red.  This makes the shrub a natural partner to other cold-weather shrubs that feature hot colors such as yellow, orange, red, and burgundy.  See "Plant partners," below.  The follow-on display of silver pussies, which have a secondary phase of interest thanks to their heavy show of yellow stamens, stays in harmony with any winter-interest companions.

Plant partners

If you have the space for a grouping of shrubs and trees that are at their peak in Winter (and, therefore, less interesting in the Summer), then Salix chaenomeles could be one of its stars.  The glossy bud scales are such a startling shade of "woody" warm red, that they demand to be savored up close.  Given that this willow is difficult to grow as anything than a fairly-large shrub, this means that you'll want to provide direct access to a shrub that might otherwise be background material.  Cold-weather comrades could include any (or even several) of the endless cultivars of witch hazel; choose both Fall forms of Hamamelis virginiana, as well as the later-in-Winter-blooming forms of H. mollis, and cultivars of the mid-Winter-flowering hybrid between the two, H. x intermedia

 

Plants whose bark turns colorful shades in Winter include species and forms of maple, linden, dogwood, and willow

 

All of these choices relate well to the warm and, truly, brilliant coloring that the bud-scales of Salix chaenomeloides display so creatively.  The silver catkins that succeed the bud-scales will also coordinate well with any of these partners, especially as their yellow pollen develops.

Where to use it in your garden

Unless you're planning the ultimate in specialty gardens—one that celebrates pink in the off-season—Salix chaenomeloides is only appropriate as filler at the back of large plantings, as naturalistic screening in wet ground, or as a "production" plant grown specifically for its harvest of twigs in the cool months.  Its generic foliage and extremely vigorous growth makes giant pussy willow a challenge to use in more ornamental contexts.

Flowering season

The bud-scales are showy as soon as the leaves fall in October, and remain showy all through the cold months—until the pussies themselves swell and eventually push them off.  Pussies can begin to emerge any time from November to February, and are a show in themselves for several weeks.

Culture

Full sun and almost any soil as long as plenty of moisture is available.  As is typical for shrub- and tree-sized willows that have green leaves, this plant thrives in heavy or damp soil, and is especially happy near, by, or, seasonally and briefly, even in fresh water.

How to handle it: The Basics

Because the plant grows so fast—and faster than ever in response to pruning—feel free to get out your clippers.  The bud-scales and pussies are showy enough, and are easy to force indoors in Winter, so cut branches—even large ones—with gusto.

This is a good plant to prune severely in late Winter or early Spring after the display of pussies is done.  This limits the plant's overall size and also stimulates just the long wands of new growth that will, in the coming Winter, be particularly elegant to bring indoors for forcing.  Salix chaenomeloides branches too eagerly from the base to make possible limbing up a main stem to form a trunk that only has branches from the top.  Instead, content yourself with cutting all the stems down to stubs.  Do this soon after the display of pussies has finished, which will be in late Winter or early Spring.

How to handle it: Another option—or two!

The new growth that results from cutting the bush to the ground early in the season can lengthen to eight feet and more by September.  For an even denser habit, and somewhat shorter growth overall, pinch the soft tips of new growth during the season when it's only a foot or two long; side branches will grow even more quickly.  (And yes, feel free to pinch those, too.)  On the other hand, if your priority is the longest wands to cut and force the following Winter, then let the new growth grow and grow all Summer.

Quirks and special cases

None.

Downsides

Willows are famously attractive to a host of diseases and bugs, some of which just disfigure the foliage but others can debilitate or even kill the entire tree.  That said, giant pussy willow has been trouble-free and energetic for me.  This could be because strong-growing plants are in general more resistant to pests than struggling ones, and my Salix chaenomeloides is in just the circumstances it likes best.

Variants

The pussies of Salix chaenomeloides 'Mt. Aso' are cotton-candy pink.  To my eye, this makes this willow especially difficult to use, given the paucity of pink in the rest of the cold-weather garden, when it's a challenge to bring in enough of any color besides brown, green, or white.  Worse, the colors that are the most broadly available are the hot ones, yellow, orange and red.  Within "eyeshot" of any of them, catkins that are not just pink, but fluffy pink, would be doubly damned.  A separate pink-in-the-off-season garden might be the ultimate for the gardener who has everything else.  Besides 'Mt. Aso' willow, you can also start with winter-blooming cherry, Prunus subhirtella.  The problem is identifying anything else.  Ah, yes:  Pieris japonica 'Dorothy Wyckoff', whose prominent clusters of buds are soft burgundy.  There are plenty of pink hellebore cultivars, too.  More suggestions, please.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By cuttings.  

Native habitat

Salix chaemoneloides is native to Japan and Korea.

 
 
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