why is this willow declining? (just curious)

olreaderAugust 20, 2014

I've posted pics of this tree before...someone IDed this as a pussy willow, it's about 18 feet high and had about 32 stems 1" in diameter or greater (I cut a few off). You can see the right half is green and the left half is mostly bare.

It's always had an open canopy, but for the last two or three years the leaves have been much more sparse and some branches had few or no leaves. We had some bad freezes in the spring of 2013 and for the rest of that summer a lot of the trunks were leaking sap and attracting insects (I don't know if that was caused by the freezes or something else). None of that this year as far as I can tell.

The leaves don't seem to die prematurely, they just never come out in spring, and maybe they don't get as big as they used to.

Any ideas what's going on? I like the tree but we will probably take it out soon.

This post was edited by olreader on Wed, Aug 20, 14 at 12:54

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Pic looking up

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 12:44PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

what are the suckers at the bottom ....

if PW ... why not just cut out all the dead... to about 3 to 6 inches.. and let the low parts.. regenerate ...

or remove it ...

i dont know why it would have been grafted.. are any PW grated???? .. anything special about this one.. that you are aware of.. such as pink catkins ...????

this plant is decades overdue for REJUVENATION PRUNING... google that term ...

i see no reason it couldnt be cut.. all at once.. to the ground ...

i doubt if you could kill it thru pruning.. even if you parked a cement truck on it.. then pruned it ...

or... get rid of it.. i lost my fascination for this rather boring shrub .. decades ago ....


    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 2:04PM
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What Ken said - neighbors of ours had a pussy willow that was as tall as their house. They cut it down to stubs and that thing came roaring right back.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 7:34PM
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ilovemytrees(5b/6a Western, NY)

That is definitely the next shrub I'm planting in the Spring. Love it!

Good luck with it. Oh, and do what Ken says. He's the shrub whisperer....

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 8:34AM
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Not to mention, pussy willows, like all willows, are rather short-lived as trees go. It's completely to be expected that at this point in its life, it would be in serious decline.

You could indeed cut all away-as close as possible to the ground-except for the young, vigorous shoots coming up at the base, and essentially, have a new plant. Of course, that one will grow with ferocity and die out fairly quickly as well. It's a willow, fordachrisake!


    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 9:17AM
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The suckers at the bottom are mostly the same willow, just with bigger leaves which I think is normal. I don't think this is grafted. There is also a very small amount of unwanted honeysuckle bush at the lower left of the willow which you can barely see in the pic.

I know willows die early, but I wonder if the pattern of death as shown here indicates something specific: fungus, virus, insect, root problem, physical damage to roots or trunk, problem with sun/water etc, genetically programmed death etc.

I think I will cut it down next week but I am undecided about whether I will let it grow back, or try to kill the roots.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 11:19AM
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Yes, there is, for certain, something or some things, specifically causing this decline. The problem lies in trying to determine what these factors are.....given there is no reasonable expectation of curative strategy. But you're right, something specific is happening.

Maybe I've just been in this business too long now, but I'd personally not waste one more minute trying to decide what to do or not do with a willow-of any type, really. So many better and more interesting plants out there, IMO.


    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 2:36PM
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Here's a pic from 2010 taken from a slightly different angle, much healthier then (I am trying to find a photo of the tree in winter for another question)

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 4:11PM
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hortster(6a, southcentral KS)

Well, nature's purpose for willows has been to use them as pioneer (or "ruderal") plants to colonize an area and modify the environment so more permanent plants could have some protection, establishing until the willows leave the picture, the first step in heading toward a climax environment. Expendable soldiers like pawns on a chessboard.
Enjoy 'em while ya got 'em but don't grieve when they go!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2014 at 5:46PM
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Around here they are only wild, but older branches invariably get borers. When summer heat hits those branches fail. Cut them off and you'll see little grubs and sawdust.
100% rejuvenation will mean no pussy willows next spring. I like to leave something up, even though they get scraggly and often lopsided if you just yank the dead.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2014 at 12:23PM
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