How to Grow Salix alba Plants in your Garden

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing White Willow Tree

The Salix alba plant is a native of southern and central Europe and parts of West Asia. It has become naturalized in many other countries – including the USA; where it is classified as invasive in some states, especially Connecticut.

The underside of the leaves are silky and look white from a distance, this has led to the common name of white willow for this deciduous tree.

As this tree is water thirsty and draws water from a large root system it is best not to plant it close to buildings.

White Willow tree

Silberweide White Willow photograph by Andreas Rockstein; CC.

The white willow tree is relatively quickly growing (initially about 10 feet (3 m) per annum) and typically reach their full height in as little as 20 years.

Although it is a tough wood it decays easily and is thus susceptible to damage and diseases. This means that it tends to be a short-lived tree.

Popular cultivars include weeping types, and ones that produce yellow or red twigs in the winter time.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

  • Scientific Name: Salix alba
  • Common Name (s): White Willow
  • Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): 2 to 8 / H6

Plant Details

  • Life Cycle / Plant Type: Deciduous tree
  • Plant Height: 33 to 100 feet (10 to 30 m). Rounded Crown.
  • Plant Spread: to 22 to 66 feet (6.7 to 20 m)
  • Blooms: Spring
  • Flower Details: Catkins. 1.5 to 2 inches long (4 to 6 cm). Male Anthers are Yellow and showy. Female is green. Dioecious - Male and female catkins are found on different trees
  • Leaf Foliages: up to 4 inches long (10 cm). Narrow. Pointed. Fairly pale. Silky white hairs on the underside of leaf. Leaves turn yellow in autumn.
  • Trunk: Up to 1 meter diameter. Dark Grey-brown bark.

Growing Conditions

  • Best Light Conditions: Full Sunlight or Partial shade
  • Suitable Soil Types: Average.
  • Suitable Soil pH: Adapts to different soil acidities.
  • Soil Soil Moisture: Well drained but moist and wet
  • Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Sow fresh seeds only. Sow onto moist medium. Germination time is usually less than a day. Propagate by taking hardwood cuttings in the winter, or softwood cuttings at the beginning of summer.
  • Care: High maintenance plant that is susceptible to numerous pests and diseases (see below). Lightly prune trees to remove dead and diseased material towards the end of winter or early on in spring. Produces a lot of leaf and wood debris that needs to be cleaned up. As the plant has a shallow root system that reaches out a long way it may clog up sewers and effect structures. Tree produces weak wood that is easily damaged.
  • Pests and Diseases: Pests include aphids, flea beetles, gall mites, caterpillars, willow scale, lace bugs, and sawfly larvae. Diseases include willow heart rot, willow anthracnose, honey fungus, root rot, silver leaf, crown gall, tar spot, blight, and rust.

Further Information

  • Best used for: Prevention of erosion. By streams and ponds well away from housing. Wildlife garden. Informal Garden. Cottage Garden.
  • Family: Salicaceae.
  • Closely Related Species: Willow Trees.
  • Miscellaneous: Takes at least 20 years to reach full height, and sometimes up to 50 years. Deer tolerant plant. Can Grow in clay soils. Do not plant near buildings.
  • cultivars and hybrids: Salix alba 'Caerulea' (Cricket bat willow); Salix alba 'Vitellina-Tristis' (Golden weeping willow); Salix alba var. sericea (Silver willow); Salix alba 'Vitellina' (Golden willow).
  • Further Reading and References used for this growing guide: UConn Plant Database White Willow; Glansis

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Salix alba plants. You may also enjoy the following Gardener's HQ growing guides: How to grow Wild Senna and Jacaranda mimosifolia plants.