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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Tuesday - June 03, 2008

From: Sugar Land, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Non-native weeping willow losing leaves
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

We have a willow tree (weeping), which sprung up naturally about 12 years ago. It has done very well until this summer. After its bloom in late March, it is losing its leaves again..turning yellow and falling off. At the same time the seed pockets, which used to fall off, are popping open and spitting cotton all over the grass. This has been occurring for about 3 weeks now. Can you tell me what is wrong with my tree and what I should do about it? Thanks!

ANSWER:

We have received several requests for help with the non-native weeping willow over the past few years. Rather than repeat ourselves, let us refer you to this previous answer on the endurance and lifespan of weeping willows. This USDA Forest Service article, "Weed of the Week", on the Salix x sepulcralis or weeping willow will give you some more information on the undesirable characteristics of this tree. There are a number of pests that cause problems in the weeping willow. The tree can be very invasive and its mats of roots can be damaging to waterways.

However, we believe that your present phenomenon of "cotton all over the grass" is actually the tree seeding. The small seed capsules have long silky hairs that attach to one end like a parachute, and the seeds begin to drop in late Spring or early Summer. And, the leaf loss may be due to the unusually high temperatures and low rainfalls we have been experiencing this year in Texas. Remember, the willow is basically a "water" tree, often growing at the very edge of a stream or lake. If you want to keep the tree alive, you should probably do some supplemental watering. Or, you could let Nature take its course, and if the tree indeed dies, replace it with native trees and/or shrubs that will require less maintenance, water, and fertilizer because they are native and adapted to the conditions where they grow.

 

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