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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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Thursday - June 26, 2008

From: Woodinville, WA
Region: Northwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Distressed non-native weeping willows in Washington State
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What could be causing my weeping willows to be distressed year after year?

ANSWER:

We have been getting a lot of questions along the same line as yours; that is, poor performance of weeping willows. We all have mental images of blue willow dinnerware, Chinese drawings and post cards of the beautiful, romantic weeping willow. Unfortunately, in real life, it doesn't do too well in most parts of North America.

Although there are 54 members of the Salix genus that are natives to North America, the weeping willow, or salix x sepulcralis, is not one of them. It is a hybrid of the Chinese Peking Willow and European white willow. This USDA Forest Service website has some more information on the weeping willow, citing the fact that it is considered invasive in several states, including Washington. The same site says that the tree is susceptible to several diseases and insect damage. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is dedicated to the protection, planting and propagation of plants native to North America, so we do not have information on this tree in our Native Plant Database. However, we are always glad to try to provide information on plant care for plants already in the landscape.

One thing we learned is that the weeping willow is a very fast-growing tree, growing up to 8 ft. a year. It also has very brittle stems-those two factors combined can cause a tree to start to break down. Fast-growing trees are usually a bad idea, as they will age quickly and begin to deteriorate. Go to this introductory page to the Washington State University King County Extension office. There are several links and contact information for agriculture and forestry. If one of the diseases or insects that plague weeping willows is causing problems in your area, the Extension Service office should have some information on it. Here is a page of images of salix x sepulcralis.

If you are considering replacing your tree, we will try to find some suitable replacements for it. We went first to our site on Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. We found a list of nine trees, none of which, unfortunately, are native to Washington State. We next went to our Recommended Species webpage, selected Washington and tree for our search and got eight options which we will list for you. If you decide to replace your tree with a native, go to our Suppliers list, type your city and state in the Enter Search Location box and you will get a list of native plant suppliers such as nurseries, seed companies and landscape consultants in your general area.

Betula occidentalis (water birch)

Juniperus scopulorum (Rocky Mountain juniper)

Pinus contorta (lodgepole pine)

Pinus ponderosa (ponderosa pine)

Populus tremuloides (quaking aspen)

Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas-fir)

Prunus virginiana (chokecherry)

Tsuga mertensiana (mountain hemlock)


Betula occidentalis

Juniperus scopulorum

Pinus contorta

Pinus ponderosa

Populus tremuloides

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Prunus virginiana

Tsuga mertensiana

 

 

 

 

 

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