In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
April, 2001
Regional Report

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Pussywillows bursting with furry growth are a sure sign of spring.

Useful Common Trees

I'm fond of certain common trees and shrubs such as willow, silver maple, mulberry, and barberry. Some of my horticulturist friends dismiss my affection as a lack of sophistication, but I don't care. There are sites, difficult in personality or manner, that call for these plants.

Right Plant, Right Place

How many times have you seen a "good" landscape plant languishing in an unsuitable situation? I'd rather put a so-called unsophisticated plant that's hearty and hale in that spot. For example, I have a hedge of tatarian honeysuckles (Lonicera tartarica) along one edge of the driveway that deflect the north wind beautifully. I've been told by "experts" that I really should remove the honeysuckles and plant something more fashionable. But they're perfectly suited to that spot, so why should I remove them just because they have fallen out of favor with the landscape industry?

I Love Willows

One of my favorite common plants is the willow. Willows come in all shapes and sizes, and there is probably one for every type of landscape situation imaginable. Last fall, I found a beautiful willow along the edge of the woods, one that I didn't recognize. It had lovely dark lustrous green foliage, with what looked like tiny lace collars at the base of each leaf. Even after the ravages of a dry, hot summer, this willow was still handsome. A little research uncovered its identity as a laurel willow (Salix pentandra), and I plan to take cuttings to root in my yard.


Of course, willows aren't just large trees. One of the heralds of spring is the bushy pussywillow (Salix caprea). As the silvery catkins start to expand, turning soft velvety pink and then bright gold, it's a sure sign spring is on its way. A sprig of pussywillow on the kitchen windowsill does wonders for the winter-weary heart. Horticulturists consider pussywillows weedy and not very ornamental. I agree that they seldom look suitable as a lone focal point. But tucked in a shrub border or on the edge of woods, they can be truly beautiful additions to the landscape.

A Place for Willows

While willows are well known for their adaptability to wet soil, most will thrive under just about any condition. Some will even grow 8 to 10 feet a year when happy. I have several areas where I want a fast-growing screen, so I'm ordering willows. Now all I have to do is choose from the many types--or perhaps I'll just plant several of each.

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