After the long winter, it's refreshing to discover a few signs of spring, such as the soft, velvety paws of the pussy willow, Salix discolor. After purchasing my farm, I decided to plant an entire mixed-variety pussy willow grove in an area behind my main greenhouse - at the moist edge of the wetlands. In 2012, my outdoor grounds crew gave the pussy willows a heavy pruning. It is good to do this every few years to keep them productive and healthy. Now, five years later, it was time to do it again before the start of any active growth. Here are some photos of the process.
My pussy willow grove is located in an area where there is full sun and lots of moisture. It is always best to do any severe pruning while plants are still dormant, usually mid- to late March. Since pussy willows bloom in late winter or very early spring, this was the perfect time.
If you recall, we already cut many beautiful pussy willow branches for arrangements a few weeks ago.
Salix discolor is the American pussy willow. Pussy willows can grow up to 20-feet or even more, when left unpruned. Pussy willow trunks can be either single or clustered with flexible branches and branchlets.
There are two techniques to use when pruning a pussy willow tree. Coppice pruning is meant to encourage the pussy willow plant to produce many long, straight catkins-filled branches. Shape pruning can be done more frequently to create a full and pretty bush. Here, Wilmer starts by pruning older branches that are thicker and grey in color.
Chhewang uses sharp pruners and makes cuts above the nodes. Cutting above nodes that grow furthest from the center of the shrubs of branches is most effective.
Branches of pussy willows that are already crossing should be removed. They shade each other, reducing the number of catkins.
Every few years, it is a good idea to do some coppice pruning and cut trees back to six-to-12-inch stumps.
I prefer pruning to be done by hand instead of by power tools – it is a slower process, but provides a more detailed and prettier finish.
However, sometimes heavier equipment is needed to completely remove a tree – this one had just grown too old, and needed to be taken down.
Temperatures were still very cold, so while the ground was still relatively frozen, the outdoor grounds crew was able to bring the chipper straight to the site without damaging the landscape.
Our chipper was connected to our trusted John Deere tractor and brought as close as possible to the pussy willow area.
As branches were removed, Dawa carried them to the chipper.
Pete helped to feed the branches into the chipper. It was a very efficient and well-paced production line process.
The chipper grinds up the wood and shoots it back out to the earth.
It’s a great way to repurpose and reuse.
Here is Pete carrying a heavy trunk to the chipper.
It’s important to remember that severe pruning also results in larger, more full catkins, so it is a very useful chore.
New shoots will be encouraged to emerge from the roots as “suckers.”
Pruning bushes also helps prevent disease, fungus and insect problems.
The idea behind pruning pussy willows is to promote growth – to increase the size of the shrubs laterally, while restricting their upward development.
Chhiring decided to save some of the branches for other projects, such as building trellises. Here he is selecting and trimming appropriate branches.
Chhiring needs long, straight pieces that could work as trellis uprights – he specifically chose those that were about six to 10-feet long.
Some of the younger pussy willow trees that did not need coppice pruning still had a few good catkins-filled branches. This is a variety called Prairie Willow.
There were also a few more of the Purple Heirloom variety. It has attractive blonde bark, thin grassy stems, and lots of small dark purple catkins.
Purba carries more branches to the chipper – the crew is getting a lot of pruning done, while also cleaning the surrounding woodland areas.
Here is a pruned pussy willow – we cut most of them down to about six-feet tall – it takes a lot of time to prune all these pussy willows, but they grow fast and will be even better and more prolific next year.
After two days, the big pruning project is complete – they all look great. I am looking forward to all the arrangements I can make!