Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Assessing a new garden, and when to say "No" !

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Salix 'Kilmarnock' yet again - The Case of the Missing Catkins!

I had a question in from Amol the other day ("Hi, Amol!"),  asking about two ornamental Kilmarnock willows which were bought together, earlier this year: one of them is growing much faster than the other, and they are not producing catkins.

Here's a picture of the pair of them:


Right, first comments: I love the stout planter-boxes! Excellently chunky.

Second comment: good staking! Short stakes, good angle, rubber ties. I can't see how well the ties have been fitted, but let's assume they are done properly.

To answer the two questions:

Firstly,  I see what you mean about them not looking similar any more. One is definitely doing better than the other  But that's ok, there's no problem, they are both definitely Kilmarnock, because they are both weeping. If one was something different, or had reverted, it would be growing upwards, instead of growing downwards.

They are both growing downwards beautifully.

So I wouldn't worry too much about that: it looks as though one of them is forging ahead, while the other is lagging behind, and this could be for many reasons: it's possible that they were not from the same "batch", so one is older than the other and therefore more mature.

They could have been supplied to the sales outlet by two different nurseries, and could therefore have been in different growing conditions before they were sold. 

It's also possible that one gets more light/water than the other,  even though they are in the same garden.

And even though they appear to be planted in identical planters, which were presumably built and filled at the same time, the soil/compost within the two boxes might not be the same (bought-in compost/topsoil/organic matter is very variable, even from one bag to the next, regarding the amount of nutrients it contains), and the ground underneath the planters might be different - one might drain more readily than the other.

To remedy this, Amol could give the poorer one a light dose of general-purpose plant food, such as Growmore, or Fish, blood and bone, or a small handful of slow-release fertiliser. Scatter it on the top of the soil, not too close to the trunk, and gently "scratch" it in to the surface of the soil.

Secondly, catkins, or lack of.

There are several aspects of this: first and most obvious is watering. Willows love water, they need it, it makes them grow lush.  So check the irrigation, or check your watering regime: go out there now, and take a small hand tool such as a trowel, go to one of the corners of one of the planters (so as not to damage the roots), push the trowel in vertically, then lean it over sideways, and look at the cross section of soil which this reveals. Does the loose soil immediately fall into the hole? It's very dry, water it more. Can you see a dark line of damp soil  just half an inch or so down from the surface? You are not watering enough, give them more. Is the soil uniformly dark and damp all the way down? Well done, you are watering perfectly.

On the subject of watering, if you're not quite sure about it, I've published a set of four articles on the subject, this is the first one, and it contains links to the other three. Read and learn.

Next is sun: willows need a fair amount of sunshine in order to flower, and the catkins are the flowers. These ones look as though they have plenty of space around them, they don't appear to be overshadowed, so they are probably not suffering lack of light.

And then there is physical damage: birds sometimes get a strange urge to pick the buds off the trees, early in the year. Allegedly, this behaviour is provoked by lack of food, but having observed the little birdies in my own garden, my personal opinion is that sometimes they just do it for mischief. Anyway, there is a possibility that birds - bullfinches and sparrows are the usual culprits - might have damaged the buds as they were forming.

It is just about possible that if "one" had pruned "one's" willows at the wrong time, ie very late last year, then "one" might have accidentally eliminated this year's crop of catkins:  but that's certainly not the case here.

That leaves us with the final and most likely answer: it's mid summer now, and the catkins appear very early in the year. They won't have catkins now, not until next spring. It is even possible that back in March, they had finished their show of catkins for the year, so the answer to that question is to be patient, Amol, and wait for next spring.

Before I go, I would just say that the "better" one of the two could do with a light prune: I wouldn't let the branches sweep down onto the soil, for many reasons, all of which have been covered in the several earlier posts about this plant. Just type the word 'Kilmarnock' into the search box - top left of the screen - to read more about pruning them.

And for that matter, the other one could also do with a bit of tidying, it's quite cluttered at the top: in fact, both of them are a bit dense and if there were mine, I would thin them out, just a bit, at the top. Again, check this article, and this one,  for pruning a Kilmarnock willow.

Oh, and don't forget to check on them at least a couple of times a year, to make sure that the tree ties are still fitting correctly - adjust them if they are too tight, too loose, or are slipping out of place.

There, hope that helps!
If your willow branches remain bare until the tree leafs out, you’ll be wondering how to get catkins on pussy willow. The first thing to check is irrigation. Willows love water and grow well near rivers and streams. Those planted elsewhere need plenty of irrigation to thrive. If you have been letting your willows deal with drought on their own, or have simply forgotten to irrigate during a dry spell, the trees may be water stressed. If there are no catkins on pussy willow trees, be sure the trees are getting enough water. Is your pussy willow not flowering because it isn’t getting enough sunshine? It might be. Willows need sun and may not flower if they are in deep shade. Birds love to eat the catkins before they open, especially bullfinches. If it has been a hard winter for birds, it is possible they munched all the pussy willow catkins during the winter. It’s also possible that, by pruning at the wrong time, you eliminated this year’s pussy willow crop. Prune your willow just after the catkins begin to fade.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Pussy Willow Catkins: How To Get Catkins On Pussy Willows https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/pussy-willow/get-catkins-on-pussy-willows.htm
If your willow branches remain bare until the tree leafs out, you’ll be wondering how to get catkins on pussy willow. The first thing to check is irrigation. Willows love water and grow well near rivers and streams. Those planted elsewhere need plenty of irrigation to thrive. If you have been letting your willows deal with drought on their own, or have simply forgotten to irrigate during a dry spell, the trees may be water stressed. If there are no catkins on pussy willow trees, be sure the trees are getting enough water. Is your pussy willow not flowering because it isn’t getting enough sunshine? It might be. Willows need sun and may not flower if they are in deep shade. Birds love to eat the catkins before they open, especially bullfinches. If it has been a hard winter for birds, it is possible they munched all the pussy willow catkins during the winter. It’s also possible that, by pruning at the wrong time, you eliminated this year’s pussy willow crop. Prune your willow just after the catkins begin to fade.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Pussy Willow Catkins: How To Get Catkins On Pussy Willows https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/pussy-willow/get-catkins-on-pussy-willows.htm
If your willow branches remain bare until the tree leafs out, you’ll be wondering how to get catkins on pussy willow. The first thing to check is irrigation. Willows love water and grow well near rivers and streams. Those planted elsewhere need plenty of irrigation to thrive. If you have been letting your willows deal with drought on their own, or have simply forgotten to irrigate during a dry spell, the trees may be water stressed. If there are no catkins on pussy willow trees, be sure the trees are getting enough water. Is your pussy willow not flowering because it isn’t getting enough sunshine? It might be. Willows need sun and may not flower if they are in deep shade. Birds love to eat the catkins before they open, especially bullfinches. If it has been a hard winter for birds, it is possible they munched all the pussy willow catkins during the winter. It’s also possible that, by pruning at the wrong time, you eliminated this year’s pussy willow crop. Prune your willow just after the catkins begin to fade.

Read more at Gardening Know How: Pussy Willow Catkins: How To Get Catkins On Pussy Willows https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/shrubs/pussy-willow/get-catkins-on-pussy-willows.htm

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time for such a comprehensive and informative reply.

    Really grateful for that.

    The one that is growing 'better' sits on thicker clay (we needed height so we decided to put them in planters as it helps keep them out of the naturally occurring clay) while the one not growing as well is much better draining and hence probably less watered.

    They were planted with soil conditioner and have been given blood & bone fertiliser couple of weeks ago.

    Thank you.

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  2. Hi Rachel, my weeping pussy willow looks a little like Amol's 'better' one except the branches have gone a little wild and are trailing several feet along the ground. Is it ok to lop a lot of that growth off now in high summer - I'm always afraid of killing something that's thriving!
    Thanks, Helen

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