Weeping willow trees are just one of over 400 species of willow. The wide variety of deciduous plants also includes some shrubs. Willows love wet soil and tend to congregate on the banks of streams, lakes, and swamps. While willow roots can help with soil erosion, they will also seek out moisture, so don’t plant them anywhere near underground pipes or sewers. These moisture-loving plants grow well in temperate and cold climates of the Northern Hemisphere. Most prefer full sun. Root systems are shallow but strong and can wreak havoc on sidewalks, driveways, and foundations, so be sure to plant willow trees far away from structures.
One reason willows are such popular landscape garden trees is that, in the spring, they’re often the first ones to have leaves. Male and female flowers appear as catkins (on separate plants), often before the serrated leaves start to appear. Another reason for their ornamental popularity is because they grow so quickly. Because willows grow so fast, their thin twigs break off easily in storms or snow. Not only can branches make a mess on your lawn, but they can also lead to unintended trees since willows tend to propagate easily. Pick up branches when they fall and turn that pliable willow wood into something cool. Branches can be manipulated to make baskets, furniture, wreaths, and more. From the winding corkscrew to the itty bitty dwarf shrub, here are nine types of willows for your yard.
Native to the eastern half of North America black willows (Salix nigra) can endure cold climates unlike many of their friends. This fine-textured shade tree can grow anywhere from 30 to 60 feet high, with trunks just over a foot around. Yellow-green blades are offset by the tree’s thick, scaly-looking bark. Black willows can live anywhere from 40 to 100 years, with an average age of 65.
Also known as curly willows or dragon’s claw, the Latin name for this horticultural variant is “tortusa,” which means full of crooks or turns. Their twisted twigs, trunks, and contorted branches that spiral naturally. This unique appearance makes them a popular ornamental tree. More drought tolerant than most willows, corkscrews thrive in full sun and are hardy through USDA growing zones four to eight. Corkscrews can grow up to 30 feet tall very quickly at a rate of 10 or more feet a year, but their life expectancy is only between 30-50 years. You know what they say, “live fast, die young”.
Dappled Willow (Hakuro-Nishiki)
Watch the foliage on this shrub turn from pink in the spring, maturing to variegated shades of green, cream, and pink, and then entirely green in fall until the leaves fall off to reveal bright red branches in winter. This compact cultivar typically grows between four to six feet and can be pruned to look more like a tree. Dappled willows are popular because they are very easy to care for. Hardy in USDA growing zones four through nine, dappled willows grow best in full sun to part shade, ideally with afternoon shade in hot climates. These shrubs make great borders or edges for a pond stream.
Dwarf Weeping Willow (Salix Integra Pendula Waterfall)
Weeping willows can grow up to 50 feet, but the dwarf, or Pendula Waterfall willow tree, has similar cascading branches and tops out at around five feet. These hardy willow trees grow well in any type of soil. Slightly twisted, bright green leaves decorate its pendulous branches. Dwarves are closely related to the small Kilmarnock weeping willow, which grows between four and eight feet. Arching cascading branches form a distinct umbrella shape without touching the ground.
Goat Willow (Salix caprea)
We’re not sure if these large deciduous trees are called goat willows because goats like to munch on their leaves, or because they’re stubborn as a goat, living up to 300 years. Unlike most willow trees, a goat willow’s leaves are oval. Twigs as well a the backs of the leaves sport fine hairs, while branches have an orange hue under direct sunlight. Goat willows cuttings don’t root as easily as other willows, but once planted, these big boys can grow up to 30 feet. They enjoy moist conditions and grow in USDA hardiness zones four to eight.
Weeping Golden Willow (Salix × sepulcralis ‘Chrysocoma’)
Weeping golden willows are one of the most popular and widely grown weeping trees in warm temperate regions. This artificial hybrid of the golden willow and the weeping willow results in a hardier weeping willow tree while. Its cascading, drooping branches are covered with yellow-green leaves that turn a glossy olive-green as the season progresses, revealing brightly colored shoots in winter. Make sure you have enough space for this behemoth, which can reach heights of 75-100 feet, and can be anywhere from 50 to 100 feet wide!
Pussy willows are shrubs, but the branches can be trimmed off to form an ornamental tree. North American natives, pussy willows grow quickly, requiring full sun in USDA hardiness zones four to eight. Pussy Willows are a popular landscaping choice because they are capable of growing in various soils and unlike some willow species, they sport strong, upright standing stems that stand up to high winds.
Babylon Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
Also known as a Peking willow, the Babylon willow is the OG of weeping willows. This well-known willow’s dramatic appearance of drooping branches and long leaves is graceful and elegant. The tree’s foliage is not only beautiful, but the green leaves can tell you when it’s going to rain. When the underside of the leaves turns upward, you know to bring an umbrella.
Delicate flowers dot its branches in the spring, until six-inch green leaves take over, which turn yellow in autumn, falling off to reveal brightly colored shoots in winter. Weeping willows grow rapidly, reaching heights of 40 or 50 feet, with a canopy spread of around 30 feet. However, they only live for about 30 years. Like most willows, they prefer full sun and are hardy through USDA growing zones four to 10.
White Willow (Salix alba)
It’s a nice day for a white willow. This popular type is regarded by many botanists as one of the best species of weeping willow. Growing to be over 80 feet tall, it’s certainly one of the tallest. Its stout, gray-brown fissured trunk can be a few feet around. Needless to say, this fast-growing tree requires plenty of space.
It’s called a white willow because the undersides of its long, narrow leaves are covered with fine, white hair. Watch as they turn from bright to dark green than golden yellow before revealing beautiful yellow twigs in fall. Full sun to part shade works for these trees, in hardy through USDA zones two to nine.