What you are getting: 9-10” dormant stem cuttings from the previous years growth.
When to plant: Plant after the ground has thawed. Your cuttings may be stored in the plastic bag for up to 2 weeks in the coldest part of a refrigerator (not freezer). It's important that cuttings retain as much of their original moisture as possible and that they be shielded from light so they do not start growing. If not planted within a few days of arrival, stand the cuttings upright in a bucket of water overnight to rehydrate them.
Where to plant: Willows prefer full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. When preparing the planting area, the inclusion of organic matter into the soil is always a good idea to retain moisture. We have never fertilized any of our willows! Most willows are tolerant of soil and wind conditions, however they do best in heavier, moisture-retentive soil. The planting ground into which the cutting is to be planted should be weed free. To keep weeds down, mulching or planting through holes in 6mil black plastic or geotextile works well. Mulch over the black material helps keep the soil cool and aids growth.
Caution: Like most large trees, Willow roots travel a long way and will seek out drains and other sources of moisture. They also transpire a large quantity of water and will tend to dry out a heavy clay soil—therefore, do not plant near a septic system, building or foundations. If you must plant near a structure, cuttings should be placed a distance from the building of 1½ times its eventual height. If left untrimmed some varieties grow into large trees.
How to Plant cuttings: With a 9-10in cutting, plant so that 8in is under (into) ground. Using a pointed implement - tire iron, a half-inch rebar or a small crow-bars, make a hole that is a bit deeper than the cutting to be planted and a little wider than the stem diameter at the butt end. Insert the cutting with the lateral buds pointing upwards ^. Firm the soil around the cutting to exclude air pockets and water if the soil is dry. Leave only one or two buds above the soil level.
Spacing: If planting willow for annual harvesting, a space of 12-24in is recommended between plants. Annual cutting will maintain plant vigor and produce multiple stems; younger stems tend to be more highly colored. Some colored bark varieties do not develop their full color until just before leaf drop.
Watering: In our clay-based loamy soil we rarely have to water except right after planting. In drier climates, be sure to water the cuttings in well and repeat weekly until leaves are growing lustily; then water once a month. We recommend drip irrigation as the water goes just to the roots and there is less waste. In drought years, as in 2016, frequent watering is necessary!
When to prune/cut back: Cutting should be done when the plant is dormant—before any green buds show. With sharp pruning shears, cut each rod as close to the ground as possible. First harvest can be done in late winter/early spring after the first growing season. Don't worry, the plant will have developed a good root system during the summer and you won't kill it by cutting it back. Also don't fret if your willows are bent over by snow and ice—they almost always spring back to vertical!
Special Instructions for Planting in Hot Climates
This is directed at Southern and West Coast gardeners or anyone receiving willows during hot weather!
Do not plant them in the ground, plant them in pots!
Plant them in 1-quart pots in a mixture of well-moistened 1 part peat-based potting soil and 1 part coarse perlite (available at most garden centers or hardware stores).
Stick one cutting per pot and push it in so it touches the bottom of the pot with 1-4in sticking above soil level. Firm the soil around it and water well. Cuttings need no light at this stage, so place them in a shaded location; the north side of the house is ideal. Never let the soil dry out, but don't overwater and let the soil get over-saturated. After 2-3 weeks the cuttings should develop small green leaves, so move them to a brighter location, but not in full sun until they develop a few inches of growth.
If possible, plant during cloudy weather. The young plant can be planted a little deeper than the soil level in the pot. If your soil is dry, soak it the day before so that you're planting into moist soil. Water in the plant well, and keep watering whenever it doesn't rain. We strongly recommend drip irrigation as it puts water where the roots are and wastes none to evaporation. Drip irrigation is available on-line or at some big box stores with large garden centers.
Shading the young plant
If you are in an extremely sunny hot climate we suggest that you shade the young plant from the Southwest sun—something we learned at the Tulsa Botanic Garden. This can be done with a burlap screen, plywood or whatever material will protect the plant from intense sun!
Copyright 2017 Vermont Willow Nursery; all rights reserved.
No portion of these instructions may be reproduced without the written permission of the Vermont Willow Nursery, 1043 Ridge Road North, Fairfield VT 05455
Planting through geotextile cloth or 6 mil black plastic covered with mulch will impede weed growth; I haven't mulched these 'Mt Aso' yet, but soon will do.
The Wonderful World of Willows
Vermont Willow Nursery