A perfect February garden plant

A welcome addition to any patio or garden is the smaller Salix, or Willow, with branches that can reach up, or hang low.Silver-white catkins emerge first, followed by green leaves, and stems in winter are an attractive ochre.Salix combined with primula, violas or carcissi can soon become a cheerful spring feature. The best-known in the range of mini-willows is the Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’, the small weeping willow. Other ‘standard willows’, which are offered as dwarf varieties are arbuscula, helvetica and subopposita and cultivars such as ‘Yalta’, ‘Iona’, ‘Voorthuizen’ (Creeping Willow).The appeal lies in the twigs with catkins. Species that are sold for their leaf colour are the Japanese or variegated willows, Salix 'Flamingo' and S. 'Nakuro Hishiki’, which both feature small pink leaves.Interesting facts about Salix include that Willow catkins are an important source of pollen for insects, and attract useful honey bees and bumble bees.Salix appears in both Celtic and Germanic sagas. The flexible wood is often seen as a metaphor for resilience in the face of adversity. Because Salix grows so quickly, the tree is the symbol of fertility. The light wood of the Salix is the ideal wood for clogs, and the twisted willow Salix babylonica 'Tortuosa' is popular as an Easter tree.There are some 400 species of Salix. The plant is hardy and loves damp soil and plenty of light. People have been enjoying them for centuries: the flexible wood is still used for baskets and other wickerwork and the bark contains a painkilling substance, salicin. When buying Salix, pot size and trunk length must be in proportion, and the shoot must be firmly attached to the trunk.To care for a Salix, it can be placed in both full sun and shade. As a riverside plant, it likes to be in soil that is always slightly damp.Prune if required after 'flowering' in June. Prune the variegated Salix species in the June and September.

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