Plant Spotlight: Corkscrew Willow

Corkscrew willow is an excellent choice for containers, because it tolerates heavy pruning

Corkscrew willow is an excellent choice for containers, because it tolerates heavy pruning

What It Is

Corkscrew or curly willow is a cultivar of the Chinese willow species Salix matsudana.  Left to its own devices, corkscrew willow will grow into a small tree from 20’ to 30’ high, but it can be heavily pruned and maintained as a smaller shrub without harming the plant.

Why to Grow It

As its name suggests, corkscrew willow has twisted, curly branches and similarly curly leaves. The stems are an attractive feature in the garden or when cut and used in floral arrangements. It’s a quick-growing plant that tolerates a wide range of conditions, so it can be a good solution for trouble spots. While its curly branches are a fantastic winter feature, corkscrew willow’s interesting foliage makes a statement as well, especially in autumn when the leaves turn yellow.

Where to Put It

While corkscrew willow is a fast-growing tree, it is also a short-lived one, with a lifespan of just a couple decades. In many landscapes, it is a better choice to maintain it as a large, multi-stemmed shrub. Like most willows, corkscrew willow responds well to coppicing, where the plant is cut down to the ground to stimulate the growth of vigorous new shoots. This makes it easy to control the size of the plant and provides an opportunity to harvest the stems for decorative use. Because corkscrew willow tolerates pruning so well, it is an excellent choice to grow in large pots or containers where it might be necessary to control the size. In the ground, corkscrew willow’s shallow root systems have been known to lift nearby paving, so care should be taken in locating it. While it will thrive in moist soil with full sun, corkscrew willow will tolerate a wide range of exposure and soil conditions, with the caveat that it does not do well in drought.