The Colorful Coral Bark Willow

Few things spark up a dull winter landscape like the glowing red-orange stems of coral bark willow.

The hardy, fast-growing coral bark willow grows naturally as a large tree, but it can easily be turned into a multi-stemmed shrub by annual coppicing (cutting stems back nearly to the ground). The brightest stem color occurs only on young stems, so coppicing keeps the plant small and leads to the best bark display. Coral bark willow has narrow, medium green leaves that turn yellow in the fall. It can be grown singly or, for real punch, in groups or as hedges.

Common name: Coral bark willow

Botanical name: Salix alba subsp. vitellina ‘Britzensis’ (syn. S. alba ‘Britzensis’)

Plant type: Deciduous tree

Zones: 3 to 8

Height: 40 to 60 feet (6 to 10 feet if grown as a coppiced shrub)

Family: Salicaceae


Growing conditions

  • Sun: Full sun
  • Soil: Adaptable to most soil types
  • Moisture: Average to moist

Care

  • Mulch: 2 to 3 inches of wood chips or other organic mulch
  • Pruning: To grow as a shrub, cut all stems back to within a few inches from the ground in early spring each year. For tree form, just prune lightly to improve form and remove any damaged branches.
  • Fertilizer: None, or apply compost or balanced fertilizer as needed

Propagation

  • Cuttings


Pests and diseases

  • Susceptible to some insects (willow leaf beetle, stem borer, aphids) and diseases (cankers, leaf blights)

Garden notes

  • As with most willows, coral bark willow prefers moist soil and does especially well near ponds or streams.
  • The colorful stems look great in winter arrangements outdoors or indoors.

All in the family

  • Coral bark willow is a member of the willow family (Salicaceae), which also includes poplars and aspens (Populus spp.).
  • There are about 400 species of willow (Salix) ranging from trees 80+ feet tall to creeping alpine plants less than 6 inches tall.
  • Willow bark extract has been used as an anti-inflammatory for centuries; it contains salicylic acid, which was a key ingredient in the first forms of modern aspirin.

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