This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
If the reader will turn to page 172 of the last year's volume, he will find an admirable article on "Willow-Culture," by Mr. Chas. Downing, of Newburgh, N. Y., in which the subject is so plainly discussed that the merest tyro in Willow-growing can not fail, if its directions are carried out I question much if a better treatise on the subject ever appeared, though many have been more elaborate. Every Willow-grower, however experienced, should read it, and may read it a second time to advantage. On the nature and preparation of the soil, culture, etc., nothing can be added. Follow Mr. D.'s instructions, and success is certain. I will, however, offer a few remarks on the distances at which Willows should be planted, and how cut in after years, though the former is a consequence of the latter.
Willow sets, as commonly planted, would have the appearance of fig. I. It will be perceived that one eye is above the ground, and more frequently there are two. At the end of the first summer's growth, it has the appearance of fig. 2. These, we will suppose, are cut back, as shown at fig. 3.* It will be seen that a "snag" is left on the old stem, which will increase at all subsequent cuttings, leaving a short stem of it, perhaps a few inches, between them and the surface of the ground. At the end of the second year, we have a plant like fig. 4; and at the end of the third year, like fig. 5. At this and subsequent ages, many of the "stools" will be getting one-sided, from the breaking off of "snags" by carelessness or accident; and when the stools stand close together, many shoots will be weak and worthless. This is a very bad system of cutting, yet in England it is the general one. A much better system is practiced by a few good growers. When the cutting is planted, it has the appearance of fig. 6 - the top bud level with the surface of the ground.
It will be found that the shoots given the first summer, as shown at fig. 7, will be much stronger than that shown at fig. 2. The reason is obvious: as soon as the shoots fairly commence growing, roots are emitted at the base of the pushing buds, which, being near the surface, greatly assist their growth, When these are cut back, it must be done close to the surface of the ground, as seen at fig. 8. The next summer the stools will give a luxuriant growth of " rods," as at fig. 9, showing a great contrast to stools of the same age, as at fig. 4. Persons unacquainted with Willow-growing must not think this overdrawn, as I can answer for it; the contrast in the Willow beds will be still greater than on paper. Little explanation is necessary on this point The rods given by a stool like fig. 4 have to draw all their nourishment through the stem, and will, as a consequence, be weak in contrast with those given by a stool like fig. 9. Where the whole stool, to the very top, is in the ground, roots are emitted from every point, and the stools swell accordingly; and when growth commences in spring, shoots will be thrown up all around the stool, from the under side of the headed down branches.
These shoots springing out of the soil, as soon as fairly growing, also emit roots in every direction, from the point of junction with the previous year's wood. It will be clearly seen, under circumstances such as these - a stool from which roots ramify in every direction, with the young rods rooting into the soil as well - the rods must, as a consequence, be of superior growth to the other system. From the system of cutting back, the stool spreads to a considerable distance; three feet in diameter will soon be common in a good soil and under good culture. I have seen them much wider. The rods having more distance, and deriving the same nourishment from the parent stool, are not only long. but uniform in size. If cut on the other system, many weak shoots will be given, for want of room, air, nourishment, etc. This system of cutting close to the ground must be adhered to at all subsequent cuttings. It will be plainly seen, that under this mode the stools must be planted at a considerable distance apart, - on no account should they bo closer than three feet each way; three and a half feet will be a still better distance; and on favorable soils, with the very strongest Willows, four feet each way will not be too much.
I am happy to be able to endorse all that Mr. Downing says of the Willow imported by Dr. Grant. It is now twelve years since I became acquainted with that variety and so superior to all other varieties of Osier was it found, that ten years since, a Wil low plantation under my charge, planted with inferior varieties, I had cleared, prepared, and planted exclusively with that The principal points of its excellence consist in its very vigorous growth, annually giving rods of great length and uniform thickness; but the great quality of all, is its extreme toughness. Nurserymen in Europe use Willows largely for sewing their bundles of trees. This variety, from its length, slightness (in proportion to length), the facility with which it can be twisted, bent, sewed, or drawn, like a piece of twine, without cracking in the least, recommends it before any variety I have ever seen. I need not remark that basket-makers like this quality quite as well as nurserymen. This is an old variety, though not generally grown in England. In one or two places in Gloucestershire it is admirably grown, to the exclusion of all others. I can not help regretting that this variety should have been given a new name on its introduction here.
It has no particular name where grown, but I conceive it would be better to designate it the Gloucestershire Willow, or the Tockington, from the village near which it is extensively grown. New names have had their bad effects on fruits introduced into this country, and it will lead to as much confusion if applied to Willows.
* It is much better not to head them back until the end of the second year, as it materially strengthens the stools. Many good growers occasionally let their old plantations stand two years, to give them greater vigor.
[We are greatly obliged to Mr. Saul for his excellent hints on the treatment of Willows. People who suppose that any sort of cutting will do "well enough," will find themselves as much mistaken as those who consider any sort of pruning good enough for fruit trees. Willow-culture is said to offer ample remuneration in a suitable soil, and not a few are at this time engaging in it The cutting is a point of much importance, and we trust what is here said concerning it, will command attention. - Ed.] «