Dappled willow shrubs (Salix integra) bring more than gracefully weeping branches to the garden. Picture an explosion of salmon-pink spring foliage that softens to cream-dappled, muted green in summer and brightens to golden-yellow in fall. Dappled willow cultivar “Hakuro-nishiki” (Salix integra “Hakuro-nishiki”) and “Flamingo” (Salix integra “Flamingo”) grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. Their leaf color is strongest in USDA zones 5 through 6.
Dappled willow species plants grow wild in Siberia, China, Korea and Japan. In western North America, coyotes take refuge in dappled willow thickets. As a result, the shrubs are sometimes called coyote willows. The wild plants appear at low and high elevations, usually near water. Cultivated plants are natural choices for difficult, wet soils, but they also manage on drier sites than many other willow species.
Dappled willow "Flamingo" is a dwarf sport, or natural mutation, of "Hakaro-nishiki." This is good news if you have a small yard, because without heavy annual pruning, "Hakaro-nishiki" may reach 15 feet tall and 20 feet wide. "Flamingo" packs all its parent's ornamental punch on to a 3- to 6-foot-tall, 2- to 3-foot-wide frame, with the added bonus of brilliant red fall and winter stems. "Flamingo's" Dutch propagators report that its new pink growth opens earlier and holds its color longer than "Hakaro-nishiki's." Both cultivars respond to a midsummer trim with new flushes of pink leaves.
Dappled Willow Care
Dappled willows perform best in full sun, with afternoon shade where summers are hot and dry. They need consistently moist soil that's acidic to mildly alkaline. After the final spring frost, but before they break dormancy, prune the shrubs by one-third to encourage lush new growth. Wipe your pruning tools with a cloth soaked in isopropyl alcohol to sterilize them after use. Spring is also the time to fertilize them with a granulated fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants. Sprinkle it evenly over your willow's drip line, where rain falls to the soil from its outermost branches to the soil. Use 1 cup, or the manufacturer's recommended amount, for each 1 foot of the plant's diameter up to 3 feet. Increase the fertilizer to 2 cups per 1 foot for larger shrubs. To supplement the fertilizer and improve your soil's moisture retention, work a 2-inch layer of organic compost into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil once a year.
Pests and diseases rarely trouble dappled willows. The biggest challenge they have comes from their freely suckering habit. While the shrubs release airborne seeds every spring, they spread much more quickly through suckers sprouting from their bases. To keep the willows from taking over the garden, trim the suckers as they appear, or at least once a year.
- Dayton Nursery: Dappled Willow
- University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension: Plant of the Week -– Dappled Willow
- Washington State University Clark County Extension: Dappled Willow
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Salix Integra "Hakuro-Nashiki"
- Pride of Place Plants: Salix Integra "Flamingo"
- National Gardening Association: "Flamingo" Willow
- Colorado State University Extension: Using Compost in the Home Garden
- Fine Gardening: Salix Integra "Hakuro-Nishiki"
- Michigan Gardening Magazine: Dappled Willow Worth Pruning Tasks
- Photo Credit vicuschka/iStock/Getty Images