Dappled Willow


A Guide to Growing the Dappled Willow

Dappled willow is one of the more than 300 species in the willow family.  It has several other names, including Hakuro-nishiki, Albo-maculata, Dappled Japanese Willow and Variegated willow. This dwarf willow is a shrub and difficult to train to tree shape.



Gardeners plant the dappled willow because of its beautiful colors. It starts to grow earlier in the spring than other plants, beginning with yellow catkins which appear on the plant in April. The foliage will start out as pink in the spring and then turn to green and creamy white for the summer. In the fall, the leaves turn to yellow and the stems will turn to red in the winter. The branches stay redder when the plant is pruned every year.

The dwarf is grafted onto a willow trunk and the trunk needs to be pruned each year. If not, shoots from the trunk can overtake the top of the plant. Like most willows, the dappled willow grows at a rate of around a foot and a half every year. It should max out at around ten feet tall although some are shorter, approximately six feet high.

If you plant the dappled willow, it likes moist, but well-drained soil, although it will adapt to dry and even overly wet conditions if necessary. Make sure to water it thoroughly during its first year of growth. The willow prefers soil with a pH range of 5.6 to 7.8. It doesn’t like a lot of heat, so if you live in a terribly hot area with a lot of direct afternoon sun, you should plant your dappled willow in partial shade. It tolerates full sun in cooler temperatures and the branches will actually be more of a bright red, the more sun they receive.

Prepare the soil with fertilizer when planting and then again at the beginning of each spring’s growth. You can be successful with natural fertilizers such as compost and manures. The dappled willow is one of the few willows that is recommended for backyard landscaping. Most of the willow trees require a lot of space because their roots are invasive and drawn towards water. They often become entangled in water and sewer systems and cause problems.

However, the shrub and grafted tree forms of the dappled willow are much smaller than those of a normal willow. They should not cause any entanglement damage, but remember that roots grow around four times longer than the tree’s branches. If you have a very small yard and are concerned about the shrub’s growth, you can grow this shrub in a container.

All trees in the willow family, including the dappled willow are prone to pests and diseases. Pests include beetles, aphids, borers, caterpillars, lace bugs and aphids. These can be controlled by organic pest control methods, such as insecticide soaps, neem oil, and many others which will not hurt the environment.

The dappled willow can be damaged by such diseases as root rot, blight, powdery mildew, leaf spot, fungus, crown gall, willow scab, rust, and cankers, among others. You can treat these with different methods of organic disease control. Also make sure to prune off any diseased or dead branches every year. This alone can solve disease problems in some cases. Also, pruning out one-third of the oldest branches each year can help as new branches are more resistant to disease. Remove all of the diseased branches and pruning debris far from your yard as some pests and diseases can over-winter in a yard.

You can propagate the dappled willow from softwood or hardwood cuttings. Just plant them in a good starter mix and keep the soil very moist but not wet. Look through the drainage hole on the bottom of the plant frequently and when you can see the new roots coming, it is time to plant the shrub outside.

The dappled willow is becoming a very popular plant and is on the want lists of gardeners everywhere. The striking colors throughout every season are certainly an attention grabber and can become the focal point of the entire yard.