The most flex­i­ble tree you can grow

A wil­low might not be an ob­vi­ous pick for your block, but it cer­tainly could be the most in­ge­nious.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Jane Wrig­glesworth

It’s swift-grow­ing, it’s eas­ily man­aged, and it’s one of the most ver­sa­tile trees around.

1 Wil­low makes great an­i­mal fod­der

It’s highly palat­able, and or­gan­ic­mat­ter di­gestibil­ity is around 60-65%, sim­i­lar to nor­mal, grass­land sum­mer pas­ture.

It’s ter­rific in times of drought. Tri­als by Massey Univer­sity showed an im­proved lamb­ing per­cent­age for stock fed on wil­low (and poplar) for­age com­pared with stock fed on drought pas­ture alone, which is why it of­ten forms part of a drought re­silience plan on larger farms. The fo­liage con­tains high lev­els of zinc and mag­ne­sium – im­por­tant min­er­als for an­i­mal health – and sec­ondary chem­i­cals called con­densed tan­nins, which in­crease ovu­la­tion rates and pro­tein util­i­sa­tion from for­age.

Wil­lows are also use­ful for con­trol­ling ero­sion on slopes, gul­lies and river­banks, as their fi­brous root sys­tems help an­chor the soil in place. They can help pu­rify con­tam­i­nated soils, se­quester car­bon in be­low­ground biomass, min­imise nu­tri­ent leach and, be­cause they are thirsty trees, can help de-sat­u­rate wa­ter­logged land.

If your site gets ham­mered by wind, you might want to con­sider a wil­low shel­ter­belt. Wind is one of the main fac­tors in de­ter­min­ing the mi­cro­cli­mate of a site, and wind chill or root rock can be a prob­lem for a num­ber of use­ful crops. Wil­lows can also be use­ful when planted as a buf­fer zone be­tween homes and grow­ing zones and sources of air and noise pol­lu­tion.

2 Your plant cut­tings may ben­e­fit

Wil­low con­tains in­dole­bu­tyric and sal­i­cylic acids,ds, both plant hor­mones that can help im­prove the strike rate of cut­tings. In­dole­bu­tyric acid stim­u­lates plant cell growth and root de­vel­op­ment and sal­i­cylic acid helps pre­vent pathogen growth, so it just might stop bac­te­ria and fungi from in­fect­ing your cut­tings.

An ef­fec­tive way of cap­tur­ing the­see hor­mones for use on other plants is to o make ‘wil­low wa­ter’. Use the tips of the e wil­low where fresh growth is ev­i­dent as this is where the hor­mones are most con­cen­trated. Re­move any leaves and cut the stems into small pieces, 2-3cm long. Place in a heat-proof con­tainer and pour over boil­ing wa­ter. Leave to in­fuse overnight. Strain the liq­uid into a clean jar. Take your cut­tings and stand them in the jar with the wil­low wa­ter. Leave overnight, then plant your cut­tings as usual.

Wil­low-in­fused wa­ter can also be used on crops in the soil to en­cour­age strong root growth.

3 You can get very art­ful

There is bas­ketry, of course, but the art and hand­i­craft ap­pli­ca­tions of wil­low are much broader. Wil­low rods taken from a yearly cop­piced stand can be used to make a range of handy bas­kets, but also to craft a va­ri­ety of artis­tic gar­den dis­plays such as sculp­tures, fences, screens and te­pees.

Otago-based artist, land­scape and gar­den de­signer Lynne Wil­son holds wil­low weav­ing work­shops to do just that. She teaches what the tra­di­tional weavers of the Loire Val­ley call ‘wild weav­ing’, which refers to the use of ma­te­rial har­vested from the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment.

“I love work­ing with wil­low for its sup­ple­ness and in many cases, the rich­ness of colour in new growth from rus­set to ap­ple green, that other ma­te­ri­als such as vine prun­ings don’t of­fer,” says Lynne.

Lynne has worked with wil­low ar­tis­ti­cally for 15 years, since mov­ing to Cromwell in 2002.

“My son, who was 12 at the time, en­joyed fish­ing, while I sat on the shores of Lake Dun­stan of­fer­ing en­cour­age­ment. Even­tu­ally the need to be do­ing some­thing with my hands caused me to look to my sur­round­ings and the many va­ri­eties of wil­low that had been planted in re­cent years to nat­u­ralise the new­ly­formed lake.”

Lynne be­gan with the con­struc­tion of a sphere, the ba­sis for three-di­men­sional sculp­tures. “A sphere can be­come a torso, a head or sim­ply stand alone as a pleas­ing form. It is free-form wil­low weav­ing 101 in my work­shops.”

Hur­dles and liv­ing sculp­tures came next. The lat­ter were not so suc­cess­ful in the dry Cen­tral Otago cli­mate.

“The hur­dles, how­ever, have proven a quick and easy al­ter­na­tive to a hedge or screen,” she says.

Lynne uses Chi­nese wil­low ( Salix mat­su­dana) and vi­o­let wil­low ( Salix daph­noides), among oth­ers, but she also har­vests red-barked dog­wood ( Cor­nus alba ‘Siber­ica’), golden-twigged dog­wood ( Cor­nus sericea ‘Flavi­ramea’) and the com­mon dog­wood ( Cor­nus san­guinea) for colour vari­a­tion.

“The ma­te­rial suit­able for weav­ing is usu­ally found where a branch of a ma­ture tree has been pruned or dam­aged. This is ide­ally 1-2 year growth, no thicker than a lit­tle fin­ger at the base and with­out side branch­ing.”

Cop­piced wil­low is ideal. This is where the plants are pruned in such a way that they are stim­u­lated to pro­duce long,

straight, flex­i­ble rods. Har­vest­ing takes place dur­ing win­ter when the tree is dor­mant.

“It can be stored in a cool, dark place for later use,” says Lynn. “How­ever, I pre­fer to har­vest as I need it and while at its most sup­ple.”

Sup­ple­ness and colour may be lost over time, as a sculp­ture ages. How­ever, fresh ma­te­rial may be added each sea­son to re­fresh the look if you wish says Lynn.

“I do this with my wil­low balls, some of which are now sev­eral lay­ers thick.”

Lynn’s work­shops are pop­u­lar, but these days they are re­stricted to those ar­eas where she knows there is a good source of us­able ma­te­rial, enough for 10 peo­ple to har­vest ap­prox­i­mately 60 rods each. “Avail­abil­ity is al­ways an is­sue and for that rea­son I re­strict my work­shops to the Cromwell area where I have been har­vest­ing, and there­fore cop­pic­ing, se­lected host trees for years.” She avoids wastage if she can. “There is al­ways some wastage but this can be used to start your own cut­tings. These will even­tu­ally want to be large, thirsty trees so con­tin­ued cop­pic­ing is es­sen­tial.” Or you could use the left­over branches to make wil­low wa­ter.

If you want to give your live­stock ex­tra nour­ish­ing fod­der dur­ing a drought, wil­low is a great op­tion.

Fine wil­low branches can be shaped into nat­u­ral gar­den sculp­ture and edg­ing for gar­den beds.

Wil­low looks great and is easy to weave into a screen.

Photo: RA No­nen­macher Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Salix mat­su­dana

A liv­ing wil­low screen where young wil­low branches have taken root.

A wil­low screen used as a wind break.

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