The bonsai willow tree (salix repens) is one of the most popular out there, and with good reason. It has a certain dramatic flair that looks great in any style. Despite its reputation as being difficult to care for due to its rapid growth, we have some time-tested tips to lead you to bonsai success.
Here’s what you need to know in order to rock a bonsai willow tree:
- This bonsai tree likes direct sunlight. Place it outdoors.
- Keep the soil moist. These trees need a lot of hydration, but don’t overdo it.
- You’re going to want to use a quality balanced fertilizer while the tree is in its growth phase.
- This tree can become very bushy. You’re going to need to do plenty of pruning.
- A young bonsai willow tree may require up to two yearly repottings.
- It’s very likely that you’ll be using wires to keep the branches slanted downwards.
Growing one of these trees is definitely not a beginner-level challenge. But, with this guide, some patience, and dedication, you’ll achieve stunning results.
First things first. The bonsai willow tree (or Weeping Willow) is a lovely specimen with a gorgeous shape and catkin flowers that scream “look at me!” as they change their hue from silver to cream over time.
If you want maximum beauty, attractiveness, elegance, and a certain distinction, you can’t go wrong with it. Any knowledgeable grower will also admire your dedication and tenacity if you successfully bonsai one of these trees. And don’t think casual onlookers will resist its charms either!
On to basic care guidelines…
Positioning and Light Care
The bonsai willow tree is primarily an outdoor tree. It needs plenty of sunlight to live a long, healthy life and reach its maximum potential. Keep it in mind, because you’ll need to place it in a location where it receives plenty of light.
It’s capable of enduring a variety of climates. That means that as long as it’s got sufficient light, it’ll grow strong and endure more than other similar trees. Still, there’s an ideal range of weather types where it can grow to be the healthiest. That’s USDA planting zones 4 to 8.
Can You Grow a Bonsai Willow Tree Indoors?
Nuh-uh. That’s going to be a definite no-go. This tree requires sunlight and being outdoors. It will tolerate some time indoors, but you should only bring it in if weather conditions get out of hand. Keep it safe, but bring it outside as soon as it’s possible!
On that note, the tree sheds once a year, and needs dormant periods to thrive fully. If you keep the roots well-insulated, then building a shed around the tree may keep it safe from extreme weather. Don’t worry if it sheds its leaves completely and looks dead; if the roots have kept growing, it’ll be back to its old self come springtime!
This tree usually grows near ponds, lakes, or rivers. With that preference for bodies of water, you can probably tell it’s a moisture hog and grows better on well-drained soil. Choose a bonsai soil mix with good drainage, so that excess water and fertilizer leaks out and you can tell when it’s ready for re-watering. It should also be slightly alkaline.
Watering your Bonsai Willow Tree
Moisture is the name of the game here. A couple of offhand splashes, while you’re watching your favorite show on Netflix, won’t do; this tree should not be left dry for long periods of time.
So, water your tree several times a day. While you should absolutely make sure that there’s no standing water, you should be pouring enough that it’s running over the sides. You’ll notice that this tree drinks heartily, so the soil tends to dry out fast. When you notice that’s starting to happen, it’s time to bring out the H2O again.
You can get away with positioning your tree in a bright sunlit space and forgetting about it for a while, but not with leaving it without proper hydration.
Advanced Bonsai Willow Tree Care Guidelines
This tree is a big grower, so it doesn’t take too kindly to being over-fertilized. Apply a good solid organic fertilizer six weeks for optimum results. If you use a liquid variety, then do it approximately every two weeks.
Avoid fertilizers with high nitrogen. They could lead the tree to develop oversized leaves and large internodes. It also makes it more susceptible to infestations.
Use fertilizer moderately. Apply it on the soil around the tree, and not directly on the trunk, which could lead to burning.
You should prune your bonsai willow tree each season. During the winter months, take care to cut off unwanted growths, shoots, or branches that are growing in uncomfortable positions. You can leave a couple of buds so that the next year they’ll replace branches that get too long.
You can also trim the roots if they start to overflow the bonsai pot. That makes room for new eventual growth.
In the summer months, you’ll have to actively trim many more new shoots.
Now, this is a point of contention for some. Purists believe that the bonsai willow tree should be kept in its natural, asymmetrical beauty. They also contend that the tree doesn’t take too well to wiring.
As pragmatic types, we believe that you can wire new bonsai shoots by early June so they’re bent down in a hanging position. This is not just for aesthetics, but for practicality. If you do this, make sure the wires don’t bite into the tree’s bark.
During the spring, you can also wire down older branches as well. You want them to have a downward slant.
The bonsai willow tree has strong, fast-growing roots. Understandably, they tend to fill out bonsai pots — which tend to be on the small side by design — rather quickly.
So, you’ll probably need to repot your bonsai willow tree every year. That’s when the buds start to swell.
Use fresh, well-patted soil when replanting. Make sure to leave no air pockets — you want to avoid these because they can dry out the roots.
Bonsai willow trees can fall prey to a variety of insects and pests, the same as any other plant. Willow borer, canker, aphids, caterpillars, scale, gall makers, gall mites, and rust are pretty common afflictions.
Use organic pesticides and contact a pro if these problems rear their ugly head.
Purchasing a Willow Bonsai Tree
There are a few different places you can buy a Weeping Willow Bonsai. One option is to purchase one online. There are several websites that sell bonsais of all different shapes and sizes, so you should have no trouble finding one that suits your needs. Another option is to go to a local garden center or nursery. They will likely have a wide selection of plants to choose from, and they may also be able to give you some tips on taking care of your new bonsai.
Growing a Weeping Willow Bonsai from Seeds
Weeping willow bonsai can be grown from seeds, but it can be a challenge. The seeds will germinate best if you stratify them first. Stratification is a process that breaks the dormancy of the seed. You can stratify the seeds by placing them in damp sand in the refrigerator for about two months.
Once the seeds have been stratified, you can plant them in soil and water them well. Keep the soil moist but not wet until the seeds germinate, which should take place in about two weeks. Once the seedlings have appeared, you can begin to reduce the amount of water you give them until they are once again moist but not wet.
Growing a Weeping Willow Bonsai from Cuttings
Weeping Willow Bonsai can be grown from cuttings taken from a healthy tree. Cut a young branch (6-8 inches long) from the desired tree and remove all of the leaves, leaving only the petiole (the stalk that attaches the leaf to the stem). Dip the cut end of the branch into rooting hormone and then insert it into a container filled with moist potting soil. Keep the soil evenly moist and make sure that the cutting receives plenty of sunlight. Rooting should take place in about six weeks. When new growth is seen, transplant the cutting into a larger pot. Weeping willow bonsai should be repotted every two years or so.
Is a Bonsai Willow Tree Poisonous?
This is a common question. You certainly want to maintain everyone under your roof safe. That includes your family, tenants, and any beloved pets (well, even the ones that annoy you a bit)!
Most tree varieties used for bonsai are not poisonous. That includes the willow tree, luckily, so you should be more concerned about your cat tearing it to shreds and giving you a heart attack than any damage done the other way around.
Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Some varieties, like the lily, can be harmful to cats; others like the narcissus daffodil can make your dog suffer neurological damage. A few plants, even those used for bonsai can be harmful to humans. Make sure to research every plant you intend to bonsai thoroughly before you have a go at it.