The Variegated Willows In My Garden Are Beautiful At Any Time Of Year

The willow is an extremely versatile tree species. Willows can be giants, reaching up to 40 meters in height, and dwarfs, whose creeping branches barely rise above the ground. These plants are not only weeping, but also globular, upright and creeping shrubs or trees. The color palette of willow leaf blades is just as wide. On my dacha plot with moist soil, a whole collection of ornamental willows with different shrub shapes and leaf colors has formed. Each species and variety has its own special appeal. But the most favorite I can call the unique mottled willows, whose leaf plates combine three colors and their shades at once: lettuce, white and soft pink.

The variegated willows in my garden are beautiful at any time of year
The evergreen willows in my garden are beautiful in all seasons

White willow "Hakuro Nishiki"

The most popular and commercially available variety of mottled willow. Those who have never encountered this willow will easily confuse 'Hakuro Nishiki' (Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki') from afar with a flowering shrub studded with pink and white flowers. Up close, the numerous thin arc-shaped shoots covered with small multicolored leaves resemble the jets of a fairy-tale fountain. The appearance of this willow is variable and at different times it is attractive in its own way.

The variegated willows in my garden are beautiful at any time of year
Solid-leaved willow 'Hakuro Nishiki' (Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki'). © Ludmila Svetlitskaya

In the off-season, the shrub decorates the garden with delicate branches of purple color. In early spring, it displays small but quite conspicuous earrings with a light fragrance. And 'Hakuro Nishiki' reaches its maximum decorative peak from May to mid-June. At that time the leaves on the young shoots turn bright white and become pink under the influence of the sun rays at the ends of the young shoots.

Thereby you can observe the simultaneous presence of three colors on the bush, and these colors are not pure but numerous shades from pinkish to bright pink, from white to cream, from green to light green.

As the young foliage "matures," the pink tones cease to be present in the crown, and the area of white markings becomes less, yet the tree does not become monochromatic.

After the peak of ornamentation, from July until fall, the leaf plates of willow are covered with a net pattern of thin cream veins on a lettuce background. Even in this modest attire, the willow tree continues to beautify the site. The hemispherical crown successfully contrasts with plants with heavier habitus, becoming a restrained background for beautifully flowering perennials.

Fall coloration of willow is not particularly decorative, but when the pale yellow leaves fall, the beautiful crown with crimson branches again begins to decorate the garden. To prolong the presence of pink tones, it is necessary to stimulate growth by regular pruning.

In the middle belt, the whole-leaved willow usually does not exceed 2-2.5 meters, but it is such a lush and spreading shrub that the crown diameter often reaches three meters wide and more. On average the annual growth of the shrub is about half a meter, but in some years, especially after heavy frost, the young branches can grow to 1.5 m high.

The variegated willows in my garden are beautiful at any time of year
Sunny place is a guarantee of maximum decorative effect of willow "Hakuro Nishiki". © monrovia

Selecting a location for 'Hakuro Nishiki' Willow

It's a well-known fact that the pink tint in the leaf leaves is strongest when exposed to UV light, so a sunny location is a guarantee of 'Hakuro Nishiki' willow maximum decorative value.

Often times, planting this very variety in the penumbra will disappoint gardeners and accuse sellers of cheating, because the purchased seedlings are not pink at all. If the place of planting willow is chosen incorrectly, it is better to transplant the young tree.

This kind of willow is very easy to transplant. For example, we successfully transplanted a three-year-old bush, which due to rapid growth has already reached 1.5 meters in height.

Special soil preparation on moderately fertile soil is not required, because it is a very hardy and unpretentious plant. The only condition is high soil moisture, which is achieved either by planting on the bank of a body of water or by regular watering. In drought, the willow "Hakuro Nishiki" will curl its leaves if there is a lack of moisture.

The variegated willows in my garden are beautiful at any time of year
In early spring, small earrings with a light scent appear on the whole-leaf willow. © Ludmila Svetlitskaya

How Hakuro Nishiki willow winters

In the southern regions, thickets of whole-leaf willow can be found in the wild along the banks of rivers and streams. For example, we met this willow in the foothills of Karachay-Cherkessia. But this variety does not grow in the middle belt.

The whole-leaf willow hybrid "Hakuro Nishiki" is not particularly winter-hardy, just like its wild ancestor. And, according to the international classification, belongs to the 5th zone of hardiness, that is, it can withstand temperatures not lower than -28.9 ° C. In winter time in the middle belt where plants of the 4th zone are more suitable, the temperatures can be much lower.

Weaver "Hakuro Nishiki" observed by gardeners of Moscow suburbs every time after winter comes out with frozen branches, the percentage of which depends on how low the temperatures were. Dacha owners living to the north of Moscow (Kostroma region, etc.) may grow this willow only as a coppice, as branches freeze every year at the level of snow, but it quickly recovers, building up branches from the stump.

Where in the Voronezh region, this willow feels quite well, and within the city, thanks to the microclimate, may not even freeze, but in the suburban areas, where the winds walk, frosted tips are observed annually.

I find this willow every spring in my dacha slightly frosted. After one particularly harsh winter the tree had several very large old branches frozen off, the bush looked sad, and only the shoots that had grown from the root neck had a characteristic pink color.

After the willow frost I tried to cover it with several layers of heavy fleece. But as a result, it turned out that the covered shoots began to grow earlier and suffered already from the spring return frosts. That's why this willow now remains uncovered for the winter.

I have rootstock willow, self-grown from a tiny cuttings, but on sale often there are specimens grafted on the bole. Thanks to the bright cap of spherical branches placed on the slender trunk of the rootstock this willow looks like a lollipop on a stick and begs to be grafted into a garden.

But this variant is reliable only in southern regions, but in temperate climates it's risky to grow 'Hakuro Nishiki' on a bough. After a particularly harsh winter the bush form will have high chances to recover from the stump, because the snow has protected the root neck from frost, but the bough tree, whose grafting is open to all winds, has very low chances of salvation.

The variegated willows in my garden are beautiful at any time of year
In the off-season 'Hakuro Nishiki' decorates the garden with delicate branches of purple color. © obsessiveneuroticgardener

Willow 'Flamingo'

I personally have always questioned the distinction of whole-leaf willow into two independent varieties. Isn't Flamingo whole-leaf willow (Salix integra 'Flamingo') a common double of 'Hakuro Nishiki'? It is very difficult to tell any fundamental difference between the two varieties visually.

My curiosity prompted me to consult Western sources, and it turns out that the English-language materials mention both names as synonyms. It also appears that growers often refer to 'Hakuro Nishiki' willow as 'Flamingo' because of its bright pink coloration, which is reminiscent of the plumage of this exotic bird.

So 'Flamingo' is the popular name for the variety 'Hakuro Nishiki'. For what reason it is often passed off as a separate variety is anyone's guess, perhaps it all started as an elementary confusion. But there is probably some commercial interest, as it is very likely that someone will want to plant both varieties and then buy two saplings instead of one.

Some growers have noted that the willow "Flamingo" has a more pronounced pink color. However, this is most likely due to the amount of sun a particular shrub has received, as well as small variations within the same variety.

In any case, planting and care of willow "Hakuro Nishiki" and "Flamingo", as well as their degree of winter hardiness are identical and do not require a separate consideration.

The variegated willows in my garden are beautiful at any time of year
Gardeners often call willow "Hakuro Nishiki" flamingo for its bright pink color. © Ludmila Svetlitskaya

Ashes willow "Tricolor"

Ashes willow (Salix cinerea), sometimes also called gray willow or "black willow", is widely distributed in the wild. Thanks to its high winter hardiness, it can also be found in the middle belt, where it grows in marshy places near water sources along with other willow species.

The leaves of this willow are dull green, the reverse side is grayish (due to the fact that the leaf plate is covered with velvety felt), it is as if slightly covered with ash, hence the name of the species.

The Ashes willow is a branchy shrub from 3 to 6 meters high, which grows relatively slowly. The variety "Tricolor" ('Tricolor')is often sold as a bough, in which case the height of the plant will depend on the height of the grafting point on the stem.

This willow has very thin and flexible shoots that form a spherical crown. The ash willow variety "Tricolor" is appreciated because of its mottled foliage, in May-June the crown of this tree becomes tricolor green-silk-pink. The youngest leaves have crimson-pink coloring, besides on the leaves there are lightened creamy areas, which originally are combined with the basic greenish-pepelny background.

In summer time the coloring is not so bright, and the leaves become rather marbled (light veins on a green background). The shape of the leaf plate of the willow is obovate, that is, the outline resembles the outline of an egg, and the leaves are attached to the petiole at the narrow end.

The willow "Tricolor" blooms in April. During this period, the thin twigs are decorated with numerous fluffy earrings, at first they have a silvery hue, then they become yellow.

The variegated willows in my garden are beautiful at any time of year
Ashes willow "Tricolor" (Salix cinerea Tricolor). © Ludmila Svetlitskaya

How willow "Tricolor" winters

Frost-resistance of the natural species (Ashes willow) is very high (zone 3 - to -40 degrees), but the cultivar form is slightly more thermophilic and belongs to zone 4, that is, it can survive frosts to -34.4 degrees. On the basis of these data, Ashes willow "Tricolor" can safely grow in gardens of the middle belt both in bush and bough form without additional shelter, without fear that it will suffer from frost.

Willow "Tricolor" grafted on a 1.5 m bough (on the willow goat rootstock) has been growing on my garden plot for three years, and last winter survived without visible damage.

Selection of planting location and care of "Tricolor" willow

Like all variegated willows, the ash willow variety "Tricolor" needs a sunny location, which will allow it to show its amazing color in full splendor. In the penumbra the tree will develop well, but the pink tones may not appear.

Like all types of willows, the Ashes willow prefers moist places, if it is impossible to pick up such conditions in the garden, the tree will have to provide regular watering.

The willow is not demanding in terms of the mechanical composition of soil, and it will grow well on clay, peat and sandy soil (tolerates even with acidic soil), additional fertilizers are not required.

To make the tree look more variegated and hold its shape, it should be pruned, because the brightest pattern is on the young shoots, the appearance of which will stimulate pruning.

The variegated willows in my garden are beautiful at any time of year
If you see two seedlings side by side ("Hakuro Nishiki" and "Tricolor"), then the visual differences of cultivars become obvious. © Ludmila Svetlitskaya

Which willow is more beautiful - "Tricolor" or "Hakuro Nishiki"?

With the appearance of mottled ash willow in nurseries, gardeners started talking about how "Tricolor" willow could become a replacement for the heat-loving "Hakuro Nishiki". However, despite the many similarities, these trees can in no way be called twins.

If you see two seedlings of these varieties side by side, the visual differences of the cultivars become obvious. First of all, these willows have different leaf shapes. The whole-leaf willow "Hakuro Nishiki" has a lanceolate leaf, that is, a narrow oblong leaf with a pointed tip and base. The ash willow leaf is wider and, as mentioned above, has an obovate shape. The texture of the leaf surface also differs: smooth and silky in 'Hakuro Nishiki' and rough and matt in 'Tricolor' willow.

Some parts of the leaf blade of 'Hakuro Nishiki' are whitened to boiling white, while in 'Tricolor' willow we rather see a cream or yellowish tint. Toward the middle of summer, the pattern of both willows tends to be marbled (green with light streaks), and the pink tones disappear completely. But this marbling also looks very different on the lettuce leaves of 'Hakuro Nishiki' and the grayish ash willow.

The crowns of these varieties also differ: The mature trees of the whole-leaved willow look like a fountain due to the thin arched curved branches. And the crown of "Tricolor" willow is spherical without such curves. The earrings of the willow "Hakuro Nishiki" are not very decorative, but the male earrings of the ash willow will serve quite well as a garden decoration in spring. The latter cannot have the same bright purple bark as the solid-leaved willow. Everyone shall decide for himself which variety of variegated willow to buy for the garden because of climatic conditions and personal preferences, but to my taste 'Hakuro Nishiki' is more impressive, while 'Tricolor' is a bit coarse, but it cannot be called ugly.

I have both of these willows in my garden, and each is dear to me in its own way, and each has found its own role and suitable application.

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