Guide to Growing Dappled Willows

My dappled willow shrubs are currently one of the top superstars in my garden ~ & have been since May, with some having grown 3 feet in just two months!  Once established, these guys grow FAST, & provide a nice privacy hedge; they’re one of the most reliable performers in my Zone 6 garden.  And they’re stars, not due to bright colors like roses or peonies bring: but more as a lovely compliment to the rest of your yard.  They provide structure, shape, & their wispy white-tipped leaves sway oh-so-beautifully in the breeze.  Learn if you can grow them where you live in this “Guide to Growing Dappled Willows!”

Guide to Growing Dappled Willows in Zone 6, Girl Who Gardens

I took this shot in my garden last night: there are two dappled willows in the front row here that I’ve shaped to be taller ~ almost tree-like. Behind them are much larger, dappled willow shrubs.

I’ve planted six dappled willows so far ~ & nearly all went into transplant shock after planting. What saved them was this Vitamin B solution called Liquinox: I give it to them immediately after planting, & as needed (if they look stressed), & now all are growing like weeds!

Dappled Willow Bush

Panicle Hydrangeas

Dappled Willow

Quick Overview of Dappled Willows

  •  Common Names for Dappled Willows:  Tri-colored Dappled Willow; Hakuro-Nishiki Willow; Japanese Willow. 
  • Where Did They Originate?  Dappled willows were first grown in the deciduous forests of South Korea, Japan, China, & Russia.
  • Are Dappled Willows a Tree or Shrub?  BOTH. The Dappled Willow shrub is more common ~ but the tree is similarly lovely, & ideal for smaller gardens, as it stays fairly petite.
  • Hardiness Zones:  4-9, though they perform best in Zones 5-7.  In Zone 9, for instance, you’ll need to plant them in the coolest time of year, & water religiously to get them established.
  • Are Dappled Willows Annual or Perennial?  Perennial ~ provided you’re in one of the zones listed above.  In my Zone 6 garden, the dappled willows are coming back stronger & stronger every year.
  • Growth Rate: Can be slow to start out, but once established in moist soil: they grow quickly.  Of the 100+ plants in my garden, the dappled willows are growing faster than anything else right now, by a long-shot (in their 3rd year). 
  • Moist or Dry Soil?  Dappled willows prefer MOIST soil, especially when starting out.  If they don’t get enough water in their first year, they won’t survive.  I’ve found that those on drip irrigation perform best, with the drip positioned right at the plant’s base.  My dappled willows near sprinklers aren’t as healthy as the ones on a drip system.
  • Mature Size: Dappled Willow shrubs grow anywhere from 4-10 feet tall, making them excellent for creating a privacy hedge ~ or hiding (unsightly) things in your yard, such as utility boxes, etc.  Dappled Willow trees stay fairly petite, only growing 8-10 feet tall.
  • Full Sun or Part-Shade?  Healthy dappled willows can handle BOTH.  They won’t do well in full-shade, as their leaves need sun to produce their beautiful white, cream, & pink colors.  But I’ve found that mine do best when their roots are slightly shaded ~ by another tall plant (such as arborvitae), & they definitely prefer MOIST soil…especially in the beginning.  In Zone 6, my dappled willows are thriving in a full-sun yard.
  • Bloom Time:  Spring.  Come early spring, or at the first hint of warmth: your dappled willow will start producing green leaves, that turn into pink & white-tipped sensations.  They’re stunning ~ & many people mistake the leaves for flowers, as they’re so pretty.  Mine are still white-tipped now, in early July…so I personally think of dappled willows as spring, summer, & fall “bloomers.”
  • What Do Dappled Willows Look Like in Winter?  All leaves will drop by late fall, leaving beautiful deep red branches all throughout winter.
  • Are Dappled Willows Easy to Grow?  YES.  Once established, this is a very low-maintenance plant.  Its most vulnerable time will be right after you plant it.  I made the mistake of planting my first dappled willows in July, with 90-degree weather.  They didn’t like it!!  But luckily, Liquinox’s Vitamin B solution saved them: I’d keep some on-hand to give to any willows that are having a bit of transplant shock or look wilty.
  • How Much Water Do Dappled Willows Need?  Some articles I’ve read say that you can water them twice a week & they’ll be fine.  In my dry, Central Oregon climate: there’s no way mine would survive with that little water!  During the hot summer (in Zone 6), I’m watering them on drip irrigation for 5 minutes, twice a day (at 4AM & 5PM).  And they’re thriving.  During spring & fall, I only water them for 2-3 minutes, once or twice a day.  But these are established ones!! 

With dappled willows, lean towards more water rather than less. 

  • What’s Your Favorite Thing about Dappled Willows?  The most unexpected surprise of the dappled willow is the sound they make when rustling in the wind: it’s very similar to the sound of my quaking aspens, which is a HUGE delight.  And they’re white-tipped leaves are so unique-looking, there’s really no other plant like them. 

Dappled Willow Leaf, Guide to Growing Dappled Willows, Girl Who Gardens

An up-close look at the white & pink-tipped leaves of dappled willows.

Inspiration Photos of Dappled Willows

 Because of their versatility & muted color palette, dappled willows work in almost any kind of garden ~ from French country styles, to more traditional.  And they definitely compliment the riot of color found in an English cottage garden

The only style they won’t work well in is a desert/xeriscape garden, as they require much water.

Guide to Growing Dappled Willows, Girl Who Gardens

In this HUGE 4X8 foot garden bed, you can see my dappled willow is almost taking over the whole thing! Once established, they grow FAST.

Guide to Growing Dappled Willows, Girl Who Gardens

Dappled willows make great compliments near colorful flowers like hydrangeas, roses, or these orange Asiatic lilies.

Are Dappled Willows Hard to Grow? Girl Who Gardens

When you zoom out: you can see how much the dappled willows dominate my landscape in early summer. They’re almost as tall as a tree!

Are Dappled Willows Hard to Grow? Girl Who Gardens

Another close-up view of their pretty leaves…

Guide to Growing Dappled Willows in Zone 6, Girl Who Gardens

Planting dappled willows in front of a darker tree, such as dark green arborvitae ~ really helps them stand out.

Photo of Dappled Willow Tree, Girl Who Gardens

I love the shape of dappled willow trees: skinny on the bottom, with a riot of white-tipped leaves on top. Photo by Bless My Weeds.

Are Dappled Willows Easy to Grow? Girl Who Gardens

One more shot of my dappled willow at sunset….the way her leaves rustle in the wind reminds me of a quaking aspen.

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