7 wonderful uses for willows

7 Wonderful Uses for Willows on Your Property

Willows are a beautiful and versatile tree that serves a broad range of functions for both people and wildlife. Many of us are familiar with willows in their natural environment, but do you know how to use them on your property? There are a number of excellent uses for willows, and having a willow patch on your property can be a great idea. Keep reading to learn how you can start using willows on your property.


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One of the first things I did when my wife and I moved to our property was to set up some willow patches. My willow patch is still getting established, but I know it will be a wonderful asset to help us cultivate abundance for people, plants and wildlife as the willows grow.

There are just too many great ways to use willows not to get a patch established. This post will introduce you to 7 ways to start using willows.

7 Ways to Use Willows on Your Property

  • 1
    Rooting Hormone – Willow Water
  • 2
    Habitat for Wildlife
  • 3
    Garden Trellises and Structures
  • 4
    Cleaning Water Runoff
  • 5
  • 6
    Chop-and-Drop Material
  • 7
    Animal Fodder – Tree Hay

So are you ready to learn more about how to use willows on your property? Before you scroll down, make sure to grab your free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet so you can keep this list of uses for willows in your library.

1. Rooting Hormone – Willow Water

One of the main reasons I wanted to have my own willow patch was for making willow water. Willows have high levels of a natural rooting hormone. This makes it easy to get willows established through a process called live staking.

If you take a willow cutting and stick it in the ground in the fall, there’s a good chance it will take root and start growing the following spring.

But it doesn’t just work for willows.

You can make what’s called willow water by essentially making a tea from 1-year-old willow cuttings. This willow water can then be used to soak cuttings from other plants to stimulate them to root.

Using willow water in this way can greatly improve the success of your propagation efforts. Since buying plants can get expensive, being able to propagate your own plants is a great way to cultivate abundance without spending a lot of money.

2. Habitat for Wildlife

Wildlife habitat is a great use of willows

These willow flowers are some of the first flowers to open up in the late winter. They might not be very showy but bumblebees and hummingbirds love them! Willows provide great habitat for all sorts of wildlife!

One great use for willows is to provide fantastic habitat for wildlife. In the spring, they are one of the first plants to flower, providing food for bees and even humming birds.

Birds will use willows for shelter and for nesting. Willows are also great for stabilizing streambanks, and they’ll provide shade and cover for fish.

Given how fast willows grow, they can be a great way to quickly create habitat for wildlife.

3. Garden Trellises and Structures

Another great use of willows is to have a never-ending supply of material to make trellises and other garden structures.

Coppicing or pollarding your willows can be a great way to produce a large amount of straight, flexible branches for trellises.

Just don’t stick your new trellises into the ground if the main posts are made from fresh wood. Willows will easily root, and your new trellis might start growing!

The easiest way to avoid this issue is to use dried wood for your support posts and then do the weaving with green, flexible wood.

Otherwise, you can build your trellis so that it doesn’t need to stick into the ground. 

4. Cleaning Water Runoff

Use willows to clean water runoff

Runoff from a shared dirt road is directed into this deep mulch pit. The willows growing around the pit help clean the runoff from the road before it enters the rest of my property.

Willows are naturally heavy feeders, making them great for absorbing excess nutrients. This can help clean up water runoff.

If you have areas that collect runoff, say from a road, you can use willows to help absorb and clean the runoff.

Finally, if you use an outdoor composting toilet, you can grow willows around it to help ensure no excess nutrients end up in your water systems.

5. Medicine

Willows can be a useful natural medicine to help alleviate pain and inflammation. Some willows are a natural source of salicin, an anti-inflammatory compound. Combined with flavonoids and polyphenols also found in the willow, the bark can be used as an alternative to aspirin. 

The active material is found in the bark of willows, which can easily be made into a tea.

Though I should note that I have not used willows in this way myself. The video above has some information about how to make a tea from willows for this purpose.

While this may not be an everyday use of willows, it’s nice to know that if the need arises, you can use willows as pain relief.

6. Chop-and-Drop Material

Use willows for chop-and-drop

Willows like this one can put on a ton of growth. Here it is encroaching on a log used for sitting. But I can chop-and-drop the excess growth to help build soil. The whole shrub could be cut down and it would regrow the following spring.

Willows can produce large amounts of new growth each year. This makes a willow patch a great source of chop-and-drop material for your property. Chop-and-drop is a quick and easy way to mulch your plants and replenish the soils with nutrients.

Since willows can be coppiced on a regular cycle, (2-3 years), you can set up a rotation so that each year you harvest a large amount of willow biomass to use as mulch around your other plants.

Insert Wild Tip: If you’re using willows to absorb excess nutrients in water runoff, this regular chop-and-drop harvest cycle can be a great way to harvest those excess nutrients to benefit your other plants.

7. Animal Fodder – Tree Hay

If you have animals like cows, sheep, and goats on your property, then you can use willows to grow fodder for these animals. This type of fodder was historically called tree hay, and it can be harvested en masse through coppicing and pollarding. 

The tree hay can be harvested and brought to the animals, or the willows can be grown where your animals can reach them directly. Pollarding is a wood harvesting method you can use for the tree hay if you want to keep the new growth up high, where the animals can’t reach.

Tree hay can be a great way to expand the diet of your animals and cut down on your feed costs.

Getting Started with Willows

Start using willows on your homestead

The first winter after moving to our property, I went out and planted a bunch of willow live stakes. Despite issues with deer in the first couple years, there is now a nice willow patch growing in a wet area on my property. Using live stakes is a great way to get started with willows!

So are you convinced to grow willows on your property? There are a wide number of willows to choose from, and there are likely a number of willows that are native to your area.

A great way to start your own willow patch is to find someone in your area that has willows growing wild on their land. Ask them if you can harvest some sticks or twigs that are at least around an inch or 2 (2.5 – 5 cm) wide. (These are the parts of the tree that are around 2 years old.)  

Because willow takes root so easily, you can literally just stick these in the ground.

Put the bottom end of the stick in the ground, so the buds point up. Make sure at least 2 or 3 buds are above the ground.

I like to harvest willow twigs that are wide enough to be pounded in with a mallet and are 3-4 feet (1 – 1.2 m) long, so I can bury them 1-2 feet (0.3 – 0.6 m) into the ground.

But the main thing is to make sure several buds are below the ground and several buds are above the ground.

This is a fairly simple way to plant a lot of willows. Even if some don’t make it, you’ll still end up with a nice willow patch.

Otherwise you can buy willows. Then, once they get established, you can take cuttings from those willows to expand your patch.

Do you have a willow patch? What's your favorite way to use willows? Leave a comment to share!

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Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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