Successful Willow Planting

Willow Harvesting and Planting Tips

Draft dated March 24, 2019


  1. The best time to harvest is in early spring when the twigs have fully formed buds but before the buds have opened and leaves have started coming out.  Once they start leafing, that is where their energy is focused as opposed to the roots, which is what we want.
  2. If one of the key objectives is shading, then harvest from the tallest willows in the area.  You need not worry about species diversity.  Many of the willows are hybrids anyway.
  3. Do not worry about over harvesting from a single willow bush.  They are durable.
  4. Do not harvest whips, i.e., real skinny twigs, even if they have buds.  The bottom end of the stake should be about ½ inches in diameter.  If planted in the spring, a length of about 3’ is preferred.  You want the stakes tall enough when planted to facilitate rate of growth, but not so tall as to be vulnerable to wind and high water flows. 
  5. Cut with sharp clippers.  If they are dull, a chewed up cut on the bottom end can damage to the tissue that transports nutrients, etc., possible resulting in less success. Cut off any side branches.
  6. The cut furthest from the tree trunk should be 90° (blunt), and the cut nearest to the trunk should be 45° (sharp point).
  7. Each team should have someone appointed to collect the stakes as they are harvested, tie them into bundles of 25 using twine, make sure the sharp ends are all pointed in the same direction, and put the sharp ends (bottoms) into water ASAP.  They also should keep track of how many bundles have been collected.  The bottoms of the stakes can be laid in a stream or pond temporarily, and then put into pails with water.   Leaders may need to demonstrate how to tie a good knot.  This person should also examine every stake, and recut the bottom if necessary to ensure a clean cut, and they should toss away whips or stakes that are obviously dead (i.e., no green cambium peripheral tissue showing in the cuts).
  8. Ideally, the pails should be kept cool and in the dark, with the bottoms of the stakes soaked for at least a week.  However, if there is no place to store the pails, stakes can be weighted down in water and soaked for a couple of days and then planted and even stored in snow banks.
  9. Let everyone know where people can access a first aid kit, and have them report any injuries to the Leaders.  Encourage them to drink water and wear gloves on the clipper hand.


  1. Prepare a hole at least a foot deep with rebar or a metal stake that is 5/8ths or ¾ inches in diameter.  It is important that the stake be planted in soils that are and will be soaked or moist for at least the first month after planting. (Look at the bottom of the stake for clues.)
  2. If you cannot plant that deep, you need to cut off the top of the stake so only a foot or less is exposed to help reduce loss to runoff flows.
  3. Try to keep the sharp ends of the stake moist and in the shade until planted.  Use of wetted gunny sacks in hot weather can be helpful.
  4. Place the stake in the hole with the sharp end down.  It helps to recut the bottom end if they have been soaking in water for several days so that fresh cambium tissue will be exposed to the moist soils.  In very soft soils, willow stakes that are larger in diameter can be slowly pressed into the ground, but do not force it too much.  Be careful not to damage the tissue on the bottom of the stake on rocks, etc.
  5. Tamp the soil closely to the planted stake.  It is important to reduce the amount of air that can access the bottom of the stake to help prevent fungus and pests from causing a problem.
  6. In an area of heavy use, you may wish to flag the stakes so they are not accidentally stomped on.  Speaking of which, excluding livestock is very important.
  7. Return to the site a month later and take pride in your contribution to sound stream management.  Wet a line if permitted.