The Tri Color Willow Tree is a rounded globe of branches on a single trunk, covered with color all year round. New shoots in spring, and after trimming, are bright pink, and older leaves are cheerfully dappled in bright white and apple-green. In winter the twigs are a sparkling red, and in early spring ‘pussy-willow’ catkins decorate the branches. This hardy shrub makes a vibrant accent plant with constantly changing colors, and simple trimming makes it easy to keep it neat and rounded.
- New growth is a brilliant pink
- Older leaves are dappled white and apple-green
- Winter twigs are bright red
- Easily trimmed to maintain a neat shape
- Grows well in most soils, even wet ones
Full sun will give the brightest colors on the Tri Color Willow, but it will also tolerate a little shade for part of the day. It grows in all soils except for dry, sandy ones, and it enjoys damp or wet soil too, making it ideal for low-lying areas, and beside ponds and streams. Pests and diseases are usually absent, and a spring pruning and the occasional summer trim will keep it compact and neat. A massive reward in color for a very small effort.
Colorful foliage is always a great asset in any garden, and typically we look for yellow or white variegations, bronzy or red leaves, or more rarely pink leaves. Trees that give us all three are rare, but that is exactly what the Tri-Color Willow Tree does. Its constantly changing leaf patterns can be green, white, or pink, and all three are often visible together, creating a bright, colorful riot of tones that really lifts your garden. White tends to predominate, so this plant is always bright, looking especially good in the early evening and on cloudy days, and brightening your arrival home at the end of the day. To make this plant even more useful, we have trained it to grow with a single trunk, making a rounded head of branches on top of a strong trunk.
The Tri-Color Willow Tree has a smooth green-brown trunk about 4 feet tall, topped with a bushy cluster of many branches forming a rounded crown. The leaves are between 1 and 4 inches long and ½ to 1 inch wide, slender, with a smooth surface and a slightly curved, lance-like shape. The new growth is bright pink, and as the leaves mature they become a mixture of white and apple-green, with no two leaves the same. Every leaf is irregularly splashed and dappled with variable and fascinating patterns. As the leaves mature they will become greener, until by fall they turn bright yellow and drop, revealing the slender branches. Young branches are greenish-yellow, but in the cold of fall and winter, they turn red, shining brightly in the winter light. After a winter of bright red twigs, fluffy yellow catkins, like those well-known on the pussy willow, decorate the branches in early spring, before the season begins again with a fresh flush of brilliant pink shoots.
The wonderful ever-changing colors of the Tri-Color Willow Tree are a great addition to your garden, as a specimen on a small lawn, or for height in beds. A pair can be grown flanking an entrance or plant one as a focal point at the end of a path or driveway. Plant a row along a fence, spacing them perhaps 10 feet apart, for a colorful ‘formal’ look. You can also grow this plant in boxes or pots, with annual flowers or smaller shrubs beneath it. Whatever you do with this great little tree, you will love the brilliance of its colorful leaves.
You can grow the Tri-Color Willow Tree in all but the hottest and very coldest parts of the country. It should be planted in full sun for the best colors, but a couple of hours of shade a day will do no harm. It grows readily in any soil, including wet areas, which is a real bonus, as spots like that are hard to plant successfully. This tree is fast-growing, and it can reach a considerable size quickly, so regular pruning and trimming are key to keeping it in proportion and to the scale you want. The first step is pruning in spring, when the branches from the previous year should be cut back to just an inch or two in length, cutting at the top of the trunk. Do not cut below the point where the branches grow from the trunk and completely remove any stems that grow directly from the trunk or roots. New shoots will quickly grow several feet long in a very short time, and they should be lightly trimmed into the shape you want (a round ball or an upright flame-shape, for example) every few weeks.
Not only with this regular trimming control the size of your tree, it will keep it covered with new, pink leaves, and avoid it turning green. Trim as often and as hard as you feel is necessary for the look you want. After a few years, a large ball of wood will develop at the top of the stem, and the branches can be cut cleanly off that ball each spring. This technique is called ‘pollarding’.
The Tri-Color Willow is a form of the dappled willow, Salix integra. That tree is found growing wild in Japan, Korea, and parts of China and eastern Russia. Although known for many years, it was rarely grown in gardens, because it is basically the Asian form of the European purple willow (Salix purpurea). However, in 1979 the Dutch botanist Harry van de Laar was in Japan, and he found an amazing plant there, with wildly colored leaves. We don’t know if it was growing wild or if he found it in a nursery. When he brought it back to Europe he called it ‘Hakuro-Nishiki’, which in Japanese means ‘hello to you’ – what better name could there be for a plant that gives us such a colorful greeting when we enter a garden where it is growing? Ever since then this plant has been a big hit, and we can never keep a supply available for very long.