Dappled willow tree pruning

The Salix Integra Hakuro-Nishiki – yes it is quite a mouthful – is also known as the Dappled Willow and/or the Flamingo Tree. This attractive little plant is part of the willow family of flowering plants.

What makes this willow so unique are the striking green-white multi-coloured leaves, and pink buds in spring (found in the Ingrini Adri design).

The Nishiki is related to the family of Willow trees.

Did you know that the willow tree is one of only a few trees that are capable of bending in bizarre poses without snapping?

One of the most valuable traits of the willow tree is its flexibility. This can be a reminder to let go, adapt and adjust with life rather than fighting it. Then after challenging conditions, you will thrive and grow again.

Interesting Facts About Salix Integra Hakuro-Nishiki

  • It originated from Asia (Japan, China and Korea) and the far Southeast of Russia
  • Is referenced in Celtic and Christian traditions, amongst others
  • Can grow 2 – 6 meters tall
  • Deer and flood resistant
  • Attracts Pollinators like bees

Green Fingers

You’ll be happy to know that this beautiful ornamental tree is easy to care for.

They grow quickly but remain relatively small in size and prefer sunnier conditions where its leaves’ patterns are intensified. However, they can grow well under canopy trees or slightly shadowed areas. Traditionally they are used beside streams and water features in Asian gardens.

Young Willows must be watered regularly. Do not leave them dry. They can only endure short term periods of drought without a problem. Once your plant is older and settled with blooming, it will only need water during the nonstop hot days and drought.

It is important noting that even though they are relatively easy to care for, do make sure the soil is:

  • rich in nutrients
  • mixed with compost
  • holds water well

Pet Friendliness

Unfortunately, information regarding the Salix Integra Hakuro-Nishiki itself and fur babies is scarce. However, it is important knowing that the bark of its’ family, Willow trees, is used to make aspirin which is toxic to both cats and dogs – more so cats who lack the ability to process the salicylic acid found in willow tree bark (and in aspirin).

Ingrini would like to give a big thank you to the following sources who provided very insightful information in order to write this post:

  • monrovia.com
  • plantopedia.com
  • Wikipedia
  • garden.org
  • pets.thenest.com
  • willowplaceforwoman.com

The dappled willow is very popular, but when and how do you prune it? Source: springmeadownursery.com

Question: I planted a dappled willow in my garden this summer. Should I prune it in the fall? And does it need any kind of winter protection?


Answer: First, the dappled willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’*) is a shrub that is also known as variegated willow, flamingo willow or dappled Japanese willow. It’s grown for its narrow leaves mottled white and pink in the spring. As the spring progresses, the pink fades away, leaving a white and green color, then the white disappears too, giving entirely green leaves by the end of the summer. There is no noticeable fall leaf coloration, but younger branches take on a reddish tinge that offers some winter appeal.

*S. integra ‘Flamingo’ is also widely sold and is claimed to be an improved version of ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ with a better pink coloration in the spring. I must admit I can’t see any difference and the Royal Horicultural Society seems to agree with me, as they list S. integra ‘Nishiki Flamingo’ as a synonym.

To Prune or Not to Prune?

“Should I prune it in the fall?”

In my opinion, you didn’t ask the right question. The question should be “do I have to prune it… ever?”, because one of the laidback gardener’s main principles is that you never prune plants just because they’re there. You have to have a good reason to do so.

And gardeners usually have two reasons for wanting to prune their dappled willow.

When allowed to grow normally, the dappled will is quite a large shrub. Source: tellurianflora.wordpress.com

First, it is commonly pruned to keep it dense and compact. Indeed, the dappled willow is actually a large shrub with a somewhat arching branches that can grow to about 12 feet (3.5 m) in height and 8 feet (2.5 m) or more in diameter if it’s never pruned. Personally, I like it that way and never prune mine. My specimen is now about 8 feet (2.5 m) in height and 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter after 18 years, which I consider quite acceptable. Of course, I planted it taking into account its future size, in the company of other large shrubs in a spot where access for pruning would be difficult anyway. I like that fact that it requires no pruning whatsoever under my conditions.

Late Winter/Early Spring Pruning

Severely cut back in earliest spring, this dappled willow will produce a modestly sized shrub over the summer. Source: www.obsessiveneuroticgardener.com

But I’m an exception to the rule. Most people prune their dappled willow severely each year, down to about at 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) from the ground. This results in a modestly sized, rather rounded shrub about 5 feet (1.5 m) in height and diameter.

The rather insignificant flowers of the dappled willow at least tell you it’s time to prune … if you’re into that sort of thing! Source: http://www.willowsvermont.com

And fall is not the usual pruning season. Rather, it is generally pruned in late winter or early spring, at snow melt or, in warmer regions where there is no snow, around the same time as the shrub blooms, which it does quite discretely, with rather small catkins.

As a laidback gardener, I find forcing plants to take on an unnatural shape time-consuming and unnatural. If I want a shrub 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and wide, I’ll put in a modestly sized shrub that naturally matures at 5 feet (1.5 m) in height and diameter and stays there (there are so many of them!), not a big shrub I’ll need to cut back every year.

A Mid-Summer Trim

A midsummer pruning will bring back the pink and white variegation … for a short time. Source: Salicyna, Wikimedia Commons

That’s pruning number 1, but a lot of gardeners, much harder working than myself, give the shrub a second trim in mid-summer (July or early August) too, when its foliage has lost much of its variegation. This is just a quick trim, shortening all the branches by about 6 inches (15 cm). This quickly stimulates dense regrowth just as variegated pink and white as it was in the spring, although the color is not as long lasting. (The pink, especially, fades quickly under the effect of the summer heat.) Trimming a dappled willow in this way gives you something that looks like a shrub with a poodle cut. Not exactly what I want in my haphazard garden, with its “back to nature” theme!

Lollipop Willows

Dappled willows grafted onto an upright trunk. Source: 23mega.by

The dappled willow is often sold grafted onto a straight trunk (this is called top-grafted or standard form) in order to form a small tree, looking rather like a lollipop at the time of purchase. Does this change anything in how you prune it?

Not really: it’s the same shrub, except now lifted off the ground as if on stilts, and will need essentially the same care. So prune it once a year, twice a year or not at all: it’s your choice.

Basic Dappled Willow Care

The dappled willow is a pretty easy plant to grow, doing fine in most garden conditions.

The reddish branches in winter, here on a heavily pruned (pollarded) top-grafted specimen. Source: www.louistheplantgeek.com

It prefers full sun or, in a pinch, partial shade, in soil of just about any quality, well-drained, but still, always a bit moist. You may need to water several times the first year until it settles in. Like most shrubs, it will prefer a good mulch to keep its root zone cool and moist. Note too that, unlike large willows (some are huge trees!), its root system is not invasive.

Although some sources claim the dappled willow is to hardy to only zone 5, the species (S. integra) is native to cold northern regions of Eastern Asia, from Japan to northern China and even Siberia and is perfectly hardy in zone 3b. The cultivar seems just as hardy as the species.

Beware of fertilizers rich in nitrogen with this plant: they stimulate meteoric growth … but the beautiful pink and white colors are lost. Use instead a slow-release organic fertilizer where the first of the three numbers (nitrogen) is less than 8. Moreover, it’s not a needy shrub and won’t require a lot of fertilizer: a single fertilizer application of slow release every three or four years will probably be plenty.

Finally, when buy a standard (tree-form) dappled willow (i.e. a lollipop), remember that it’s actually two plants in one: a dappled willow grafted on top of a trunk-forming willow* with green leaves. Any branches that appear from the base of the plant or from below the graft point will be from from the rootstock, not dappled willow, and will not bear variegated leaves, but entirely green ones. You’ll have to prune off these reversions to maintain both the lollipop look and the variegated coloration.

*Although S. integra itself is very hardy, top-grafted forms (lollipops) are often grafted onto a less hardy rootstock. If you live in a cold climate, make sure the rootstock is at least as hardy as the top-graft!!

The dappled willow: striking whether you prune it or not… and may I suggest the latter!

Trimmimg dappled willow

Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki Dappled Willow’, in tree form are grafted to a compatible, strong and straight growing, upright willow trunk. There will be an obvious large lump on the top of the trunk which is the grafted part of the tree. Any shoots from the trunk or roots should be removed as quickly as possible since they are not part of the dappled willow you purchased. Pull off these shoots immediately while young, do not cut them, they will re-sprout if cut. If shoots are left to grow they can eventually overtake the grafted top, these shoots will usually have green leaves.

Hakuro-nishiki Dappled Willows require continuous pruning to maintain the desired form on the grafted part of the tree. The pruning involves cutting the TOP BRANCHES (the grafted-on part) back by 1/3 or even 1/2 every spring, and removing unsightly sprigs can be performed at any time. If you saw the graft off the trunk, you will get either a dead trunk OR the trunk will sprout into whatever kind of willow was used for the trunk. The height of the tree you buy is pretty much the height it will stay, except that the top bushy part will get bigger every year. To give you an idea of how much pruning you will need to do, dappled willows can grow ten feet tall and wide, it is a vigorous and aggressive grower, growing over two feet a year especially when young. Pruning of dappled willow can be done at any time of the year and the tree can be pruned back to any length, as it will set new growth from any wood. Ideally, it should be pruned before growth begins every year. Dappled willow can be kept wispy or airy by pruning it back hard every spring and letting it grow freely throughout the year. Always leave a little wood at the base of the limb pruned to allow for good growth, this will produce knobby growth at the base. Encourage new shoots at the base to grow and then cut out knobby growth on the old limbs from the following spring to keep the core of the bush fresh. Pruning can be performed in late fall but you lose the winter effect of the red stems. Shape your tree as follows: allow each branch to grow until it arches over to the length you desire. Prune repeatedly to the desired length every time the foliage starts to get unruly. Remember to cut the tree back harder at the beginning of following spring.

Dappled willow is relatively insect and disease free. Minimizing stress on the tree is the best way to prevent disease. Willows like water but avoid puddling or pooling water and do not allow them to dry out completely. Provide some shelter from afternoon sun and you have the perfect growing conditions for your dappled willow.

This reference is for general pruning of a young tree and has some pictures of a weeping tree (not a willow) which may help as well.

Tri-Color Dappled Willow Shrub

A Dense Hedge of Color, Quickly

Why Tri-Color Dappled Willow Shrubs?

The Tri-Color Willow Hedge Shrub, or ‘Dappled Willow’, is an amazing new shrub that can be planted to form a colorful 8 to 10-foot privacy hedge. Heavy branching means that the stunning Tri-Color Willow grows quickly and beautifully.

In fact, you can expect a full hedge after the first few growing seasons, along with ethereal beauty that makes an effortlessly elegant statement. Even better? It’s easy to prune if you want it kept short. Simply plant your Willow Shrubs 6 to 8 feet apart for perfect privacy that’s hassle-free.

And its rounded or weeping silhouette makes it a great accent plant as well. Put one at the corner of your home to liven up dull spots with vivacious, eye-catching vibrancy.

Plus, new growth emerges with a rich pink tint that leaves a fresh impression. During spring, your Dappled Willow Shrub will come alive, with an array of branches full of light green foliage and a hint of white on each leaf. The Tri-Color truly lives up to its name in color variation and graceful good looks.

Why Fast-Growing-Trees.com is Better

Not only is the Tri-Color Dappled Willow nearly impossible to find at big-box retailers and local garden centers…but you won’t find a healthier, better-developed anywhere else.

We’ve planted, grown and shipped your Tri-Color Willow Shrub with meticulous care, so you get a hassle-free shrub that’s ready to thrive in your landscape and burst with growth quickly.

Since this is a newer hedge introduction, we have limited quantities available. Order your Tri-Color Dappled Willow today…and get a stunning look for your landscape tomorrow!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Choose a location with well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight (a minimum of 4 hours of sunlight per day). Dig a hole that’s three times as wide and equal in depth as the root ball. Remove your plant from its original container, position into the hole ensuring that it’s standing upright, and the top of the root ball is even with the ground.

Begin backfilling the hole, tamping down lightly as you go. Once the hole has been completely filled, water to allow the soil to settle and eliminate any air pockets.

2. Watering: We recommend watering these plants in the morning, at the base. If you’re not sure when to water, simply check the top 2 inches of soil for dryness.

3. Fertilizing: Apply a slow-release fertilizer once a year in early spring, before new growth emerges.

4. Pruning: Any broken branches can be pruned back in spring before new growth begins.

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Dappled Willow

Dappled Willow, (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’) produces amazing leaves that are variegated when they are young. In fact, it’s also known as Variegated Willow. Whatever you choose to call it, it will surely become a favorite for you in your landscape.

Here’s why:

You’ll be delighted when the vibrant, distinctive leaves unfurl from the buds in spring with a mottled mix of cream, green and pink colors. As the new growth matures, some of the pink colorations will subside, leaving a creamy white and grayish green variegated leaf.

In summer, the foliage stays a pretty shade of light green. These fine leaves add motion and a beautiful sound element to the landscape as breezes play with them.

This plant also displays good winter interest with coral and red stems that contrasts with the landscape.

This colorful shrub is really popular with homeowners looking for easy-care solutions. Order yours today, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly it will make a positive impact in your landscape.

How to Use Dappled Willow in the Landscape

Give this plant center stage in your garden. It will act as a beacon to draw attention to special sculptures, birdbaths, water features and more.

Dappled Willow is a superb accent plant and it will be a focal point in beds and borders. Try a long, sinuous ribbon of these gorgeous shrubs winding through the entire length of the garden bed. You’ll create a river of gorgeous color!

You can allow this versatile plant to grow naturally or trim them up for a bit more formality.

Keep them very small by pruning them way back each spring a few inches from the ground. Try them as tidy foundation plantings with a ton of style.

How fun to use Dappled Willows in large containers! Dappled Willows have a nice fine texture and loose and slightly weeping form, if left unpruned.

You’ll adore the way the branches reach up and arch over at the ends. The young branches grow out of the crown in all directions and will begin drooping slightly for a sweetly graceful appearance. Gift yourself this pretty shrub in containers where you can move them around to exactly where you need an extra boost of privacy!

Sometimes you will see them used as a single stem tree with a clear trunk and a rounded shaped top useful for courtyard or small accent trees in the landscape in a high profile area. This is a very effective look.

Use them in their natural form, planted in a gentle curve behind a cozy pair of comfy Andirondack chairs and table. You’ll adore the easy, breezy privacy. Take time to study the wonderful leaves and listen to their murmuring “susurrus” song as the slightest breeze sets them in motion. Simply add a tall glass of iced tea and a really good book. How relaxing!

Now, if you have a naturalized area, let them grow as they will to establish themselves. These plants will grow freely in wet soil, so make wonderful large anchor plants for useful Rain Gardens.

Plant a row of them along a fence line and let them grow as tall as they want as a colorful screen. You’ll really appreciate the added height as they effortlessly grow to create a backyard oasis for you and your family. For this application, space them 5 feet apart (measuring from trunk to trunk.)

Consider using this colorful Willow as a specimen plant to anchor a corner of your house. Early spring pruning each year keeps that new growth colorful and has your Hakuro Nishiki Dappled Willow looking neat and tidy.

This is a colorful, easy to grow shrub with a nice fibrous non aggressive root system that tolerates wets soils better than most, and once established will adapt to drier soils as well.

Any way you decide to use it, they are quite easy to grow.

#ProPlantTips for Care

This is a deciduous shrub and will lose its leaves in autumn. Winter dormancy is the time when the red stems shine in the landscape.

As they establish themselves in your yard the first year or two, make sure they receive consistent watering. You want to encourage deep root systems.

Prune in early spring to promote its elegant display and variegated foliage. To extend the beautiful season of spring color, simply lightly prune the longest stems through the season. Pruning will encourage colorful new shoots again throughout the growing season.

Staying moderate in height and width, it can be pruned to any size. Like all Willows, it thrives in moist soil. Once your plants are established, Dappled Willows tolerate drier and well-drained soils better than most other Willows. They are easily grown in full sun or in partial shade.

Order this magnificent Dappled Willow shrub today!

Plant Finder

Tricolor Willow

Tricolor Willow

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Tricolor Willow foliage

Tricolor Willow foliage

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 8 feet

Spread: 8 feet


Hardiness Zone: 3b

Other Names: S.i. ‘Albomaculata’, Dappled Willow


One of the showiest of shrubs for foliage color, new growth emerges soft pink and white, literally bathing the plant with color in spring, fades to white variegation in summer; should be pruned every winter for maximum effect; tough and adaptable

Ornamental Features

Tricolor Willow has attractive white-variegated deciduous green foliage with hints of pink which emerges pink in spring. The narrow leaves are highly ornamental but do not develop any appreciable fall colour. Neither the flowers nor the fruit are ornamentally significant. The smooth bark and brick red branches add an interesting dimension to the landscape.

Landscape Attributes

Tricolor Willow is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub with a more or less rounded form. It lends an extremely fine and delicate texture to the landscape composition which can make it a great accent feature on this basis alone.

This shrub will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and is best pruned in late winter once the threat of extreme cold has passed. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Tricolor Willow is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Accent
  • Mass Planting
  • Hedges/Screening
  • General Garden Use

Planting & Growing

Tricolor Willow will grow to be about 8 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 8 feet. It tends to fill out right to the ground and therefore doesn’t necessarily require facer plants in front, and is suitable for planting under power lines. It grows at a fast rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 40 years or more.

This shrub should only be grown in full sunlight. It is quite adaptable, prefering to grow in average to wet conditions, and will even tolerate some standing water. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America.

Talking to Plants

(Perspective makes it appear as if the dappled willow is half the size of my hobbit home. Not the case, it is a mere five feet by five feet in this picture. In the location in my garden, a more manageable 3 1/2′ by 3 1/2′ feet is more to my liking.)

I’ve yet to see a mass planting of dappled willows. I rarely see them in botanical gardens, either. However, for about 2-3 months of each year, visitors to my yard are bowled over upon viewing mine. Even my neighbor, Dr. Darrel Apps (who should know better!), has succumbed to the allure of the dappled willow, planting a rooted cutting of mine in his front yard.
I attempt to keep mine “in check”, meaning it seems like I am checking/pruning it all the time.
I’ll also be the first to admit that at times I’ve let my dappled willow get to be too much of a good thing. Like the commercial when the grade-schooler attempts to define less and more, we gardeners tend to always want more. A word of advice, more in the case of the dappled willow rapidly becomes unruly and overgrown.
This constant gardener thing is probably why botanical gardens fail to plant this lovely. It needs a one on one relationship with a pruner.
At this point I would love to have some cohesive pictures of the pruning of a dappled willow. I do not. Photojournalist have not applied to document this aspect of my on-going pruning war. (Come back in late July, maybe I’ll take the time to document in pictures then.)
I will admit, like the gardener with the hedgers locked under glass, preferring to hand-prune, I have broken out the hedger. This approach is a bit like using a wrecking ball to kill a housefly, and not recommended. I’ve used this approach a couple times. The result is much less than satisfactory, with frayed cuts when nice clean ones are preferred. Willows, because of their stringy bark which does endear them to basket makers, and hedgers are not simpaticos.
Once you have established the best size for your willow and regularly cut it to that height, over time it becomes an easier and easier task to see where you need to make your cuts. The new growth will be thin pencil-straight and the hard-pruned areas of your shrub will take on a branching appearance. Often by the time pruning time comes around your willow will put on 10″ to 18″ of new growth. It is this new growth, after the color changes from the white to pink and into the green of chlorophyll producing foliage, which needs to be removed to keep your willow looking its best. For me, here in central Wisconsin this tends to be in the beginning of July. Additional pruning for size and shape can be done up until about eight weeks before your frost date in fall. You want to allow sufficient time for any new growth to harden off. I have found I prefer a ovid shape (like an egg laying on its side), and given the location of my shrub, this works very well for me. This is not the shape I recommend for the pruning of box or privet (or even dare you prune them, conifers).

Last year this color change for my dappled willow came about eight weeks into one of the hottest, blistering droughts I have ever seen in central Wisconsin. One cool evening, as I was starting my pruning process, I noticed that typically where there are lots of leaves to provide sugars to the roots growing in the branched areas of my shrub, this year there were none. For those of you not aware, willows need/love moisture. There is a reason for the iconic image of the graceful weeping willow draped over the shoreline of a creek or pond. They are wetland lovers. Once established, willows have no problem sourcing their moisture needs as their fibrous roots will travel far and wide to obtain the moisture they need (Do not plant these beauties near septic, or sewer lines!) Even in my well-watered and mulched garden, my willow was having a hard time of it. (I believe due to the heat. Its chlorophyll production was totally being produced by the new growth. Prune this off all at once, I would run the risk of pushing this plant beyond its levels of endurance, even as well-established as mine appeared to be.
I devised a plan to remove the new growth in stages, approximately a 1/8-section of the plant down to the branching area at two-week intervals. This I felt would encourage growth on the inner branching areas of the shrub where the mature branches would produce primarily green foliage.
I took this picture today and it shows this structure more clearly.

(The above picture is from the same perspective as the second picture in this post.)
Only the foliage growth on new wood seems to have the intense coloration for which I grow this shrub. I also increased the watering of this shrub throughout the rest of the summer. For any of you thinking of taking your 8′ to 10′ willow down to a 3′ to 4′ more manageable size; this might be a good plan for you as well.
Part of your pruning program should also allow for the entire shrub to be cut to the ground every 3-5 years. Choose a couple of the oldest branches and cut them off at ground level each year.

Snow Report- Comparison

Last year on this day my PJM rhododendron was in full bloom. This year, I can’t find it under the snow bank.
However, the 4″ deep “lake” that covered my parking space in my yard suddenly disappeared, meaning the ground has finally unfrozen in at least one spot in my yard!
In other on-going snow news, the snow-loading of my yard by a neighbor has me more and more concerned. THIS shoving of his snow away from his garage (and into my spruce) so the melt would not run into his garage was not “okay.” (How is it I can spot non-gardeners by observing their other actions?) I can see already there may be damage. Just in case he can not “remember” all his snow pushed up on my trees and shrubs and cannot imagine how all those branches got broken and shrubs scraped off and up-rooted…
…a little chat will be forthcoming once the snow melts. I want to be VERY clear. Not “okay.”
POSTSCRIPT: My dappled willow seems to have its own fan club. I wanted to publish some recent pictures of my shrub which is now over ten years and has almost died once after a drought, but is in all its glory at the moment, June, 9, 2016.

Currently about 3′ tall by 4′ wide

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