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Crystal Van Gaasbeck harvests basketry willow at Under the Tree Farm in Willseville, NY

Planting a basketry willow patch? Here are our favorite cultivars to grow in zone 5b

Our farm is in the beautiful Finger Lakes Region of New York State in plant hardiness zone 5b. We grow perennial fruit, nursery stock, and a handful of vegetables on our 8+ cultivated acres. When we started growing willow in spring 2018, we focused mainly on decorative cultivars that would be excellent in cut flower arrangements. We planted pussy willows with giant catkins, curly willow, fasciated willow, and willow with vivid winter color. After growing willow for a year and becoming enamored by it, we learned more about basket weaving, and decided to plant a handful of basketry varieties in spring 2019. Since then, we moved our farm to a new property, so we have had some experience seeing how adaptable willows can be on different soils in our climate. 

If you are planting a basketry willow patch, you’ll want to include these cultivars!

All of the following cultivars tend to produce many long, slender rods each year with little to no branching, perfect for side weavers on your baskets!

-Salix purpurea ‘Dicky Meadows’

-Salix purpurea ‘Green Dicks’

-Salix purpurea ‘Jagiellonka’

-Salix purpurea ‘Dark Dicks’

-Salix purpurea x daphnoides (Tends to produce a greater variety of thickness of rods than the other cultivars listed. Good for stakes and weavers)

-Salix purpurea ‘Polish Purple’

-Salix purpurea ‘Brittany Green’

-Salix purpurea ‘Packing twine’

The following cultivars tend to produce fewer usable rods that aren’t perfectly straight, and may have variation in thickness and some branching, but their color is vibrant and will add interest to your baskets:

-Salix myrsinfolia ‘Blackskin’

-Salix x fragilis ‘Fransgeel Rood’

-Salix x fragilis f. Vitellina ‘Yellow Flame’

-Salix x fragilis ‘Natural Red’

How much willow do you need to plant for your basketry patch? Good question! Generally, basketry willow is harvested each year, so you’ll want to think about how many baskets you hope to make each year. 

In general, a rule of thumb we’ve heard is you need about 150 rods (or dried sticks) of willow to weave a basket about 12”  in diameter. Think a medium-sized garden harvest basket or a mini backpack basket.  

After planting, willow takes a year to get established, so you won’t get many usable weaving rods until its second year. The first year’s growth tends to be shorter and branchy, but after a few years in the ground, you can expect each plant to produce around 30 rods per year. Some cultivars produce far fewer rods, like Continental Purple or Winter Green, which are good for woven fences or sub-structures of larger woven willow projects. Our favorite varieties listed above should produce about 30 rods each year. The colorful varieties listed above tend to produce fewer rods per plant, so you’ll need to plant more, Not every rod is perfect, often you won’t be able to use ones that are branchy, too thick, or too thin, so you’ll want to plan for extra plants so you can be sure to have your 150 perfect rods per basket. So, if you need 150 rods, with 30 rods per plant, that is about 5 plants per basket, but to make sure you really have enough to weave with, we recommend planting at least two extra plants per basket, so say you need 7 plants per basket, on average, for a 12” diameter basket. If you plan to weave larger baskets, you’ll need to plant more plants per basket. If you plan to weave very small baskets, you’ll need fewer plants per basket.