Oh, for a dollar for each time we've heard that line.
Dwarf Arctic blue willow (Salix purpurea 'Nana', also
called basket willow and purple osier willow) is a shrub with
reddish purple new wood and blue green foliage. It's usually a
bushy 5- to 8-footer but can be taller and tree-like ain form when
grafted to the top of a single trunk, as in this case.
When we saw our neighbor contemplating this tree, pole pruner in
hand, we asked if we could help. We were met with enthusiasm and a
bit of relief, "It got so big when I let it go without pruning one
year, it's hard to know where to start."
We talked about possibilities and agreed on a two-stage program:
Make it smaller and more attractive now and, next spring, cut it back hard to return it
to its former self -- a small, round-headed tree with a dense top
of thin branches that have blue foliage in summer and purplish
stems in winter.
Below: That same tree 90 minutes later, after stage one
Here's what we did right away: Thinned the main branches to
eliminate double coverage of any part of the canopy. Shortened the
longest/tallest of the remainder to even out the crown.
Below: When faced with an overgrown tree it's easiest to
first remove any branches that can come out completely. Here's a
look from inside the tree at the main branching before and
Note: We use a hand saw. Chain saws are too hard to control in
tight quarters and likely to gouge "keeper" branches in the process
of removing actual target limbs.
It was important in removing these limbs, to use the three-cut
method which reduces the weight of each limbs and the likelihood of
tearing, before cutting back to the trunk. See Cut a limb in 3
steps, on page 12 of
What's Coming Up #156.
For a more complete explanation of sorting out main limbs, take
a look at
Main limbs are
choice in Keep a tree small, unabridged.
Right, and below: After we removed excess main limbs, we cut
remaining limbs back to side branches in a few over-wide, over-tall
parts of the crown (circled at right; also, a larger
Coming up in phase 2: Cut back hard in spring
Those of you who've
been reading What's Coming Up for some time will probably
recall our treatment of weeping mulberry and so you know what's in
store for this plant next spring. Indeed, we printed out pages from
What's Coming Up #172 and the not-yet posted-here
issues #19 and #35) and showed them to our neighbor in
explaining our thoughts for phase two. We'll record that and add it
to this news when it happens.
Others of you who know how we love working with wattle will
suspect, and be right in that suspicion, that we have ulterior
motives. This plant earns its common name "basket" willow for its
weavability, and is called "purple osier" for the color of the new
wood. Having a nearby source of the flexible, colorful branches
that will be cut each spring, that's a great incentive to be good
neighbors and pitch in.