They said it was a dwarf!

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This tree-form dwarf blue willow is bigger than its gardener thought it would be. We helped tame it and will take it down even further in an issue next spring. 

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 pruning.


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 after.
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.

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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.BluWilloHiTall6290s.jpg

For a more complete explanation of sorting out main limbs, take a look at Main limbs are your 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 view).

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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.