Laurel-leaf Willow

Posted by shane - January 7, 2015 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees - No Comments

Salix pentandra

Large laurel-leaf willow in Red Deer.  R. LePage photo.

Large laurel-leaf willow in Red Deer. R. LePage photo.

Laurel leaf willow is an excellent large shade tree most suitable for large spaces such as acreages, parks, and very large back yards.  It is disease and insect resistant, and tolerates drought very well.  As with other willows, laurel leaf is a messy tree, shedding small twigs in branches regularly on windy days.  This tree was once commonly planted in residential yards, but seems to have lost favour now that yards have generally become much smaller. Willows tend to develop poor branch structure if left untrained, and proper structural pruning is necessary to develop a strong tree that will be long-lived, and resist storm damage and trunk decay.  I commonly assess 30- to 50-year old laurel leaf willows for safety and usually find poor structure, extensive decay, and I often have to recommend removal and replacement.  This can be avoided with proper training on young trees.

These trees get massive so if you plan to plant one, please make sure you have adequate space in your yard or you will be fighting it back from your house, garage, etc. forever.  Also, willow have aggressive roots and can end up in sewer lines.  It pays to find out where those lines are prior to planting.  I have customers who were forced to pay for damages to the City because their willow roots damaged pipes.


Full sun

Pruning time

Late fall to mid-spring, prior to bud-break.  Also after tree is in full-leaf in late spring.


Train young trees as a central leader standard, with well-spaced scaffold limbs.  Subordinate co-dominant leaders.  Annually, remove dead, damaged, and diseased wood.  On larger, older trees, be careful not to over-prune.  It is easy to to more harm than good to a willow if you climb in to the tree and start pruning, as the limbs are weak and brittle.  A properly-structured willow will need little pruning in the upper third of the crown.  Most of the cuts will consist of deadwood on the bottom inner half of the crown.

The tree in the picture above was about 50 years old and had very poor structure, as evidenced by multiple trunks originating from the same point on the main stem.  A few months after we pruned this willow, it failed, and half of the tree collapsed into the back yard.  The rest of the tree had to be removed.  Structural pruning of young willows can prevent this kind of trunk failure.

Properly crown reduction on a laurel-leaf willow in Deer Park neighbourhood, Red Deer.  S. LePage photo.

Proper crown reduction on a laurel-leaf willow in Deer Park neighbourhood, Red Deer. S. LePage photo.

Crown Reduction and Shaping

Not recommended.  The shaped willow in the picture had been previously mutilated a number of times.  Our options were to either remove the tree, or properly thin and re-shape the tree using appropriate reduction pruning cuts.  By July this tree looked excellent, but will now require annual crown reduction to keep it contained, otherwise it will be removed.  This is an expensive procedure that could have been avoided by proper structural training when this tree was younger.

(c) 2015 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer, AB.