Coyote Willow

Posted by shane - December 23, 2014 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Shrubs, Trees - No Comments

Salix exigua

Mture coyote willow

Mture coyote willow

This is one of the most interesting plants I’ve started using in the past few years.  I remember a cluster of these growing on the college grounds where I went to school.  They were aggressively penned off by concrete walls and walks all around, and I didn’t think much of that then.  A couple of years ago I gave a talk to a local garden club about my excitement toward coyote willow, and I noticed the older ladies shaking their head at me the whole time.  Even the nursery where I buy most of my trees doesn’t consider coyote willow suitable for ornamental landscapes – only for reclamation or slope-stabilization work.  Why?  What’s the fuss?

Bow Point Nursery in Calgary muses that coyote willow will grow to be 10-15 feet tall by 1/2 acre wide!  The plants sucker freely from the base of the shrub and normally grow in colonies in floodplains or along sloughs.  Bow Point recommends extreme caution when using this plant.

I have seen coyote willow suckers growing quite well through ashphalt trails in Sylvan Lake, and suckering up to 30′ away in neighbouring yards.

Now all that said, a few years ago I walked into a back-yard garden in Edmonton and I might as well have been in Kyoto.  Bordering the Japanese-themed garden, full of manicured pines, intricate fencework, and well-placed stones, there was the most awesome, informal mature hedge I’d ever seen.  The slender stems and the long, silvery-blue, lanceoloate foliage immediately reminded me of a bamboo grove.  It was absolutely stunning and I’ve referred to this plant as ‘prairie bamboo’ every since.

I asked the owner if he had a problem with suckers popping up in his lawn.  He said no.  And I noticed that suckers were not emerging in the greenspace behind his fence as well.  So on the one hand, I’m being cautioned to never use this plant in the garden; and on the other, I know someone who grows this plant successfully with no troubles.  More experimentation is required.  I am so impressed by what I saw in Edmonton a few years ago that I decided to plant my own coyote willow hedge along my back fence, facing the alley. As a precaution, however, I am going to install very deep edging material, with the intent of containing the root system, and to prevent the spread into my yard.  If it works out, I will have one of the nicest hedges in Red Deer.  If not, well, I own a stump grinder and a jug of Roundup.


Full sun

Pruning Time

Late fall to mid-spring


As a precuation, I only recommend planting coyote willow where it can be contained, or in a large space, such as an acreage.  We are installing  a row of these plants in a small yard as part of a “Japanese-themed” garden.  We will be using an 18″ deep aluminum root barrier that will surround the planting area.

As a specimen, I would only prune large, dead stems, and leave the finer deadwood on the shrub.  With willows, you can do more harm than good when you mess around too much.

As an informal hedge, I would reduce the width of the hedge annually to keep an upright form. Coyote willow will splay out and get wide if you let it.

(c) 2014 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service, Red Deer, AB