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How Not To Prune A Weeping Plant

A Weeping Pussy Willow, or Salix caprea “pendula”,  is a plant not often seen in gardens here in California.  My client, who lives just south of San Francisco, had been eying the one in the Wayside Gardens  catalogue and finally ordered her coveted specimen.  It arrived in a 2 gallon grow pot wrapped in paper and stood about 4′ tall.  We planted it with lots of compost in the moistest part of the garden where the all the water naturally drains off the hill.  It had been growing slowly, and with 3 careful prune jobs a year, had developed a beautiful trunk form with a nice shape.  So it was much to my surprise when I went up there last November to discover that it had been “pruned” into what you see below.   Thoughts of restorative pruning raced through my head!

How Not To Prune A Weeping Plant

We had affectionately called this plant “Cousin Itt”, but after a bad haircut, Itt had turned into Bozo The Clown!  A weeping tree or shrub like this should be thinned out or just taken off the ground a bit – not all the way back to the trunk.  The very same applies to a climbing roses as it takes them a good amount of time to climb and that’s what you want.  The picture above was taken last month so fortunately some of the new branches had already started to weep by early May.  I got my Felcos and pruning saw ready and now I will take you on a step by step on how I plan to get Itt back to shape.

How Not To Prune A Weeping Plant

A close-up showing how thick the new growth is.  I went in and took out a lot of that a lot of that new growth that you see above.  You must take it all the way back to a main branch or the trunk otherwise all those shoots will appear again.  I also removed some of the older main branches to open it up and bring it back to an interesting form.

How Not To Prune A Weeping Plant

Quite a few shoots on the trunk appeared too.   Because these plants have been grafted, the upward shoots and those on the trunk need to be removed.  They will spoil the beautiful weeping form – and isn’t that the reason why you bought this plant?   And because you should be doing this, the plant will never get significantly taller than the height you bought it at.   In regards to height, this one is a slow grower.  This is not a Butterfly Bush which you can cut down to 2′ and have it up to 8′ by mid-summer!

The pruning is almost done.  Now all that’s left is for a few bigger branch cuts to be removed with the saw and some more green shoots pruned off.

How Not To Prune A Weeping Plant

The Weeping Pussy Willow is done with the 1st round of reconstructive (or restorative) pruning.  I plan to be back up in August so we’ll just let it grow out.  Then, I’ll start in on the cosmetic pruning.

Below are a couple more photos of what Cousin It looked like before the hack.   Make sure you know how a plant grows and how long it takes to recover before you have at it with the pruners!

Weeping Plant pruning tips

Weeping Plant pruning tips


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  1. Wow its a very good post. The information provided by you is really very good and helpful for me. Keep sharing good information..

  2. Thank you. I’ve seen many bad pruning jobs done over the years. Perhaps a license should be required when someone purchases a pair of pruners!

  3. Thank you for your post. I just purchased a weeping pussy willow at the grocery store (I know, not the best place to buy such things), it looks beautiful and healthy. But, it came with next to no instructions. I live in upstate New York, so I won’t be putting it outside for quite a while yet. Can’t wait to see how it does. I am printing your instructions to keep handy.

  4. Hi Fran – You’re welcome! This is a beautiful small tree, you’ll love it. I just did a post & video on Weeping Pussy Care which you may not have seen: Hope you find it helpful! Nell

  5. hi in south london uk ,my small tree’s is in my front garden but the branches are touching the gravel do i need to trim it off the ground

    great page thanks

  6. Thank you Wendy. I always trim this Weeping Pussy Willow’s branches 2-3″ off the ground because I like the look. The choice is yours. I imagine the branches will eventually root if left to grow on the ground. Nell

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