All this time at home, and it’s been too cold and wet to do much in the garden lately. In fact, it snowed all afternoon today, damn it! So I have not much to do but think up schemes, schemes that will further explode my garden budget deficit.

il wildflowers blackhaw
Blackhaw Viburnum flowers are supposed to look like this. Photo from 


What I’ve been thinking about lately is Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium), and what a disappointment it’s been. I’ve got 3 of them, planted about 10 years ago, along the far end of the hedge on the west side of the garden.

They’re a total flop in terms of the items of seasonal interest they are supposed to offer. Spring flower clusters? Nope. Summer fruits of interest to birds? Nope. Fall foliage color? Nope. They get about half a day of sun – they only need part shade – and fairly moist soil (especially in spring). So I don’t know what their excuse is, and I don’t care either.

I could replace them. With what, though?

Male Pussy Willow. Photo from

Lately I’ve had Pussy Willows (Salix discolor) on my mind quite a bit. Judy likes the idea of having those fuzzy catkins to bring indoors in the earliest days of spring. They’re also excellent wildlife plants.

However, the fuzzy catkins grow only on the male Pussy Willow plants. The female plants have flowers that are supposed to be nice also, although the Brooklyn Botanic Garden says they look like “fuzzy green caterpillars”.

Pussy Willow flowers. Photo from

So I had to look for a while, but I eventually found a retailer that specifically sells the male Pussy Willow plants. Only thing is, they’re just 2-3′ tall. My Blackhaw Viburnums right now are 8 – 10′. So that would leave a gap. On the other hand, Willows tend to grow pretty fast.

Mature Pussy Willow. Photo from 

So what do you think? Out with the Blackhaw Viburnums, in with the Pussy Willows? Should I go for it?

43 Comments on “Idleness is the Devil’s Garden Shed”

  1. Go for the pussy willow. I had one for many years and loved it. It started out as a tiny, tiny tree from Home Depot and I planted it in the lowest point of my yard where it usually stays moist. Unfortunately, the neighbor’s trees began to block too much sun. I finally had it cut down two years ago and planted a sweet bay magnolia in its place. It has yet to flower but I like that it keeps its leaves over the winter.

  2. I threw out several shrubs last year that were under-performing. The oak-leafed hydrangea was constantly being destroyed by deer, so out it went. Years ago I took out the forsythia that were always hit by late frosts, like the one we had yesterday with the snow we have this morning. Having been here now nearly 50 years, lots of shrubs have passed their prime. Go for the pussy-willows.

  3. Hmmmm, interesting dilemma (as big gardening decisions can be). For lotsa info on growing willows, check out Vermont Willow Nursery. And Margaret Roach (A Way to Garden) has some interesting posts on willows. Do you follow her blog? I had to dig up a non-performing blueberry viburnum and, omg, it was the very devil to get out! Get your back ready!! Do any pussy willow shrubs stay small enough for an urban yard? Good luck with your project, whatever you decide.

  4. I bought pussy willow sticks from the plant department of Meijer. Put them in water and a number of them rooted. This was maybe about 3 years ago. I planted the best looking branch in a low spot (not near my waterline). It is thriving and I severely prune it every winter, bringing most of the catkins inside. Anyway the branches cost about $10 so very economical. I’m considering dappled willow for other spots in that area because it has more seasonal interest I believe.

  5. Yes absolutely! You won’t have to buy many, as they grow readily from twigs shoved into the ground. And you’re right, they grow quickly. It is maddening when a shrub is disappointing. I may have mentioned my service berries, with their puny little flowers, when what I wanted were the ones I remember from Peoria with huge flowers and graceful habit. sigh.

  6. We had pussy willows, but if you have a friend, you can snip some branches and start them in sand…they’re kinda dangerous like that. We also snipped them before they ‘caterpillered’ and brought them inside and had them for years as dried arrangement in tall vases.

  7. Hello Jason, I tried to leave a comment (one-two hours ago) but it seemed to disappear. 🙂 Let’s try again:
    I don’t know any of the species but would very probably choose the Salix. It’s prettier and at least the ones we have are really important for the first bumblebees in spring.
    Stay safe and healthy!

  8. I’ve had similar disappointments with other viburnums (although not the black haw most years but mine gets more sun than yours), so I would definitely not recommend any viburnums at all. The Missouri Botanical Garden site lists a LOT of problems with pussy willows. I would think twice before planting them. Some hydrangea don’t require an acid soil and get quite large and handsome – like ‘Limelight’.

  9. If you want to maintain a screen of vegetation continuously, and if the spacing of the blackhaw allows, you could install the willow in between the blackhaw, and subordinate the blackhaw to the willow as the willow develops. (I am not certain if you require a screen, since both are deciduous.) I think that proper spacing would be more important than losing the screen temporarily, so this idea may not be feasible if the blackhaw happen to be too close to where the willow need to be planted. If the blackhaw are farther into the garden space than necessary, the willow could go behind them. Anyway, if you decide to use this technique, you need not remove the blackhaw completely. You would just prune away enough to make space to install the willow, and then prune them more as the willow expand. By the end of the year, the willow could be almost as tall as the blackhaw. During the following year, you would continue to prune the blackhaw out of the way of the willow, untill they are completely unnecessary. It may take a few years if they are far apart.

  10. You should get a pussy willow, maybe even snap a twig on a walk and root it, but I don’t know if I’d replace all the viburnum with the willow. They need a good bit of sun and don’t grow as thick as you might like.
    But what to do about those viburnum…. if they bore you get rid of them.

  11. Hello Jason, it sounds like you’ve already made your mind up about replacing them, you’re just not sure with what. The willow should grow very fast and you have the chance to replace three of the same plants with three different ones to give you more interest.

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