How to Preserve Willow Branches | Guide & Tips

Understanding how to preserve willow branches is essential to growing bountiful and healthy plants in your yard. Although pussy willow is a deciduous shrub that often thrives in wetlands, you can quickly raise them in your garden or backyard under the right growing conditions. Willow branches usually make up for great decorative pieces used in flower arrangements and interior décor. However, you may want to learn how to preserve willow branches first.

Pussy willow produces fluffy catkins in the spring, which grow into oval-shaped leaves. The plants usually have a faster growth rate under optimal conditions, reaching a height of 25 feet. That’s why they require proper pruning to keep them in shape. You can preserve fresh willow branches cut from the plant for decorations. Their beautiful appearance is the reason many people want to learn how to preserve willow branches.

How to Preserve Willow Branches for Decorations

Decorating with willow branches is popular among florists and interior décor artists, mainly because of its Eco-friendliness and ease of preserving plant materials. Besides, pussy willow décor is also unique and can complement different kinds of living and workspace. If you are wondering what to do with willow branches, trim the shrubs’ dull green and lance-shaped leaves to create a decorative attraction on your landscape.

Several local nurseries and flower vendors offer pussy willow branches for sale that you can easily buy whenever you need them. However, you can avoid all the hassles and save a lot of money when you know how to grow and preserve the branches on your own. Nevertheless, preserving willow branches is a straightforward task that does not require any significant skills.

The following section provides the basic steps and guidelines on how to preserve willow branches for decorative purposes.

Why Learn How to Preserve Willow Branches?

Pussy willow is a wetland plant that requires plenty of water to bloom and flourish. Thus, the golden rule for preserving the branches is to deprive them of water at the right time. People often pick willow branches and keep them in water for weeks for preservation. Although that might seem like one of the most straightforward willow branch preservation techniques, they are likely to bloom out and lose their beauty. So, avoid that.

You can generally cut willow branches at any time that you may need to use them as long as you know how to preserve willow branches. But, early spring or late winter is usually the best time to prune the plants. That is when the catkins will have fully flowered and ideal for decorations. Bring the flowers inside and place them in a vase that isn’t full of water. Perhaps, that’s one of the best tips on how to preserve willow branches.

Sometimes, you may not have the time to wait until the catkins have fully flowered to cut the branches. And this is vital to master when learning how to preserve willow branches. If that is the case, you can cut fresh willow branches, with catkins that have not fully blossomed and force them to flower in-house. However, do the following to achieve that.

  • Watch out for swellings or protrusions in the nodes along the willow branches. That is the first sign that the catkins are sprouting, but your goal should be to hasten the process.
  • Cut fresh branches at a length of about 2 feet. Master this tip when learning how to preserve willow branches for better results. Carefully cut as many units as you need, without damaging the plant. Use a clean and sharp pruner to do the job. That’s a vital tip on how to preserve willow branches. Therefore, master it from the start.
  • Place the branches in a bowl filled with lukewarm water, ensuring the bottoms are fully submerged.
  • Cut about an inch off the bottom of the branches submerged in water. That cut enhances water intake preventing their quick death. For better results, add a floral preservative to the water.
  • Pour the warm water into a vase and place the branches, bottom down. Then, wrap the exposed top sections of the units using a damp cloth or paper. That will help to preserve and create optimal humidity. Place the vase in a shady and dark spot for about two days or until you see the stems start to develop discoloration.
  • Remove the cloth or paper covering the branches and put the vase in place with indirect sunlight exposure. Maintain the temperatures in and around that area at about 60-65 degrees Fahrenheit to attain the best results.
  • It is not mandatory but experts recommend misting the branches occasionally until the pussy willows sprout.
  • Start drying willow branches as soon as they have developed to your desired levels. Dry them thoroughly before using them in floral arrangements or décor. For long-term storage of willow branches, spray them with polyurethane varnish or other safe preservative sprays, then allow them to sit overnight to drain out the water completely.

While there are various tips on how to dry willow branches, they must be kept in cool and dry areas for a few weeks to drain out all the moisture without getting moldy. You may also be wondering how long do branches last. Freshly cut willow branches can remain so for up to 6 weeks. However, dried and preserved willow branches can last for many years.

Tips for Pruning Fresh Willow Branches

Pruning is one of the critical tasks involved in preserving willow branches. That’s why it’s essential to learn when mastering how to preserve willow branches. Ideally, you need to know the best time and how to carefully trim off pussy willow branches for preservation. Pruning will also promote growth, produce larger catkins and help prevent disease and pest infestations.

As hinted in the previous section, you should harvest catkin branches for decorations in late winter or early spring. However, winter is the best time for major pruning since the plants are highly dormant. Here’s a simple routine for the annual pruning of pussy willow.

  • Start pruning by cutting off the top branches with catkins. Cut about a third of the oldest ones (gray-colored) to the ground.
  • Check the newest branches’ position (brown-colored). That is important because the tops of those branches will provide the gauge for the subsequent cuts. Make the cuts at the level of the newest ones, just above the nodes.
  • Also, remove the crossing branches since they usually hinder the development of catkins.

With this in mind, you can comfortably say you know how to preserve willow branches. These tips can help you prune your willow plant and ensure its healthy growth. 

Guidelines for Growing and Preserving Willow Branches

Now that you understand how to preserve willow branches for decorations learning more about growing the plants in your backyard is also good. Apart from easy access to willow branches for décor, growing pussy willow at home will also give your backyard and entire landscape a striking visual appeal. The following are the best practices for pussy willow growing and care.


Pussy willows prefer loamy, moist, and rich soils that can stay wet over time. Although plants can tolerate poorly-drained soil, they perform best when well-drained and constantly damp. Willows can also thrive in alkaline soil.


Willows need exposure to full sunlight to thrive, but they can still grow in the shade. Therefore, ensuring your place has adequate light is vital when learning how to preserve willow branches.


Pussy willows are native to wetlands, implying they require plenty of water to grow and develop. That is why wild pussy willows often grow along riverbanks and wet areas, where they play an instrumental role in controlling soil erosion. Thus, access to plenty of water is essential to growing healthy plants with fresh willow branches in your backyard. If your area experiences droughts, ensure the willows receive proper watering at least once or twice a week. Remember pussy willows need the soil to stay wet to thrive.


Willows have historically thrived in regions with moderate climates and cold winters, such as Canada and the Northern USA. They can still grow in warmer temperatures, but their development will be slow. Therefore, mastering their ideal temperature is vital when learning how to preserve willow branches.


Willows usually bloom fast when supplied with compost or leaf molds. You can also use a balanced fertilizer to give the plants some nutrient boost in the fall. However, you should only apply fertilizers after your pussy willow is more than one-year-old. Use a half-pound fertilizer for every half-inch of base-truck diameter, spreading 18 inches beyond the branches’ drip line. Avoid direct contact between the fertilizer and the willow truck.

Diseases and Pests

When learning how to preserve willow branches in excellent health, it is also essential to know about the commonly experienced pests and diseases by the plant. Pussy willows can survive several threats with little intervention, but they are also prone to pests and diseases. The common conditions include leafy spots, powdery mildew, cankers, and gray scab. You can prevent the disease by pruning all affected branches. Pussy willows are also prone to pests such as borers, aphids, scales, caterpillars, and lace bugs that you can eliminate using pesticides.

Propagating Pussy Willows

Besides learning how to preserve willow branches, you may also want to know its propagation techniques. Generally, you can propagate pussy willow through cuttings or seeds. However, propagation from stem cuttings is the most popular and straightforward technique. Here’s how to propagate pussy willows from stem cuttings.

  • Cut a stem of about the thickness of a pencil using a bypass pruner. The cutting should measure at least 1 foot long from the new growth. Older branches may be damaged or infected by diseases and pests, so avoid them.
  • Place the cutting into the ground, with the bottom end facing down. Keep the bottom parts of the branches submerged underground but leave some nodes above ground.
  • Water the cuttings to keep the soil wet throughout. You will be able to see new roots and leaves develop within a few weeks, followed by rapid growth.

Sometimes, you may not wish to wait until summer to propagate your pussy willows. If so, bring the stem cuttings inside and root them in water. Propagating the cuttings of fresh willow branches in water also follows similar procedures as soil propagation, except for the planting medium. However, please wait for the frost to clear before transplanting them into the ground.

You can also grow pussy willows in pots, mainly suitable for young plants. That’s because they are root-bound and can outgrow pots sooner than expected. If you must use a growing pot, choose an ordinary commercial potting mix in a larger pot with proper drainage. Potted pussy willows should be moved to sheltered spots during winter to prevent damage by ice. Nonetheless, pussy willows work best as outdoor plants that you should grow in the garden or backyard.

Knowing Key Problems is Vital When Learning How to Preserve Willow Branches  

Learning how to preserve willow branches also means knowing about the common issues affecting the plants and how to address them. That will enable you to ensure the plants produce healthy and vibrant leaves for decorative purposes. The following are the common problems to look out for when growing pussy willow in your backyard.

Yellowish-Green Leaves

Pussy willows’ leaves usually turn yellowish-green whenever they are not getting adequate sunlight. Therefore, learning how to preserve willow branches entails providing sufficient light for the plant. The first step to resolving this problem is moving the plants to spots with better exposure to full sunlight. If the willows are grown in the ground, you should clear branches from other trees blocking them from accessing sunlight.

Cracking Branches

Pussy willows are generally weak plants with very brittle branches. Therefore, the units can easily split or crack whenever there are strong winds or heavy icing. Try tying up the branches whenever you are about to experience heavy storms to keep them intact. You should also carefully brush off or sweep the build-up of snow and ice regularly during winter.

Wildlife Damage

Apart from pests and insects, pussy willows attract wildlife such as deer, birds, and squirrels that feed on their branches. That implies pussy willows grown in the ground are highly vulnerable to damage by invasive wildlife. Therefore, a vital tip on how to preserve willow branches entails controlling animals. The best way to protect your willow plants from such risks is to put a chicken wire around them.

The Bottom Line

You can quickly learn how to preserve willow branches by mastering the tips shared in this blog post. Pussy willow branches make up for beautiful decorations in flower arrangements. Besides, the plants can also create a unique decorative spectacle in your landscape. Whether you want to use them to decorate flowers or your landscape, this article provides the best tips and guidelines on how to preserve willow branches.


How long will willow branches last?

The longevity of willow branches generally depends on preservation techniques. However, fresh willow branches can last for up to six weeks. On the other hand, preserved and dried willow branches can last several years under cool and dry conditions with better air circulation.

How do you preserve willow sticks?

Two main willow branch preservation techniques exist. The first method is cutting the branches and placing them in water for a few weeks, but they may only last for a while. To effectively preserve willow sticks, place the cuttings in lukewarm water, cover the branches for a few days, and mist occasionally until they sprout. Then, dry them thoroughly and place or hang them in a cool, dry place.

How do you preserve cut willow branches?

Preserving cut willow branches follows the same procedure as the sticks described above. Make sure the catkins are fully open before removing and drying the units.

How long does it take for willow branches to dry?

You should wait for at least six weeks after cutting willow branches to allow them to dry.

What can I use willow branches for?

People predominantly use willow branches in decorations as centerpieces for flower arrangements. However, nicely trimmed branches can also make a grand architectural statement, enhancing your home’s visual appeal.

Henry Mugambi

Henry Mugambi

Take a look at this guy. He's almost in his 40s, but he looks like he could be in his 20s. That's because he's a gardener—and a damn good one, too. He's been gardening since he was a little kid, and he loves nothing more than sharing his tips with others. He started blogging a few years ago, and his blog has since become a go-to source for gardening information. His audience trusts him because he knows his stuff, and he always offers sound advice that helps people get the most out of their gardens.

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