Willows are elegant landscape trees and the weeping form is the most graceful. The standard weeping willow doesn't have a true dwarf form, but the pussy willow has a grafted miniature weeping variety that is ideal for small spaces and even container gardening. It was introduced in 1853 by Thomas Lang who hailed from Kilmarnock, Scotland. The tree is grafted onto a standard of strong stock to create a rigid support and may grow to 6 feet in height.
The dwarf weeping pussy willow was propagated by a botanist who sold some of the plants to Thomas Lang. Lang was a nurseryman who began to breed the plant and sell it to collectors. Before long, it was a specimen in the Royal Gardens at Kew. Word spread about the hardy graceful tree, and it became a popular ornamental plant in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Its use was in parks, street lanes and near water features.
The dwarf weeping pussy willow is a varietal of Salix cinerea that is grafted on a slender stem. It can remain as a mounded shrub or is more commonly trained to a small tree. The leaves are slightly curved, slim and 2 to 4 inches long. The foliage is blue-green turning to gold in fall when it drops and leaves a quirky skeleton through winter. The dwarf willow is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 4 through 8. The silvery catkins appear in spring and last well into summer.
Salix Kilmarnock requires moist soils and can be planted near streams and other waterways. It can be grown in sun to partial shade, but dappled light prevents sunscald in warmer climates. As a Scotland native, the tree is tolerant of cool, rainy conditions and thrives in a soil pH range of 4.5 to 8. Rich loamy soil is best for full performance, and some shelter from heavy wind needs to be provided. Salix Kilmarnock is an outstanding tree for all but the very hottest and coldest regions of North America.
The dwarf weeping willow requires vigilance with pruning to keep the stem clear of suckers and low limbs. It tends to grow as a multistemmed plant if not trained, and the standard graft often produces lateral growth that must be rubbed off when young. The tree requires at least an inch of water per week in the dry season and may be fertilised in early spring with a balanced all-purpose plant food. Kilmarnock is a very adaptable tree with a 5- to 6-foot height that is practical in the lawn, potted or any other ornamental use.