I’m Going to Learn A LOT About Willow

Last year I semi-blindly dove into a COVID-19-Work-Stress-Related project of creating a wattle-weave edging to frame in the new no-dig garden bed I put in. In the process, I learned how willow is the more common material used to produce a tighter and more consistent weave.

At the time, I was still in the heat of trying to decide whether a particular work issue was the ditch I wanted to die in, and if it was, maybe having an income contingency plan would be a good idea. I had this nutty idea of starting my own landscaping business and that one of the things I could offer is coppiced willow rods. After all, all I’d have to do is buy some cuttings, stick them in the ground, wait for them to grow and cut them down every year, right? Wasn’t there a blog entry or article somewhere about how one could make $50k a year just growing willow?

Willow allotment, August 2020

So at some point last summer I decided I was going to purchase 30 cuttings and I would start my contingency plan there. I bookmarked 5 websites that sold cuttings, made a note in my calendar to make my purchase in March, and in preparation, I even determined a planting site in my front yard and laid out a 35′ strip of landscape fabric.

Time went by, and as the weather (and my fevered imaginings about starting a landscaping gig) cooled and the garden went to bed, over winter I decided to keep at my job and spend some time researching this willow thing a little more. By the time February rolled around, I had decided to be smart:

I’m just going to start by focusing on one species, to use for a specific project in my yard (edging a second no-dig bed), and to order only as much as I need.

Economical. Practical. Sane.

March arrived, and I hopped onto my first willow nursery site of choice and was a little concerned to see that orders are already closed for 2021. I scour a few more sites repeating the same and come to find out: March is the TAIL END of the season for buying cuttings and a lot of places have already folded up their internet carts and gone home for the season..

F*@#.

But I managed to find a place out of Vermont with the species I wanted (let me tell you – willow nurseries do not invest much in SEO, you have to dig, and even then, many websites are stuck in the 90’s and you’re not really sure if the site is still live). I even reached out to them via email to tell them about my project, my climate zone, and ask them whether I’m eyeing the appropriate species of willow for this project, and how to determine how many cuttings are needed.

In a couple days, they responded back. I’m on the right track, that would be a good species (salix purpurea #187), and here’s about how many rods can come from a single plant (I already know the height).

Excellent! I went to place my order: the site showed that my species is available, I added 2qty bundles (5 cuttings each) to cart, checkout, then “The item you have ordered is out of stock or unavailable.”

What.

I emailed them back and told them about the message (privately wondering why wouldn’t they have told me if the species I wanted was unavailable after I told them I intended to order???).

I panic-searched the internet over the course of two days of not hearing anything back. I found another willow cuttings source that still had stock, and while they DIDN’T have the particular species I want, they DID have a starter pack… 20 cuttings, 4 varieties, 5 cuttings each. :::sigh::: I placed the order request via email (the effort to type out sentences to say what it is you want is a psychological commitment). In less than 24 hours, I received an automated response, and a follow up email saying they would send me the invoice before close of the week.

Another day or so later, I received the invoice. I paid it. And then in my refreshed email inbox was an email from the original willow nursery saying oh they’re sorry about that, they just disabled the ordering portion of the site for the season, but since I was already in touch with them, let them know what I wanted, and they could fulfill my order.

And because I don’t want to be a dick to the nursery that I had previously established a relationship with and they had taken the time to answer my questions… I responded back with my polite request for 10 cuttings of salix purpurea #187.

So now in late April/early May, I will have 30 cuttings and 5 varieties of willow to plant afterall.

Oie me.

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