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Tips for Growing More Pussy Willow Branches

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Q: I love pussy willow branches in the spring. I have some in a vase, and I was wondering what to do to grow new ones. Occasionally, I have seen the ones in a vase sprout out some roots, but not that often. How do I get more of them?

A: Pussy willows are native to eastern North America, but they can be grown anywhere the winters are cold enough for them. They have male and female flowers on separate plants, and the male flowers are the pretty, fuzzy ones. If you already have some in a vase, then you probably already have the male-flowering branches. If you want to purchase a plant, you may want to buy it in bloom to be sure you receive a male plant.

They will root easily if the cuttings are kept in water. They are native to swampy areas and can be rooted in mud outdoors in the summer. Cut the top couple feet off a branch and stick it in a muddy shoreline. In a vase, dump out the water every couple of days and refill the vase with fresh water. You can add rooting hormone powder, which is available at garden centers, but that shouldn't be necessary on a willow. You can pluck off the few leaf buds that are under the water to create a small wound, which might force the stem to send out more roots.

Once they have rooted, they will send out side branches at the buds where the flowers are formed. After the last frost, plant them outside as the new leaves won't be able to handle a frost this year. It is best to plant them in the wettest area of the landscape, so you won't have to water them as often, but they may need to be watered this summer.

In late winter, prune them each year to get your branches for the vase and to keep the plant smaller.

They naturally grow to over 20 feet tall, but they can be pruned heavily once established. In fact, cutting them down to the ground or to just a few feet tall will encourage long branches to grow over the summer; it will make good stems for cutting.

Q: I received a gift of two small potted herbs in a pretty wooden basket. They were oregano and rosemary. The basket is lined with a tall plastic tray. They looked perfect when they arrived via the mail.

I watered them and set the basket in a sunny window, but when I looked at them a couple of days later, they were wilted so badly that they didn't recover. Do you think they were frosted during shipping or did I kill them somehow?

A: I think if they had been frosted, they would have not appeared to be in perfect condition when they arrived. Even though you watered them, my guess is that they still dried out. Many greenhouse plants have been watered daily or even several times a day. The potting soil is designed to drain quickly, so the plant's roots don't rot. If the soil was filled to the top of the pot, you wouldn't have been able to add much water before it ran off the pot — giving you the impression that the plant was well watered when it was just barely watered. If the plant was root bound so that the soil was completely filled with roots, the pot would dry out quickly.

So, after all that, I think the odds were stacked against you. It is important to check new plants often until you get a feel for how often it needs your attention. If you see that a plant needs water too often, it may be signaling that it needs to be repotted. You might have saved your herbs if you had used a larger pot of soil or a soil that holds more water instead of draining it quickly.

E-mail questions to Jeff Rugg at info@greenerview.com. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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