The pussy willow usually hang down from the shoot, and are rarely erect. The most famous kittens are not only popular with children: the pussy willow. The strange inflorescences of the willow also adorn almost every Easter bouquet. That is why they have seldom been found in nature for a number of years. Depending on the type of wood, the kittens look a little different, but they are always the same in their structure and function.

Which trees belong to the catkins family?

When it comes to kittens, most gardeners think of willows right away. But also some other, widespread wood in our forests or gardens is one of the plants that have kittens as inflorescences. They occur as an average of 10-25 meter high trees, but also as shrubs that are not very tall:

  • many beech-like plants: birch, hazel, alder, hornbeam
  • Willow family: willow, poplar, aspen

Most of the woody plants that catkins have as inflorescences differ only slightly in terms of their location, care and reproduction. Usually one finds a natural association of the different species at the edges of the forest, streams or after clearing. Most of these plants are among the most important pioneer tree species. Pioneer trees are trees that are the first to colonize fallow land, landscapes of rubble or areas that are largely devoid of vegetation after a fire or deforestation.


The different appearance of the different types of plants may be deceiving, many native trees and shrubs belong to the same family and are very similar in their requirements for the location. If you intend to decorate your garden with one or more of these quite undemanding plants, you should always remember when choosing a location that not only the shoots of the plant are very fast-growing. The roots also grow underground and spread to the same extent. Many species not only form tap roots, but strong main lateral roots that not only penetrate the soil, but also drainage pipes or cellar walls. Where willow trees grow, entire sewers often have to be cleared of penetrated roots that have blocked the system.

  • Light requirement: high
  • Location: sunny or very bright
  • Soil: rich in nutrients and well-drained, even on very sandy or stony ground
  • acidic or alkaline soil
  • suitable for slope planting (slope reinforcement)
  • Planting on streams or standing water is possible
  • withstand brief floods
  • optimal conditions: loose, nutrient-rich clay or loess soil


  • The lime content of willows must not be too high.
  • The alder does not like acidic soils.
  • Birch trees even grow in the bog.
Tip: When choosing a  location in the garden, you should always check whether there are cables or pipes in the ground. Trees of this type must never be planted too close to a house wall, so that water damage or mold formation in the basement area does not occur due to the strong roots.

Watering and fertilizing

All kitten plants are very frugal in their care. They should never be allowed to dry out completely, but otherwise they don’t need a lot of water. Fertilization is not absolutely necessary for vigorous growth, but the plant is still happy about an occasional addition of compost or fertilization with organic fertilizers such as horn shavings.

Propagate by cuttings

Trees like willow are not only characterized by their enormous growth, but also by the fascinating possibility of sprouting again from deforested trunks. The formation of new roots is also possible at a rapid pace. In nature, most types of willow like to reproduce vegetatively: At high water, branches break off and are washed onto the bank. There they then form roots very quickly. This is why this possibility of propagation is also used in tree nurseries and is preferable to all others. Rearing from cuttings has an almost one hundred percent success rate for all willow plants and most of the beech trees:

  • Time: spring
  • Cut off a lignified branch
  • Put 10-15 cm deep into moist garden soil (at the desired location)
  • alternatively put in a glass with water
  • Time until clear roots have formed: 1-2 weeks
  • Plant out in the open (if there are roots in the vase)
  • water frequently, never let it dry out

Willows tend to grow new roots from almost all severed and lignified parts in record time and form a new plant. It doesn’t matter whether it is a thin branch or a sawed-off trunk half a meter in diameter. All they need is sufficient moisture.

Propagation by seeds

Plants such as willow or birch that form catkins are almost without exception dioecious. This means that male and female plants are separate. After the hibernation, the male woody plants form tiny and inconspicuous flowers on the catkins, which are usually several centimeters long. After blooming, the male inflorescences can be clearly identified by their numerous yellow pollen, which in spring fills the air as yellow dust. In the more common female plants, the kitten is much smaller. Pollination is mainly carried out by the wind, with pussy willows by insects. The seeds of the willow are among the smallest native woody seeds.

  • Flowering period: March to May, depending on the species
  • Together: Kapselfrüchte (Nüsschen)
  • Ripening time: mostly only 4-6 weeks
  • Appearance: about 1 mm tall and hairy (umbrella)
  • Spread by the wind

A willow, poplar, or birch tree produces hundreds of thousands of these tiny seeds. They are a little difficult to find individually, but easy to locate on the trees: The multiselled inflorescences look like they have been spun with white silk or wrapped in a little cotton wool. These hairs or umbrellas encourage their spread. There are no hairs on birch trees, but the 3 mm long nuts are equipped with thin-skinned wings. Collected on the tree or on the ground, they germinate – placed in moist soil – within 24 hours. That is a real record time, but for the tiny seed, which is only equipped with the bare minimum of nutrients, essential for survival.

  • Collect seeds.
  • Sow immediately in moist, loose soil.
  • A greenhouse or small flower pots are best suited for this.
  • Keep moist.
  • Set outdoors if there is sufficient rooting.
  • Row planting and socialization with other trees

Due to their rapid growth and good cut tolerance, some woody plants are also very popular as hedge plants. Regardless of whether you are planting individually or in rows, the following tips must be strictly adhered to so that the willow, hazel or hornbeam can develop well.

  • Plant spacing: at least half the growth width
  • medium-high shrubs: at least 60 cm between plants.
  • Trees: several meters of planting distance
  • The consequence of not maintaining the plant spacing: Individual plants will die off due to competition from roots or light
  • Growth: at the beginning strongly unbranched
  • Regular strong pruning of hedges is necessary

Live fences

Willow rod cuttings can be used to make not only real hedges, but also fences, tunnels, gates or teepees for children. All that is required is to insert willow branches deep into the earth. Since the rods are very flexible for a long time after the roots have taken root, it is possible to weave or plait the branches and thus bring them into the desired shape. If foliage then forms again over time, good privacy or rain protection is even possible. Unwanted growth directions are then simply corrected by bending or cutting.

  • Planting time: November to May
  • Plant spacing: 20 cm
  • Planting depth: at least 30 cm, deeper with longer rods
  • Length of the shoots: 1-3 m
  • Shoots diameter: at least 1.5 cm
  • Material to tie together: natural fibers (will weather soon), wire (permanent, fused with plants)
  • Possible species: All (Sallow willow, however, do not take root quite as well)
  • Soil preparation: loosen up well, possibly add compost, water well
  • Preparation of the cutting: Use unbranched branches only, cut the cut freshly before planting.
  • 1st year: Do not allow side shoots to develop (roots come first)
  • from the 2nd year: insert side shoots, cut back unwanted shoots

To cut

If the tree is a single plant in the garden and rapid growth into a tall, shade-giving wood is desired, a cut is usually not necessary. If only used as a hedge plant or in willows, pruning is essential. An example should show how quickly the shrubs that form the catkins grow:

  • 1st year: average height of 60-100 cm
  • 2nd year: about 1-2 m height
  • 3rd year: around 4 m height
  • From the 4th year onwards, the plant begins to be fertile.

Even if willows are not demanding plants, there are a few useful tips that should be observed so that they can continue to please the gardener’s heart with their charming pussy willow. Because in order for the pasture to continue to sprout vigorously and plant new kittens, an occasional pruning is absolutely necessary.

  • Always cut pussy willow immediately after flowering.
  • Time: beginning of April
  • Don’t cut too timidly.
  • The cut can be a bit more radical.
  • The stronger the pruning, the stronger the new growth
  • Shorten almost to the end of the shoot.

Even if the plant looks a little bare afterwards, it will grow again quickly. After just a few weeks, the green buds of new shoots will show up on the roots. And even if the willow is felled down to a short stump, it will sprout again from the trunk. However, after a strong pruning, it is advisable to add nutrients with compost or horn shavings. Then the willow is guaranteed to decorate the garden again next year with a new splendor of kittens.

Form of mourning

Some woody plants, such as willow or birch, also come in a shape in which the branches hang down from the crown. These variants are called weeping willow or weeping birch. The forms of mourning are mostly impressive, medium-sized deciduous trees with a high-arched, broad, round crown. They have remarkably long, drooping branches that are easy to move, not very branchy and leafy, and sometimes even grow down to the ground. If desired, the branches can be cut horizontally every year after flowering to just below the crown.


All native species of beech-like plants and willows are hardy (very frost-resistant) and do not require any special preparation or measures for wintering. In dry, frost-free periods, however, the plants enjoy a good portion of irrigation water. However, if the plants are in pots or tubs, depending on their size, they can either be planted with or without a pot in the garden soil and overwintered, or provided with insulation:

  • Place the bucket on the styrofoam plate.
  • Wrap the pot with jute or plastic wrap, tie tightly.
  • Cover the soil from above with autumn leaves or mulch.
  • Water on frost-free days.

Diseases and pests

In general, the plants are quite resistant to diseases. If they are in an optimal location, they are seldom sick or afflicted by pests. Nevertheless, from time to time aphids or other sucking pests can be found on the leaves or shoots of the woody plants. Usually it is sufficient to remove the infected areas. If the infestation gets out of hand, the use of a pesticide is inevitable. Otherwise, an infestation is usually quite specific for the individual woody species, such as:

  • Willow: willow rust fungus, orange floury appearance – use of fungicide
  • Birch: various tree fungi (such as tinder fungus, tramete) – remove fungus, targeted wound treatment
  • Poplar: tree fungi – some completely unproblematic, others lead to death

Overall, the plants are quite susceptible to tree fungus or sponges that nestle on the trunk. Some types of fungus do not harm the trees, others lead to death. Pesticides are not very effective against these usually very large fungi. In principle, trees that are in a very humid environment are significantly more susceptible. In order to clearly identify the fungus or sponge and initiate possible measures, it is advisable to take photos and ask the experts in the tree nursery.

Tip:  Never put sick or infected parts of plants on the compost so that all plants in the garden are not infected after a short time. In the event of severe infestation, a fungicide should urgently be used on the leaves before the plant can no longer be saved. Since the fungus also settles in fallen leaves and in the ground, this procedure may have to be repeated every year.

Insofar as the willows or other kitten plants receive enough light and the soil is moist and permeable, almost nothing can slow them down in their growth. They even grow on steep slopes and floodplains. In order to be able to enjoy the fluffy pussy willow every year, however, a strong pruning is necessary after flowering. Most woody plants sprout again very quickly from almost any broken or cut branch.

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