Hello I am looking for some information about growing willow grasses to be used for weaving large pieces.
Thank you for contacting the Toronto Master Gardeners for information about growing willow to harvest for use in large weaving. It sounds like you are asking about growing a willow plantation (it could be any size). Most willows are dwarf shrubs to small trees, though some can grow to as much as 80’ feet in height. Willow is not a grass. Overall there are more than 300 species of willow. In Ontario there are about 20 species, many of which are native. Establishing and growing a willow plantation isn’t difficult but it will take several years until the plants are big enough to provide the stem size needed for large weaving. For most willow species a planting site with full sun and moist soil is critical for success. It also needs to provide enough space, depending on the willow species chosen and how many plants are needed to provide enough stems for the desired weaving. Starting small and sizing up the plantation gradually is probably the best approach.
To establish a willow plantation, first the planting stock needs to be chosen ie. which willow will be grown. Willow is propagated primarily by rooted stem cuttings. They root easily from every part of the stem. They can be gathered from the wild (native willows) or purchased from a grower. (Cuttings can also be taken from established plants in the plantation.) Cuttings can be taken anytime during the dormant season and need to be protected from freezing before planting in the spring.
A common willow in Ontario is Basket willow (Salix purpurea). This is a fast growing, easy to grow, adaptable shrub that grows to 10-20’ in height and 10’ in width in about 5 years. Its first year stems have lots of branches and purplish-red stems that change later to grey or olive-grey or blue-grey. It quickly becomes rounded and spreading with age. You might also want to check some nurseries to see the various species of willow rods (rods are willow stem cuttings) that are available from these growers (search online ‘willow rods ontario’ for rods available in Ontario).
Next, the initial cuttings need to be planted (and in subsequent years any cuttings from established plants also need to be planted, to expand the plantation). They should be pushed into the planting bed in the spring as soon as the soil is frost-free, soft and easily crumbled, and deeply enough that only 2-3 buds are showing. They root quickly.
Harvesting / pruning is done when the plant is dormant. Every year all of the rods should be pruned back to close to ground level. This should be done carefully especially in the first few years so that the plants are not uprooted. If the rods are not long enough or thick enough for the desired weaving they could be used for more cuttings for the plantation. It will likely take about three years to develop a good, strong stand of usable willow but the plants should be cut back every year to minimize branching.
Hopefully this information is helpful as you consider growing a willow plantation. This link provides additional detail.
This link has a list with descriptions of willows growing in Ontario