Coral Bark Willow Care – What Is A Coral Bark Willow Tree


By: Teo Spengler

For winter interest and summer foliage, you can’t do betterthan coral bark willow shrubs (Salix alba subsp. vitellina‘Britzensis’). It’s an all-male golden willow subspecies noted for the vividshades of its new stems. The shrub is extremely fast growing and can turn intoa coral bark willow tree within a couple of years.

If you are wondering how to grow a coral bark willow, thenyou’ve come to the right place.

About Coral Bark Willow Shrubs

Coral bark is a subspecies of goldenwillow and thrives in USDA plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. Coral barkwillow shrubs produce new growth that is a brilliant red orange color, makingthem valuable additions to the winter garden.

These are deciduousplants that lose their long, lance-shaped leaves in fall. First, thewillows produce showy catkins, large and creamy yellow. Then, the green leavesturn yellow and fall.

How to Grow Coral Bark Willow

Wondering how to grow coral bark willow? If you live in anappropriate hardiness zone, these are easy shrubs to grow. Coral bark willow isnot picky about growing conditions and thrives in average soil in full sun topart shade.

Willows,in general, have the ability to thrive in wet soil conditions and this isequally true of coral bark willow. If you prunethem to grow as shrubs, you can group these plants in shrub borders or use themto make an effective privacyscreen.

Unpruned, coral bark willow trees look lovely in informalgardens or along streams and ponds.

Coral Bark Willow Care

You’ll need to water this willow occasionally and thesunnier the planting site, the more regularly you’ll have to irrigate.

Pruning is not a required element of coral bark willowcare. However, left to grow, the shrubswill become trees in just a few years. They can grow 8 feet (2 m.) in one yearand top out some 70 feet (12 m.) tall and 40 feet (12 m.) across.

Perhaps the most ornamental feature of coral bark willow isthe red stem effect of its new shoots. That’s why the plant is regularly grownas a multi-stemmed shrub. To accomplish this, simply prune back the brancheseach year in late winter to one inch (2.5 cm.) from the soil.

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Coral bark maple. Cuttings?

Hi, I Have a beautifull red coral bark maple that needs some minor pruning. Could i take cuttings?I have a small greenhouse.I Remember in High school Growing cutttings with rootone in a gardening class. Wish i paid more attention .Any info would be great! Thanks

Rooting cuttings can be a very fun and very easy - depending on the type of plant. Willows, for example, will root like crazy - a live branch driven into the ground will sprout roots and continue growing.

Coral bark maples, along with most japanese maples, are grafted plants (especially in areas with cold winters.) You may be able to root your cutting, but it would most likely be unable to survive on its own root system. You can try, however. Also - most plant species root best when the cutting is taken in the late fall (for outdoor plants.) Your coral bark maple, however, roots best in the early spring. (There is a 2-3 week "window," after buds have begun to form but before leaf break.)

make sure the cutting is 4" long or so
no more than 1/4" wide
has a "growing tip"

scrape the bark of the bottom 1" of the cutting piece. after dipping it into rooting gel or powder, place into loose, wet soil or grow media. To get this species of tree to root, constant misting is required. Automatic misters can be purchased at some garden centres and hydroponic shops - otherwise, be prepared to mist the cuttings up to 10 times a day.

It is important that the cuttings do not receive too much light while they are rooting as this disturbs the natural hormone cycles that enable them to sprout roots in the first place.

Hope I haven't discouraged you from experimenting with cuttings and plant production because it is really a wonderful experience! I'd advise you to start with a willow or other easily rooted plant, however :)


Cultural Requirements

Weeping willows thrive in areas that receive bright, direct sunlight for at least eight hours per day. They will grow in filtered shade, but too much shade will promote deformed limbs, insect infestations and mildew problems. Weeping willow trees prefer soils that are consistently moist, a fact reflected in their natural occurrence along the banks of rivers and lakes. The type of soil, whether it is loam, sandy loam or clay, matters little to the tree as long as the media retains moisture easily. Sandy soils are less suitable because they are fast draining.


Coral Bark Maple – A tree for all seasons

One of the challenges of creating a great garden is to get great color and foliage throughout the year. Most plants peak during a certain season and then fade into the background of the garden. Few plants can offer more than one or two seasons of interest.

Coral Bark Maple in full fall color

One of my favorite ornamental trees , the Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum “Sango Kaku”) breaks all the rules and looks incredible for 4 seasons of the year. This japanese maple is a small tree that is prized for its bark that turns coral pink in cold weather. But the interest isn’t limited to just the winter. This tree will add color and interest to your garden all year long.

In the summer, the tree has deeply cut green leaves typical of other japanese maples. It has an elegant vase shape and delicate branching.

In the fall, the show really starts. The fall foliage is a striking bright yellow sometimes mixed with orange. As the autumn progresses, the bark starts to turn its trademark coral pink color making the tree appear to glow.

In the winter, the bark color intensifies with the cold and almost becomes flourescent. The color really pops when there’s snow on the ground.

The bark really puts on a show

In the spring, new leaves emerge as a bright lime green and make a great contrast with the coral bark. As the spring progresses, the bark eventually loses it’s pink color and the leaves fade to their summer green.

Here are some tips for growing the Coral Bark Maple:

It’s a small, moderately growing tree that reaches about 20-25 feet at maturity. It is considered hardy to USDA zone 6. It likes part shade and makes a great specimen plant in a part of the yard where it can really be put on display.

The bark turns coral pink in the cold weather and is gray during the warm months. The main trunk and older branches will tend to lose their pink color with age, so prune it regularly to promote new more colorful growth. Keep it out of the hot afternoon sun.

Since it’s not a fast grower, be sure to chose a specimen that has a nice shape and lots of young branches.

The Coral Bark Maple is one of the best specimen trees for year long interest. If you see it in the nursery in spring or fall, it’ll be hard to resist getting one for your garden.


Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

Weeping willow tree can be easily identified by its droopy branches

The most common and easily-recognizable type of weeping willow is the Babylon willow, and it often just called the weeping willow. Although its scientific name seems to suggest it’s from the Middle East, the common weeping willow is native to China.

This weeping willow is a large tree with fast growth rate that can grow to between 62 and 82 ft. (20 – 25 m) tall. It has pendulous branches that give the tree its classic weeping look. Looking up close, you will see the leaf stems are a yellowish-brown color and leaves are narrow and elongated.

Weeping willows also have an interesting color in winter. After shedding their golden-yellow leaves in the fall, yellow drooping branches make this tree interesting to look at.

In the spring season, the weeping willow tree has gorgeous yellow flowers.


Winter in the Midwest doesn’t have to mean an absence of bright color. Of course we should be enjoying textures provided by our ornamental grasses, dormant perennials, and other plantings while the color and form of conifers becomes increasingly more impactful in the dormant landscape. The colorful fruits of many woody plants, including crabapples (Malus spp. and cvs., Zones 2–8), hawthorns (Crataegus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) and mountain ashes (Sorbus spp. and cvs., Zones 2–6) offer fleeting impact until they fade or are consumed by local wildlife. Ornamental bark from many of our larger shrubs and trees can also offer some dynamic texture and coloration over the long winter months. However, brightly colored stems of some select shrubs can enliven any landscape by providing warm colors throughout the cold months. These plants are also dynamic workhorses during the growing season when combined with other plantings and combinations. Some varieties also have ornamental foliage. In all cases, the winter stem coloration intensifies after leaves have dropped in autumn and the stems receive the combination of more sunlight and dropping temperatures.

When you prune your willows and dogwoods in late winter or early spring, you can use the cut stems for crafting or containers. Photo: Mark Dwyer

This article focuses on some of the most colorful of dogwoods (Cornus spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) and willows (Salix spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9). These selections are tried and true not only for their solid stem coloration in winter but also for their hardiness, broad adaptability, and value in the home landscape. It is important to note that in regard to all of these selections, it is the youngest growth and newer stems that offer the best coloration. This means that a frequent rejuvenation approach of removing older stems (typically 1/3 annually) of dogwoods in early spring will encourage new growth to sprout and take over the show of color in time. The willows require a more substantial approach, with extremely severe annual cutting in very early spring both to encourage quick new growth with intense coloration the following winter and to keep the plants in scale with the landscape. Willows strive to be large and aggressive, so an annual approach to pruning will keep them in check and encourage as much as 6 to 8 feet of brand-new growth per season that will be intensely colorful.

Ivory Halo ® tatarian dogwood has an attractive, rounded habit with maroon stems. Photo: Mark Dwyer

Ivory Halo ® tatarian dogwood

Cornus alba ‘Bailhalo’, Zones 3–7

This dogwood is one of my personal favorites. The deep, maroon-red stems are certainly beautiful in the winter landscape, particularly when emerging from fresh snow. Aside from the compact nature and durability of this selection, strongly variegated leaves offer interest throughout the growing season. Ivory Halo ® will grow 6 feet tall and wide.

‘Britzensis’ coral bark willow is a larger selection that has yellow and orange stems. Photo: Mark Dwyer

‘Britzensis’ coral bark willow

Salix alba subsp. vitellina ‘Britzensis’, Zones 4–8

I was first introduced to this variety over 10 years ago in a snowy Wisconsin landscape where multiple specimens glowed with orange-red stems. After realizing it was technically a white willow, I did more research on this amazing plant. It’s important to mention that this selection gets big—15 feet tall and 10 feet wide if allowed. Additionally, the older stems will start to lose the intensity of winter coloration. To offset this, a severe cutback in early spring (after enjoying the winter stem color, of course) is recommended. This will encourage vigorous new growth, a more restrained size, and nice stem color the following winter.

The cherry red stems of ‘Prairie Fire’ tatarian dogwood contrast well with white snow and green conifers. Photo: Mark Dwyer

‘Prairie Fire’ tatarian dogwood

Cornus alba ‘Prairie Fire’, Zones 3–7

The bright red winter stems alone make this selection of dogwood worth planting. The foliage color is a bright yellow-gold from spring emergence all the way through autumn. This variety is a golden beacon in the landscape until the leaves drop in autumn and stem coloration intensifies. ‘Prairie Fire’ will grow 8 feet tall and wide.

‘Winter Beauty’ blood twig dogwood stems are yellow near their base and become darker orange and red towards the tips. Photo: Mark Dwyer

‘Winter Beauty’ bloodtwig dogwood

Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Beauty’, Zones 4–7

This striking dogwood is vigorous during the growing season and comes into the most beautiful stem coloration in winter. Stems are yellow and orange with more intense red at the ends. This tricolor effect is not subtle and captures attention quickly. At maturity, ‘Winter Beauty’ reaches 6 feet tall and wide.

The stems of ‘Flame’ willow blend shades of red, yellow, and orange for a stunning effect. Photo: Mark Dwyer

‘Flame’ willow

Of all the plants in this article for winter stem coloration, I would argue that ‘Flame’ willow is the most intense. Similar to ‘Britzensis’, this variety wants to get fairly tall. It will grow 15 feet tall and 8 feet or wider if allowed. In doing so, it will only show the best stem coloration at the stem tips (newest growth). A severe cutback is recommended for this selection as well, which can result in 6 feet or more of new, quickly sprouting growth. Once the leaves (nice yellow fall color) drop, the stems transition to a fiery orange-red.

‘Silver and Gold’ yellow-twig dogwood is aptly named, as its stems are so light yellow that they look golden. Photo: Mark Dwyer

‘Silver and Gold’ yellow-twig dogwood

Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’, Zones 3–8

This selection of redosier dogwood features bright yellow stems in the winter months. Prior to this showy stem effect, ‘Silver and Gold’ has variegated foliage that is quite showy from spring emergence to fall leaf drop. The intensity of the yellow stems increases in winter. Other excellent yellow stem selections include ‘Flaviramea’ and ‘Bud’s Yellow’. ‘Silver and Gold’ will grow 7 feet tall and 8 feet wide at maturity.

The dark red of ‘Bergeson Compact’ redtwig dogwood’s stems look stunning against a fresh snowfall. Photo: Mark Dwyer

‘Bergeson Compact’ redtwig dogwood

Cornus sericea ‘Bergeson Compact’, Zones 3–8

I’m a big fan of this selection for two reasons. The winter stem coloration is a very rich wine-red that really shines in a snowy or drab landscape. This is also one of the best compact forms on the market and requires less work to maintain in terms of moderating overall size. However, as with the other dogwood selections, it will need some rejuvenation pruning. At maturity, ‘Bergeson Compact’ will reach 6 feet tall and wide.

‘Swizzle Stick’ willow has wavy, Crayola yellow stems. Photo: Mark Dwyer

‘Swizzle Stick’ willow

Salix ‘Swizzle Stick’, Zones 3–8

This is a relatively new willow for me, although I first encountered it in winter. I immediately noticed its yellow-orange stems and the contorted nature of every stem. The parentage of this willow is up for debate, but do note that this selection would like to grow into a small tree (20 feet tall and 8 feet wide or larger if allowed to grow), so periodic rejuvenation pruning or severe cutting back will result in a more manageable size if desired. The overall form of this willow is quite columnar, so the ultimate desired size may be quite a bit tall to appreciate the unique contortion of individual stems as well as the winter stem coloration.

All of the dogwoods in this article take full to partial sun, and the willows take full sun. For other recommendations for winter color in your landscape, read on here:

Mark Dwyer, former director of horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, Wisconsin, operates Landscape Prescriptions by MD.

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