Tag Archives: Tractor Supply

Weeping Willow Tree Planting Project: Will They Grow in a Swamp?

Weeping Willow Tree

Potted Willow Tree Ready for Planting

This year I am trying a little experiment with weeping willow trees in the swamp. Since, I cleared out a couple acres for the goats, some of the street and neighboring houses are in view from some areas of the pasture. It would be great to plant a screen of trees, in the low marshy ground. This area gets full sun, however, there is only about six inches of "soil" before you hit the water table. Also, this area will seasonally flood (usually in the late winter/early spring) for a month or more. Also, I needed to take into account the USDA plant zone 6A conditions which can experience temperatures as low as -10° F (-23° C). What kind of tree can live under these conditions yet also will grow tall enough to act as a screen? Well, the willow tree might be the answer. I decided to do a bit of research on these trees. The Internet seems a bit conflicting on exactly what USDA plant hardiness zones are suitable for weeping willows. Some sources seem to indicate the trees can live in 6A-9A and also 6-8. I have also seen 2A-9A (that is a a huge difference), and still others indicate 4-9. The label on the trees says 5-9. So, it seems there is some disagreement on exactly what this tree will tolerate temperature-wise. This may have to do with the confusing array of cultivars that are available. However, since they sell these trees at the local Tractor Supply, and there are many willow trees thriving in the area, I am pretty sure I am "safe" to plant one. Regarding maximum overall size, likewise it is tough to determine. Internet sources seem to indicate somewhere between 45 and 70 feet tall. The Internet does seem to agree that these trees are very fast growers, averaging somewhere around 3- 10 feet per year of growth once established. I am sure all of this also depends on cultivar and also the overall growing conditions. An interesting aspect of these trees is there renown ability to quickly grow a massive horde of invasive roots that aggressively seek out water. They are infamous for plugging water pipes and septic tank leach fields and for working into cracks in building foundations and tearing them apart. The clerk at Tractor Supply actually warned me of this. However, I have nothing to fear about this, as I am planting these trees in the middle of the swamp. Some other Internet sites seem to claim that weeping willows (and other similar trees such as River Birch) will actually dry out wet soil. Again, the research on this is spotty at best. Most sources seem to indicate that a full grown tree of weeping willow size, will absorb about 80 to 100 gallons of water a day. Sounds impressive, but that is just a drop in the bucket (or swamp?) next to the amount of water in this 10 acre marshy area. Also, trees tend to absorb more water during hot, sunny days than they do during cold, cloudy days. During the heat of the summer the swamp is mostly dry anyway. If my intention was to dry out the swamp, I would need to plant hundreds of trees to have any effect at all, and then only maybe. At any rate, I ended up buying four willows to plant as a semi-experiment. I then grabbed my grub hoe and trudged through the swamp to find suitable locations to plant. I chose a grub hoe instead of a shovel because the soil is covered with a virtually impenetrable layer of Phragmite roots. After digging about 6 inches, sure enough, I hit water and the hole immediately filled.
Planting hole for my weeping willow tree. I hit water about 6" down.

Planting hole for my weeping willow tree. I hit water about 6" down.

My first weeping willow sapling freshly planted in the swamp

My first weeping willow sapling freshly planted in the swamp

I know weeping willows love water, but I am not sure if they can tolerate this much! At any rate, I planted it firmly and am hoping for the best. Overall, I ended up planting for four trees in total this way. I will provide an update next year  and report on their progress (Update available!.....see below). I will leave you with a few random weeping willow tree facts:
  • Scientific name: Salix babylonica
  • Weeping willows are native to China, but have easily adapted to other areas and are now widespread in the U.S.
  • These trees have been grown as an ornamentals in the U.S. since colonial times
  • They have a relatively short lifespan of around 30 years
  • They are considered "weak-wooded" and do not seem to compartmentalize decay very well. Small mechanical injuries can cause rapid decay and death of the tree.
  • You can easily root small branches by soaking them in water. They will develop new roots in about 2-3 weeks
  • Since ancient times ( ~400 BC) the Greeks and Romans knew that chewing on willow bark was an effective way of treating fever and inflammation. The bark actually contains a compound called salicin which works similarly to the active ingredient in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). In fact, the invention of aspirin was inspired by the folk use of willow bark. Salicin, although effective, is very harsh on the stomach. Acetylsalicylic acid was determined to be a much milder form of the chemical with the same therapeutic properties.
  • There is a great deal of myth and legend surrounding the weeping willow. Usually these revolve around the "sad" look of the tree and how this came to be. In the bible Psalm 136 mentions “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the willow-trees we hung up our harps.'' Nowadays,  scholars generally think this was a mis-translation and the trees were actually poplars. However, the association of "sadness" with weeping willows  seemed to endure.
  • There is a legend that a weeping willow knocked the crown off the head of Alexander the Great as he rode his boat under it while crossing the Euphrates river. The superstitious folks at that time thought that this predicted his subsequent downfall shortly thereafter.
  May 2014 Update It has been almost exactly one year since I planted these willows trees. This past winter was incredibly harsh, even for NH.  Hampstead had close to  90 inches of snowfall, and the temperature routinely  dropped below 0° Fahrenheit. Coupled with this, the beavers had rebuilt their dam over the winter. This caused the water to back up and literally flood the entire swamp with about 1-2 feet of standing water. This weekend I smashed down the beaver dam and drained away much of the water. I then trudged out into the swamp to check on my willow trees.  Much to my surprise, all the trees were in good shape and leafing out nicely! Most of the trees put on about 2-3 feet of growth last year even though they were just planted.
Willow tree one year after planting. It is doing well and has put on about 2-3 feet of growth.

Willow tree one year after planting. It is doing well and has put on about 2-3 feet of growth.

Although they put on some new growth, it is wispy and the overall girth of the tree has not increased much, but again this is still encouraging as most trees don't grow anywhere near this much their first year. Also encouraging is the fact that these trees survived being completely submerged in water. Even after destroying the beaver dam... they are still sitting in a few inches of water.
WIllow tree in standing water.

WIllow tree in standing water.

In fact, if you look closely you can see where new rootlets were forming on the submerged trunks.
Rootlets forming on the trunk of this previously submerged willow tree.

Rootlets forming on the trunk of this previously submerged willow tree.

All in all, it looks like these willow trees are going to survive this swampy terrain! I will report back next year with another update. I suspect they will put on a good deal of growth as this is their first year being fully rooted. I am also going to swing by Tractor Supply and pick up another few trees to plant! April 2016 Update It has been almost two years since my last update here, and almost three years since I planted these willows.
Willow Tree after 3 years in the swamp

Willow Tree after 3 years in the swamp

I was a bit surprised that they had not grown much in the past couple years. This one particular tree has a noticeably larger girth, but it is not much taller.   I am wondering if the waterlogged soil is somewhat devoid of nutrients or if there is too much competition from the fragmites and cattails. At any rate, it is just starting to leaf out this year and is very much still alive. At the rate we are going, it is going to be awhile before this is tall enough to act as a screen.

Wood Splitting Galore!

Huge piles of split wood, resulting from the 2011 goat pasture project

Huge piles of split wood from many a' weekend worth of splitting. These trees were left over from the 2011 goat pasture project.

Back in 2011, I cleared about an acre with a hundred or so trees to make my goat pasture. This resulted in a woodpile about 250 feet long, stacked across one side of the pasture.
The giant woodpile..... resulting from clearing about one acre of scrub and trees.

The giant woodpile..... resulting from clearing about one acre of scrub and trees.

This winter I decided to start chipping away at getting this all split. I started this colossal wood splitting project for a few reasons: 1)      This wood has been out for about two years now, and despite being loosely stacked, it really isn’t drying. Some of the pieces are getting a little spongy (I’m sure some of it was spongy when it was cut down) and I want to split it and get it under cover so it thoroughly dries. 2)      Since I stacked the wood away from fence (to keep the goats from climbing up and over). It is taking up considerable real estate in my pasture (I would say about 10% of an acre). I want to get this all moved so I can plant additional pasture grass.

Huskee's 35 ton Log Splitter

I first started to split this all by hand… but it was very slow going. Unless I made this a full time job, there is no way I would have gotten this all done before it rotted. Many of the pieces are big, burly, and  knotty pieces of pine (some of it approaching 30” across) that require a sledgehammer and wedges. Luckily, this past Christmas, I was the happy recipient of a Huskee 35 ton log splitter. Having never used a log splitter before, I was amazed at the raw power of this model. It easily slices through even the thickest, knottiest wood. It is so powerful, that if you really challenge it with a monster knotty log… it will simply shred it into fibers… but the hydraulic ram simply will not bog down. Here is a video of it slicing a 30" pine round that is frozen solid:
The splitter in the vertical position to handle large logs too heavy to lift easily.

The splitter in the vertical position to handle large logs too heavy to lift easily.

It also easily converts from a horizontal position (easier on the back) to a vertical position (for those super heavy rounds). I have read some mixed reviews on Tractor Supply’s website about this particular model. Looks like about half the people hate it, and the other half love it. I have had no serious trouble at all with mine, but after having spent about 30 hours with this machine splitting wood, I do have some comments.
Invest in the "optional" log catcher.... unless you like constantly picking up pieces of split logs.

Invest in the "optional" log catcher.... unless you like constantly picking up pieces of split logs.

1)      Definitely invest in the optional “log catcher” (this is basically a metal shelf). The factory one is a little pricey ($50), but it is heavy guage steel and has held up extremely well to all kinds of abuse. Without this log catcher, I was quickly growing tired of bending over to pick up the other half of the split log. The log catcher is really a big improvement, especially if you plan to split for a long periods of time
Remove these cheap plastic fenders... or let the first couple of split logs fall on them and simply snap them off.

Remove these cheap plastic fenders... or let the first couple of split logs fall on them and simply snap them off.

2)     The plastic fenders are a piece of crap. These are touted as an “extra” when upgrading from the 27 or 22 ton models. However, they are really flimsy and due to the design of the splitter the very first I split ended up bouncing right onto these fenders.. which aren’t designed for such abuse. No doubt they would be doomed to snapping off after the first day of normal use. However, it is simple enough to take them off (two bolts each) and you don’t even need them at all.  
Unless you enjoy smelling wet bark cooking on top of your muffler, better invest in a do-it-yourself muffler cover. I got this one at Ocean State Job Lot for 25 cents.

Unless you enjoy smelling wet bark cooking on top of your muffler, better invest in a do-it-yourself muffler cover. I got this one at Ocean State Job Lot for 25 cents.

3)     The muffler has a wire mesh guard around it (to somewhat protect objects from the red hot muffler). However, due to the design of the splitter, the return stroke of the hydraulic ram ends up pushing little pieces of bark and wood (debris left in the “track” of the ram) directly onto the muffler. Inevitably, small pieces fall through the grid and right onto the muffler, which then proceed to catch fire. I honestly can’t believe some engineer designed it this way. However, this is relatively easily fixed by bending an aluminum cook tray over the top of the muffler to keep the debris out. 4)      This thing is ungodly heavy. You can’t even budge it by hand (unless it is on very smooth pavement). I think it weighs in at almost a 1000 pounds. This makes it really tough to move around the yard (digging ruts in the turf due to small tires). On the other hand, it is built like a brick shithouse… so you don’t have to worry about bending the frame. 5)      One option I am still "on the fence" about is the 4-way adapter. On one hand, this splitter easily has the power to split a log in four pieces. On the downside.... the side wedges are fairly short and often do not go all the way through. The log has to be just the right size... not too small, so the resulting four pieces are too tiny and not too big so that the side wedges don't cut all the way through. I just didn't have enough logs of uniform size to make this efficient. I ended up spending more time switching out the adapter and re-splitting big pieces. I suppose if you had a huge amount of  average size logs this would work. Also, more than once the log got hung up on the adapter and on the return stroke the adapter got twisted and bent the "arm" that holds it on. It is easy enough to fix with a few blows from a sledgehammer... but obviously this can't happen too much or it will fatigue and fall off. Anyway, here is a video of the adapter in action: Other than some of these ridiculously obvious and avoidable problems, this machine is of very high quality and virtually unstoppable!  I wasn’t sure I would appreciate a gas powered splitter, however, I literally sailed through this mountain of wood (maybe 20 or 30 cords) and the splitter never missed a beat!
The final product, at least a couple winter's worth of wood, stacked and covered to preserve it.

The final product, at least a couple winter's worth of wood, stacked and covered to preserve it.