Coppicing basketry willow

basketry willow cuttings

Dunbar Gardens willow cuttings “basketmaker’s package”

So you bought some willow cuttings and you’re wondering how to prune them. Of course you can always read the handy growing tips on our website but the following photos show the essentials to getting started coppicing your basketry willow.

planting basketry willow cuttings

planting basketry willow cuttings

You get your garden soil ready to plant and mark your rows. Insert cuttings with the buds facing up. We give our willow cuttings a slanted cut on the root end to help them slide into the soil and make it easy to decide which end goes down.

basket willow planting

new willow planting

basketry willow plants

first year basketry willows

After a year your willow plants might look like the ones above. I planted these in late May which isn’t optimum for our climate, but shows what they might look like in less than ideal growing conditions. You can most easily prune or coppice them during the winter months when they are dormant. We do most of our cutting from December through March.

first year basketry willow plant

first year’s growth

This is a Salix purpurea plant after one year.

pruning basketry willow

cutting the willow rods

Cut off the stems or rods back to the original cutting.

pruning basketry willow

pruning back the original cutting

pruning basketry willow

pruned back to an inch

I usually recommend leaving a couple of inches of the cutting above the soil level when planting. When you are coppicing the plants after the first year don’t hesitate to cut the original cutting back to within an inch of the ground above a lower stem.

pruning basketry willow

finish cuttings stems off

Cut all the willow rods off the plant. You do not need to leave anything more than an inch of the stool above ground.

first year willow stool

first year coppiced stool

Coppicing the willow close to the ground in the first year gives you a better stool for the long run. The willow stool gets a little higher each year as it matures so it is advantageous to start it out low. It will be easier to prune and hopefully lead to straighter willow. If you have planted through a poly ground cover, you probably want to leave the stool higher.

basketry willow withies

new cuttings from first year’s harvest

The first year harvest is often meager, but you can make your own cuttings from the butt ends to increase your willow planting.

new growth willow stool

new growth from coppiced stool

basketry willow

four year old coppiced willow plant

In three or four years your basketry willow plants will look something like the photo above.

coppiced willow plant

coppiced willow

The willow rods are cut as close as possible to the stool. Clean cuts encourage better growth.

basketry willow harvest at Dunbar Gardens

basketry willow harvest

Before you know it you will be harvesting bundles of basketry willow! If you haven’t purchased your willow cuttings yet, head over to our website to see our great selection.


March 2012 newsletter

basketry willow in afternoon sun


Katherine was honored to be informed that three of her baskets were recently acquired by the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 2011, Katherine made several baskets for collectors Steven Cole and Martha Ware. They have a large collection of baskets made by American basketmakers from materials that they collect or grow themselves with an emphasis on functional or traditional design. Their collection includes the work of some impressive artisans including Darryl & Karen Arawjo, JoAnn Kelly Catsos, Jeffrey Gale, Jonathan Kline, Dona Look, Leon Niehues, Alice Ogden, JoAnne Russo, Aaron Yakim & Cynthia Taylor, and Jamin Uticone. Some of the willow basketmakers represented are Jennifer Heller Zurich, Joanna Schanz, Jo Campbell-Amsler, Bill Roeder, Jean Gage, and Lisa Head. Steve and Martha have recently donated a significant number of their collection to the Smithsonian where they are preparing an exhibit of the baskets at the Renwick Gallery in fall, 2013. You can see Katherine’s baskets included in the collection on the Smithsonian website here: You can click on the hyperlink name of each basket to be able to view larger images of the work. Below is one of the baskets in the collection. We actually prefer this view of the basket to the one posted on the Smithsonian’s site.

willow basket by Katherine Lewis

Steve Cole’s Rope Coil

Upcoming Events

MoNA Style 2012: Museum of Northwest Art in La Conner, WA, March 17, 2012. This annual show features wearable art and home furnishings from Northwest artisans. Part of each sale helps support the museum. Katherine will be there with willow baskets along with 30 plus vendors of handmade creations.

“Willow Knot” Basket exhibit: Philip Dickel Basket Exhibit Museum Gallery in Amana, Iowa, April 2 – September 29, 2012. Katherine made the willow purse below for this annual exhibit organized by Joanna Schanz of the Broom and Basket Shop in West Amana.  The willow knot refers to the large willow rod that is wrapped around a willow bundle and ‘cranked’ until it resembles a knot. Katherine added a pair of tiny knots as embellishments to this purse.

willow knot purse by Katherine Lewis

Willow Basketmaking Classes with Katherine Lewis

March 14 -15, 2012: Northwest Basketweavers Guild Spring Retreat: Katherine will be teaching a “Double border tray” at this year’s retreat. See the Guild’s website for full details.

June 1-3, 2012: Willow Weekend in Entiat, Washington: This weekend event in eastern Washington organized by Claudia Mullek will feature workshops by Judy Zugish, Jo Campbell-Amsler, and Katherine Lewis. Katherine will be teaching a two day class in which people can weave either a round gathering basket or an oval garden basket. There are still places available in this class. Friday evening will feature presentations by the three artists about their work. You can find details and a registration form here in this pdf on our website.

Katherine is expecting to post some dates for classes at Dunbar Gardens for late summer. We’ll be sending another email out in late spring with updates.

basketry willow cuttings from Dunbar Gardens

Willow cuttings

It’s the time of year to order willow cuttings. We have a nice selection of varieties for planting listed on our website. Depending on your location, March through mid May is a good time to plant. There are planting tips on the website. If you need advice or have questions, send Steve an email.

Facebook:  Dunbar Gardens has a Facebook page. We post photos of Katherine’s latest baskets, commissions, and photos of the farm.  You don’t have to be a Facebook user to visit our page and look at the photo albums we have posted there.

For more information about classes, baskets, willow growing, or our farmstand please visit our website. Thanks!

Katherine & Steve


Planting willow

willow cuttings

willow cuttings

What to do with those willow cuttings? Willows are usually propagated by planting hardwood cuttings directly in the soil. This method works especially well with willows grown for basketry and other garden uses. Dunbar Gardens sells cuttings about 11 inches in length like the bundles in the photo above. On the farm, I usually  find that an 8 inch cutting is adequate.

planting willow cuttings

planting willow cuttings

I till the soil in advance and then simply insert the cutting into the ground with the buds facing up.

new willow planting

new willow planting

These basketry willows are planted in rows that are 32 inches apart and spaced 8 inches in the row. After the photo was taken, I trimmed some of these cuttings back to two or three buds remaining above ground.

planted willows leafing out

planted willows leafing out

Success rate on the willows generally is quite high. I have had some disappointments. For example, Salix purpurea x daphnoides does not seem to root quite as easily and S. purpurea ‘nana’ has very slender wood  which makes rooting in the field more challenging.

second year growth

second year growth

A frequent question is what to do the second spring? I cut back most of our willows to within an inch of the ground level like in the above photo. This pruning will encourage the growth near the base. The stool is going to get a little higher each year that the willow is coppiced; so it is important to start low.


Willow cuttings

willow cuttings from Dunbar Gardens

willow cuttings from Dunbar Gardens

We have been growing willow for basketry since 1994 at Dunbar Gardens. As Katherine became interested in willow basketmaking, she realized she would need to grow her own materials since very little cultivated willow was available to purchase in our area. In addition, it gave her more choice in selecting the size, color, flexibility and other characteristics of the willow she weaves with. As a result, we have tried quite a number of species and varieties of Salix here and currently have 60 varieties growing. We have planted over ten thousand willow cuttings on our Skagit Valley farm. Willow is easy to propagate in most soils. An eight to twelve inch cutting taken from a dormant one year old rod is planted directly into the ground in Spring. March thru April is an ideal time to plant. We have willows that are useful for basketry, garden trellises, living fences, furniture, and ornamental hedges. Willow is a very useful family of plants!

We have a list and descriptions of some of the varieties that we have had success with on our website. We are now cutting our willows and will begin shipping orders for cuttings next month.