Pussy Willow Catkins: How To Get Catkins On Pussy Willows

Pussy willow branch in spring
Image by OlyaSolodenko

By Teo Spengler

Some willows produce soft, fuzzy catkins in late winter when the tree branches are bare of leaves. Both the catkins and the willow trees producing them are called “pussy willows,” and they add delight to the early spring garden. If your willow used to produce these attractive pussy willow catkins, but doesn’t any longer, you’ll naturally ask why. Read on for information on why there may be no catkins on pussy willow trees in your yard.

Pussy Willow Not Flowering

Pussy willow trees are native to many areas, including Canada and the eastern U.S. Like all willows, they are in the genus Salix. The willow species getting pussy willow catkins are American willow (Salix discolor) and goat willow (Salix caprea).

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Pussy willow catkins grow on both male and female willow trees. Male catkins produce strands of tiny staminate flowers, while female catkins bear pistillate flowers. The pussy willow catkins you see in late winter are likely from the male trees, since they start getting pussy willow catkins earlier than female trees.

Gardeners keep one eye on their willows in late winter to admire the first catkins. If, one year, there are no catkins on pussy willow trees in your backyard, it is a great disappointment. This means that the tree is not producing flower buds.

Why is your pussy willow not flowering? Experts cite several reasons that you may get no catkins on pussy willow. You’ll need to walk through them one by one to figure out your tree’s problem.

How to Get Catkins on Pussy Willow

If your willow branches remain bare until the tree leafs out, you’ll be wondering how to get catkins on pussy willow. The first thing to check is irrigation. Willows love water and grow well near rivers and streams. Those planted elsewhere need plenty of irrigation to thrive.

If you have been letting your willows deal with drought on their own, or have simply forgotten to irrigate during a dry spell, the trees may be water stressed. If there are no catkins on pussy willow trees, be sure the trees are getting enough water.

Is your pussy willow not flowering because it isn’t getting enough sunshine? It might be. Willows need sun and may not flower if they are in deep shade.

Birds love to eat the catkins before they open, especially bullfinches. If it has been a hard winter for birds, it is possible they munched all the pussy willow catkins during the winter.

It’s also possible that, by pruning at the wrong time, you eliminated this year’s pussy willow crop. Prune your willow just after the catkins begin to fade.

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