One of the most common small trees in a stream is a willow. They provide shade and cover for stream life and improve water quality by absorbing and storing chemicals. From the stream bank stabilization standpoint, willows have a unique ability to withstand flooding and grow quickly in saturated areas -- and that makes them ideal for re-vegetating stream banks.
Stream bank erosion can be a major problem for landowners. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to solve stream bank erosion problems along a stream is to re-vegetate with trees and shrubs. Willows are a good source of trees to use for re-vegetated projects.
Most streams and creeks have willows. When considering using willows to re-vegetate, try to find willows growing close to the problem site.
Using willows that are growing in similar soil and moisture conditions will help increase tree survival. The reason you can use willows growing close by is that you can use cuttings instead of rooted seedlings. This means that you can cut stakes off of a nearby willow trees and stick them in the ground and they will grow. Collect and plant the willows during the dormant season. February through April -- before the buds swell -- is usually the best time of year to plant willows.
When you store or transport willows, keep them cool and slightly moist.
Willow cuttings can be from one-half to 3 inches in diameter and 18 to 24 inches long. Remove all lateral branches.
When planting, push cuttings directly into the soil so that only a few inches remain exposed. The deeper you plant the cuttings, the better chance of survival.
Make sure you do not plant the willow upside down. This is a mistake made easily because there are no leaves or lateral limbs on the plant. If planting in gravel or hard clay, you may want to use a rubber mallet to drive the stake in or you may need to create a pilot hole by pounding a piece of metal rebar into the soil and then push the cutting into the hole. If you split the top of the plant while driving, remove the split portion by using a cutting shear.
Proper maintenance will be needed to attain long-term success. Protect young, growing willows from livestock. Also, avoid herbicide treatment on planted areas.
Planting willows along and on stream banks provides a number of benefits to the fragile stream environment and the surrounding land.
This technique does not replace the need for responsible stream corridor management such as maintaining a permanent corridor of trees along streams. It is merely a tool to help mend problem areas.