The native habitat of dwarf willow is the alpine region of Western Europe. It was introduced to the United States in the 1960s and by 1972 the 'Bankers' cultivar came into widespread use for riverbank erosion control. It was selected from 74 willow cultivars for its high stem density, semi-prostrate growth habit and vigor. In 1983 the University of Kentucky Agricultural Experimental Station made 'Bankers' available for commercial production.
Dwarf willow shrubs are easily started from branch cuttings, with plants reaching full height in three to five years. They grow 6 to 8 feet tall on smooth, resilient, tough branches that quickly provide dense cover. Dwarf willows create an interlocking network of roots that function well for soil erosion prevention. The rapid spread of their interlocking root system makes them not as suitable for landscape planting.
Dwarf willow does not reproduce by seed. Rooted cuttings are planted in rows 18 to 30 inches apart. The first row is normally planted 2 to 3 feet from the waterline in early spring when water is not high. Young cuttings do not compete with nearby grasses or other native plantings. 'Bankers' willow stands are full grown within two to three years. Branches bend into flowing water in a shingle pattern, providing debris collection and soil protection.
Distribution and Disease
The 'Bankers' cultivar adapts to climate conditions from the southern states to New York and western state regions. "There are no serious pests or diseases of dwarf willow," according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service website. Newly planted dwarf willows are susceptible to browsing by livestock and should be protected.
Stands of dwarf willow provide excellent habits for deer, beaver and rabbits. They are resistant to mechanical control and recover easily when mowed down. This makes them a reliable choice as nesting sites for birds in sustainable agricultural farmscaping. Farmscaping is a method for providing habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife to act as part of an integrated pest management system.
Dwarf and standard variety willow are also used as pilings along riverbanks to provide an environmentally sound erosion solution. Willow branches are bent and formed into natural fencing along riverbanks, watercourses, canals and lakes. Willow fencing costs a fraction of the price of concrete and metal pilings. Plant species grow through and animals have access to earth banks.