Originally used for making dye, mats and meat-drying racks, willow is used today to make baskets and outdoor furniture. Prairie willows prefer sandy soil and can be found growing in prairies, woods and along streams. They are a perennial shrub that can grow as tall as 10 feet. The leaves are dark green with golden veins that are slightly raised underneath the leaf. Prairie willow typically blooms from April to May, and can fruit as early as June. It can also provide shelter for wildlife, including birds, insects and aquatic animals.
Prune the prairie willow in the later summer and early fall. Prairie willows bleed sap, which is less abundant during the late-summer and early-fall months.
Trim the top of the prairie willow using pruning shears and remove the terminal bud, which is the main area of growth on the top end of the stem. Remove all side branches except the top 2 to 3 branches. The goal is to create one strong upper branch and to encourage the willow to grow tall and straight.
Remove all water suckers on the branches and at the base of the prairie willow. Water suckers, which are off-shoots of the main plant, lack a strong attachment and are typically nutritionally deficient resulting in abnormal bunches that are prone to falling over. Remove the entire branch to avoid any abnormal growth in the future.
For young prairie willows, prune to one central stem with only one or two branches on either side. This will free up water and nutrients for nourishing the lateral buds.