Willow Roots: Ecological Answer to Erosion


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Willow trees naturally grow near water. Photo: MAClarke21 / CC by 2.0

Willow trees naturally grow near water. Photo: MAClarke21 / CC by 2.0

Weeping about the sorry state of a stream bank? If local stream banks are eroding and falling down into the creek, it could be time to call in the willows. The willow tree is renowned for its ability to grow durable and large root systems very quickly. Used for centuries in England as part of living fences, these trees can create natural, sturdy nets in the soil.

If at all possible, choose native species of willows to replant a stream bank. Local animals are adapted to eating and living in native vegetation, and replanting a stream bank with native plants will help reproduce a native streamside environment. The USDA Native Plants Database is a good resource to help determine whether a willow species is native to the area.

Natural Erosion Control: Willow Tree Root Systems

When it comes to willows, the roots have it: willows are super root producers, and grow large root systems very quickly. When we place rocks on a stream bank to prevent erosion, the willows can grow in between the rocks, holding them together. In some situations, willow trees can be used as an inexpensive alternative to adding rocks to the stream bank. Willow poles driven into the stream bank will actually begin to grow roots and hold the soil together. When the plants grow leaves, their foliage will also slow down any rain that falls, slowing the entry of water into the creek.

Be cautious when replanting with willows on a stream close to a building, and replant away from house foundations and pools. Willow roots are good at growing quickly around rocks and usually move towards the closest water source – damp home foundations and pool bottoms are just another wet rock to the willow tree. You can prevent damage to foundations by planting willows near creeks, rather than close to structures.

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