Flamingo tree: planting, care & common diseases
Flamingo willows are popular East Asian dwarf willows that rarely bloom but have delicate pink, cream and green leaves. Discover the colourful, low maintenance flamingo tree.
Flamingo trees (Salix integra) are easy to care for and bring joy to many gardeners. With their pink, white and green foliage that changes throughout the year, these trees are far from boring. Read on to learn how to plant and care for a flamingo willow.
Flamingo tree description
Flamingo willows (Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’), also known as flamingo trees or shrimp willows, have creamy-white and pink, variegated, deciduous leaves. They belong to the willow family known as Salicaceae, and can be grown as a shrub or dwarf tree. Originally from East Asia, flamingo willows are common throughout Japan, Korea and northern China. These ornamental willows can reach 3m high and are on average 1.5m wide. Flamingo willows flower between March and April. The inconspicuous catkins appear before the foliage and provide food for insects early in the year. The elongated leaves grow as opposite pairs from young shoots and are initially white and pink. As they stand out more than the catkins, the budding leaves are often confused for the tree’s flowers.
Tip: to grow a flamingo willow as a tree, you must graft it onto the trunk of another willow species. Sellers typically offer fully grown Salix integra that are available in various sizes.
Planting flamingo trees
To really showcase the pink and white foliage, find a full sun location for your flamingo tree. A spot with a little shade is also suitable, but avoid completely shaded areas. Like all willows, flamingo trees prefer loose, humus-rich and moist soil.
The best time to plant shrimp willows is in autumn or spring. Water your newly planted flamingo tree generously. For those wanting to grow a flamingo willow as a tree rather than a shrub, we recommend stabilising the trunk using stakes and rope. This will support the tree against strong winds for the first few months while it establishes its root system.
Flamingo willows have shallow roots, meaning they can also be grown in a container. The container should be large and glazed, so that the soil does not dry out too quickly. The best soil for flamingo trees in pots is a well-drained, high-quality potting soil such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. It is ideal for use in pots or to mix into sandy garden soil. Both your flamingo willow and the soil life will benefit from this compost.
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Tip: if one flamingo tree in the garden is not enough for you, why not try growing a flamingo willow hedge. It is fast-growing and grows up to 1.5m high. With regular pruning, you can enjoy your flamingo willow hedge for years to come. Just remember to keep a planting distance of 50 to 60cm, so that the roots have plenty of space to grow.
Flamingo tree care
Flamingo treesare generally low-maintenance plants, but will need the occasional watering, fertilising and pruning to continue showing off their wonderful plumage.
There are a few things to keep in mind when pruning willows. Spring is the best time for pruning, and if you want to keep the flowers around for insects to feed on, prune a bit later, after flowering in April.
Here is how to prune a flamingo tree:
- Remove shoots from the stem
- Cut off dead, crossing and diseased branches at the base
- Shorten all shoots by two thirds
- Always cut above a bud
- Hard prune flamingo willow bushes in autumn so that only a few stumps remain
- Do not injure grafting points on flamingo trees
- Trim in summer if necessary
Tip: willows tolerate heavy pruning as they are quick to sprout again.
Flaming tree soil can dry out quite quickly, especially in pots and containers. Water regularly to ensure the soil is moist, but never waterlogged, as waterlogging is harmful to the roots. In summer especially, regularly check whether your flamingo willow’s soil is still moist. Ideally, use rainwater or lime-free water.
Potted flamingo trees benefit from an annual application of fertiliser in spring when the leaves begin to emerge. A complete fertiliser, like our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food, provides your flamingo tree with nutrients for a long time. Our organic fertiliser is also harmless to pets and garden animals.
Flamingo willows in pots also need repotting from time to time. As the root ball grows, it needs more space. If the root ball becomes visible or your flamingo willow stops growing, it is time for a new pot. Likewise, you can transplant your flaming treeto a more suitable location in the garden if necessary.
The best time to repot flamingo trees is in autumn. When repotting, use fresh, nutrient-rich, slightly acidic potting soil and an all-purpose fertiliser, such as our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food. Our all-purpose fertiliser gradually releases essential nutrients to your plants over several months.
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Flamingo willow propagation
Propagating flamingo willows, as well as many other species of willow, is relatively straight forward. You can propagate Salix integra either by cuttings or air layering. To air layer, bend a shoot downwards so that it touches the ground and fix it in place with a stone or a metal peg. Pile some soil over the part of the shoot touching the ground and keep moist. After about a year, the layered shoot will have formed many roots. At this point, separate it from the mother plant to grow a new flamingo willow shrub.
Propagating with cuttings is just as simple. After pruning, simply save the shoots and branches you cut off and put them in a vase with water. Then, just wait for roots to form and plant the young willows in a pot with a soil-sand mixture. Once they are well-established, you will be able to plant them out.
To a flamingo willow as a tree, you need to graft a flamingo willow branch onto the trunk of a mature willow. To graft a flamingo willow, you will need to cut young flaming willowshoots off in autumn and graft them onto the rootstock of another willow by splice grafting. Suitable rootstocks include the common osier (Salix viminalis) and the European violet willow (Salix daphnoide). Bear in mind that grafting requires some experience and, unfortunately, is not always successful. If you want to give it a try, proceed as follows:
- Before you begin grafting, cut the rootstock to the height you desire. This will be the height of your future flamingo tree.
- Make a slit about 4cm long in the rootstock with a clean, sharp knife.
- Choose a flamingo willow shoot that has about the same diameter, and cut the lower end into a wedge shape so that it fits into the gap in the rootstock.
- Insert the shoot into the rootstock, and fix them tightly together with raffia or a stretchy rubber material.
- Coat the entire grafted section with grafting wax. We recommend keeping the plant in a consistently warm and bright place while it is healing.
Overwintering flamingo willows
Flamingo willows planted in the ground need no more than a layer of mulch around their base to protect the soil from freezing. Other than that, flamingo willows are considered winter hardy.
That said, flamingo willows in containers do need winter protection. Wrap the container in bubble wrap, fleece or a jute bag, and move the plant to a wind-protected spot.
Common diseases and pests
Salix integra is generally not susceptible to pests and diseases, although there are a few exceptions to watch out for:
- Brown leaf tips: browning leaf tips is typically a sign of too much or too little water. Check the soil and adjust watering as needed.
- Goat moth (Cossus cossus): this is the most common pest for flamingo willows. Goat moth larvae are recognisable by their white and dark red markings, and they are clearly visible on a tree’s bark. A flamingo willow with curling leaves is another sign of a goat moth infestation. Cut off the infested branches and burn them – goat moth larvae will continue to live in the dead wood and can reinfect the plant after pupating.
- Spottled willow leaf beetle (Chrysomela vigintipunctata): if your flamingo willow tree has feeding damage, spotted willow leaf beetles may be to blame. To control an infestation, cut away infected branches.
- Fungal infestation: a fungal infestation of rust fungi or anthracnose is characterised by dark brown spots on leaves and branches. Cut back fungal infections generously.
Are flamingo willows poisonous?
Flamingo willow trees are not considered poisonous. However, bark and shoots contain tannins that are released if a dog or cat chews on them for a long time. These tannins can lead to digestive problems.
In spring, redbud trees also have impressive flowers. Learn tips and tricks for caring for redbud trees here.