The Kilmarnock willow, a distinctive and elegant variety of the weeping willow, is admired for its unique pendulous form and lush foliage. Originating from the Salix caprea family, it’s a popular choice for adding a touch of grace to gardens across various landscapes. Despite its visual appeal, the Kilmarnock willow is not without its challenges. Gardeners often face a range of Kilmarnock willow problems, ranging from pest infestations to environmental stressors. These issues, if not addressed timely and effectively, can detract from the tree’s beauty and overall health. Understanding and managing these problems is key to ensuring that your Kilmarnock willow remains a stunning feature in your garden.

Salix Caprea (Kilmarnock Willow)
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Identification and Characteristics of Kilmarnock Willow

The Kilmarnock willow, known botanically as Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’, is a cultivated variety of the goat willow. It’s a small, deciduous, ornamental tree, renowned for its unique weeping habit.

  • The Kilmarnock willow is easily identifiable by its small, rounded form and weeping branches. Typically, it grows to a height of about 6 to 8 feet, making it an ideal size for small gardens. The leaves are elongated, with a bright green colour that turns yellow in the fall. One of the most notable features of this willow is its bark, which has a rough texture and a dark, almost black colour that contrasts strikingly with the green foliage.
  • In terms of growth habits, the Kilmarnock willow prefers full sun to partial shade and thrives best in well-drained, moist soil. It’s a hardy plant that can adapt to a range of soil types, though it flourishes most in slightly acidic to neutral soils. Regular watering, especially in dry conditions, is essential to maintain its health and vigour.

While generally low-maintenance, it does require some care to address potential problems like pest infestations or environmental stressors to maintain its health and beauty.

Common Problems Faced by Kilmarnock Willows

Kilmarnock willow (Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’), like other willow species, can experience several problems:

Pests and Diseases

There are a number of pests and diseases that can affect your Kilmarnock willows:

Willow and Poplar Leaf Beetles

These beetles, including the brassy willow beetle (Phratora vitellinae), blue willow beetle (Phratora vulgatissima), and willow flea beetle (Crepidodera aurata), attack willow leaves, causing damage similar to that seen in poplars.


Caused by the fungus Marssonina salicicola, anthracnose can seriously disfigure weeping willows. It’s more prevalent in wet seasons, leading to small ashen or pale brown stem lesions, sometimes accompanied by leaf spots.

Willow Black Canker

This disease, caused by Glomerella miyabeana, can affect willows. Willow Black Canker manifests initially as small cracks on the tree. These cracks gradually enlarge to form large, black, often more or less circular deep lesions with raised and ragged edges.

Willow Bean-gall Sawfly

This pest causes leaves to display hard, raised yellow or bright red bean-like growths (galls), leading to discolouration, bronzing, drying out, and often premature falling of leaves.

Willow Watermark Disease

Caused by Erwinia salicis, this bacterial disease is significant for cricket bat willows (Salix alba var. coerulea) and related Salix alba forms. It leads to wilting leaves that typically remain hanging on the tree and a progressive dying back of the crowns.


These small, sap-sucking insects can infest leaves and shoots, resulting in foliage becoming sticky and covered in sooty mould. Aphids can be green, yellow, or black and are often seen in clusters on new growth or the underside of leaves.

Willow Scab

This is caused by the fungus Venturia saliciperda. Symptoms include dark, olive-green to black spots on leaves and young shoots. The infected leaves may curl and wither, and in severe cases, the fungus can cause defoliation.

Environmental Stressors

Environmental conditions play a significant role in the health and well-being of Kilmarnock willows.

Water Stress

Willows generally prefer moist environments and can suffer in conditions that are too dry. Over or under-watering can lead to stress, with symptoms including yellowing leaves, leaf drop, and in severe cases, branch dieback.

Soil Conditions

Poor soil drainage can lead to root rot, while soil that is too compacted can restrict root growth and limit nutrient uptake. Willows thrive in well-drained, fertile soil.

Temperature Extremes

While willows can tolerate a range of temperatures, extreme cold or heat can be stressful. Frost can damage new growth, and prolonged heat waves can lead to drought stress.

Wind Damage

Willows, particularly the weeping varieties like Kilmarnock, can be susceptible to damage from strong winds, which can cause breakage of branches.


Willows can be sensitive to air and soil pollution. Exposure to pollutants can weaken the tree, making it more susceptible to disease and pest infestations.

Salt Stress

If located near roads that are salted in the winter, willows can suffer from salt spray or runoff, which can lead to leaf burn and an overall decline in health.

Kilmarnock Willow
Kilmarnock Willow

Solutions for Common Problems Faced by Kilmarnock Willows

Willow and Poplar Leaf Beetles

  • Preventive Measures: Regular monitoring of the tree, especially from April to June.
  • Treatment: Handpick and destroy beetles, eggs, or larvae as soon as they appear. If infestations are severe, apply a contact insecticide in spring and repeat if necessary.


  • Cultural Control: Improve air circulation around the tree and avoid overhead watering to reduce leaf wetness.
  • Chemical Control: Use fungicides if necessary, especially during wet seasons, to control the spread of the fungus.

Willow Black Canker

  • Preventive Measures: Choose resistant varieties when planting.
  • Management: Prune and destroy infected branches to prevent the spread.

Willow Bean-gall Sawfly

  • Physical Removal: Pick off and destroy infested leaves.
  • Biological Control: Encourage natural predators like birds to visit the garden.

Willow Watermark Disease

  • Cultural Practices: Ensure good drainage and avoid wounding the tree.
  • Sanitation: Prune and destroy affected parts to prevent the spread of the disease.


  • Natural Predators: Encourage ladybugs and other beneficial insects.
  • Insecticidal Soap: Apply to infested areas to control aphid populations.

Willow Scab

  • Preventive Care: Avoid overhead watering and ensure good air circulation.
  • Fungicides: Apply during early spring to prevent infection, especially in humid conditions.

Water Stress

  • Regular Watering: Ensure consistent moisture, especially in dry periods.
  • Mulching: Apply organic mulch to maintain soil moisture.

Soil Conditions

  • Soil Testing: Test and amend the soil for optimal fertility and drainage.
  • Aeration: Loosen compacted soil to improve root growth.

Temperature Extremes

  • Mulching: Protect roots from extreme temperatures.
  • Shade Netting: Use during extreme heat to reduce stress.

Wind Damage

  • Support Structures: Use stakes or windbreaks to protect the tree from strong winds.
  • Strategic Planting: Choose sheltered locations for planting.


  • Location Selection: Avoid planting near heavy traffic or industrial areas.
  • Regular Monitoring: Check for signs of pollution damage and take steps to mitigate.

Salt Stress

  • Barrier Creation: Use physical barriers to protect from salt spray.
  • Regular Flushing: Water deeply to leach out salt accumulation from the soil.


The Kilmarnock willow, with its distinctive weeping form and charming appearance, is a unique addition to any landscape. However, as with any ornamental plant, it requires specific care and attention to thrive. Caring for a Kilmarnock willow, or any plant, is a rewarding endeavour that enhances not only our gardens but also our connection with nature. It requires a blend of knowledge, attentiveness, and a willingness to respond to the plant’s needs. By adopting responsible and informed plant care practices, gardeners can ensure that their Kilmarnock willows, and all their plants, continue to flourish and bring beauty to their surroundings for years to come.

Garden Doctor Tips

“Plant in a location that offers plenty of space for its weeping branches to grow without obstruction, allowing it to showcase its unique beauty!”

“Regular watering is key to a healthy Kilmarnock willow, especially during dry spells; keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged to promote strong root growth and overall tree health!”

“Pruning is essential for maintaining the shape and health of your Kilmarnock willow; remove dead or diseased branches and trim it annually to encourage new growth and prevent overcrowding of branches!”

“To protect your Kilmarnock willow from pests and diseases, keep an eye out for early signs of infestation or infection and treat promptly with suitable methods, whether it’s natural predators for aphids or fungicides for scab!”

Frequently Asked Questions

How big does a Kilmarnock willow grow?

A Kilmarnock willow typically grows to about 6-10 feet in height and spread. Its compact size and distinctive weeping form make it suitable for smaller gardens or spaces where a full-size weeping willow would be too large. The tree’s umbrella-like canopy can create an eye-catching feature in a landscape, especially when allowed enough space to display its unique shape fully.

Should you prune a Kilmarnock willow?

Yes, pruning a Kilmarnock willow is necessary to maintain its shape and health. Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring before new growth starts. The aim is to remove any dead or diseased wood, thin out overcrowded branches, and shape the tree. Pruning helps in encouraging new growth and maintaining the tree’s weeping habit.

Where is the best place to plant a Kilmarnock willow?

The best place to plant a Kilmarnock willow is in an area with full sun to partial shade and in well-drained soil. The tree thrives near water sources like ponds or streams but can also do well in a garden setting with regular watering.

Is Kilmarnock willow good for wildlife?

Kilmarnock willow is beneficial for wildlife. In spring, its catkins provide an early source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects. The tree’s dense foliage can offer shelter for birds. Planting a Kilmarnock willow can contribute to biodiversity in your garden by supporting local wildlife.

How fast does the Kilmarnock willow grow?

The Kilmarnock willow has a moderate growth rate. It can take several years to reach its full size, typically growing several feet per year under optimal conditions. This rate can vary depending on factors such as soil quality, water availability, and overall care.

How do you look after a Kilmarnock willow tree?

Looking after a Kilmarnock willow involves regular watering, especially during dry periods, to ensure the soil remains moist. It’s important to plant it in well-drained soil to prevent root rot. Annual pruning is necessary to maintain its shape and remove any dead or damaged branches. Additionally, keeping an eye out for signs of pests or diseases and addressing any issues promptly is crucial for the tree’s health. Mulching around the base can help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.


Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.

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