Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) is a native of northern China that is notable for its dramatically drooping silver-green foliage. It fares best in warm climates in the southern United States, but it is generally winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 to 8.
Weeping willow is a large tree that grows with a broad trunk and a rounded canopy that is often nearly as wide as the tree is tall. The branches of its crown arch outward and downward so profoundly that the tips of the branches nearly reach the ground, creating an area of dense shade around the base of the tree.
Growth Rate and Mature Size
Weeping willow is a fast grower, often putting on up to 2 feet in height per year when growing conditions are ideal. This vigorous growth rate allows the tree to reach its mature height of 30 to 50 feet in just a couple of decades, and fully mature trees in ideal conditions can attain heights of up to 60 feet.
The tree's quick growth is balanced by a lifespan that is typically relatively short. Willows usually have a lifespan between 40 and 75 years, and this limitation makes it less than ideal as a long-term landscape. The tree also has other troublesome characteristics, including an invasive root system and fragile branches that are vulnerable to breakage and wind damage, that can make it a problematic garden resident.
Golden Weeping Willow
Golden weeping willow (Salix alba 'Tristis') is a cultivar of the white willow species that also has a weeping form. The bark of its new growth is strikingly yellow-golden in color, and when foliage drops in the fall, the colorful young branches are conspicuous. This species is somewhat more cold tolerant than weeping willow and is winter hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8.
Like weeping willow, golden weeping willow is a fast grower, but its mature size is generally larger, with a height between 50 and 75 feet and a similar spread. Its canopy is relatively open, but like the other weeping willow species, it has a messy habit of dropping leaves and twigs. It also has a shallow root system that can damage sewer and drain lines and make it difficult to plant other garden plants near the tree.