I am always astonished by the color impact and pizzazz my Japanese variegated willow (Salix integra ‘Hakuro-nishiki’, USDA Hardiness Zones 5–8) provides in my foundation border. This cultivar has foliage that looks white from a distance, but a closer examination reveals that the new leaves are mottled in shades of white, pink, and green, maturing to mostly green and cream. To maintain the whiteand- pink variegation, I prune in early spring or late fall. I also cut mine back in July to keep it small.
The loose habit of Japanese variegated willow provides a welcome textural contrast to stiff conifers and broadleaf evergreens. The pink-hued stems and branches are slightly upright initially but tend to take a fountain shape as they lengthen. In winter, the stems turn a striking red. To get the best color, the stems should be cut back in early spring. Japanese variegated willow performs best in a sunny location with average soil. And it has no pest or disease problems to speak of.
In my cool-colored garden, this shrub is sited perfectly among purple-flowering ‘African Queen’ butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii ‘African Queen’, Zones 6–9), apricot ‘Taki No Yosooi’ peony (Paeonia lactiflora ‘Taki No Yosooi’, Zones 3–8), and a grouping of annual flowering tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris). All of these plants have large or divided foliage that contrasts nicely with the willow’s 2-inch-long, lance-shaped leaves. Try it in your garden—it is sure to draw attention.