Tales of a Stupid Gardener: Why you Shouldn’t Plant a Willow Tree Next to a Water Feature


“The bestlaid schemes omice an ‘men. Gang aft agley”

-Robert Burns 1785

How appropriate that the above excerpt from the poem To a Mouse, on Turning up Her Nest with a Plough was written by a farmer while he was still holding the plough. He had just destroyed a mouse’s home right before the winter. You may recognize it from the wonderful Steinbeck novel, Of Mice and Men. Basically it translates as the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. And so it goes for me.

I don’t know how you like to spend your Sunday mornings, but I really enjoy eating crow. At least I seem to really like doing so because I do it so often. My hindsight is that of an eagle with laser vision surgery but my foresight amounts to something resembling Ray Charles with dark shades in a dark cave. At night.

Apparently I really really really enjoy spending countless hours on back-breaking landscaping efforts only to have them come back and bite me in the ass. Good exercise, terrible gardening. Does life grade on a curve? I hope so because I’m bordering on the fail side of pass/fail. I need to remind myself that having additional chromosomes is not a bonus, but a hindrance.

In short, I’ve done it again. I f’d up. Why break tradition with my usual faux pas? Like when I spent days making a gravel pathway the wrong way. Why quit when you’re behind?

My water feature has quickly become THE most annoying landscaping feature in the known universe. I’d rather try to terraform Mars with nothing but rusty scuba gear and a bag of cow shit than spend any more time with that beautiful beast. I’d probably have more success.

By the way, did you know that the movie The Martian was based on me? A goofy white guy in a foreign neighborhood trying to grow some food. It’s a metaphor for Mind Your Dirt. Do you think I saw a penny of the box office cash? No. No I did not.


So here’s what I had to wrestle with on this chilly Sunday morning. The invasion of the roots from my willow tree that continuously sneak into my water feature.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 02_Willow Root Ball
A five foot long root ball nightmare!
Tales of a Stupid Gardener 03_Willow Root Ball Detail
This is the face of invasive roots.

And this is only after two months of letting it go!! I’d walk past the waterfall and look at it and sigh deeply. Then I’d scurry off to another project on the other side of the yard. You see, this represents a much larger concern for me. There is a certain finality that I need to come to terms with. One of the two item needs to go away.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 04_Willow and water feature I

But I love them both. The cool babbling waterfall with gentle hummingbirds bathing in morning light or the gentle whispers of the swaying willow tree. The two can’t live in the same area without some major and constant maintenance. I could disassemble the entire waterfall and rebuild it in a fashion that blocks out all roots. But OH MY GOD, that will take a lot of work and my back will be aching for weeks. Some of those rocks are over a hundred pounds. I remember all too well how much effort it took the first time.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 05_Willow and water feature II

And even if I do do that (hehe doodoo), roots have a nasty way of breaking through any barrier. And willow roots are particularly tenacious when a water source is nearby. It’s what they do! Holy hell, does this tree drink some water!! Smart addition for the yard in a drought-stricken SoCal climate huh?

At this point, I’m MORE than willing to entertain any ideas that you might have!!! This is me asking you for help! Because AARGHHHH!!

As it stands now, I have to get in there with clippers at least once a month and cut this beast back. I just removed a lower slate rock so I can get better access to it. Luckily it wasn’t too hard to remove thanks to my excellent Jenga skills. Observe…

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 05b_Mad Jenga Skills yo
Mad skills yo.

But it could’ve been a nightmare situation if I lost this particular game of Jenga as I would’ve been buried under tons of rubble. But gardening without danger is no fun at all!

Here is the water feature with a low water level and a haircut.

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 06_Water Feature Root Intrusion Zone

It matters very little as this is the Task of Sisyphus and they will just return in short order. This time around, I have removed all of the rocks that normally hide the rubber lining because the roots completely encapsulate every last one of them anyways. Part two of this project included me tearing away in hopes of reclaiming my precious stones. Now, I just don’t care about the rubber lining showing. When the waterfall is full, you can’t see it anyways.

If you stare at this photo long enough, you can see the tendrils growing before your eyes. Evil and invasive things that should do as their brethren do and stay below ground! Just watch…

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 06_Water Feature Root Intrusion Zone Detail

There! Right there! Did you see it? There are some days when I feel it would be best to get my hands on some enriched uranium and just nuke the whole yard. I’ll sit on the back porch and just watch it glow all purdy like as I scratch my butt with my extra flipper arm that has just grown out of the back of my head. Big deal. Who cares.

So, that said, I’m certain you can gather my current state of mind on the whole torrid affair. What advice can you offer? Help me Obi Wan, you’re my only hope (brace yourself…).

Tales of a Stupid Gardener 07_James as Princess Leiah_Yeah sorry
This is soooo disturbing! But, it’s almost Star Wars time kids, so live a little. Plus, check out my curves! Hubba hubba

38 Replies to “Tales of a Stupid Gardener: Why you Shouldn’t Plant a Willow Tree Next to a Water Feature”

        1. Thank you, I have enjoyed it! Although I spent far too long inside on the computer today.

          I did do some winter pruning on my grape vines though. That’s something. Oh, yeah…and of course the willow roots. Wow! Two whole outdoor projects! And a blog post. Slow down right!?

    1. I know right!? I’m hoping for a less dramatic solution though. I know it’s out there, I just haven’t grasped it yet.

      Which is why I’m reaching out. I need a hero. I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night. He’s gotta be strong. And he’s gotta be fast. And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight.

      And also really good at water feature emergencies.

  1. OMG, those roots! Because moving the water feature would be tons of work, can you move the willow? It’s lovely, but you can’t go on like this. Maybe replace it with a weeping Japanese maple instead? Sometimes plants just don’t work out (not that I EVER make that kind of mistake! I’m still digging sumac roots out of the front yard.) and you have to thank them for their service and move on …

    1. I like your thinking here. I’d have to look into how a weeping maple would do here. It gets mighty hot and sunny in the summer. I’d worry it might fry.

      I do so love the willow though and it’s growing so quickly. I guess I’m holding on to a hopeless situation though. I may need to come to terms with the trees removal. But then the water feature is such a pain in the butt as well…

      See what I mean. I’m all wishy washy about it. I’ll be this way forever I fear.

  2. There is no way to keep any willow from creeping to water. None, what so ever. Trust me, the ground staff on the golf course, I work at, have to bulldoze the wildgrowing willows off around all water hazards every four years or so, clearing all drainage pipes emptying surplus water into the ponds. One of those pipes is 1 meter in diameter, coming from a nearby housing estate. The willows crept up the pipe for the lenght of 2 meters, blocking it solid. Hard work to clear that without destroying the pipe. I take it, you don’t own bulldozers?
    However, weeping willows are my favourite tree, too. I see your dilemma.

    1. I have no bulldozers. I kinda knew it would come to this one day. My love for the tree has blinded me to its nature. If I remove it and the subsequent root ball, will it still sprout up again?

    1. Tis true, but normally it doesn’t require much water. The irony is that the willow provides shade to slow evaporation.

      I can’t tell you how many critters have come to depend on that needed drink though. I’d feel terrible if I took away their oasis.

    1. It would not puncture the liner at all, but the pond is small so it would eventually just fill up with roots. I’d have a root pond with a tablespoon of water in it. Might make for an interesting landscaping feature…

  3. The photos in the beginning either look like Tribbles from Star Trek or a small dog with a really bad hair cut. And the Princess Leah outfit…I will never be able to unsee that. LOL.

    Oh and good luck with your garden…All i did was rake leaves last weekend.

    1. Hi Jennifer! Thank you kindly, I’m glad you’re digging my dirt.

      They don’t puncture, they just creep over the top of the liner. I still can’t decide what to do. It’s the only tree in the back that’s providing a modicum of shade. And it gets VERY hot in the summer.

  4. I almost made this same mistake this summer, but with our neighbor’s septic system. I thought to myself “Hey, let’s border our property with trees and willow cuttings are free!” then I saw my neighbor, plants in hand. Thankfully I asked him because his septic system was about 5ft from where I was gonna start planting willow cuttings. Whew…disaster averted.

      1. It’s going well!! We’re working on planning for next year, there are quails working in the garage (we need more, only 4 hatched due to a power outage) and there are 10 chickens in my back bedroom that just turned 3 weeks old today. On top of that I’m lining up a lot of free bricks to put in a patio and raised beds for the garden.

        1. Perfect! You’re living the good life in my book! I’ve been loading up my compost bins from all the winter pruning I’ve been doing. I love this time of year because the while yard looks ship shape in Bristol fashion.

  5. LOLOL on the Princess Leia image!!! Also, I hate to be the one to tell you this- but those are no tree roots. You’ve clearly been invaded by giant alien caterpillars. I wish you luck on your survival- alien caterpillars are well known for their love of human flesh! Be careful!!

    1. 🎵I feel pretty, oh so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and… manly🎶

      I feel that’s the best way to sum up that particular photo.

      As for the alien caterpillar. They don’t eat you if you accept them as the true alien overlords that they are. All hail Krimlock the Fuzzy!! Truly it is he that shall set us free. Via enslavement. Resistance is futile, your water features will be assimilated into the fuzzy collective.

Leave a Reply