The Hugel Bed is Sprouting?

When we moved into our new home the meadow was a mess. There were piles of new and rotting branches everywhere, even old Christmas trees chopped up and laying around. In a “lemons to lemonade” burst of inspiration I decided to turn these branches into hugel beds.

I bundled some up, dragged them to the garden and piled them into my raised beds.

Hugel bed filled with branches

I covered the branches with several inches of leaves, soil and mulch.This was my first experiment with hugel beds and I was really looking forward to the amazing results I’d read about. My hope was that over the next few months this would magically become a bed full of gorgeous soil for planting. Instead, in typical Unfettered Fox fashion, I’ve had a more humorous outcome.

Turns out some of those branches were from the Salix family of trees – better known as pussy willow. And do you know what pussy willow branches do when covered in 6″ inches of moist soil and mulch?

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They root. And sprout. So there are basically trees growing in my raised beds. This is not a good thing. Hugel beds are not supposed to sprout, they are supposed to opposite-of-sprout. The wood that makes up the bottom levels of a hugelkultur bed are supposed to break down, attracting worms, adding beneficial microbes to the soil, holding moisture and “feeding” the bed as they decompose. A living tree is less than ideal.

IMG_1556

One branch was so happy and healthy it bloomed underground! (As a side note, did you know pussy willow buds are called catkins? How adorable is that?) Some online reading informed me that pussy willow cuttings re-root easily and thrive in moist conditions. So that explains why this tree, despite having split in half and fallen down years ago, is now gigantic shrub with dozens of 15′ tall “trunks.”

Fallen Salix tree, aka pussy willow

I still wanted to plant veggies in this bed so we pulled the willows out and planted them along the fence where, luckily enough, we’ve been wanting something fast-growing to provide privacy. They’re actually a very pretty tree. The leaves change colors in the fall, the branches turn red in winter, and then fuzzy little catkins pop out everywhere as cute as can be.

Pussy willow branch

Just before blooming the branches were beautiful. I even sold some to Chica Bloom Farm & Floral for their wild and unconventional Valentine’s Day bouquets!

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So while my hugel experiment was a failure, the happy little trees will be perfect along the fence, and you can’t really beat free trees! We are also getting pretty damn good at making lemonade.

 

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. Helen says:

    Sounds like the hugel bed was a resounding success really!

    Are you still trying to use the hugel bed for other (that is, non-tree growing) purposes?

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Yes, after removing the little trees I added compost and soil and planted my cauliflower seedlings. We’ll see what else pops up…

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      1. Helen says:

        Hopefully cauliflower seedlings!

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        1. Sheri Fox says:

          One can hope 😉

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Kathy Sturr says:

    Ha ha ha! I have also read that if you want to root something to add a willow branch to the bucket because it roots so readily it is like a rooting hormone. I love willows and would love to plant some but out of room … but wait, I have a lake property! Oh, that gives me an idea! I like to make rustic trellises and other structures from branches and will never forget one of my rustic obelisks started sprouting leaves in the spring – not that it was still alive but must have had some stored energy. How fun for you! I love the willow wall!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Rooting hormone eh? That’s worth trying! It is amazing how quickly it roots and sprouts and how long branches I was sure were dead can survive and thrive in the worst conditions. Truly a wonder! Even the little branch tips we have in vases in the house bloomed, and they’re making a huge mess. A willow fence around a garden that would eventually grow together and bloom would be cool, or a living trellis? The options are endless (now that I know what I’m dealing with 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Melissa says:

    My one attempt at a hugel used fig and rose cuttings, and I planted a fruit tree on top. I thought it was all dead wood. I was clearly wrong!

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    1. Sheri Fox says:

      Oh dear. Amazing how resilient those cut branches can be thought, right? We planted a whole willow fence thanks to what we learned from our experiment gone wrong, but I just noticed sprouts in another hugel bed so I guess the fun isn’t over yet LOL

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