Dappled Willow Tree Guide: Tri Colored vs Japanese (What’s The Difference?)

Dappled willow tree in a circle frame with pink willow leaves changing to green willow leaves on a tri colored dappled willow or japanese willow tree.

The Dappled Willow Tree has been growing in popularity as an elegant landscaping tree. Not only do they add color to your home garden, but they also offer lovely hedge options and beautiful ground cover.

But, the word “tree” often misleads people into thinking that the Dappled Willow (also known as the Pink Willow Tree) is a large, weeping variety.

That isn’t the case…it’s really rather compact, which makes it a great addition to landscapes where size matters.

If you’re interested in growing this little beauty in your yard, this complete guide explains everything you need to know about the differences between Tri Colored and Japanese Dappled Willow trees, and offers planting and maintanance growing tips for keeping your plants healthy and thriving.

Dappled Willow

(Salix integra ‘Hakuro-Nishiki’)

A dappled willow bush with variegated white and green leaves, highlighted within an oval border on a green background.
  • Family: Salicaceae
  • Genus: Salix
  • Leaf: Can grow up to 4 inches in hues of pink and white
  • Bark: Grows upwards, straight, grooved
  • Stem: Red
  • Flower: Yellow catkins
  • Native Habitat: Japan, Korea, Southeastern Siberia, China
  • Height: Up to 10 feet
  • Canopy: Up to 7 feet
  • Type: Deciduous

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Not Evaluated


Image Credit: Wouter Hagens13

What Is the Salix integra “Hakuro Nishiki” Dappled Willow?

The Willow tree family boasts more than 400 tree species. Most of them look similar, making it challenging to accurately identify them by their actual names.

Mislabeling is typical for such species, and you may need a trained eye to help tell them apart.

Essentially, a Dappled Willow is a small tree whose leaves sprout in light pinkish shades, and gradually turn spottled green and white.

A Hakuro Nishiki plants, also known as dappled willow, showing their characteristic variegated leaves of green, pink, and white, thriving in soil.

(Image: I.Sáček, senior12)

Issues with correct identification of the Salix species have been there for a while, but thankfully, the Dappled Willow fame has improved data collection.3

The Tri-colored Willow is scientifically known as the Salix integra but has other common names.

It is famous as the Dappled Japanese Willow, variegated willow, or its native name, the Hakuro Nishiki. It is one of the smallest species of the willow family and grows as a mini tree or huge shrub.

Fast Facts on Tri-Color Dappled Willows

The Tri-color Dappled Willow gets its name from its stunning multi-colored leaves in pink and white shades. It is a pink willow tree in spring and then transforms to green and white in winter.

Below are more fun facts about the Japanese Willow tree.

  1. The Dappled Willow belongs to the Salicaceae plant family.
  2. The Tri-color Dappled Willow is also the Dappled Willow, Japanese, or the Nishiki willow.
  3. It is native to the forests of Japan, South Korea, and Northeast China.
  4. It grows to a mature height of 8-10 feet
  5. It thrives under full sunlight or partial shade.
  6. The willow prefers well-draining, slightly acidic soil.
  7. It needs watering twice a week when growing and once a week when mature.
  8. It grows in hardiness zones 4-9.
  9. It is a deciduous shrub.
  10. The tri-colored feature is due to the leaves’ pink, white and green shades based on the season.

Tri-Colored Dappled Willow Tree Appearance: Identification Tips

The Tri-color Dappled Willow trees, at a glance, are beautiful variegated plants with leaves shifting from pink to white and green, and their stems turn red during the winter.

It also grows fast at 2-3 feet annually into tall privacy hedges within a few seasons.5, 9, 8

Full image of Tri-Colored Dappled Willow Tree in the forest.

(Image: Wouter Hagens13)

The dappled Japanese willow’s branches are delicate and feature narrow tri-colored leaves that change according to the time of the year. They are pink during spring, then turn whitish-green during summer, forming a striking dappled look.

The leaves then turn yellow and fall in autumn, leaving a red stem before winter. The willow’s colors are brighter under direct sunlight, but pruning makes the shades more vivid.

The trees grow up to 10 feet, and their rounded shape makes them ideal for forming a hedge around your home.

Dappled Willow Tree Specifications

The Tri-color/Japanese Willow tree grows to 8-10 feet and has a growth rate of 2-3 feet yearly.

Its unique color and ability to change shades based on the season make them perfect for landscaping, and the fast growth rate is suitable for privacy hedges.

Graphic of Dappled Willow tree identification showing dappled willow tree stem, flowers, and leaves.

Their variegated leaves grow to 3-4 inches long and have a yellowish-green shade when young, which darkens as they grow older. The willows are also hardy, able to thrive in various climates, and require less water, unlike other plants.

They are adapted to drought and can live an impressive 15 years or more. Many plant them because of their drought tolerance and ease of maintenance.

You only have to keep the soil moist and grow them under full or partial shade.

The best hardiness zones for your Dappled Willows are zones 4-9, meaning plating them in the North and Midwest will be better. Besides, you won’t have to struggle to winterize them.

Lastly, the best planting time for your Dappled Willow is in early spring or mid-late autumn since the air is cooler and the spoil is warmer.

Growing Conditions of the Dappled Willow

If you are wondering how to use Dappled Willow in the landscape, the first step is to know its perfect growing conditions. The goal is that the tree grows healthy until mature and maintains its beautiful appearance.

Know that the Dappled Willow does best in U.S. growing zones 5-7. However, the wonderful resiliency of the plant makes it possible for cultivation in zones 4 through zone 9, as long as the proper care and planting requirements are maintained.

Soil Needs

The Japanese Dappled Willows are not picky in ideal soil, provided it is well-drained and slightly acidic or alkaline.7

While they can survive in poor soil, they won’t thrive in clay and sandy soils, and they turn pale, and their growth stunts.

Sunlight Requirements

Most willows, including the tri-color dappled species, prefer full sunlight or a minimum of 6 hours of unobstructed sun rays daily. Luckily, they can also grow under partial shade.


The willows don’t compromise in matters of moisture. When growing, you will have to water them at least twice every seven days, and it should be deep irrigation where the soil moisture reaches a minimum of two inches deep.

However, the more it grows, the less water it needs, and you can reduce watering to once a week and one inch deep.


You can apply fertilizer in early spring before new growth if you want to enhance your tree’s growth and make the leaves more vibrant.


You don’t have to prune the Dappled Willow, but it helps brighten the foliage colors and enhances new growth. You can trim a third of its branches each round and do it later in winter (while the tree is dormant) for the best results.

These trees make excellent hedges and provide gorgeous color in the spring and summer months.

Features of the Dappled Willow (Bush or Tree)

It can be challenging to determine whether the Tri-color Willow is a tree or a shrub which is vital to know before planting one. You want to know how big it will get, especially if planting it as a border fence or privacy hedge.

This Salix is not a typical giant like the Oak tree. Since it grows to only 8-10 feet, many describe it as a shrub or a mini tree.

It can reach maximum height under the proper care, but it is generally a shrub or bush.

Dappled Japanese Willow Tree vs Tri-Colored Dappled Willow Tree

The Tri-colored Dappled Willow is the same as the Dappled Japanese Willow.

The Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ has many names to describe it, but the most common is the Tri-color Willow, obtained from its triple-colored variegated leaves that turn pink, white, and green based on seasons.

Image of Dappled Willow Tree Canopy with blue sky as a background.

(Image: Wouter Hagens14)

It is also the Japanese Willow tree or Japanese variegated willow because it is native to the country and surrounding regions. Otherwise, natives call it the ‘Albo-maculta’, Fuiji Nishiki, and ‘Albomarginata.’

Dappled Willow in Winter

Unlike other plants, the Dappled Willow is resilient to cold temperatures and does well during the winter since it doesn’t need a lot of water. Its foliage turns green to yellow or brown during the cold weather and reddish during fall.

If your region experiences punishing winters, know the willow will brave the cold and bounce back quickly.

Dappled Willow Care

Knowing how to care for your tri-color Dappled Willow is critical when planting it in your garden or lawn for landscaping. The best part is that it looks fantastic, offers shade, and helps control soil erosion.

It is also a go-to if you want an easy maintenance option.

Although it is not very demanding, your tree will grow better in a sunny spot and adequately drained soil. It will also need more watering to moisten the soil during scorching summers.

Below are more tips to help you look after your Dappled Willow.

  • Although it is generally drought tolerant, it thrives more when the soil is wet, meaning it needs watering twice a week when young, once a week when mature, and every day when the summer is harsh.1
  • To ensure the ground stays wet, you can water more frequently or add mulching for additional cover.
  • For best results, consider planting your tree under full sunlight and with no shading structures around.
  • If you detect unusual discoloration on the foliage, it may imply that your tree needs more watering or fertilizing.

How To Prune a Tri-Color Dappled Willow

As the Japanese willow grows, it becomes crucial to trim any excessive shoots that hinder its growth; otherwise, it will become less stable and have other complications. It will grow back better after pruning with more vibrant leaf colors and a better growth rate.

The best time to prune your willow is in early spring or late winter when the leaves are about to grow.11 It ensures that there are no obstructions in the way of the new leaves, and you can maintain shearing through the season when a shoot emerges.

Close image of Dappled Willow Tree.

(Image: Wouter Hagens15)

There are two main pruning methods; you can do deep trimming for denser growth or remove a third of the twigs to improve the vibrancy of the leaves.4

Note that shallow pruning can make the tree grow shaggy, and the thick twigs emerging can interfere with the tree’s healthy growth.

It’s best to prune the willow during the cold weather months.

How To Propagate a Tri-Color Dappled Willow

Young Japanese willows are typically weak, explaining why suppliers sell them as grafts on straight, sturdier willows. It is a simple process that you can also do in a few steps using items you can find at home.

First, the suitable propagating time is towards the end of fall, particularly in October; hence the plant has enough time to grow later in spring. You can use shears to shop off some 8-inch leafless stems from a mature Dappled Willow.

Next, find a suitable pot with moist soil where you will plant the cutting and ensure that it is well-draining and the earth is not wet. The cutting should have roots in a month, allowing you to grow the tree outside.

Alternatively, you can propagate in a nursery bed for the roots to grow faster and easier.

Common Issues With Tri-Color Dappled Willows

The Dappled Willow is a famous tree loved by homeowners due to its beauty and easy maintenance, but some problems are still associated with planting it.

Root Invasiveness

One of the main challenges of the tri-color willow is its invasive roots, especially when you have planted them close to each other or near drainage systems and septic tanks. The roots stretch wide and deep in the ground and can interfere with such systems.

Thirst for Water

A problem cutting across all willow types is the constant need for water for them to thrive.

If you live in an arid or semi-arid region like California, have limited water access, or want to avoid extreme water bills, the Dappled Willow may not be ideal for you.2


Another upside of planting this willow is its resistance to many diseases and pests; however, it doesn’t mean immunity.

Caterpillars and aphids can still attack your tree, and if you detect any, you should immediately call pest control to protect other trees. But, there are also plenty of eco-friendly pest control options to try. One is using Diatomaceous Earth (DE), which can harmlessly kill any pests with an exoskeleton (like ants).

However, when using DE, it’s only effective if it remains dry.

Need for Sunlight

Lastly, note that willows enjoy total sun exposure; therefore, it is best to plant it where there is no shade and ensure it receives at least 6 hours of sun.

Otherwise, it may have complications like leaf discoloration.

Common Diseases and Pests That Attack the Dappled Willow

Members of the Salix family are typically susceptible to many pests and diseases, but most are not fatal or severely damaging to the plant.6 Out of the long list, some are more common for the Japanese Dappled Willow.

  • Anthracnose Disease: A fungus that causes abnormal and premature leaf drop in willows, leading to stunted growth and eventual tree death.
  • Aphids: These tiny insects attack the willow and leave it more vulnerable to other diseases.
  • Rust: The leaves can discolor, forming brown fungus areas on the leaves.
  • Caterpillars: These insects are common plant pests that eat the willow’s leaves, leaving them unsightly.
  • Sawfly Larvae: These pests resemble flying ants that eat the plant’s leaves and cause a lot of damage.

Can You Plant the Dappled Willow in a Container?

This Salix is elegant, unique, and easy to care for, explaining why you may want to grow it in a container.

You can plant it in your container garden or planter as long as it can accommodate it and has the recommended features.

It should be 18 inches deep and 16 inches wide to give room to the massive root system.

This planting is a go-to for a homeowner who wants to place it indoors, but remember that it will thrive best outdoors in the ground with total sun exposure and no restrictions.

How Far Apart Should You Plant the Willow-Dappled “Hakuro Nishiki”

The tri-color willow is quite invasive to its Salix cousins. Its roots can be extensive, such that they damage other objects nearby; therefore, it is imperative to create a distance when planting multiple of them.

You can plant them 5-6 feet away from each other when on the ground or 3-4 feet apart when in a container because they won’t grow as big. The key is to plant them where there is sufficient sunlight, the soil is well-drained, and all other favorable conditions are available.

If you are looking for trees to plant alongside your Dappled Willow, you will be glad it coexists with many other species. Together they can lift the face of your backyard or lawn, and you can pick a few personal favorites.

While preference matters, many homeowners go for similar trees to create a uniform look and avoid overshadowing the other. Some of the suitable companion plants for your Dappled Willow include:

  • Geraniums: These trees are resilient to grow wherever you plant them and will stay beautiful next to your willow.
  • Rosemary: This tree is cherished among homeowners and is famous for its scented leaves that attract birds and insects, and it will contrast nicely with your Salix.
  • Forsythia: If you are looking for a plant that will brighten up your garden, this tree is famous for its huge and bright red berries.

What Are the Common Types of Willow Trees?

More than 400 willow shrubs and trees or members of the Salix family exist worldwide.10 They are moisture-hungry plants that thrive in temperate regions of the northern hemisphere and come in various sizes and colors, each with unique features.

The different types of willow trees can grow into ground-hugging shrubs or giants of over 90 feet or higher. The most common types of willows are the Weeping Willow, Desert Willow tree, Bebb Willow, Narrow-leaf Willow, Goat Willow, Dappled Willow, Pussy Willow, Purple Willow, White Willow, and Yellow Willow.

A close-up of the flowering branches of a goat willow, displaying the distinctive fluffy catkins that are a harbinger of spring.

(Image: GoranH16)

However, the types of weeping willow trees, like the Purple Weeping Willow tree and Dwarf Weeping Willow tree, are more popular due to their iconic drooping look.

There are more than 400 willow tree species globally, each outstanding in various ways, and the Salix integra is one of the most common species famous as an ornamental tree. It is also called the Tri-color Dappled Willow, Japanese Dappled Willow, or Hakuro Nishiki.

It is known for its variegated or multi-colored leaves that mature into shades of pink, green and white, forming a beautiful dappled tree, hence the name. The key is to know its perfect growing conditions and how to care for it to avoid diseases and stunted growth.

You can occasionally prune it to make the colors more vivid and enhance its growth.

How Does a Full-Grown Dappled Willow Tree Look?

The Dappled Willow is identifiable by the variegated leaves that give it its name. Its foliage is a stunning combination of light green, pink and white hues, and the colors change according to the season.

The narrow oblong leaves stay pink in spring, then turn white and green in summer, giving the tree its famous tri-colored look.

Also, the branches arch delicately, and the entire tree grows into a mini size or a huge shrub.

What Does a Variegated Willow Tree Mean?

The term variegated in botany refers to a plant whose leaves have different colors on the edges or have multi-colored patterns combined with green in most cases. A plant may also exhibit leaves in various colors, irregular patterns, or dots.

As the name implies, the Dappled Willow tree is a plant featuring various color blends in the leaves. According to the common name Tri-colored Willow, you can tell that the foliage takes three shades when mature, pink, white, and green, resulting in a stunning ornamental tree.

How Do You Care for a Dappled Willow Shrub?

One of the best parts about planting a dappled willow is that it is easy to maintain. First, all willow trees love moisture; the most important thing is to check that the soil doesn’t dry up.

You can water it twice a week or every day during the hottest time of the year, the goal being to keep the soil moist. Besides frequent watering, you can also mulch the tree to keep the soil wet.

It is also crucial to provide the tree with sufficient sunlight by planting it in the open where there are no shading or obstructing objects. Lastly, regularly prune it to make the hues brighter and enhance the tree’s growth.

Is the Nishiki Willow Invasive?

The Hakuro Nishiki, or tri-color dappled willow, has a fast growth rate of 2-3 feet a year. It also has invasive roots that spread wide, sometimes at the same level as their height.

In most cases, the roots reach 3-4 times the branches’ size.

Therefore, it is crucial to give them room apart when planting them in a line and ensure they are away from underground drainage and septic systems. Otherwise, further growth may cause damage.

The Dappled Willow thrives best with sufficient water, under full sunlight, and in slightly acidic soil with proper drainage.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Dappled Willow

Is the Dappled Willow Evergreen?

Dappled willows are deciduous, not evergreen; therefore, they lose their leaves during certain times of the year. The leaves turn yellow or brown in fall and drop; luckily, the leaves grow afresh every spring.


1Kubin, M. (2022, November 29). The Complete Guide to Dappled Willow (Hakuro Nishiki) and How They Improve Your Home’s Landscape. Side Gardening. Retrieved December 30, 2022, from <https://www.sidegardening.com/dappled-willow/>

2Lutz, A. (2022, September 30). How to Grow and Care for a Tri-Color Dappled Willow. Architectural Digest. Retrieved December 30, 2022, from <https://www.architecturaldigest.com/reviews/home-products/tri-color-dappled-willow>

3Midwest Gardening. (2023). Hakuro-nishiki Dappled Willow. Midwest Gardening. Retrieved December 30, 2022, from <https://www.midwestgardentips.com/plant-spotlights/hakuro-nishiki-dappled-willow>

4Smith, K. (2021, August 27). Dappled Willow Tree – A Care Guide on How to Grow a Dappled Willow Tree in Home Landscapes. Bless My Weeds. Retrieved December 30, 2022, from <https://blessmyweeds.com/dappled-willow-tree/#How_to_Prune_the_Dappled_Willow_Tree>

5This Old House Ventures, LLC. (2022, July 22). Everything‌ ‌You‌ ‌Need‌ ‌to‌ ‌Know‌ ‌About‌ ‌Tri-Color‌ Dappled‌ ‌Willow‌ ‌Trees. Retrieved December 30, 2022, from <https://www.thisoldhouse.com/gardening/reviews/tri-color-dappled-willow>

6Connecticut’s Official State Website. (2023). Willow (Salix). Connecticut’s Official State Website. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from <https://portal.ct.gov/CAES/Plant-Pest-Handbook/pphW/Willow-Salix>

7Denison, I. A. (1932, September). Methods for Determining the Total Acidity of Soils. NIST Technical Series Publications. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from <https://nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/jres/10/jresv10n3p413_A2b.pdf>

8Department of Environmental Horticulture, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences – UF/IFAS. (2023). Variegation. University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences – UF/IFAS. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from <https://propg.ifas.ufl.edu/03-genetic-selection/22-genetic-variegation.html>

9N.C. Cooperative Extension. (2023). Salix integra ‘Hakuro Nishiki’. NC State Extension. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from <https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/salix-integra-hakuro-nishiki/>

10Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2022, October 12). List of Salix species. Wikipedia. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Salix_species>

11Wilson, M. (2011, April 1). Spring shape up: Tidying up your plants. Michigan State University. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from <https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/spring_shape_up_tidying_up_your_plants>

12I.Sáček, senior. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salixintegra9378.JPG>

13Species Information Image: File:Salix integra Hakuro A.jpg Photo by Wouter Hagens. (2007, April 29) / Public domain. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved February 16, 2024, from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salix_integra_Hakuro_A.jpg>

14Wouter Hagens. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salix_integra_Hakuro_B.jpg>

15Wouter Hagens. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Salix_integra_Hakuro_C.jpg>

16GoranH. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/goat-willow-salix-caprea-plant-4909071/>