Creating Your Own Natural Plant Rooting Hormone – Willow Water

Plant Propagation at Windcrest Farm

Many of our perennial and woody plants such as our herbs, are propagated by taking a cutting of a plant's new growth and encouraging the cutting to develop roots. Gardeners often ask me if using a commercial rooting hormone is necessary when propagating by cuttings. A commercial rooting hormone is effective, but it is a hazardous material and not allowed in an organic greenhouse operation.

Check the label on most commercial rooting hormones and you will find a warning label that cautions not to use the product on food plants, do not dispose any excess rooting hormone in areas where it can contaminate water supplies or soil, and it should be treated like a bioactive chemical and disposed of in a solid waste facility. The fact that these products are chemical hormones tells us we don't want to handle it or introduce it into our organic gardening environment.

But there is a natural, easy to make and effective alternative to chemical rooting hormones and it's called "Willow Water". Willow Water is a homemade tea that can be used to increase the growth of roots on plant cuttings. Willow water is made from the twigs of any tree or shrub in the willow family.

How Willow Water Works

One of the biggest challenges to successfully propagating cuttings is infection by bacteria and fungi. Simply put, the cuttings rot before developing roots. Using Willow Water both discourages harmful bacteria and fungus and encourages rooting through two substances - Indolebutyric Acid (IBA) and Salicylic Acid (SA). Both of these substances are contained in willow bark.

Salicylic acid (a chemical similar to Aspirin) helps plants to fight off infection, and thus gives cuttings a better chance develop roots.

Indolebutyric acid (IBA) is a plant hormone that stimulates root growth. Both of these substances are present in high concentrations in the growing tips of willow branches.

How to Make Willow Water

Collect young first-year twigs and stems of any type of willow. First-year twigs will have a green or yellow bark and older growth has brown or gray bark.

Remove all the twigs leaves and cut the twigs into 1" pieces.

Place the twigs in water to make a "tea" and extract the helpful compounds by using either one of the following methods:

a) Place the chopped willow twigs in a container and cover with boiling water, just like making tea, and allow the “tea” to stand overnight.

b) Place the chopped willow twigs in a container and cover with unheated water and let soak for several days.

When finished brewing, separate the liquid from the twigs. The Willow Water is now ready to use for rooting cuttings.

Willow Water can be used for up to two months by storing it in a jar with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator. Label the jar with the expiration date to ensure you have the most potent Willow Water for propagating your cuttings.

How To Use Willow Water

Place your cuttings directly into the Willow Water, like flowers in a vase, and leave let them soak for several hours. The cuttings will absorb the plant rooting hormones before you place them in your propagation medium.Then use Willow Water to moisten the propagating medium several times during the propagation period.

As a USDA Certified Organic greenhouse, Windcrest Farm does not use any chemical, GMO or hormone products on our vegetable, herb or flower plants. We are here to help you garden the certified organic way!