Friday, April 2, 2010

Natural -and Homemade- Rooting Hormone

 Originally uploaded by peter-rabbit

Hey!  This is important!  I just learned that it's really easy to make a DIY version of rooting hormone solution.  Rooting hormone is used when gardeners and orchardists want to propagate plants from cuttings.  I've never used it, mostly because I've never really wanted or needed to grow plants this way.  Not to mention I'm suspicious of most chemical things sold for use with plants.  But cuttings are one of the best ways to obtain - or give - plants cheaply.  Sometimes it's the best way from a genetic standpoint too, since not all plants produce offspring which share the desirable qualities of the parent plant.  Obviously, I'm no expert at plant propagation by cuttings.  I'm pretty sure that some plants do a lot better than others with this method though, and I know cuttings are made from various parts of different plants (stem, leaf, etc.)  So do a little research before relying on cuttings and rooting hormone for any critical propagation.

So...here's all it takes to make your own rooting hormone dip.  Find a healthy, vigorous willow tree and take several cuttings of its branches with plenty of fresh green leaves on them.  Any variety of willow will work.  Where I live, willows leaf out just ahead of almost any other tree in the spring, so if you don't have a willow tree of your own, keep your eyes open in spring to locate some in the wild or in parks.  Look near running water or in swampy areas.  Spring is a good time to propagate things from cuttings too, so it seems fortuitous that willows are conspicuous at this time.  Strip a small pile of leaves from the willow branches and chop them up finely as you would a culinary herb.  Including some of the very soft willow branches in with the leaves is fine.  You should have 2 cups (~ 0.5 liter) of well chopped willow material.  Put it in a large non-reactive container, such as a stoneware bowl.  Cover with 1 gallon (~ 3.8 liters) of boiling water and let it steep overnight, up to 24 hours.  If you can't boil water, room temperature water will do, but let it steep for a full 24 hours.

That's your rooting hormone dip, ready to use as you would any commercial rooting dip.  After it has steeped you can store it, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to two months apparently.  But if you have easy access to willows, it's probably best to make up a fresh batch each time you want to propagate from cuttings.  This willow rooting solution has the added benefit of retarding fungal, bacterial, and viral infections in the cutting.  So you can soak your stems in the willow solution immediately after cutting them if you need to get your pots and soil ready.  Pretty nifty, I'd say, for a product that's free for a pleasant hour or so of effort.

Being able to make your own rooting hormone dip is a great tool for permaculturists, frugal gardeners, and doomers thrivalists alike.  So get out there and get yourself some cuttings, and share some with friends and neighbors!

Other news: honey bee arrival has been delayed by yet another week.  Came home yesterday with fig trees and will get them into their large containers within a few days. Post coming on the figgy details.

35 comments:

Jennifer Montero said...

Fascinating! Is there a specific compound in willow leaves that lends itself to being a natural rooting hormone? Great info, I will definitely try it.

Wendy said...

I've read that honey can be used as a rooting hormone. I haven't tried it, because, like you, I've not really ever needed to propagate plants from cuttings, but like you say, it's a handy skill to have. In fact, I think I want to root my raspberry canes and move some to other parts of the yard. I should try this ;).

Sandy said...

This is HUGE! Thanks so much!

Joanna said...

Great idea, thanks for sharing. Commercial rooting powder is the same as this, short shelf life; in the UK there's a move to get manufacturers to put the date it was made on the packaging, but, of course, they want to put only the packing date, which is not the same at all. In the meantime, there's absolutely no point in buying it, because there's no way to know whether or not it's effective. Quite apart from anything you might think about buying that type of product in the first place.

xJoanna

PS thanks for leaving those really interesting notes about your baking on my blog

Wretha said...

I like the term "thrivalist", thanks! Been looking for a new word that wasn't so negative itself or had negative connotations attached. :)

Wretha

Laura said...

Isn't that fascinating about willow trees? I've also heard that you can simply stick a willow branch in the ground beside a plant you want to "take." I'm sure the technique you outlined would work even better, though.

Kate said...

Jennifer, yes. It's called indolebutyric acid. Please let me know how this works out for you!

Wendy, our raspberry canes rooted themselves. We have a bunch more plants this year than last, including some wild black raspberries. We've even dug them up and are trying to decide where to put them. But I think this is exactly the sort of information to tuck away somewhere for when it's needed.

Sandy, glad it's useful to you.

Joanna, you're welcome. Isn't it funny when the scales fall off the eyes and we recognize that they're trying to sell us a low-quality version of something so totally easy to provide for ourselves? Such as bread, perhaps. I think I left my comment on the wrong post on your blog; sorry. But I guess you figured it out.

Laura, I'd never heard anything at all about willow or any other natural rooting hormone. There's an awful lot of valuable information out there in the great big world. Most of it I know nothing about.

Hathor's Bath said...

Wow, brilliant tip, thanks so much! This will very MUCH come in handy as lavender can often be difficult to propogate - grows poorly from seed, best from cuttings but the rooting compound was something I balked at. I want LOADS of lavender round my house and a friend has offered some cuttings but I wanted to give them their best start.

Kate said...

Wretha! Sorry - I meant to reply to you too. I think I can take credit for the term thrivalist. A post of Wendy's goaded me into coming up with the term. Though someone may have beaten me to it or come up with independently since. I think it embodies what a lot of us are striving for, and it's imprecise enough that it could mean many things to many people.

Hathor's Bath, glad you found it useful. I've had reasonably good luck starting lavender from seed. Good thing I didn't know it was hard to do! Can lavender not be simply divided at the roots? It's a lovely plant but I guess I don't really know much about it...

Hathor's Bath said...

Lavender roots are rather delicate, and the plant grows very very slowly; when it reaches a certain age it can have a tendency to sprawl or develop a woody heart, and then needs to be replaced - the best way to do that is by cutting all the good growth. You are lucky indeed, as the propogation from seed for lavender is usually notoriously bad (something like 5-10%)

So as a friend of mine has a huge bush of lavender and I've been offered cuttings, whoohoo for me!

Kate said...

Hathor's bath, I'm shocked to hear that the germination rate is so low. I put four seeds into four extra cell packs I happened to have last year and got three plants. I think it was "Munstead" lavender. Perhaps that's different from English lavender, with a better germination rate? Thanks for the details about lavender's growth habit. My plants are still very small, but one day I may choose to propagate from cuttings rather than mess around with seeds again.

Anonymous said...

Hathor's Bath: I suppose it depends on the species/variety, but I have never had problems with lavender cuttings - in fact, most of mine are propagated simply by sticking a twig into the soil in the spot I would like it to grow, and so far *knock on wood* I've had 100% success. Those that were not made like this, but rooted in pots instead (my first lavenders ever), are also thriving.

Re. willow rooting hormone: I haven't tried it, but I have heard that you can use chipped willow wood all year, and that it doesn't even have to be fresh. You make it the way Kate says in the blog (boiled water and seeping overnight), but instead of dipping the plant in it you water with it. I got a box full of bits of willow handy in case I should stumble over a plant that's difficult to propagate without hormones.

Mira

PS. Adore this blog! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I forgot! A lavender that has started to grow naked at the foot doesn't necessarily need to be replaced! Just dig it up, dig its hole a bit deeper, and put it down again so the naked parts comes underground! It's a miracle cure for tired old lavenders - but don't try it on anything else! ;)

Mira

Chris and his Lavender said...

Hello there! I didn't know there are natural ways to create rooting hormone. Unfortunately, I don't think willows grow in our climate.

Does the honey thing work? Any kind of honey?

Kate said...

Mira, welcome and thanks for adding to the discussion on lavender. My plants are still very young, but I'll remember your tips for when they get older.

Chris, the first I'd ever heard of honey being used for propagation by cutting was in this 'ere comment section. Even Wendy, who mentioned it, doesn't sound like she's ever tried it. You may need to do some googling. Please let us know if you try it out though.

Chris and his Lavender said...

Hi Kate!

I got so curious about this honey as rooting hormone that I tried it earlier. I experimented with my hydrangea, my petunia and my mums.

I also Googled it. Seems to be a popular method. I'll let you know in a couple of weeks if anything survived.

I'm worried about ants eating my cuttings.

Kate said...

Chris, I might worry about the ants too. Please to update me with your results!

Ga Cowgirl said...

The i..butyric acid in willow is an auxin, I think. And about the honey...honey was one of the first anitbiotics used to help wounds heal. Even sugar will help. It's because rapidly growing tissue of any kind-human, animal or plant-needs carbs to fuel their growth. The honey supplies the carbs, along with natural fungicides that really do work on plants. I am a fan of raw honey but I think any type would help. I would add honey to the water I used with the cuttings. Love your blog, just have never posted. Thanks for all your hard work.

Chris and his Oregano said...

Hi Kate! I tried the honey solution with a cuttings from my petunia, hydrangea and mums. They all look dead to me. ;-) I tried reusing one of the small pots and there were lots of ants, which is what I feared. I have to say this particular experiment is a bust.

Meanwhile, another mums cutting that I just stuck into the soil seems to have rooted already. A hydrangea cutting that I left in water has not rooted, but has remained fresh for about two weeks now.

I'll experiment with honey again soon. Maybe I'll change something up.

Kate said...

Ga Cowgirl, interesting. I knew that honey had been used topically to treat burns and wounds, and that its hygroscopic properties made it antibiotic. But I didn't realize that the sugars played a part in tissue regeneration. Thanks for enlightening me.

Chris, thanks for reporting back on the honey experiment. Personally I would hesitate to use honey for that purpose based on the cost alone. Honey is not cheap, either from a monetary or labor perspective. I'd probably go the willow route just for that reason. But I'm grateful for any knowledge about how things work. So thank you very much for trying it and sharing the results. I hope you'll share any further experimental results.

Chris and his Tomato said...

Hi Kate,

Any idea if willow grows in tropical climates? Commercial rooting hormones are a little expensive for my taste.

Kate said...

Chris, I haven't a clue. Seems like the sort of thing a quick internet search could turn up an answer to.

Mitzi G Burger said...

Hi Kate, this is a truly useful post! Other research revealed that a dissolved aspirin works similarly to a willow tea ... a favourite old bit of wisdom I once heard is that aspirin is made from willow bark, because willows dip themselves into the river to cool down: it gave the old 'witches' the idea of using it to cool down over-heated humans.

I'll be at my river for an evening jog, and this time time I'll be looking for a willow tree.

Kate said...

Mitzi, glad it's useful to you. I've located several willows in our environs as well. I'm tucking the information away until our spring comes around. Hope you succeed with your willow rooting solution if you try it.

Anonymous said...

I almost feel too ashamed to ask these questions about the Colocasia "Elephant Ears" that I have all but killed. Since it belonged to my mother and she recently passed in June ... I'll seem the fool in order to try to save some part of it, at least. First, I over-watered it (saw leaves turning yellow and about 2" of water left in the saucer of the pot). From the Spring months and through December I had been watering it with the same frequency and amounts (now I know better). I removed it separated the roots from the offending soil and let it stay out of any type medium (about 2 days). Let the soil dry out a bit ( can be really cheap). Put the roots back in water for a day or two. Took it out of the water and back into the soil which is now partially dry.
The poor little thing (it was about 18' tall and more than 2’ wide all around). Now, there are very few leaves, the stems are spindley and cannot hold themselves up. Am I a murderer? Can anyone save me from my destructive ways? Any information would be appreciated at this point. I am simply heartbroken over what I have done to my mother’s Beautiful Plant.
P.S. it does have roots that have not rotted away yet.
I too ashamed to send a picture...but will if needed.

Thank you, EA

eam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kate said...

Anon, sorry for the late response. You've likely already gotten results on your question. In general I think if there are healthy roots there's hope for the plant. Overwatering can be as devastating to plants as underwatering. I like to mist my houseplants with a spray bottle filled with tap water. It's hard to overwater in this way, and plants definitely can absorb the water through their leaves. They seem to like it too.

Brian said...

Awesome!!! I've been an avid landscaper for 15 years and have never heard of this. I can't wait to try it out. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!

Jenny said...

1. Willows can grow in subarctic conditions. 2. They contain material similar to that in aspirin, not sure what it is. 3. I stuck willow twigs in the damp ground once, but they didn't take. However, I'm trying this rooting solution now for variegated forsythia and variegated dogwood, and will report back if I remember to. 4. Honey also has antibacterial properties, I've heard, so maybe that helps. 5. This site seems to be a good one!

last2know said...

When taking cuttings, there are a few steps that you should take in addition to using the rooting hormone, of any kind or fashion. In particular putting the cutting in water as soon as they are cut. This prevents air from entering the stem. Secondly, and probably the most important, is making sure that your cutting get oxygenated water. This can be as simple as shaking the container that the cuttings are in daily. A more sophisticated method uses an airstone. I see so many people sticking a cutting in water or dirt with some rooting compund and it either drowns (no oxygen) in the former or desiccates (no roots)in the latter.

Roots need oxygen (leaves/stomata use CO2), and obviously the whole plant needs water.

If you get oxygen to the roots and keep the humidity high and/or mist your cuttings, you will get a very high survival rate. I personally never use rooting hormone until I remove the cutting from the oxygenated water and move to soil. This is when there is even the slightest hint of roots forming. There is additional technique as to where to take a cutting and how many nodes and/or how long it needs to be, but I find that the "hump" to successfully propagating cuttings is keeping them alive for few days after being cut. That is where the getting the cuttings in water after being cut and then oxygenating the water.

If you follow these methods you will be rarely, if ever, disappointed from a cutting not taking instead of excited because a cutting or two took!

Kathy Smith said...

Homemade rooting hormones can be made from natural apple cider vinegar in water or willow water, which is made by soaking 6-8” willow stems in water overnight. Human or animal saliva works even better.

Lindsay said...

Just as many have said before me: "I love this post!" Thank you for the great info! I live in the lowcountry & willows are everywhere on my property. I had been attempting to root some hydrangea clippings, the frugal way (using nothing but my black gold/dirt), but this was the answer! Although they looked like sticks in the mud for a while, I kept the faith & my transplanted clippings began to form leaves a few weeks ago. I've got confidence they will begin to thrive moreso in our dark soil. I'll let you know how many make it thru to next Spring. Thank you again!

Shirley said...

I'll bet that organically grown willow powder purchased from an herbal dealer will work. I'll give it a try! And human/animal saliva? Wow. So spit in a bucket, add honey, willow leaves/extract/etc., and oxygenated water. Sounds like fun. Love your site!

MustLuvPets said...

This is awesome!! I have so many things I'd like to root, just for the heck of it!

Anonymous said...

I saw several things today that said your saliva will do well as a rooting hormone.