DIY Natural Rooting Hormone: Willow Water

If you’re anything like me and really love to discover new plant species by taking small clippings from their host plants you’ve most likely run into the burning need for rooting compounds. Not every plant can be simply rooted by sticking it into a glass of water. In fact, most can’t.

Now, you can purchase some hormones from The Interwebs and pay for shipping or you can go to your local marijuana… er…I mean hydroponics supply store to procure the magical tincture.

Side note: I feel I’m the only customer in the hydroponics store that’s buying supplies for plants and veggies that you don’t smoke. The aisles are filled with listless dreadlocked hippies slowly dolling out slurred sentences as they look for green cubes and grow lights. You’re not fooling anyone stoner. I like to keep my habits more private and not wear them around as fashion accessories. To each his own. However, there are some inherent dangers when dealing with white people having dreadlocks:

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 01_The Dangers of White People with Dreadlocks

I feel like this joke about people with dreadlocks may be cutting into a large portion of my readership. Sustainable organic gardening and permaculture is their bread and butter. Therefore, I’d like to clarify that this is all done in humor and I have never had any problems letting anyone’s freak-flag fly! Soar into the heavens my little unkempt homies! Like the majestic penguin.

As usual, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, rooting compounds.

You can indeed spend all this paper money (Twenty five of paper and six of coin!) on some unknown chemical mixture and dip away! Or, you can make a batch of your own natural rooting hormone at home in just a day or two. Witchcraft you say? Not exactly…

Some Science in your face!

You see plants contain certain substances that help them form new growth and save off bacteria, infection and fungi. The mighty willow just happens to be loaded with these substances which is why you can basically stick a freshly trimmed branch into the ground and it will grow into a new tree in short order.

Salicylic and Indolebutyric acids more specifically. They really help to speed up the rooting process.

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 02_Salicylic Acid and Indolebutyric Acid Chemical Structures
The chemical structures of Salicylic and Indolebutyric acids

“But, them there chemicals are all trapped in the tree man” you say? I can dig it, but there is a simple way to leech these acids out simply by soaking the clippings!

 The Witches Brew:

It doesn’t get any easier than this folks! All you need is a willow tree, or access to one. Weeping willow contains the highest levels of these chemicals by the by. So let’s get started making some homemade rooting hormone!

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 04_Willow tree by the water feature
Here’s a detail of my willow tree. Gracefully sweeping my lovely little babbling brook. I like to trim off the tips that dangle in the water for a cleaner look which gives me exactly what I need for my willow water!

You want to fresh green new growth. The freshest and greenest you can get. That’s where all the magic hides.

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 05_New green growth on Willow tree

You’ll only need a handful, so don’t get to greedy. In this tutorial, we’ll be making a Ball jar’s worth so adjust your needs accordingly if you want to make a large batch. The ratio of willow to water is 1:2.

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 06_Cut Willow branches

Clip off the tips of the branches and then strip off all the leaves and put them into the compost bin. Then take those thin little shoots and cut them into smaller one inch segments.

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 07_Willow leaves removed and stems cut into one inch segments

Fill up your jar one third of the way with the willow and then top it off with boiling water.

Pop the lid on and let it sit for at least 24 hours. For a stronger batch, you can put the jar in the sun and let it steep for a few days.

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 010_Willow water steeping in the sun

When it’s done to your liking, strain out the willow and store the water in a cool dark place. In a cupboard it will last for about two weeks, in the fridge, it’ll last about a month. Super simple isn’t it?!

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 011_Willow water steeping in the sun detail

How to use the Willow Water:

This will be a little different than your usual overpriced rooting hormone.

  • For cuttings that can be rooted in water you can use a 50/50 ratio of willow water to regular water and leave it on a North-facing window sill to keep algae growth down. This will speed up the rooting process. You can then plant the clipping once roots have been established.
  • For hardwood cuttings or plants that are a bit more difficult to propagate, you’ll want to soak the cutting in full strength willow water for several hours so that the nutrients can be taken up into the cutting and then plant it in well draining soil.
  • for new plantings of young plants, use full strength willow water for the first few waterings to help give a boost to aid in the plant becoming established in its new home. After that, use regular water.
  • If an established plant undergoes stress or damage, use willow water to help give it that little extra boost.

There you have it folks! Simple, fast and 100% free and natural. It doesn’t get any better than that! And seeing as willows are all over the place, it should be relatively easy to find one that doesn’t mind a little trimming. I’d love to hear some success stories if you give this a try, so keep me posted on your experiments with mad science…er, I mean botany.

Willow Water Rooting Hormone 012_Willow water outro image

22 Replies to “DIY Natural Rooting Hormone: Willow Water”

    1. I’d imagine Ireland has many willow trees. And every little boost helps when you’re propagating or transplanting. Let me know how it goes! I’m doing a side by side comparison to test the efficacy and posting the results on my social media spots. So if you’re in the Instagram or Facebook neck of the woods, come find Mind Your Dirt!

  1. This is an interesting tip! I’ll be sure to try it next time I want to root a cutting. Unfortunately, two big ol’ willow trees on the next block were cut down this summer when one of them shed a limb on the resident’s car. Btw, if you read the small print under the dreadlock murderer’s pic, it says he killed his girlfriend with his “gridlocks.” Gridlock kills me, too.

    1. It must be some serious traffic to kill a girl with gridlock! Living in SoCal, I can understand. Must’ve been some form of autocorrect on the writers part. That, or Portland truly is weird.

      I’m sure you can find another willow source nearby. Those puppies are all over the place. You can also easily pot a clipping and grow it at home for this purpose. Those same chemicals make it a cinch to propagate willow branches.

  2. Great post James. I like to start takinf hardwood cuttings at this stage of the year but am lacking rooting hormone. Also lacking a willow tree too… read about using willow water in a bonsai book years ago. The author had managed to grow roots on a normal tree branch that was a couple of inches thick!

    1. I’ve read that cinnamon can also be used as a rooting compound though I’ve never tried it. Today I pruned my silver sheen bush pretty heavily. I’m saving some larger branches to put this willow water to the hardwood test. I’ll let you know how that goes!

  3. As someone who does smoke pot and considers herself to be an intelligent, well-adjusted, responsible adult… Yes you are judging. Very embarrassingly so. Adding a comment at the end of a bunch of stereotypes does not change that. It’s just like saying “I’m not racist but…”
    Your information is useful but you are unbelievably naive.

    1. I’m not saying that YOU don’t know what you’re talking about, but I am saying that I don’t know what you are talking about. Are you referring to the dreadlocks hippy segway perchance? If so, no idea where you see naivete in that joke.

      Maybe take a few more puffs and chill a bit? For all intent and purposes, I AM a hippy who smells of earth and smokes pot. So, easy big fella.

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