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

How to Propagate a Coastal Coral Tree (Erythrina Caffra)

I’ve been noticing over the last year that Mind Your Dirt receives a great many inquiries about the Coastal Coral tree. Two of my articles on the species gets read daily, and often several times per day. This article covers the species as a whole, and this article discusses when and how to prune erythrina caffra.

I’ve often wondered what it is about erythrina caffra that causes so many people to make their way to my humble doorstep in search of answers. The species itself is indeed a beautiful specimen tree with an amazing sweeping short and stout umbrella like canopy, both alien and breathtaking bright red flowers and powerful and very organic flowing trunk and branches. Just see for yourself, I went out hunting for photogenic specimens just for you. You’re welcome.

Coastal Coral Propagation 04_Coastal Coral Balboa Park
A beautiful smaller specimen flanking the Cabrillo bridge in Balboa Park, San Diego, CA.
Coastal Coral Propagation 05_Coastal Coral Balboa Park_Trunk Detail
On the opposite side of the Cabrillo bridge in Balboa Park sits another specimen. Here is a detail of the trunk.
Coastal Coral Propagation 03_Coastal Coral Balboa Park_Branching Detail
Off of Park Blvd. alongside Balboa Park. This coastal coral is a detail of the feature image above. A lovely example of that broad, sweeping (yet stout) trunk and branching.

So I can see the interest, but why is so much Interwebish (I know, relax) traffic drawn to this subject? Mind your Dirt offers a plethora of stories of equally amazing species all over it’s back pages. What drives this keen interest to the coastal coral tree?

Then it struck me. Several years ago when I was researching ways to propagate the species online, I had a hell of a time finding solid propagation information. A bit here, a smattering over there; but nothing solid and concise. To quote my past self…

“I scoured The Interwebs for hours looking for cutting propagation techniques. To no avail. Then I stumbled upon a PDF put together by some remote horticultural school in some small farm community somewhere in nowhere USA. The farmers were using coastal coral trees as natural fences and had a technique to quickly propagate large six foot branches! It was absolutely perfect and if I could find it again I’d link it here to give these saviors proper credit.”

Only in this day and age would one consider “scouring for hours” to be any form of extensive research, but if you know how to search effectively it shouldn’t take this long to find info on a relatively well known species. So that’s what I’m here to do; share that seemingly lost information so that it can have a new forever-home on The Interwebs and all you amazing people can begin to grow and love this amazing tree as well! How nice of me huh?

I have tried many different methods for propagation of this species (to grow as bonsai stock). Seeds are perfect, but they take a wee bit longer to achieve a beautiful and stately tree in the yard. I tried taking smaller six inch segments of the new green growth thinking that they would root successfully. I believe I tried about twenty or so of those. All of them rotted into nothingness in short order.

The key is to take larger woody branch sections and allow them to dry out before potting them. Without further adieu, here is how to grow a coastal coral tree…

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