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Making and Using Your Own Rooting Compound

Propagating plants from plant cuttings is the most sure-fire way to have new plants that are the way you want them because they will be genetically identical to the parent plant. A large number of plants can be started from cuttings, too. However, some grow more easily than others and sometimes it helps to have a rooting compound to help the cutting take root.

A lot of companies produce rooting compounds or rooting hormones, but with the growing awareness of chemical-free gardening, many gardeners refuse to use anything that is man-made. Thankfully, you don’t have to. It is easy to make a rooting compound. In fact, there is more than one way to do it. All of these are variations of the first and all of them work in the same way, though not necessarily using the same plant hormones.

Willow Tea

One of the most tried and true rooting compounds is made from willow. Typically, weeping willow is used, but any kind of willow will work. In fact, the strongest rooting compound doesn’t come from weeping willows, it comes from river willows.

One trait that willows have in common is that limbs root easily. In fact, river willow branches, stuck in moist dirt, will usually root readily within a couple of weeks. Many stands of river willows began when an angler cut a green willow stick with a fork in it to prop up his or her pole and simply stuck it in the ground near the river or lake; moist conditions than is all the willow needs to root and grow. The fact that this happens is a clue that this plant contains root hormones. In fact, it contains more than one of them. One of them is a strong analgesic and the tea can also be used for headaches, toothaches, and muscular aches. However, the tea shouldn’t be consumed by anyone who is sensitive to aspirin, since it is actually this substance that gave man the idea for aspirin, the ‘miracle drug’, to begin with. For human consumption, the tea is heated. For plants, it isn’t.

To make the tea for rooting plants, chop up willow leaves, stem tips or buds. These should be chopped fine. The cambium or inner bark can also be used. When you have two cups of the chopped willow, put it in a quart jar and fill the jar full of water, then cap it. Let it sit for at least 24 hours, shaking the jar occasionally. Strain out the leaves and what you are left with is a great rooting compound. Simply put the fresh cutting in the rooting compound until it roots. Any excess can be kept in the jar, refrigerated, and it will keep up to a month or two.

Basil tea

Basil is a member of the mint family and there is perhaps no plant that propagates more easily, by putting a branch into water, in a clear container. Roots usually appear within a week or less. The fact that it roots so easily is a clue that this plant is high in natural rooting hormones.

The tea is made in the same way as with willow tea. However, though willow tea is better known, basil tea is stronger. This means that the amount of the chopped herb is different than with willow. It takes only a cup of chopped, fresh basil per quart of water to make the rooting compound.

Peppermint or thyme tea

Both peppermint and thyme are also mints and related to basil, which is also in the mint family. They work in much the same way. Again, it is the chopped, fresh herb that is used, since drying removes most of the plant hormones and substances (and a lot of the flavor). The amount of herbs to water is the same as with Basil; one cup herbs per quart of water. However, it is best to let the herb sit in the water bath for at least several days to allow more of the rooting compound to be extracted.

Raw honey

Honey is mentioned only because many people have heard of using it to help clippings develop roots. The honey doesn’t actually help do this directly. It has been known for a long time that honey is naturally antiseptic, so when the stem of a cutting is dipped in honey, bacteria that would normally cause the cutting to decompose are killed. Thus, there can be a greater amount of time for rooting without the cutting rotting. In fact, this is one reason honey shouldn’t be added to compost piles since it can kill the bacteria that are responsible for the normal breakdown of vegetation.

How rooting compound works

With the exception of honey, the rooting compound does two things. First, it encourages rooting and stimulates cell growth. Second, and just as importantly, it prevents the cut end of the cutting from closing up and dying. If it closes up and dies, the water, nutrients and rooting compound can’t easily enter the stem. Some people use aspirin in water for exactly this reason. The aspirin doesn’t stimulate cell growth, but it helps to prevent the cutting from closing up and dying, so fluid flow is maintained. Indeed, this is an ages-old trick for keeping cut flowers fresh as long as possible; adding aspirin to the water.

Making homemade rooting compound amounts to simply using what nature has provided. It is cheap, easy and all of the above are not only natural, they also have medicinal value. As an added benefit, most of these also smell good.

Are you ready to make some rooting compound?

What do you think?

16 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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    • You aren’t alone, Kim. A lot of people will pay ridiculously high prices for rooting compound, never realizing that they can make their own. Then again, lots of people don’t know that they can keep cut flowers fresh longer by adding a few aspirins to the water they are in. In fact, it works for the same reason. Salicin, the analgesic I mentioned, keeps the tissues in plants from closing up after they’re cut. This helps them root, or in the case of the flowers, it allows the cut flower to continue getting hydrated, though sooner or later it withers.

  1. I’ve been experimenting with natural ways to root cuttings after hearing the dangers of the commercial rooting hormone powders. I’ve bookmarked this post for future reference because I’m really interested in trying to make basil tea. Thanks.

    • I’m not sure that there are really dangerous with commercial rooting powders, but those that are available around here are nothing more than a dried version of the same stuff that’s found in willow. I’ve always been of a mind that natural is always better than man-produced.

        • Many things that we commonly consume are carcinogenic if enough is consumed. In and of itself, that isn’t saying much, especially since we all have cancer cells, just not active. Still, though rooting powders aren’t consumed, either, I still prefer using what nature has already made in abundance.

          • If one uses them to propagate edible plants then in the end one may be consuming a bit of the hormone. Regardless, when forced to use those powders I’m very careful to wash thoroughly as soon as I’m done with them in case a bit of powder has come into contact with my skin. I’ve noticed that other members of my bonsai club aren’t so careful though.

          • What gives you an advantage is that many people don’t use rooting compounds at all, for any plants. That reminds me. I have a plant that has been propagated and which needs to be planted in the next couple of days. I also have some wandering jew that is currently working, but it has no roots yet.

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