Homemade willow rooting compound

Willow sticks for making willow tea - a homemade hormone rooting compound.

Willow sticks for making willow tea – a homemade hormone rooting compound.

I had often heard that you can make your own hormone rooting compound from Willow (salix sp.) so after we had coppiced our willow I made sure I had enough left over for a few experiments. The first experiment was willow rooting compound.

Before the use of synthetic rooting hormone compounds gardeners would make a willow tea to increase the likelihood of their cuttings growing (strike rate). It turns out that what we might call folklore has some scientific backing as willow steeped in water releases indolebutyric acid – a hormone that stimulates root growth, and salicylic acid which triggers the plants defenses and helps protect the plant from pathogens. Pretty cool eh?

Now I have always been pretty useless at growing box (buxus sp.) from cuttings. It’s something that I’ve tried time after time. After all have you seen the price of decent sized box plant in nurseries? To me it makes sense to try and propagate them from plants you already have.

After a bit of research I decided to combine the bits of many different willow tea recipes:

Homemade rooting hormone instructions

My box cuttings with homemade willow tea root hormone compound.

My box cuttings with homemade willow tea root hormone compound.

  1. You’ll need a handful of sticks of willow, preferably the ends of the branch as that’s where the growing hormones are. Don’t use dead branches,
  2. Take off all the leaves and cut the sticks into short pieces (so that they’ll fit in your jar),
  3. Put the sticks into a heatproof container with a lid I used an old glass jar,
  4. Fill the jar with hot water so the water covers the sticks- be careful if you are using a glass jar you don’t want the glass to explode if the water is too hot,
  5. Seal and label the jar,
  6. Leave for at least 24 hours and up to two months – I went about a week before I moved onto the next step,
  7. Remove the willow while retaining the willow water,
  8. Put your cuttings in the willow water to drink it overnight,
  9. Plant your cuttings,
  10. Use the rest of the willow water to water the cuttings in if you wish
  11. Look after the plants in the usual way

They grew well and I am pleased with the result.

Perhaps you are wondering why a forest gardener is bothering with buxus sempervirens at all, after all it’s slow growing so I probably won’t be around to harvest the wood, doesn’t do much for biodiversity and you certainly can’t eat it. Truth be told I am also a sucker for a formal knot garden and a bit of ornamental topiary and I hope there will be a little space in my garden for those too.

The second experiment? Artists Charcoal. That’s another story.

Willow coppice

Bowles Hybrid Willow Year 1

Bowles Hybrid Willow before coppicing

It seems counterintuitive to coppice our willow (Salix spp.) in it’s first year of growing, but coppice it we must! Cutting it back at the end of the first year will encourage multiple shoots to form at the base. Which means that in years to come we will have a denser screen and more willow biomass. That’s the theory at least.

We planted the 500 cm lengths of Bowles Hybrid willow back in December 2011 for a couple of reasons. Firstly to hide the very ugly farm buildings just behind our home, and also as a biomass crop to keep us self-sufficient in wood for heating in later years.

The willow around the farm buildings grew at a tremendous rate, we were really impressed, reaching over 2.5 meters in their first year! The willow in the field did less well. Mainly because we didn’t keep the grass around the small stems down. We think the root competition combined with the grass shading out the young plants were the main causes.

Bowles Hybrid Willow Year One

Bowles Hybrid Willow harvest

Now we have a lot of willow cuttings. We are going to use them in several ways;

  • to fill in any gaps where the original willow failed to take,
  • to extend our biomass plot,
  • to make a rooting hormone liquid,
  • to experiment with making artists charcoal, and if I have time
  • to practice basketry making with.

Nice! Don’t you just love willow!

Planting Willow

We are really eager to plant trees, but also want to observe and get to know the land before we really go ahead and do anything. The thing is we have these ugly agricultural buildings and “kennels” close to our living space that it would be great to simply hide.

One tree species we know we’ll want a lot of is Willow (Salix spp). It is such a brilliant tree. Great for wildlife, basketry, as a windbreak and wood-fuel crop to name just a few uses. So as a hiding tactic Willow was an obvious choice as it is easy to establish, grows quickly, and we can take cuttings from it (next year) if we also want to plant it elsewhere on the land.

The only problem was that willow is generally cut in the Winter. Patience, as they say, is a virtue. As soon as Winter was deemed to have started, we placed our order for 1 foot high willow cuttings.

Willow for basketry

Beautiful Willow for basketry

A few days after they arrived we had planted all 560 stems of mainly Bowles Hybrid but also some beautiful basketry varieties including:

  • Salix triandra – Black Maul
  • Salix daphandoides
  • Salix alba
  • Salix purpurea
  • Salix viminalis

I can’t wait to start experimenting with these colours.

Clearing space for the Willow

Craig clearing space for the Willow

Planting took longer than expected as there was more clearing to do than we originally thought. I’m sure there will be a point where we have found all of the discarded wood, plastic guttering, worn tyres and various bits of farming paraphernalia in the long grass. Pretty much everything that we have found so far has been useful though – even if it’s just to keep other things weighed down.

That’s 561 trees planted now and that makes us very happy.