I wonder, sometimes, about the chemicals in some of the commercially available rooting hormones. With all the crazy mix of artificial chemicals that is around us all of the time, it seems unwise to add another to our food plants at Ligaya Garden.
Over the years, I’ve tried Willow Water as an alternative and can say that it works well as a stimulant to root growth and plant health when applied to cuttings and seeds.
Making Willow Water is dead easy. The compounds that we want are at their highest levels in the newest areas of growth so what you need is a big handful of the growing tips or fresh, green bark from the youngest twigs that you can get. Any variety of Willow (Salix genus) will work.
Chop them fairly finely and add them to a jar. Cover the bark with rainwater, put on the lid and give the jar a good shake.
Now, the hard part. You’ve got to let it sit for a couple of weeks so that the chemicals in the bark can leach out into the water. I give it a shake every couple of days just to speed things along. See, I told you this was the hard part.
After a two weeks to a month, pour the mix through a strainer and bottle the water. Compost the woody material. Anything like this, I keep in the front of the fridge to preserve it for longer.
You’ll see all kinds of modifications to this basic process if you look for it online but this is really all there is to it.
The green bark and growing tips of Willow branches contains two compounds that we are interested in – Indolebutyric acid (IBA) and Salicylic acid (SA)
IBA stimulates root growth and SA is involved in a plant’s defence mechanisms, it gets used in triggering defence responses in the whole plant when one part is damaged.
You can see how important these two compounds are for us when we are trying to strike cuttings. The biggest problems during that process are fungal and bacterial attack, so having something that helps the cutting defend itself is a huge advantage while wounds heal and roots are formed.
Commercial rooting hormone contains Indole-3-butyric acid which a concentrated, synthetic version of the hormone occurring naturally in Willow bark, as well as chemical that serves as a fungucide.
‘Salicylic Acid’ may sound familiar to many of you. It is a part of the amazing pain killer and blood thinner, Aspirin. Aspirin or ‘acetylsalicyclic acid’ goes through chemical processes to make it more effective (or at least, easier to make in industrial quantities) but it is harsh on stomach linings and has been known to cause perforations. As you can see, the name is longer and that usually means that someone’s fiddled with the original.
The compound extracted from Willow bark is a gentler version that is, in my experience, just as powerful as its factory made counterpart.
So, if making Willow Water gives you a headache, take a swig of it and it will go away.