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YES! But How? Propagating Plants

I’d like to start a garden, but buying plants can be expensive. I’ve read of propagating cuttings using rooting ­hormones. Is there a natural way to propagate?

Willow branches, photo by Mirona Iliescu

Willow branches can be used to naturally propagate plants.

Photo by Mirona Iliescu.

There is—many organic gardeners suggest using “willow water” instead of commercial rooting hormone to get cuttings started. Studies suggest that it works because of a synergistic combination in willows of a growth hormone and salicylic acid.

To make willow water, collect new growth from willow branches, cut into small pieces, immerse in warm water, and soak for at least 24 hours.

There are encyclopedias describing the best propagation methods for individual plant species, but here’s the basic process for the casual gardener. Morning, when plants are “rested,” is a good time to take cuttings.

Take a clipping 4-6” long from the plant by cutting less than an inch below a node (where the leaf attaches to the stem). Remove the leaves from the bottom two nodes of the clipping, and soak the stem in the willow water for an hour.

Plant your cutting in soil that is light enough to allow easy root growth. (A recipe for making your own sterile soil mix is given below.) Place the cuttings in a spot with natural light, and cover them with plastic or an upside-down jar to keep the soil moist.

In a few weeks, when the roots have grown, you will have new plants for free.


Caitlin BattersbyCaitlin Battersby wrote this article for Can Animals Save Us?, the Spring 2011 issue of YES! Magazine. Caitlin is an editorial intern at YES!

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