The willow tree has a natural solution to getting your roots kick-started. Some directions mention using rooting hormones to help grow plants from cuttings, which I found sold in bottles at the garden shop. They might be effective, but I was not excited to use them based on the health warnings that were on all sides of the bottle. It looked more like bottled Uranium. So with a big old willow tree down the block, and a steady supply of willow branches from the farmers' markets, I decided to try another option out this season.
Willows are known to root quickly in water, and the facilitating substance they contain will also promote root growth in other plants. If you are growing new plants from cuttings, germinating seeds, or if you have recently transplanted something into your planter or garden, you may want to consider 'willow water' as a natural helper.
Basic Way to Make Willow Water:
- Collect small willow branch cuttings, from new growth, cut them up into small lengths (2-3") and place them in a jar.
- Get water to a good boil, then turn off the heat.
- Pour the boiled water over the willow cuttings.
- Allow the willow cuttings to steep for a day or two, until it looks like a weak tea. Discard the cuttings/strain the liquid. You can use the liquid right away or store it in a jar in the fridge for up to a few weeks.
Another related tip that I haven't tried, but would love to hear from anyone who has: I think it's incredible that the willow is responsible for aspirin. Aspirin's acetylsalicylic acid is from salicin, a substance found in the willow's bark. The claim is that very dilute solutions of aspirin in water can also help your plants with their own immunity, much in the same way we take aspirin as a preventative measure for our own bodies. Use it at a ratio of 3 uncoated aspirin to 4 gallons of water, applied every 3 weeks.
The application of this 'aspirin water' is thought to improve a plant's overall immune response to disease and pests. Some farmers have claimed to use this as a foliar spray on tomatoes and other crops by adding a pinch of dish liquid, and have observed noticeable differences in their plants' abilities to thrive and ward off disease.
I'm always excited to find simple, safer and more natural ways to encourage plants. Willow water (and the aspirin tip) almost seem like lore; as a relatively new gardener I have to rely on the stories and advice of the more seasoned gardener as I find my way and separate fact from fiction. For any who have tried these methods, definitely let us know how they have worked out, or if they haven't.
Matt writes a weekly column on plants, flowers and gardening. Feel free to e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org