Before synthetic rooting hormones were available in home and garden centers, some clever gardeners discovered ways to create rooting hormones using materials they had on hand. Try one of these options if you find yourself out of the commercial variety, or if you feel the need to get your DIY on.
1. Brew Some Willow Tea
Willow tea (or willow water) is made from twigs cut from fast growing willow trees, which have a long history of medicinal use as pain relievers and inflammation reducers.
Willows contain two chemicals important for rooting: indolebutyric acid (IBA) and salicylic acid (SA). IBA promotes root growth, while salicylic acid (think of aspirin) heightens the plant’s defenses.
If you're fortunate enough to have these trees growing on your property, you have access to a potent source of natural rooting hormone.
Step 1 - Collect Branches
This is best done with new growth in the spring, when the young branches have a higher concentration IBA and salicylic acid, although you can use branches cut during any time of the year.
Collect about two cups of young growth. Alternatively, you can collect about three cups of bark or older growth. Don’t bother with dry or dead branches that may have little or no more IBA left.
Step 2 - Cut Branches
These need to be between three and six inches long. Pieces of bark should be smaller, about two to four inches. Place these in a container that can hold a gallon of water.
Step 3 - Soak Them In Hot Water
Boil the gallon of water, pour it over the pieces and allow to steep between 12-24 hours. Strain the mixture and discard willow pieces, then pour some of the tonic into a container along with cuttings you are about to soak. You may want to save the rest to prevent contamination of the entire solution.
Soak the ends of the cuttings, letting them sit for several hours before potting them in a soilless rooting medium. You can buy a bag from the garden center, or make your own potting mix. Discard the used solution and store the remainder in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid. This will keep for about two months in the refrigerator.
2. Aspirin for More than a Headache
The salicylic acid in willow trees has some qualities in common with aspirin, which can be used to get a similar effect.
Step 1 - Crush the aspirin
Use a standard 325 mg uncoated tablet. Pill crushers are available at many pharmacies, but you don’t have to purchase one for this project. Simply place one tablet in a plastic sandwich bag and use a rolling pin to crush it into a fine powder.
Step 2 - Mix with distilled water
Pour one cup of distilled water into a glass jar, and stir in the powder. If you weren’t able to create a fine powder, you can still use it, but it will take longer for it to completely dissolve. If you just don’t have the inclination to crush the pill, you could even drop an uncrushed tablet into the water, stirring occasionally until it is completely dissolved.
Prepare your cuttings and let about one inch of the bottom ends sit in the solution for about two to three hours before planting.
3. Honey Can Do
You don't need your own hive with healthy bees for this project, but it would be nice. Honey has natural antifungal and antiseptic properties that help cuttings remain healthy while developing its root system.
Step 1 - Boil Two Cups of Water
Step 2 - Add honey
After boiling, turn the heat down and bring water to a simmer. Stir two tablespoons of honey into the simmering water to dissolve. Take the pot off the heat and let the solution cool. Place a lid on it while cooling to keep it from contamination.
When fully cooled, prepare cuttings and submerge one to two inches of the bottom stem into the honey solution. Soak for two to three hours before planting in rooting medium. If not using immediately, store in a glass canning jar with a tight-fitting lid for up to two weeks.
4. Rooting Hormone Using Aloe Vera
Many plants are grown for their medicinal purposes, and aloe is one commonly cultivated in the home. It can be used for sunburns or mild skin irritations, and its antiseptic qualities make it a useful ingredient when rooting cuttings, since it acts as a barrier to fungi or bacteria that can damage the cutting.
Step 1 - Extract Gel From Leaf
Cut off one long leaf from a healthy aloe plant. With the pointed end placed closest to you, use the flat end of a spoon to gently apply pressure starting at the pointed tip. Slowly work toward the cut end, continuing to apply pressure as you move up the leaf in order to push the gel out.
Step 2 - Loosen Things Up
The extracted gel will be very viscous. Place it into a cup and stir vigorously to loosen the consistency. Use the back of a spoon to smash any larger pieces. The final product should be watery and flow easily inside the cup. Add one tablespoon of water if the consistency is still too thick.
When ready to plant, dip the cutting into the gel, coating it evenly before potting up.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar has many uses in the home. Its use as a rooting hormone may be surprising to some, especially since vinegar can also be used as a weed killer. In this case, trace elements contained in apple cider vinegar promote plant growth, making it beneficial to cuttings. Simply mix three tablespoons into a gallon of water for a quick liquid rooting hormone.
Cinnamon has properties that aid cuttings during the rooting process by protecting them against diseases caused by bacteria and fungus. Moisten the ends of the cuttings so the powder can adhere to the stem, then pot up in your choice of rooting medium. Try this with some of the old jars of cinnamon that have lost their potency for cooking, but can have a new life in the garden.
Saliva may be an unconventional rooting option, but it’s worth giving a try. If you’re the daring type, you could lick the ends of the stems, or put them in your mouth to wet them. If you’re worried about ingesting potentially harmful bacteria, try a more conventional method and spit into a container (or on your deck), and dip the stem ends into it before planting.