How to Make Willow Water – Powerful, Natural DIY Rooting Hormone

by | Sep 17, 2020 | Foraging, Latest | 3 comments

Making willow water is an essential part of my plant rooting routine, I use willow water for rooting because it’s free and easy to make, it’s potent, and it’s 100% natural. I like to take cuttings from all kinds of edible or medicinal plants, bushes, and trees. It’s way cheaper to buy just one plant and use it as the mother. I also take cuttings (with the appropriate permission) from established specimens in my local area, because if they’re thriving locally already, then their cuttings should also do well in the same locale. But I do not like the idea of the potential hazards of the chemicals found in commercial synthetic rooting compound. So I make willow tree water instead. This DIY rooting hormone recipe is super simple. 

What is Willow Water?

Willow water is simply a homemade rooting compound that you use to increase the success rate of cuttings and increase the growth and strength of roots of cuttings and plants. Willow water is the product of a simple process that extracts the incredibly potent root stimulating compounds from the willow wood.

Indolebutyric acid (IBA) is a root-stimulating hormone found naturally in plants, but willow has a remarkably high concentration of this valuable hormone, particularly in first-year growth. Older growth still has plenty of IBA, but not as much as new growth, which is still actively growing. 

Salicylic acid, which shares many of the pain-relieving properties of Aspirin, is the second substance that makes willow water such an amazing natural rooting compound. Salicylic acid, in the simplest terms, protects against disease. This plant hormone is vital to the process of systemic acquired resistance. This process is where the plant initiates a defense response to pathogens. Interestingly, it can also trigger the same response in nearby plants. These powerful defense and protection properties are why salicylic acid is so beneficial for cuttings. Fresh cuttings are vulnerable to fungi and pathogens, so willow water with its high concentration of salicylic acid, gives cuttings the best chance of survival during propagation.

How to Make Willow Water – Powerful, Natural DIY Rooting Hormone


There are a couple of methods for making willow water, varying from soaking in cold water for six weeks or in boiling water for a couple of days. I’ve tried a number of different methods, and the one below is the one I’ve found to be most effective. 

Prep Time
10 minutes
Active Time
20 minutes
Additional Time
1 day
Total Time
1 day 30 minutes

Materials

  • Sharp knife or pruning shears
  • Jar with a tight-fitting lid
  • Sieve or colander
  • Kettle

Instructions

Step 1: Gather Your Willow

For the strongest willow water, you need to gather first-year twigs from any species of willow (Salix spp.)

You can identify first-year growth easily because it has green or yellow bark, whereas older growth has grey or brown bark. Collect enough twigs to lightly fill a small jar. 

Step 2: Prep the Willow Twigs

Strip the twigs and compost the leaves you remove. Cut the twigs into 1 inch pieces and place in a heat-proof jar. Cutting the willow twigs into short pieces ensures you extract the most indolebutyric acid and salicylic acid in the quickest time for the most powerful homemade rooting hormone. 

Step 3: Steep the Willow Twigs

Boil water and, once boiled, pour over the twigs, filling the jar. Put the lid on the jar and leave the “tea” to steep for at least 24 hours. I leave mine for 48 hours, just to be sure I’ve extracted as much willow rooting hormone as possible.  

Step 4: Strain and Store

After the twigs have finished steeping, strain the tea and discard or preferably compost the twigs. Store the liquid in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the fridge for up to two months. 

PRO TIP

You can freeze the willow water in ice-cube trays and defrost as-needed

 

How to Use Willow Water

It’s really easy to use willow water. If you’re going to soak your cuttings before you plant, like I suggest for propagating elderberry cuttings, then simply soak your cuttings in willow water instead of regular water. Then, before you plant the cuttings, water the potting medium with the willow water. I’d recommend watering your cuttings twice more with the willow water, then switching to regular water.  

See? Making a Homemade Root Starter is EASY!

Willow water is such an effective DIY rooting compound and it’s safe – there are no synthetic and potentially harmful chemicals to leach into your soil or your crops. Plus, it’s free – willow is readily available almost anywhere, Willow water stores well and takes minimal effort to prepare, and will protect your cuttings from fungi and pathogens, and encourage them to quickly develop strong roots. 

FAQs

What is willow water good for?

Willow water is a natural homemade rooting compound that encourages strong, vigorous root growth for cuttings, seedlings, and even established plants. It also protects against fungi and diseases.

Does willow water work?

Yes! In my experience, willow water works better than commercial rooting compounds, The science of how willow water works is well-documented, and growers around the world swear by it.

Does aspirin work as a rooting hormone?

No. Some people think that salicylic acid is the same as aspirin, which is not true, although they do share many of the same properties. Additionally, salicylic acid is not the rooting hormone in willow, indolebutyric acid is. So aspirin won’t work as a rooting hormone. However, because of its similarity to salicylic acid, it may help to protect cuttings and seedlings against fungi and pathogens.

Does willow bark powder work the same as rooting hormone?

Yes! If you don’t have time or access to willow to make willow water, willow bark powder is a great alternative. I like this one because it’s 100% natural and good value. And remember, it’s a great natural painkiller, too. (you can read about using willow bark powder as a painkiller here). To use it as a natural rooting hormone, soak your cuttings in water for 24-48 hours and fully hydrate them. Then coat the root end of the cuttings in the willow bark powder before planting in the potting medium.

Does cinnamon work as rooting hormone?

Yes. Cinnamon does work as a natural rooting hormone. Follow the same method as using willow bark powder. Cinnamon is a good choice for DIY rooting compound if you’re in a pinch and don’t have willow bark powder or willow water.

Katy Willis

Written by Katy Willis

Katy is a life-long homesteader and home herbalist. She is passionate about living naturally, growing food, keeping livestock, foraging, and making and using herbal remedies. She's been writing and editing professionally for over a decade, and she's been living green her entire life. She firmly believes that every small green change we make has a huge impact. Making greener choices is better for your bank balance, your health, and the planet.

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3 Comments

  1. Vladka

    Propagating elderberry cuttings has been on my “to-do list” for some time. I didn’t know that I need to gather some willow first… Great article, thanks for sharing

    Reply
  2. Tessa

    This is the most amazing thing, isn’t it? Nature is just cool. Thank you for the reminder that I need to get down to the creek and get some more willow. I just took some rose cuttings and I’m late doing the elder berries. We’re moving homesteads again and I want to be sure to take cutting from all my favorites! This willow water will really help – thank you!

    Reply
    • Katy Willis

      You’re definitely not too late for elderberry cuttings. In my experience, it’s actually best to water until late fall or through into mid-winter when the tree/bush starts to go dormant. Then it’s more likely to put its energy into producing a large, strong root system. And yes, willow water will definitely help! 🙂 Good luck with the move.

      Reply

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