When growing plants and producing food is on the to-do list, inevitably starting new plants is going to become a priority, too. What a lot of newcomers don’t realize is that it is often very easy to take an existing plant and replicate it many times over with clippings and cuttings.

For example, rather than pick basil leaves to make that pesto, it’s much more productive to clip its branches back just above a pair of leaves. Not only will the original basil plant provide more basil leaves via new growth, but the clipped branch can be put into water to establish its own roots. Then, you’ll have two basil plants!

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This spontaneous rooting is very common for herbaceous plants, such as culinary herbs and even tomato plants. That right! Those pruned tomato suckers can often become tomato plants all on there own. The same can be done with lots of trees as well. Cuttings from some, like figs, are very happy to become new trees, and with a little finesse, others will work as well. Often that finesse is a rooting hormone.

Rooting Hormone

More or less, rooting hormone is a synthetic version of an element in plants called auxin. Auxin occurs in all plants and is a weak form of indole acetic acid. The acid stimulates cell growth and speeds up root formation. Commercially, we can buy synthetic (not organic) products that will produce the same stimulation, and these come in gels, powders, and liquids.

However, they are often not necessary at all. For example, in the case of the basil clipping and tomato sucker, it’s typical enough just to give the plant parts the opportunity to grow again. A jar or a bottle full of water and a couple of weeks will often provide fresh roots to put in the soil. With woody stems, however, it’s more than likely necessary to provide some additional help.

Natural Options: Protection

Natural options aren’t always there to promote root growth. Sometimes the goal is more about protecting the cutting until it has a chance to produce its own roots. With that in mind, many natural rooting aids are classified as such because they provide protection from bacterial and fungal issues that might doom the cutting before it can grow roots.

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  • Aloe vera – Obviously, aloe vera is a gel, and it has compounds within it that kill bacteria and fungus, giving the cutting a better chance of survival. Cover the bottom inch with aloe vera gel.
  • Cinnamon – A powder option, cinnamon has similar anti-fungal and anti-bacteria powers as aloe vera. While it won’t stimulate root growth, it will protect the cutting so that it has a better opportunity to survive until it can produce roots. Cover the bottom inch with powdered cinnamon.

Natural Options: Root Stimulation

When trying to root woody cuttings, especially hardwood cuttings, it may be necessary to provide something that will actively encourage cells to get to work. In that case, there are some natural options to turn to before going chemical. These might not be auxin, but they will help roots to get going more quickly.

  • Human saliva – While human saliva doesn’t have auxin, it does have epidermal growth factor, a protein that encourages cells to grow. So, spitting on the bottom inch of the cutting can inspire it to form new roots and become a new plant.
  • Willow water – The premier natural root simulator is willow water, or willow tea. The bark of willow trees has both anti-fungal properties and a type of acid (Indolebutyric acid) that works as a rooting hormone. It is the number one option for naturally rooting cuttings.

How to Make Willow Water

In the springtime, when new growth is forming on the willow tree, trim about four inches off the green ends of branches. Cut these into smaller pieces, and fill the bottom third of a jar with them. Fill the remainder of the jar with warm water. Let this steep in a dark place for at least a couple of days. Then, it’s ready to use.

Dip the bottom of the cuttings in the willow water before putting them in a rooting medium, a mixture of equal parts coarse sand, peat moss (or coconut coir) and perlite. Having good drainage in the rooting medium helps to protect the cutting from rotting, and low fertility will stimulate root growth as opposed to leaf growth. Different plants take different amounts of time to root, but a gentle tug at the stem will let you know when roots have formed.

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