Growing plants from cuttings is one of the easiest and most satisfying ways to propagate your plants. Even better, using rooting hormones for your cuttings almost ensures successful root growth. Read on to learn more about these hormones, and how to use them.
Propagating from Cuttings
Did you know that propagating plant from cuttings allows you to grow a plant that’s nearly identical to the mother plant? It’s a great way to continue a healthy line of plants; or to preserve and share a plant with lots of sentimental meaning.
So many gardeners have a plant or two enshrined in memory. The roses your grandfather grew in his backyard, the lavender plant your sister gave you as a wedding gift. These mean far more to us than just being another pretty plant.
Maybe you want to propagate that lavender plant for you sister, now that she’s walking down the aisle? Or perhaps you want to offer all your cousins a rose from grandpa’s garden?
When my grandparents died, my parents inherited both their roses and their huge rubber tree plant. With a bit of rooting hormone and some patience, they were able to propagate and share the plants that meant so much to us as children.
Even now, we know that the rubber tree plant we adored as kids is growing tall in my parent’s greenhouse, with half a dozen baby plants beside it.
It’s thrilling to have a plant that connects you back to the gardens of your childhood. Even better, it’s a joy to be able to give living plants to friends and neighbors. Rooting hormones allow you to cultivate your plants, propagate them, and spread their offspring far and wide.
What are Rooting Hormones?
The powder you use to propagate cuttings is a concentrated plant hormone that encourages growth in a variety of ways.
Rooting hormones don’t just cause a plant to root: they encourage a plant to reexamine its environment and adapt. For cuttings from healthy mother-plants, rooting is just the natural next step. These hormones are primarily made up of auxin hormones, which are the primary plant hormones that control growth and life cycles.
How do Rooting Hormones Work?
When you take a cutting from a healthy plant, that cutting really wants to keep on living. All it needs is the right environment to thrive. Rooting hormones help to provide that environment by increasing new cell growth. As a result, the cutting is able to quickly adjust to its new environment.
Auxins are adaptable hormones that speed up new cell growth, so the cutting can start taking in nutrients from its environment quickly. To put it simply, rooting hormones are like little therapists or cheerleaders: they help your little cutting realize that it really is strong enough to become its own plant.
How to Use Auxin to Propagate Cuttings
Rooting hormones are ridiculously easy to use. All you have to do is take a clean cutting from a healthy plant, dip the cut end in rooting hormone, and then set the cutting in water or soil.
The auxins will encourage your cutting to replace its stem cells with undifferentiated cells. These undifferentiated cells can quickly adjust to the needs of the cutting. They’ll soon realize that what the plant really needs are roots, so the undifferentiated cells turn into root cells.
Soon, your tender cutting is a healthy young plant with roots all its own.
Too Much of a Good Thing Can be Bad
When you’re using rooting hormone, moderation is essential. More rooting hormone doesn’t mean more roots. As mentioned, auxin reverses the cell differentiation, which allows the plant to readjust to new circumstances.
If you use too much of it, the plant may get overwhelmed and forget to start differentiating again. What that means is that the cutting won’t ever learn to make its roots. It’ll just sit there in its pot with undifferentiated stem cells, drowning in indecision.
Dip the cutting in rooting hormone with a light hand: too little is better than too much. Try using natural, DIY options with moderate auxin levels before investing in commercial powders.
There are quite a few natural ways to produce at home auxin supplements. In fact, they’re products you already have right at home, so they’re easy to try without making a big investment.
Natural Rooting Hormones For Your Cuttings
I’m a big fan of choosing the natural option over the laboratory one, and the DIY option over the commercialized choice. Natural products tend to be gentler on your plants and safer to use. Natural rooting powders are also much less likely to overdose your cutting on auxins.
If you’re a fan of the eco-friendly, sustainable path too, there are a few great ways to DIY an effective, easy-to-use rooting hormone for your cuttings.
Did you know that ground cinnamon is full of auxins? In fact, it’s a consistently effective rooting hormone for almost every variety of cutting. You only need one gentle application of ground Ceylon cinnamon to stimulate root growth.
Pour a small spoonful into a dish and dip the damp end of a cutting into the cinnamon. Then, plant the stems in fresh soil.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Mix a teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar into 5-6 cups of spring, or filtered tap, water. Then, dip the end of your cutting into the solution and plant it in soil.
Apple cider vinegar gives less of an auxin boost than cinnamon, but it’s a great, gentle way to give your cuttings the boost they need to thrive.
Willow water is the most powerful natural rooting solution you can make for your cuttings. In fact, willow water consistently performs as well—or better than—commercial options.
It’s a bit of a process compared to the other natural rooting compounds, but if you have a hard-to-root cutting, willow water is your best choice.
How to Make Willow Water for Rooting Plants
First, cut a few new shoots from a willow tree. Ideally, they should be fresh shoots from a living tree, but if you don’t have access to one, you can buy dried willow shoots at many natural food stores or online.
When you have your shoots, slice them into 1-inch pieces and steep them in water. You need to let the willow pieces steep for about 3-5 days to brew a strong tea.
After 3-5 days, dip your fresh cuttings into the solution just before planting them. You can store your willow tea in the freezer for a few weeks after making it, but be certain to bring it up to room temperature before dipping cuttings in the solution.
Stinging Nettle and Comfrey Root
If you don’t have access to willow, try making a nettle or comfrey root tea instead. They’re effective alternatives to willow.
Dipping a cutting in raw honey can also help a plant root. Honey is a natural antiseptic and anti-fungal agent. Try dipping the cutting into 1 part honey and 5 parts water, then planting it in soil. Plants dipped in honey tend to root more slowly than other natural options, but they’ll be healthy, sturdy plants.
You can also add a half teaspoon of honey to willow water to add an extra rooting boost to your solution.
Yes, really! I know it sounds a little gross, but saliva is a natural root enhancer. If you’re propagating non-poisonous plants with cuttings, give the end a lick before tucking it into the soil.
Some gardeners swear that spit is the best rooting solution available, and it’s universally available! You can also spit (or have your kids spit) into a small cup and dip the ends of plant cuttings into the saliva before planting. Can’t hurt to give it a try.
Garden Store Options
Do you want to skip the DIY options and just run to the local greenhouse for a quality rooting compound?
That’s absolutely okay: sometimes you just want to buy something quick and easy that’s sure to work. Look specifically for rooting powders, as they’re the most shelf-stable and easy to use.
If you buy a commercial rooting hormone, know that it’s not likely to be organic. Commerical rooting hormones are a chemical menagerie of unpronounceable ingredients. Wear gloves while using them, and keep your hands safely away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
As with cinnamon, simply dip the edge of the cutting lightly into the powder and plant it in soil. These commercial rooting hormones will help your plants produce roots more quickly than most DIY options. In fact, your cutting could begin sprouting roots as early as a few days after planting.
Just remember that fast roots aren’t always healthy roots. Give the cutting time to settle, and don’t rush it.
Growing with Rooting Hormones
While some plants are able to easily transition from cutting to young plant, others need a bit of extra support and guidance. Natural rooting compounds are the ideal way to gently encourage healthy, sustainable growth in your cuttings.
Whether you want to try the full-on DIY method and steep willow stalks in spring water, or just like the ends of your cuttings before plopping them into the soil, adding a bit of rooting support will improve your results.
There’s nothing worse than a row full of cuttings that wither away on the windowsill. By adding natural support, you can help your young plants get the best start in life.