Happiest of New Years to you! The snow is deep now, like a snuggly winter blanket for the garden, allowing us gardeners to dream of the coming season. It's time already for such things as seed catalogs, endless garden plot maps and reviewing last year's garden journal. I wanted to write about rooting plants today, as I recently learned a new process for success. The willow tree is naturally prolific in the wild, many people find them somewhat invasive. There is a way to utilize these plants to promote growth in your cuttings, plant starts and the garden itself. The willow tree possesses natural rooting hormones and can be utilized for such uses.
The process is quite simple, essentially like making tea. Trim a green branch that is about the width of a pencil and smash it with a hammer to expose the tender inside. Cut the smashed branch into one inch sections and drop them in boiling water. Turn off the heat as soon as you drop the willow sections in the water and let them steep until the "tea" is cooled. Strain the water and you have a powerful rooting compound. To use simply dip the end of a 4 inch cutting, with the bottom leaves removed, into the willow water and place in a container. Cuttings can be rooted in water or soil. If water is your preferred method, steer away from clear glass containers as the light that comes through the glass can slow root growth. Another way around this is to wrap a bag or cloth around the jar to keep the light out. This powerful root accelerant can be used for young transplants to encourage root growth as well!
I am using this method, for the first time, on these cold winter days to root rosemary and bay trees for the coming season. Both of these herbs are tender perennials and will not survive winters outside here in Minnesota, so they come inside and spend the winter in my only appropriate south facing window. Currently, my rosemary and bay tree look a little "Dr. Seussian" as they are are the yearly donors for the next season's crop. Both of my rosemary and bay plants have survived for 5 years now and seem to thrive as a result of their yearly pruning. I have rooted both of these plants in the past using no rooting medium. The success rate was not as high as I would have liked, and in fact last year 25% of the cuttings did not take.
Why should you root plants? First, plants are often expensive to replace and starting your own in the midst of the winter's chilly grip allows the fervent gardener to play with plants in a way that feels like cheating winter! If the cuttings are taken from a healthy plant, you are making clones that perhaps are more suited to the environment in which they will thrive. Plants also make great gifts and when edible provide gifts to the gardener beyond their intrinsic beauty.
I will be tracking the progress of my little herb forest and report back! In the meantime, dream wildly of your garden for the coming season! See you in the backyard!