July 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

Gardening

Willow water tea recipe aids the rooting process

Willow branches can help get plants' roots growing for transplanting. (Stock Xchange)

Roses are surprisingly easy to propagate. Many years ago, a friend gave me a tiny start of the heirloom climber the Seven Sisters that she rooted in a glass of water on the window of her kitchen sink. I planted it where our rabbit hutch once stood, and it thrived. Sadly, I failed to take a cutting when we moved, and the new owner replaced it with grass. The antique Seven Sisters is no longer available commercially.

I wonít make that mistake when I leave my country cottage. This summer, Iím rooting cuttings from all my treasured Griffith Buck roses to pass along to relatives and friends. While I may not have room to grow them in my new digs, Iíll know where to go to visit them.

To speed the process along, Iím going to use a homemade potion of willow water tea because there are hormones in willows that stimulate rooting of other plants.

You can buy rooting hormone, but itís pricey and there is no guarantee it will work. If fact, researchers tell us if you use too much, it will actually retard rooting. What they donít tell you on the container is how much is too much.

Willow water is a snap to make. Collect a dozen branches from the willow tree or bush. Several of the videos on the Internet recommend using tips of the branches. Others suggest using branches about the width of a pencil. New growth is best. Iím using a combination of both and following the recipe from an article written by my friend, the award-winning garden writer Ilene Sternberg. Visit bluestem.ca/willow-article1.htm to read the article.

Gather about 2 cups of willow branches cut to 1 to 3 inches in length. Steep the twigs in half a gallon of boiling water overnight. Strain the water and store it in a covered glass container in the refrigerator. Sternberg says it will keep for about 2 months. She also recommends you label it so no one mistakes it for green tee.

Before potting up unrooted cuttings, soak them overnight in a glass of willow water. It can also be used as a soil drench for cuttings you have potted up. Two applications should do the job. Some cuttings will root directly in a glass of willow water. But you will need to change the water every few days, so be prepared to make a fresh batch.

When Iím finished taking my rose cuttings, Iím going to start on my hydrangeas.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. Email her at Szerlag @earthlink.net. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnews.com/homestyle.