The Ashridge Nurseries Blog

Softwood Cutting Season and Willow Twig Brew

Spring is easing into a ready to be sprung position and the propagators among you will be looking forward to getting those cuttings that you were eyeing up last year off their parent plant and into your garden (having asked their rightful owner first, of course...).

A list of plants suitable for softwood propagation that we grow would include Acer cappadocium, the Birch species (Betula), Liquidambar styraciflua, all the Prunus types (that's Blackthorn, Flowering & Edible Cherries, Cherry Laurel & Portugal Laurel plus Damsons, Plums and Gages) and good old Elm (Ulmus) trees. Popular plants that we don't do would include Smokebushes (Cotinus coggygria), Catalpa species, Ginkgo biloba and the lovely Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia.

It isn't quite yet time for taking the cuttings, so while you are preparing some pots with rooting compost (John Innes Seed Compost mixture is the original and the best), you might want to have a scout around for some willow trees.

Not planting a willow tree, you say? Well, you probably know that willows are the easiest tree in the world to grow from cuttings. Poke em in the ground, any which way up, and put the kettle on. The trees themselves are also among the most vigorous of all native trees. The reason is simple: they have a superabundance of the growth hormones which are common to most plants.

When the time comes to take your cuttings, all you need to do to make your own willow based rooting hormone is collect a few handfuls of willow twigs - fresh ones from last season's new growth - chop them up into 2 inch pieces, put them in a pan and cover with a gallon or so of just off the boil water. Cover the whole thing with a lid or plastic bag and leave it for 48 hours, putting it in the fridge when it has cooled completely. It's best to do this just a couple of days before you take the cuttings, so it's nice and fresh.

In a few weeks, when you take the cuttings, pour some of your juice into a cup and leave your cuttings with their bases sitting in about half an inch of it for 24 hours before planting them out. Water them with the willow tea until it runs out - in the fridge, it should be good for a couple of weeks.Just be sure when doing the cuttings to have a good portable work bench.

Have fun!

3 thoughts on “Softwood Cutting Season and Willow Twig Brew”

  • sunny

    Aren't willows grate, we once built a wire fence using willow posts, a few years later we had a row of large willow trees in its place.
    I recently rote a post on my blog about living willow structures you might find interesting.

  • Sash

    Really interesting article: when exactly would you start taking cuttings of the trees mentioned above? Is March too early?

    • julian

      Some of the varieties mentioned, for example almost any willow can be grown from cuttings at almost any time of year. However as a general rule cuttings are best taken either in Spring, using soft young wood or in autumn using wood that is harder. Spring cuttings should root quickly, while woody cuttings are best lest over winter before testing to see how their roots have done.

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