Roots 'n' Shoots: Propagation: Alternatives to Artificial Rooting Hormone - Honey as Rooting Hormone

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Saturday, 11 January 2014

Propagation: Alternatives to Artificial Rooting Hormone - Honey as Rooting Hormone

As part of being a gardener striving for natural and more wallet friendly alternatives I was on the lookout for a substitute to artificial rooting hormone.

I had several problems with the store bought stuff:
1)                  They give you so much that I can’t possibly use up everything before it expires.
2)                  You get three different kinds, one for soft-, semi- and hardwood cuttings! Why not make a universal one?

So I set out to research alternatives to rooting hormone and found two (1) being Honey and the other (2) Willow. Now I don’t have access to willow, but I can get a hold of honey… This lead me to thinking what would be the most efficient type of rooting hormone and I started some experimentation. I am going to go all ‘sciency’ now J


So let’s review the possibilities (hypotheses):
1)                  Are alternatives to rooting hormones superior in their rooting capabilities?
2)                  What can I use as a substitute for willow in the experiment for comparative purposes?
3)                  Do I use organic or processed honey?
4)         Will there be any difference between the organic and processed honey results?

Now let’s set up the experiment:
1)                  I will use basil cuttings to compare rooting efficiency as they root in water and I will be able to see the rooting process in a glass of water.
2)                  I will have one control, which is the basil cutting in water (this acts as the base-line for comparison to the other ‘experiments’).
3)                  The experiments are: (1) Artificial Rooting Hormone, (2) Processed Honey, (3) Organic Honey and (4) Aspirin as a substitute for willow.

For the exact details of each:
1)                  Artificial Rooting Hormone: Bayer Seradix B No. 2, semi-hardwood cuttings
2)                  Processed Honey: Eleures radurised pure natural honey
3)                  Organic Honey: On tap blue gum.
4)                  Aspirin: Compral (100 mg Paracetamol, 400 mg aspirin) contains aspirin (salicylic acid), which is a product of willow bark.

Rooting Hormones and water

OK! So here are my recipes for each of the experiments. In order to keep everything the same I made 100 ml solutions (liquids) of each and dipped the cuttings into each for 30 seconds. After which the cuttings are placed in a glass of clean 250 ml tap water. The control cutting was placed directly into tap water with no dipping in either solution.

Recipe for Artificial Rooting Hormone
1)                  I took the 2# rooting hormone powder and diluted it 1:1 with water to get essentially a 1# solution for the basil cutting.

Recipe for Honey Rooting Hormone (Processed & Organic) – this is a standard one found all over the Internet
1)                  Boil 2 cups of water
2)                  Add a table spoon of honey
3)                  Cool & dip cutting into solution

This is stored away from light (or in a dark brown glass jar) and will keep for 2 weeks. To make less, you can add 6 ml of honey to 100 ml of water.

Recipe for Aspirin
1)                  Added half a tabled (one tablet is 400 mg of aspirin) to 100 ml = 2 mg/ml solution.

All roots were recorded at the same initial length (this means it was said to be 'rooted' at the same length, this was @ 2 cm) and the experiment was done once the water control had rooted (as it was expected to take the longest amount of time to root).

Basil cuttings
The Results:

To my surprise the processed honey rooted first (12 days) and performed the best (longest roots and most roots by the end of the experiment). [I thought that the artificial rooting hormone would be first] The organic honey took 14 days to root with about half the number of roots and a 1/3rd of the final length of the processed honey's roots. The rooting hormone was about a week later (18 days) and had made two short roots by the end of the experiment. I think the Compral (aspirin) poisoned its cutting, because it died before any root formation on day 23. The control took its time and produced roots at day 37, the roots were minimal and less robust.

So, why does honey work better than artificial rooting hormone?

Well it has to do with the composition of honey. It is high in monosaccharides (simple sugars) such as Fructose and Glucose, as well as containing 18-20 of the 20 amino acids needed by all living organisms. This allows the cuttings access to quick energy and complete nutrition. The high sugar content lends to honey’s antiseptic (antibiotic) nature that prevents infection and promotes root growth.

The Conclusion:

So from the home-based experiment it is clear that grabbing some store-bought honey from the pantry is the best option for rooting cuttings. I think that this might be due to the higher sugar content of the processed honey and that it may have acted as a better antiseptic.

Honey as Rooting Hormone

So, I have decided to ditch the artificial rooting hormone and to make up enough honey every time I want to propagate. It is a shame that the aspirin cutting died, it would have been nice to compare the willow to honey, but I suppose I would have to leave that for those of you who have access to willow J It turned out to be a fun and interesting fact-finding home-experimentation...

BTW: I think that it would be a good idea to dip any grafts into the honey solution before grafting it to its final plant, to give it a good kick-start J I am going to try this with some nectarines and peaches…

-Me Out-


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  1. Hello, thanks I found this most interesting. I have a question regarding Seradix B. I used it on Rose cuttings. Now I see that you diluted it in water, however according to the instructions you should dip it into the powder directly. Would that have made the difference ?


  2. I only had a 2# Seradix B powder for semi-hardwoods and basil is a soft wood cutting - so I diluted the 2# to half strength in order to get a 1#. I wanted a solution to test and not a powder seeing that the honey and Asprin would be solutions too - so that I can compare apples with apples or solutions with solution :) Perhaps the basil cuttings will root better with the powder, but placing it in the water (as I did here in order to observe root formation) would change the concentration of hormone and it will introduce variables into the Seradix experiment that the others won't have. So, in order to keep as many factors equal across the experiment I opted to use solutions for all... I hope this helps! :)

  3. how does honey work better than asprin?

  4. As a thought, might not the paracetamol in your tablet have killed the plant? You weren't, after all, using pure aspirin. If you do another test with pure aspirin, it might also be interesting to add some ground up aspirin to honey and see if that has any effect. (You could do three tests this time: one with the same honey you used previously, as your control, one with honey+aspirin, and one with just aspirin.)

  5. Yes, I also hypothesised that the compral (paracetamol + asprin) caused the death of its cutting. So, unfortunately I cannot make any conclusions about the effect of asprin as a rooting hormone. Another note is that I used asprin as a proxy for willow bark and I would much rather like to get my hands on willow bark and test that than trying any asprin tablets again... so that I can stick to 'natural' stuff ;)

  6. Very cool - thanks for all the detailed info.

    Btw, instead of tossing the left over honey rooting hormone away (at the end of 2 weeks) why not shove it in a bowl / saucer and see if the birds want it. Or nearby bees...? :)

  7. Thanx Dani, that is a great idea! Will definitely try that ;)

  8. I am curious to know if you have tried your experiment in soil rather than water?

  9. Hey hey - no not in the exact same way, it would be hard to quantify root growth in the soil. I do, however, propagate about 10+ herb plants (of different species) each year in spring using the honey method (soft and hardwoods) and give them out to friends and family in summer. The method works well as I let the cuttings stand in the honey solution for 10-20 seconds to soak it up for a bit before jamming them into the soil. Raw honey works too - but it tends to stick to the soil as you manoeuvre the cutting into the pot... Hope that helps!

  10. hello how do i use this technique in grapes cutting...i used willow barks but seemed useless my planyts stands for around few days and die..hope any1 would suggest me some better suggestions

  11. Hey hey! I am not familiar with the hardwood propagation of grapes, but I do know that most varieties require a root stock onto which a fruit-baring stock needs to be grafted. Thus, it is easier to buy already-grafted vines from your local nursery. Although, you could perhaps try using the honey as is with the grape cuttings to obtain a 'thicker' seal for the part going into the soil. Good luck!

  12. hi, can I know how to get the Seradix B Rooting Hormone in Malaysia, KL Valley? thanks

  13. Can I use the honey mixture for jade leaf root cuttings or will they rot because they are succulents?

    1. It should be fine - I haven't tried it on succulents, usually I just stuff the succenlent cuttings into the soil and forget about them. It takes a long time for succulent cuttings to root so perhaps the honey would allow them to root quicker. You can always give it a try on some spare cuttings :)
      Good Luck!

  14. glad to find this. Will try honey solution next time I need cuttings to root.

  15. Thanks. This is very informative. Can I use it on avocado plants for direct planting without grafting? Municipal water is chlorinated, isn't chlorine having an effect.

  16. I am not familiar with the propagation of avocado -but I cannot see that it would be a problem. Just keep a close eye on them because non-grafted avocado has a susceptibility towards Phytophthora root rot (a similar rot to the one that caused the Potato Famine in Ireland in the 1800’s). The chlorinated water should not interfere with the experiment as it will act as an antibacterial compound initially and after several hours would have evaporated from the water as well.

    Hope that helps & good luck!

  17. Paracetamol is highly toxic for the plants.

  18. Thanks, I think my long search ends here and I got answer I hope. Regards.

  19. Thanks do much. This is what i have been looking for

  20. I use coconut husks that are good as a root support medium, they haveno nutrients though. Its the stuff that canbe bought in blocks , soaked for a few minutes and expands to look like compost. Also,I['m doing my own unrecorded expriment with a broken cherry tree branch, I've used honey and cinnamon, but i also added a paretemol, which I wish I had not now. Great page, thanks.

  21. Glad you enjoyed it - please keep me updates on your experiments!

  22. This was really awesome and exactly what I was looking for! I was a bit disappointed though that you only did 1 cutting for each solution as doing a few for each would have shown if one cutting itself was just somehow better or if the solution was what really made it root so well. I've been wanting to try rooting some tree cuttings so I may try my own experiment with honey vs pure aspirin vs honey and aspirin. When doing tree cuttings is it better to get brand new growth or will older branches/twigs work too?

  23. Tree cutting success generally depends on the type of tree. For fruiting trees you would want wood from the new season, preferably taken in winter. Other trees might do better with hardwood cuttings in early spring. You can check out my references page: - I have a list of propagation (and pruning) books that will assist you with the specific tree that you have in mind. Thanks for dropping by!

  24. Thanks for sharing us your knowledge on how to propagate cuttings with the use of homemade root hormone. More power.

  25. The information you have shared is wonderful and your replies to others is beneficial as well. Keep up the great work. I'll keep checking back to see what else you are up to. Thanks. The Old Man in The Garden.

  26. Hey hey! You are very welcome & thanks for your input Old Man in The Garden - it is very kind of you :)

  27. Thanks so much for doing this experiment. I'm thinking about rooting some shrubs that I think are roses (I live in a country where most of the garden suppliers are not really knowledgeable about the names of what flowers they are selling to you). I want to my 'roses' and a Gardenia or two. Hopefully these tIpswich will work. Thank you.

  28. I have used willow tea with great success, though unfortunately my willow got struck by lightning and died. So I tried honey and honey works better than willow tea IMHO. I'll also try saliva as I've read this works as well.

  29. Hey hey! Thank you for the input I am glad to know that the honey alternative has worked well for you - I would have to read up a bit on the saliva! :)

  30. Great Share! I will try honey with my succulents! I will update you guys with my findings :))
    Thanks again for the INFO!

  31. Actually, aspirin and willow are not the same. Aspirin is synthetically produced acetylsalicylic acid, while willow is the salicylic acid you mentioned. Might be why the aspirin cutting failed.

  32. I am happy that you enjoyed it - please keep me updates on your experiments!


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