Plant propagation

Honey As Rooting Hormone

Can honey be used as a rooting hormone? Ill.: pluspng.com, blog.daleysfruit.com.au& www.churchofjesuschrist.org, montage: laidbackgardener.com

You may have seen the advice bouncing about the Internet that honey can make a good rooting hormone for plant cuttings. 

The concept is certainly simple enough: when you take a stem cutting, you simply dip the cut end into honey before you insert it into your favorite growing medium, likely potting soil or vermiculite. This is supposed to stimulate better and faster rooting. 

While no one pretends that honey actually stimulates rooting, the concept is that it has antiseptic and antifungal properties and thus protects the young cuttings from pathogens, giving them more time to produce their natural rooting hormones that will stimulate root production. 

The use of honey in rooting plants has even been tested and proven effective to a certain degree. In most comparative studies, commercial rooting hormones give the best results, but in some plants, honey does beat out simply inserting cuttings in growing medium with no special treatment at all. And in other cases, the cuttings root fine on their own, as well as those treated with rooting hormones or honey. A very mixed bag of results! Still, it would be fair to say that honey has a “certain positive effect” on rooting the cuttings of some plants. 

One study showed using cuttings of marijuana plants showed that commercial rooting hormones stimulate root formation in three to five days, honey in seven to 14 days, no treatment, in nine to 14 days. So, for marijuana at least, honey does give some positive results.

But What About the Good Fungus?

Plant without added mycorrhizal fungi (left), with mychorrhizal treatment (right). Photo: ucanr.edu

I would like to see studies showing whether honey, with its antifungal properties, harms the mycorrhization of cuttings. After all, fungi are a two-way street when to comes to plants: some are good, others are undesirable. Mycorrhizal fungi are beneficial to plants over their entire life cycle, helping them to grow better, absorb more minerals and reach more water in times of drought. They even help protect them against harmful fungi. I systemically add mycorrhizal fungi to all the cuttings and seeds I sow (at least those capable of taking up mycorrhizal relationships; some, like chenopodes and crucifers, are not). I don’t want to use a product that will harm this vital relationship. 

Personally, I’m shying away from rooting cuttings using honey until this is cleared up. 

Some organic gardeners won’t use commercial rooting hormone, others do. Photo: http://www.lowes.com

I do use a commercial rooting hormone (one that contains only IBA [indole-3-butyric acid], a rooting hormone, and no synthetic fungicide) on hard to root plants like most shrubs, trees and conifers. Some organic gardeners shy away from commercial rooting hormones on the grounds that the IBA in such commercial products was produced synthetically, but let’s not be more Catholic than the pope. A pinch of rooting hormone causes no environmental damage and promotes good rooting of hard-to-propagate plants. Is using it really such a crime?

Food for thought!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “Honey As Rooting Hormone

  1. I have had some improved root growth by adding a small willow cutting to the water in which I am rooting a plant cutting. Willow seems to produce a lot of natural rooting hormone.

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