The Parklands

Turning Sticks into Trees

By Natural Areas Tech, Jared Smith

                  The adaptations that exist in nature constantly surprise, amaze, and fill me with wonder about what can be found out our backdoor. With the consistent rains of the autumn upon us, the rise and fall of the creek waters can create some erosion and stream bank problems for us at the park. A strategy for us to secure or limit the erosion on some of our stream banks is to preform nature’s magic trick of turning sticks into trees to keep the soil in place. Let’s a look at a tree species that can perform this trick and some basic steps you could take to repeat this at home.

A pre-mature willow. Continue reading to find out how to grow your own willow tree at home!  

The tree species that we will be focusing on is the willow; this plant serves us wonderfully at the park for its ability of sprouting new trees from harvested branches and loving to grow in moisture-heavy areas. In nature, many circumstances can cause a willow tree to lose a healthy branch. When a branch falls and is stranded on the ground, it can start to generate new roots from its base due to a special plant hormone, Indolebutyric acid. It won’t take long before this fast-growing species turns from stick to a tree.

Within the park’s operation area, we have a cluster of willows that allows us to harvest for live stakes. If you have a willow on your property, or another species of tree that possesses Indolebutyric acid, you can follow these simple steps below to help yourself propagate your owntree from a harvested branch.

  1. Cut a young branch from a healthy, willow in late fall or early winter, when the tree is dormant. Use a clean, sharp knife or loppers to take a branch between 1 and 6 feet long, about 1 to 2 inches in diameter at its base. Choose wood that is firm enough to resist bending easily. Take the branch early in the morning when the tree’s tissues contain their highest level of moisture for the day. Keep the branch moist and cool before planting.
  2. Prepare a planting site with well-draining soil, in full sun or light shade. Dig a hole about 18 inches in diameter and as deep as the branch’s length. Pick a spot near a natural water source, such as a pond, to coax the willow’s roots away from your septic system, if possible.
  3. Cultivate the backfill soil well.
  4. Trim off the cut end of the willow branch at a 45-degree angle. Stick it vertically into the center of the prepared planting area, burying the bottom two-thirds of the branch. Firm the soil around it.
  5. Water the willow branch thoroughly to evenly moisten the surface soil. Keep it moist until you see new growth when spring breaks.
  6. Apply about 4 to 6 inches of mulch to the planting site to retain moisture and keep the area free of weeds and lawn grass. Mulch from the branch to about a 3-foot radius.
  7. Give the young willow tree a good soaking weekly in the absence of rainfall throughout its first year.
A growing willow alongside the Allee Wetlands in Beckley Creek Park.


Whether you are interested in your own stream bank care or wanting to add more of these special species to your property, by taking the time to follow the steps above you can take your harvest from branches to a full grove of adult trees. 

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