Country Lore: Propagating Willow Shrubs

Readers' tips on propagating willow shrubs, making nontraditional sauerkraut, passive solar roofing, and brewing a dandelion elixir.

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How to Propagate Willow Shrubs

person holding a rooting willow branch

Late winter is when most gardeners’ green thumbs begin to itch, and the need to work in the garden is hard to resist. One task that’s perfect for this time of year is propagating shrubs and trees. Last year, I decided to add a few more American pussy willow shrubs to my butterfly garden. Propagating willows by taking cuttings of mature plants is easy and inexpensive — practically free, in my case.

Note that I’m not recommending the propagation of the weeping willow tree (Salix babylonica); its invasive roots cause problems with sewer lines and foundations. Instead, I’m focusing on
S. discolor, a deciduous shrub whose roots are nowhere near as deep and destructive.

S. discolor is native to North America and grows in Zones 4 to 8, spanning many states and southern Canadian provinces. It thrives in full sun with moist soil. Growing up to about 15 feet high, pussy willow can be allowed to grow into a hefty multi-trunk shrub, or pruned into a small tree. The leaves are shiny green during summer, and turn yellow in fall. These shrubs will make a lovely hedge, or a specimen plant in a flower garden when paired with other butterfly- and moth-attracting plants, such as milkweed, beebalm, and buddleia. The silver-gray catkins that emerge in late winter and early spring attract pollinators, and serve as a pollen source for honeybees.

You’ll need to cut back, or coppice, S. discolor every few years to promote new growth, discourage pests and diseases, and maintain the shape. This is a great time to propagate the pruned branches into new shrubs. Or, ask your gardening friends if they have a pussy willow from which you can take a few cuttings.

Pussy willow is one of the easiest plants to propagate. Follow these steps:

  1. Grab your hand pruners and cut a few 5-inch willow branches.
  2. Place the cuttings in filtered water.
  3. Wait.

In a few days, you’ll start to see little white bumps on the cuttings. Then, in about a week to 10 days, small white roots will appear. In about three weeks, you can remove the cuttings from the water and plant them in pots filled with potting soil. You can reuse the rooting water to start other cuttings because of the salicylic and indolebutyric acids — natural rooting hormones — released by the willow cuttings. This homemade rooting compound can be used to stimulate root growth in a variety of plants.

You can plant your new shrubs in the ground after all threat of frost has passed, although I usually wait until early September. I prefer to give them extra time to produce a good root system in their pots, as well as a good amount of new growth, so they’ll better withstand my garden’s harsh winter conditions in central Ohio. Water the new shrubs regularly until they’re established.

In no time, you’ll be eager to try this technique on other easy-to-propagate shrubs, such as forsythia and rosemary, to increase the number of plants in your garden and impress your friends.

Corinne Gompf
Galion, Ohio

Bumblefoot Therapy

Our chickens tend to get a staph infection in the foot, known as bumblefoot. To stop the infection, we use corn cushions from the local pharmacy. We place the sticky corn cushion on the bumblefoot infection so the cushion’s hole is at the bumble. We then apply a homeopathic drawing salve, followed by a 1-inch square of gauze, and secure it all with vet wrap. This treatment works beautifully for us.

Harrison Burgardt

Nontraditional Sauerkraut

Here’s a twist on the traditional sauerkraut recipe. Instead of savory, this dish is fruity and tart because of the addition of apple, ginger, and orange. Because I love ginger, my recipe calls for double the usual amount.


  • 1 head purple cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and shredded
  • 2 green apples, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 orange, peeled and sliced thinly
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt


In a large bowl, massage all the ingredients together for about five minutes. The cabbage will release water. Pack the mixture into a large glass jar. I place my fermentation jar inside a kitchen cabinet, at room temperature and out of sunlight. Every couple of days, open the lid to allow air to escape. Check the taste after 5 to 7 days. If you like the flavor, you can eat the kraut, or stop the fermentation by transferring the jar and its contents to the refrigerator.

Taylor Goggin
Miami, Florida

Don’t Overlook Dunnage

Every time I go to the local big-box hardware store, which is more often than I’d like to admit, I cruise through the lumber aisles looking for the leftovers from new bundles of lumber. These “stickers” (also known as “dunnage”) are strapped under the large wrapped bundles of lumber delivered to these stores. Dunnage keeps the wood off the ground, or off the bottom of a truck, and allows a forklift to move the bundle. One of the most useful things about stickers is that they’re of uniform sizes — about 4 feet long and 2 by 3 inches wide — and are made of pine, fir, or spruce like any ordinary 2×4.

Look for dunnage in the stores under stacks of dimensional lumber, fence slats, plywood, posts, and so on. I’ll often find them conveniently stacked in a shopping cart or trash can after they’ve been collected by an employee, and before they’ve been tossed into the bin. In my experience, the employees and cashiers have always been happy for me to take away the dunnage.

I use them either as firewood (each chopped into three pieces and then easily stackable) or for myriad small projects around the homestead. In the past, I’ve used them to frame my son’s attic bedroom walls, to frame a chicken coop, as backers for drywall in a house, to make farmers market signs and a cucumber trellis, and more.

Don’t let this good wood go to waste! Dunnage is a real treasure.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen
Reno, Nevada

Passive Solar Roofing

When we needed to replace the asphalt shingle roof on our rural home a few years ago, we discovered the benefits of passive solar coatings on metal roofing. While asphalt shingles typically last 15 to 20 years, the stone-coated steel shake roofing we chose usually exceeds its 50-year warranty — with the look of a wood shingled roof.

Over the years, our old roof in upstate New York was prone to weather-related problems from wind, ice, and snow, requiring seasonal inspection and repairs. A new stone-coated steel shake roof allowed for an underlayment of rigid insulation panels that totally eliminated these winter-related problems. We also asked the installer to place the ice and water barrier over the entire roof.

Surface coatings on the new roof significantly reduce heat accumulation in the attic and increase solar reflectivity. The roof panels have five coatings, including a pebbly granite-chip surface that prevents snow from slipping off. The raised shape of the shake panels allows air circulation underneath, further reducing the effects of the heat.

Our metal roofing weighs less than half the equivalent asphalt shingles, thereby increasing the home’s snow load capabilities. The interlocking metal roofing panels are 52 inches across, and each is secured to the roof deck in a way that imparts warranties for damage from 120-mph winds and hailstone impacts.

The manufacturer’s specifications state that the product we chose is steel coil coated with a metal alloy of 55 percent aluminum, 43-1/2 percent zinc, and 1-1/2 percent silicon, and that the metal is 100 percent recyclable. Our metal roof shakes bear the Energy Star seal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, meaning our product can lower a roof temperature by as much as 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some of the benefits we’ve experienced with this metal roof over the past five years include a noticeably cooler attic in summer, which has lightened the load on our air conditioner; increased snow load capability; no more ice dams and icicles; and decreased noise from heavy rains and hail due to foam insulation underlayment. We’ve also delayed the next roof replacement beyond the 50-year warranty period.

gray house with a gray steel shake roof

Arthur Lelio
Canastota, New York

Dandelion Elixir

I love to pick dandelion flowers and create a delicious, healthy elixir. In my neighborhood, the bright yellow flowers grow everywhere. When I’m finished harvesting, I take the flowers into the house, rinse them quickly, place them in a medium pot with water and sugar, and boil for 30 minutes. Soon, the fragrant, earthly smell of dandelion is throughout the house. After the contents have cooled, I strain the concoction, add a little yeast, bottle the liquid, and wait about four days.

When the liquid is ready to drink, the contents are bubbling and foamy; the color is a clear, vibrant yellow; and the drink tastes fruity, earthy, and delicious. Here’s how you can make this seasonal treat.


  • 1/4 pound dandelion flowers, freshly picked
  • 1/4 gallon water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast


Rinse dandelion flowers. In a medium stockpot, bring water to a boil. Add sugar and stir to combine. Boil for 30 minutes. Let cool, strain to remove the flowers, and bottle. Add yeast and cap the bottle. Drink when the desired level of carbonation has been achieved, usually about four days.

April Jones
Columbia, South Carolina

Small-Space Clothesline

Although our backyard is tiny, I wanted to be able to hang laundry outside to soak up the mountain sun and air. I was considering retractable line systems when my husband suggested a zigzag design instead to maximize the linear footage.

To hold our small-space clothesline, we installed metal hooks in the fence posts and pergola posts (see photo above). I use a cotton/polyester line with some give, and I take in the line after each use to keep it clean. To adjust the tension, we use an adjustable metal turnbuckle at one end of the line.

Our line is easy, inexpensive, and effective. And there’s nothing better than the smell of fresh sheets on the bed, with the knowledge that we’ve used sun instead of coal to achieve it.

Inger Bull
Colorado Springs, Colorado

multicolored clothes hung on a zig zag clothes line in a fenced in backyard

Tips for Tops and Bottoms

I never toss healthy carrot tops. Instead, I mince and toast them in the oven, then eat them in salads, soups, and grain bowls. The tops store well in an airtight container and can be frozen. For carrot top pesto, I blanch the greens and pulse them in a food processor along with minced garlic, lemon zest, fresh mint leaves, olive oil, and pine nuts. Each day is spring on my windowsill, a type of U-pick and snip farm.

I set the top 1/4-inch of radishes in the individual compartments of an ice cube tray, and add a few drops of water to encourage the crowns to sprout a fresh crop of greens. Then I follow the basic pesto recipe and slather the resulting thick sauce on crusty bread, or spoon it onto polenta.

A similar method works with the cut stems of butterhead, romaine, and escarole. I also remove celery stalks 2 inches from the root end and set the latter in a shallow saucer. Frilly leaves eventually emerge from the center and grow into stalks.

I now think of carrot tops as emeralds, and radishes as rubies. I share the bounty in old pickle and mayonnaise jars, sprucing them up with twine and ribbon as gifts for friends and neighborhood children.

carrot tops sprouting in a bowl of water

Sherry Shahan
Morro Bay, California

Mercy Buckets

Like most gardeners, I’ve acquired a supply of plastic 5-gallon buckets, and like to store them in a stack, one inside the other. But sometimes the buckets are difficult to separate because of the vacuum that forms.

I solved this problem by spraying a 3-inch line of adhesive down opposite sides of the bucket exteriors, and then rubbing a bit of play sand onto the adhesive band. After the adhesive dried, I brushed off the excess sand. The grains of sand create just enough of a gap that the vacuum can’t form, and the buckets separate easily.

Paul Williams
Moscow, Ohio

Never Tires of Growing

Here in Minnesota, we’re always searching for ideas to expand our growing season. Year after year, I’ve used a tractor tire to give my seedlings a jumpstart. When the seedlings are ready to plant, I lay the tire on its side on the ground, add soil to the interior, and transplant them into the center.

When the base of a round picnic table was no longer usable, I discovered that the glass top fit perfectly over the center of the tractor tire. The hole in the center of the glass, which originally held an umbrella, allows rain to enter my cold frame and keeps the soil from overheating. Once the weather warms up, I remove the glass top and store it until the following spring.

DeeAnn Engen
Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota

plastic cover leaning on a tractor tire filled with dirt

Rescued Water

Rain can be scarce here in Texas. I hate to waste water, because we live on a farm and something or someone always needs watering.

We added a couple of rooms to our home, including a new laundry room, and placed a PVC pipe in the latter’s wall to direct the greywater outdoors. (Our home county has no restrictions to prevent this.) I put a large tub on top of an old air conditioner pad directly under the pipe’s outlet to catch the greywater for our garden and other uses. Next to the tub, I’ve stockpiled a convenient supply of buckets and plastic milk cartons cut out for watering cans. The water just overflows onto the ground if I don’t get there in time to distribute it to my plants.

We also catch the condensation from our air conditioner so it can be used in the same way. Our dog, Huey, loves this cool water, as do our cats and plants. We’re amazed by how much water is produced on hot days here.

All of my gardens are flourishing on this “recycled” water.

metal buckets sitting around a drain pipe against a wood wall

Dawn Hodges
Bellville, Texas

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