With spring just around the corner, now is a great time to get an early start on taking hardwood cuttings, like figs and roses, as well as sowing seeds of long-season crops, such as chillies and aubergines. If you are keen to up your chances in the dark days of February, there is an easy home remedy that could dramatically boost your success rate.

Simply take a teaspoon of cinnamon from your spice rack and pop it into a litre of lukewarm water. Drop in half a 300mg soluble aspirin tablet, give the mixture a good stir, let it cool to room temperature and you are done. When it comes to planting time, soak your seeds and cuttings in this solution for an hour or two beforehand. This will potentially give you higher germination rates, lower risks of infections and improve the plants’ overall vigour. In fact, just watering newly sown seeds or cuttings with this bit of kitchen chemistry may be enough to trigger these benefits. It’s like having green fingers in a bottle.

I realise this may sound implausible to non-geeks, so here is the science. Aspirin is a synthetic copy of salicylic acid, a growth-regulating hormone found in plants, and has been shown to work in a very similar way. When applied to newly sown cuttings it can turn on the genes that express the plant’s defence system, helping them stave off infections (ie rotting), while also boosting the growth of roots in a similar way to hormone rooting powder.

In newly sown seeds it has a similar effect, which has been demonstrated in a wide range of plants to induce a state known as “systemic acquired resistance” (SAR) in which the plants become more resistant to cold, heat, disease, pests and drought. And it has been widely used in commercial horticulture and agriculture for exactly these purposes.

Cinnamon works in a different way. It is the bark of a tropical tree that has evolved a range of potent natural antifungal and antibacterial chemicals to stave off the rampant growth of pathogens in the tropical rainforest. By making an extract of its bark you are effectively hijacking these chemicals and deploying them to defend any young plant you apply this to. It can work wonders for damping off (a common fungal infection that can kill many seedlings) and prevent new cuttings from rotting in the cool conditions and low light levels at this time of year. In my experience this can almost double the survival rates of tricky to root plants.

Results will, of course, vary depending on the species you are growing, as they will with any shop-bought rooting hormone or germination aid. Seeing as this method is cheap, easy, non-toxic and backed by solid science, why not experiment for yourself?


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