Desert willow (Chilopsis linearis) is also known as bow willow, desert catalpa, flore de member, flowering willow and willow leaf catalpa. This large, fast-growing deciduous flowering shrub with a weeping habit can be trained to tree form when young. Native to the western United States, this extremely drought-tolerant plant cannot survive in regions that receive more than 10 inches of rain annually. If you live in a very dry region, the desert willow will thrive nicely in almost any type of soil and is hardy to -3 degrees Fahrenheit. These plants propagate readily, which is a good thing because they're seldom offered by retailers. While they can be grown from seeds, cuttings tend to be more manageable and produce quicker, more reliable results.
Choose an attractive, mature desert willow tree or shrub to propagate in May or June. These cuttings can be expected to grow into a healthy sapling ready for transplant in a year or less. Cuttings taken from plants entering dormancy later in the season may succeed, but more often than not tend to rot during the winter.
Take tip cuttings from this year's semi-woody growth following a spring growth flush. Stems that snap like fresh. uncooked green beans when broken are sufficiently mature. Use a clean, sharp knife to cut a 4- to 8-inch long stem from the mother plant.
Combine equal parts peat moss and perlite to prepare a starting medium. Fill a 2-inch pot ¾ full with the medium and set it in a shallow pan of warm water. Remove the pot from the water when the surface of the medium feels moist. Drain for about an hour.
Strip the leaves and buds from the lower 1 inch of the stem cutting. Moisten the stripped section with water and dip into powdered rooting hormone. Plant the cutting in the starting medium so that the first set of leaves just clears its surface. Water enough to settle the medium securely against the cutting.
Stick a drinking straw about an inch deep into the planting medium. It needs to be taller than the cutting. Seal the pot in a clear plastic bag, which will maintain the necessary humidity. The straw will keep the bag from settling onto the top of the cutting.
Set the cutting in a warm, brightly lit spot out of direct sun. An ideal temperature range is between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The top of your refrigerator or above a hot water heater are good choices. Remove the cover and mist the cutting with warm water every day. Keep an eye on the medium, which should never be allowed to dry out. Water just enough to keep the surface evenly moist. Your desert willow will root in 3 to 6 weeks.
Tug gently on the cutting about 3 or 4 weeks after starting. It should resist your pull. Move the cutting to a 4-inch pot in good all-purpose potting soil 2 weeks later. Remove the plastic bag, but continue misting daily. Place the willow on a bright, warm windowsill out of direct sunlight. Continue to keep the medium evenly moist.
Move your young desert willow sapling outdoors to a shaded spot at least 6 weeks before planting in the fall.