Every once in a while, you win the plant genetics lottery and grow a plant that produces the sweetest-tasting crops or better-than-average yields, and you want to keep it forever. Whether it’s the juiciest tomato or the sweetest watermelon, cloning your favorite plant means you can eat the same delicious fruit for as long as you can hold onto the strain.
Cloning is when you cut a stem or branch off a plant and grow it into a new plant. The new plant will be a genetically identical replica of its mother plant. After growing the same plant a few times, you will know what to expect from your strain. Each crop will get easier than the one before because you’ll know exactly how much light to give, how much to feed, how often to water and when it’s best to harvest your crop. You’ll become an expert at caring for that particular strain, the quality of your crop will improve and you’ll experience fewer expensive surprises.
Not only will you know your strain better, but you’ll save time. Cloning is much faster than starting from seed. Because the clone is the same age as the mother plant, it will grow more vigorously than a seedling. Less time between cycles means you are harvesting more food at a lesser cost.
Taking cuttings is a pretty simple process, although most people go through a learning curve. It is important to pay attention to the details, as missing one seemingly simple thing could mean the demise of your babies. Here are some tips.
Caring for Your Mother Plant
One of the most important factors that will determine your cloning success is the health of your mother plant. The more robust your mother, the stronger your clones will be. If your mother is stressed or diseased, your cuttings will be, too. To grow successful clones, you must take them from a vibrant mother plant. If your mother isn’t at her best, it is worth it to wait.
What is the Best Medium for Rooting Plant Cuttings?
There are a few different mediums you can use for your cuttings. You can use an aeroponic cloner, a peat-based soil mix or root cubes. Root cubes can be made of peat, stonewool, foam or coco. The initial cost of an aeroponic cloner can be a bit high, but many gardeners say they are the most efficient way to clone. Whichever technique you use, most elements of the cloning process remain the same.
Taking Cuttings from a Mother Plant
First things first, you’ll need to gather your tools. When using root cubes, you will need a grow light, propagation tray, humidity dome, heat mat, rooting hormone compound, clean scalpel, rubbing alcohol, shot glass, cup of water and pruning shears. If you’re using a clone machine, forego the tray, dome, root cubes and heat mat, and use your cloner with some neoprene inserts instead.
Before you start, prepare your space. Use rubbing alcohol to sterilize your tools, as dirty tools are the quickest way to introduce diseases into your garden. Put a bit of rooting gel in the shot glass for dipping. You never want to dip the cuttings directly into the rooting gel bottle, as this could contaminate it with bacteria.
If you are using soil in cups, use clear cups so you can see the roots as they form. If you are using stonewool, you will need to pre-soak it in a solution with a pH of 5.5, or a stonewool conditioning product. For soil or cubes, try soaking them in a living compost tea. The microbes will colonize the medium, attach to the roots and help them grow as soon as they appear. If you are using a cloner, fill it with water and make sure its temperature is at 68˚F with a pH of 6-6.3. You can add a cloning solution to the water to help roots grow faster.
Now that you are ready to take cuttings, choose young, tender stems from the middle or bottom of the plant. These will grow the fastest. Use your shears to cut a 4-5-in. stem right below the nodes. Place your cuttings in a cup of water until you are ready to use them.
It is important to keep the tips moist until you put them in your medium to prevent air bubbles from lodging in the stem. Trim the lower leaves on each cutting, while leaving 2-4 leaves towards the top. You want enough leaves to feed the plant while it is without roots, but not so many that the plant uses too much of its energy on transpiration so that the cutting sends as much of its energy as possible to the developing roots.
Use a clean scalpel to make a fresh, 45-degree-angle cut right below the node, a few centimeters above the original cut. Dip the tip into the rooting gel and immediately place it 1-in. deep in your medium. Some organic gardeners use homemade willow tree tea instead of rooting gel.
Willow trees contain high levels of auxins, the main hormone in commercial rooting gels. By cutting up a bunch of stems and branches and letting them soak in water for a few days, you make a tea high in the chemicals you need to induce root growth. Most organic gardeners say two feedings with the tea is all you need.
Creating the Optimal Environment for Rooting Cuttings
Now that you’ve taken your cuttings, you need to make sure they are living in the proper environment for the next week or two. If you want your cuttings to grow up to be healthy plants, you need to consider light, temperature and humidity.
Cuttings don’t need strong lights. A fluorescent bulb will be more than adequate, whether it be a T5 bulb or CFL. Make sure they get 18 hours of light per day. Some growers like to leave the light on for 24 hours a day in this stage. Keeping the light on helps maintain the proper temperature.
Clones do best in an area that is kept at about 75˚F, and humidity levels should be 90-100% during the first few days. You can control these levels easily by using a humidity dome and a seedling heat mat. Use a spray bottle on your clones for the first few days to keep humidity levels high. If you are using a cloner, the water temperature should be at around 68˚F. Temperatures higher than this promote the growth of pathogens and diseases. The pump should keep the temperature up slightly.
Keep your clones covered with the humidity dome until you see roots starting to pop out of the cubes, at which time you can open the vents on the dome a bit to allow some of the moisture to escape. After another day, you can tilt the dome slightly to release a little more moisture. Let the clones acclimate gradually to the environment outside their dome so as not to shock them. Speaking of shock, clones can go into transplant shock if they are not well taken care of, so maintain the environment diligently. You can also feed them a little vitamin B1 and compost tea to reduce transplant stress.
Feeding the Roots of Your Cloned Plants
You should see roots within 7-10 days. In the days leading up to when the first root appears, you may notice the leaves turning a bit yellow. This doesn’t always happen, but it isn’t alarming if it does. Until the roots appear, the leaves are feeding the plant. Once you see roots, give the plants a light feeding. Include some compost tea because the microbes in the tea promote vigorous root growth. Once the roots are 2-3-in. long, put your babies into a bigger pot and start feeding them more.
In only a matter of 10 days, you can start your next garden from your favorite mother plants. Cloning allows you to grow your favorite strains to create the perfect garden for you. If you take care of it, you can enjoy a customized garden for a lifetime.