Gardening by Multiplication: Successful Plant Cloning Techniques
Just when you thought gardening couldn’t be any more fun or exciting, enter cloning. Cloning plants allows you to play mad scientist a bit, taking a favorite plant you love, or even one just as an experiment, and multiplying it.
Cloning success isn’t always guaranteed, but you’ll find some tips can help improve your chances of a successful and viable clone. The magic of cloning begins with eager anticipation and builds to triumph when roots first appear. You may see signs of success along the way, such as newly sprouting leaves or other signs of healthy growth. If you haven’t tried cloning plants yet, buckle up! Gardening will never be the same.
What is Plant Cloning?
Plant cloning is a form of propagation that takes a piece of a parent plant and creates a brand-new, independent plant. Cloning duplicates the original plant as a means of asexual reproduction, where no fertilization is necessary. The cloned plant carries all the same characteristics of the parent plant. It’s a great way for gardeners to select preferred traits in plants for future crops to carry as well.
How Does Plant Cloning Work?
Different methods of plant cloning may result in the same general outcome: creation of successful offspring from the original plant. Commonly, plants may be cloned from cuttings that grow roots and go on to live independently from the parent plant. This can be done hydroponically, aeroponically, or with unique techniques like air layering, where the branch is still attached to the parent plant until roots develop.
Other plant cloning methods may include root division to separate perennials or propagation by scales (as with some perennial bulbs), to name a few. Some perennials like lilies also form bulbils, which are genetic clones of the parent lily.
How Long Does It Take for Clones to Start Rooting?
The amount of time necessary for clones to begin rooting will vary by the type of plant. Some types of cuttings can root rather quickly, like basil, which may take less than a week. Roses and other perennial shrubs may take quite a while longer. In general, expect to wait at least one to three weeks for clones to start growing roots, though some may need more time.
What Are Some Good Beginner Plants for Cloning
Some plants tend to be very easy to clone, making them an excellent choice for beginners. Consider cloning herbs like basil or mint from cuttings. You can also clone vegetable plants when thinning seedlings. Also, don’t hesitate to try to save those seedlings whose stems get broken before transplanting outdoors. It can be done!
Flowers also work well for cloning purposes. When pinching seedlings to encourage branching, try cloning the tops rather than discarding them. Snapdragons, zinnias, and quite a few other annual flowers will clone from cuttings.
Succulents clone freely from leaves dropped from the plant. The leaves eventually send out roots looking for water and, soon thereafter, baby succulent plants may begin to grow from the same leaf.
Best Plant Cloning Methods
The best plant cloning methods are the ones that are most successful for you. This process may involve a bit of trial and error. Consider the following plant cloning techniques to see which appeal most to you.
Cloning from Cuttings
Growing new plants from stem cuttings can produce a lot of successful clones for your garden. Generally, you can get stem cuttings to take root in water, moist peat mix, or potting soil. You may also look into using a plant cloning machine to speed up your cloning process.
Cloning Succulent Leaves
Some succulents clone readily from dropped leaves. It can be as simple as setting the leaves on a saucer out of the way until they send out roots seeking water. When you move the rooted leaves to soil and water them, baby succulents should grow healthy and beautiful, just like the parent.
Bulbils or Bulblets as Clones
Numerous spring and summer perennials like lilies, tulips, and daffodils can produce baby bulbs, known as bulblets, in the ground along with the parent bulb. Some, like certain types of lilies, may even produce bulbils on the stems. By transplanting these baby bulbs, you can allow new clones to grow in their own space on their own time. Eventually, you’ve successfully multiplied your garden in many places!
Some plants like peonies, irises, cannas, daffodils, and daylilies propagate easily by root division. By simply breaking up the clumps of tubers or rhizomes and transplanting them to a new location, you can enjoy an entirely new plant in your garden, or someone else’s. Gardens are meant to be shared, after all.
Transplants from Runners
Most widely known, strawberry plants reproduce largely by sending out runners from the parent plant. Other plants like peppermint and even potatoes use runners, or stolons, to multiply. Indoors, spider plants also reproduce from runners, which you can clip and transplant to create more baby plants. Keep in mind some runner plants, like peppermint, can become quite invasive if left to their own devices.
Layering involves cloning plants while they’re still attached to the mother plant. Basically, you wrap rooting medium or soil tightly around the branch you want to clone. You can use an air layering kit with plastic spheres or with a plastic cup or bottle (some gardeners have even done air layering with water instead of soil). After time passes, roots form and you can cut below the roots and plant this new, independent clone separately.
Grafting as a Form of Cloning
Did you know that most fruit trees available today are grafted? The process of grafting involves unifying the branch (scion) of one tree with the hardy rootstock of another. Some grafted fruit trees may be merged in a complex fashion with many varieties of compatible fruit all growing from the same tree. These grafted trees are often self-fertile with fruit ripening over a convenient span of time one after the other.
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Basic Cloning Principles
Learning how to clone any plant begins with research. Before launching into a specific plant cloning project, be sure to read up on the plant and the most successful cloning method recommended.
Next, keep in mind a few basic principles to help ensure your best chances of plant cloning success. Keep these tips in mind to increase your chances of successful clones:
- Take nice, healthy cuttings — Aim for substantial cuttings that aren’t too flimsy. A cutting with signs of new growth may show promise. Cut at a 45-degree angle for maximum surface area on the base of the cutting.
- Trim the leaves — Cut the points off the leaves and trim them down a bit, up to 50 percent. This helps the cuttings to direct more energy to forming roots. It also limits chances of growing mold in cramped quarters if you’ve got multiple cuttings going at the same time.
- Encourage rooting in water, soil mix, or rooting medium — Some clone machines offer an aeroponic approach as well.
- Scrape or split stems — Sometimes you can encourage rooting by splitting the clone stems a bit so they are more forked at the bottom. This also creates more surface area for the roots to push through.
- Apply rooting hormone — Plant cloning gel like Clonex or rooting hormone powders can improve the chances of successful plant cloning. Sometimes honey and willow tree bark can also improve chances of successful rooting.
- Include a leaf node if possible — Sometimes roots may grow more quickly from a leaf node.
- Orient cuttings the proper way — Make sure the cut side is facing down into the rooting medium. If you take multiple cuttings, be sure to mark them in some way so you know which end points down.
- Mist cuttings as needed — Keep the clones moist to prevent drying out.
- Cover cuttings with a plastic bag or cover — Lock the moisture and humidity in for more successful cloning.
- Keep clones under lights — Even fluorescent lights can help ensure successful plant cloning. Avoid using ultra bright lighting to limit stress on the clones.
- Monitor clones for signs of growth — Soon you should see roots forming at the base of the cuttings.
- Save nutrients for after roots emerge — It’s better to feed your clones after they’ve successfully rooted, since the roots uptake the nutrients.
- When the time comes, harden off and transplant — Successful clones of plants should be ready for transplanting after developing a healthy root system. Don’t forget to harden off the clones before transplanting outside.
Once you try cloning plants, you’re sure to be hooked. Cloning is a fun hobby for gardeners and allows you to increase your plants rather quickly.
Above all, you can take care to propagate plants with the most desirable traits, making them a more permanent fixture in your garden. Delicious taste, impressive yield, health and vigor — so many plant qualities may be successfully maintained in a cloned plant.
Whether you are propagating plants from cuttings or re-growing thinned or damaged seedlings from your garden, or something else entirely, I assure you that cloning is worthy of your time and experimental efforts. Limitless gardening adventures await when cloning plants from the comfort of home!