Mother Plants and Cloning: Love Your Mothers

By Eric Hopper
Published: December 12, 2018 | Last updated: April 20, 2021 11:39:14
Key Takeaways

Just like your real mother, you should be kind to your mother plants by caring for them and making sure they have whatever they need.

To maintain a perpetual garden cycle, indoor horticulturists must master the cloning process. One of the most important yet often overlooked portions of the cloning process is maintaining a healthy mother plant. After all, the clones taken from a mother plant will not only be genetic duplicates, but they will most likely harbor any of the pathogens or pest insects that are affecting the mother plant when the cuttings are taken. For a grower to get a full batch of healthy clones, they must have a healthy mother plant. Ideally, a mother plant has her own specific area so that an optimal sub-climate can be created. She also needs a slightly different nutrition regimen than the other plants in an indoor garden. Horticulturists who take the time to properly set up a mother plant area and provide the appropriate care will be rewarded with generation upon generation of fresh stock.


Selecting the Mother Plant

There are a variety of reason a particular plant is chosen to be the mother. First and foremost is its genetic profile. In other words, growers generally try to clone a plant with desirable characteristics or genetics. This is somewhat subjective as different growers may have different preferences when it comes to the odors or flavors of a certain plant species. Another trait often sought after by indoor horticulturists is vigor and the ability to flourish in an indoor environment. Put another way, mother plants are usually selected from strains that perform extremely well in the cultivator’s specific grow space. In many cases, growers select multiple candidates for a mother plant. They clone each and allow the plants to develop through their life cycles. Depending on how each plant performs, growers can then determine which plants would be good to keep as mothers. Plants with signs of deficiencies, mildew, pest insects, or any other undesirable issue should be avoided completely or, at the very least, nursed back to health before being used as mothers.

Specific Area for the Mother Plants

Mother plants do not require a large area; however, it is important to create an area in which the plants can fit comfortably and the atmospheric conditions can easily be controlled. Many growers build specific mother plant rooms or use a small grow tent to house the mother plants. A closet or large cupboard space can also be converted into a mother plant grow chamber. The ideal temperature range for a mother plant is 70-80°F. Ideally, the operating temperature will not fluctuate more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit from the lights on period to the lights off period. Humidity is another important consideration. Maintaining consistent humidity levels can do wonders for the overall health of a mother plant. It also reduces the transitional stress of the clones when they are moved to the cloning area and while they wait for roots to develop. The ideal humidity range for a mother plant is 60-65 percent. A small humidifier may need to be installed in the mother plant area to consistently maintain this humidity level.


Planting Container

In most cases, large potting containers (10-15 gallons) are good holding containers for mother plants. These allows mother plants to grow fairly large without becoming root bound. There is no written rule for the planting containers, and some growers prefer using smaller containers and rotating mother plants more often. Generally, larger planting containers makes it easier to maintain the plants’ health for a longer period of time.

Lighting for the Mother Plants

Mother plants are basically kept in a perpetual state of vegetative growth. Therefore, a good full-spectrum lighting system with a fair amount of blue spectrum light works best for mother plants. Most growers opt for a metal halide or fluorescent lighting system as both technologies contain a good amount of blue spectrum light. The quality of light is also an important aspect to remember. It is more important to provide a full-spectrum light than a very intense light. The goal is to maintain health, not make the mother plants vegetate vigorously.

The duration of light for mother plants should be 18-24 hours of light. I personally recommend 18 hours of light with six hours of darkness. I believe all biological creatures benefit from rest and plants are no different. However, if it is more difficult for growers to maintain the ideal temperature and humidity ranges when the lights turn off, they may be better off running a 24-hour light cycle. Simply put, if the atmospheric conditions are more consistent when using a 24-hour light cycle, that should be prioritized over giving the plants a dark cycle to rest.


Nutrition for the Mother Plants

Some growers think mother plants simply need a good vegetative fertilizer. Vegetative fertilizers usually contain a high ratio of nitrogen to promote accelerated growth. This is great in the vegetative stage, but it is not ideal for maintaining the health of mother plants over an extended period. Again, the goal of cultivating mother plants is promoting the healthiest growth possible, not the fastest growth possible. Healthy growth begins with the use of the highest-quality potting soil. When the organic ingredients within the soil become depleted, growers can supplement a liquid fertilizer. A good rule of thumb is to use a diluted mixture of vegetative and blooming fertilizers. A mix of quarter-strength vegetative fertilizer and quarter-strength blooming fertilizer can be a great mother plant fertilizer regimen. For mother plants kept in hydroponic solutions, a good rule of thumb is to balance the nitrogen and potassium in a 1:1 ratio. An N-P-K with a 1:1:1 ratio is a great general nutrient solution for mother plants in a hydroponic system. In many cases, the calcium contained in the base nutrient may not be enough to support the continued healthy cell development in mother plants. So, it is always a good idea to use a specific calcium supplement for mother plants.

In addition to the base nutrients and calcium, it is advisable to supplement the mother plants’ feeding program with enzymes, micronutrients, and trace elements. All these supplements, when used in addition to a base fertilizer, will help maintain general health. Many growers also use some sort of foliar application program for general health. A fulvic acid or seaweed extract can be used as a foliar spray to help stimulate healthy development. It is important to remember that all grow spaces and plants are slightly different. All growers should attempt a little experimentation to develop their own specific feeding regimen for maintaining the health of their mother plants.


Pruning and Trimming

To keep mother plants healthy and under control, indoor horticulturists must implement some trimming or pruning. In many ways, keeping mother plants is like having large bonsai plants or a hedge. Topping and trimming mother plants not only keeps them healthy, but it also automatically multiplies the new growth shoots that can later be taken as clones. Most growers trim or prune the branches just above a node space. Where one shoot is removed, two new shoots will emerge from the node. Of course, the process of taking clones automatically prunes mother plants. However, this isn’t to say that mother plants should only be pruned when clones are taken. Pruning or trimming can be a regular activity and is a fun way for growers to shape the mother plants.

Preparing for Cloning

After setting up a mother plant area and properly caring for the mother plants, growers are ready take the clones. However, there are a few steps they can take to prepare their mother plants for the cloning process. The first thing growers should do is closely inspect the mother plants for any signs of nutrient deficiencies or pest insect damage. A magnifying glass or pocket microscope are great tools for close examination. After the mother plants have passed the inspection, they can be placed in complete darkness for 12-24 hours prior to taking cuttings. Plants create and store sugars during the process of photosynthesis. The idea is to take the clones when they contain the highest amount of these stored sugars, which would be during the plants’ resting period or dark cycle.

Cloning from mother plants allows horticulturists to replicate the best genetics in their garden over and over again. By dialing in lighting, humidity, and temperature to provide mother plants with the right environment, horticulturists can rest assured they will have healthy stock to clone. Although keeping mother plants healthy is straightforward for those with a green thumb, there are little tricks of the trade that will enhance the cloning process. For example, developing a specific feeding regimen for mother plants can go a long way in maintaining their health over an extended period. The way growers shape, trim, or prune their mother plants can also contribute to the efficiency of the cloning process. At the end of the day, it is the horticulturists who love their mother plants the most who are rewarded with a better chance of cloning success.


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Written by Eric Hopper | Writer, Consultant, Product Tester

Profile Picture of Eric Hopper

Eric Hopper’s past experiences within the indoor gardening industry include being a hydroponic retail store manager and owner. Currently, he works as a writer, consultant and product tester for various indoor horticulture companies. His inquisitive nature keeps him busy seeking new technologies and methods that could help maximize a garden’s performance.

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