Having the ability to clone cannabis plants should be looked upon as a bonus if you wish to become a successful grower. In gardening and agriculture, plant cloning involves taking a sample from an existing plant and exposing it to a stimulating environment and ample nutrients to ensure you grow a ‘copy’ of the original. When cloning cannabis plants, you have the opportunity to select plants with outstanding qualities and ensure their strengths are passed on.
Marijuana growers choose this technique because of the array of benefits of cloning a plant versus growing from a seed. It is a reliable method of improving your harvest and yield without compromising potency. You can only clone appropriately once you know which plants are the healthiest and most successful; you must also be able to differentiate between ‘male’ and ‘female’ plants. For the record, a single mother plant is capable of producing over 50 clones a week!
While the marijuana growing process has no guarantees, cloning is about as close as you’ll get. Plus, it is easier to do than you think! So, without further ado, let’s discuss marijuana plant cloning.
Ultimate Answers to the Questions: “What is Cloning?” and “Why Do You Need to Clone Cannabis Plants?”
Cloning your cannabis involves using a clipping of a weed plant and moving it somewhere else to grow by itself. We know the phrase ‘cloning’ sounds extremely sophisticated, but it’s as easy as identifying a productive marijuana plant, taking a piece of it, and encouraging it to grow elsewhere! The cloning process is also known as ‘asexual reproduction’, as the clones you grow are rooted cuttings that are genetically identical to the marijuana plant you took them from.
It is one of two ways to breed cannabis. The other method involves sexual reproduction which involves crossing a male plant with a female one via pollination. This process creates new seeds which are then planted to create a genetic hybrid of the two ‘parent’ plants.
Benefits of Cloning
- Consistent Growing: As clones are copies of a specific marijuana plant, they will share the same genetics, so they grow similarly to one another, and also to the mother plant. As a result, you will know how to take care of them because you’ve already followed the same processes when growing the mother plant. Therefore, you know the yields you can expect, the scent, taste, and bud potency.
- Inexpensive: Cloning supplies are not expensive, and it is almost ‘free’ otherwise.
- Convenient: While some clones root a little quicker during the vegetative stage, you can take clones up until a fortnight before harvest. Just be wary that you may see some unusual growth for the first couple of weeks on clones you take from flowering plants.
- Speed: Clones have an automatic head-start when compared to their seedling counterparts. Every clone begins at the same age as the parent plant which, means it is mature when you start the process. Naturally, cloned plants grow extremely fast during the first few weeks.
Experienced cloners claim that it is best practice to take the bottom branches of a parent plant because they usually receive less light and are more likely to wither if left alone. Let’s say you take four of each of a parent plant’s bottom branches and use them to create clones. Theoretically, this simple tactic quadruples your harvest!
Downsides of Cloning
It would be remiss of us to suggest that cloning was a ‘perfect’ solution. While it is effortless in theory, the practice of cloning doesn’t always end up as it should. If you are an outdoor grower, you’ll get the best out of cloning in regions with longer growing seasons. Regardless, it is unlikely that your clones will ever reach their potential in terms of height.
Although they grow faster than seedlings in the first few weeks, they will only begin growing around three months into the growing season when the parent plant is mature. On the plus side, you can still benefit from a fantastic yield from short clones.
While the cloning process is effectively risk-free because you are not harming the health of the parent plant, clones have a low survival rate. Don’t be surprised if 90% of your clones die.
How to Clone Cannabis Plants from Your Garden
The most challenging step is arguably selecting mothers to clone. It is the cornerstone of the entire process, so don’t rush it and pick the first healthy plant you see! Thoroughly analyze your plants and choose one that is tough, fast-growing, offers excellent yields, and has strong buds and large roots.
Before making the first cutting, please ensure that your plant is in a vegetative state. Although you can take a plant during the flowering stage, it is harder for it to take root, which increases the mortality rate. If you are a first-time cloner, you probably won’t have enough knowledge of your plants, or general growing experience, to determine your best options.
In this case, just pick a female in its vegetative state which seems to be in good health. We also recommend cloning plants from regular seeds rather than using feminized seeds. Remember, a cannabis plant only produces feminized seeds when it is stressed. If you pick plants from such seeds and stress them again, there is a chance that they will become hermaphrodites.
Your choice of mother plant must be at least two months old, although, in reality, your best chance of success comes by picking a plant that has been in its vegetative state for three months. By exercising this level of patience, you can get several clones from a single plant. Once you have chosen the plant, make sure it receives around 10% less nitrogen than usual in the two weeks before taking the clipping; this tactic increases the chances of successful rooting.
You will also need a few select pieces of equipment for the cloning process including:
- A rooting medium.
- A razor. This is a better option for taking cuttings than scissors because the latter is capable of crushing branches. A blade should help you get a clean cut.
- A rooting hormone.
You will also require the following during the cloning process:
- Paper towels.
- Duct tape.
- Sterile gloves.
- Several 16-ounce plastic cups, preferably in clear and red colors.
- 99% isopropyl alcohol.
- pH meter.
- Grow journal.
- Permanent marker to create clear labels.
- Bleach wipes.
7 Steps to Prepare Your Mother Plants for Cutting:
- Withhold fertilization: Do this in the days before you take your cuttings from the mother plant. It is a necessary step to help the nitrogen exit the leaves of the plant. If there is too much nitrogen in the stems and leaves, it tricks the clones into going through the vegetation phase instead of rooting.
- Avoid stressing the plant: Ideally, you will perform all of the work in a sterile environment to prevent your mother plants and cuttings from being agitated.
- Choose healthy lower branches: In most cases, cuttings of 8-10 inches with several nodes is ideal. However, if you are using rockwool as your planting medium, match the stem with the cubes’ rooting hole for a correct fit.
- Cut close to the main stem: Experts agree that using a razor to cut at a 45-degree angle to the branch is the best way to take your clippings. This boosts the rooting space’s surface area and ensures quicker growth.
- Add the cutting to water ASAP: If you wait too long, bubbles could form in the stem and stop water from being absorbed: The result is a dead clone. It has been suggested that adding extra cuts in the stem before placing it in water improves rooting potential.
- Clip the leaves: Once you have transferred several cuttings to water, clip the leaves for better photosynthesis; it also helps rooting if you offer a cleaner environment. Trim the fan leaves halfway down the stem; you CAN use scissors for this step. Remove unnecessary leaves near the bottom to prevent them from taking crucial nutrients and water. It also stops leaves from touching each other.
- Use a rooting hormone:This is not a mandatory step, but growers like to dip fresh stems into this solution. There are gels, powders, and various hormones on the market that boost growth. Once you dip the stem into the hormone, it’s time to transfer the clones to the rooting medium of your choice.
Choose the Right Rooting Medium
There are three main rooting mediums.
1 – Rockwool Cubes (Or Non-Soil Equivalent)
Rockwool cubes are ideal for clone rooting because they offer excellent moisture retention and outstanding airflow. You will find them in practically every grow store in the United States and on countless websites. Place the clippings in a cube beneath a CFL light.
Ideally, the surrounding temperature will be between 72 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit with a humidity of 90% or more. Under such conditions, roots will begin showing in a maximum of 12 days. Soak the cubes in water at a pH of 5.5 for a few hours before use.
2 – Transporting Your Clones into Soil
Don’t make the mistake of choosing soil with a ton of nutrients and avoid adding too much or too little water to the soil during the rooting process. As you need the clone to use all its energy and resources for sprouting roots, remove mature leaves on the stalk.Wet the sliced stalk and dip it into the rooting hormone. Next, stick the plant into the soil beneath CFL lights and leave it there as the roots form.
3 – Root in Water
This is the easiest option as you don’t need rooting mediums or hormones. Just add the cutting to water and ensure it stays there until it grows. Once again, remove the cutting’s mature leaves and place the clone in a 16-ounce container which you fill with water. Make sure the water has at least been treated with plant food.
Submerge the plants’ stalks in the water and check every few days for algae growth. Change the water if you spot any algae. It is best to keep sunlight exposure below normal levels until leaves begin growing at the top; commonly, these leaves grow at the same time as the roots. Once there are enough roots, it is time to transplant.
There are also automated units that provide oxygen, light, and water to your clones without you lifting a finger. They are a great investment if you can afford the prohibitive cost.
The Rooting Process
If you follow these steps, your clones will be rooted in 7-10 days. First of all, make sure you label each clone clearly. If there are several strains and you don’t mark them, it is easy to make mistakes which lead to the demise of your precious crop. The following is the ‘Rockwool or non-soil’ method.
You need the following equipment:
- Cloning tray
- Razor blade
- Cloning gel/powder
- A pair of small plastic buckets
- Spray bottle
- 7-inch vented dome
- Rockwool cubes, peat pellets or another non-soil option
- Grow lights
Fill one of the buckets with warm water and add the non-soil substitute. For example, Jiffy 7 peat pellets are useful because they expand in size when submerged in water. Place the pellets in the water and wait for them to swell. Remove them one at a time and squeeze out excess water. Place the pellets in a cloning tray and add the trimmed cuttings.
Dip the cuttings into a rooting hormone and insert each individual one into a pellet. Rockwool cubes are probably a more straightforward option because they have a tiny hole built-in for clones. Add about 5 ml of water to the pellets to activate the hormone. Spray the cuttings with water and place them under your light source. Place the dome on the tray and make sure the cuttings are now inside.
If you use CFLs, place the light 1-2 inches above the top of the dome. If you use Metal Halide lights (preferably 400w or 600w) keep the light two feet away from the dome’s top. Please ensure that the vents of the dome are closed for the first 48 hours. Remember, the temperature of the grow room should be between 72 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the dome from the tray and spray the inside of the dome, and the cuttings, with water. Replace the dome and repeat the above process at least once more each day. It is an important step because the water dilutes the leaves’ nutrients which forces the clones to search for them. It also keeps water levels more consistent because the plant is unable to drink through the roots.
Complete the spraying process twice. Next, open the vents in the dome. This is also the day where we want to dry out the pellets. When moisture escapes, small roots will be forced to grow quickly as they look for moisture.
Follow the same process as on day 3. By this point, all of your clones should be standing independently.
Check to see if the pellets are dry to the touch. If they are, add 500ml of water to the tray, where the pellets will absorb the water. This is what we want, because it continues to force the roots to seek water and also makes them move down to find moisture. This process ensures faster rooting.
Close the dome vents and continue spraying twice a day. It is possible that you’ll see some roots breaking through the pellets. By closing the vents, you are creating a high level of humidity as the water in the tray is trapped.
At least half of the clones should be showing roots by now. Make sure the dome vents stay closed as you need to maintain high humidity for the rest of the process.
In most cases, almost all of the roots will be visible, so add 500ml of water with a small amount of added nutrients to the tray. This is a crucial period because roots could treble in size in 24 hours.
Remove the dome to help the clones adjust to normal humidity. All of the roots should be visible now and ready for transplanting.
Transplanting of Roots
Once you see vegetative growth on your clones, it is essential to transplant them into bigger containers. There is a danger of ‘transplant shock’ which may kill your clones so make sure you use a high degree of care and sanitation during this process. If you have ever transplanted seedlings during the growing season, you should already have the knowledge needed for clones rooted in soil.
Things are a little different if you rooted the clones via the water method. The first step is to dig a hole around 12” wide and 12” deep. Move the container holding the clone and its water all the way to the site. Never expose roots to the air! Put your plant in the freshly dug hole and fill the gap with potting soil combined with the dirt you dug up. Pat the soil down and use two liters of water combined with plant food to water the area.
Clones that have taken root have a decent chance of survival because their parent plants were vigorous and mature. Hopefully, your clone will reach the flowering stage within three months. Don’t be shocked or dismayed if the clone is of a different sex to the parent plant, because this is a common occurrence.
How to Introduce Cannabis Clones
If you are keen to introduce new genetics into your garden, clones are a fast and easy way to do so. Whether you need a tried and trusted medicinal strain, or one that blows your mind, growing clones can solve a myriad of issues. Alas, clones also bring a lot of problems with them. For a start, they can ruin your entire grow if you get it wrong. While you should be able to find a reputable source of clones, such as your local dispensary, it isn’t always that easy.
Find a Trusted Source of Clones
It is one thing finding a reputable seller, but attempting to find out the source of your clone is a different matter entirely. You should be able to purchase clones from a nursery or a local dispensary. They usually acquire their clones from in-house sources, but occasionally, they may get these cuttings from a third-party, which is where the trouble begins. No matter who the purveyor is, ask them where the clones were brought from.
If you don’t get a clear answer, take your business elsewhere, because a lack of knowledge about the origins of your clones is a red flag. If you bring home a mystery clone, you know nothing about the pests it attracts, its susceptibility to disease, whether it carries pesticide residue, or if it was appropriately labeled. Introducing such a clone to your garden could kill all of the plants.
Growing & Inspecting Clones
It is tricky to spot issues such as pesticides, pests, and diseases unless you are an experienced grower. However, you have to thoroughly inspect the clones before adding them to your garden.
Here are four things to look for:
1 – Disease
There are a few visual clues that help you identify possible diseases. For instance, a discolored plant with limp leaves is clearly unhealthy. Although plants often give off a mild yellow hue when rooting, be wary of any other odd-looking colors. Powdery mildew is a visible sign of disease and mold spores will often transfer to the surface of your clones. White powder on the tops of stem leaves is the key sign to watch out for.
2 – Pests
In some cases, you may get lucky and see larger species such as spider mites on the plant. However, pests come in all shapes and sizes, so we recommend a careful search under every single leaf. It is also a good idea to check your soil medium as pests can be attached. Pests often have specific ‘signs’ to look for. For example, spider mites are known to leave bite marks on leaves.
3 – Stem Width
If the stem is thin and narrow, it is likely that the cutting came from a weak branch. Such cuttings are more susceptible to disease, and the rooting process will take longer. A thick stem is usually the sign of a vigorous and healthy plant.
4 – Pesticides
As we mentioned above, knowing the origin of the clone is all-important. It can help reduce the likelihood of pesticide use, because otherwise, it is tough to spot. Modern-day pesticides don’t leave a residue, and they can live within the plant for its entire life cycle. If you see any residue, ask your supplier about it and find out more about how they manage pests in-house.
Clean & Quarantine Fresh Clones
Even if the clones pass all your tests, don’t assume that they are clean. There is a possibility you could have missed something, so you have to clean and possibly quarantine the plants first. The first step is to transplant the cuttings into suitably-sized containers. Remember, the growing medium you use will probably be different to what the store used. It is also possible that the existing medium contains pests. Therefore, transplantation to a cleaner location could prevent root damage.
At this point, it is up to you to decide how you want to treat your cuttings to protect them against pests. Most growers dip their plants into organic pesticides before transplanting them into the new medium. We recommend keeping them quarantined for around a week to maintain the safety of the rest of your garden. If they develop any symptoms during this period, you can get rid of these plants before exposing other plants.
How to Raise a Mother Plant
The mother plant provides the clippings to create clones. It grows in a continuous vegetative stage as you are continually clipping clones from it. The cloning process guarantees that all plants in the garden produce at the same rate, offer a similar-sized yield, taste the same, and are equally potent. Such plants also have the same vigor as the mother plant, which is why selecting the right one is so important.
Why are Cannabis Mother Plants Important?
The most important thing about mother plants is the consistency they provide. If you are a commercial grower, your customers expect the same quality every time; something which you do get with cloning. The trouble with growing from seeds is that you have to deal with varying nutrient needs and differences in growth patterns. The result is a variance in quality and potency from one crop to another.
Here are three compelling reasons to grow a mother plant:
1 – Cost
Quality cannabis seeds are expensive; up to $10 each. If you are cultivating weed for seed production, it becomes less of a burden. Otherwise, you have to pay serious money on new seeds for every grow. Buying individual clones is pricey as well. However, if you germinate handfuls of the same seeds and use a mother plant, you can produce dozens of clones at no extra cost.
2 – Speed
Clones speed up the beginning of the growing process. You don’t have to wait for seeds to germinate, so the first few weeks are very productive.
3 – Quality
Seeds from the same strain have different phenotypes. When you uncover a strain with a fantastic phenotype, a mother plant helps you repeat these qualities with every crop as you can create genetically identical offspring.
How to Select a Cannabis Mother Plant from Seeds
Choosing a mother plant can be difficult, because marijuana plants often express multiple phenotypes. However, you should have success by following these steps.
Once you receive your latest batch of seeds, start off the growing process as normal. Once the plants are growing well, start taking cuttings during the third week of vegetative growth. Always take your cuttings before plants begin to flower. Remember, clones are the same biological age as their parents so if you take cuttings of a flowering plant, your clone will continue flowering despite its size.
Label the cuttings so you can distinguish between parent plants. Start flowering the donor plants via the usual 12/12 lighting cycle. Cuttings must remain on the vegetative light pattern. Then, wait until the plants show their gender and remove all males and their corresponding clones.
There are certain marijuana strains known for having a lengthy flowering period. If you are growing any of them, it is likely that their clones will become unmanageably big and start flowering. In this case, take clones from these clones and bring these second-gen clones through the vegetative process instead.
It is during the flowering stage that you will determine the most interesting individual plants. For reference, we recommend choosing a mother plant according to these six categories.
- Strength: You need a strong and healthy mother plant that will provide numerous generations of robust clones. Check your plants to see which ones stand out. Remember, wide stems are a good sign of a worthy plant.
- Aroma: Unfortunately, you can’t taste your plants yet, but the aroma is an excellent indicator of how good the final product could be.
- Yield: Don’t fall into the trap of assuming that a big yield means a healthy crop and vice-versa. However, if you are obsessed with substantial yields, it is clear that this is an important area to focus on.
- Aesthetics: There are several attractive marijuana strains. If you choose one known for its good looks, you can determine if you want to clone more of them in the future.
- Potency: Aroma is probably the best indicator of potency at this stage.
- Phenotypes: If you have conducted ample research, you will know the phenotype you seek. For instance, if you know that a marijuana strain has a tall and short phenotype, you will spot them early on.
Hopefully, you will be able to reject unsuitable clones before the end of flowering. Alas, you only know if you have made the right choice after the marijuana has been harvested, dried, cured, and sampled. Cloning is a numbers game; the more individuals you plant, the more likely you are to find a premium-quality mother.
A 7-Step Overview of Selecting Your Mother Plant
- Germinate and grow as many seeds as you can to provide a high-quality sample.
- It is best to wait until the plants reveal their sex during vegetative growth. Remove males and take a few clones from each female plant.
- Allow the clones to reach the flowering stage and ensure the original plants remain in vegetative growth.
- If clones become too large to manage when the original plants are flowering, replace them with clones of themselves.
- When these new plants flower and are harvested, look for characteristics such as flavor, yield, aroma, growth pattern and bud structure.
- After the original crop is dried and cured, choose the most desirable individual. Now, it is necessary to find the clone that is the closest match to this individual. Remove the other clones; although you have the option of flowering them anyway.
- Your chosen clone is the mother plant which means you must not flower it.
Protecting Your Mother Plants
Your chosen mother plant is still in its early stages so if you took more than one generation of clones while waiting for flowering, don’t take any cuttings from her until she has had a minimum of three weeks of vegetation. If you need a high clone volume, take several clones from the mother plant and grow them further to create several mothers who will be genetically identical.
You can protect your mother plant by germinating and growing it in an organic base. This process enables her to gain immunity against certain diseases instead of trying to protect her with non-organic nutrients and mediums.
Use the original plant from seed as the mother plant rather than choosing the very first clone she created. It is a fact that plants grown from seed have deeper and stronger tap roots, as well as better immune systems than clones. Later on, you are permitted to use specific nutrients for mother plants that provide robust clones, because you can now keep them safe even as clones are continually clipped.
The clones you use must be taken from mother plants with strong cells walls and a high level of carbohydrates. Too much nitrogen causes high-speed growth, which results in plants with a low carbohydrate density and thin cell walls. It is a better option to use calcium-rich nutrients as it aids with cell wall growth and carbohydrate density. The water stored by clones contains these carbohydrates and is used by the plant to produce roots.
How to Preserve Cannabis Mothers
It is difficult to offer a longevity gauge although we have heard of mother plants that still produce after 20 years! If you provide her with the right nutrients and lighting, she will undoubtedly last for years as long as she is kept free from diseases and pests. Most growers prefer to change their mother plants every two years, because they tend to provide a smaller yield as time goes by.
When this happens, keep one of her clones and allow it to continue the vegetative stage until it can serve as a replacement. Again, the genetics are identical, so there is no need to worry about different flavors, growing techniques, or yield sizes. As for the mother plant, you can throw her away or allow her to reach the flowering stage.
It probably seems as if the cloning process is complicated, but in reality, it takes much less work than you might think. Once you have selected the right mother plant, creating clones is a relatively simple process. When you get it right, you end up with an almost limitless number of marijuana plants which means one very large yield each year. Give it a try and let us know how you got on!