We all love plants and happily devote our time and energy nurturing them. Undoubtedly, gardeners are always looking to increase the size of their gardens, whether it is for their beauty, nutrition, or commercial value. However, the cost of buying new plants can quickly add up. In addition, the initial investment of several dozen plants can be intimidating for some growers. Learning how to clone a plant can be the solution!
Different species of plants have slightly different genetic makeups. Unfortunately, the traits of every plant in a bulk purchase are unlikely to match those of the single plant that made you fall in love with that strain. Horticulturists have been developing the process to clone plants for generations. And the sooner you learn how to clone plants, the sooner you can have vast quantities of your favorite plant!
Plant Cloning: What is it?
A clone is a plant grown from a cutting from another plant. It is genetically identical to the original plant (commonly known as the parent plant or mother plant). Plant cloning is a common method used to produce a large number of plants with exactly the same characteristics.
Growing clone plants instead of growing from seeds has two advantages. The first is that a clone reaches maturity faster than one starting from seed. In addition to this, the other advantage is that you know exactly what you are getting — the same taste, size, hardiness, color, or any other attribute you love about your parent plant.
Take plant cuttings from a healthy plant that displays the traits you seek. The plant should be mature enough to be robust but not so old that its growth has become woody. Check for pests and diseases, as anything you bring to your cutting room could infest your clones.
The type of plant you use; your method of taking a cutting; the environment you choose; the nutrients you feed your clone; and how you apply the nutrients all determine the success of your cloning process. Get all of these variables right, and you can claim the title of ‘Clone Master’!
What Products Can Help You Clone Plants?
When preparing to clone plants, you may need some useful materials, including plugs, a microbial blend to boost nutrients, and LED lights.
RediRooter Aerating Plugs by Jiffy are a great way to start your clones. These plugs are a substrate composed of peat, coir, and perlite. They have many micro air pockets that will help stimulate the growth of healthy roots. You can plant the seedlings or cuttings directly into the plug. You do not have to add any extra nutrients for the first seven days.
All plants, including your clones, depend on their roots for nutrient and water uptake. Organitek Amplify Microbial Blend is the perfect addition to get those roots growing strong. Healthy root systems = healthy plants! This blend contains a full spectrum of aerobic and anerobic microorganisms.
Not only do LED Grow Lights provide a source of energy for your plants, but also keep your growing environment consistent . When light is optimized, photosyntheis will occur. Keeping your clones in a stable environment is important for optimizing growth.
How to Clone a Plant
So you have decided to clone a plant, but what are the exact steps you need to take to be successful? Worry not, your guidance is below.
Step 1: Cutting
Successful plant cloning begins with a good cutting of mother plants. Begin your cut below a growing node.
Depending on the plant you are growing, you may have two or three intermediate nodes between the top and bottom. Strip all but the top set of leaves. Many growers go a step farther and clip the tips off of the remaining leaves. Monty Don, the host of BBC’s wildly popular BBC Gardeners’ World, is a proponent of clipping the leaves. “The more leaves it has, the more moisture is lost.”
However, Monty’s opinion is not universal. According to the International Plant Propagators Society there are reasons NOT to cut the tips:
- The cut causes a wound that is open to infection.
- The cuttings have reduced the natural rooting substance IAA [an auxin]
- With a wound present, the cuttings use valuable resources to heal, rather than induce root formation.
So what’s the best method? Likely, the answer lies with the specific plant and its immediate environment.
Once you have made the cutting, the plant begins losing moisture right away. To protect it, you must either plant it immediately in the medium of your choice, wrap it in a clean, damp cloth, or put it in a plastic bag.
There are some subtleties to making the best cuttings of the mother plant. First, cleanly cut the base of the mother plant. Common wisdom says to cut at a 45-degree angle to maximize surface area for new roots. Although, some growers have found success with two alternatives.
The first alternative is to cut straight through the main stem; studies have shown that with many plants, this 90-degree cut is as effective as the 45-degree cut.
The next alternative is to split the stem lengthwise for half an inch or more. In some cases, this newer method has significantly increased the number of new roots.
Experiment with the specific plant you are trying to clone, and you will find the best cut for successful cloning.
Should you score your cutting?
Scoring the basal node increases the exposure of the cambium layer. New roots grow from the cambium layer. Some growers claim plant cloning success with this method.
Also, scoring has its drawbacks: handling time and exposed area — both vectors for contamination. Also, the improvement in the growth of roots is generally nominal. So unless you are having trouble getting roots, scoring does not seem to be worth the effort.
The Importance of Sterile Tools
When taking cuttings, you need to use sterile tools and work in a sterile environment. Fungus, bacteria, and foreign bodies can enter the cutting and kill it. Dull blades may tear rather than cut and crush the tender cambium layer. A small investment in sharp shears or a hobby knife is an investment too simple to ignore.
For more detail on how to take cuttings from various kinds of plants, visit a Purdue University extension.
Step 2: A Base for Your Clone
Now that you have your cutting, what is the best medium to use for your cloning process? From water to wool, to gel to compost, a range of media can be used to help your cutting develop roots and become a proper clone.
You can put your cutting into water, but in water some plants will have low success rates. Your cutting is about as likely to rot as it is to sprout roots. If you are serious about plant cloning, you need to support your cuttings with a solid medium.
The ideal medium varies with the type of plant. Follow the guidelines below, and you can formulate the medium that will make your rooting process happen the fastest and help your plant grow.
The most common cloning media are peat, coco coir, rock wool, perlite, and compost. All of these media are made of natural ingredients. Rockwool, however, does not occur naturally.
Peat is a very common medium, often sold as disc-like ‘pellets’ held together with a slender mesh. Adding water causes the pellets to expand and become ready for your cuttings.
Peat is known for having a neutral pH; however, has few nutrients, and tends to dry out quickly. Additionally, if you do not cut away the netting when planting, peat pellets will strangle your growing roots.
Basalt rock and chalk are combined under high heat to make rockwool. It is inexpensive and easy to find. Rockwool cubes work well with hydroponic growing, as their highly absorbent nature makes it easy to get nutrients to your clone plants. However, there are a few drawbacks. rockwool cubes do not decompose.
When new, it also sheds dust and thin fibers which can irritate the lungs. Growers who use rockwool on a large scale should wear appropriate protective equipment
Coco coir is made of the husk and hairs of coconuts. It is light, inexpensive, and retains moisture fairly well. Like rockwool, coir works well for indoor grow. Because it is grown in ocean climates, coir may have a salt residue which may affect pH.
Perlite and vermiculite
Perlite (a type of obsidian) and vermiculite (a mica-like mineral), are often used in conjunction with one another. They both assist in aerating the soil and making it less compact.
Plants can grow roots and develop better root systems in soil that is less compact. Perlite absorbs almost no water, while vermiculite holds a good amount of moisture. They are often used in conjunction with compost or coir.
Sometimes the best medium is prepared soil. All the necessary hormones and nutrients can still be delivered to the clone, though perhaps without the precision of a hydroponic setup. Well-composted soil has the advantage of microorganisms to aid in the growth of roots.
Step 3: A Home for Your Clone
Once you have your cuttings settled into the growing medium of your choice, you need to set them up in an environment to thrive. Without a doubt, plant clones thrive in a humid environment.
Controlling the heat and moisture is essential for your clones to root. Keep tender cuttings in a humidity dome to retain moisture. Check the humidity dome daily to ensure the environment is moist which ensures the stomata stay open.
It is important to use heat mats if you are growing in a cool place. You need a grow light for your clones, which essential to provide consist energy for photosythesis.
Fluorescent lights are common. On the other hand, LED lights are more efficient, and you can choose precise ranges of wavelengths. However, if LED lights get too close, they can damage the cuttings.
Step 4: Adding Plant Hormones
You’ve taken your cuttings and successfully planted them in a root-supporting medium. Now, what will you feed it?
Auxins: The Plant Hormones
Plant hormones related to growth are called ‘auxins’. Of the auxins, one known as IBA (Indole butyric acid) is most closely tied to root production, with NAA (naphthalene acetic acid) a close second. These hormones can be collected from natural sources or synthetically produced. If you are purchasing synthetic rooting hormone, be sure that it includes IBA or NAA.
Dutch growers were the first to use commercialized auxins as a propagation aid in the mid-19th Century. The method became widespread in North America a half-century later. (Kroin, 4) Modern cultivators have a plethora of scientifically formulated products designed to feed your clones the root-growing hormones you need.
How do You Apply a Rooting Hormone
No matter which rooting hormone supplement you choose, you must apply it correctly to your plants. There are two distinct methods for using rooting hormones: basal and foliar. As the names imply, one is an application to the base of your cutting; the other method is to spray the supplement on the plant’s foliage.
First, we will discuss basal applications. During basal application, you must dip your cutting’s basal node into either a water solution or a gel. A hormone gel would be best for clones grown in soil, while water solutions are best for hydroponic systems.
Powdered auxin gets dissolved in water to create a solution, and gels are ready to use. Apply the rooting hormones to the cutting, not the cutting to the hormones! The Missouri Botanical Garden has an excellent visual guide to basal application.
Secondly, foliar applications work because the stomata at the base of the leaves absorb auxins during respiration. You can spray the leaves 12-24 hours before cutting, giving the hormones time to travel into the stem and nodes.
Foliar application after planting the cutting may work well if leaves are still present. However, if you removed all of the leaves (for reasons discussed previously), you will be working with a limited surface area. The International Plant Propagators Society published a thorough explanation of both basal and Foliar mechanics.
Match your Methods to your Plant
Every variety of plant will have slightly different needs. Nevertheless, there are a few guidelines that will improve your cuttings’ success. Adjusting the principles of root growth to your chosen crop is essential to maximizing your success.
As a rule, cuttings from herbaceous and softer-wood plants will sprout roots more quickly and easily, and require more warmth and moisture. Obviously, the cuttings rely on photosynthesis for their energy needs. Take cuttings from softwood plants early in the growing season during the vegetative phase, before buds form.
On the other hand, hardwood cuttings are slower to root. Their energy will come from woody stores rather than sunlight. Take cuttings from hardwoods late in the season, after fruits and leaves have fallen.
Learning how to clone a plant and keep them healthy means a virtually endless supply of your favorite strain of plant. Once you learn the art of cutting and caring for clones, your garden’s growth potential is unlimited. Happy cloning!