Propagating plants is a crucial step to growing plants, and success with this step can make the difference between a successful grow, and an empty grow room.
Propagation can be done from seed, or by cloning. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but generally for indoor and greenhouse growers, clones are the easiest and most effective method of plant propagation.
Seeds and Genetic Variability
Seeds are great, and have been the method of plant propagation for billions of years on earth. The problem with seeds is that they tend to take a long time, and they produce plants that often vary in size, flavor, and disease or drought resistance. In nature this is beneficial for a plot of any particular plant because if drought or insects strike, some of these plants will be genetically different, and may be resistant to this drought or pest. When all non-resistant plants die, the genetically different and resistant plants survive, the species will live on.
If a crop of genetically identical plants (clones) gets attacked by a particular insect, or affected by drought or other factors, the entire crop will be equally susceptible and all will die of the same cause.
Clones and Identical Genes
In greenhouse, or indoor growing situations however, where drought, insect attack, and other pathogens can be controlled and prevented, having a crop with identical genes offers some benefits;
- All plants will grow at the same rate, keeping the canopy even and allowing each plant to maintain a uniform size and shape
- Plants with desired traits such as better tasting fruit, disease resistance, or rapid growth can be cloned to allow those traits to be shared among the entire crop.
The cloning process has additional benefits aside from having genetically identical plants including:
- Faster propagation time
- Plants do not need to reach flowering or seed stage in order to propagate new ones
- Clone cuttings are stronger than seedlings from day one
- Some species have incredibly hard to sprout seeds, but clone very easily from cuttings
What is a Cutting?
A cutting refers to the process of “cutting” the end of a stem or branch with a few leaves on it, and placing it in a rooting medium for a few weeks until it develops its own root system. This is in effect an exact genetic copy of the plant just like with plants grown in a lab through tissue culture. This method of cloning is extremely useful, and anybody can do it.
It works because unlike animals, plants have an ability to differentiate any cell in their structure. This means that they can decide to grow roots or leaves or any kind of tissue from anywhere on its body. This would be the same if we could start growing eyes on our hands because we decided it would be helpful to us. Our genetic structure just does not allow it to happen. This amazing ability for plants to do this is what makes cloning possible.
With a cloned plant, the growth patterns, fruit size, and taste are all exactly the same. This is ideal for most gardeners because it means you will have a consistent crop, and it allows you to choose plants that perform especially well and continue to grow only those plants. This leads to an increased yield, better flavor control, and more disease or drought resistant crops depending on what you are going for.
So now that why know WHY we take clones, the question is HOW do we take clones?
The answer is simple. In the growing tips of any plant, there are segments called nodes. This is the area on the stem where 2 leaves meet.
When taking a cutting, cut just BELOW one of these nodes. It is helpful to include 2 or 3 leaves as well. The plant still needs to produce energy from light in order to grow roots, but having too many leaves requires too much nutrients to maintain, which is not available since it has no roots! 2 or three sets of leaves is generally perfect but some species can handle more or less.
After making the cut below the node, dip the cut end in some rooting hormone such as our Root Stimulators. These types of products contain enzymes that help stimulate this cell differentiation.
After dipping the cutting in a root stimulator, you can then place the cutting in a propagator, moist soil, rockwool cubes, perlite or vermiculite. It is also possible for some plants (especially herbaceous plants) to simply place them in water for a couple of weeks.
Once the roots develop, it becomes a complete plant once again where it can then be transplanted and treated just as any other plant in your system.
Are their any special support systems that I need for my clone cuttings?
Yes, for starters consider the fact that these clones have no roots, and therefore only a very small capacity for water absorption. This means that any amount of water loss can become too much for the cutting to keep up with, and can result in the dehydration and death of the plant very easily. You can prevent this by keeping the relative humidity as high as possible for your plants. Use one of our propagators, or keep them in a grow tent with plenty of humidity. Shoot for 70-90% humidity. This will help to prevent the loss of water from the leaves, and can actually help the plant absorb water instead through the millions of tiny pores on the leaf surface.
For the same reason, it is very important that you do not let the soil, rockwool, or other media dry out. Cuttings are very sensitive to water loss, and do not have any way of buffering an absence of water in the medium like mature plants do. This is why aeroponic propagators make for such a great method of cloning plants.
The steady supply of aeroponically sprayed water gives the cuttings the perfect, high humidity environment for sending out roots successfully.
Rooting hormones as mentioned earlier are also incredibly useful for rooting plants. The sooner they decide to begin forming roots the better. Using these products will tell the plant right from the beginning that this is a great spot to begin sending out roots. Once this process starts ,and water is discovered, it will result in an explosion of growth in that area.
Hopefully this article has helped you to better understand why so many people choose to clone their plants, and give a brief overview on the concepts behind it. This process is a good one to learn as a new grower, and one worth perfecting as an experienced grower. The overall concept is not complicated, and most of the work is done by the plant itself. The key is to provide them with high humidity, and to never let them dry out at all costs. The rest is simply extra to speed them along.
Feel free to ask our experts any questions you may have about the cloning process, and check out our supply of propagators for your source of professional grade cloners.