How to Clone Cannabis Plants
Article written by
Homegrown Cannabis Co.American Seed Bank and Cultivation Experts
Table of contents
Cloning cannabis means creating new plants genetically identical to the original plant, called the “mother plant.” Cloning lets you skip the seedling stage and preserves your favorite plant indefinitely. If your plant stays in the vegetative stage, you can keep producing clones.
So why settle for a single harvest of the best bud you’ve ever had when you can clone it? Cloning is simple, low-cost, and faster than sprouting seeds, but seeds tend to produce larger, more vigorous plants. Seeds also do much better than clones in outdoor growing environments.
Though plants grown from seed are often stronger and healthier, most cannabis growers — especially commercial cultivators — utilize clones.
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What Are Cannabis Clones?
Cannabis clones begin life as cuttings taken from live marijuana plants in the vegetative or early flowering stage.
To create a clone, remove a branch (at least six inches long) from the mother plant. The cutting should be grown with hormones to encourage root development. Once established, it will grow normally and produce a genetic copy of the original plant.
Clones vs. Seeds
Each tiny seed contains the genome of its mother and father. In the case of feminized seeds, male chromosomes are eliminated — females pass down their genes and yield only female offspring. Feminized seeds are created by manipulating mother plants’ reproductive systems so they can self-pollinate, producing an exact replica of themselves.
It’s worth noting that how clones grow is also affected by their environment. We understand this by the term phenotype: observable traits determined by an organism’s genetic makeup and environment.
When you germinate and start growing from a batch of seeds, you’ll find individual plants with different traits than their brothers and sisters. That’s because they’re expressing genotypes, like any pair of siblings. What most growers experience is increased variation with seed-grown plants. This should be welcomed, however, as genetic diversity is the cornerstone of evolution and the only way species can survive.
Reasons for Cloning Cannabis
If cloning creates a weaker marijuana plant compared to seeds, why go this route? While seeds may produce better plants, clones are a super convenient method for cannabis growers. Here are the benefits of growing with clones:
- Saves time: Clone root growth takes two weeks, which is shorter than the germination and seedling stages together. You shave off around a month of the cultivation journey with cuttings since vegetative growth time is reduced.
- Saves space: With clones, you know that every specimen has the best genetics from day one. You’ll waste no room or resources discarding males as you might when using regular seeds.
- Saves money: Clones are free if you already have a cannabis mother plant. With one mother, cloning allows you to produce enough plants to fill your grow without having to re-purchase seeds harvest after harvest.
- Ensures desirable genes: Cannabis cuttings are replicas of a selectively chosen plant. You can rest assured they’ll display those favored traits.
- Crop sex guaranteed: Even using feminized seeds, a pollen-producing male sometimes appears in the ranks. Barring stress-induced hermaphroditism, cuts from female plants are 100% female.
- Breeding projects: A well-looked-after mother plant can produce excellent offspring when combined with a strong father. Mother plants, no matter how much they’re taken care of, can get “tired” after a few years of cloning. Pollinating your mother plant before this happens helps refresh your stock, preserve genetics, and yield an interesting new strain (cultivar).
How to Clone Cannabis Plants
Taking weed clones is a straightforward process, but it does require cleanliness, precision, and some important tools. Here’s a shopping list of the main growing supplies you’ll need:
- Large scissors for taking cuttings from the parent plant
- Small scissors or a razor to trim branches
- Rooting plugs and a rooting tray with a dome (clones need high humidity to root)
- Your growing medium of choice
- Rooting hormones (in gel or powder form)
- High-proof alcohol to disinfect tools and your station
Once your prep materials are gathered, you’re ready to grow. Here’s a breakdown of how to take marijuana clones and help them thrive.
Step 1: Select a Mother Plant
Cloning is about capturing the best attributes of a particular strain, so you should selectively decide which plant will become your mother plant. It may look the strongest, grow the fastest, or have the most vibrant shades.
Another option is to take cuttings from all the plants in your cannabis garden and preserve them until the batch finishes flowering. Then note the ones with the best buds: look for exotic aromas, high yields, or sweet flavors. Discard any male plants and pick females to get bud-bearing offspring. Since plants only display sex in flowering, you can reduce the guesswork by growing parent plants from feminized seeds.
Never take cuttings from crops that have recently been ill or stressed. Avoid taking cuttings from a plant already in flower — you want to clip them during the plant’s vegetative state. Also, steer clear of cloning auto-flower strains, as their flowering cycle doesn’t leave enough time for healthy vegetative growth.
Step 2: Choose a Rooting Medium
Clones need a well-aerated growing medium that retains plenty of moisture to develop a robust root system. Rockwool cubes are most growers’ go-to. These cubes facilitate excellent airflow and keep water available for longer. Place branches in a plastic tray and cover them with a humidity dome or propagator.
You can also plant your cutting directly in soil to reduce the risk of transplant shock. In this case, combine the substrate with perlite to improve its oxygen and moisture retention capacity. Hydroponic growers sometimes perform rooting in water at 5.8–6.0 pH, but the risk of bacteria and algae is higher, so we suggest you use an inert medium or a potting mix.
Step 3: Prepare Your Work Area
Cleanliness is key to growing healthy clones. The mother plant and cuttings have small “wounds” where they were clipped, which increases their risk for infection. Before cutting, sterilize your work area and wipe everything down with high-proof alcohol. Wash your hands and use gloves when handling branches and scissors.
Another thing to remember is that cuttings won’t live long outside a safe, humid environment. To maintain their well-being, set up the rooting station before removing any branches and keep your rooting hormone gel on hand. You may lightly moisten the Rockwool cubes, too.
Step 4: Select a Cutting
Theoretically, you can take cuttings from a plant in the flowering stage. However, they tend to be slower to root and need to revert to their vegetative state before they bloom. It’s better to take clones from a female in the vegetative phase.
Once you pick a parent to clone, start from the top and look for large, healthy branches to cut. Look for longer ones since clones should have at least two nodes to produce the best results.
Step 5: Cut the Branch
Using a pair of sharp scissors, make a clean cut at a 45-degree angle below the second or third node. Angling the tool increases the rooting surface area and facilitates development. Another technique is to take a razor blade and make a tiny cut in the stem. Use the blade to scrape the tissue around the cut — this will help stimulate rooting. Adding a few drops of apple cider vinegar mixed with water can also encourage rooting.
As soon as you remove the cutting, dip it into rooting gel and put it straight into your growing medium. This will reduce exposure to the outside environment and the chance of your clone catching a disease.
Step 6: Trim the Clone
When your weed clone is secure in its medium, it’s time to trim. Clones are vulnerable and incapable of sustaining all of their existing leaves, so trimming is essential. Using smaller scissors or a razor, remove the plant’s bottom blades; leave only the fan leaves and growing tips at the top.
You can also trim each leaf finger to promote water uptake and photosynthesis. Gently trim all the leaf tips as you go and place them directly into rooting cubes after they’re cut. This technique slows evaporation and helps roots retain more moisture.
Tip: It might sound appealing to take several cuttings and keep them hydrated until you’re ready to plant and trim, but it’s generally safer to do one at a time.
Steps 7-8: Clone Care and Transplantation
Once you have your cannabis clone, place it under a humidity dome so rooting can begin. These young plants enjoy temperatures of 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit with 60-80% humidity. They develop best with an 18/6 light schedule under low-power fluorescent or metal halide lamps.
Check on your clones daily to monitor their health and ensure they have plenty of moisture. If the humidity drops, spritz the plant’s leaves to help them stay hydrated. If any of the clones die (which can happen), immediately remove and discard them. Otherwise, the branch will rot and may cause mold to spread.
Clones take 10-14 days to sprout new roots. Once the roots are 1-2 inches long and protruding from the bottom of the cube, they’re ready to be transplanted.
Transplantation is the final step when cloning cannabis. Sterilize the environment and prepare small pots of moist, lightly-fertilized soil. Using gloves, remove the cuttings and plant them into the prepared pots. When transplanting, keep cuttings in their cubes (remove any plastic exterior), so you don’t disturb the roots.
Growing Cloned Cannabis Plants
When the rooting period ends, keep cultivating as usual. Properly water, feed, and prune to schedule. Cloned cannabis plants have less resilient root systems, so pay extra attention and watch for signs of stress and pests.
You can grow indoors or outdoors as long as the conditions remain optimal. If keeping clones outside, sow them in a spot with at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Plant in May for a late-September harvest (depending on strain). The benefit of clones for indoor growers is they have less turnaround time between harvests.
If you use a flowering plant, manipulate the light schedule, so it spends at least three weeks in the vegetative phase. Use HPS or LED lamps and skip heavy training. You can also employ bloom boosters to get a higher yield.
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Frequently Asked Questions
How late into flowering can you clone?
Avoid cloning any plant that’s flowering. It’s possible to do, but you’ll have to spend a few extra weeks getting it to regenerate. Cases where you’d clone in the flower phase are if the mother plant dies or you need to save a cutting of the genetics.
If clipping in the flowering phase, use plants 2-3 weeks into bloom. The longer you wait, the lower development rates you’ll see from clones. It’s also possible to copy a harvest-ready crop, but those cuttings aren’t usually as productive.
Can you put clones straight into soil?
You can skip the Rockwool and plant cuttings directly into the soil. To start, combine the substrate with perlite to increase aeration and drainage capacities. Then, follow these steps:
- Fill small cups with a light potting mix with 25% perlite by volume.
- Soak the soil and let any excess moisture drain.
- Dip the cutting into rooting gel and place it in the medium.
- Pat down soil around the stem to keep the clone in place.
- Keep the clone in a propagator or humidity dome for two weeks.
Young plants can stay in the same pots until they outgrow them, which can take up to a month. Only transplant when you see roots reach the sides of the container.
How long can you keep a mother plant?
Mother plants mostly last between six months and three years before losing their yield potential and trichome production capabilities. That said, mother plants can remain viable indefinitely if kept in optimal conditions.