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How to clone a cannabis plant

In this beginner’s guide to cloning cannabis plants, you’ll learn how to clone cannabis as well as the benefits and drawbacks of cloning cannabis versus growing with seeds.

What is plant cloning?

Plant cloning is a method growers use to make replicas of their best plants. Cannabis clones are genetically identical plants created through a process that does not involve sexual reproduction. However, Mother Nature can also clone plants without any human assistance. A clone plant can result from a new plant taking root after another plant has sent out a “runner,” which is a type of modified stem. This natural asexual reproduction, called apomixis, occurs in hundreds of plants such as blackberries, strawberries, dandelions, and crab apples. Cannabis is not among the many plants that clones itself so taking cuttings from a marijuana plant is necessary to produce a clone.

Cannabis clones are genetically identical plants created through a process that does not involve sexual reproduction. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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What are the benefits of cloning cannabis plants?

Besides the obvious — a genetically identical carbon copy of a strong performer — there are other reasons why a grower might want to clone a cannabis plant. Clones deliver:

1. Faster growth cheaper: Cloning cannabis plants bypasses the germination and seedling stages, which can take several weeks. Instead, a cutting taken from a mother plant can enter the vegetative stage of growth as soon as root growth begins. In addition, growers can save money by eliminating the purchase of seeds. A healthy and stable mother plant can produce countless cannabis clones without repeated investment in seeds.

A healthy and stable mother plant can produce countless cuttings without repeated investment in seeds. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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2. All females: Cannabis mother plants are sure to yield female plants, which means there is no chance of adding potentially destructive male plants to a garden. You can also achieve this outcome by purchasing feminized seeds from a seed bank, but this variety tends to cost more than regular seeds.

3. Multiple harvests: Not only will cloning allow you to replicate your best female plants, but the process may also yield more plentiful and frequent harvests. Indoor growers can grow all year round with cloning, while outdoor cultivators might be able to achieve an extra harvest before winter.

Are there any downsides to cloning plants?

Cloning cannabis plants is not a flawless process and there are some potential drawbacks. Cloning is more predictable than growing marijuana from seeds, but this benefit can actually be a downside if growers aren’t careful. Any flaws that are present in the parent plant will show up in all the cuttings, which could leave a grower with a defective crop. Plant cuttings may carry pests or diseases originating from the mother plant that could be difficult to eliminate.

Cloned plants may also yield less cannabis than new plants grown from seeds. This is because clones have no taproot, the initial root that protrudes from the seed and extends deep into the soil. You can minimize the risks of a lower yield by growing cloned plants indoors and using the proper cloning technique.

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How to clone a cannabis plant

The first step to cloning a cannabis plant is to gather the right equipment. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Healthy mother plant (at least one month old) with vegetative limbs ranging from 4 to 20 inches (10 to 50 centimeters) in length
  • Razorblade
  • Cup filled with water
  • Rooting medium
  • Rooting hormone
  • Fluorescent light
  • Cloning humidity dome or plastic bag to cover the cutting

Make sure you keep the mother plant in the vegetative stage and separate it from other plants. Before taking cuttings, sterilize the razor blade to avoid contaminating clone roots with bacteria and try to work in a sterile environment. On the cannabis mother plant, choose a branch that has at least four nodes and an appearance of new leaf growth. Cut the branch at a 45-degree angle and remove all growth underneath the top two nodes. After ensuring that you have made the cut at a 45-degree angle, place the cut end of the stem in the cup filled with water.

Application of a rooting hormone is recommended to prevent the formation of air bubbles, also called embolisms. A rooting hormone will also accelerate the growth process and provide a boost of nutrients. Dip the cuttings in the rooting hormone, then transfer to a rooting medium such as rockwool cubes. Put the rockwool cubes or other rooting medium under the humidity dome for moisture retention. You want to keep the humidity at an optimal level of 75% to 90% until the roots are able to absorb water.

Over the next week or two, you should see the formation of roots, which indicates that it’s time to plant the clones. Once the clones have grown to maturity, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to three months if you aren’t ready to plant yet. Wrapping the plant clones in a wet paper towel and placing them in a sealed plastic bag (aired out once a week) will keep them fresh. Do not place the clone plants in the freezer or any environment where the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius), as the cell walls could burst in the cold. Clones die in that kind of cold.

The formation of roots indicates that it’s time to plant the clones. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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Bottom line

For cultivators who want to replicate a favorite plant, cloning is a straightforward process with several advantages. Take notes as you experiment with cloning to better understand what techniques work best for you and your plants.

How do I Clone a Cannabis Plant?

A clone, also known as a clipping or baby, is simply a branch cut from a plant. These branches are cut, dipped in a rooting solution and placed into a simple growing medium.

For clones to properly root and survive, we need to create a low VPD environment that will protect them from high transpiration rates. Temperatures in a cloning environment should be between 70-78F with relative humidity between 75-90%.

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Clones can be taken at just about any stage of a plants development – even during flowering (see Monster Cropping). Ideally a clone is taken from a plant during the vegetative stage of growth. If a clone is taken after the plant has gone into flowering, it will undergo a re-vegetative stage that can take weeks or even months. The further the plant goes into the flowering cycle, the longer it can take for clone to recover and revert back.

Clones can be taken of any size. If you take a cutting that’s too large, it will be difficult to work with and fit inside a standard tray and dome. If you take a clone that’s too small, the clipping will be fragile and can take longer to begin rooting and growing.

The first step in cloning is identifying a suitable branch to cut. You are looking for something that is not too small, not too big and as straight up and down as possible. Branches that are curling or bending for light can take up un-needed space inside of a crammed propagation tray. The more vertical the specimen is, the easier the whole process will be.

Now that we have a good looking branch spotted on the plant, we will take a clean razor blade and cut the stem at a 45 degree angle. Remove any smaller unnecessary growth on the new clone with the razor and use a clean pair of scissors to reduce the size of any larger leaves. Thoroughly wash your hands or use rubber gloves and try to keep exposed cuts away from any dirty surfaces.

Freshly cut clones can be kept happy and healthy by placing the cut stem in a cup of water. Clones can be kept alive this way for hours while more cuts are being taken.

After you have all the clones you need, dip the newly cut portion of the branch into a liquid rooting hormone of your choice. From there, you will firmly push the clone into the new growing block or medium you chose. You need to make sure the new clone is seated firmly in the block (not too shallow and not too deep). Cloning is a skill and some patience and practice will help you get it mastered. It’s always a good idea to cut a few more clones than you’ll need until you get more comfortable with the entire process.

Once the clones have been firmly seated into their new medium, they are placed into a propagation tray. A 2 tray system is a must-have and allows for proper drainage away from the blocks and a water storage area for keeping the relative humidity up. Above the top tray is a clear plastic dome that traps humidity and heat in the environment while the clones begin to root.

After the clones are taken and the tray is filled, a clean spray bottle with water is used to lightly mist the new clones, the inside of the plastic dome and plastic tray itself. You want the growing cubes/medium to be moist but not over-saturated or poorly drained. For the first 48 hours of the clones’ life, you will completely close all of the vents, trapping any humidity inside the dome.

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The next step is to setup your warming mats and slide them under your trays. Heat mats are used to increase the temperature and humidity inside of the dome. Heat mats can also create a lot of problems – they can easily get too warm for clones and precautions should be taken. Placing a towel between the heating mat and the bottom of the tray will help dissipate the heat inside of the tray. Another good method is hooking the heat mats to a timer. Have them turn on and off every 5-15 minutes. Use a temperature and humidity monitor with a probe inside of the dome to dial in the proper levels of 75-80F and 70-80% RH. You will want to visually see some condensation on the sides of the dome. Leave the new clones alone and re-check the temperature and humidity levels every 2-12 hours for any potential issues that may arise.

Now that the environment is dialed, we need to setup the lighting. A low wattage fixture (fluorescent is common) is ideal and should be set 12-24” above the plastic dome. Continue to keep a close eye on the temperature and humidity levels in the dome. Mist the plants and the inside of the dome if things have dried out. Make sure that the humidity inside is still between 70-80% RH. If the humidity or temperature gets too high, temporarily open the dome and find a solution to the problem. If your humidity is too low, continue to mist the inside of the dome and add a little water to the bottom of the second tray. If the humidity is too high, slightly crack the vents and allow the cloning environment to breathe.

After 5-10 days, the rooting process should start getting underway. Once a majority of the plants have begun rooting, they are ready for a cloning solution from the Perfect Grower feeding chart. You will want to hydrate your clones with a flood and drain style approach. Once roots begin to show, fill the lower tray with a cloning solution from the Perfect Grower website. Let the upper tray soak in it and saturate the blocks for 2-3 minutes. Drain and pour all of the excess nutrient solution out of the lower tray and into a 5 gallon bucket. Cover the bucket with a lid and reuse this solution as necessary over the next week.

As soon as the clones are rooted and healthy, the dome is ready to come off. Newly rooted clones can droop or wilt if they are exposed to a high VPD environment too quickly. Make sure the VPD levels in the new environment are within the green portion of the VPD chart below: