Ultimate Guide to Plant Cloning

Ultimate Guide to Plant Cloning Title Card

Plant cloning sounds like a modern and high-tech invention.  

But in fact, humans have been cloning plants for at least 2,000 years! 

We put together this ultimate guide to plant cloning, so you can learn everything you need to know to get started. 

In this article, you’ll learn about types of plant cloning, the benefits, cloneable plants and how to clone.  

You can read it all the way through.  

Or you can use the table of contents to find the parts you’re the most interested in. 

Don’t forget that you can always save it to come back to later too! 

First, you’ll learn what plant cloning is. 

What is Plant Cloning  

Plant cloning is the process of making genetically identical plants without using seeds.  

It basically lets you grow copies of an already established plant, also known as the mother plant.  

While plant cloning sounds difficult, it’s actually easy.  

Some plants even clone themselves naturally! 

For example, strawberry plants commonly create clones of themselves.  

First, the plant grows a special root called a runner.  

Runners grow very close to the surface of soil and move outward.  

Eventually, the runner forms a bud or node that will grow a shoot.  

The shoot then grows above the surface of the soil and builds its own new root system. 

At this point, the runner may die.  

Left untouched, this process can repeat an unlimited amount of times!  

This creates a genet, which is a family of clones that all live close to the original mother plant.  

The largest genet on Earth is in Utah and called Pando.  

Pando is made up of more than 40,000 clones of one aspen tree.  

The exact age of Pando is unknown, but scientists estimate that it began at the end of the last ice age, nearly 12,000 years ago.  

Cloning can also occur naturally when fallen branches sprout.  

Onions, grasses and potatoes are just a few other common plants that will self-clone.  

When it comes to artificial cloning, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years too! 

Most sources say humans started cloning plants at least 2,000 years ago, at around the same time we domesticated olive and pomegranate trees.  

A form of cloning, called grafting, is even described in the New Testament.  

There are a few different methods of artificially cloning plants, but vegetative propagation is the most common and easiest.  

For vegetative propagation, typically a branch or stem from the mother plant is taken.  

This is called a cutting.  

The cutting is then dipped in hormones and given water, nutrients and light to develop roots.  

This works because the branch or stem, forms a callus, or a clump of nonspecialized cells.  

As these cells grow and divide, they become roots, creating a new plant.  

While self-clones typically remain close to the mother plant in nature, artificial clones can be planted anywhere.  

Another common type of cloning is grafting, but this one usually doesn’t create an identical crop.  

Instead, it combines two plants to create a new variety, or combine desired traits.  

Typically, the cutting is attached to the roots of another plant.  

Essentially, this gives a new plant the well-developed root system of an old plant.  

Sometimes the roots were propagated from a mother plant and then a cutting from the same mother plant is grafted to those roots.  

In this case, grafting creates a true clone. 

Grafting is commonly used for cultivating apples and other fruit trees

This is because seeds are unreliable when it comes to certain characteristics and tree cuttings don’t root easily. 

Another, newer type of cloning is tissue culture propagation.  

This method was first developed in the 1950s for use in the orchid industry, but it has since been used for many other crops.  

Tissue culture propagation is also known as micropropagation, and it’s most popularly used in large-scale commercial agriculture.  

It’s also more of a scientific process than vegetative propagation and grafting.  

Micropropagation can create thousands of copies of the mother plant, using only a few cells. 

The process can be pretty difficult to understand. 

But, basically, the mother plant’s tissue is manipulated with hormones until it grows big enough to be divided.  

Then, the tissue is divided into smaller “plantlets” and given more hormones until they develop roots.  

This method works great for large-scale cloning, because it can make many more clones, with less tissue from the mother plant, than vegetative propagation and grafting.  

Now that you know what plant cloning is, you’ll learn what some of its benefits are.  

Benefits of Plant Cloning 

5 Benefits of Plant Cloning: 1. Replicates sucessful plants, 2. consistency across generations, 3. faster than seeds, 4. preservation, 5. save money on new plants

Plant cloning has a lot of great benefits. 

If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be so popular.  

Here are five benefits of plant cloning. 

Replicates successful plants 

When you clone plants, you’re able to ensure the survival of beneficial traits.  

For example, say you have a rosemary bush that is especially resistant to diseases. 

When you clone the rosemary bush, you’re left with more disease resistant bushes.  

This can also be helpful for ensuring strong harvests!  

When you plant from seed, you don’t know what traits your new plants will have.  

If you plant seeds from the same rosemary bush, they may not develop the same disease resistance.  

In fact, if they were pollinated with a weaker bush, the new bushes can especially be susceptible to disease! 

Cloning eliminates that uncertainty.  

As a result, you can mitigate some of the risks of planting from seed.  

Consistency across generations 

For long term operations, consistency is key!  

Let’s say one of your strawberry plants, which you grew from seed, produces berries with a unique flavor and your customers start associating that flavor with your farm.  

Cloning is the best way to guarantee that your future strawberry plants also have that unique flavor. 

Whether you artificially do it, or allow it to self-clone, you’re ensuring that you’re able to continue producing the special flavor your customers love.  

This same idea applies to yield sizes, potency, appearance, and more characteristics! 

Faster than seeds 

Cloning removes quite a few steps in the growing process.  

As a result, clones reach maturity a lot faster than plants started from seed.  

When you grow from seed, your plants have to germinate, grow through the seedling phase, and then start the vegetative phase until it matures.  

When you start with a cutting, your plants skip the germination and seedling phases, letting them start the vegetative phase right away.  

This makes plant cloning an easy way to increase the size of your crop collection or replace old plants.  

It’s also great if you grow plants for sale, instead of harvesting and selling the produce.  

This way you can sell established plants without waiting for seeds to germinate and grow to the proper size. 

Preservation 

A 2019 study found that plant species are going extinct 500 times faster than they would naturally.  

This means about three species of plants have gone extinct every year since 1900.  

One way to help endangered species populations grow, is by creating new ones through plant cloning.  

Since plant cloning is faster than starting from seed, it allows conservationists to increase the endangered populations faster.  

As a result, cloning can be used to save plant species from going extinct.  

Save money on new plants 

One of the best parts of taking cuttings from your existing plants, is that it’s free!  

Technically, collecting and planting seeds from plants you already have, is also free.  

But this isn’t possible or practical for all plants. 

For example, male plants can’t produce seeds, only pollen.  

And indoor plants typically need help producing seeds, since they can’t be naturally pollinated.  

With cloning, you can simply replicate plants you already have, without worrying about the pollination process, or buying new plants or seeds. 

Cloning is also useful for high-value or rare plants, because seeds for those plants aren’t cheap or easily accessible.  

So instead of spending a lot of money to expand your collection, you can clone the ones you already have. 

These five benefits are just a few of the reasons you may want to start cloning plants. 

Next, you’ll learn what plants are able to be cloned. 

What Plants Can Be Cloned  

Almost every plant can be cloned.  

Though some are a lot easier than others.  

Generally, crops with multiple stems and branches are easier to clone.  

This is because it’s easier to clone from long cuttings.  

Plus, if you can take just a few branches rather than cut the whole plant down, you can keep your mother plant alive.  

However, woody plants, like trees, can be difficult to clone, as it’s hard to get nutrients and hormones to penetrate through the thick skin.  

Some of the most common choices for cloning are mint, oregano, tomatoes, basil, rosemary, peppers, and grapes.  

Some plants can be cloned, but are more difficult to do, like romaine lettuce.  

In general, it’s not recommended to clone single-harvest or large fruiting crops.  

This includes crops like onions, cabbage, head lettuces and carrots.  

As you learned in the last section, clones reach maturity faster than plants started from seed. 

So, typically, the best plants to clone are ones that grow slowly and take a long time to be ready for harvest. 

For example, dragon fruit plants take three years to produce fruit from seed, but only one to two years if started from cutting.  

And since clones have favorable characteristics of their mother plant, cloning is also popular for high-value crops, like orchids.  

Since most plants can be cloned, you might wonder whether you should.  

This next section will help you decide if you should clone your mother plant or not.  

Should you clone? 

Should You Clone? Some factors to help you decide: Check your plant is in the vegetative state, be sure your mother plant is healthy, consider the price and germination rate of seeds, and consider how easy it is for your crop to clone

If you’re not sure whether your mother plant should be cloned or not, there are a few factors that can help you decide.  

First, you should clone plants that are at least two months old.  

This is to ensure the plant is in the vegetative state.  

As a result, you should also take cuttings from plants that have not started flowering or fruiting yet.  

Cuttings taken during the vegetative state are more healthy and strong, so they’re more likely to succeed.  

However, you can still have success cloning plants that have already developed flowers or fruit.  

You should also be absolutely sure, that your mother plant is healthy.  

This means it shouldn’t show any signs of pests or diseases, for at least two weeks before taking the cuttings.  

Additionally, consider the price of seeds.  

If you’re growing a crop with cheap seeds, it might make more financial sense to just start from seeds.  

Also, you’ll want to consider how long it takes for those seeds to germinate.  

If you’re growing something that takes a relatively short amount of time to become harvestable, like basil, starting from seed might make the most sense.  

But if you’re in a rush, or growing something that takes a while to grow, like dragon fruit, starting from cutting might be the best.  

Also take into consideration the germination rate of the seeds.  

If you’re growing a high volume of crops, and the seeds have a low germination rate, it’s more practical to start from cutting instead.  

Finally, you’ll also want to consider how easy it is to clone.  

If you have the time, patience and materials (and maybe some backup seeds), you can always try cloning a crop just to see if you can!  

You might be surprised by which crops you have success with.  

Now that you have an idea of which crops can and should be cloned, we can move onto how to do it.  

How to Clone 

As mentioned earlier, there are a couple different plant cloning methods you can use.  

However, the simplest and most common is vegetative propagation.  

In this section, you’ll learn how to clone plants using vegetative propagation.  

Preparation 

Materials you'll need: a mother plant, sterilized cutting tool, growing medium, humidity dome and plastic tray, rooting hormone

Before you start cloning, you need to be sure you have the right tools ready.  

Below is a list of materials you need to start cloning. We’ll go over each item in more detail next. 

  • A mother plant 
  • Sterilized cutting tool 
  • Growing medium 
  • Humidity dome and plastic tray 
  • Rooting hormone (optional) 

Your mother plant should be strong and healthy, showing no signs of pests or diseases. 

Also, it should be in the vegetative state for best results.  

The tray is for setting the growing medium and cuttings in while it grows. 

You should be able to securely attach the humidity dome to the tray. 

For the cutting tool, we recommend disposable scalpels, which come sterilized.  

You can order these online. 

Alternatively, you can use knives or scissors you already have.  

Sterilize knives and scissors by washing them with soap and water and then soaking the blades in a bleach solution for 20 minutes.  

The growing medium you need will depend on the method you choose for your vegetative propagation.  

We’ll go over four different methods that all use different growing mediums later.   

Humidity is very important when growing plants from cuttings.  

This is because they need to be constantly wet, in order to sprout roots.  

In dry conditions, plants sweat out water faster, than in humid ones. 

Using a humidity dome will help you maintain consistent humidity levels to help your plants establish roots.  

Rooting hormones are used to help the cuttings grow roots.  

They prompt cell growth, helping roots form faster.  

Rooting hormones come in gel, liquid and powder forms and are applied to the cut part of the cutting. 

Some growers don’t use a rooting hormone, because cuttings can produce roots naturally too.  

Some plants have a lot of natural rooting hormones, so they’re easy to clone without using an extra product.  

But other plants need the extra help.  

Most growers choose to use a rooting hormone because there’s really no reason not to.  

Some growers don’t like the idea of applying chemicals to their cuttings, but natural rooting hormones, like honey, can be used too. 

Using a rooting hormone has no negative effects and increases the chance that the cutting will grow roots. 

So, it just makes sense to use one, regardless of the plant! 

You may need additional materials based on the growing medium you choose to use, which you will learn in the Growing Medium section.  

Once you have everything set-up and ready to go, you can take cuttings.  

Taking Cuttings 

New cuttings are especially sensitive to microorganisms and bacteria. 

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly and wear disposable gloves before starting.  

Also, make sure to clean and sterilize all tools before use.  

Have a container with water ready nearby to keep your new cuttings wet.  

Choose branches near the bottom of the plant, as they typically contain more natural rooting hormones, having a better chance for success as a result.  

Identify a growth tip, or node, of a branch coming off the main stem.  

A growth tip is the spot where a leaf meets a stem.  

Be sure that your chosen internode will result in a cutting that is at least four inches long, but short enough to fit in your humidity dome.  

Many growers recommend taking cuttings at a 45-degree angle.  

This is to increase the surface area of the cut, in order to make it easier for roots to sprout.  

But this is more of a personal preference than a rule.  

Just make sure the cut is clean, so no jagged edges.  

Use your sterile cutting tool to cut just below the growth tip for best results.  

Once you take the cutting, place the tip into the container of water immediately.  

Take 50% more cuttings than you need to make up for unsuccessful attempts and so you can choose the very best ones to keep.  

Once you’ve taken the cuttings, you can prepare them for propagation.  

Propagation 

Once you have your cuttings, you can start the propagation process.  

The process is pretty simple.  

If you’re using rooting hormones, put some into a small cup or shot glass.  

That way you can prevent contaminating the product, which may happen by dipping the cuttings straight into the original container.  

Next, remove all branches and leaves on the lower half of the cutting with your sterilized knife or scissors.  

This helps the plant conserve energy so it can focus on growing roots. 

But be sure to leave two or three nodes of growth, so the plant can still absorb light to support itself.  

If your cutting has a woody stem, like rosemary, gently scrape the outer layer of the bottom inch of the stem.  

This will help it absorb the rooting hormones better.  

Then, dip the tip of the cutting in the rooting hormone, making sure to fully cover the bottom of the cutting.  

Place the stem into your chosen growing medium and continue the process until all your cuttings have been planted! 

Then, cover with a humidity dome.  

Some people fill a shallow tray with enough water to cover the bottom and place it under the cuttings to keep humidity levels high in the humidity dome.  

Other people periodically spray the cuttings with water to keep humidity high.  

And some do both!  

Whichever method you choose, be sure to monitor and maintain proper temperatures and humidity levels.  

Cuttings don’t do well in cold areas. 

So if your growing environment is on the colder side, you can use a heater or heating pad to help regulate the temperature.  

The perfect temperature for cuttings is between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  

And relative humidity should be in the 70% to 80% range.  

Because humidity has to be so high, you may need to use an antifungal treatment to prevent mold or mildew from growing.  

Additionally, if you make sure to keep a few inches of space between each cutting, you can increase airflow and decrease the chance of mold forming.  

If the leaves on your cuttings are too long, you can use your sterile cutting tool to cut them in half.  

This will help prevent excessive evaporation as well.  

If you’re growing indoors, don’t put your cuttings under your normal grow lights.  

Instead, use a less powerful light or put them off to the side.  

If you’re growing outdoors, make sure your cuttings have some shade.  

Cuttings can’t absorb as much light as normal plants can, so if your light source is too powerful they won’t be able to tolerate it.  

This causes stress, wilting and death.  

While your cuttings grow, remove any that show signs of dying, such as wilting or browned leaves.  

Once roots become visible, slowly decrease humidity levels and increase light exposure over a few days. 

Then, you can transplant your plants into their permanent homes.  

This slow transition will help you avoid shocking your new plants, which can kill them. 

Now you know the basics of vegetative propagation cloning, we can get into the specific processes of different growing mediums.  

Growing Medium 

There are a few different methods of vegetative propagation that you can use. 

All require a different growing medium.  

Choose the method that makes the most sense for your crop and growing environment.  

For example, if you intend to grow your crops in a hydroponic system with rockwool, using rockwool for your cuttings makes the most sense.  

Or if you’re going to be growing your crops in the ground, using soil makes the most sense.  

First, we’ll look at the rockwool method.  

Rockwool 

The rockwool method of plant cloning

To use the rockwool method, you’ll need some additional materials: 

  • Rockwool starter cubes 
  • PH calibration kit  

Any time you’re going to use rockwool, you need to adjust its pH before anything else.  

PH is very important when growing plants because it affects how well they absorb nutrients.  

Rockwool has a naturally high pH, which makes it naturally inhabitable for plants.  

But you can easily fix this.  

All you have to do, is soak it in water with a pH of 5.5 for at least an hour. 

Then, remove the rockwool and let the excess water drain out of it.  

Do not squeeze the rockwool to get the water out. 

Once you’ve balanced the pH of your rockwool, place the starter cubes into the tray.  

Then, you can insert the cuttings into the rockwool cubes.  

This method also works with similar products, like foam grow cubes.   

Mist or put water in the bottom of the tray to keep the rockwool wet and increase humidity levels. 

As mentioned before, this method is great for those who are using hydroponics to grow their crops.  

Water 

the water method of plant cloning

For the water method, you also need:  

  • A cup (for each cutting)  
  • Purified water  
  • PH calibration kit 
  • Plastic wrap

First, fill the cup up about 3/4 of the way with purified water.  

Let the water sit until it’s about room temperature.  

Check your water’s pH and balance it to be between 5.5 and 6.0.  

Cut a piece of plastic wrap and wrap over the top of the cup.  

Use a pen or scissors to poke a hole in the cling-wrap or plastic.  

The hole should be smaller than the cutting’s stem so it will fit snugly.  

Then, put the prepared cutting into the hole, with its tip at least two inches under the water. 

Put only one cutting in each cup to help with airflow.  

This method does a good job of keeping the humidity levels high.  

But keep an eye on the water levels in the cups, to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated too much.  

Refill as needed.  

This method allows you the freedom to transplant your clones into any growing medium.  

Soil 

the soil method of plant cloning

To clone with soil, you need:  

  • Potting soil  
  • Four-inch pot with drainage holes (for each cutting) 

First, fill your pot with potting soil.  

Wet the soil thoroughly, making sure to get the bottom soil wet.  

Then, stick the cuttings into the soil.  

Place only one cutting in each pot to make sure the roots have enough room to grow.  

This method is the most traditional way to clone.  

It’s best for those who will be transplanting their cuttings into an outdoor garden or bigger container.  

However, it’s harder to tell when your plants have grown roots successfully, as you can’t see the bottom of the cutting. 

Cloning Machine 

plant cloning with a cloning machine

Cloning machines use aeroponics to grow clones from cuttings.  

The only additional material you need is a cloning machine.  

All you have to do, is set the machine up according to the manual.  

Then, fill it with water to the indicated level.  

Finally, place your prepared cuttings into the dedicated spaces for it, turn the machine on and you’re done! 

Cloning machines are the most efficient and quickest way to propagate plants.  

Because the cutting isn’t immersed in water, the fragile roots are less prone to diseases.  

Plus, because a mist is used, the roots get plenty of oxygen

Cloning machines are best for commercial growers, who need to successfully propagate many cuttings at once.  

You made it to the end, so now you know all about plant cloning! 

Since you’ve read it through, you’re clearly interested in learning about growing plants. 

We’ve made a ton of articles and videos covering even more aspects of this topic, plus many more! 

Visit our website puregreensaz.com or call 602-753-3469 to learn more about how you can start farming. 

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