Clones can be an easy and efficient way to introduce new genetics into your garden. Whether you’re looking for a proven strain to deliver consistent flavor and yield or hunting for a cut of some rare “clone-only” phenotype, bringing home some clones can be the way to go.
But clones can also create problems. Often described as silent killers, tainted clones can introduce pests and diseases into your grow and bring things screeching to a halt if left unchecked.
Here are some tips to ensure bad clones don’t make it into your space.
Check out these additional resources for more info on cannabis clones:
Did you know that you can clone a cannabis plant? It may sound like a mad scientist experiment, but there are benefits to cloning a plant vs. growing from a seed, and cloning weed is easier than you think.
The cannabis cloning equipment buyer’s guide
Growing from a clone can be a lot easier than growing from seed because you skip the process of germination every time you start a new crop, saving you time and labor. Modern technology has also made growing clones easier than ever.
To clone, simply take a cutting off a plant, put it in a rooting medium or cloning machine, and give it nutrients or a rooting solution. It’ll root out and be ready for potting usually in 10-14 days, giving you a solid start to your cannabis plant.
Below are some different cloning products that we recommend, showing a variety of methods, in a range of prices, so you can get the setup that fits your needs.
Check out these additional resources for more info on cannabis clones:
- How to clone a cannabis plant
- What is a cannabis mother plant?
- What to look for when buying a cannabis clone
Base level cloning equipment
These options are great for someone who’s looking to get into growing and not sure if they want to invest in an expensive product. Anyone can get started and use these simple materials.
Root cubes and trays (~$40)
The tried-and-true and most basic method of cloning, starting your clones in root cubes is something that every grower has done in their lifetime. To get started, you’ll need:
- Set of 1½ x1½ inch rooting cubes (~$15)
- Tray to catch water (~$2)
- Tray-cell insert to put your rooting clones in (~$2)
- Humidity dome (~$5)
- Rooting hormone (~$5)
- Heat pad (~$10)
There are multiple types of rooting cubes made from different material, each with its own benefits:
- Rockwool: Made by melting rock and spinning it into fine threads, this common material is sterile and very porous. Make sure it has good drainage because it sucks up water easily.
- Peat: These hold onto moisture and are organic and biodegradable, but they can have difficulty maintaining their structure.
- Foam: These cubes don’t get as waterlogged as rockwool and have no effect on pH levels.
Before cloning machines became more affordable this method of cloning was the go-to for growers. It’s becoming less desirable because it can be a hassle to use all the pieces and machines are much easier and have a higher success rate.
Clone Bucket 8 (~$50)
This is the most affordable aeroponic system in our buyer’s guide. Aeroponics is the practice of growing plants with their roots suspended in air while they receive a continual misting from sprays and nozzles in the cloning machine (see a graphic of this system below). This gives roots high levels of oxygen, helping clones grow rapidly.
With a simple design, the Clone Bucket offers a misting system for 8 clones for just under $50. The 2-gallon bucket is small in size and will give you similar results to more expensive aeroponic cloners.
Its spray nozzle is attached to a 171 gallon per hour (gph) pump which is more than enough to keep your clones happy. The plus side is that it has few moving parts, but if the nozzle ever clogs, your clones will be in trouble.
This functional and affordable machine is great for anyone looking to experiment with cloning. You can also make your own version of this with a 5-gallon bucket or something similar if you want to cut costs even further.
These cloners are great if you will be cloning routinely and want a product that doesn’t require much attention, so you can focus on other aspects of your garden.
HydroFarm OxyClone 20 ($70)
Instead of misting clone stems with spray nozzles, HydroFarm’s OxyClone submerges stems completely under water. This allows roots to receive both oxygen and H2O to ensure that clones stay healthy while developing roots. This different design is great because it has few moving parts and no spray nozzles, which are known to clog up.
This model is made for 20 clones, but OxyClone also offers versions with 40 and 80 clone sites for growers with bigger gardens.
Clone King 25 ($70)
A reputable midrange option, the Clone King is an aeroponic cloner with 13 spray nozzles and a powerful 317 gph submersible pump. With so many nozzles and a strong pump, you can be sure that every developing root gets a healthy dose of H2O, promoting strong, healthy, and rapid growth. If one of the nozzles clogs, your clones will still make it because there are many backups. Other models have 36 and 64 clone sites.
This cloner is the top-of-the-line with all the bells and whistles. Some might argue that cloning doesn’t have to be this complicated, but it will step up your growing game.
TurboKlone 24 ($145)
Our top choice for high-end cloners has a similar design to the Clone King, but it also has a cooling fan to help maintain a consistent temperature in the rooting chamber. This helps keep the water cool, making it easier for clones to receive oxygen, which means faster rooting and healthier clones.
It’s important to note that in order for this cooling process to work, the ambient air temperature must be cooler than the temperature of the water. The TurboKlone is also available in models with 28, 96, and 144 clone sites, covering both small- and large-scale growers.
Tissue Culture Microclone Kit ($250)
The most expensive and most complicated form of cloning, tissue culturing is an emerging method for cloning cannabis. This process involves taking a tissue sample from a mother plant, sterilizing it, and then giving it the right hormones, nutrients, and light.
The plant cell culture can be preserved indefinitely. To start growing, just give it a different set of nutrients to encourage root development.
There are numerous benefits to this cloning method. Tissue cultures are completely sterile, meaning you don’t have to worry about pests or diseases being transferred into your grow room. These cultures can also be stored for long periods of time, given they have the right environment, and they save space because you don’t need to keep a mother plant around.
Tissue culturing is an advanced technique and should be explored by growers looking to preserve the genetics of a specific strain rather than just grow a few.
What is a cannabis mother plant?
Cannabis plants come from one of two sources: a seed or a clone. Mother plants are needed in the cloning process—they are highly valued plants that growers take cuttings off of to create clones. The clones are genetically identical cuttings that can then be planted to grow into a new plant.
Mother plants stay in the vegetative stage as clones are repeatedly clipped from them. It’s important to only take cuttings off a plant in the veg stage, and not off a flowering plant.
Some growers will have dedicated mother plants that are only used for taking cuttings, but this setup takes up a lot of space and materials. With this method, the moms will never flower, so you’ll never get any buds from them. Some growers find it hard to justify devoting time, energy, and space to plants that won’t produce product. If your grow space is tight, this might not be the best setup.
Another method that growers employ is to take cuttings off a set of mother plants then flip the mothers into flower. The next generation of clones is grown, and when they get big enough, cuttings will be taken from them before getting flipped into flower. Because clones are genetically identical, each generation will be an exact copy of the mother before it.
Let’s take a look at why mother plants are so important as well as how to maintain and preserve the quality of a mother.
Why have a cannabis mother plant?
Cannabis mother plants guarantee genetic consistency, meaning that each new generation will have the same taste, flavor, effects, and other characteristics. Taking clones guarantees that all the plants in your garden will grow at generally the same rate, produce a similar quality product, and grow with the same vigor as the mother they came from. You’ll also get to know a specific strain or phenotype well from growing it over and over.
It will also guarantee that all of your clones are females, so you don’t have to spend time growing from seed, sexing plants, and discarding males. When growing from seeds, you have to deal with far more variability in growth patterns, nutrient needs, and other attributes.
Cannabis mothers will also save you time and money. Premium seeds cost upward of $10 a pop. Instead of buying seeds every time you want to grow a new crop, carry on genetics through cloning or have a dedicated mother plant to provide you with quality clones over multiple seasons.
How to select a cannabis mother plant from seed
Because clones are genetically identical to their mothers, selecting a quality mother plant is crucial for a successful harvest. While a pack of seeds are all the same strain, they will be different phenotypes, or different physical expressions of that seed.
This plant will be the beginning of your genetic legacy, so you want the best possible expression of that particular strain.
To select the best plant from a pack of seeds:
- Step 1: Germinate the seeds.
- Step 2: When the plants are big enough, take a few clones from each, making sure to label which seed they came from—this is important.
- Step 3: Flower the clones while keeping the originals in a vegetative state. You have to flower the clones so they show their sex and you can identify the males.
- Step 4: Discard the males and their corresponding originals in veg.
- Step 5: Now that you have all females, grow them to maturity.
- Step 6: Take another set of clones off the remaining plants, grow them to maturity and harvest.
- Step 7: After harvesting, note traits like aroma, flavor, yield, bud structure, and growth pattern. Be sure to smoke them too!
- Step 8: Whichever strain you like best, take the corresponding original in veg and discard the others. That one is your new mother plant.
How to maintain a mother plant
It’s a good idea to use the original plant from seed as your mother as opposed to a clone it produced. Plants grown from seed are known to have stronger, deeper taproots than their clones and also have stronger immune systems.
Some farmers also protect their mother plants by germinating and growing them in an organic base. “By starting out organic, you allow your mother plants to build up immunity to fight diseases as opposed to protecting them with strong non-organic mediums and nutrients,” said Cody Erickson, head grower of Khush Kush in Bellingham, Washington.
Once you have chosen your mother plant, focus its nutrient regimen specifically for a mother. It needs to stay healthy while handling the stress of having cuttings repeatedly clipped from it.
You’ll want clones taken from mothers with strong cell walls and high carbohydrate levels. Use nutrients that have a high percentage of calcium to help bind cell walls and increase the density of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates, plus water stored in the clone, will be used to produce roots.
Stay away from nitrogen-rich nutrients which cause a plant to grow rapidly, giving a plant thin cell walls and a lower density of carbohydrates.
Mother plants have a life cycle, just like all living beings. Even with meticulous care, your favorite mother plant will show diminishing returns over time. The clones taken will grow with less vigor, produce lower-grade cannabis, and leave you reminiscing of better days.
This can take anywhere from a year to several years. It’s a good idea to store seeds from plants you’re currently growing so that when the time comes, you’ll be ready to start over with the same genetics you love.
Does cloning ruin cannabis strains over time
If you’re a cannabis enthusiast or familiar with the basic principles of botany, you’ll know that cannabis plants come from two sources: seeds and clones. One of the enduring debates among cannabis growers is the merits of growing from seeds versus cultivating from clones.
Seeds are created by sexual propagation and contain genes from both parents, rendering the seed—and the plant the seed grows into—genetically unique.
Cannabis clones are cuttings taken from a healthy female—called a mother plant—that has been grown from seed or is itself a clone. So cuttings can be taken from clones, or clones of clones, ad infinitum.
After a cutting of a growing branch is taken, it’s ideally dipped in a hormone medium and then roots out. Through this form of asexual reproduction, identical cannabis plants can be grown abundantly and for free for successive generations. Or can they?
Cannabis cloning represents an incontestably straightforward way of getting identical cannabis. What’s more, it’s currently the most dominant method of cultivating cannabis. In a commercial context where consumers demand consistency, it’s a gift.
However, there are murmurs among seasoned growers that clones lose potency over time. Some think it’s the phenomenon of clonal degradation: the notion that cannabis clones drift away from the mother plant’s genes over subsequent generations, resulting in weaker plants that yield less and become more susceptible to pests and fungi.
Clonal degradation: What causes it?
Clonal degradation, or genetic drift as it is sometimes called (though this term is debatable), is fiercely contested in the world of weed: some maintain it is a myth, while others insist it’s a real phenomenon. Cannabis chat rooms are saturated with arguments over how clonal decay occurs, with some blaming mutation in clones, while others point to cellular degradation when they become “cloned out.”
Let’s unpack genetic drift by briefly revisiting some of the basics of high school bio.
Cloned cuttings can’t change their genetic imprint because a clone is an exact genetic replica of the mother plant. A clone is even the same cellular age as the mother plant—a one-week-old clone taken from a two-month-old mother is actually two months old.
Genetic variation comes from sexual reproduction, i.e., with seeds. While genetic mutations can occur as a result of growth, it doesn’t mean that the gene pool of cannabis clones dramatically changes from generation to generation.
But the same clones subjected to different environments often look and grow differently. An under-fertilized clone in a low-humidity environment will grow with less vigor than its sister receiving perfect fertilization and humidity in a grow room across town. Environment plays a critical role in the growth and health of a cannabis clone.
Let’s talk epigenetics and the environment
The field of epigenetics offers valuable insights for understanding how cannabis clones can appear to lose potency. Epigenetics refers to outside stimuli, or modifications, that can turn genes on or off. It’s not that there is an alteration of the genetic code in the clone; rather, environmental factors modify its genetic potential and expression.
“Epigenetic impacts on clone health over time are very significant. Without proper mineral nutrition and biological health, the vigor of a clone will diminish over time as it continually is replicated, thus reducing its viability,” said Russell Pace III, President of the Cannabis Horticultural Association.
Genes load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger.
Epigenetics provides us with a more nuanced understanding of the nature versus nurture paradox. Genes load the gun, as the saying goes, but the environment pulls the trigger.
So now that we know successive generations of cannabis clones aren’t genetically inferior in some way, what are some of the environmental factors or stressors that affect the growth of clones?
Environmental stressors that affect clones
Environmental elements that are essential to optimizing clone potency include the maintenance of appropriate levels of light, humidity, soil nutrients, and water. Stressors that should be avoided include over or underwatering, over or underfeeding, incorrect soil pH, and inconsistency with light cycles during the vegetative and flowering cycles. Pesticides can be another stressor that can damage plants when misapplied or applied overzealously.
Taproots: they’re important
Another inevitable contributor to clonal decay that isn’t environmental may be the lack of a taproot. Cannabis grown from seed has a taproot—a central root which is sent deep into the soil from which subsidiary roots grow.
When a cutting is taken from a cannabis plant, the cutting must develop a tangle of roots to funnel up moisture and nutrients. Clones lack a taproot and therefore are structurally (not genetically) distinct to cannabis grown from seed.
“The lack of a taproot definitely affects the vigor of a cloned plant when compared to the growth rate of a seed plant,” said Pace. “A seed plant will be infinitely more robust and have faster growth rates in most cases.”
Cleanliness is critical to clone success
The mere act of taking a cutting from the mother plant also introduces a host of potential problems. Aside from inflicting transplant shock on the clone, the cut part creates an easy passage for pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi to weave their way in, causing infection.
“Basically, a clone infected with a virus is like a dud where it grows slow and really doesn’t produce very well,” said Pace.
Growers who scrupulously sterilize cloning equipment and use proper techniques will have greater success cloning without issue. When every care is taken to ensure that the cutting is taken as gently as possible, and appropriate rooting and hormone mediums are used, the clone is more likely to extend a robust rooting system and grow strong and healthy.
Genetic mutations can occur in clones
That said, however, cannabis horticulturist Jorge Cervantes points out that genetic mutations can and do occur in clone populations as they grow and can be passed on through cuttings. While peer-reviewed studies exploring the intricacies of cannabis botany are still few and far between, there is research to suggest that phenotypic variation—that’s variation in physical characteristics—in plant cuttings is due to sporadic mutations in the DNA sequences.
A theory known as Muller’s ratchet argues that clone populations are doomed to accumulate increasing numbers of harmful mutations, which inhibit the plant’s ability to grow and thrive. Some interpret it as nature’s way of showing a preference for sexual reproduction in plant populations.
What’s more, telomeres may also play a role in clonal decay. Telomeres are protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that ensure DNA is copied accurately when it divides. When telomeres are stressed or damaged, the very end of the DNA strand doesn’t make it into the new copy, which results in a loss of vital genetic information.
It can be helpful to conceptualize this process like a photocopier cutting off the last line of text from a page each time it is copied—analogously, DNA strands may become shorter with every cell division.
The result is that plants lose their competence to undergo normal cell division, and healthy growth becomes decelerated or arrested. While we still don’t know a lot about how telomeres work in cloned plants, or more specifically in cloned cannabis plants, we do know that telomere shortening can be exacerbated by environmental stressors and physiological processes such as aging.
And it’s important to only clone from mother plants in a vegetative state as this study shows that age may play a role in clonal genetic mutations. Older mothers that have already been through flowering cycles are not an optimal source for cuttings because the stress of these processes compromises their genetic integrity.
How to optimize conditions for your clones
Ultimately, there is a host of factors that may contribute to clonal decay. While the control of some elements is out of our hands, clonal degradation can be somewhat avoided with proper care, technique, and management of clones. Take clones from robust young mothers using sterile equipment, provide them with the best possible environment, and there’s no reason they won’t thrive for generations.
What’s most promising, according to Pace, is that even damaged or weak clones can be nursed back to health with the right growing conditions such as healthy soil.
“I think this is a most promising type of immunotherapy, so to speak,” says Pace. “Healthy soil biology can act as epigenetic gene therapy for plants. The grower attempts to create optimal environments loaded with beneficial biology and a well balanced soil chemistry.”
This epigenetic gene therapy, of sorts, can boost the innate immune systems of clones. “It essentially allows them to express their highest level of epigenetic potential. It’s really fascinating and something I’ve witnessed first-hand,” said Pace.
Why clone cannabis plants?
There are two ways you can go about reproducing cannabis. You can grow from seed, in which you will have to acquire seeds, germinate them, sex them out, and then continue to grow them. Seeds are created through sexual reproduction, which involves crossing a male plant with a female through pollination, after which, the female will produce seeds. Breeding male and female plants will allow you to create a hybrid of the two parent plants.
You can also reproduce cannabis through cloning, otherwise known as asexual reproduction. A clone is a cutting that is genetically identical to the plant it was taken from—known as the “mother.”
Through cloning, you can create a new harvest with exact replicas of your best plants. Because the genetics are identical, a clone will give you a plant with the same characteristics as the mother, such as flavor, cannabinoid profile, yield, grow time, etc. So if you come across a specific strain or phenotype you really like, you might want to clone it to reproduce more buds that have the same effects.
With cloning, you don’t have to get new seeds every time you want to grow another plant—you just take a cutting of the old plant—and you don’t have to germinate seeds or sex them out and get rid of the males.
Not having to do these steps will save you time as well as space, both of which will help you save money.
How to clone a cannabis plant
Cloning cannabis is relatively easy and requires just a few key items:
- Scissors (for cutting branches off the mother plant)
- Razor (for trimming up cuttings)
- Rooting setup (tray/dome/root cubes, or an auto-cloner)
- Rooting hormone
Choose a rooting medium and setup
Common rooting mediums include rockwool, rooting cubes, or another non-soil equivalent like peat or foam. Rockwool is melted rock that has been spun into a fine thread, and it has terrific airflow and moisture retention. You can find any of these cubes at most grow stores or online.
If you’re using cubes, you’ll need to invest in a tray, a tray-cell insert, and a dome. The clones will go in the cubes, the cubes in the tray-cells, and that sits in a tray which will hold water. To keep in humidity make sure to use a dome over your tray, and you may even want to use a heat mat. For more info on this setup, check out our guide to cannabis cloning equipment.
Another method is to use an auto-cloner. These cut down on the amount of labor needed to feed and care for clones. Using aeroponics, these machines spray the bottoms of your cuttings with nutrient water at set intervals to promote root growth. They are more expensive than the traditional tray/dome/root cube setup, but they are becoming more and more popular.
Experiment to see which setup works best for you. Whichever method you choose, make sure your new clones get plenty of light—preferably 18 hours—and humidity.
How to take a cutting
When selecting a mother plant to clone, look for plants that are healthy, sturdy, and at least two months into the vegetative cycle. You shouldn’t take a clone off a plant once it starts flowering.
Here’s how to take a cutting:
- Don’t fertilize mother plants for a few days leading up to taking cuttings. This will allow nitrogen to work its way out of the leaves. When you take cuttings, an excess of nitrogen in the leaves and stems will trick your clones into attempting to grow vegetation instead of diverting energy to rooting.
- Work in a sterile environment. Use gloves and disinfect razors and scissors.
- Look for branches that are sturdy and healthy. You want at least two nodes on the final cutting, so pick a branch that is healthy and long enough. A sturdy clone will lead to a sturdy plant.
- Cut the clone off of the mother, cutting above the node on the mother plant. It’s OK to use scissors here; it may be hard to get a razor in the middle of the mother plant.
- Then, using a razor, cut below the bottom node on the fresh cutting at a 45° angle to the branch. This will increase the surface area of the rooting surface, promoting faster growth.
- Place your fresh cutting immediately into a rooting hormone. Then, put it directly into a root cube. If using an auto-cloner, you’ll put rooting hormone in the cloner after you take all your cuttings.
- Once done taking a cutting, remove unnecessary leaves toward the bottom and clip off the tips of the remaining fan leaves on the cutting. This supports photosynthesis, helping your clones uptake nutrients and water.
Transplant your roots
Check your clones daily to make sure they have enough water by checking the bottom of the tray or auto-cloner. To increase humidity, you can spray water on the leaves with a spray bottle. If any clones die, discard them so they don’t cause mold in the rest of the clones and also to give the remaining clones more space.
Most clones will be ready to transplant into soil in 10-14 days, but some may take longer. You’ll know they’re ready when the white roots are an inch or two in length.
When getting ready to transplant, be sure to keep the environment sterile. Transplant shock can occur so be sure to use gloves when handling clones.
- Put soil in your pots first.
- Water the soil before you put in the clone, so soil doesn’t move around once the clone is in its new home.
- Once the water has drained, with two fingers, dig out a hole 1-2 inches deep, or just enough to bury all the roots.
- Put the clone in and gently cover with soil.
Cloning can do wonders for your cannabis garden by saving you time and money, and ensuring a genetically consistent crop. You don’t need much to get started, and if done correctly, you can have a perpetual harvest of your favorite strains year-round.
Find a reputable source for cannabis clones
The most crucial step in finding clean clones is to choose a reputable source. However, determining the actual source of your clone may be difficult. If you live in a medical or adult-use state, you’ll be able to get clones from your local cannabis shop.
Most of the time, these clones come from growers who focus solely on producing clones, but sometimes cuttings will come from a third-party source. When purchasing clones for your home garden, always ask your shop where they came from. If you can’t get a legitimate answer, look for another source.
It’s important to know the origin of your clones because that’s where any problem would originate. Diseases, pests, incorrectly labeled genetics, and unknown pesticide residues are some of the issues with a mystery clone.
Never hesitate to research a dispensary or grow facility you plan to acquire genetics from, and always ask questions about the clones when purchasing.
Inspect your cannabis clones
Not all pests, diseases, pesticide residues, or genetic markers will be easy to spot with the naked eye, but give your clones a good look before introducing them to your garden. You may be able to identify a problem if you know what to look for.
A clone’s stem width is a great way to get a sense of its overall health and vigor. Thin and narrow stems typically mean that clone was taken from a weak or less viable branch. These cuttings may be more prone to disease or death and their root systems may take longer to develop.
Be sure to inspect all areas of your clone for the presence of pests. Large pests such as fungus gnats and even spider mites can be spotted relatively easily.
Check under each leaf and also check the soil medium, as some pests only live there. Certain pests can also leave markers—spider mites leave spots and webbing, and other insects can leave trace bite marks.
Many diseases can be difficult to detect in cuttings, but there are a few visual cues that can be seen early on. A lack of vigor is a major cue—check for limping leaves, irregular or mutated growth, and discoloration.
Powdery mildew (PM) is a very common disease found on clones, and mold spores can transfer to other plants. Keep an eye out for white powder on stems and leaves.
It’s almost impossible to detect harmful pesticides or fungicides on a clone. Often, these applications leave zero residue and can stay on a plant for the rest of the plant’s life. If you see any suspicious residue on a clone, ask your sales representative about their in-house integrated pest management (IPM) and always err on the side of caution.
Clean and quarantine your clones
If some clones look OK at the shop and you decide to take them home, make sure to take these last few precautionary steps before introducing them to the rest of your garden.
First, transplant your new clone into a more permanent container and medium. Often the grow medium used to house fresh cuttings at the shop will be different than what you use. Furthermore, pests may be present in its medium when you bought it—transplanting your clone to a cleaner space will help mitigate any potential root damage.
Take this time to properly clean your clone with whatever IPM solution you deem fit. A popular method for cleaning new clones involves dipping them into a light solution of whatever safe and approved pesticide you choose.
After your clones have been properly cleaned and transplanted into their new medium, make sure to keep them quarantined for a few days to a week. Doing this will protect the rest of your garden if they do develop problems, and you’ll able to pull them out easily.
If they look good after a week, go ahead and introduce them to the rest of your garden.
Keep these tips in mind next time you’re in the market to pick up some new clones for your garden. Although it’s extra work, these steps can potentially save you a huge headache in the long run and give you the assurance that your grow will be safe from the unknown hazards that may dwell in a malignant cutting.