Ask most experienced cultivators whether cloning an autoflowering strain is possible, and the answer will almost always be no. Let’s dive in and find out how true this statement really is…
Cloning. A term more commonly associated with overzealous news headlines and sci-fi classics – but what does it mean when it comes to cannabis cultivation?
For the cultivators among us just starting to dip their toes into the game, the idea of cloning a weed plant may seem a far-off, highly technical skill that can only be performed by growers with years of experience. But the process of cloning marijuana is actually a pretty straightforward and easy-to-perform technique.
What does it mean to clone cannabis?
Cannabis cloning (and plant cloning in general) is super fascinating. Sometimes referred to as “taking a cutting” or “striking” –
In its simplest form, cloning refers to the process of taking a cutting from an established plant and using it to create a whole new plant that shares the exact genetic code of the plant from which the cutting was taken, otherwise known as the “mother”.
What are the benefits of cloning weed?
This is where the rabbit hole of information really begins. The range of benefits that come with cloning cannabis, especially for medium to large-scale cultivators, is honestly huge. And they all tie back to the fact that clones are exact genetic replicas of the plant from which they are taken. But before we get in deep, let us have a quick chat about how cannabis genetics work.
Cannabis genetics 101
Just like all living things, weed takes the genetic code from both of its parents and splits it.
A single female weed plant that has been pollinated by a single male can produce over 500 seeds (depending on the size of the plant and how many of the budding sites have been pollinated), and while all of these seeds share the same genetic heritage, they can and will show different traits.
This means that a batch of seeds from one plant can produce vastly different end results, with a range of advantages and possible downsides for commercial and hobby growers.
In terms of cannabis breeding, this is called phenotype variation. You have probably heard of the term “pheno hunting” – this is where weed growers germinate and grow a large number of seeds from the same batch with the hopes of finding a phenotype that displays all of the characteristics they are hoping to find.
These characteristics include:
- The aroma/terpene and flavor profiles
- The plant structure and growth pattern
- The flowering time
- The yield size
- The cannabinoid content, potency, and range (THC, CBD, CBN, etc.)
- The flower density
- The trichome coverage and appearance
- The coloration of the buds
- Pest, disease, and mold resilience
Even though all the seeds come from the same batch, they will take different percentages of each trait or characteristic from each parent, resulting in this wide variance.
Ok, so back to cloning, and why it can be so beneficial.
Unlike growing a crop from seeds that will display phenotypical variation, growing from clones will result in a uniform crop. Once a desired phenotype has been identified, the process of cloning can be employed to reproduce this exact genetic replica over and over again. This removes the need for phenotype hunting and reduces the amount of time, money, and plants that would otherwise be wasted.
Cloning makes dialing in the exact environmental conditions, nutrient levels, and other factors much easier. It also eliminates the need to start from scratch with every crop. Clones typically have a shorter vegetation period than plants grown from seed (with some experienced growers actually choosing to skip the vegetation period altogether), meaning a quicker turnaround and an increased harvest window.
In short, cloning is a fantastic way for both home and commercial growers to speed up the process, reduce costs and waste, and consistently produce a high-grade crop that is exactly what they are looking for. It also allows for further experimentation and refining of the mother plants phenotype over time, with generations of clones sharing the same genetics.
Then there’s the added bonus of clones being essentially free, as you have already paid for the seed for the mother plant. Sure, you have to invest in a few cloning supplies (like a rooting hormone, cloning gel, and cloning trays and dome), but they are relatively inexpensive and will last you a long time.
How to clone a cannabis plant?
As we mentioned in the intro, cloning cannabis is pretty easy.
Once you have found your desired mother plant, you are going to want to allow her (or force her) to stay in the vegetative growth stage. This is very important, as taking clones from a plant that has already begun the flowering growth stage is a big no-no (in most cases). The clones will not have enough time to develop a healthy root system before being forced into the flowering stage, reducing their chance of survival and resulting in weak plants.
Once your mother is ready, it’s time to take your cuttings. This is done by taking a sharp, clean pair of scissors, or a fresh razor blade, and snipping one of the lower, established, healthy branches to be the clone. You want to make the cut at as close to a 45-degree angle as possible to enlarge the surface area to give the clone the best chance at developing a strong and healthy root base.
You will then want to remove all the fan leaves from the lower half of the branch and snip the tips of the upper fan leaves. This is important, as too much foliage can be detrimental to the clones’ chances of rooting and will result in a weak plant.
Once you have taken the cutting, dip the bottom of the cutting into a rooting hormone. This needs to be done immediately to reduce any chance of the clone developing an embolism, which is where an air bubble forms inside the cutting and blocks its nutrient pathways, resulting in death.
Once prepared, you can then place your clones into a growth medium. Our recommendation is Rockwool, as it is one of the most popular and effective mediums for cloning cannabis thanks to the oxygenation and moisture retention properties of the substrate. You can then place your clones into a tray or container, cover the with a dome, and place them under 18 hours of light per day. This dome will hold the humidity at a higher level, perfect for clone propagation. You want the humidity to be around 80-85% and the temperature to be between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit for the best results.
Then it is just a matter of waiting a week or so for the roots to develop, and then transplanting them into your medium of choice.
Can you clone autoflowers?
Ok, so back to the question at hand.
Yes, you can clone autoflowers. But the real question that we should be asking is…
Should you clone autos?
The answer to this one is – Nope, probably not.
Autos come with a range of advantages, like the speed of growth and the time it takes from seed to harvest. But, thanks to the fact that autos will only stay in the vegetative growth stage for a maximum of around 4 weeks, there is just not enough time to take clones. The clones will be at the same growth stage as the mother, and there is nothing we can do as cultivators to increase the vegetative growth time of these auto clones, meaning that they will be forced into flowering while they are still weak, small, and vulnerable.
In most cases, this results in the clone dying very quickly after the cutting is taken, or the result is a tiny plant with tiny yield capabilities.
Is it best to use seeds or clones?
That really depends on what you are trying to achieve.
If you are growing autoflowering varieties, then it is always best to grow from seed – even if that means a certain degree of phenotypical variation.
If you are growing photoperiodic strains, then you may want to consider starting out with clones. The range of benefits of growing from clones taken from strong mother plants with a bunch of desirable characteristics is laid out above, but that does not mean that every photoperiod cultivator will grow from clones.
Seeds provide growers with a range of options and outcomes, and as the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life – right?
So, there you go. Everything you need to know about cloning cannabis, and the reasons why cloning isn’t suggested for autoflowering strains, even though it is possible.
Whether you decide to go with seeds or clones is up to you, but we hope that this article has provided you with the information required to make a truly informed decision that will suit your circumstances best.
Grow on my friends, grow on!