How to Clone Plants the Easy Way

how to clone plants

Things not turning out exactly the way you want is a natural part of gardening that you’re probably familiar with. A sudden disease might strike your crop when you least expect it, the soil might contain something you haven't planned for, or vermin might crop up out of nowhere. For me, however, nothing is more frustrating than growing the perfect plant, taking its seeds for the next batch, and being dumbstruck when none of them turn out like the original.

Well, if you've ever felt that particular brand of disappointment as I have, you'll be glad to know that there's a solution for it. Just cloning your perfect plant will give you many exact copies of it, and you won't have to rely on chance.

Now, you might wonder how to clone plants and whether you need a degree in biology or genetics or something, just like I did when I first heard about it, but fear not! It's rather simple, and almost anyone can do it in their very own garden.

Still, many people don’t know how to do it properly and are intimidated by the word “cloning” from the get-go – so I decided to break it down for you.

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The Necessary Tools and Ingredients

gardening tools

When someone says "cloning," what might pop into your mind are big labs with a lot of scientists in white coats mixing chemicals and using huge machines and state of the art equipment that cost millions of dollars.

In reality, cloning plants is a lot simpler than that, and you will only need a few ingredients and tools that you might already have if you're a seasoned gardener. If you're not, don't fret - you should be able to buy all of them in your local store for next to nothing.

Here’s what you need, first and foremost:

  • Sterilized scalpel or razor blade
  • Rooting powder (or an alternative)
  • Rockwool cubes or potting soil or peat moss
  • Plant container (pots, plastic cups, trays, depends on the size of the plant)
  • Plastic or glass covering for the container
  • Some clean water
  • 99% alcohol solution
  • A few glasses

Now, rooting powder might not be needed for some plants like the tomato as they will just root out if put into water, but most do require it. Even when the plant doesn't need it, it might speed up the process anyway. There are a few different brands of rooting powder out there, but in my experience, any of them will do the job well enough.

Some people also prefer to use organic alternatives to rooting powder as it can contain fungicides and similar chemicals you might not want near your plants. In that case, you can substitute it for cinnamon, willow tea, or maybe diluted apple cider or vinegar.

If you don't want to buy items for cloning separately, a decent alternative for beginners is a plant cloning kit that can be purchased at some stores. These kits contain nearly everything you might need and usually have a small instruction manual with some basic pointers about how to perform the cloning. Still, this is generally more expensive than just buying the ingredients yourself, but it is a more hassle-free option.

How to Clone

Now, I’ll explain the procedure in a few simple steps. Don’t worry; it's very straightforward if you just follow the instructions.

Step 1: Sterilization

The first thing you want to do is to sterilize all the necessary equipment so as not to contaminate your clones and ruin your entire work before you even start.

Use clean paper towels soaked with the alcohol to sterilize everything, starting from the blade you're using, to the container, the surface you'll be putting everything on and your hands. You might also want to consider wearing sterilized rubber gloves during the entire procedure if you want to be extra careful.

Step 2: Set Up the Medium

You need to prepare the medium you're going to be putting your clones in before you cut them - this is different depending on what you're using.

If you're using rockwool, you need to soak it in water overnight beforehand, so it can be adequately moist. Before soaking it, you also need to cut holes in the cubes that are big enough for the plants you intend to clone. When putting them into the container of your choice, space them out enough so they are not touching and the clones have sufficient space to grow and root out.

In the case of potting soil, or any other kind of soil you might want to use, you just need to pour it into the container and make sure it’s moist enough. Don’t fill the container to the brim; leave some space in it so the plant can grow.

Step 3: Choosing a Branch

Grafting of plant branch in farmland

First, you need to choose a healthy mother plant, that hasn't been diseased or affected by toxins, and is not flowering or fruiting - that should be done before starting the process. Now that you have, you need to choose a branch, or branches, which you want to cut from it. It needs to be a lateral branch – do not cut the main stem.

The branch you choose should itself be healthy, vibrant and large enough compared to the rest of the plant, but not so large that cutting it will make the plant significantly weaker. You need to go by feeling on this one, and it depends on the plant you're cloning.

Step 4: Making the Cut

Before cutting, it’s important to have a container filled with water in which to put the branches immediately after cutting them, as exposure to air would cause the cells to oxidize and die off, ruining your efforts.

Now it’s time to cut the branch. Look at the spot where it diverges from the main stem, forming a “v” shape, and cut there using your sterilized blade. You should cut the branch at a 45-degree angle, as this maximizes the amount of space that will be exposed to the rooting powder, thus making it more effective. Make sure the cut is clean and not messy, as this also helps root growth.

If you're still unsure about how to make the cut, watch this video for some visual clarification.

Immediately after cutting it off, put it into the water and don’t take it out until you’re ready to cover it in rooting powder. At this stage, you might also want to cut off some of the excess leaves and buds near the bottom of the branch, as they might eat up too much energy for the roots to develop later on. Do this without taking the part of the branch where the cut was made, out of the water.

Pro-tip:

Branches closer to the bottom of the plant have a higher chance of producing roots because they contain more natural rooting hormone in them. Making the cut near a "node" in the branch, where the leaves grow out also helps root growth for the same reason.

Step 5: Powdering

If you’ve finished cutting, it’s time to powder them up!

Take the branch out of the water, gently shake off the excess, and dip it immediately into the rooting powder, then let it sit for around 15 to 30 seconds. To reduce the chance of contamination, you might want to put a little rooting powder in a few separate containers and then dip each branch into a different one.

After letting it sit there for a short time, take it out and immediately put it into the medium of your choice, whether it be rockwool, soil, or something else. Then mist it lightly and cover the container with the proper covering. For a tray this may be a glass dome or a special humidifier dome, for the pots it might be some plastic wrapping, and so on. This is done to keep as much moisture in the container as possible and help the plant absorb as many nutrients through the leaves as it can since it has no roots.

Step 6: Care and Maintenance

Young tomato plants growing out of soil

Now that you're done, you just need to let the clones grow roots. That usually takes somewhere between a week and two weeks. During this time, you will have to provide them with a nurturing environment in which they can develop properly. So treat them like they're your kids, except they only eat dirt, sunlight, and water and never move.

You should put your clones in a mildly warm area where they can get some sunlight, but not too much of it – you don’t want to keep them in direct sunlight all day, as that will most likely just kill them outright. Mist them at least once daily and keep the soil or rockwool adequately moist, but not too drenched in water.

If you’re using artificial light, you should probably employ some mild, fluorescent or plasma lighting. HID lighting is usually too intense for clones, but you can still use it if you put them on the periphery and use something to filter it out a bit.

You also shouldn’t touch the clones during this time, as that can harm them. Don’t do it even to check if the roots have sprouted, not until at least five to six days have passed.

Pro-tip:

If you want to avoid having to water the clones every day, use pots with holes in the bottom and place them in a gutter with continuously flowing water. This will provide them with adequate moisture without you needing to do much about it. Just be careful not to get the dirt too wet.

Step 7: Transplantation

After sufficient roots have sprouted, you should transplant your clone to a larger environment where it can keep growing and developing. How do you know when the roots are big enough? Well, that depends.

If you're using rockwool cubes, it's when the roots start breaking out of the cube and showing on the outside. However, if you're using soil it might be a little trickier to know when the time is right, and you will have to employ some guesswork.

Still, there is a handy way to know even when using soil – just use transparent containers. That way you can just see when the roots start becoming too big for the pot or whatever you're using and start breaking through the soil, and you'll know the time has come for them to pass on to greener pastures. You won’t even have to touch or move the clone to check!

You shouldn’t wait too long to transplant the clones tough, and you need to have the environment ready before they come of age. Waiting too much can lead to them not taking well to the new surroundings, especially if they become root bound.

After transplanting them, just treat them like the mother plant that you used to make them, and everything should be fine and dandy.

Conclusion

As you can see, cloning is not as hard as it appears. I also thought it would be difficult at first, but now I've done it dozens of times already, and it's just routine stuff. It helped me expand my garden a lot at almost no cost and allowed me to keep some of my favorite plants going for years by repeatedly cloning them – something I wanted to do since starting out. I'm sure most of you also have that one perfect plant you just want to re-grow over and over again, and cloning will help you do it.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that I was able to help you. Feel free to comment below and tell me what you think and share the article with others who might find it useful. Have fun cloning!

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How To Clone Plants

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About the Author

I’m Emily and after a ten year career as a journalist I have moved on to share my passion for gardening. While getting out in the garden is one of my favourite hobbies, and helps me de-stress after a long day in the office, I often found myself frustrated at not getting the results I wanted from my plants. Through blogging, I have uncovered the answer to lots of common problems and now I want to share my knowledge with other horticulture enthusiasts. Get in touch with me via: Pinterest, Twitter

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