A clone is a cutting, such as a branch, that is cut off of a living marijuana plant, which will then grow into a plant itself. A clone has the same genetic makeup as the plant it was taken from, which is called the mother plant.
A typical clone is about 6 inches in length, give or take, and after cutting it off the mother plant, the clone is put into a medium such as a root cube and given a hormone to encourage root growth.
After roots develop, it is then transplanted into a pot or the ground, and it will grow like any weed plant.
Why clone cannabis plants?
If you don’t want to mess with seeds, clones can be a great option for starting a marijuana plant. Growing weed from a clone will save you time—even though they need time to root out, you don’t have to germinate seeds, which will shave off a month or so of the growing process.
Clones will also save space in your garden—with seeds, you have to grow many and sex them out to identify and get rid of the males. Also, usually some seeds don’t germinate. You’ll need extra space for all those seeds, and they might not even turn into full plants.
If you take a clone from a plant you already have, they’re free! You just need to invest in some supplies. Although, you can buy clones from a dispensary if you want.
One of the best things about clones is they are exact genetic replicas of the mother plant from which they were taken. If you have a particular marijuana plant you like, whether for its appearance, smell, effects, or something else, you can take clones of it and grow it again, ad infinitum.
There is some speculation that clones can degrade over time based on environment stressors and other factors, but that is open to debate.
What is a cannabis mother plant?
A mother plant is any cannabis plant you take a clone from. Mothers should be healthy and sturdy, as their genetics will pass on to the clones—if you have a sickly mother plant, its clones will also be sickly.
Mother plants always stay in the vegetative stage as clones are clipped off. It’s important to not take cuttings off a flowering weed plant—this can cause the clone to turn into a hermaphrodite and may also damage the flowering plant.
Some growers have dedicated mother plants only for taking cuttings, but this setup takes up a lot of space and materials—you’ll need to keep the mother plant alive, but you won’t get any buds off it because it’ll always stay in the vegetative stage. Some growers find it hard to justify devoting time, energy, and space to plants that won’t produce buds. If your grow space is tight, this might not be the best setup.
Another method growers employ is to take cuttings off a set of mother plants before they flower, then flip the mothers into the flowering stage. The next generation of clones is grown, and when those get big enough, cuttings will be taken from those before getting flipped into flower. Because clones are genetically identical, each generation will be an exact copy of the first-generation mother and all subsequent mothers.
Cannabis mother plants guarantee genetic consistency, so each new generation of clones taken will have the same taste, flavor, effects, and other characteristics. Clones will also generally grow at the same rate as the mother, produce a similar quality product, and grow with the same vigor, allowing you to dial in your process and really get to know how to grow that particular weed plant.
Clones also guarantee that all of your weed plants are females, so you don’t have to spend time growing from seed, sexing plants, and discarding males.
Viral infections due to cloning
If you select a healthy mother plant, your clones are more likely to be healthy as well, but sometimes, a clone’s characteristics can differ from that of the clone mother. For example, I observed one group of clones showed poor potassium uptake which caused the leaves to twist, unlike their parent. This particular characteristic became more problematic as more clones were created.
When a plant from this clone line was placed in a hydroponic system in the same water as a plant from another line, the second clone began showing the same signs of poor potassium uptake. Interestingly, the problem did not show up when the plants were grown in planting mix, which could have been in response to the mycorrhiza in the organic mix. It was concluded that a virus had infected the first line and spread to the other line.
As explained above, a mother plant can produce thousands of clones over multiple years. Unfortunately, however, when these long-lived plants produce generational clones, it also increases their susceptibility to viral infections. Usually, annual plants like marijuana can fight off generational infection because viruses don’t migrate into the seed. Thus, the germinating plant begins life free of infection, but still faces challenges from the environment.
However, once a mother plant is infected, the disease begins to spread throughout its tissue, and that tissue is used to create clones. It’s also possible for the virus to be transferred to other plants through the planting medium, water, or even air (depending on the virus). Also, like humans, as a plant ages, it has a greater risk of becoming infected – causing older mothers to be at a higher risk of infecting late generation clones.
Clones kind of ruin cannabis’ natural anti-infection defense. Rather than living for only a few months, the plant can technically live for years through its many clones. As time passes, the chance of a viral infection becomes greater. Some of the viruses are non-specific (they attack many different plant varieties). The mosaic and ring viruses are both examples of non-specific viruses.
Although the probability of infection increases over time, it’s still possible to see gardens with healthy, potent clones that have been removed from their original plant by several generations. The growers often report no noticeable changes to the clones.
Some variance in cloned plants might also be caused by mutations, but, for the most part, viral infections are the culprit. Keep in mind that infected plants cannot be “cured” of their virus. In these cases, it’s ideal to get rid of the plant and wipe down the area with a sterilizing agent like hydrogen peroxide or Zero Tolerance.
Healthy, high-performing clones are generally not going to be infected with any damaging virus. But, subtle changes can appear that might not catch your eye at first. For this reason, it’s probably a good idea to keep a large sampling of the original bud to test it against the quality of its clones.