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Cuttings, or clones, are the genetic twin of their Parent, or Mother plant. Because a clone has an identical genetic make-up to its progenitor it allows the Horticulturalist to focus on adjusting other elements in a growing environment to produce the desired results from their crop. Cloning also circumvents the inherent lottery of growing from seeds. It is also a reasonably simple process and a fundamental tool of any commercial grower. Here is a basic guide to getting started with cloning.

As with any endeavour, the key to success when taking cuttings is good preparation. You’ll need to appropriate the necessary tools.

  • The Necessary Tools
  • A SHARP KNIFE
  • A PROPAGATOR
  • ROOTING HORMONES
  • A MOTHER PLANT FROM WHICH TO TAKE YOUR CUTTINGS
  •  
  • A ROOTING MEDIUM
  • SEEDING TRAY(S)
  • A RECEPTACLE TO HOUSE THE ROOTING HORMONE MIX

A SHARP KNIFE

A sharp blade will minimise the tearing caused to plant tissue during the cutting process. The less tearing you cause, the easier it will be for both the mother plant and the cutting to heal. Since you’re going to be working around and through the branches of the mother plant it is well worth investing in a short blade with a long handle- a craft scalpel is a good tool, though a small kitchen knife will also work. Scissors have a tendency to crush the stem on either side of the cut and are best avoided.

A ROOTING MEDIUM

There are many rooting mediums available on the market. It is well worth trying out a few of them to find what works best for you. Rockwool cubes are probably the easiest to work with, though you might prefer to use peat pellets or good old potting soil

A PROPAGATOR.

Propagators are sold by Garden centres, often with a number of fitted seeding trays. There’s nothing to stop you making your own though.

SEEDING TRAY(S)

Cut a seeding tray down to size if you don’t have the adequate space for an entire tray or you want to keep you cuttings separate.

ROOTING HORMONES

Strictly speaking, rooting hormones aren’t essential to the cloning process. In practice though the advantages of using them greatly outweigh the expense. Rooting hormones speed the process of cell conversion which underlies the process of cloning. A rooting hormone mix also protects the clone from infection. Rooting hormone mixes come in power, liquid and gel form. Take the time to investigating which works best for your requirements, though I would tend to steer folks away from powders and towards gels. Rooting Hormones do have a relatively short shelf life though, so only get as much as you need for the job at hand.

A RECEPTACLE TO HOUSE THE ROOTING HORMONE MIX.

Dipping your cutting directly into the rooting hormone mix container has the potential to spread diseases from one batch of cuttings to another so is inadvisable. A shot glass works well for liquids and gels, whilst a saucer or the lid of a jar works well for powders.

A MOTHER PLANT FROM WHICH TO TAKE YOUR CUTTINGS

Speed, not haste, is an important factor when taking cuttings, as is cleanliness. Be sure to disinfect all of your tools and your work space before starting the process. You’ll need all your tools readily to hand so as to minimise the time spent between taking and planting the cuttings. It might feel a little silly, but I like to do a dry run through the process before starting. There’s nothing worse than realising you need to fetch something half way through the process and if that happens then you’re likely to lose the cutting in hand. Cuttings dry up incredibly quickly so if you’re taking cuttings in a grow room be sure to turn off your fans and avoid working in the direct glare of any powerful lamps.

The Process

cuttings, clones

Two to four inches length is the optimum size for a cutting; an inch to go in the growth medium and at least one inch of stem above the surface of the growing medium.

Your chosen growing medium will need to be soaked in warm water before you can plant anything in it (Pic 1). It is well worth adding a heavily diluted plant nutrient appropriate to your chosen plant; nothing more than a 1/4 solution. Remove any excess liquid from your growth medium before the planting process; it shouldn’t be soggy or overly saturated. Pellets and blocks are easily squeezed free of excess liquid. Soil mixes can be strained through muslin (or a well cleaned old sock if you’re cheap). If your chosen medium doesn’t have prepared holes in which to plant your cuttings then poke some holes yourself, down to a half inch from the base.

As with plants and seeds, planting cutting cheek to cheek is a recipe for disaster (Pic 2). It aids the spread of disease and makes working with the cuttings a bore. The ‘chess board’ arrangement is a popular formula to use when spacing your plants in a seeding tray. The relatively minor loss of space far outweighs the likely complications which will arise from planting your cuttings too close together. With all this done you should be ready to begin taking cuttings.

Size is a crucial factor when taking cuttings. The smaller the cutting, the longer it will take to grow and the harder it will be to work with. Each cutting should feature a couple of healthy young growth tips, three or four leaves and an adequate length of stem to stand securely in the growth medium. Two to four inches length is the optimum size for a cutting; an inch to go in the growth medium and at least one inch of stem above the surface of the growing medium. Cutting equidistant between two nodes will give both the mother and the cutting the optimum chance of continued healthy growth.

It is important to act quickly once you’ve removed the cutting. If an air bubble forms in the stem it will block the cutting’s ability to take up nutrients and likely lead to death.

Cuttings taken from the top of a plant tend to take root faster, whilst cuttings taken from the bottom of a plant tend to have more fight in them (Pic 3). How that plays out in reality is a matter of great debate amongst the green fingered brethren. Whether you favour the posh knobs of the upper foliage or the hardy workmen of the lower branches likely says a lot about the sort of gardener you are.

Cutting the stem at a 45 degree angle will maximise the surface area of inner stem, thereby maximising the rooting potential of the cutting (Pic 4). If you’re taking a cutting from an older plant it may be necessary to skin back some of the outer layer of the plant around the base of the cutting. Commit to the cut and make it clean. Try not to tug on the plant too much or crush the stem between your fingers; minimising distress to the plant will maximise the chances of healthy growth in the cutting and repair in the mother plant. It may be necessary to remove the lower level of leaves from your cutting. This is usually fine as the lower leaves tend to die anyway. In this case try to minimize the surface area of the cut.

It is important to act quickly once you’ve removed the cutting (Pic 5). If an air bubble forms in the stem it will block the cutting’s ability to take up nutrients and likely lead to death. If you’re taking a number of cuttings at once then it may be necessary to store the cuttings in water whilst they wait to be planted. Professionals will take the cutting under water so as to minimize the chances of air bubble forming in the stem. Ideally you would want to dip the cutting in your rooting hormone immediately then transfer it directly into the growth medium.

Dip the cutting in the Rooting hormone mix for ten to fifteen seconds (Pic 6), or until the exposed area and the outlying are around the stem have a good covering.

Young cuttings won’t fair well under the direct glare of a High Intensity lamp. Find a shady corner of you grow room or green house in which to put the tray.

Be very careful when planting the cutting in your chosen growth medium. If the stem won’t go in, don’t force it. Try expanding the hole with a long, thin implement then twist the cutting so that the bottom tip is coming in from a different side. Ensure that the cutting doesn’t pierce the bottom of the growth medium. Make sure the cutting is secure in the growth medium by lightly tamping the sides around the base of the stem. If you’re new to the process then you’re very likely to have issues. If do bend or bruise a cutting, don’t waste time trying to save it. Likelihood is she’s not going to make it. Mark it up to practice and move on to the next little lady.

Once you’ve taken all your cuttings place them in the propagator (Pic 7), removing any excess moisture from the bottom of the tray. Secure the lid making sure to close the vents. The lid should mist up with moisture.

Young cuttings won’t fair well under the direct glare of a High Intensity lamp. Find a shady corner of you grow room or green house in which to put the tray, or use a thin material placed over the top of the propagator to disperse the light. Alternatively you can try using a lower wattage lamp to build up the light tolerance of your cuttings. 400w is excessive, a 250w fluorescent light would be ideal. If you really can’t do any of this, then ensure that any high intensity bulb is positioned a minimum of three feet above the tip of your cuttings.

Each time you tend to the cuttings, clean away any excess water from the bottom of the tray and the inside of the propagator lid.

Obviously how much care your plant requires varies greatly. Initially the Growing medium should have enough latent moisture to sustain the cuttings. Keep an eye on them in those early stages to see how they fair. Cuttings deficient in moisture levels will quickly dry out and die. Too much moisture and your cuttings will quickly become a sea of mould and fungal infections. Each time you tend to the cuttings, clean away any excess water from the bottom of the tray and the inside of the propagator lid, then gently mist the cuttings before returning the lid securely. If the rooting medium is too dry then dip it a warm water solution, wipe or squeeze away any excess moisture before returning it to the tray.

It can take up to two weeks for a cutting to take root properly. Check the rooting medium for the white root tips emerging from the bottom and the sides. Wait till at least a few root tips show before transplanting the plant into a bigger receptacle. Towards the end of their initial growth cycle cuttings will get very thirsty and may need regular feeding throughout the day. Cuttings may appear to wilt initially; this is perfectly natural and should relent within a couple of days. Remove any lower leaves which wilt and turn yellow.

 

This article was originally published in Issue 001 of HYDROMAG (September – October 2012).

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