The Next Generation
When harvest is done and you’ve reaped your bounty, what happens next?
When the time comes to grow again, how do you start? What is the best way to grow the same stellar plants you just harvested? How can you get something similar but better? What if you want to grow something new entirely?
This is a look at cloning and propagation; at the best ways to see the next generation of plants starting off strong and healthy toward the results you want.
Clones or Seeds?
The first question to ask yourself is what do you want to grow? There are many different strains out there and each has its own claim, but until the plant is growing in your own garden, you never quite know what you’re going to get. And even the seeds from a single plant will grow different phenotypes.
Once you know what strain you’re growing, the next question is how are you propagating? How are you going to start this next grow? Are you experimenting with something new? Are you aiming for consistent and predictable growth? What is the difference between starting from seed and starting from clones?
Starting from seed will give you a strong foundational relationship with your plants. When you grow a particular strain from seed, you have the opportunity to observe the different phenotypes that will grow. This allows you to pheno hunt for the plant that grows and yields just how you like it under your own conditions.
Clones will give you a better idea of what your end product will be. Since clones are grown from actual cuttings of a mother plant, the genetics of clones are identical to the parent. They will grow the same way, produce the same way, harvest the same way.
Everyone needs a mother.
Propagation, whether by seed or cutting, begins with a mother. The plant that provides cuttings for clones is called a mother. The plant that provided the baby will give you a good idea of how your plant will grow. When cloning, the circumstances often allow the grower a detailed knowledge of the mother plant. When growing from seed, however, it can be a little harder to know.
When you acquire a packet of seeds, chances are you didn’t know anything about the plants that gave those seeds. This is where knowing your strains becomes important. If you know your strains, you will be able to choose your seeds with more confidence. If you have no knowledge of the parent generation plants, having knowledge of the strain is the next best thing.
If you are cloning, it is very likely you know the mother, since clones are pretty delicate and are generally used in house or traded between growers. If you acquire cuttings from a mother you didn’t grow, take the time to ask about the mother. Go see her. Learn how the mother plant grows; ask about its feeding regimen and its health status.
Seasoned growers know raising the perfect phenotype doesn’t happen the first round. Even if you know which phenotype you like best, it will take a couple grows to understand the plant’s growth patterns and to lock down your setup as you assess its need and potential. If you are getting your cutting from someone else, get all the information you can about the mother. If you are growing from your own cuttings, then you already know the mother, and you can keep growing the same plant over and over again.
The more you know about the mother, the better equipped you will be to grow the plants you want.
Starting from Seed: Prep Soaking
Getting seeds to sprout their first shoot is called popping seeds. There are myriad ideas floating around about the best method for popping seeds, but each method is a way to cater to the needs of the seed.
Soaking seeds prepares them for a quicker, easier germination.
Seeds are delicate, and they will not germinate unless the conditions are right for the sprouts to take root and begin growing strong. The first thing is clean your seeds. Here are a couple methods to try:
Simple peroxide soak
Soaking your seeds first in water with a couple drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide for about 30 minutes will rid them of any pathogens living on the outside of the seeds and will break down the hard outer shell to allow for the shoot to grow easier. After the soak, rinse your seeds 2-3 times before setting them up for germination.
Sustained distilled water soak
This method is both a soak and germination in one. Pour some distilled water into a clear container and add your seeds. Let them soak for a full 24-48 hours in a dark place. If your seeds are fresh and healthy, you should see the seeds sink to the bottom and start sprouting little white tails. If your seeds haven’t sunk, just let them soak a bit longer in the dark. Some seeds may take up to a few days to germinate with this method, but don’t leave them in the water for more than seven days, or you risk drowning and rotting.
Some experts even suggest simply soaking the seeds in a warm place (not necessarily dark) for 24 hours to just prep the seeds, then plant them in your starting medium.
The intensive soak
Diving deep into scientific methodology, this method depends heavily on sterilization, and involves two separate soaks. First, bring a gallon or more of distilled water to a rolling boil to ensure it is sterile. Clean all the dirt off of the seeds and drop them into the water once it has cooled to about 70 degrees. Use a lid to keep out dust and pathogens in the air and let the seeds soak for 48 hours.
After this initial soak, make a nutrient solution of sterile, distilled water, agave extract, calmag, and supplement boosters (this article following Purple Caper Seeds’ method suggests using General Hydroponic Flora Microbe Series). Test your pH to make sure it’s as close to 6.0 as possible. You can add pH up or pH down to find the balance. Once the solution is mixed and ready, pour it into cups that have been sterilized. Remove the seeds from the first soak and place them into the cups. Let them soak for another 48 hours.
Some growers like to crack their seeds to kick start sprouting. When a seed sprouts, the shell of the seed cracks open to allow the shoot out. Cracking the seed first, some argue, will help a weak, old, or improperly stored seed to sprout. This is a delicate process, as it is very easy to damage the embryo inside if you crush the seed. There are seed cracking tools on the market, though some people simply will bite down slowly and gently on a seed until a crack is heard. Cracking is generally not recommended, but sometimes circumstances demand intuitive action.
Starting from Seed: Germinating
After your seeds have soaked, they are ready for germination. We’ll take a look at a few methods of germination to see what options are available.
Paper towel sandwich
The paper towel method is a tried and true method for seed germination. All you will need are some paper towels and a couple plates. Soak the paper towels so they are wet but not quite dripping. Lay one paper towel on the plate, then place your seeds on the paper towel, giving each seed an inch or two of space at least. Gently place another wet paper towel over the seeds. Cover this with another plate or a bag to keep out the light without crushing the seeds. Leave the seeds to do their thing. Don’t touch them except to spray more water on the paper towels if they get dry.
After a couple days, you should see the seeds have sprouted. Some seeds may take longer to germinate, which is perfectly fine. Just keep them moist, dark and warm. Once you see the little root tail curling out of the seed, it is ready for the sprouting medium. This article by Sensi Seeds lays out the process very cleanly.
Peat PLUGS or coco coir pellets
There are several peat and coco coir pellets on the market to choose from, but we do recommend you look into which one is right for you, as some companies bind their pellets in plastic mesh, which can cause bound roots, suffocation, and stunted growth. Not to mention their lack of biodegradability. (See this video for a comparison between coco and peat pellets.)
These pellets are made from either peat moss or coco coir that has been pressed and dried into little pucks (or pellets). When you add water to the pellets, they expand and become cozy little homes for your seedling to sprout.
There are also several companies that make rooting trays in which you can house the pellets so they have more structure to support their expanded forms. The trays are very helpful, but if you can’t afford or find them, they are not necessary. Simply add water and watch the pellets expand, then place the seeds within the small hole at the top of the pellet. You want your seeds sitting 3-5 millimeters below the top of the pellet. If you have already sprouted your seeds, you may want to take a pencil or something similar and poke a hole into the pellet to accommodate the root. Then pinch the top of the pellet closed over the seed. You don’t want to bury the seed; just cover it enough to block the light.
Keep your plugs or pellets pretty moist. Not so sopping wet you risk root rot but wet enough to keep the pellet expanded throughout the sprouting process. You should see green sprouts poking through within a day or two.
Starter pots often come in connected sets that you can place in trays. Fill the pots with your starter medium (soil is fine; many prefer coco coir, peat moss, or rock wool for the extra aeration they provide) and use a pen to poke a hole about ¾- ½ centimeter deep. Place your prepared seed into the hole and cover it just enough to block the light. If you have your pots in a tray, pour about half a centimeter of water into the tray, and GENTLY add a little water into the top of each pot. This will allow the medium to soak up the water from the bottom, encouraging the roots to reach down and create a solid foundation.
Direct sowing is just what it sounds like: planting seeds directly into the pot where the plant will stay its entire life. There are many benefits to direct sowing including less stress and root danger from transplanting, no need to harden off starts, and practical ease. With this method, some growers may find it difficult to maintain proper soil moisture levels due to the lack of available plant roots. Be cautious not to over water as this will cut off the available O2 to your rootzone. Autoflower growers prefer direct sowing because the plants will go into flower as soon as the root zone starts hitting the side of the pots.
We recommend five gallon pots if you are planning on keeping your plants in one pot their whole lives. You will want to cook and prepare your soil beforehand, and water it before planting so your seed is going into a ready environment. As with the starter pots, use a pen or your finger to poke a hole about ¾ to ½ a centimeter deep. Place your prepared seed in the hole and cover just enough to block the light. Gently water: don’t disturb the soil or drench the seed.
Test tube Propagation
If you are particularly interested in growing in laboratory conditions, consider starting your seeds in test tubes. You will need a clean room environment for this procedure and a fair amount of equipment. It may seem a delicate and involved process, but the results are impossible to deny.
Feed a small amount of sterilized medium into the bottom of a sterilized test tube. With sterilized hands, use sterilized tweezers to move your seed from the prep solution to a 3% hydrogen peroxide solution for no more than 15 seconds. Still using sterilized tweezers, gently remove the seed from the solution, neutralize the peroxide with sterilized distilled water and place the seed gently in the test tube. Add nutrient solution, cap the test tube, wrap it in sterilized foil, and let it sit under light in 78°F (25.5°C). For an in-depth breakdown, check out this article.
General Notes on Germination
Temperature, humidity, and airflow will all play into your seedling’s growth and development. Your seedlings will flourish best in a warm environment: 65-75°F (18-24°C) is the recommended temperature range to get your babies going strong. A fairly high relative humidity in the range of 40-60% is where your seeds will want to germinate. Seeds like a moist environment, but not a wet one. And while a little breeze is always good for plants, heavy winds are not your seedling’s friend. If you are growing outside and heavy winds are predicted in your area, we suggest you have your plants in a greenhouse or shielded somehow.
This article has a great intensive breakdown of different germination methods, although it does employ the peat pellets with plastic mesh that doesn’t decompose. Here is another article with some great videos and ideas for various germinating techniques.
Which brings us to environmental factors in general. If you are starting your plants in one environment and transplanting them into another, you will want to start hardening off your plants as the seedlings become good starts. Plants started in very controlled environments have been spoiled and attended to with care. Before bringing them to their new environment it is important that you let the plants know what they are getting into so they can begin to adjust. Take your starts into the new environment for a few hours every day. Start with less time and work your way up for two or three weeks prior to transplanting.
Cloning 101: Know your Nodes
Cloning is a good way to enter easily into a grow. With a clone, there is much less guesswork about how your plant will grow and how it wants care. The mother’s growth experience is a blueprint for your future garden! Cloning is a delicate process, and it’s not uncommon for some clones to not make it even when you do everything right. But taking proper steps to care for your clones will increase your chances of a successful crop.
Taking a cutting is the first step in cloning. It’s recommended to take cuttings from plants still in a vegetative stage. Clones taken from flowering plants will take more time to begin new growth due to the need to rebalance it’s hormones.
It is possible to keep a plant in veg indefinitely, so that you can simply keep taking cuttings from the one plant you know is performing well. This method requires the mother to be kept in its own space where it is constantly tended to, so it may not be feasible for a lot of growers.
Since a clone is a direct genetic copy of the mother, you know it will grow the same way as the mother plant. Take the cuttings just before flipping to flower, then raise the clones in a separate space with veg lighting at the same time the mother is flowering. This way, you will be ready to transplant your clones just after harvesting the mother, so the clones become the next generation of mothers. With a rotation of plants always in veg and flower, you will be constantly growing. Here’s an article from Leafly on the subject of cloning.
You will want a good strong start from a mother plant with a healthy stalk and leaves. Your cutting should give you two nodes, or places where branches will grow. A couple of days before you plan to take cuttings, it’s a good idea to prune the branches you will clip of all vegetable matter up to the first two nodes, so your clone will not be wasting energy on the smaller leaves.
Take your cutting from near a node on the mother, where two branches split. Once you have identified your cutting, clip it down close to the mother node, as close to the nutrient-rich stalk as you can. Take a razor blade and slice the severed end at a 45°angle, so the clone will have more clean rooting area. Place the cuttings directly into water after cutting, then transfer to your rooting medium.
Your plants naturally have the hormones to allow the cuttings to grow roots, but it could take some time (up to a few days) for the cutting to start producing enough of the hormone to push out roots. It is possible you will lose some of your cuttings in that time.
There are several rooting hormones on the market ranging from natural (honey and willow extract) to synthetic liquids, gels, or powders. Applying rooting hormones to your cuttings before planting will provide the clones with a boost in the rooting process.
Cloning 101: Media
Several options exist for a medium in which to grow your clone:
Rock wool should be soaked in distilled or reverse osmosis water for up to a day prior to planting. This is mostly because rock wool has a naturally high pH, and a neutral water will level it out. If you are using a cloning solution, dip the end of the cutting in the solution, then place it into the rock wool. Set the clones in rockwool under your light. You will want to spray the clones every day as the roots begin and keep them in a humid environment. For a greatly detailed video on rock wool cloning, click here.
Water cups are a neat, clean, hydroponic way to start your clones rooting. First, make sure the pH of your water is between 5.5 and 6.0. Then fill your vessel of choice about ¾ full of water. Cover the top of your vessel with plastic wrap. Next, poke a hole in the plastic wrap just barely big enough to allow the cutting to fit through, but small enough to hold the clone suspended in the water. Dip your cutting in the rooting solution if you’re using it, and insert it through the plastic until the end is an inch or two submerged. Place under light and watch the roots grow!
Soil is of course the most ancient and natural medium to house your clones. Just have your soil moist and ready, dip your cutting in the solution and place it in the soil. Leave under light and spray the leaves every day.
Propagation machines are extremely popular, and for good reason. They utilize an aeroponic technique to keep whole trays of clones in an ideal environment for rooting. There are many different brands and types of cloning machine on the market. Once you have set up your machine as the instructions state, simply dip you cuttings in the rooting solution and place them in the medium. Turn on the machine and let the magic happen!
General Notes on Cloning
Be aware of the delicacy of this new cutting: cloning solutions are designed to coax new roots from the severed stalk. You can set your start in plugs, soil or another medium, but without roots, your clones will be getting more of their water through their leaves. As your young plant develops new roots, you will then begin slowly feeding vegetative nutrients. Keep the humidity high- around 90%, and spray the leaves of your clones to keep them moist. This encourages roots to grow, and when you see roots growing through the substrate, you can transplant into pots.
Temperature and humidity are important factors to consider when cloning. Clones like it a bit hotter and more humid. Without roots, the stem and leaves are the only parts of the plant that can be nourished, so keep them warm and very moist.
Clones do not need bright light. Bright light stresses them out at a time when they are already stressed pretty far. Think of your cloning setup like a hospital recovery room. You want to be gentle and generous with your clones to help them begin their new roots. Check out this article from trees.com for a good look at cloning.
Raising Young Plants: How to Grow Your Starts Strong
Once your seeds have sprouted or your clones have rooted, you are ready to start taking care of your young plant. Your actions now will determine how the new plant grows.
Keep your lights backed off for now. Young plants don’t need to bake in the light. Also, be sure to keep the environment warm and moist so your new plant can soak up all the nutrients they can and are comfortable enough to grow strong.
When you see strong leaf production in a good spread from at least a couple node sites, reaching out toward the edges of the pot, then they are ready to be transplanted into bigger pots. If your plants will be growing in a different environment after transplanting, start bringing your plants into the new environment for a few hours each day.
What’s the right choice for you?
While there is no “right” way to grow or farm anything, everyone finds the best way for them. Whether you are growing from seed or clone, young plants require a lot of attention and investment. Like all babies, plant starts need to be protected, nourished, and trained in growing up strong.
Seeds are great for building your own garden, gaining skill, and connecting to your plants, but they are more of an investment both in time and money. Growing from seed grants more diversity and natural potential, but it relinquishes control of what will grow. You may find yourself getting rid of half your crop because of sickly plants, wrong types, males or hermaphrodites, etc.
Clones are more predictable and less time consuming, but ask for a lot of attention when freshly cut. With clones, you know exactly what plant is going to grow and how, but you only have that one plant to work with.
If you are growing from seed, direct sowing is easier, more natural, and grants the roots more stability. However, your plants are more exposed this way, and predicting what will grow is impossible.
Sprouting and starting seeds in controlled environments gives you more control but puts more stress on your plants when hardening and transplanting.
There are many options when starting your plants, and no one can tell you which is the right way except your own experience. But now you have a good foundation of knowledge to help with your decision. What option feels right for you? Is there a method you’ve been trying for a while, but you want to make a change? A new grow is just a snip, crack or pop away.