Cloning is a highly effective -- and simple -- method for propagating large numbers of plants at one time. Good cloning practices not only ensure all-female, genetically uniform gardens, but they also cut down on the length of grow cycles and keep gardens disease and pest free. With good technique and a fundamental understanding of plant growth and science, full gardens are up and flowering in no time.
Consider the following: A microbiologist looks into a microscope and watches a microorganism subdivide into two microorganisms. The next day the microbiologist looks in, and the two have become four.
A census group informs the nation’s government that they need to stop giving incentives to couples to have children, as the population has now tripled beyond the expected results.
An electric guitarist plucks a string on his Gibson and a Marshall amplifier boosts the signal tenfold so the audience can hear it.
At the summit of K2, a snowflake falls on a ledge. The snowflake rolls into a snowball, which becomes many snowballs tumbling downhill, eventually creating an avalanche.
A server at Google uses an algorithm that doubles the use of processor speed required before passing the process onto a supercomputer mainframe.
All of these events are examples of exponential growth. Cultivators can make use of this principle -- a tenet that also operates in the replicating cell biology of a cannabis plant.
The force of exponential growth is so powerful that modern attempts to explain its vastness may have conjured up the urban legend that Albert Einstein once said, “Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe”. If he did say that, he wouldn’t have been far wrong. Our examples cover a range of exponential growth. All growers depend on different forms of exponential growth to get more from the work they put in.
There are lots of differences between exponential growth, compounding and biological reproduction, but the idea remains the same; use what you have to make more. Ten seeds, if they produce equal male-to-female ratios, can produce tenfold the amount of seeds at the end of a harvest. If the grower reinvests those seeds, they can end up with thousands of seeds the next season. In fact, exponential growth was one of the key factors in the discovery of biological evolution.
Thomas Robert Malthus wrote a book on population dynamics, “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” In that essay, he noted that exponential growth could not go on unchecked forever. For example, if an oak tree produced 10,000 acorn seeds in its lifetime, and each seed grew into an oak tree, we could actually calculate when the world would be over- populated by oak trees. Just take a calculator and multiply the number in the population by whatever number they can produce, and then multiply that number again (or use the exponential formula on your calculator) and you’ll see that a small population can literally over-populate the planet within a shockingly short period of time.
However, these quantitative facts about reproduction’s forms of exponential growth are not reflected by reality. We are not overpopulated by every species that can overpopulate (and they all can). Something is controlling that overpopulation, preventing us from being inundated with oak trees -- and the answer can be found in the struggle for survival. Malthus realized that organisms compete for limited resources. So not every acorn will grow into an oak tree, and not every oak tree survives disease, being strangled by vines, or the buzz of a chainsaw. This is one of the key components of natural selection, the main mechanism of biological evolution, which was discovered partly due to knowledge of exponential growth.
Exponential growth is the idea behind how to get 99 plants in seven days. The 99 plants have to come from somewhere, and the easiest way to get them, apart from buying the clones from someone who has grown them, is by making use of exponentials. So how does one do it? Well, we start with the knowledge of exponential growth, realizing it is half the battle when the goal is to produce a bulk amount of plants in a short amount of time. Next, we need to have a nice mother plant selection. And lastly, we must have good cloning techniques.
We could resort to mass seed planting, but you would not have a uniform crop as you would with clones, unless dealing with a stable strain -- and even then, statically male-to-female ratios would likely impact those 99 plants by 50 percent. While using seeds would rule out the seven-day factor we are looking for, you would get a whole new generation of crop to work with, and more importantly, select from. It would make sense to put a whopping grow like this into motion just to be able to select the clone from which you will work. However, for most recreational and medical growers this option isn’t realistic, so obtaining a clone to generate a mother from is far better.
There is no doubt that the single best way to clone in bulk is by tissue culture. Plant tissue culture offers a nice incentive, in that it is extremely easy to store 99 plantlets and to start a crop that is virtually guaranteed to be pathogen-free. The trouble is, plant tissue culture takes a very long time, patience and materials to prepare. You could make the 99 ex-plants from just a few leaves, instead of using up several plants. Being able to have 99 ex-plants sitting on a small coffee table will get you 99 clones by the time they are ready to be transplanted. The problem with this is the time setback -- but if you can use this method, go for it.
If you want to produce 99 clones from a mother plant by selective cutting, you need to know the strain. Being familiar with a strain is important; if you are not familiar with it, then the strain’s classification may help you know what to expect. Indicas tend to offer a squat and bushy plant. Sativas are tall and lanky with longer internode lengths. However, some outdoor sativa strains can be phenomenally bushy. Bushy is generally better for cloning, because bushy means lots of branching, and that is exactly what we need for selecting 99 clones. If the strain doesn’t produce much material from which we can take clones, then we have a few options. We can prune a plant, and force it to produce more branching numbers; this can be done with any strain.
It also means keeping a plant in vegetative growth, and extending the vegetative period to allow for the production of new branching. You will need a constant light source for this project; you can literally force a narrow strain to grow into a bush of potential clone sites by working on a plan like this over a period of time, plus you will end up with lots of clone material to practice with as you prune.
Most mother plants selected for cloning are prepared this way, but even the bushiest indica won’t deliver 99 clones and survive, unless it’s a very special plant and you have some pretty advanced cloning skills. If you can get 10 to 12 cuttings per plant, then you will need approximately 10 mother plants. To get those 10 mother plants, one plant will do. In order to prepare for 99 clones, a grower should prepare 10 plants from one, and then the 99 from the 10. Experienced growers will likely be able to reduce these numbers as they become more proficient with making clones. Remember, the more leaves you remove from a mother plant, the greater the chance is that growth will be stunted or stopped altogether. It depends a lot on the strain and growing conditions. Some mother plants can lose nearly every leaf and still grow, while others get so stunted after losing three quarters of their vegetation that they remain in a quasi-plant limbo, neither dying nor growing.
In some ways, getting 99 clones in seven days has more to do with mother selection and preparation than actual cloning. So, for experienced growers who already know their mother strain, simply cloning her out a few times and creating mother stock plants for the generation of 99 in seven days is all the preparation they need. Let’s say we are there. We have our raw plant material; how should we go about generating the 99?
The question of how to generate 99 plants in a week is always going to be somewhat general because of the different ways growers like to clone and grow. However, if we use our basic concept of exponential growth, we can definitely discover some underlying themes to take into account. For example, I will admit that I have cut plants in the science lab and in the field using two different methods. A pair of scissor-type pruning shears or secateurs is what most people would use in the gar- den and growroom. Some people also go for the snap-off utility knife or a scalpel. To be honest, knives and scalpels are generally awkward, except for the expensive line of Japanese custom-made ones that will also take your finger off like butter. Shears are better; however, in the science lab they are not often used. We almost always use single-edged razor blades, which we dispose of after we use them. They arrive in long boxes with each blade wrapped in cardboard. They are sterile, and you can dispose of each one in a sharps bin after use.
For home purposes, razor blades are also somewhat cheap and a very clean way to get nice cuts. You can throw one away after you get a few cuttings and then get a new blade for the next few. If you want to stick with shears, that’s fine, but make sure they are razor sharp and clean, because 99 cuttings do take their toll on even the very best metals. Almost certainly, most growers are going to clone into rockwool, with a few preferring vermiculite, and there are even some hardened soil growers who just love that caveman method of going directly into Mother Nature’s finest. Whatever method you choose, you will want some practice and a routine in place before you even consider doing 99 clones, or else you will get a high failure rate.
There are several ways to clone, but the simplest process is to take cuttings in groups and then transplant them to their mediums. This is probably the quickest method, but it does expose the cut zones to possible contaminants for longer. If you are under pressure to get your clones done quickly, then doing it in bunches is the best way. If you have time, then doing each clone individually is probably going to get you the best results and the best success rate. This means cutting off the clone and putting it into the medium before getting another clone. Where you leave your blade is also important. The less dirty it gets, the less risk of contamination you run. Also, using a high-quality cloning gel is a very good idea.
We can do a lot with 99 clones. By the time they take root, we can share them with other growers, or we could use these plants to create an even bigger population, using our rule of exponentials. See if you can work out what the exponential growth for 99 clones would be. Do you know what 99 clones look like to most growers? They look like the beginnings of a big green ocean, or a “sea of green” (SOG). If you are looking for big bags full of bud, this is not a bad way to do it.
There are several options for starting 99 clones. We can either use natural light or artificial light. Either way, the likelihood is that we will be using large container-sized watering trays to house the cuttings. It is important to keep clones watered, but not overwatered. We want to offer the clones their much needed H2O, but we do not want to encourage too moist a setting for pathogens to thrive. Watering 99 clones, especially in a SOG, is going to need some form of hosing, either by spraying down the crop or by using a manual or automatic irrigation system.
The idea here is that the clones are not going to move much from where they are, except to be transplanted into their growing medium. So the growing dimensions of the nursery and vegetative plants can remain the same, except for the transplant into the main vegetative growth medium. Clones are generally grown under fluorescent lights because of their low cost and ability to still produce decent plants. But the real benefits of fluorescent lighting are that they are power efficient, and create very little heat while also supplying a broad spectrum for the babies. They also happen to be heavy in the bluer spectrums, which helps keep plants squat, with good internode stacking during the vegetative phase.
Still, given the size of a 99-plant project, starting with HID lamps right away so that you don’t have to change any- thing is a pretty good idea. However, this only applies if you plan to use your vegetative space as your flower space. In this case, make sure you keep the tops of the new clones away from direct HID heat by hanging the HID lamps higher than usual, and using lower wattage bulbs (250-600 watts). You could, of course, just keep clones on shelves under fluorescents and inside humidome trays.
One conclusion you could draw about creating 99 plants in seven days is that some planning and investment will happen. Just like a single HID can cover a lot of clones (depending on the intensity of your bulb), getting a plant irrigation system
for a clone nursery can help automate the process and make life easier. Drip irrigation in a SOG system works well, but this would only be used if your nursery room is going to also become a veg or flower room. Otherwise, for standard nursery practices involving cuttings becoming rooted clones, the best method for hydration comes via hand-watering in small amounts, multiple times per day, making sure the root zone is always saturated.
In veg and flower we want a drip irrigation system that gets water to those clones, or SOG setup that negates the need for gymnastics in the growroom. Once we do that, we are certainly well on our way to getting 99 plants in seven days. This, of course, is if you are doing SOG. Maybe you’ll find other methods more to your liking.
In the end, if we cover the basics of exponential growth, clone selection, clone generation, mass cloning techniques and clone/growing space considerations then we have a plan. Commercial setups often do 99 plants in seven days -- but they have access to mother rooms, from which they can select 99 clones whenever they feel like it. Unless you have that sort of system, you will be planning quite differently. However, the payoff will be yield, and quality, in the end. 99 clones of the same strain is basically 99 times the same strain. Medical growers in a small co-op should take serious advantage of these ideas.
*Editor’s Note: Wondering why we went with “99” plants for this article and not 100 or even 1,000? Well, we thought we might point out (in an article about cloning, no less) that federally mandated statutes apply when growing 100 cannabis plants (or more) and warrant felony charges and federal sentencing guidelines. That being said, we’ve never been one to shy away from supporting big grows. If you’ve got the itch to go big, please, go big!