By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Who doesn’t like free plants? Managing stock plants gives you a ready and healthy supply of new clones to share or just keep for yourself. Using stock plants for propagation gives you an identical cutting or tuber to the mother plant. Keeping a mother plant free of disease ensures healthy offspring and just requires a little know-how to make her thrive and produce generations of fine babies. Choose healthy, superior examples of your preferred species of plant when using stock plants for propagation.
Stock plants are healthy specimens of plants you wish to propagate. Their entire purpose is to be the genesis of a new generation of the same kind of plant. Depending upon the variety of plant, stock plants are the source of cuttings, graft material, seeds, bulbs, or tubers. This is why they are often called mother plants.
All vegetative plant material that is grown from the stock plant is genetically identical to the parent and is called a clone. Keeping a mother plant healthy and free of disease is as important as it is to keep a gestating mammal in the best shape. Managing stock plants is the most important concern when propagating plants.
The mother plant must be maintained and in the best of health in order to yield perfect genetic material. Plant stock propagation is most successful if it is done through superior plant specimens. The mother plant should be a premium example of its species and free of disease. It must have all the desirable traits of its species and be healthy and vigorous enough to withstand material donation.
The gardener must find out the needs of the plant species and follow them closely so the plant is in the best condition. Finding out how to maintain mother plants is the first step to plant stock propagation. This includes proper lighting, moisture, nutrition, and controlling the growing area to prevent disease and insect vectors.
Plants can be propagated from more than just seed. Many perennials can be divided, tubers and bulbs naturalize and produce more of the structures and even stems, leaves, and other plant parts may be rooted.
Mother plants grown for their root structure are called rootstock and those grown for grafting onto rootstock are called scions.
Stock plants that will have cuttings taken from them need to grow slowly and strongly so the cut material is healthy.
Tuber and bulbs form bulblets naturally, which are easy to separate and grow to larger plant storage structures.
Some propagation is as easy as just removing a leaf and setting it upon the surface of the soil to root.
You need to know the specifics of your type of plant’s reproduction and then pursue hearty growth on your specimen.
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Mother of Thousands (bryophyllum daigremontianum) is a beautiful and interesting house plant, and one of my favorites. If you have one of these plants in your home, you’ll want to know how to care for it, so it thrives for years to come.
In this guide I’ll cover everything you need to know about caring for your Mother of Thousands. But first, a quick summary of mother of thousands plant care.
How to care for mother of thousands: Mother of Thousands should be planted in a well draining potting mix, watered infrequently but thoroughly, and kept in bright, indirect sunlight with low humidity at 65 to 75° F. The tiny plantlets that grow along the edges of the leaves will need to be managed as they try to take root wherever they happen to land.
A good propagation medium is made up of components that provide optimum aeration, drainage and moisture holding characteristics. These are usually made up from combinations of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, sand or similar materials. The primary role of a propagation medium is to provide support and moisture while the plant is developing. These requirements are quite different from those of a potting medium, which may have to sustain a mature or growing plant over a long period of time. Generally speaking, potting media are not recommended for plant propagation purposes.
Many plants will easily root in water. However, the roots that form can be extremely fibrous and stringy. Plants rooted in water often have a difficult time becoming established after they are transplanted to a container.
The propagation medium should be thoroughly moistened before use. Many organic materials, like peat moss, have a waxy outer coating that resists wetting. Be sure to apply water slowly to obtain uniform distribution. This may require 2-3 applications. It is not uncommon for a medium to look wet on the surface but to be powdery dry in the middle. A well moistened media will make it easier to stick cuttings later on.
Light is an important environmental factor in plant propagation. Generally speaking, low light levels cause plants to root slowly. However, high light intensities can stress cuttings, causing them to burn or drop leaves. Diffused sunlight generally provides enough light for optimum rooting without causing injury to the cuttings.
Since cuttings do not have roots, they cannot replace the water lost through transpiration. Therefore it is important to maintain high humidity around the cuttings to cut down on the amount of moisture lost to the atmosphere.
These conditions can be provided by placing a clear piece of plastic over the propagation area. This causes condensation to form on the underside of the plastic that provides the necessary humidity.
Adequate ventilation is also required to avoid disease problems. The plastic covering should be placed such that air can flow freely around the cuttings as they root.
For best results, maintain day temperatures at 70 degrees F. During winter months, soil can be as much as 10-20 degrees less than air temperature, so provide bottom heat when possible. Ideal rootzone temperatures for most plants are approximately 70-75 degrees F.
Rooting hormones are often used to promote root formation. These materials provide supplemental auxin, a naturally occurring plant hormone that is responsible for root development. The basal end of the cutting is dipped into the chemical prior to sticking it into the propagation medium. These products come in different strengths and will vary according to the type of plant being propagated.
Stem and Section Cuttings:
There are two types of stem cuttings: tip cuttings, which include the apex or plant tip and a small portion of the stem and section cuttings, which include a 2- to 3-inch section of stem (not including the apex or plant tip> and leaf joint.
To take a tip cutting, select a section of stem with a healthy crown of leaves at the end. Carefully remove the lower foliage to leave a section of bare stem to insert into the propagation media. Bottom heat, provided by a heating cable, will encourage rooting. Generally, cuttings do best with a media temperature of approximately 75 degrees F.
Plants Propagated from Stem Cuttings:
Plants which can be propagated from stem cuttings include the following:
Asterisk* indicates these are particularly easy to propagate.
Rooting Plants in Water:
Some plants root so readily from stem or tip cuttings they can be started in plain tap water. The water must be kept clean and well aerated for best results. A bright location out of direct sunlight is best. After roots are formed plants should be transferred to individual pots, or grouped together in a hanging basket. The following plants are among the easiest to root in plain water:
Many plants with soft, fleshy foliage have developed the ability to reproduce themselves from leaves. Considering that some plants grow hundreds of leaves, you can appreciate the propagation potential for these species. In addition, leaf propagation is much faster and more reliable than propagating plants from seed.
The most widely practiced method of taking a leaf cutting is to snip off a healthy leaf, complete with a short piece of stem. The end of the leaf cutting is then dipped in a rooting hormone and the stalk is stuck in to a moist propagation media. Bottom heat of about 75 degrees F should be provided if possible. Adequate humidity levels are maintained by frequent water sprays, or by covering the propagating tray with clear plastic.
After about two or three weeks the leaves should be well rooted with a new plant forming at the base. It is these new plantlets which form around the stem which are used to transplant. The old leaf can be discarded.
Plants which root most readily from leaf cuttings include African Violets and Sansevieria.
Leaf cuttings of African violets root so readily, they can simply be suspended in a well aerated, jar of water. The suspended leaves can be supported by simply covering the mouth of a jar with foil or paper held in place with a rubber band. Holes are easily punched in this covering, and the leaf stems inserted so the bottom of each leaf stalk touches the water.
Sansevieria is another interesting plant that can be started from leaf cuttings. The leaves are long, leathery and sword-shaped. Just select a whole leaf and then cut it into 2-inch sections starting from the tip all the way down. Remember…if cuttings are stuck upside down they will not root.
Leaf cuttings can be literally crowded together, almost shoulder to shoulder. This crowding will not harm them, and once the root systems have been developed they can be separated for transplanting into individual pots.
Plants Propagated from Leaf Cuttings:
Plants which can be successfully propagated from leaf cuttings include the following:
Leaf Vein Cuttings:
Plants with prominent leaf veins can be propagated from leaf-vein cuttings in two ways:
Common plants that can be propagated from leaf vein cuttings include:
One of the most mystifying things that can happen in your garden is when a plant gets a disease. How did it happen? Will it spread? Will all my plants die? How can I get rid of it? The most important thing to understand about disease prevention is something called the disease triangle (drawing, right). Disease can only happen when three things coincide: you have a plant that can get sick (a host), a pathogen (like a fungus, bacterium, or virus) that can attack the plant, and environmental conditions (like humidity or drought) that promote the disease. If any one of these things is not present, the disease will not happen, so prevention involves knocking out at least one side of the triangle. Rather than waiting for a problem to pop up in your garden, consider the best defense against disease to be a good offense. What follows are 10 ways you can eliminate at least one side of the disease triangle and keep your plants healthy.
The easiest way to limit disease in your garden is to avoid introducing it in the first place. Getting a disease with a new plant is not the kind of bonus that any of us wants. One of the hardest things to learn is what a healthy plant should look like, making it difficult to know if the one you want is sick.
It is a good idea to collect a few books, magazines, and catalogs that show what a healthy specimen looks like. Don’t take home a plant with dead spots, rotted stems, or insects. These problems can easily spread to your healthy plants and are sometimes hard to get rid of once established.
Not all materials in a compost pile decompose at the same rate. Some materials may have degraded sufficiently to be put in the garden, while others have not. Thorough composting generates high temperatures for extended lengths of time, which actually kill any pathogens in the material. Infected plant debris that has not undergone this process will reintroduce potential diseases into your garden. If you are not sure of the conditions of your compost pile, you should avoid using yard waste as mulch under sensitive plants and avoid including possibly infected debris in your pile.
Insect damage to plants is much more than cosmetic. Viruses and bacteria often can only enter a plant through some sort of opening, and bug damage provides that. Some insects actually act as a transport for viruses, spreading them from one plant to the next. Aphids are one of the most common carriers, and thrips spread impatiens necrotic spot virus, which has become a serious problem for commercial producers over the past 10 years. Aster yellows (photo, right) is a disease carried by leafhoppers and has a huge range of host plants. Insect attacks are another way to put a plant under stress, rendering it less likely to fend off disease.
It is always best to clean out the garden in the fall, even if you live in a moderate climate. This is not only an effective deterrent to disease but also a good way to control diseases already in your garden.
You need to take care when fertilizing plants since too much of any fertilizer can burn roots, reducing their ability to absorb water. This, in turn, makes the plants more susceptible to stress from drought, cold, and heat. Plants starved for nutrients are smaller and can be badly affected by leaf spots, while a stronger plant can fight off diseases. An overabundance of a particular nutrient is another way to put stress on a plant.
Getting a soil test through your local extension agency will provide you with accurate information on nutrient levels in your soil. Without it, any feeding of your plants is likely to be guesswork on your part and may result in too much of one nutrient or not enough of another.
Disease-resistant plants are those that might get sick with a particular problem but will fight off the disease instead of succumbing to it. For instance, some tomatoes are coded as “VFN resistant,” which means the tomato variety is resistant to the fungi Verticillium and Fusarium and to nematodes.
If you start looking for these codes on flowers, you’ll probably be disappointed because disease resistance is rarely identified on plant tags. This doesn’t mean that numerous flower varieties are not resistant to disease. Many rose companies offer plants that are resistant to diseases like powdery mildew and black spot.
Nursery employees and fellow gardeners can help you identify the best or most resistant varieties of many plants. Reference books and catalogs may also list plants and varieties resistant to particular diseases.
Trimming trees and shrubs in late winter is better than waiting until spring. Wounded limbs can become infected over the winter, allowing disease to become established when the plant is dormant. Late-winter pruning prevents disease from spreading to new growth. Although late-winter storms can cause new damage, it is still better to trim back a broken limb than ignore it until spring is underway. Always use sharp tools to make clean cuts that heal rapidly, and make sure to cut back to healthy, living tissue.
Successful gardening is based on using plants appropriate for your zone and site. If you set a shade-loving plant, like an azalea, in full sun, it will grow poorly and be easily attacked by diseases and insects. I once had a crape myrtle planted where part of its leaves were in the shade. This was the only part of the plant that had powdery mildew.
Watering your garden is a good thing, but since many diseases need water just as much as plants do, how you go about it makes a big difference. Many pathogens in the soil and air need water to move, grow, and reproduce. To avoid giving these diseases an environment they love, choose watering methods that limit moisture on a plant’s foliage. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation accomplish this. If you are watering by hand, hold the leaves out of the way as you water the roots.
The most common leaf problems are exacerbated when leaves are wet, so overhead sprinkling is the least desirable option. If you choose this method, however, water at a time when the leaves will dry quickly but the roots still have time to absorb the moisture before it evaporates.
Also remember that more isn’t necessarily better when giving your plants a drink. Waterlogged soil or pots promotes some root-rotting fungi and can also suffocate roots, making them easy targets for the rotting fungi.
Take care when spacing transplants, and keep an eye on established plants as they spread. Crowded plants create their own humidity, which allows diseases like powdery mildew (photo, right), rust, and downy mildew to thrive. Improving airflow around your plants reduces this high relative humidity and allows foliage to dry more quickly.
Plants that are placed too closely together tend to grow poorly due to competition for light, water, and nutrients. These weak plants are more susceptible to attack. Diseases also sometimes spread when an infected leaf comes into contact with a healthy one, which is more likely when plants are next to each other.
To lessen the likelihood of disease, trim out crowded, damaged, or old stalks on plants that are prone to powdery mildew, like Phlox paniculata. Dividing or rearranging your plants when they need it will also help.
Having plants that all predictably grow at the same rate and mature at the same time is a big advantage. That’s why so many cannabis growers start their crops with clones taken from mother plants.
In rooted cuttings (i.e., clones), phenotype refers to the physical appearance of the plant. Plants with the same genetic makeup can wind up looking different—displaying different phenotypes—if they’re not grown under the same conditions. Sometimes the term can also refer to the different appearances that occur in seeds from the parental cross.
In plants, genotype refers to the actual genetic building blocks that the plant was created from—specifically, which genes were isolated and combined. The phenotype is the expression of these in the physical growing environment.
All cloned plants have their origin with a seed plant. In cannabis plants that are commonly cultivated for THC, CBD, and the other cannabinoids and terpenes, either nature or a plant breeder introduced male pollen from one plant to the female flower of another.
Professional breeders master the art of selecting parent plants as well as which ones to combine to get known and desired results in their offspring. Otherwise, cannabis breeding is a game of dice with a huge number of varying odds.
The ability of growers to replicate that one special seed plant over and over from thousands of possibilities is a very powerful tool that can be harnessed for cropping success. This is the process of cloning from mother plants—taking the cuttings and then rooting them to grow bud.
Mother plants can be a keystone in growing success. Having many identical plants reaching the same height and size at the same time under the same growing conditions, with known qualities in the buds at harvest, can make anyone a successful grower—provided, of course, that they select a mother plant to clone that suits their growing needs.
Once you know which plant will be your mother plant, you’ll want to ensure that it is healthy, robust and free of problems. Here’s a quick checklist to ensure that your moms are healthy and in perfect form:
The “Triangle of Success” for producing healthy crops of clones consists of the following.
Once you start the actual process of removing live branches from your plants to root as cuttings, you need to move quickly and surely. It’s kind of like surgery: Have the necessary tools right where you need them when you need them, including:
Keeping things hygienic produces stronger, healthier rooted cuttings. Propagation environments are warm and humid, which makes them the perfect breeding ground for plant diseases like stem rot. By keeping things clean throughout the process, you can avoid introducing harmful disease-causing bacteria or fungi by way of dirty tools or fingers, etc. Cleanse, scrub and rinse all of the materials coming into contact with the plant material while taking your cuttings.
Pro tip: One part unscented liquid chlorine bleach to nine parts cold water is a good all-purpose cleaning and disinfectant method for all of your propagation materials (trays, domes, cutting surfaces, etc.). Rinse these well after scrubbing with the bleach solution. Tools can also be wiped with isopropyl alcohol before use.
Wash your hands well before handling the cuttings and propagation materials. Gloves add a further degree of protection.
While a steady hand helps, steadiness is more about maintaining a stable environment for the cuttings while they root and moving quickly and surely through the process of taking cuttings from plants, sticking them into the medium and covering them with a humidity dome. Minimizing the time that a cut stem is exposed to air is very important so that an air bubble doesn’t develop in the stem or it becomes infected from contamination via exposure.
Create a workspace that is free of obstacles and allows you to work easily. You’ll want to be able to make the cut on a flat, clean surface, dip the cutting in a rooting stimulator, and then stick it into the rooting medium as quickly and steadily as possible. This means having your cutting board, blades, and rooting stimulator all clean and laid out at the ready.
An aeroponically-rooted cutting ready to plant. (Photo by Erik Biksa)
You’ll need to have your rooting medium prepared beforehand. Using filtered or spring water is recommended for this process. Some types of materials, like rockwool, may require that you adjust the pH of the water (i.e., to increase the acidity to counteract the high pH of the rockwool material). Inexpensive liquid pH test kits, such as those for aquariums, are widely available. Food-grade pH adjusters can be purchased as well from your local hydroponics supplier.
Pro tip: Adding a very mild nutrient charge to your rooting medium is recommended—for example, fertilizer at one-eighth strength. Beneficial microbes typically perform best once roots form, although species like Trichoderma can be helpful in preventing outbreaks of disease-causing microorganisms from contamination in the rooting materials.
Once your medium is prepped, covered and put under the lights, place a clean thermometer under the dome and wait until it warms up. Optimally, you want around 75°F to 82°F inside the propagation environment. With a snug-fitting humidity dome, you should see moisture begin to bead up on the lid—this is normal and shows good humidity levels to root the cuttings. If the air is too dry, the cut stems (which have no roots) will dehydrate quickly, wilt and die.
A clone rooted in its medium. (Photo by Erik Biksa)
Fill your spray bottle with clean filtered or spring water. Adding some B-vitamins helps prevent shock in both the mother plants and the cut stems during the process. You can add the same solution to a clean water glass or flower vase as well. Raise the lights or shut off any high-intensity lighting sources and give the mother plant(s) a light mist.
Next, give the donor branches a final inspection, then cut off portions of the stem longer than you intend to root. Put the cut end into your water glass or vase filled with solution right away. Gather up several branches or stem pieces like this until you have enough to fill a tray or as many as desired.
With your rooting medium neatly beside your cutting area, and with holes for the cuttings pre-poked to a depth of at least three-quarters of an inch, you can strip away excess foliage and growth sites from the cut material, leaving a clean stem with a 2-to-3-inch-diameter crown of foliage at the top (trim any excess with scissors). Finally, place the stem down flat on the board and make a 45-degree cut to the final length for rooting.
Dip the cutting into your rooting stimulator, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Finally, stick the dipped cut end into the rooting medium. First making sure that your fingers are clean, gently firm up the medium at the top of the stem to ensure good contact. Give the cut clone a very light mist and continue until the tray is full or you have sufficient cuttings prepared. It’s advisable to root at least 10 percent more cuttings than you’ll ultimately need and select only the best later.
Cover the tray with the humidity dome and keep under constant, gentle full-spectrum lighting. Make sure that the temperature remains a steady 75°F to 82°F. Lift the dome off daily and wipe it with a clean paper towel, then place it back on top.
Most types of rooting medium won’t require any more watering until the roots show when using a snug-fitting propagation dome, but some might. Use your best judgement, being very careful not to overwater and create stem rot in the warm, moist environment.
Humidity domes increase success rates. (Photo by Erik Biksa)
Pro tip: Ensure that there’s no freestanding water on the bottom of the tray(s) underneath the rooting medium, and add a drainage layer if necessary.
Some strains will root faster than others however, you will usually start to see roots in 10 days following these directions. Once more than half of the cuttings are showing roots, start lifting the dome off for 15 minutes at a time and leaving it back on for several hours to “harden off” the cuttings prior to transplant. Also, keep plants with small root systems away from strong breezes or ventilation.
If you’re serious about plant propagation, or perhaps don’t have the time or patience for rooting clones using the traditional methods, aeroponic cloning could be your ticket to cropping in the fast lane.
Collars should firmly hold the stems. (Photo by Erik Biksa)
Just like a serious high-performance engine or a well-trained athlete, aeroponic cloning takes advantage of oxygen boosts to ignite a faster and stronger rooting process. Aeroponics involves using sprayers to diffuse the nutrient solution, increasing the surface area for dissolved oxygen (DO).
Pro tip: Roots LOVE oxygen!
Many aeroponic propagation systems, like the well-known EZ Clone series, are also great for rooting much larger cuttings with full sets of leaves. Rooting 9- to 12-inch-tall cuttings with massive root systems is very doable using aeroponics, saving the valuable vegetative-growth time typically required later.
Most aeroponic cloners come with a set of instructions developed over time to help ensure successful cloning for anyone using their system. However, based on years of feedback and research, here are some master aero-cloner tips to further guarantee your success or perhaps take it to the next level:
Pro tip: Most aeroponic rooting systems like the EZ Clone don’t require a propagation dome because plants can breathe oxygen and take in plenty of moisture at the cut stem, keeping hydrated and healthy while rooting. While this is great because it helps prevent any funk, and lets your plants breathe freely and even grow while rooting, it means you should avoid ventilation or breezes in the propagation area that can cause moisture stresses.
Always label clones for proper identification. (Photo by Erik Biksa)