Propagation means to reproduce an organism through natural or unnatural processes.
When it comes to plants, this is considered the 3rd happiest moment for any indoor grower. The 1st happiest moment is harvesting your hard-earned fruits or flowers and the 2nd happiest moment is knowing that your plant is a female.
Propagating your plant happens in two ways: clones from cuttings or sprouts from germinating seedlings. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. For the most part, they require similar equipment to get the job done so we'll be going over them both.
Seed Germination (aka Seed "Popping")
Let’s start talking about the easiest of the two to propagate: Seeds
There are many ways to germinate seeds. I’ve seen people shave seeds down to have a thinner outer shell, people dunk seeds in water and let them sit for 24 hours in the dark, and I’ve even seen people do it the old fashion way-- bury them in soil, water, and let it sprout.
The best way to germinate seeds and (almost) guarantee rooting is with the Wet Paper Towel Method. The initial setup doesn’t require any fancy equipment, just a paper towel, saran wrap, your seeds, and a dining plate.
When you've got what you need, just follow this 4 Step Germination Guide:
Step 1: Rip a piece of paper towel from the roll and wet it under the sink with warm water. You want to have just enough moisture so you don’t drown your seeds. The rule of thumb is to lightly squeeze out the excess water until the paper towel isn’t dripping anymore.
Step 2: Lay your wet paper towel flat on top of the plate. Then place your seeds on one half of the paper towel evenly spaced in a row. Make sure they all face the same direction.
Step 3: Fold the other half of the paper towel over the seeds and gently press around each seed, making a ‘cocoon’ for them to incubate in. Then, with another wet paper towel, you want to add a single drop of warm water on top of each seed.
Step 4: Saran wrap the plate to keep it moist and keep it in a dark location with temperatures between 70-85 degrees.
After 48 hours, you should see taproots coming out of your seeds. If you find some seeds that haven’t popped yet, leave them in there a little longer.
*Note: After 3-4 days, if they haven’t popped, then they’re a lost cause-- throw ‘em out!
Once your taproots show you'll want to transplant those sprouted seeds immediately before they form micro-roots that can be torn when removed from the paper towel. When micro roots form they will temporarily retard germination and growth as well as stress the plant, which could result in unfavorable male/hermaphrodites.
(*Note: If the taproot is stuck on the paper towel, go ahead and rip the piece of the paper towel with the seed)
Transplanting Germinated Seeds
Once you've got your seeds popped you'll need to put them into a starter cell or tray to let them grow into seedlings.
Use a starter cell tray like the Accel-A-Root 50 Cell Starter Tray for transplanting your seeds. Cut out the appropriate amount that you need and set the rest aside in a cool location.
Each Cell should come pre-moistened, but if you need to, run it under some water and gently squeeze out the excess. Take a toothpick and slowly dig a small hole for your seeds. You should dig deep enough for the taproot and shell to be covered under the surface of the cell.
After the cells are prepped here's how you properly transplant them into the cells:
- Grab your seeds and gently lower your taproot in the hole, making sure you do not bend or snap it. Once you have it comfortably in the cell, lightly bury the top of the seed. Do not pack it with the cell soil.
- Then place the cell trays in a propagation tray, like the 10” x 20” EXTREME. Add a cup of water into the tray for humidity and moisture and cover the tray with the dome top. Place the entire setup on top of a heat mat under some bright lights.
- Keep the entire thing under direct light. The heat and brightness from the light will help the seed navigate upward towards it. You want the light to be strong to prevent stretching.
- So how do you do that? We know that the high power lights are strong but the problem with them during the first stages of plant growth is that the lights produce a lot of heat and you don’t want to fry your babies. Plus big HID grows lights and LED grow lights are better suited for more mature plants.
Turning Germinated Seeds into Seedlings
After your seeds start sprouting you'll want to start getting them under lights and turning them into seedlings. Some growers put their young plants directly into the medium they'll grow to maturity in, but we think it's better to start things off by lighting your plants with a lower-powered light until they're ready to fully veg. In this case, we recommend going with one of two options:
- Fluorescent grow lights- T5 and CFL fluorescent lights are great for newly sprouted seedlings. They provide strong intense lights with very little heat and can be placed 4-5inches away from the seedlings for intense direct light.
- 50w LED grow light- LED grow lights give you the least amount of heat, which is perfect for young seedlings. Using an all blue or multi-band grow light will stimulate plant growth without overpowering the plant as an HID will
Once you find the right light for you, keep an eye out while they grow. Thankfully the germination stage is only around 7 days at the longest, so keep an eye out because once they're ready to start vegging you'll need to remove them from their cells and plant those seeds into their grow medium.
So what’s happening when we clone plants?
It's nothing fancy. Plants have been doing this to themselves over hundreds of thousands of years. When a leaf is cut from a plant a mass of non-specialized cells called a callus is exposed. In the right conditions, that callus will fall into the right situation when it can receive nutrients, grow, and form a new plant out of itself.
The same thing happens when you want to take a clone from a plant. When you cut the leaf from a plant (exposing the callus) and dip it in root stimulator the callus will grow, divide and form various specialized cells (roots, stems), eventually forming a new plant that has the identical genetic makeup as the donor plant.
Taking Cuttings From Your Plants
If you’re planning on taking multiple cuttings from your plants, start by cutting the leaf off closest to the stem to assure you have plenty of room for roots to grow. After that, make sure to drop them in a cup of water to prevent air from getting into the mass of the stems.
Grab a starter tray like the one you'd use for seedlings and moisten the starter cells.
Once you’re ready to transplant your cuttings into your tray, start by making a 45-degree angle cut close to the base of each stem. The reason the cut is in a 45-degree angle is to increase your cloning success rate by exposing more of the branch’s mass.
For a precise cut, we recommend using a surgical scalpel like the Gro1 Disposable Scalpels.
After you've cut your leaves dip the ends of each branch into cloning gel, like the X Nutrient MX Clone Gel. Dip your cutting about an inch above the 45° cut, and make sure to coat the living hell out of it.
Once they're dipped, place your clones in a moist starting tray. After a day or two, you'll start to see For successful cloning propagation, you use the same dome and tray setup found in the complete clone and rooting package.
Unlike seedlings, humidity needs to be much higher for cuttings. That's why you'll need a humidity dome over your clones to make sure they get enough moisture for their roots.
Keep the dome on and make visual checks every day for signs of mold or mildew on your clones. If any show up, remove the infected plant or clip off the infected portion of the plant to keep the mold from spreading to your other cuttings.
Too much humidity is bad for your plants, so your dome should have vent holes on the sides and on the top of it that can help you regulate the humidity level during the stages of cloning.
After 3-4 days open your side vents halfway- this is referred to as "burping" the plants. This will lower the humidity in the dome and aid in drying out the environment. You want to slowly dry out the starter cells so that the clones’ roots that are forming can start looking for water, thus they grow stronger roots.
Around day 7 open up your vents all the way. This is also a good time to water your tray again to keep things moist. Feed plain water to your cuttings.
Roots will start showing on the bottom of your tray medium within 7-8 days, though it can take a little longer. By the 10th day, most of the cuttings should form roots. Keep in mind that depending on the strain of your plant, it may take up to 14-21 days until they take root, so if there's no mold and you're doing everything right just hang in there.
Which is Better: Starting from Seeds or Starting from Clones?
By now you’re wondering why one would start with clones vs starting fresh with seeds. There are pro's and con's to both, so here are a few reasons why you'd choose one method over the other:
Growing with Clones- If you discovered favorable traits from the plants you grow, cloning will help get the same results over and over. What kind of traits can be passed down through cloning?
- Easy/fast growth
- Tight internodal growth,
- Delicious fruits or beautiful flowers,
- Immunity to pests
- Resistance to molds or other diseases
And that's just some of the traits you want to go with. Clones can be temperamental, though, so if you plan on growing with clones you have the ability to keep a close eye on them to prevent overwatering or disease.
Growing with Seeds- Seedlings are a great way to introduce new genetics into your garden. Compared to clones that you may have to nurse back to health in one way or another, seeds that are well taken care of are going to grow into strong plants.
Seeds also make for great mother plants that you can take clones from for a long time to come.
The worst and most disheartening part of growing from seeds, though, is that you don’t discover issues with them months after they are mature. If you have mislabeled genetics, for example, you won't know if you have a male or female until months after you start growing. For indoor growing especially, this wastes time, money and energy that you could have used on healthy plants.
So to recap:
- Seeds are a great way to introduce new genetics into your garden. Not only that, but they take less time to propagate your garden than cloning.
- The best way to germinate seeds is with Paper Towel Method.
- Transplant your seedlings into a high humidity environment until the sprouts show.
- Cloning is a great way to keep favorable genetics.
- Cloning is a longer process than seedlings but well worth the trouble. Especially what you do after you receive your clones.
- We try to be as comprehensive as possible but in case we missed anything, let us know!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published March 2015 and has been updated on 4/12/2018 for quality, accuracy, and comprehensiveness