Learning how to clone plants sounds more intimidating than it is. Cloning entails creating a genetic copy of an organism - either a plant or animal. The word "cloning" itself is derived from the Greek for "twig" or "branch," and in the context of cloning plants, that largely describes the process: taking a cutting from one plant and using it to produce another identical plant. In this article, we'll touch on three key points in learning how to clone plants: the reasons for cloning plants, the methods behind cloning, and the growing requirements after a plant has been cloned.
Cloning a plant doesn't create an offspring of the plant; it creates an exact genetic replication of the plant. Because plants can differ in their hardiness and appearance, gardeners can find a single show-worthy plant and create a string of clones with that plant's characteristics. Clones of the same plant can be produced again and again, without adversely affecting the quality of the plant. In fact, some European grape varietals were originally cloned more than 2,000 years - and they're still being successfully cloned today.
Vegetative propagation is one of the simplest methods when learning how to clone plants, and it's generally an enhancement of natural processes. Cutting is a popular form of vegetative propagation. It involves taking a small portion of a parent plant and placing it in conditions that induce the growth of an entirely new plant. Cuttings can typically be taken from a plant's roots, stem, stalk or leaves. Grafting is another common form of vegetative propagation. Grafting involves fusing the root system of one plant with the cells of another plant. Here, two plants are selected: one for the strength of its root system (this is called the root stalk or stock plant), and the other for its fruit, flowers or leaves. The second plant, dubbed the scion, uses the new root stalk to form a new plant. A third highly-sophisticated form of cloning is known as plant tissue culture. Culturing plants in this manner requires sterile environments for the plant tissue. This tissue is exposed to closely monitored levels of nutrients, plant hormones and vitamins, as well as filtered, sterile air.
Once a plant has been cloned, the new material must be closely monitored. Fresh plant cuttings, shoots or grafts must have proper light exposure, moisture, nutrition and sterility. If you're attempting to grow your cloned plants in pots, be sure the pots and planting tools are cleaned with soap before filling them with your rooting material. Common rooting materials include vermiculite, coarse sand (mixed with peat moss) and peat pellets. Once rooted, it's essential to retain proper humidity for your cuttings. The soil must drain easily, and have a regular supply of fresh water. Typically, new cuttings are covered with plastic to retain moisture.
Horticultural cloning has grown increasingly important as gardeners and scientists develop new methods that expand the range and type of plants it's possible to grow. Dwarf plants, hybrid plants - even "artistic plants" - all owe their existence to cloning. As you learn how to clone plants, you'll learn a new skill that will improve the quality of your garden, and save you money you might otherwise spend on buying new plants.