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Your Guide to Cutting a Plant for Cloning

Sonia Nair Oct 28, 2018
Cloning is an easy method of growing plants, without using seeds. Here is a brief overview about the different types of cuttings used for cloning a plant.
Plants reproduce both sexually and asexually. While sexual reproduction involves pollination and development of seeds, which in turn produce new plants; asexual reproduction involves development of a new plant from the cells of a single parent plant.
Asexual reproduction does not involve pollination or seed formation, but a growing part (usually the stem) of the parent plant develops a new plant through random mutation. Natural asexual reproduction is of many types.
While some plants, like strawberries, develop new plants from their arching roots; others use rhizomes, bulbs and tubers for producing new shoots. In case of bryophyllum, an ornamental plant, new plantlets develop throughout the margins of its leaves. These tiny plants fall off and form new growths.
Some plants reproduce through budding, whereas others resort to fragmentation. All these are nature's techniques of asexual reproduction. Even humans have been using various methods of cloning plants, like developing new plants from stem cuttings. Plant tissue culture is one of the advanced techniques invented by humans for cloning plants from cuttings.

What is Plant Cloning?

In sexual reproduction, merging of two sets of DNA is involved, and the resultant offspring is genetically different from the parents; whereas the offspring produced through asexual reproduction is genetically identical to the single parent.
Cloning is a type of asexual reproduction which ensures that the offspring is genetically identical to the parent plant. You may wonder what is the benefit of a plant being genetically identical to its parent; and how is it different from a plant developed from a seed?
As clones are taken from the strongest, healthiest and productive plants; they would be the genetic replicas of the parent plants. You can have a garden full of such strong and healthy plants. Plants that germinate from seeds need not be strong and healthy, and the seeds of a single parent may show different characteristics.
Cloning process is much faster than natural sexual reproduction in plants. In case of grafting, a cloning technique, clones of two genetically different parents can be combined to form a new superior plant. Cloning plants for food is also beneficial, as it aids commercial farming and ensures good results.

Cuttings for Cloning a Plant

Plant cuttings can be used for propagating plants through asexual reproduction. This method involves using any part of the plant's vegetation which contains at least one stem cell. Such parts are placed in a suitable medium and proper growth conditions are provided.
These cuttings develop roots and stems, and grow into new plants which are genetically identical to the parent plants. The term 'plant cutting' is often misunderstood for stem cuttings. It includes vegetative parts, like roots, scion, eyes, leaves, leaf-bud, and many other types of cuttings.
The type of cutting which is best suited for a particular plant is determined according to the plant species. Following are the different types of cuttings for cloning a plant:

▶ In case of stem cuttings, a piece of stem with at least a single leaf node and a few leaves, is used. This is the most popular type of plant cutting.
▶ Even though the success rate is high in root cutting; it is not popular. In this method, a part of the root is used to develop a new plant. It is better to take a healthy and thick root with a length of two to three inches, to be planted in the growing medium.

▶ A scion cutting is a shoot or sprout of a plant, used for vegetative propagation.
▶ Eye cuttings denote pieces of foliated or defoliated stalks with one or more eyes. These stalks are planted in a growing medium, to develop new plants.

▶ Leaf cuttings are small parts of leaves which are used to produce new plants. Such cuttings are taken from thick leaves with veins. The type of leaf cutting may vary with the type of parent plant.
▶ In case of leaf-bud cutting, you need that part of the plant, which has a leaf blade, petiole and stem attached to it with a bud. This type of cutting is best suited for those healthy plants which have very few cloning material.
There are many other types of plant cuttings for cloning plants which are complicated and are usually done by experts. Apart from cuttings, the most important factor for cloning plants is proper conditions that stimulate the growth of roots, shoots or both.

Cloning Plants from Cuttings

▶ Select the right parent plant which has the desired characteristics. The plant should be healthy and at least two months old.
▶ Collect the materials needed for cloning plant cuttings. They include a sharp and sterile scissors for cutting the clone and clipping excess leaves; a glass of fresh and tepid water; a container filled with the growing medium of your choice; rooting hormone; and a spray bottle with water.
It is very important to sterilize the tools and cutting blocks to prevent attacks of fungi, viruses and other diseases.

▶ Choose the right rooting hormone and growing medium. Liquid rooting hormones are preferred to the powder type, as the former can easily penetrate the stem and offer good results.
Growing medium is also available in different types, like rapid rooters, rock wool or oasis cubes, pro-mix, coconut fiber, etc. Among them, the rapid rooter is very popular, as it is organic and is made of composted bark and latex. You might have heard of cloning plants in water and this means that the growing medium is nothing, but water.
You may also use soil or sand for this purpose.

▶ Remove nitrogen from the parent plant. This can be done by watering them heavily, for three to four days prior to the date of cutting. The water should be pH adjusted, without any fertilizer content. This is done to minimize the amount of nitrogen stored in the plant, as it can retard the rooting process.
▶ You must select the plant cutting, usually a growing tip of a stem. The stem should have two to three sets of leaves and some leaf nodes. The large leaves must be removed with a scissors, leaving two to three small leaves. Cut the stem and the removed stem must contain at least two to three leaf nodes.
▶ Place the stem on the sterile cutting block and slice it at 45°, around ¼-inch below the leaf nodes. Do not bruise or crush it while handling. The plant cutting for cloning must have one or two leaf nodes.

▶ As you prepare the plant cutting, dip the cut part of the stem in a good rooting hormone (for 30-60 seconds), to prevent air, entering the cut.
▶ Take out the stem and wipe off the excess hormone, before planting it, at least half-inch deep into the growing medium. Place the container in a tray. Mist them with fresh water and cover with a dome. The inside of the tray should be misted with water, and it must have some holes for ventilation.
▶ The cuttings and the dome must be misted with water around three to four times a day. 72 to 80°F is the ideal temperature setting for these cuttings. For lighting, dappled sunlight is good, and a t5 fluorescent lamp can be used indoors.
▶ You may use a mild fertilizer, that can be mixed with the water. Plain distilled water is good for the cuttings. Reduce the frequency of misting (once in every two days). The medium should not be allowed to dry out, but at the same time, excess watering should be avoided.
After a week, remove the dome for about two hours. If the cutting does not wilt, you can make sure that roots have developed to support the cutting. If it wilts place the dome back and continue the misting process. 
Don't use the domes for those cuttings which have developed roots. The lower leaves may wilt, but don't remove these yellow leaves as it may cause death of the plant. Once established, these plants can be removed from the growing medium and planted in soil or any other medium of your choice.
This is one of the common methods for cloning plants. You can try this method and clone your favorite plant, so that you get a replica that has the same characteristics of the parent plant.