Most gardeners don’t grow plants like tomatoes from scratch. They are susceptible to the late frosts that often occur in Spring, but gardeners want to get the jump on the growing season. Depending on the size of the plant and where you buy, tomatoes can be anywhere from .50 cents up to $15.00 for the larger plants.
And what about decorative plants? While browsing a nursery store chain, I saw that butterfly bushes were almost $30 each. I love butterfly bushes and have about 10 scattered throughout the yard. Some are volunteers, but I have never paid that much for a flowering bush. The same is true for roses. A nice rose bush will cost a pretty penny as well.
There is a cheaper way to get new plants or to grow more of the ones you already have. Simply clone them. Cloning is taking a cutting from an established plant, and creating a new plant. You’d be surprised to know that almost any plant can be cloned. I’ve had success with roses, butterfly bushes, tomatoes, peppers, and grape vines to name a few. If done right, you can have nearly a 100% success on most plant types. Some plants are so simple a cave man could do it. Willow trees have a natural rooting agent and will sprout by merely sticking a branch in the soil. Steeping the wood from a willow can serve as a natural rooting agent for other plants. Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and basil are examples of easy to root plants. Some plants are much more difficult to root, such as hardwood trees. These may be difficult, but not impossible.
Methods of Cloning
Ground Layering – burying the branch.
Plants that have branches near the ground can be buried in the middle with the tip sticking up. This will provide nutrition from the main plant while the rooting takes hold. This works well for vines such as grapes and muscadines. There really isn’t much to learn. Bury the middle section in healthy soil and let it take hold. It’s a common practice to steak the plant up and wound the area that needs rooting. Breaking the bark can spur root growth, but unlike cuttings, the clone will be fed by the main plant during the cloning process. Applying a rooting hormone is also recommended and will improve success.
This type of cloning takes a little more skill, but works well with hard to clone species. Air layering is to peel back the top layer of a branch and wrap the branch with a small bag of grow medium. To air layer, take a sterilized knife, cut away a 1-2 inch section of the bark below a node. Be careful not to cut too deeply. The xylem carries nutrition to the branch. If it is cut, the branch will die. To air layer, follow these steps.
1. Sanitize all tools that will be contacting the exposed bark.
2. Find a branch that has at least two nodes and is 1/8th inch or bigger. Smaller than 1/8 probably will not hold the weight of the branch and bag.
3. Cut away a section of the outer layer of the bark / skin of the branch. Cut deep enough to remove the bark, but not deep enough to sever the xylem.
4. Place a plastic bag / sleeve over the branch. Secure the area below the cut with tape around the bag. Make it snug, but don’t strangle the branch.
5. Apply rooting gel or powder to the cut away area.
6. Pack a grow medium around the cut away area. Perlite, unfertilized peat moss, sphagnum moss, and orchid moss are great options. Moisten the grow medium, but don’t saturate. It should feel like a damp sponge.
7. Tape the bag closed in the area above the cut. The bag should be secure, but not tight.
8. With a pin, poke holes in the bag to allow air flow.
9. Every few days, add a few drops of water to keep the medium moist.
It should take 2 to 3 weeks. When roots are clearly visible, cut the branch and carefully remove the bag. Transplant into quality soil and establish indoors. Once the plant is thriving, it can be transplanted outside.
Another option for air layering is to cut a diagonal incision halfway through the branch. Place a toothpick in the cut to keep it from closing up and grafting back in. The rest of the steps are the same as above.
Clonex s a great rooting gel that I use and highly recommend.
This is my favorite style of propagating, and it will work with most plants. In fact, if you buy plants from a local garden center, most likely they weren’t grown from seeds; they were cloned. Take a look at this photo:
Take a close look at the root area. This came from a garden center and it is clearly a cloned tomato. Notice that the roots are coming out of a cutting. So when you buy well established plants, they are usually cuttings that have been rooted.
Cloning is an efficient way to get a jump start on your plants. And the quality of the plant is great because it is coming from a healthy mother plant. This can be especially helpful for hybrids that can’t be propagated by seed. Some hybrids are patented, so just be aware of this fact when you are considering cloning an exclusive hybrid.
Some growers have cloned more than 20 generations on their tomatoes.
To clone cuttings, pick a healthy branch that has no flowering taking place. Tomatoes are more forgiving than other plants, but flowering can be a disaster for cloning for most other plants. Plants produce completely different hormones when going through the flowering stage. Unlike many other plants, tomatoes grow while blooming, so they can still clone, but it’s more effective to go with non-flowering stalks if you can catch them before they put out buds.
When a flowering plant is cut, the plant has to stop producing fruit and flower hormones, and it attempts to switch over to growth and rooting. A cutting has limited resources, so it rarely survives the transition from flowering to rooting. For this reason, try to pick a branch that doesn’t have flowers and doesn’t have flower buds. If your tomato cutting has small flower buds, pinch them off. You don’t want flowers to develop until the plant is ready to produce.
A good place to take a tomato cutting is where a sucker is growing in the crotch area of two branches. See the photo below:
The sucker grows out and will become a new branch with flowers and tomatoes. While it’s young, a sucker is a great cutting to take for cloning.
When cloning, follow these steps:
1. Sanitize a cutting instrument – knife or scissors.
2. Cut at a 45 degree angle. The angle provides more surface for roots to emerge. Don’t let the cut surface dry out. It’s good to drop the cuttings into a cup of water until you can plant them.
3. If you are growing hydroponically, prepare a grow medium such as rock wool or perlite. Soak the medium in a rooting solution. Clonex is a great option. If you are growing in soil, soak Jiffy plugs or apply rooting solution to soil. You can also buy rooting soil that has nutrients especially for cuttings.
4. Dip the cut in either a rooting gel or a rooting powder. Place the cuttings into your soil or grow medium.
5. Keep the medium moist by watering daily. I like to use a mist sprayer to keep the plants moist and watered. Use plain water.
6. If possible, place your cuttings into a seeding dome. This will keep moisture in. After four days, I like to remove the dome. Some plants can become susceptible to fungus if they stay in heavy humidity.
Tomatoes are more forgiving, and people have had success by just poking them into the garden soil. However, your success rate and overall plant health will be better by using rooting solution and dipping the cuttings in rooting gel or powder. Other types of plants are less forgiving and need more care.
These two products work great together. Dip the cutting tip into the Clonex rooting gel, and soak the grow medium or soil plug into a Clonex diluted solution. 1-2 teaspoons per quart is all you need. Jiffy plugs soaked in a rooting solution works very well for tomatoes. If soaked in a Clonex solution and dipped in gel, the roots will fill the plug in less than a week. When rooting for soil growth, I use Jiffy plugs and Clonex. When prepping for a hydroponic system, I use Clonex and plug the stem into rock wool.
Another great option is to root with aeroponics or a drip cloner. In my next article on cloning, I’ll show how to build a drip cloner. This type of cloning has the fastest results.
I hope this article helps you propagate many healthy plants. If you winter garden indoors, you can clone your tomatoes and have a full garden in the Spring. Just start cloning your existing tomatoes in April and by May, they will be already flowering and ready for outdoor production. The same is true for peppers and other types of vegetable plants. As long as you keep restarting a plant by cutting, the plant can continue for unlimited generations. Then you may never have to buy another pre-started plant
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Eddie Snipes 2012
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