How to build a Hydroponic Cloner

When cloning cuttings from plants, there are three options – plug cuttings into a neutral grow medium such as rock wool or another type of fiber, plug into soil or a jiffy plug, or use a cloner.

Soaking a jiffy plug into a clonex solution works very well on most plants. But you have to be vigilant and make sure the soil near the roots stays very moist. Rock wool works okay, but it takes a lot more maintenance and requires a lot of humidity around the plant. This makes them more susceptible to fungus and it’s easy to get stem rot where the rooting occurs. Plus the success rate is lower than the other two options. Cloning stations are my favorite option. Just put in a good rooting solution and let the plants go for a week or so.

While rooting in a humidity dome takes 2-3 weeks, a cloning solution can have a plant ready in about a week. Of course this depends on the type of plant and how quickly it responds to rooting. Using the cloning solution mix I’ll mention later in this article, my tomato cuttings showed these results in three days.

rooting tomato1

As you can see, the roots have filled the grow medium and are coming through the bottom of the pot. I put these in on June 11th and took this photo on June 14th. By the end of the week, these tomatoes will be ready for planting in either a hydroponic system or in soil. You can get similar results from jiffy plugs or soil, but you can’t plug cuttings into soil and forget them for a few days. Plus the constant flow of rooting solution in a cloner speeds up healthy root growth considerably.

In the last article, I talked about how to clone. In this article, I’ll show you how to build a cloner. Commercial cloners range between $60 and $500, depending on your cloning needs. Rather than paying for a manufactured system, I decided to try building one. I’ve made several modifications to my design along the way, but I’ll share my steps with you.

Materials needed:

3-5 Gallon Bucket and lid
8 each 2” Net Pots
24 Double Barbed Elbow Joints
30 Feet of black irrigation 1/4” tubing
8 Sprayers – 1/4 inch
1 Submersible Water Pump
6-8 inches of 1/2 tubing

Here is a list of these on Amazon:

You’ll also need Clonex gel and solution, and the tools to build. 1/4 inch drill bit is needed (or step drill bit) and a 2” hole drilling bit.

I recommend getting a 3 or 5 gallon bucket and lid from a hardware store. The sellers on Amazon way over price their buckets.

I’m going to show two cloners I made so you can glean from these plans.

The first step is to lay out you’re net pots to determine how many is a good fit for your lid. In the picture below, I started with seven, but changed it to eight. Mark it with a sharpie or pen.

cloner-layout

The lid after cutting the holes for my net pots.
cloner-cut

Next, poke small holes in your 1/2 inch tubing where you want the feeder hoses to be located. Push an elbow connector in each hole. In my case, it’s eight holes. Note: the elbow connector should be hard to push in. Don’t make a larger hole or it won’t have a good seal to maintain water pressure. You may have an easier time using pliers to hold the connectors while you push.

connecting with half-inch pipe

The tube should only be about 8-10 inches long. One end will go into the pump. The other will be plugged with an end cap, or folded over and clamped down with a couple of plastic zip ties. Don’t insert the elbow connectors too close to the ends.

Next, drill 1/4 inch holes in the plastic lid. One for each feeder line. Feed the lines through and cap them with a sprayer connector. In the example below, I also drilled a center hole big enough to run my power cord through that runs the pump. In the next design I’ll show, I chose not to feed the power cord through the top. Instead, I cut a notch on the rim and fed the power cord through.

cloner with sprayers

At this point, you are almost done. Insert the pump and connect it to the 1/2 tubing. Feed the lines into the net pots. You can also secure them in place with a small plastic zip tie. You may have to rotate the sprayers to face into the pot where the plant will sit. There’s no point in watering the side of the bucket!

cloner-ready

Here is the sprayer in action. It’s important to keep the roots flowing with nutrients.

sprayer in action

Now just add plants and start sprouting.You can use several mediums. Below I am using rock wool. It’s a great medium for rooting because it allows water and air to flow freely. Hydroton and perlite would also work. Perlite would need some type of mesh in order to keep it from sending particles into the tank.

cloner with plants

One thing I didn’t like about this design was the fact that the tubing arches over the plants being cloned. I also didn’t care for the power cord leaving a large hole on the top.

This one is designed to lay flat and have the cord come in from the side. To get the feeder lines flat, I added two elbow connectors. One where it comes into the lid, and the other where it feeds into the net pot.

new design

Avoid the temptation to bring the feeder line in from the side of the bucket. If a line should slip loose, the contents will spill on the floor. In this design, it’s almost impossible for the line to slip loose. But f you need an added precaution, drill a few small holes in the outer groove of the lid for drainage.

This is the slot cut into the bucket for the pump cord.

cord in the side

When you are ready to clone, put 2 gallons of water into the container. Add 2 teaspoons of Clonex solution for each gallon. It can also be helpful to add about 4 teaspoons of hydroponic nutrient. It should be about 1/4 to 1/2 strength of the recommended amount. I use floraduo, so I’m using 3 teaspoons of grow and 1 teaspoon of bloom solution. For 2 gallons of water this is normally a good amount. Also, dip the stalk of the new plant into Clonex gel before inserting it into the medium. Check the plants in a couple of weeks and you should see signs of healthy roots. When the roots are feeding through the net pots, gently remove the plant and place into your hydroponic system or in quality soil and water as you would any new plant. You can get by with only the grow formula. Then only use 3 teaspoons for 2 – 2.5 gallons of water. You can find these ingredients here.

This will make enough solution for many hundreds of plant clones. Each solution is good for 2-3 groups of clones. Just keep a watch on the water levels.

Happy cloning!

With a few modifications, this could also become a hydroponic grow system. Just get larger net pots and cut the holes to fit your plant’s needs. One bucket can grow one big plant or up to three small plants. I’ll have a connected bucket system posted here soon.

Here is the cloner in action!

cloner in action2

Here is a great grow medium for starting plants – rock wool.

If you are not familiar with rock wool, it’s made of molten rock that has been spun like cotton candy. It has the appearance of wool – thus the name. Rockwool is easy to work with, won’t harm plants or your fingers. It’s not like fiberglass, so it doesn’t cut or get into your skin. Rock wool soaks up water very well and allows airflow to the roots. It’s one of the best starter mediums available. And it is ph neutral.

If you have any helpful tips, feel free to add them in the comments.

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Eddie Snipes 2012
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How to build a Hydroponic Cloner — 9 Comments

  1. Pingback: Mother of all tomato plants | Suburban Vegetable Gardening | Suburban Vegetable Gardening

  2. Rooter plugs of any kind should work fine. I’ve used rockwool, and sure to grow fiber. Anything that can allow water flow will work.

  3. Pingback: Don’t waste those suckers | Suburban Vegetable Gardening

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