Plant Cloning

There are many types of vegetatively reproducing a plant –  cutting, layering, division, grafting and tissue culture.  A chance comment on the NAFEX list when I was looking for information on how to propagate our Illinois Everbearing Mulberry led me to bubble cloners and aeroponic cloners. You’ll note that many of the links are to marijuana forums. These folks are some of the most creative horticulturalists on the planet.  Poking around in these forums, I found lots of info on the bubbler technique in which the clones are submerged under water and are bubbled with an air stone and the aeroponic technique in which the clones aren’t submerged under water but are dangled and misted.  It seemed to be a bit of a coin toss as to which was more effective.  The costs of either cloner were pretty steep so I started looking at DIY.  You tube had a huge number of videos but it was it was pictures like this Marijuana Cloneand the very clear instructions – Lets Build a Clone Machine *Step by Step* (Also here). So I assembled the parts and built the same cloner.

There’s not much green at this time of year but I took cuttings from rosemary and stevia plants overwintering in a southeast window.  And I took two cuttings from our Meyer lemon that spends its winter in the bathtub under a grow light.   The rosemary and stevia proceeded to rot where the stems pass through the neoprene rubber and after a week or so the Meyer lemon leaves dried up and dropped off even though I had cut them in half to reduce transpiration.

When I started thinking about why the rosemary and stevia might have rotted, I wondered if our tap water might be the problem. It certainly was the cause of  damping off in some of our seedlings.

So I decided to replace the tap water with spring water.  And I decided to put jars over the cuttings to act as greenhouses and keep the leaves moist.

The cutting callused and produced the beginnings of a root.

Then it flowered! I pinched it off to hopefully direct energy to root production.

Then it produced a root!!

Apparently Meyer Lemons aren’t that difficult to root but nonetheless I now have two where I previously had one.

But that’s not where this story ends.

For the past few years, I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to grow Elaeagnus multiflora. What I thought as a seedling, turned out to be Elaeagnus umbellata and the  Elaeagnus multiflora cutting did not overwinter.

A horticultural friend in France sent me some Sweet Scarlet goumi seeds and some Elaeagnus umbellata “Brilliant Rose” seeds.  Thank you, Nicolas. These are cultivars so any seedlings will not be true to the parents.  At this point, I don’t care.  Four of the autumn olive seeds germinated as did one of the goumi seeds.











As you can see, the seedlings are quite spindly, especially the autumn olive on the left. So I decided to cut them back to force lateral shoots. On a whim, I stuck the cuttings in the aeroponic cloner under glass as I had done with the Meyer lemon.

This morning, this picture of one of the “Brilliant Rose” cuttings says it all.  More pictures.

But I’m sure that there will be more good stories to come from this cloning technique.

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16 Responses to Plant Cloning

  1. Cristian says:

    Hi Mike,
    Nice posting, and thanks for the tip of the water. Holly simplicity, I will definitely try this technique. I have seen something similar before working charms on roses ans regular soil, but never thought of using it indoor as hydroponic/aeroponic. Artificial soil was developed exactly for trying to avoid quite e few diseases that end up by killing the little plants (roots or stems right at the point where plant is contacting soil). I noticed that plants initially cloned in gels (high tech gels with micro-nutrients, vitamins and hormons) are prone to these root/stem diseases and sometimes I had to experiment how to transition from sterile media to 100% dirt. I also noticed that on species I tried, poor soils (sandy loamy) rather than commercially available pot mix are the best to transition. I expect that plants initially rooted hydroponic/aeroponic will also have to be transitioned carefully.
    Coming back to hydroponic/aeroponic bucket: I will give a try to a cheap ultrasonic vaporizer that I got from Wallmart, that has a detectable off smell (and even taste, which is weird) when used as described in instruction. An electronic timer to switch it on and off will go with it, and a transparent box and sponges… Now I am curios whether the sponge will make mold or not, but the sponge can be washed from time to time I guess.
    So I can do more than shoveling snow and dreaming of Spring planting…

    • MikeH says:

      Hi Cristian,

      When you say that you “expect that plants initially rooted hydroponic/aeroponic will also have to be transitioned carefully”, what is the problem that you see?


  2. readrobread says:

    Hi Mike,

    Thanks for sharing the information about Aero-cloning – which I wasn’t aware of. This year I jut put cuttings in the ground around fruiting shrubs like currants in the early spring, and many still have green leaves now, which indicates to me they have likely rooted.

    That said, I think I’m going to get an aero-cloner to try (I would prefer to make one – but have little kids, and limited times for such projects, and also prefer not to work with cutting PVC if I can help it). The Clone King one looks pretty cheap and can hold 64 cuttings, and is well reviewed on amazon. I’ll share my results either way. One thing the 64 cutting one might not be good for is lids for humidity, but I’ll play that by ear, as there are lots of pieces of scrap clear plastic that might work. Also, one plant propagator suggested that temperate species from dormant cuttings shouldn’t need constant moisture on the top, whereas cuttings from vigorous green stems would prefer humidity on top as well.

    For the Elaeagnus species and selections, I have some you might be interested in – email me privately. I’m pretty close to you I think, down near London, Ontario, and we could maybe swap cuttings.


    • MikeH says:

      Hi Rob,

      My experience has been that the glass jars over each cutting are absolutely critical. Without the jars, many cuttings shrivel and die even when their leaves have been trimmed to reduce moisture loss through transpiration. I’ve had the experience of leaving the jar off a cutting by accident for an hour, coming back and finding the cutting wilted beyond recovery. I think that jars in this system are the equivalent of misters in other rooting systems. I’ve also found that I often need to adjust the jars on individual cuttings to allow some air in to eliminate mildew. An overall dome would be a big problem for me since I’d lose that flexibility.

      A pvc pipe cutter produces no dust or other bits if residue is a concern. Definitely don’t use heat such as a laser cutter since burning PVC releases dioxins and hydrogen chloride gas.


      • readrobread says:

        Interesting – because the company making the one I’m interested in says never to put any kind of humidity dome on. Maybe this has to do with dormant hardwood vs softwood cuttings?

        I did not know about PVC pipe cutters – which looks like much better than I was picturing (hacksaw – lots of little fragments of toxic junk).

        I’m going to do a bit more research – what I’m wanting to clone in bulk is largely Ribes and Rubus species right now, and I have to see if this method is ideal for those.

        I found some complaints about how the kind of roots that aeroponic cloners produce on the cuttings are not the same type used by plants in soil – and my intention would be to plant directly from cloner to soil. Based on past experience with mailorder plants that I suspect were cloned this way, I have had pretty mixed results with plants that had an enormous amount of clean white roots with no soil on them at all. Apparently it takes them quite a bit of time to adjust their roots to soil after being initially trains on mist.

      • MikeH says:

        I’ve not seen a difference between hardwood and softwood cuttings. The only time that I’ve seen a problem was with some cuttings that had not broken dormancy. The buds tended to mildew.

        Re: planting out directly, I wouldn’t. These are very young plants with very young root systems. What I’ve done is to apply a mycorrhizal product to the roots and pot them up. Earlier this spring, I kept them under grow lights. Now I keep them out of direct sun. As they grow, I plant them up in successively larger pots until I judge that the root mass is adequate for planting out.


      • readrobread says:

        Thanks – very useful information. Have you tried currants, gooseberries, or raspberries?

        I’m looking at doing a pretty big planting starting this fall similar to Mark Shepard’s work with Restoration Agriculture, so I’m trying to increase the speed of propagating some plants, as opposed to ordering everything in from somewhere else.

      • MikeH says:

        I have an unnamed black currant in the cloner right now. It’s slow but that seems to be the norm. I’ve not tried gooseberries or raspberries.


  3. Charles says:

    Thanks for the tip about the clone machines. I bought a Clone King and had a lot of success cloning Goumi. A little more than half of the cuttings rooted, and most that rooted survived and are growing. I used 1/2 reverse osmosis water and 1/2 store-bought spring water (to stabilize the ph) and put the bottom of the cloner in front of the window A/C to keep it cool. I use the cloner to keep them alive just until the root appeared, then directly into soil, which I kept waterlogged for a few weeks and placed in the shade. It’s been a cool summer in Illinois.

    Did you ever have any luck cloning Illinios Everbearing? All the IE I tried in the Clone King died within a few weeks – the leaves would yellow and die. Other Morus alba lived a long time, but only one of 10 rooted, LOTS of callous, but no root. As for the IE, I’m going to try them again with a smaller amount of leaf, and perhaps with a cloche. I also plan to try air layering IE.

    • MikeH says:

      Thanks for the info. I wasn’t aware of pH as a potential problem. I’d already determined that temp and heat are a problem. I’ve seen references to Clonex gel and Superthrive. I’ve not tried them. I wonder how well they work.

      No, I’ve not tried IE. We had a lot of damage this past winter from meadow voles and IE was one of the plants that got badly hit. Fortunately, it has one healthy new shoot right from the bottom. The new growth is about 4 feet long but I won’t touch it because it’s the new central leader. When it’s tall enough, I’ll top it to encourage side branching. Next year, I’ll try cloning it.


      • Charles says:

        My temperatures got into the 80s, but mostly in the high 70s. The submersible heat pump adds 4-6 degrees, regardless of what the Clone King guy says. PH is an issue only if you use pure Reverse Osmosis water. Due to lack of minerals or really anything in RO water, any slight thing you add could cause the PH to change a lot, from what I understood. And there is the issue of RO water leaching minerals from the cuttings. Didn’t want to use tap water (chloramine) but I suppose pure spring water would be fine.

        I’ve not tried the hormones.

        I took photos of the rooted Goumi cuttings:

    • readrobread says:

      Glad to hear that Goumi clones well with this method. Was this woody cuttings from last year’s growth, or this year’s green growth that you used? How long until roots appeared?

      I just got a CloneKing a few weeks ago, and have put in a bunch of stuff in the first batch to test. Will report in when I know more, but after one week, thyme was rooted, as were some raspberries, and comfrey. The comfrey was from a piece of stem, but I’m also experimenting with seeing if one leaf (with its stem) will root on species like hosta and comfrey. No success yet. Also trying stems of compound leaves (eg. elderberries). I’m trying this not because there not not other easy methods of cloning these plants, but because I’m trying to produce them quickly for a planting next spring using the least biomass from existing plants that I can.

      • Charles says:

        I used mostly current year’s growth as of mid-June. I guess that should be called semi-softwood, but it was brown and really hard by then. As you can see in the pics at my link above, most of the cuttings had some heel from previous year’s growth. I did try a few with no heel. One worked, but I don’t remember if the success rate was any different.

        Cool, I’ll have to try Comfrey. The best thing about the Clone King (or any similar mister, sprayer) is that you can learn in detail how roots form on your favorite plants. You can look at it every day and watch them grow.

  4. Spicey says:

    Anybody out there successfully cloning HT Roses?

  5. Spicey says:

    Since asking the question I have a number of roses cutting that appear to calloused (after 5 weeks), whereas fusias take seven days from semi hardwood cutting (approx 3 month old wood) will continue to persevere here in England!

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