Everything you need to know on seed starts vs. cloning. We tell you what we prefer and why.
For those new to growing hemp, one of the most popular questions is “Do I plant seeds or clones?” There is a lot to consider when making this decision, and it’s a decision every grower needs to make for themselves. In this article we provide you the information you need to navigate that process a little easier.
So, what are the differences between seed starts and a clones?
A clone is physically cut from a “mother plant” making it a genetic replica or “clone” of the plant it was cut from.
By cloning from one plant, growing out those clones and then cloning off of them again, you can plant your entire field with identical genetics.
For growers who have the necessary infrastructure in place to grow out mother plants, and the time to cut thousands of clones, this can be a nice option. However, depending on how many clones you wish to plant, this process sometimes needs to begin several months before you plan on planting them in your fields.
What does cloning involve?
If you are trying to calculate how many mother plants you will need for your cloning operation, each mother plant can produce 50-200 clone cuts, depending on the size of the mother plants.
We like to veg our mother plants up to approximately 12 inches (or 7 nodes on the main stem), top them to increase lateral branching and continue their vegetative growth up to 4-5 feet in height before we begin cloning off of them. A plant like this will yield 150-200 clones.
How long does it last?
If you’ve chosen to use clones, one of the next questions you’ll have is “how long can I keep a mother plant?” If done correctly, you can keep a mother plant for months or even years, but most growers will choose the best cuts selected from a mother plant and grow them out to replace the mother stock. Mother plants should always be kept in the vegetative state with at least 18 hours of light per day.
If you are cutting your own clones, be sure to sanitize your tools after every cut, and make sure you are only cutting from your healthiest plants. It is important to select the best of the best when cloning, because once you have cloned and destroyed your mother plants, your new cuts are the future of your crops.
A “seed start” is a seed that is started in a propagation tray, usually in a greenhouse or nursery and then later transplanted into the field.
Seed starts can have more genetic variability than a clone, but if you buy your hemp seed from a good seed company, they can be remarkably consistent.
Preparing seed starts:
If you are preparing to purchase hemp seed, reach out to your prospective suppliers and ask them about their breeding programs to make sure you are dealing with a good company with solid breeding practices.
The seed you choose to plant should be produced from stabilized varieties that have been field tested and proven, and your entire seed lot should be produced by no more than two phenotypes; a mother and a pollen donor.
Be on the lookout
Beware of seed companies that are new to the industry and offering the next “hot item”. Real quality breeding takes years to perfect, and you’ll want to work with a company with a proven track record.
If you are starting your plants from seed, you should also be buying feminized seed. Feminized seed should be 99.9% female. Beware of salespeople who offer you “80% or 90%” feminized seed.
True feminized seed is either 99% + feminized, or the seed producer is giving you bad information and you will end up with close to 50/50 male/female seeds.
This is one area you do not want to compromise. Buy only good, trusted, feminized seed. Using poor genetics will cause issues with either clones or seed.
For example, if you start with a mother plant that is unhealthy or carrying pathogens, and you clone that mother plant and it produces thousands of clones, which later go into your field, you would have an entire crop of weak, disease prone plants.
Similarly with seed starts, if you buy seed from an unverified source, you could be planting male plants, which are not only useless, but harmful to you and your neighbors as they will pollenate your female plants and reduce the value of your hemp flower crops.
Whether you choose to use seed starts or clones, it is extremely important to do your homework and make sure you know and trust your sources.
Physical differences in seed starts and clones:
Another difference between seed starts and clones is the structure of the roots. A seed start will grow a tap root, which helps it be more stable in the soil, and also helps the roots penetrate deeper into the ground.
The roots on a clone will consist mostly of feeder roots, as they do not produce the taproot that comes from a seed.
Our preference is to use seed starts instead of clones. And we prefer to use seed starts for a few reasons:
- We don’t have to maintain mother stock for cloning
- We don’t have to go through all the labor of taking clones
- We like the natural vigor and root structure that comes from seed starts
As always, we are here to answer any questions you may have.