Explained

Growing cannabis from clones

cannabis, marijuana, clones, clone, gardening, GreenState

Cannabis clones are one of two options for growing. | Michael Macor / The Chronicle

In the rest of my non-cannabis gardening life, I choose between starting something from seed or grabbing a seedling at the nursery.

I might start from seed if, say, it’s February and I’m that prepared for tomato season. Or if it’s May, and I know much better than to buy cucumber or bean seedlings when I can just as easily — and much more cost-effectively — pop seeds into the ground. On the other hand, I’ll snatch tomato and pepper seedlings this time of year because, let’s be honest, I was never that prepared for tomato season.

What I’m saying is this: In non-cannabis edible gardening, a veggie seedling is simply a seed that someone else has started for you.

With cannabis, you have the choice of starting seeds or procuring a clone. While this seems like the age-old seed-versus-seedling conundrum, it is not. It is so not.

A clone is not a seedling. As the name implies, a clone is an exact copy of its mother plant. In non-cannabis horticulture it’s what we’d call a vegetative cutting . But again, prohibition and all that in-the-basement breeding led to cannabis having its own horticultural lingo. In this sense, cannabis clones are closer to what you’re grabbing at the nursery when you reach for an ornamental plant. No matter annual or perennial, from mums to salvias to gaudy petunias, nearly all are vegetative cuttings that have been taken from a mother, rooted and grown. They’re clones.

A cannabis clone guarantees you a few things. First, you know you’re getting a female — important, as we’ve discussed, for ensuring a seed-free crop. (See https://www.greenstate.com/explained/why-the-sex-life-of-a-seed-matters/) You can skip the plant sexing.

Second, clones also ensure that you’re getting an exact replica of a known plant. That’s a big deal in the murky world of cannabis genetics. Not having gone through a modern breeding program (yet), cannabis seeds aren’t yet stable, and there is no guarantee that those OG Kush seeds will all turn out the same, or that they even resemble that OG Kush you remember from your high school stoner days (not that you know what you were actually smoking in high school).

Seems great, right? Seems like clones would be a no-brainer. But here’s where we start in again with the whole cannabis-is-unlike-anything-else-in-gardening refrain.

Plant pathogens

Here’s something you might not know about all those plants, from mums to salvia to the petunias: The ornamental horticulture industry uses tissue culture — we’re talking white coats and petri dishes — to clear plants of viral loads and pathogens. Whether you grab them at the Home Depot or Annie’s Annuals, those rooted cuttings come from sterilized stock that’s refreshed every year. Mind-blowing, I know, but that’s how the industry prevents the buildup of diseases that can wipe out a crop.

“The state of the cannabis industry right now looks a lot like ornamental horticulture 30 years ago,” says Josh Schneider of Cultivaris, the marketers responsible for introducing a runaway popular foxglove, Digiplexis Illumination, to the world’s stage a few years ago. “Everyone is doing their own propagation from mother plants, totally unaware of the disease issues that could ruin everything.”

Big-time cannabis propagators are catching on. Dan Grace, founder of Dark Heart Nursery, among the oldest and largest clone operations in California, is currently developing a clean plant program that involves sterilizing plant stock through tissue culture. He expects it to be up and running by the end of the year.

Light, light, light

I was able to start my seeds outdoors without any lights or equipment because seeds are forgiving. They’re in a juvenile state that makes them resilient to less-than-perfect conditions. Clones, on the other hand, are not juvenile. They’re small cuttings of fully mature plants. And being photosensitive, they’re ready to snap from vegetative to flowering in a moment’s notice. Indoor growers have me freaking out about this. They’re so accustomed to controlling every last element of their cannabis plants’ lives. They flip a switch and their plants go from vegetative to flowering.

But I’m channeling my mentor, Nate Pennington of Humboldt Seed Company, and his advice that everyone overcomplicates this. I got my clone into the ground about two weeks ago, and I’m going to let nature take its course. Again, I’m in this to experiment, not to quit my day job and make bank as a pot farmer.

I will let you know how it all goes. But if you want to try your own experiment, now is the time to go for a few clones.

Like many people today, Sunset Magazine's former garden editor, Johanna Silver, is new to cannabis horticulture.

Johanna Silver is a former garden editor for Sunset and a newcomer to gardening cannabis. Email: food@sfchronicle.com.

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The Green Thumb series
Want to jump-start your cannabis garden? This four-part series by Johanna Silver, the former garden editor of Sunset magazine, follows her horticultural experiment growing cannabis from seeds. Read installments of her Green Thumb series on www.greenstate.com.
Week 1: Why I’m growing cannabis in my yard.
Week 2: How to select seeds.
Week 3: The super-simple guide to starting seeds.
Week 4: How to sex your seeds: male vs. female.

This week: Send in the clones

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Takeaway

You thought you were scared of seed starting? Well now I’ve probably thoroughly scared you about growing from clones. What is gardening if not one giant experiment? Buck up and let’s do this together. Early summer is the perfect time to get clones in the ground in the Bay Area. Here’s how:

Grab a clone from a dispensary.

Get it in the ground this month or next. This is perfect timing to allow for a little more vegetative growth. Now that the summer solstice has hit, the days start shortening and your buds will start to form. We’ll talk soil, staking, fertilizer and sunlight next month. Until then, keep the clone in a container with fresh potting soil, and put it in full sun.

No need to harden off (acclimate a plant to the outdoors) if you live in one of the Bay Area’s milder microclimates. But if you’re somewhere hotter, give plants a week of dappled sunlight before blasting them with full sun.

Growing cannabis

See Johanna Silver’s gardening series on growing cannabis at www.greenstate.com

A clone is not a seedling.

A clone is an exact copy of its mother plant. In non-cannabis terms,

it’s what we’d call a vegetative cutting.

“Everyone is doing their own propagation from mother plants, totally unaware of the disease issues that could ruin everything.”

In the world of cannabis genetics, a replica plant offers reliability