I often hear marijuana growers debating the merits of growing marijuana from clones versus growing from marijuana seeds. Let’s examine the issue and see what we learn together…
Growing marijuana from clones offers several advantages that growing from marijuana seeds doesn’t offer. The most important advantage is the grower is guaranteed all-female plants that grow out to be almost exactly like the motherplant(s) they’re cut from.
Even growing from the highest quality feminized cannabis seeds, you won’t get anywhere near this level of genetic and gender predictability. About 10-20% of the feminized marijuana seeds I’ve grown ended up as males or hermaphrodites.
Many marijuana seeds (especially from inferior breeders and sellers) grow out with such wide phenotype variation that you don’t get the strain, high, and yield you thought you were getting when you bought the seeds. You germinate 20 seeds, and end up with multiple phenotypes instead of a uniform crop. Plant height, water and nutrients needs, disease and pest resistance, and bloom phase duration vary by phenotype.
Lack of phenotypic consistency creates more work for you because of logistical problems in your grow room. These problems include managing grow light height, nutrients parts per million and other factors. If all the seeds had grown out to be the same phenotype, those extra hassles would have been avoided.
Another problem happens if you use non-feminized marijuana seeds. For example, starting 20 of them that all germinate, you provide water, hydroponics nutrients, root zone media and root space, lighting, and other support for 20 plants during grow phase, finding out in late grow phase or early bloom phase that approximately ten are males that have to be removed. This doesn’t happen when you grow clones.
In the commercial marijuana growing industry operating under state regulations along with the standardization, economies of scale, and industrial realities inherent to commercial agriculture production, marijuana clones are essential. Clones are the only way to ensure standardized sets of plants and the fastest turnaround for each crop cycle.
Another big advantage cannabis clones offer is they can be flipped into flowering much sooner than marijuana plants grown from seed. If you start your season clock from the time you take cuttings until the time you harvest, a clone can save you 1-3 weeks each season. This means you grow more seasons per year, more buds, more profits.
Marijuana clones’ time-saving features are compounded when you use sea of green growing. Sea of green consists of short cannabis plants achieved by placing just-rooted clones into a sea of green grow op, giving them a week or two to build structure, then flipping to bloom phase. You get a bunch of short plants that are almost all bud. In that scenario you harvest photoperiod marijuana plants with a 8-11 week total crop time.
Another advantage of cloning is when you fall in love with one particular female plant and want to keep that plant’s high and phenotype for a long time, creating a motherplant and cloning from it give you that option.
The Case for Marijuana Seeds
When I explain the advantages of marijuana seeds, I’m automatically explaining the disadvantages of marijuana clones. Start with the reality that cloning is often harder than germinating marijuana seeds, and can have a higher failure rate.
Cannabis cloning is an art and a science. No matter how much you study it before you try it the first few times, you experience failures and a learning curve before you can be sure that out of every 25 cuttings you take, 90% or more will root and grow to be healthy cannabis plants. In contrast, when you place viable, fresh, high-quality marijuana seeds in the proper germination conditions, all of them should sprout and grow.
You can’t do marijuana breeding unless you grow non-feminized marijuana seeds, choose males for pollinating females, and create your own unique seeds. The joys and opportunities of taking pollen from a male marijuana plant with desirable traits and crossing it to a valued female plant are magnificent.
The only way to create marijuana strains that have the exactly the high, scent, taste, and growing characteristics you want is by using male and female plants to breed strains perfect for you.
Another way marijuana seeds are superior to clones is you can purchase them more easily, and they can be stored for years before you grow them. Unless you live in a legalized marijuana state, or are willing to run the monetary and legal risk of importing marijuana clones from a legal state to your non-legal state, healthy cannabis clones are hard to come by.
But you can order premium marijuana seeds from legitimate seed resellers, and those seeds will show up viable and ready for germination or storage. The same can’t be said for most clone purchases.
And the other problem with buying clones or getting them from someone else for free is that clones are perfect vectors for spider mites, powdery mildew, broad mites, thrips, aphids, tobacco mosaic virus, and other cannabis enemies. Also be aware that diseased or pest-plagued motherplants can transfer those problems to cuttings.
Helping Marijuana Have Genetic Diversity
The final two points I want to make deal with the vigor of marijuana plants grown from seed versus clone, and the genetic survival of cannabis as a species.
Fans of marijuana clones and motherplants won’t easily admit it, but motherplants deteriorate over time and cloning stock degrades too. Generations of clones show less vigor, hardiness, and reliable phenotype expression the longer motherplants are kept alive and used for cuttings.
Secondly, the survival of a plant species depends on mixing genetics so the species isn’t a monocrop susceptible to diseases or insects due to lack of genetic diversity. Cloning harms genetic diversity. If the majority of marijuana growers rely on cloning, the genetic diversity of cannabis would significantly decline, and the result would be monocrop cultivars that are less able to survive.
This is exactly what happened with bananas, which were turned into a cloned monocrop, lost their genetic resistance to a type of dangerous fungi, and almost died off completely worldwide so there would have been no more bananas!
Only a banana breeding program that expanded banana genetics to include fungi resistance saved bananas, at least temporarily. More banana extinction scares are on the horizon, unfortunately, because the industry still relies too heavily on monocropping.
Marijuana’s vast array of genetic diversity is what makes it the world’s most valuable plant, but cloning works against genetic diversity. When you grow from seed instead of just from clones, you expand cannabis genetic diversity. This expansion is most useful when you grow heritage marijuana and landrace strains along with growing the latest hybrid marijuana strains. Interbreeding a variety of cannabis strains creates genetic diversity that ensures the ongoing success of marijuana as a species.
Mastering the skills of cloning marijuana, maintaining motherplants, and growing marijuana from seed are essential facets of being a full-service professional marijuana grower. It’s not a matter of whether you grow from seed or from clone. It’s using both marijuana seeds and clones when appropriate to experience the best that each propagation method offers.