Today I’m going to address a very common question that I get from all kinds of growers: “Which is faster and/or better, seeds or clones?”
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Typically, if you are just starting your first grow, unless you live in a state where you can buy clones, you will be using seeds to start your first grow. But with that first grow you have to decide if you are going to keep a mother plant for cloning.
For those that don’t know, clones are cuttings taken from another marijuana plant.
Clones can be planted and, after rooting (through methods I’ll be discussing in an upcoming article), will be an exact genetic copy of the plant it was cut from.
This means that if all other conditions are the same, that clone will grow up to be just like its “parent.” Due to this, there are a number of benefits you gain from taking clones vs. planting seeds.
- All clones of a single parent plant will grow very similarly. Again, this means that with similar conditions (grow environment, nutrient systems, and feeding schedule) each of the clones will grow to the same height and same girth.
This is great in all kinds of gardens, from big to small. In a large commercial grow operation, it adds predictability to your crops, so that through time, you can refine your methods and nutrient schedules.
With each plant being the same height and general size, you can often times get the light closer to the canopy of your plants, therefore increasing yield and promoting more crystal growth (which is obviously what we all want!).
In small grow environments, such as a small grow tent or a closet grow, you will be trying to maximize your yield per square foot of grow space.
Having each of your plants grow uniformly with each other allows you to completely fill your grow space with one solid canopy, ensuring that the maximum amount of light is absorbed by your plants.
Combining a solid canopy with a high performance light and good nutrients is a perfect recipe to grow extremely efficiently. In later articles, I will cover plant training methods which help guarantee a solid canopy.
- Since all of the plants are of the same DNA, they have the same exact nutrient requirements (assuming the same age of plant). This is especially helpful in hydroponic environments where there may only be one nutrient reservoir servicing many plants.
If you have 10 plants growing off of one nutrient reservoir, you can only send one nutrient mix to your plants. If, in those 10 plants, you have different strains or even different phenotypes from within the same strain, they could all have wildly different nutrient requirements.
This would keep you busy constantly changing your nutrient solution strength and trying to make every different type of plant happy, while at the same time not trying to upset the ones that are happy. It can be a nasty back and forth of constantly fighting your plants.
This would likely also prevent you from running any of your strains at peak nutrient strength because you would be averaging different nutrients to keep everything somewhat happy.
Because each plant would not get the most out of its nutrient intake, each plant in your hydroponic system would also not be reaching peak weight production or strength.
Cloning, while a great and efficient way to start your plants, also has a few minor downsides that I have encountered.
- If you are growing on an extremely tight budget, keeping a mother plant (a larger plant that you take your cuttings off of) can require a large space and an extra light that in reality is not making you any money. Though that light can be of smaller wattage, that light and space will not actually produce bud or money since the mother plant must permanently stay in the vegetative growth cycle.
- If you are just starting out, cloning can be a little difficult to master. Sure there are those out there that achieve success their first time by following some instructions very well or investing in a machine to help clones root themselves (while most of them aren’t expensive, for some people that’s money they simply don’t have).
The first few times I took clones, I only had a 50% rooting rate because I was using homemade gear to help the clones root. This definitely made it harder on me than it should have. However, as my experience grew, I was able to get my clone rooting rate up around 90%.
- This next point may be a bit controversial, but this is something I have witnessed myself many times. Through my years of growing, I have noticed that as a mother plant ages and has had hundreds of clones taken from her, the clones seem to start doing some weird things.
They root just fine, but when they are vegged and then flowered later, they seem to produce less and less as the mother plant ages. Sometimes they will hermie in the flowering cycle, which can cost you lots of money depending on how early or late it happens – more money if it makes you harvest early.
“Hermie” (like hermaphrodite) is when a plant will try to pollinate itself, which is the opposite of what we want a female plant that is producing us BUD to do.
I avoided this by creating new moms about every 18 months just to eliminate any chance of my factory falling behind on production or producing a less potent product than was expected by customers.
Just like with cloning, there are positive arguments to be made for using seeds to start your planting process.
First, a little background.
When you get a bag of seeds from a seed bank and you plant say 5 of them, within those 5 there will be what are called different “phenotypes.” I will be writing a very extensive article on this in the future, but for now I will just give a general explanation.
Each of these phenotypes are the same strain but can have varied characteristics. It’s just like in humans where a brother and sister from the same parents can be wildly different. In marijuana, this manifests itself in a few different ways.
For starters, you can see different weight production from different phenos. You often see some taller and skinnier than others, while some are going to be short and wide. These differences can also extend to how long it takes for the plant to finish the flowering cycle and even how potent the bud is or how it tastes.
I point this out because within each strain, there is usually a phenotype you will like better for whatever your situation is. For example, if you are growing commercially, then something that produces the most weight while also finishing under 55 days would be incredible.
But if you are growing for your personal consumption or medicinal purposes, you will probably want the one that produces the most powerful buds or the one that helps whatever ailment you are looking to help. Having seeds, and lots of them, allows you to essentially sort through a strain and find the phenotype you really want.
This is a more advanced technique, and beginners shouldn’t be concerned with this for the most part.
Now on to the reasons why someone would choose to use seeds vs. clones
- You are looking to find that perfect phenotype to create your mother plant. If you get a clone from someone or buy it from a dispensary, chances are it is not their best strain or best phenotype within that strain. Why would they sell you their best strains and phenotypes when they can sell you the finished product from their own grows instead?
With each seed you plant, you have a chance to find that incredible phenotype that only shows up in 1 out of 100 seeds. If you are lucky enough to get a mother from it, you could then clone her for months to come and even use her in the future to make crosses with other strains and create your very own custom strain.
- In this age of medical and recreational marijuana, plant counts are everything when it comes to staying legal. In the state of Colorado, for example, it is legal for anyone who is both over 21 and a Colorado resident to grow up to 6 plants in their home.
Why would we want one or more of those plants to be mother plants that just sit there and veg, never actually producing us that sweet bud?
Also, by using seeds, you can rotate your strains throughout the year with each crop. This is handy because if you are a heavy user, you will develop a tolerance to a certain strain. This is easily fixed by simply changing which strain you are smoking.
With cloning, once you have an established mother, your plants to continue your operation are essentially free. Sadly, seeds always cost money and don’t necessarily get you exactly what you want.
- Seeds can be expensive if you have to buy them each crop. Seeds can run upwards of 150 dollars for 5 of them, which can be high if you are only growing small plants in a very small grow environment. That’s 30 dollars a seed!
- Seeds do not guarantee female plants. Female plants are the ones that produce us the bud and, for the most part, are the only ones we actually care about. Yes, there are feminized seeds out there on the market which guarantees a female plant, but in my extensive experience, there are lots of drawbacks with these types of seeds.
They often times hermie on me before I can complete the growth cycle. This isn’t always the case, but why am I going to pay more for a product that was literally created through stressing a female plant to reproduce with herself (look for an upcoming article on feminized seeds)? Just think about that logically in terms of nature, a female plant reproducing with itself – that to me sounds like a less than perfect idea, especially if you are looking for consistency and efficiency in your grow.
So with that in mind, a normal package of seeds (non-feminized) will produce male and female plants and should be 50/50 male to female. So if plant count is an issue, you will have excess plants that you have to keep for 2-8 weeks before they show their sex.
I am sure some more experienced growers have read this article and have been waiting for me to say that clones take less time to get through the veg process and into the flower room than seeds. In my experience, this is just not true.
I have literally taken cuttings for clones and planted seeds on the exact same day (of the same strain of course). With the time it takes clones to root and develop a healthy root ball before officially planting them in whatever grow medium, seeds and clones both take about the same time. The similarities on the time scale continue all the way through the lifecycle.
I’m sure there are many growers that would argue with me all day about this point. This is just my experience, and I have run this experiment many times through my career.
With the information I have laid out here, any skill level of grower should be able to make an informed decision on which to use for their specific situation.