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How to Start Your Own Cannabis ‘Mother Plant’

May 11, 2018

Why and How to Raise Your Own Cannabis ‘Mother Plant’

Cannabis plants come from one of two sources: a seed or a clone. When talking about cannabis breeding, “mother stock” typically refers to a highly valued plant that growers take clippings from to create clones, which are genetically identical cuts that can be re-planted to grow another plant.

Mother plants grow in a continual vegetative stage as clones are repeatedly clipped from her. Taking clones guarantees that all the plants in your garden will grow at generally the same rate, produce a similar quality product, and grow with the same vigor as the mother they came from.


How to clone cannabis plants

Let’s take a look at why mother plants are so important, as well as how to choose, protect, and preserve quality mother stock.

Why Are Cannabis Mother Plants Important?

Cannabis mother plants guarantee consistency, and this is key for growers who are expected to provide a product that customers demand time and time again.

When growing from seeds, growers have to deal with far more variability in growth patterns, nutrient needs, and other attributes. While some stable seeds produce less of this wild diversity, you may still have a hard time achieving the even canopy you’ll find with clones.


Cannabis seeds 101: A guide for growers

Cannabis mothers will also save you time and money. Premium seeds cost upwards of $10 a pop, and purchasing individual clones can also get pricy. Instead of buying seeds every time you want to grow a new crop, germinate a handful of the same seeds and select a mother based on the criteria discussed below. A quality mother plant will provide you with quality clones over multiple seasons.

How to Select a Cannabis Mother Plant From Seeds

Because clones are genetically identical to their mothers, selecting a quality mother plant is crucial to a successful harvest. While a pack of seeds might all be the same strain, there are always different phenotypes (different physical expressions).


Cannabis Genotypes and Phenotypes: What Makes a Strain Unique?

Some plants express several different phenotypes, which can make selecting a mother more difficult. Others might produce a little more consistency, which simplifies the selection process. Regardless, the best path to selecting a quality mother is as follows:

  • Step 1: Germinate the seeds.
  • Step 2: Wait until the plants show their sex in vegetative growth, and then take a few clones from each female plant. Be sure to label which seed they came from.
  • Step 3: Let the clones proceed to their flowering stage while keeping the original plants in vegetative growth.
  • Step 4: As the new plants flower and are harvested, take note of traits like aroma, flavor, yield, bud structure, and growth pattern.
  • Step 5: Take the corresponding original plant from whichever clones you liked most. This one is your new mother plant.

How to Protect Mother Plants

An initial step that some farmers take to protect their mother plants is germinating and growing them in an organic base.

“By starting out organic, you allow your mother plants to build up immunity to fight diseases as opposed to protecting them with strong non-organic mediums and nutrients,” said Cody Erickson, head grower of Khush Kush in Bellingham, Washington.


How to Grow Organic Cannabis at Home

You’ll also want to use the original plant from seed as your mother plant as opposed to the first clone she produced. Plants grown from seed are known to have stronger, deeper tap roots than those of their clones in addition to stronger immune systems.

Down the road, you can use nutrients specifically developed for mother plants that promote strong clones while keeping your mothers healthy as clones are repeatedly clipped from her. You’ll want clones taken from plants with strong cell walls and high carbohydrate levels. Nitrogen-rich nutrients result in rapid growth that leaves the plant with thinner cell walls and a lower density of carbohydrates. Instead, use nutrients that have a higher percentage of calcium to help bind cell walls and increase the density of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates and water stored in the clone will be used by the plant to produce roots.


What are the best nutrients for growing cannabis?

How to Preserve Cannabis Mothers

Mother plants have a life cycle, just like all living beings. Even with meticulous care, your favorite mother plant will show diminishing returns over time. The clones taken will grow with less vigor, produce lower-grade cannabis, and leave you reminiscing of better days.

This can take a year or two to occur, and while that seems like a long time, it’s best to store seeds from the plants you’re currently growing so that when the time comes, you’ll be ready to start over with the same genetics you love.

Lead image by Yarygin/iStock

Trevor Hennings's Bio Image

Trevor Hennings

Trevor is a freelance writer and photographer. He has spent years in California working in the cannabis industry.

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3 part series

  • les

    A bit of misinformation there.. clones can be taking from clones for years, there are clone only strains out there that are 20th generation clones. And when mother plants have been used for a long time, they are replaced with a clone.

  • elLYI

    So, how do you keep the mother plant in the flowering stage so long? Particularly, the autoflowering mothers?

    • A. Grower

      You cant have an auto flowering mother plant. A mother plant would be kept in veg growth.

    • TWalker

      Exactly! The one piece of information that is most most important and I came here looking for isn’t here! How do you keep a plant going for years??? Do you keep her in veg through light cycles (over 12 hours) are keeping her in flower??? I assume she is kept in veg by light cycle who knows?

      • Jen -The Chili Head-

        Keep her in the veggie cycle. 18/6, 24/0, etc., whatever you prefer, just don’t let her get more than 10hrs of darkness. As I’m sure you know, keeping a female in 12hrs without light will trigger buds to grow (unless it’s an auto-flower). You definitely don’t want bud growth if you’re trying to keep her as a mother. Hope this helps! Happy Growing 🌿

        • Joe Bob

          So if its buded dont waist my time trying to clone

          • Josh Lytle

            You can clone up to the day you harvest. This technique is called monster cropping, the flowering clones root, then re-vegitate, and are ready for round 2. It typically takes around 2 weeks longer to root/ re veg using flowering clones though. Good luck!

  • CodyEricksonWrong

    Plants do not have immune systems they can only have an immune response. Also, staring your seed out using “organic” practices does not help your plant increase “immunity” to anything. These are plants not animals. Mr. Cody Erickson should go take some plant pathology courses at his local university before you (Leafly) decided to quote him in your article.

  • Matthew Laxton

    How many clones does a mother plant produce per..season? I am new to this and am trying to learn.

    • Josh Lytle

      Each individual branch is a potential clone, so just depends on the structure of the plant in question. But typically a healthy female can easily produce 100+ healthy clones in a growing season. Bushy plants could give you 1000s

  • Randy Tulane

    i have had mother plants for 4 and 5 years with no diminishing returns on potency or yield. also i have kept different strains in perpetual clone rotations for years. up to 50+ perpetual clones with 0 diminishing returns on potency or yield. this is all hippy stoner talk. just like indicas are couch locking and sativas are uplifting. false. harvest timing determines whether a plant will be uplifting or couch locking stoney. i have been growing for nearly 30 years. within these 30 years i have grown well over 600 different strains and i can testify there is no diminishing returns on endless cloning mother plants or endless cloning from perpetual growing. as long as you know what your strain can handle and what it is sensitive to and you follow all the do’s and don’ts with temp, humidity, lighting, air flow, ppm, and ph your plants will love you forever and stay exactly the same as they were from day one as seed.

    • Josh Lytle

      Spoken like a true professional.

    • Trudy Trindall

      Thank you for sharing Randy

  • Tina Derry

    Can I cut a clone while or after the plant has flowered?

    • Nathan Chester

      Yes. They just take a bit longer to root and you’ll have some weird foilage for a week or two.