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Methods for Cloning Plants

Instructor: Yuanxin (Amy) Yang Alcocer

Amy has a master's degree in secondary education and has taught math at a public charter high school.

We have come a long way since the days when people used to take cuttings from adult plants to make new cloned plants of the original. Learn about making cuttings as well as new methods gardeners are using to clone plants.

Cuttings

Did you know that a lot of plants these days are cloned? The cloning of plants is very common. In fact, it's so common that some plants even clone themselves naturally without any help from us. The spider plant, for example, does this naturally. Once it becomes an adult, it begins to produce identical babies.


A spider plant with a small clone of itself
cloning plants


To clone a plant means to create an identical copy of an adult plant. These identical copies become young plants that in turn become adult plants that can be cloned again. This process can go on indefinitely.

The most common method of cloning plants and the one that has been used for a very long time is that of taking cuttings from an adult plant. A cutting is a stem or leaf that is cut from an adult plant. The cutting is then planted into moist soil or other moist growing medium. The cutting will produce roots of its own and then become a whole new plant identical to the original adult plant. Not all plants can be cloned via cuttings, though.

Grafting

Another method of cloning plants is grafting. Many fruit trees sold commercially are grafted. A graft is a branch of one tree fused onto the trunk or root stock of another tree. Many times, farmers graft fruit trees such as apples to the root stock of a local tree. They do this because the local tree has a stronger root system that can survive the local weather whereas the apple tree by itself may not survive. To graft the apple branch, the farmer makes a cut into the trunk of the base tree and then sticks the apple branch in it. Sometimes, a nail is put into place to keep the grafted branch in place. After grafting, the root stock tree provides the grafted tree with water and nutrition while the grafted tree ends up growing and giving fruit. You can actually graft several different trees onto one root. This is how you get those trees that give you several different kinds of apples on one tree.

Layering

Some plants that can't be cloned via cuttings can be cloned via layering. To clone via layering, a gardener will take the stem of an adult plant and wrap it in soil or other rooting medium while it is still attached to the parent plant. Sometimes, the gardener will make a small cut in the stem, put rooting powder on it, and then wrap it up with a moist growing medium. After roots begin to form, this stem is then cut from the adult plant and it becomes a whole new plant identical to the original.

Some plants naturally clone themselves via layering. Strawberries, for example, will send out runners that when layered will root and turn into new clones of the original strawberry plant.

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