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What is a cannabis mother plant?

February 27, 2020
Yarygin/iStock
Cannabis plants come from one of two sources: a seed or a clone. Mother plants are needed in the cloning process—they are highly valued plants that growers take cuttings off of to create clones. The clones are genetically identical cuttings that can then be planted to grow into a new plant.

Mother plants stay in the vegetative stage as clones are repeatedly clipped from them. It’s important to only take cuttings off a plant in the veg stage, and not off a flowering plant.

Some growers will have dedicated mother plants that are only used for taking cuttings, but this setup takes up a lot of space and materials. With this method, the moms will never flower, so you’ll never get any buds from them. Some growers find it hard to justify devoting time, energy, and space to plants that won’t produce product. If your grow space is tight, this might not be the best setup.

Another method that growers employ is to take cuttings off a set of mother plants then flip the mothers into flower. The next generation of clones is grown, and when they get big enough, cuttings will be taken from them before getting flipped into flower. Because clones are genetically identical, each generation will be an exact copy of the mother before it.

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Does cloning ruin cannabis strains over time?

Let’s take a look at why mother plants are so important as well as how to maintain and preserve the quality of a mother.

Check out these additional resources for more info on cannabis clones:

Why have a cannabis mother plant?

Cannabis mother plants guarantee genetic consistency, meaning that each new generation will have the same taste, flavor, effects, and other characteristics. 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. You’ll also get to know a specific strain or phenotype well from growing it over and over.

It will also guarantee that all of your clones are females, so you don’t have to spend time growing from seed, sexing plants, and discarding males. When growing from seeds, you have to deal with far more variability in growth patterns, nutrient needs, and other attributes.

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Cannabis seeds 101: A guide for growers

Cannabis mothers will also save you time and money. Premium seeds cost upward of $10 a pop. Instead of buying seeds every time you want to grow a new crop, carry on genetics through cloning or have a dedicated mother plant to provide you with quality clones over multiple seasons.

How to select a cannabis mother plant from seed

Because clones are genetically identical to their mothers, selecting a quality mother plant is crucial for a successful harvest. While a pack of seeds are all the same strain, they will be different phenotypes, or different physical expressions of that seed.

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This plant will be the beginning of your genetic legacy, so you want the best possible expression of that particular strain.

To select the best plant from a pack of seeds:

  • Step 1: Germinate the seeds.
  • Step 2: When the plants are big enough, take a few clones from each, making sure to label which seed they came from—this is important.
  • Step 3: Flower the clones while keeping the originals in a vegetative state. You have to flower the clones so they show their sex and you can identify the males.
  • Step 4: Discard the males and their corresponding originals in veg.
  • Step 5: Now that you have all females, grow them to maturity.
  • Step 6: Take another set of clones off the remaining plants, grow them to maturity and harvest.
  • Step 7: After harvesting, note traits like aroma, flavor, yield, bud structure, and growth pattern. Be sure to smoke them too!
  • Step 8: Whichever strain you like best, take the corresponding original in veg and discard the others. That one is your new mother plant.

How to maintain a mother plant

It’s a good idea to use the original plant from seed as your mother as opposed to a clone it produced. Plants grown from seed are known to have stronger, deeper taproots than their clones and also have stronger immune systems.

Some farmers also protect their mother plants by 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.

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How to Grow Organic Cannabis at Home

Once you have chosen your mother plant, focus its nutrient regimen specifically for a mother. It needs to stay healthy while handling the stress of having cuttings repeatedly clipped from it.

You’ll want clones taken from mothers with strong cell walls and high carbohydrate levels. Use nutrients that have a high percentage of calcium to help bind cell walls and increase the density of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates, plus water stored in the clone, will be used to produce roots.

Stay away from nitrogen-rich nutrients which cause a plant to grow rapidly, giving a plant thin cell walls and a lower density of carbohydrates.

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What are the best nutrients for growing cannabis?

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 anywhere from a year to several years. It’s a good idea to store seeds from plants you’re currently growing so that when the time comes, you’ll be ready to start over with the same genetics you love.

This post was originally published on May 11, 2018. It was most recently updated on February 27, 2020.

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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  • 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.