A mother plant is there for one thing and one thing only. Cuttings. Lots and lots of lovely cuttings – or “baby chimps,” as I call them. If you grow plants that are sensitive to photoperiod you’ll want to let her bask under at least 18 hours of light per day so that she remains permanently in vegetative mode. She just grows and grows and never flowers, providing you with all the cuttings you need. Pretty amazing stuff when you stop to think about it. So you see, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a mother plant is the central pillar of any productive indoor gardening operation.
So why is it that so many of my fellow gardeners neglect their mothers? (Heheheh … I’ll let you fill in the gaps on that one!) Time and time again I find them in a right old sorry state, sprawled out and legging up in a dull corner of a vegetative room, looking old and decrepit with lots of brown, dead foliage at the bottom and untrained gnarly growth everywhere. (What a terrible image!) These offenders (and you know who you are!) think that all keeping a mother plant entails is to whack her in a 15 litre pot and fill it up with their chosen growing medium – oh and occasionally feeding it when she starts to wilt. It’s a crying shame. Too often the attitude is “keep the mother going” rather than “keep the mother thriving.” I don’t know about you, but it’s plainly obvious through good old common sense, let alone science, that the health of the mother plant has a direct bearing on the health and future yields of the scores of cuttings she produces!
Dedicate Some Space
Experienced growers have a dedicated mother room or tent. They don’t mind giving up this space and using the extra power because of the many benefits and conveniences that having a mother plant to hand brings. For one thing, growing from cuttings is way faster than growing from seeds every time. You can also flip a cutting over into flowering at any point, whereas you have to wait for a seedling to mature before it will do the business. Seeds also cost money, sometimes quite a lot of money, and they are often fairly unpredictable. On the other hand, you can be sure that all cuttings taken from the same mother will perform in the same way, so you know exactly what you’re going to get every time. That said, make sure you choose a good’n! You’re after a vigorous plant that yields well, resist pests and rot, and is pleasing to all the senses! Furthermore it’s a real bonus to have a mother plant that produces cuttings which are easy to root. Even plants of the same genus can vary incredibly – some taking twice or three times longer to root than others. So you definitely want to take rooting time / ease of rooting into consideration.
Choosing a system
Right then, we’ve established that you really, really need to take care of your mother plant. And no doubt some of you will have seen them thriving at friends’ houses in big pots and them being fed passively with drippers or a watering can. But if you really want her to thrive, the best choice is to treat her to her very own active hydroponics system. A Waterfarm, Aquafarm or similar single top feed bucket system is an excellent choice and it certainly won’t break the bank. Also, it’s a far more hands-off method. After you’ve filled the top bucket with well-washed clay pebbles, all you’ll need to do is keep the reservoir topped up and change the nutrient solution every week or two, and that’s about it. I have the drippers on constantly – especially when the mother is well established – as they can be very thirsty buggers. The growth is incredibly fast in these systems, meaning you can take lots of cuttings and your old dear will replenish herself in no time. Using a hydroponics system also gives you more control over the nutrients available to your mother plant. For instance, some growers like to decrease the levels of nitrogen available to the mother plant (by about 10%) prior to taking cuttings, claiming it promotes faster rooting.
Taming the Beast
As I mentioned earlier, it’s all too easy to allow your mother to become out of control. As you take more cuttings from your mother plant it will become bushier and bushier. Where you remove one growth tip to take a cutting, two will take the lead in its place. And two become four, and four become eight, etc. Eventually you end up with the mother plant equivalent of an afro. You can either do some serious remedial pruning, or start afresh by turning a cutting into a new mother plant. When taking cuttings, think like a hairdresser and try to shape your plant so that most of it is under a good amount of light. There’s no point in letting a mother plant get too tall and pointy – take these tips out and try to develop a candelabra-shaped plant instead.
The perfect shape to aim for when pruning your mother is a candelabra. This allows the most growth tips access to positions with optimum light levels.
Remember, even if you’re not using all the vegetation she produces, your mother plant needs to thrive. It’s this intrinsic ‘health’ and ‘vigor’ that your cuttings will take with them when they become plants in their own right. Remember, your mother plant “sets the pace” so she needs to bask under lots of light. The dull corner of a veg room is far from ideal. If you have a separate vegging chamber, don’t be tempted just to stick her in there. For starters, your mother plant is likely to be a vastly different size to plants that are in early veg – she needs her own dedicated light. Many growers use 125 – 250 watt compact florescent units or some go the whole hog with a 250 – 400 watt metal halide HID. It’s unlikely that you’ll need anything more than this unless you’re growing up a monster – and if this is the case perhaps it’s worth considering growing more than one mother? CFLs need to be placed closer to the plant. For this reason, I personally find that a metal halide with a large, wide dispersing reflector is more practical.
Keep Things Fresh
After prolonged use a mother can become incredibly bushy, making it more difficult to take good sized cuttings. At this point it’s worth considering replacing your mother with a cutting from itself. This is a good time to give things a real deep clean – rinse out the hydroponics system that’s supporting the mother with a mild bleach solution. Remember that disease and pests on your mother will invariably be passed to any cuttings taken from her. So look after her! Depending on how well you take care of her, she will keep going and going for years before those characteristics you love her for start to wane. “How long?” you ask. Well, this is difficult to say. Some growers change their genetics every 6-9 months. I know of others who’ve been using the same chromosomes for as many years! But here’s a rule of thumb: as well as diminishing yields, a particularly telling sign is rooting time. If you are used to your mother producing cuttings that root in, say, ten days, and suddenly it’s taking two weeks or more, you may want to consider sourcing some fresh new genetics from seed and starting over.
18 or 24?The jury is still split over whether mother plants prefer 18 hours of light a day or 24. Certainly it’s more natural to allow your plants to have some “dark time” – and your mother room lighting electricity costs will be reduced too. It’s less hassle to just plug a light in rather than faff with timers (and maybe electricians) so a lot of growers take the ‘lazy’ option of 24 hour light. Some Dutch growers I know even claim that it produces more vigorous plants!
* Dedicate a standard sized grow tent to your mother plant. Use a control unit, and a 5 or 6 inch extractor to maintain temperatures at 73 to 82°F (23 to 28°C) and relative humidity at around 60%.
* Don’t grow your mother plants in coco coir. After a few months it tends to lock out nitrogen – which is an essential primary nutrient for continued growth.
* Rotate your mother plant from time to time to ensure more even growth.
* Remove all dead leaves. Check right inside the mother plant as she gets bushier.
* If you insist on growing your mother in a pot, periodically check the roots to ensure the plant is not becoming too pot bound. If this is the case, use a sharp, sterile knife to remove around an inch of the root ball (messy business!) and re-pot in a larger container. It looks brutal, but your mother will thank you for it!
* If you are growing your plant in a hydroponics system (recommended) make sure you keep the reservoir topped up and check that the pH is always around 5.8. Completely refresh your nutrient solution every 7 – 10 days.
* Use a grow light rich in the blue spectrum like a metal halide HID or a CFL. The 250 watt Enviroglow is a great choice. It screws directly into the reflector – no need for a ballast or electrician if using with a timer. Remember to ask for the blue version for growth!
* If using CFLs, remember they do not give off much heat. They work best a lot closer to your plants than a standard HID light.
Mother Plant Shopping List
Ok, so you’ve decided to grow up your very own mother plant? Here’s a list of things I think you’re going to need:
* A standard-sized grow tent. The Homebox is a great choice. Also, the Homebox Light (not designed to be lightproof ) is a good budget option as a mother plant does not require set amounts of complete darkness. Size assembled: 39 1/2 by 39 1/2 by 78 3/4 inches (100 by 100 by 200 centimeters).
* 1 x Top Feed Bucket System, e.g. Nurticulture Flo Gro FG500, or GHE’s Waterfarm / Aquafarm. All these systems use a ring dripper that ensures a wide dispersal of nutrients to all parts of the root zone.
* 1 x 400 watt HID lighting system with a Metal Halide lamp and a large reflector for a wide spread of light. The Sunpulse range also features a dedicated vegetative light (6.5K).
* A pair of Ezi-hangers to hang and adjust your lights.
* S hooks – to attach your Ezi-hangers to the top of your grow tent.
* Clay pebbles.
* Extraction kit: 6” carbon filter + fan + ducting
Inflow: Passive should be fine through the grow tent venting. If your mother plant becomes very large, you could supplement this with an RVK100 style fan. Blow fresh air in at the bottom of the tent.
* Control unit (automate inflow and extractor fan speeds to regulate temperature and humidity).
* High quality vegetative nutrient pack. Ask your local hydro store for advice on the water quality in your area and make sure you buy an appropriate nutrient.
* Hygrozyme is a personal favorite of mine for keeping mother plants (as well as vegetating cuttings) in tip top health. It helps to break down any old root mass and stimulate fresh new growth.
* Trichoderma or funganic powder – beneficial bacteria for a healthy root zone.
* I’m assuming you already have your humidity, pH and conductivity (nutrient strength) meters! If not – make the investment!
* Cheap and affordable “auto-top up” systems are available if you are planning to go away for an extended period.
* Don’t forget scalpels, rooting hormone, propagation media (e.g. rockwool cubes) and propagators for taking all those lovely, healthy cuttings!
So good luck everybody and remember: look after your mother and she will look after you!
taken from a good garden magazine