Tissue Culture Propagation vs. Cloning

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Nick Hinton
Nick Hinton is a freelance writer, father, and entrepreneur, using his work as a means to advocate for growing acceptance of plant medicine usage and research.

Which method is right for you?

With the explosion of medicinal and recreational cannabis usage in the mainstream over the last decade or so, commercial growers are in a mad dash to find the best growing and propagation methods for maximum efficiency, maximum expediency, and of course, maximum potency and yield. Growing from seeds takes time, and the results can be inconsistent in terms of potency and genetics. As we hurtle deeper into the technological age, a time when robotics and machine learning become more commonplace every day, are traditional plant propagation methods evolving? Despite the longer growing time, most people still resort to growing from seeds. If you’re hesitant about making the switch, check out these posts: What is the Highest Yielding Indoor Strain for Cannabis?, Cannabis Strain Selection, How to Grow Cannabis from Seed, and How Deep to Plant Cannabis Seed?.


Cloning, which is achieved by inserting clippings from a strong mother plant into a nutrient-rich potting mix, often inside a propagator and assisted by the use of rooting hormones, is a tried and tested solution. It’s significantly faster, and offers the grower a bit more control over selection of specific genetic traits to cultivate. Other than grower error, clones can be nearly as unreliable as seedlings. If the mother plant is host to any bad genetics that may weaken resistance to disease, infection, or pests in the next generations, any genetic mutation taking place in cloned offspring could mean loss of crop or worse- potentially infecting an otherwise-strong existing crop.

Cannabis Barrier

As horticultural information finally begins to cross the “Cannabis Barrier”, and we learn more about how current frontline agro-science practices can be successfully implemented into the cannabis cultivation industry, one particularly interesting propagation method has come to light. Tissue culture propagation, also known as micropropagation, might be a strong contender over cloning or seeding. Growers are able to have maximum control over genetics without risk of mutation, for what seems like an almost-infinite number of generations. Not only are professional cultivators able to gain better control over yield, potency, and disease resistance, but stored plant tissue cultures may be kept in storage indefinitely, with the samples taking up very little space in comparison to cuttings or seedlings.

“It’s a great way to create a strong, nuclear base for large-scale propagation. Understand, it’s a very slow and delicate process, and it’s very expensive.” Shlomo Booklin, Master Grower

Tissue Culture Propagation

The process of TCP is rather simple in practice, though it requires a host of rigid controls to ensure you’re creating and storing viable cultures for the generations to come. Shoot tips from young plants or nodular trimmings from auxiliary buds are taken, sterilized, and introduced to an (often) agar-based gel medium rich in nutrients and rooting hormones. While this process is intended to be performed in a cleanroom environment, with humidity, climate, and airflow controls in place, the process is simple enough that many all-in-one “DIY” tissue culture kits are available on the market for small-scale growers.

While TCP shows a lot of promise for the future, especially for large-scale commercial growers, it isn”t without its drawbacks. Investing in a true, lab-grade clean room (if you don’t already have one set up) can be a costly endeavour. It also takes roughly double the time (or slightly more) to root than traditional cloning. An average clone takes root in about two weeks, whereas harvesting and rooting a viable tissue culture can take more than 30 days. The efficiency of production and longevity of stored cultures thankfully makes a strong argument towards forgiving the process for the extra time investment, as should the eventual consistency and yield.

“In tissue culture, you can do almost everything, from manipulating genes to creating hybrids based on whatever selective traits you’d like. High CBD, high THC, or whatever combination of others (cannabinoids).” Shlomo Booklin, Master Grower

What does the future have in store?

Though the future for TCP in the medicinal cannabis cultivation arena seems promising, it may be a slow process in getting well-established cultivators to latch on. Even though some of the first in-depth and successful experiments were performed back in 2008, old habits die hard, as it were. Many master growers have plenty of success with cloning, or even crafting their own unique genetic hybrids through manual pollination and seeding. At a certain point, it becomes an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” sort of situation in the minds of many experienced cannabis producers, especially those very comfortable with an existing process.

We asked our resident Master Grower and expert, Shlomo Booklin, for his opinion on replacing traditional cloning methods with TCP. He had this to say:

“In tissue culture you can do almost everything, from manipulating genes to creating hybrids based on whatever selective traits you’d like. High CBD, high THC, or whatever combination of others (cannabinoids).”

Interestingly, he indicated that TCP alone may not be ideal for commercial propagation. He went on to say that “It’s a great way to create a strong, nuclear base for large-scale propagation.”, and that using these genetically-perfect, archetypal mother plants, a commercial cultivator could then proceed with using those cuttings taken from the mother in the traditional manner. He said, “Understand, it’s a very slow and delicate process, and it’s very expensive.”

What’s right for you?

As it turns out, what may be the most ideal option for a licensed commercial grower, is a marriage of both cultivating tissue cultures and traditional cloning techniques! While the discussion on cannabis plant propagation may continue and be debated for a little while longer, the technology does seem promising enough that any licensed cannabis producer motivated to adopt those practices early on may see a significant edge over their competition, particularly in potency, production quantity, product consistency, and long-term preservation of preferable genetic characteristics. If your propagation and cultivation systems are already GrowerIQ-enabled, monitoring conditions in a TCP cleanroom and tissue culture storage room are streamlined and easy to maintain, maximizing your efficiency and output, and granting a distinctive edge over your competition.

Have you ever used tissue culture propagation methods, or ever considered it? What was your experience like? Do you see the future of the commercial cannabis industry shifting to adopting TCP, alongside traditional cloning, as an industry standard? Share your thoughts and experiences with us! We want to know!