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!