How to Love your Mother Plant (aka Donor Plant)

A quick guide to taking care of your mother plant / donor plant.

Your mother (or donor) plant is a sacred thing. As a gardener who propagates via cuttings, she is your most prized possession. Look after her! Too many growers just take the attitude of keeping their mother plant alive rather than doing everything they can to make her thrive. How many indoor gardens have you visited to find a mother plant legging up in a dimly lit corner, just hanging in there? The logic is simple. If your mother plant is just "doing okay" any cuttings that she produces will behave in a similar way. I.e. they will inherit her state of health and vigor. No amount of cloning gel and aftercare is going to replace simple and consistent mother plant care!

A healthy lavender mother plant in a 5 gallon fabric breatheable pot.(Lavandula Dentata)Mother plants are maintained in a state of perpetual state of growth so they can produce lots of stem cuttings for your garden. For short day plants (plants that will only flower when the days become shorter, or nights become longer) the easiest way to do this is to keep your mother plant under 15-18 hours a day. As far as your mother plant is concerned, it's just one long summer! Mother plants do well under a T5 (6500K) VHO or HO 4 lamp fluorescent fixture or a 250-400W metal halide HID. Both emit a great spectrum (high in blue light) for tons of vegetative growth and, thus, lots of stock for stem cuttings!

Lavender cuttings rooting in Rapid Rooter propagation cubes by General Hydroponics (Lavandula Dentata)
Don't skimp on the container for your mother plant. It should be at least five gallons. Try a fabric, breathable pot as these will keep a mother plant healthier and happier for longer with none of the root circling that plague plants contained for long periods in plastic pots.
Lavender cutting beginning to show roots in a Rapid Rooter propagation cube by General Hydroponics (Lavandula Dentata)

Alternatively, if you need to generate a lot of cuttings you should consider gifting your mother plant its own, self-contained hydroponic system. The Waterfarm by General Hydroponics is a very popular and worthy choice. It's essentially a two-gallon grow chamber sitting on top of an integral four-gallon reservoir.

The Waterfarm by General Hydroponics is an excellent self-contained hydroponic system for a mother plant.

Mother Plant Growing and Maintenance Tips using a GH Waterfarm Hydroponic System

  • Fill the two-gallon grow chamber with well-washed clay balls
  • Set the pump to irrigate constantly (24/7) for prolific growth
  • Periodically check dripper ring for salt build-up. Unclog any holes with a small nail or pin.
  • Consider flushing periodically with plain water or a low EC nutrient solution / dripper cleaning solution.
  • Always use a grow formula for your nutrients.
  • Don't over-do the nutrient concentration. Excessive levels of nitrogen can inhibit root development in cuttings and nutrient lock-out is the last thing you want!
  • Check the EC and pH of the nutrient solution regularly (at least every few days). Maintain a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. It tends to rise above 6.5 so top up the reservoir using half-strength nutrient solution at a low pH (5.0 - 5.5) to counter the rise. Apply this top up with a watering can (top feed) so you don't have to disturb the plant. Check pH again after a few hours.
  • Keep your mother well trained. Make sure she is regularly pruned to maintain a wide canopy and low vertical height.
  • As you take more and more cuttings from your mother plant, you will notice that she becomes increasingly bushy. If she becomes too bushy, start a new mother plant with a fresh cutting.
  • Be especially vigilant for pests. Look for any leaf discoloration. Check the underside of leaves.
  • Remove any dead foliage from the plant (and your garden.)
  • Don't remove more than a quarter of your mother's growth tips in any one sitting.
  • Give your mother plant at least a week to recover after taking cuttings.
  • Replace your mother plant every six to twelve months.