How to Tissue Culture Houseplants At Home And Make One Houseplant Into Thousands

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Yes, you can. People do.

I shall give you a brief introduction on how to do it. It will be brief. It will still be very long and complicated, and involve a LOT of bleach.

Tissue culturing plants at home does seem like fun, but in the same way that leca is fun but will also make you want to cry.

Top tip: if you’ve watched a lot of videos and read a lot of articles on how to switch from soil to leca at home, and are feeling very overwhelmed by it, then tissue culture is not for you.

What plant should I tissue culture at home first?

It’s generally recommended that people starting out with a home tissue culture lab start with plants that multiply easily, like African Violets.

However, if there’s a specific plant to try (and you can find the protocols) then go ahead and give it a try.

The protocols are basically a set of instructions that will tell you:

  • which is the most effective explant (the explant is the part of the plant used in the tissue culture – it could be a seed, node, bud, stem, whatever)
  • the ingredients required in the media
  • lighting requirements
  • when to subculture (change up the media)

What equipment is needed to tissue culture plants at home?

You could throw money at this, and buy yourself a laminar flow hood, and all the fancy pants ingredients, but it is possible to get everything you need pretty cheaply (I’m talking a couple fo hundred quid here, not like, a fiver).

You will need:

That’s…a lot of stuff.

You’ll also need the recipe tissue culture protocol for whatever plant you’re trying to tissue culture. You can find them in tissue culture books or academic research papers. T ry Google Scholar or Researchgate (or just try your look on google with [plant type] tissue culture protocol.

How to make tissue culture media

Tissue culture media is made up of four main components:

  1. Nutrients
  2. Goop
  3. Sucrose
  4. Plant growth regulators.

You’ll also use distilled water. Typically protocols list ingredients for a litre of tissue culture media, but feel free to make half that amount.

This AWESOME video suggests you start off with less water than you need, then add the ingredients, then add water to the desired volume. So if you were making 500ml of media, add 400ml of water, then the rest of the ingredients, then add more water until you hit the 500ml mark.

Nutrients

The nutrients most commonly used are Murashige and Skoog basal medium, usually referred to as MS basal medium. It contains all the macro and micronutrients one would find in normal fertiliser, but in the quantities and form most suited to tissue culture.

Goop

There are various goops you can use, but agar is the most widely used. Agar is basically a gelatinous substance you can buy in powder form. It’s made from seaweed, and if you’re an OG vegan like me, it’s responsible for that weird texture vegan gunny sweets used to have.

We need goop in which to suspend the other ingredients and the explant. It’s basically a substrate. You can use liquid, but goop is probably easier.

Sucrose

You can use regular white granulated sugar for this. Adding sugar to tissue culture helps the new cells get to grips with osmosis and regulate the water content in their cells, but it’s basically an energy source that the new cells can use.

Plant growth regulators

These are broadly separated into two categories, cytokinins and auxins.

Cytokinins help ramp up cell production, so they’re used more heavily in the early stages of tissue culture. Auxins are used to promote rooting, so they’re used more later on.

This is the part you may want to do your own research on, especially when it comes to cytokinins. They can be very dangerous – you don’t want to be touching something that’s main job is to reproduce cells quickly. They can cause all kinds of issues from inflammation to asthma and digestive issues.

The most effective cytokinins are likely to be the most dangerous, so stick to the safer ones, such as:

  • kinetin
  • zeatin
  • IAA
  • IBA

They may be less efficient than, for example, BA, but they’re less dangerous, so…imma stick to them.

How long does it take to tissue culture a plant at home?

It can take months, and it’s not nearly as hands-off as it is for growing a plant normally, because you have to change up the media regularly to support the next stage of growth.

As the plant grows we care less about cell division and more about growing roots, so the ratio of ingredients in the media will change.

The benefit, however, is that we’ll have dozens of new plantlets from a single explant, not just one.

How do you sterilise tissue culture equipment at home?

You can’t really sterilise everything unless you spend a fortune on a home lab and an autoclave machine (though you can use a microwave or pressure cooker to sterilise your jars, media and smaller equipment).

Steps to tissue culturing plants at home

I’ve probably missed out a few disinfecting steps along the way, so feel free to spray everything with 10% blean whenever you fancy!

  • 1. Make your media following the protocol. In a lab it would be heated, so stir it a lot to mi it properly. Divide it between the jars – you only need a cm or so in the bottom of the jar. Use sterilised pipettes and scales to make this as accurate as possible
  • 2. Sterilise it – there are various ways of doing this, but a good at-home way is to use the microwave (hence using microwavable jars). Ensure the mixture boils for 3 minutes, which usually takes seven minutes altogether in the microwave
  • 3. Disinfect all work surfaces, plus Petri dishes and still air box

All the following stages will take place in the still-air box. Try to move as little as you can and arrange the equipment so your arms pass over, for example, the media as little as possible. Lining them all up at the back is the easiest way to do this, but it does take practice.

Before you start, assemble your equipment in the still air box. You’ll need:

  • a jar of 10% bleach, 90% water for cleaning your equipment
  • a jar of 70% ethanol for sterilising the explant
  • a jar of 2% bleach, 98% distilled water
  • a jar of tap water
  • forceps and scissors
  • petri dish
  • your medium

This box will NOT be sterile. It’ll just be as clean as possible. Unless you’re some kind if super cleaner. You can buy PPM (plant preservative mixture) which is basically a heat-stable herbicide/preservative if you’re worried about the environment not being sterile enough.

  • 4. Cut nodal sections of explant using forceps and scissors – you only need a few node cells BUT you’ll have to cut off bleached tissue once it’s been sterilised so make it big enough that you can cut it easily-ish whilst your hands are in a box. You’ll need to know which is end is up (I think??) so cut one end closer to the node and remember (by which I mean write down) which is top and which is bottom.
  • 5. Sterilise the explant (instructions below)
  • 6. Disinfect the box with 10% bleach spray
  • 7. Trim the ends of the nodes, because the bleached parts will be dead
  • 8. Bleach your tools
  • 9. Dip the bottom of the cutting in the medium, enough so there’s plenty of contact but don’t submerge it
  • 10. Put your explant under grow lights (it’ll give specifics in the protocol) and you’re done (until you have to subculture)!

How to sterilise an explant

I covered this a bit in this article on tissue culture, but here are more specific instructions.

Between each step you’ll need to dip your scissors in 10% bleach.

  1. Rinse the explant in tap water for 15 minutes
  2. Rinse in 70% ethanol for 1 minute
  3. Rinse in water for 1 minutes
  4. Put in a solution of 2% bleach, 98% distilled water and put the lid on. Shake (just a bit, to agitate the water) for 20 minutes.
  5. Use forceps to put the explants into the petri dish

Final thoughts

You absolutely can do tissue culture at home.

I can’t.

It’s just a bit much.

Whilst all the equipment can be bought for around £200, there are other considerations – you’ll need to keep your nutrients and plant growth regulators in the fridge, but you can’t keep them in your food fridge so you’ll need a separate one.

I’m just not careful enough. Perhaps when I’m rich and can afford a properly kitted-out lab and an autoclave machine I’d give it a go but…there’s a reason it’s not commonly done at home.

Still, if this seems right up your alley I’d LOVE to hear how you got on.

Caroline Cocker

Caroline is the founder and writer (and plant keeper) of Planet Houseplant

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