Autoflower cannabis plants mature and start producing buds after a certain amount of time, rather than when the amount of light reduces, as is normal in most cannabis plants. Learn more about autoflower cannabis from Leafly. Before growing, you’ll need to choose which type of seed you want to work with: feminized or autoflower. Here at Potguide, we recommend starting your cannabis growing hobby/career with auto-flowering cannabis seeds. Let's get into why. This definition explains the meaning of Autoflowering and why it matters.
Autoflower cannabis plants mature and start producing buds after a certain amount of time, rather than when the amount of light reduces, as is normal in most cannabis plants. Autoflower strains are usually the result of Cannabis ruderalis bred with another strain.
“I grew and harvested these autoflowers in less than three months!”
“This weed is surprisingly potent for being an autoflower.”
What are autoflower cannabis strains?
When growing outdoors, cannabis plants from regular seeds begin to flower, or produce buds, as fall approaches and the sun goes down earlier and earlier. This reduction in light triggers the flowering phase and bud production in cannabis plants. In indoor growing, growers can control the flowering cycle by manually reducing the daily amount of light plants receive from 18 hours to 12 hours.
A type of cannabis called Cannabis ruderalis developed in extreme northern climates thousands of years ago, and because of its harsh environment and lack of sunlight throughout the year, it adapted to begin flowering after a certain amount of time, rather than a reduction in light—it automatically flowers, hence the name “autoflower.”
What are the benefits and disadvantages to autoflower cannabis?
Autoflower cannabis plants are known to have low levels of THC. Today, ruderalis plants are usually bred with other strains to get a higher potency in addition to a short grow time. There are autoflower versions of many popular strains. For example, “Blue Dream Auto” is Blue Dream crossed with a ruderalis plant, which aims to maintain a lot of Blue Dream’s characteristics while making it quick to grow.
Another drawback is that autoflower varieties are crossbred more, and adding ruderalis genetics can potentially dilute the gene pool and lessen the characteristics of a strain.
On the other hand, autoflowers are great for beginning growers because you don’t need to worry about the changing of the season. Autoflowers also grow quickly, and you can usually fit in two harvests in the time it would normally take to grow one regular harvest.
Autoflower Seeds Explained
T here’s a lot that can go into growing a flowering cannabis plant, which may seem a little daunting to those who were hoping for something as simple as step 1: put seed in soil, step 2: wait, step 3: cannabis! It’s important to choose which easy-to-grow strain sounds the best for your first foray into the world of cannabis farming, however, before picking the strain, you’ll need to choose which type of seed you want to work with: feminized or autoflower.
There are some key differences to be aware of. Especially if you’re new to gardening in general, here at PotGuide, we recommend starting your cannabis growing hobby/career with auto-flowering cannabis seeds. Let’s get into why.
What are Autoflower Cannabis Seeds?
Back in the day (way, way back) there were three basic subgroups of cannabis plants that had found their ecological niche thanks to human cultivation. Taller, skinner sativa strains thrived in warmer, tropical climates like Southeast Asia and Polynesia. Indica strains grew in the higher, windier Hindu Kush region. Ruderalis strains were hardier and grew in the colder, far northern hemisphere where the sun either shines at all hours for months on end or disappears for that same timeframe. Ruderalis strains didn’t have the same regular access to night and day that told their indica and sativa cousins when to stop growing and start flowering. Instead, they evolved to bloom when the sun was out based on how many weeks they’d been growing.
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Modern-day cannabis growers realized that this adaptation to flower based on age rather than light exposure basically puts growing on easy mode, so they cross-bred ruderalis with indica and sativa strains to create autoflower seeds.
How are Autoflowering Seeds Different from Feminized Seeds?
Left to their own devices, cannabis will follow the same reproductive path that nature has set out for nearly every seed-producing plant: sprout, mature, meet a nice plant, exchange pollen, and start dropping seeds of their own. However, long ago humans discovered that the female cannabis plants also produced some flowers that were pretty fun to smoke, and thus cultivation began.
Jump forward to today’s modern cannabis market, and we find there are two main types of seeds that cannabis growers use: feminized seeds and autoflower seeds.
Feminized seeds are seeds that have been specially bred to only grow resinous-bud-producing females. This was achieved by eliminating the male chromosome through various manipulation methods (*cut to Jurassic Park’s Ian Malcolm looking concerned). However, these methods make use of a natural response that the plants have when they are stressed and lack male plants.
More experienced growers tend to use feminized seeds. Sowing feminized seeds tends to lead to far greater yields of potent buds than auto-flowering seeds. The plants will create stronger, THC-rich resin, and if one cannabis plant turns out to be exceptional above the rest, it can be cloned rather than having to be grown from seed every time.
However, growing with feminized seeds also takes extra care, attention, and know-how. They require scheduling the grow light’s hours and intensity in order to signal to the plants when it’s time to stop growing and start blooming. They also require extra room to spread their branches and are more susceptible to stress, disease, and pests.
Autoflowering seeds, on the other hand, are much hardier thanks to their ruderalis lineage and thus more resistant to environmental stressors than feminized seeds.
They have a far easier time brushing off pests and diseases and are able to be grown in a wider temperature range. All this means that they can bounce back from a lot of first-time grower mistakes that usually kill feminized seed plants.
Another advantage to autoflowering plants is that you don’t need to worry about maintaining a strict light schedule. The ruderalis genetics are used to unbroken stretches of sunlight during those northern summer months. Flip on your grow lights for about 20 hours a day and autoflowering seeds will do the rest.
The rest of your setup can be just as basic. Autoflowering seeds tend to grow a lot more compactly than feminized seeds, which makes them ideal for small closet grow operations. While autoflowering plants tend to produce much smaller yields than feminized seeds, you’ll have them much faster. Some autoflowering strains will start producing flowers in just 2-4 weeks, and be ready for harvest in 6-8 weeks. While the buds won’t be as potent as feminized seeds, they tend to contain higher levels of CBD, which can be ideal for medical growers.
This also isn’t meant to imply that autoflowers can’t make potent buds. They certainly can, and a significant part of dispensary stock is produced this way. Feminized seeds just tend to do better when compared bud to bud.
When buying your seeds, be sure to check whether or not they have been feminized. Depending on the company selling them, you could end up with either all female autoflower seeds, or a 50/50 chance.
Which Seeds Should I Choose?
While feminized seeds can be considered the Goldilocks of growing (everything has to be just right), autoflowering seeds are more the Gretel of growing (hardy, resilient, would kill a witch if it came to it.) Both, of course, have their advantages. If you are growing cannabis in order to produce only the most resinous, power-flower buds in the highest yields, go with feminized seeds. You’ll have to crack the books when it comes to bulking up your cannabis growing knowledge, and you’ll have to pay close attention to how each of your plants are doing on the regular. However, it will all pay off once you’ve got those sticky, stanky buds all cured and sitting in their jars.
On the other hand, growing your own cannabis can also be an easy, fun way to get some free weed off of your new plant friend. Autoflower seeds are the choice of any beginner looking to get from Point A (Seeds in soil) to Point C (Hell yeah!) as quickly as possible with minimal effort. With a more basic light setup, less care about the temperature, and a grow room as small as a bedroom closet, autoflower seeds are your entry ticket into the world of cannabis growing.
Do you prefer autoflower or feminized cannabis seeds? Sound off in the comments!
Paul Barach is a Seattle-based freelance writer, editor, and author with experience creating well-researched, edited web articles covering cannabis news, culture, history and science. Paul is a regular contributor to PotGuide and has also contributed to publications such as Medium.com, SlabMechanix, Litro, and The Trek. He prefers to spend his free time outdoors and most recently hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. So far he has only fallen into the La Brea Tarpits once. You can follow him on Instagram @BarachOutdoors and stay up to date professionally through his LinkedIn page.
Unlike photoperiod-dependent plants, autoflowering cannabis is a cannabis plant that reaches the flowering stage after vegetative growth on its own, regardless of the amount of light it receives.
Most plants require a certain amount of light/darkness per day to produce flowers, for example, 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. However, plants with the ability to autoflower do not flower based on the amount of light/darkness they receive. Instead, plants with the capacity to autoflower will produce buds and flowers based on the plant’s size and growth. On average, the lifecycle of an autoflowering strain is 60 to 90 days.
Maximum Yield Explains Autoflowering
The benefit of autoflowering is that most plants are ready for harvest in 10 weeks or less, regardless of the amount of light/darkness they receive. The plant that has the capacity to autoflower has a quick lifecycle, so it will produce buds and flowers in a shorter span of time, without stringent light/darkness requirements. Autoflowering cannabis plants are best suited for areas where there is fewer daylight hours. There are even hybrids that flower in less than 6 weeks.
Autoflowering cannabis plants are typically smaller than standard plants. Consequently, autoflowering plants typically have lower yields. However, there are super autos that can be tall and have higher yield. Given that autoflowering cannabis have a greater hardiness, they can potentially grow through the year.
Autoflowering strains are not a good choice for cloning as cuttings will transition to the flowering stage too quickly to provide a worthwhile yield.
A cannabis plant’s ability to autoflower is a genetic trait passed down to a plant within its DNA. Not all plants have the ability to autoflower, however, some cannabis plants can autoflower.
Cannabis is considered a diploid, which means that it receives one chromosome from its father plant’s pollen and one from its mother plant’s ovum. Each chromosome from the father and mother contains two genes. Those genes are either photodependant (photodependant allows autoflowering) or non-photodependant (non-photodependant does not allow autoflowering). In other words, autoflowering is a recessive trait, which means that both parents must contribute the gene in order for the offspring plant to autoflower. So, one of the chromosomes from one of the parents may allow autoflowering, but the other chromosome from the other parent does not contain the gene to grant autoflowering.