A growing number of experts are making a business out of teaching people how to grow their own pot. Here's what to know to get started. Learn best techniques and preparation required for cloning marijuana, plus tips to ensure optimum root development following clipping from the mother plant. As both drug cannabis and hemp cultivation proliferate, agronomic challenges lurk on the horizon. But there are solutions.
As marijuana is legalized in more places, here’s how to grow your own
When it comes to growing his own marijuana, Chris Haynie leaves little to chance.
Inside a grow room in Richmond, Haynie has erected a 42-square-foot tent that houses four marijuana plants, the state’s legal limit for personal cultivation. Haynie’s setup is high-tech: An irrigation system releases moisture on a precise schedule; a motorized LED light timed to mimic the rising and setting of the sun moves along a rail across the top of the tent; and a monitoring system tracks key metrics of plant health, such as the moisture level and pH of the soil, and relays the data to an app on Haynie’s phone. If the system senses urgent problems, he’ll receive a warning text. Haynie’s friends are used to him bolting from a room mid-conversation to tend to his plants.
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Haynie, a bearded 38-year-old cannabis connoisseur who tattooed his thumbs with green ink, is no horticulture amateur. As the co-founder of Richmond’s Happy Trees Agricultural Supply, he’s part of a growing number of experts who are making a business out of teaching people how to grow their own pot. Recent laws in Virginia allow for limited cultivation of marijuana for personal use, and Happy Trees, which Haynie launched in 2019 with Josiah Ickes, 36, specializes in setting up growers to cultivate the plant.
Marijuana remains illegal on a federal level, but many states have abolished restrictions, creating a patchwork of rules throughout the country. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have passed laws allowing recreational use. Virginia legalized home cultivation in July 2021; under the law, people 21 and older may possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It remains illegal, though, to buy or sell it in any form — including seeds — until 2024, when retail sales are expected to begin.
People still find ways to access seeds. When D.C. legalized the possession of limited amounts of marijuana in 2015, the District lacked the authority to create a legal economic market for sales. So cannabis activists organized seed giveaways throughout the city. At one early event in 2015, lines stretched for blocks.
The regulatory scheme also established what has become an expansive “giveaway market,” in which Washingtonians have used a loophole to provide harvested marijuana as a gift in exchange for the purchase of a legal product. Companies sell cookies, tea or paintings with a baggie of “free” marijuana on the side. One company sells motivational speeches delivered by a person who travels by bicycle.
Cloning Marijuana: How to Grow Cannabis Without Seeds
Cloning is a bit of a hot-button issue in the world these days. Only as far as cloning humans is concerned though. That’s fair enough considering all the moral, ethical, and spiritual considerations that come along with premise of replicating a human life. There’s no such questions to be debated in the botany world, and cloning plants has been done with much success for decades now. For example, cloning marijuana is an example of this approach to growing plants is a hit with home grow enthusiasts around the world.
You CAN grow a marijuana plant from a seed, but if want the same strain with exactly the same properties, and in some case the same unique characteristics, then you will need to clone it. If you ask an expert about how this process works, be prepared to absorb a LOT of information.
But ask them how to make clones from weed plants and you’ll find it’s quite straightforward. Not as easy as it is to buy marijuana clones, but those of you who like being hands-on with your home grow experiments will want to give cloning marijuana a try.
Cloning Marijuana Guarantees an Identical Plant
An overview of cloning marijuana will explain how it involves cutting of a small piece of an existing marijuana plant and then having that plants develop its own roots . The cut piece of plant will have the same gender and exact same genetic structure as its donor plant, meaning that the plant that eventually regrows itself from the cut piece will too .
Let’s say you have a particular marijuana plant that’s especially healthy and hardy and gives you a bountiful yield of exactly the type of bud you love . Would the sound of having a number of those EXACT same plants sound good to you? Darn right it would, and if you have that plant then achieving this is entirely possible.
Other advantages to cloning marijuana include:
- Expanding on your crop at no additional cost – asides from basic supplies, making clones is free
- The ‘head start’ that clones have in comparison to seedlings, meaning in the big picture that they’ll be at their flowering stage more quickly
- Better choice for those hoping to practice Sea of Green or 12/12 from seed techniques due to clones already being mature and able to be oriented to the flowering stage immediately
Cloning Marijuana: Guidelines
The first consideration you’ll need to have when cloning marijuana is that a ‘mother’ plant will be required to get the clones from. Obviously, choosing a female plant that displays signs of vigor and good health is best. If you have one of those you’ve likely at least mastered the basics of how to grow marijuana, but now you’re about to start down a whole new path.
Here’s a list of the primary supplies you’ll need:
Sharp scissors – You’ll need these to clip your clone pieces from the mother plant, as well as for future defoliation and trimming once your clones have grown into being their own plants
Starter cubes – these are also essential, as they’ll be the homes for your clones while they develop their own roots
Cloning Gel or Cloning Powder – These products are good because they provide a sealant around the cut plant tissue and then supply it with the hormones required for optimum root cell development
Proper lighting – This will be very well understood if you already know how to grow cannabis, but we’ll go over it again briefly in case it’s not. Natural sunlight is best of course, but that’s not possible for many growers much of the time. If that’s your situation, T5 grow lights are the best for clones and seedlings, and especially when suspended 8 or 9” above your clones.
Depending on your situation you may need more supplies, but everyone who’s going to try cloning marijuana will need these four.
Taking Your Clones
Alright, we’re now going to assume that you’ve got your healthy mother plant and all the supplies you need to start. The first thing you’ll do is determine the readiness of your mother plant. There is one basic criteria for this; if the leaf shoots or nodes of the plant are alternating (which means not connecting at the same point on the stem) it is mature and ready for cloning.
Next, soak the starter cubes in water for just a few minutes. No longer. This is important – soak them too long and you’ll reduce the effectiveness with which they’ll promote the clones developing a good root.
Now let’s get down to the hands-on part of how to make clones from weed plants. You want to clip new growth tips on the plants, where there is a new branching and a new top. It is also better to take your clippings from the lower half of your plant, as these leaf shoots have more rooting hormones than those higher up. They will grow roots more quickly because of these hormones.
These growths should be easy to identify being right on the top and often a much lighter green in colour.
Now, with scissors in hand, prepare to make your cut:
- Use your thumb and index finger to grab the shoot an inch or so below the new growth tip
- Eyeball your new cuttings so that they will be between 5 to 8” long, so you will be cutting 5-8” below the growth tip
- Hold it steady as you take the scissors and proceed to cut the branch away at a 45-degree angle
- After making the cut, use the sharp inside edge of one of your scissor blades to ‘scuff’ up the area just above your cut. This will expose more of the stocks ‘raw’ genetic material inside it and aid in the cloning process
Immediately after this you should place the cutting into a glass of water, and do the same for all cuttings you take. After a short period of time you can remove them and trim off huge lower leaves or clip top fan leaves. Return to the water right after doing so.
Once removed, if you’re going to use cloning gel or cloning powder now is the time. If not, proceed to place your new clones into moistened starter cubes. Press around the bottom of them to ensure they’re well sealed.
The last tip here is to keep your resettled clones out of grow lighting for the first couple of days to give them a chance to settle. No longer than 2 days though. And once you do start to give them lighting, don’t give them 24 hours of it. 16-18 hours a day is better.
Just like that you’ve got no need to buy marijuana clones, you’re now sufficiently in the know to create your own using nothing more than your existing crop and a few supplies.
The Challenges of Seeded vs. Seedless Cannabis
As both drug cannabis and hemp cultivation proliferate, agronomic challenges lurk on the horizon. But there are solutions.
Temperate regions of Australia produce low-THC cannabis crops grown for their edible seeds and seed oil. Hemp seed crops release clouds of male pollen grains, each with the potential to fertilize a female flower and form a seed. The male pollen plants then wither and die.
Today, a multitude of cannabis seed companies are producing more seeds than ever, and now that laws are changing, more and more cannabis crops are being grown outdoors from seed.
Broadacre (farms that produce crops on a large scale) CBD producers are leading the return to growing crops from seed. Auto-flowering THC and CBD varieties are gaining popularity (especially in regions exceeding 40° latitude north or south) where summer days are too long to induce flowering in most cultivars.
But the growing of seed crops can cause problems. Put simply, the airborne pollen from seed crops poses a serious threat to the much more lucrative business of growing seedless drug cannabis flowers.
Morocco: En Route to All-Female (Seedless) Crop Production
Morocco, where crops destined for hashish production are seeded, is on a steady path toward all-female seedless crop production. The popularity of feminized seeds, which produce only female plants, has grown exponentially, yet nearly all modern Moroccan drug crops still do not start from these because many growers continue to sow seeds that they harvest (rather than purchasing new seeds), and crops grown from these seeds are half male and half female. Pollen fills the air in mid-summer, and by autumn every female plant is full of seeds. (When females are pollinated, their flower growth is reduced, and the seeds produced are undesirable for end consumers.) Morocco’s future of not harvesting seeds is clearly on the horizon as awareness amongst farmers and widespread availability of less expensive female seed are slowly becoming reality.
Left: Modern-day seedless drug cannabis crops are grown from genetically identical female cuttings so that no pollen and no seeds are produced (photo by Mel Frank). Right: East Asian farmers harvest their highest-quality hemp fiber crops before they flower, so no pollen or seeds are produced.
Biology Meets Agronomics
Most plants produce flowers bearing both male and female sexual organs, and the majority of these are pollinated by various animals ranging from insects to bats. In natural settings, Cannabis plants present an exception to the norm, with millions of pollen grains borne on male plants that release their genetic potential into the breezes. Those pollen grains that complete their reproductive journey land on the receptive ovule-containing flowers borne on female plants and fertilize them, the seeds maturing a few weeks later. Individual male plants die within a few weeks, leaving the remaining pollinated female plants to mature their precious seeds (the next generation) without competition for water, nutrients and sunlight.
In another exception to the norm, separation of the sexes is the key to horticultural cannabis flower production. Both THC and CBD drug cannabis crops are grown without seeds. The sinsemilla (seedless) method is commonly used to enhance the production of secondary metabolite target compounds such as THC, CBD and aromatic terpenes. When seedless Cannabis is grown for drug production, any seeds are undesirable and drastically lower the value of the dried flowers. Early sinsemilla growers realized that they could simply remove all male plants so no seeds formed, and their precious females would develop much larger and more potent flowers. Female plants with desirable traits were vegetatively reproduced to multiply the clones in common production today, and there are no longer troublesome male plants in most modern drug crops.
We believe seeds producing all-female crops will be widely used for broadacre THC and CBD production in the near future. Why grow any males when you can grow only females, and why keep mothers and make cuttings when you can more easily, efficiently and cheaply sow seeds that are essentially a female cutting in seed form?
This sounds like a perfect scenario. What could possibly go wrong?
What Is Industrial Hemp?
Today’s common concept of “industrial hemp” crosses regulatory boundaries between traditional hemp (grown for its fiber and/or seeds) and drug cannabis. According to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (commonly referred to as the U.S. Farm Bill), any Cannabis plant (or cannabis product) containing less than 0.3 percent THC (with no limits on CBD content) is legally classified as “industrial hemp” no matter whether its end use is for fiber, seed and/or drugs. A more accurate term for high-CBD cannabis is “medicinal hemp” as it reflects both its end use and its low THC content.
Significant CBD levels (commonly 2 percent to 5 percent dry weight) are extracted from the flowers of hemp fiber and seed cultivars grown in many regions of Europe and China. Much of this CBD yield comes from multi-product hemp crops also yielding fiber and seed commodities. Across North America, CBD is largely extracted from modern, high-CBD drug cultivars that are much more closely related genetically to modern sinsemilla hybrid drug varieties than they are to hemp fiber and seed cultivars.
Enter Traditional ‘Industrial’ Hemp
In Europe and North America, hemp fiber crops have traditionally been harvested upon reaching technical maturity when the male plants begin to shed pollen. In eastern Asia, hemp fiber crops destined for fine textile production are harvested before they flower, and therefore no pollen or seed is produced. No flowers, no pollen and no problems. The timing of a fiber crop harvest—either before or after it releases pollen—determines whether it poses a threat to neighboring sinsemilla cannabis growers. Depending on cropping techniques, fiber hemp production can be compatible anywhere. The real issue is not about fiber hemp production, but seedless drug cultivation. However, the situation differs with hemp seed crops.
Hemp-seed crops are grown specifically for seeds sold primarily to the food and body-care industries. Hemp seed and seed oil are more in demand than at any other time in recent history, and the profitable growing of hemp seed is increasing at suitable temperate latitudes worldwide. Based on their common environmental needs, seedless drug cannabis thrives in the same agricultural niches as hemp seed crops, and this can lead to competition between these agronomically incompatible crops.
Long-distance Cannabis pollen transport is well-documented. A single male Cannabis plant can produce millions of pollen grains that are easily carried on the wind. Each summer, allergenic pollen traps installed along the Mediterranean coast of southern Spain collect Cannabis pollen that drifts across 100 miles of open sea from hashish fields in the Rif Mountains of Morocco.
Field-grown hemp seed crops are agronomically and economically incompatible with drug cannabis crops, and growing them within the range of pollen travel will likely result in conflicts. Even cannabis plants grown in greenhouses and grow rooms can become fertilized by pollen that enters through the ventilation system. It is of note that during the early days of industrial hemp cultivation in the Netherlands several indoor and glasshouse sinsemilla growers reported finding seeds in their normally seedless crops. (Tip: High efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters effectively remove pollen from air intakes in sealed grow rooms.)
In the sinsemilla setting of zero tolerance for seeds, long-range pollen drift, especially outdoors, sounds frightening. Reactionary voices within the cannabis community have raised the alarm, but is there a real threat? How are the cropping strategies of growing seeded hemp cultivars for their CBD content versus growing seedless drug varieties for THC and/or CBD content playing out across North America and worldwide?
HempFlax BV farmers in Romania harvest hemp fiber, hemp seed and CBD from the same standing crop. Multi-cropping strategies are the most economically viable for broadacre cannabis commodity farming.
International Precedents and Lessons
In response to increased market demand for both hemp seeds and CBD, traditional hemp cultivars’ flowers are now commonly grown to produce both CBD and seed. Hemp stalks are harvested for their economically valuable fiber from both the male and female plants, while female flowers produce economically valuable compounds such as CBD, THC and aromatic terpenes as well as seed. Broken flowers remain after threshing hemp seeds. Until recently, this CBD-rich waste was burned in the fields. Now, CBD is extracted from the flower biomass. Several hemp cultivars contain sufficient amounts of CBD to make extraction profitable.
We perceive the most lucrative agronomic model to be triple cropping an existing approved (low THC) industrial hemp cultivar for fiber, seed and CBD. HempFlax BV, a hemp cultivation and processing company with cultivation sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Romania, harvests all three products from the same standing crop. This lucrative cropping strategy allows a farmer to make agronomic decisions based on three commodity markets—fiber, food and drug—and we predict will prevail in the near future among progressive farmers worldwide.
China and Romania are traditional hemp farming regions without commercial seedless drug cannabis production. Manitoba farmers have dominated North American hemp grain seed production for 20 years and have established Manitoba as a hemp seed producing region. Few outdoor sinsemilla growers would attempt to establish production there. Rather, drug cannabis is more often grown indoors in urban areas, and in glasshouses and outdoors in regions without hemp seed crops. To that end, conflicts are rare, but could still arise.
In most drug cannabis producing regions (e.g., Colombia and Mexico, as well as the Caribbean, Africa and Southeast Asia) crops are grown seedless to increase the flowers’ potency. It would be unwise to attempt growing seeded crops in these regions. In all these examples a pairing of local traditions with economic factors determines whether Cannabis crops are grown with or without seeds.
Several of the aforementioned agricultural business models could prove economically viable in any given region, but many are not mutually compatible. The agricultural differences among broadacre, greenhouse and indoor production create an economically segregated terrain where few conflicts have yet to arise. However, conflicts will undoubtedly arise unless specific cannabis growing regions become set aside for female-only growing of seedless drug crops.
North American Constraints
In the face of steadily expanding seedless drug crop acreage bolstered by supportive legislation across America, will there remain anywhere for hemp grain seed crops to make their long-awaited comeback? Will the U.S. always rely on Canada and China for healthy hemp seed products?
The expanding range of Farm Bill hemp (high-CBD seedless flower) production in 2018 reached 23 states. Colorado and Montana, leaders in U.S. hemp production, each grew more than 20,000 acres, followed by Kentucky and Oregon with around 7,000 acres each, and Tennessee, North Carolina, North Dakota, New York, Nevada, Wisconsin and Vermont had from 1,000 to more than 3,000 acres under licensed cultivation. More than 78,000 acres of Farm Bill “hemp” were grown in 2018 nearly, tripling the less than 26,000 acres grown in 2017.
Now, private citizens as well as agricultural entities across North America are increasingly allowed to grow both industrial hemp (including hemp grain seed crops) as well as seedless drug cannabis for medical and adult use. In some areas this situation sets the stage for potential conflicts until industry self-regulation and enlightened agricultural policies take effect. In the meantime, most regions appear to offer opportunities for everyone.
However, the situation is becoming increasingly convoluted. The U.S. landscape is a complex puzzle of differing jurisdictions, each with its own evolving cannabis scenarios and range of regulatory solutions. Until the advent of the CBD industry, industrial hemp cultivation held little attraction in most regions of the U.S., and largely due to prohibition, most seedless drug cannabis was grown either in remote rural or insular urban settings isolated from any hemp pollen. Many newly cannabis-tolerant jurisdictions may allow Cannabis plants to be grown for whatever end use someone might choose—be it fiber, seed and/or drug.
In many regions across North America, sinsemilla growers arrived decades earlier than the recently arrived “hemp” growers. North American sinsemilla growers pioneered drug cannabis cultivation and established their turfs long ago, largely in agriculturally marginal rural areas not well-suited to broadacre hemp fiber and seed production. California presents several cases in point.
Sparsely populated rural regions of Northern California have been the primary producers of sinsemilla since the 1960s, and since the 1980s indoor, artificial-light growing has become increasingly popular in more urban regions with access to the electrical grid. The established agricultural precedent in both scenarios is drug cannabis production. So far, industrial hemp and hemp seed crops have had little, if any, effect. It is really up to the growers of seedless high-THC and high-CBD drug crops to defend their turf (especially outdoor cultivation, which is common in California and expanding elsewhere) from the potential pollen threat of seeded crops.
Seeds or Seedless: What’s the (End) Use?
Seed-grown cultivars will always remain popular for broadacre farming of hemp seed and fiber crops as well as cannabinoid and terpenoid crops. We predict that consistently improving newly developed clones will feed the connoisseur cannabis (drug) dry flower market, while broadacre cultivation from seed will supply the majority of future market demand for extract-based products worldwide.
On the West Coast, state cannabis grower associations are striving to establish sinsemilla production regions based on climate and terroir similar to the appellation system used in wine branding. These groups have grown organically from illicit rural grower communities and provide good examples of self-regulation of our industry from within by a group of peers. Appellation membership will likely require qualified farmers to grow only female plants from cuttings, and the sowing of seeds (a possible source of male plants and contaminating pollen) will be strictly controlled.
Both industrial and medical hemp crops are most profitably produced under broadacre agriculture, while sinsemilla flower crops are most profitably produced under glass. California’s Sacramento, San Joaquin, Imperial and Salinas valleys present examples of regions where potentially conflicting business models may clash. Many growers in these traditionally broadacre farm and orchard regions have switched to glasshouse production of vegetables, bedding and house plants, and cut flowers. Sinsemilla flower growers will move into regions where glasshouses are readily available, and local regulations usually stipulate that existing glasshouse infrastructure must be utilized. This places seedless growers near neighboring broadacre farms where it is also economically feasible to grow fiber and seed hemp.
Southern California provides an even more dynamic terrain. As urban areas grow, cultivators occupy former farmlands that still border active agricultural zones. And, traditional broadacre farming regions that previously grew few if any sinsemilla or hemp crops are now open to the growing of either one or both.
These scenarios exemplify the need for agricultural authorities to take responsibility for local regulation of their cannabis industries before conflicts between growers arise. There are few established historical and agricultural precedents for either sinsemilla or hemp growing in prime agricultural regions. These areas produce many crops profitably, and as with other crops, are where the future of commercial cannabis production for many different products will be focused.
Given that sinsemilla (seedless) growers have zero tolerance for seeds in their flowers, buffer zones around pollen-producing crops should start with at least a 10-mile radius. Safe distances should be increased to up to 30 miles or more if the pollen source is a broadacre grain seed field or if seedless crops are established down wind of seeded crops. Agriculture officials can make “pollen risk” assessments and generate pollen maps for mixed cropping regions where both seedless and seeded crops may be grown. Local cannabis appellations can enforce their own in-house rules to ensure that members remain compliant by growing only female cuttings.
In addition to industry self-regulation, agricultural policies concerning cannabis cultivation will become agriculture department initiatives, influencing state and eventually federal legislation to delineate which regions are reserved for broadacre hemp seed, hemp fiber and/or drug production from seeded plants. We expect that farming regions where broadacre agriculture is already the norm and where fewer sinsemilla growers operate than many other regions will be where hemp seed and fiber crops will be grown. Sinsemilla growers simply won’t settle in these regions, and the few who live there already will likely move.
Regulatory allowances must also be made for certain branches of our industry. Drug cannabis breeders rely on sowing seeds in their search for novel traits, and cannabis seed companies rely on carefully controlled pollinations to produce consistent offspring. The threat of stray pollen is minimal, and seed companies should be allowed to responsibly produce small amounts of pollen for research purposes.
Many suffered and lives were lost in disputes between frontier cattle and sheep grazers over the best use of Midwestern grazing pastures. Let’s hope our cannabis community will have the foresight to avoid predictable calamities. There are many economic factors in the mix, and guidelines for establishing enlightened agricultural policies in each region should be established soon before push comes to shove. In the end, it is really about growers gaining deeper awareness of their local situation and doing their best to be good neighbors.
How will various jurisdictions with differing constituencies and priorities create equitable policies for the control of stray cannabis pollen in sinsemilla-only areas?
People are quirky, and there will always be a few individuals who will grow fiber or seed hemp in regions where drug crops are commonly grown, and there will be others who try to grow seedless cannabis flowers where seed hemp is well established, but these will be exceptions to the local norms. Across North America, effective and fair regulation of our burgeoning cannabis industry will largely rely on understanding which branch of our industry was established in each region first, and whether a precedent exists for its continuation; ultimately, policy decisions will be based on which end use offers the most income (including compliance costs, local trade, employment and taxes) to local and state jurisdictions.
Local, state and federal agriculture organizations should ultimately control cannabis licensing and permitting, first in local jurisdictions and eventually nationwide. Agricultural officials must take stock of regional conditions and become sensitive to the unfolding cannabis industry and determine the traditional basis for cannabis economics in their region. If sinsemilla growers have contributed to the economic viability of their local economy, albeit illegally, then they should be invited to have a strong voice in determining future cannabis policies and regulations.
Mojave Richmond is the developer of many award-winning varieties such as S.A.G.E., which served as a springboard for creating many notable cultivars. Richmond is a founding member of the international consulting company BioAgronomics Group. [email protected]
Robert C. Clarke is a freelance writer, photographer, ethnobotanist, plant breeder, textile collector and co-founder of BioAgronomics Group Consultants, specializing in smoothing the transition to a wholly legal and normalized cannabis market. [email protected]