Autoflower, feminized, and photoperiod (regular) are all options you may be confronted with when it comes time to buy cannabis seeds. Autoflowering promises predictable growth, with no need to fuss with light schedules. Feminized seeds promise no wasted space or time sexing out males. Photoperiod (or normal cannabis seeds) are needed for breeding, experimenting and guaranteed rigorous growth. Every grower has an opinion about what type of seed is best, but it always comes down to growth expectations, space restrictions, and personal opinion.
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Here are the basic details on autoflower versus feminized versus old-fashioned, unadulterated normal cannabis seeds. By the end, you'll have the information you need to make an informed decision.
|Predictable growth, no need for light schedule changes, rapid harvest, small size, ~10 weeks to harvest
|Smaller yield and bud size, risk of stunting and reducing yield
|Small spaces, quick harvest, SOG cultivation
|No males, saving time and space, consistent female growth
|Need for light schedule changes. Typically more expensive.
|Strict plant count, avoiding sexing
|Most stable, allows for natural breeding, generally cheaper, potential for larger yield
|Light schedule changes, risk of males
|Traditional growers, breeders, larger spaces
Autoflowering Strains 101
Autoflower, as the name suggests, will launch into flower at the appointed time, no matter what, typically between 2 to 4 weeks. While regular photoperiod plants need changes in the day/night light schedule to trigger a transition from vegetative into flower.
A typical auto-flowering strain will be ready to harvest between 60 to 90 days after germination. Conventional photoperiod varieties take a minimum of 90 days but can run upwards of six or seven months, depending on the environment and cultivator preference.
Why are auto-flowering varieties different? They contain ruderalis genetics. This is a third landrace strain, like indica and a sativa. Thanks to comprehensive cannabis breeding programs, most established and popular strains are available in regular and auto-flowering varieties.
Autoflowering is useful for pumping out several harvests in the same time it would take to grow a single conventional variety. They typically grow smaller (perfect for small indoor spaces) and are more predictable in growth rate and pattern. As a bonus, you will be able to sex your plants within roughly 21 days and maintain the same light schedule (18:6) for the entire operation.
According to experienced cultivators, it can be nice to grow a few auto-flowering varieties while you veg out the main regular strains. The small size also works well for Sea of Green cultivation. The problem with autoflower strains? Compared with their photoperiod counterparts, their harvests are smaller, including bud size and quantity. Many people also feel that even the cannabinoid and terpene profiles are not as good as the normal varieties.
Feminized Seeds 101
Feminized seeds are preselected female seeds. Typically, when growers refer to feminized seeds, they're referring to feminized photoperiod seeds, but autoflower seeds are typically feminized as well. Regular seeds do exist in both autoflower and photoperiod types.
The benefit of spending the extra money on feminized seeds is that there is little to no risk of wasting time on sexing males. According to some reports, regular seeds run the risk of producing a male approximately a third of the time.
For small-scale indoor operations, or those legally capped at a strict number of plants, feminized seeds make a lot of sense. Why waste time and resources raising a male when you can start with already-feminized seeds?
Feminized seeds are a human-made creation. Breeders and seed sellers use colloidal silver or other chemicals to inhibit ethylene production in a female plant before it goes to seed. Ethylene is a hormone produced during flower by cannabis plants. The treated plants result in almost 100 percent female seeds.
Feminized seeds are specialized and are therefore more expensive to produce and, for the consumer, more expensive to buy. But, many growers prefer feminized seeds because they make growing that much smoother.
Still, even feminized seeds come with a risk. The chemical retardation of ethylene production also increases the risk of developing a hermaphrodite plant, which can appear far later than a male would. As per one forum post, "The way I look at feminized seeds, simply put they are hermaphrodites in disguise. Yes, you are more likely to produce females yet they still carry the herm gene."
Regular (Photoperiod) Seeds 101
Regular seeds produced the way nature intended them are photoperiod. They will need transitions in light schedule and will grow both male and female plants. Female cannabis plants produce seeds when exposed to pollen produced by male plants. It's the birds and the bees, cannabis edition.
There is a long-standing tradition among growers to value the vigour, variety, and purity offered by regular seeds. There are notable differences in the quantity between auto-flowering strains and their regular counterparts, but what about regular and feminized differences?
These differences may be more lore than reality. To be sure, using synthetic chemicals or colloidal silver to produce feminized seeds can pose risks to both the plant and the people, but there are methods of executing this safely these days.
To date, there is no real evidence (scientific or cultivator case study) that indicates feminized seeds show any less vigour, yield or resin production than the regular seeds.
Regular seeds are much cheaper than feminized. Many growers, who have space, may want to take the birds and the bees into their own hands to maintain genetics or breed new experiments. Having male plants around, when done correctly, is a valuable endeavour.
What is Best for Cultivators: Autoflower, Feminized or Regular?
What convinces a cultivator to grow auto-flower versus regular, or feminized versus regular? Often it comes down to cultivation experience, the primary goal for the harvest, and time or space constraints.
Small indoor spaces, growing one round at a time, may want to stick with autoflower strains. Larger operations looking to sell their harvests but need to stick to a specific plant count may choose feminized. Finally, those who love a traditional approach and are blessed with lots of space will likely stick with regular photoperiod seeds.
If you're going to want to keep a mother plant and take clones off of it, skip autoflowers. If you want to pop a new seed every 3 weeks and add it to your tent for a constant supply of fresh herb, then autoflower is the answer. If you want to breed your own strain, you will want regular seeds where you will likely do a phenohunt and select your most favorable traits and keep those as parents. As always, there are as many opinions on the matter as there are people growing weed.