Autoflowering – What You Need to Know… and How to Grow
The trick with autoflowering cannabis plants is to appreciate them for what they are… and not criticize them for what they are not!
Autoflowers are cannabis plants that have been specifically bred to flower based on their age (rather than regular and feminized seeds that flower depending on the ratio of darkness and light). This makes them ideally suited for growing outdoors in the northern hemisphere.
The basis of the autoflower is the genetics of a curious hemp plant, cannabis ruderalis, that thrives in regions above 50 degrees north of the equator – from Poland, through central Russia and China.
Because of the inhospitable climate, this amazing plant has evolved to be small and bushy and develop a flowering cycle that is adapted to long days of light in the northern hemisphere summer .
For many years, its potential was dismissed because of its low THC content, but with advances in breeding techniques it became possible to cross the ruderalis with more potent genetics. This has produced a new generation of autoflowering cannabis plants that offer an increased THC content and yield offering a viable solution for growers.
Now, back to that appreciation!... While they are not for everybody, autoflowers are ideal for:
- Beginners – The ruderalis genes makes these plants more resistant to disease and mould
- Speed – They grow fast and flower quick. Ideal for the impatient grower!
- Quality – With the kind of good genetics Paradise Seeds provides expect a good smoke.
- Self Sufficiency – Ideal if you are more interested in a personal than commercial crop
- Space Restriction – Their size makes them perfect for small gardens and balconies
- Nosey Neighbors – their size also makes them easy to camouflage!
- Northern Summers – Let’s face it, before autoflowers, growing in the northern hemisphere was a real drag. Rejoice! Autoflowers have brought the northerners a weed to call their own!
To make the most of your Paradise Seeds auto flowering varieties, we have prepared a 10 step program designed to help you optimize your growth and achieve the best from your harvests.
Read on, learn, enjoy!
1: When to Plant. Timing is Everything!
The beauty of autoflowering cannabis plants is that they will begin to flower after 2-3 weeks and will be ready for harvesting after 10 to 12 weeks. This means that the outdoor gardener has the potential for two, or even three, crops in the course of one year.
As every gardener will tell you, getting your timing right is very important. Our basic guideline is:
- Plant outside between May 1st and July 1st
- Harvest outside from the end of July to the end of September
We recommend germinating your seeds at the beginning of May and planting them outside in the middle of the month (May 15th). This coincides with the change to ‘late spring’ (called Isjhelligen in Holland)– traditionally noted by gardeners as the date when night frosts have passed.
If you plant too early, your harvests are likely to be premature and smaller. By following our guidelines, your autoflowering plants will benefit from as much natural light as possible.
2: Germinating: Birth Your Seeds!
When your Paradise Seeds package of cannabis seeds arrives, make sure you store them right. Yes, they are sealed, but like any seed they do not like fluctuations in temperature or high humidity. Ideally, store them in a fridge or a cool drawer or cupboard.
To germinate your seed place it in a glass of lukewarm water and put in a dark place for 12 hours. Do note however that if you live a in a city or have water with a high chlorine, treat your seed to a glass of distilled or spring water (the pH should be 6-7). Remove the seed and place it on a bed of moist tissue paper, with more wet tissue over the top of it - make sure to drain off the excess water. You can store this between two plates or inside a sealed baggie in a warmish spot (make sure not so warm the paper dries out) and within 3 days your seed should sprout.
3 Early Days: Give The Best Start!
We recommend that you plant your cannabis seed into the pot it will spend the rest of its life in. We suggest using a 4-10 litre pot. Fill it with good quality soil.
Because the mineral content of this soil will burn your root if exposed too early, make a small hole (1 knuckle deep) and fill with seed/seedling soil . Place your seed in this and cover with a plastic dome to create a micro climate that encourages the seed to grow.
The simplest solution is to cut a plastic bottle in half. Use the half with the lid. Remove the lid and place the dome over the seed. This is ideal for letting the seed grow in the first few days, inside or outside. Once the first leaves are showing, remove it.
4 Growing: Get Your Medium Right!
Your growing medium should be airy to ensure good drainage as well as water retention. The ideal pH should be between 5.8 – 6.5. There are many good quality soils available from nurseries , plant and grow shops. There is little to choose between them, although organic is recommended – remember, what you are planting in you are taking out of!
You can also search the web for soil recipes. You can also add elements such as coco, clay pellets or perlite to increase the airiness of the soil and give those roots some space to grow.
5 Watering: Less is More!
One of the most damaging things you can do to your plant is over water. The roots will become suffocated and your plant will be unable to draw nutrients to the plant. A good rule of thumb is to water when the soil at the top of the plant becomes dry (it should be moist further down).
A common mistake a beginner makes is to over water or overfeed with nutrients. If a cannabis plant is over watered then its growth will be stunted. Often a beginner will take this as a sign that the plant is not growing… and give it more water and nutrients (which is a bit like holding a drowning man under the water some more!)
One option is to lift up your pot and see how heavy it is (it helps if you have some idea how heavy it is when it is dry (eg do a tester after you have repotted). Some soft pot manufacturers suggest watering the plants with 20% of the volume of the pot (for example, an 11 liter pot needs 2.2 liters every watering).
If you do not trust your watering technique, perhaps research systems that self-water or monitor the humidity in the soil (such as Autopot or Blumat).
Note: It is important is your roots have period of relative dryness, before getting a new watering – the tap root will follow the water level down and spread its roots as a result.
6 Feeding: Light Snack, Not a Heavy Meal!
An autoflowering cannabis seed will produce a plant that is smaller and more compact. As a result the roots are lighter and more fragile than those found on their regular or feminized cousins. For this reason, don’t overfeed.
If you start with a good base soil then you should not have to worry about nutrients for the first 3 - 4 weeks. There are many specialist gardening soils to choose from that have all the right components for healthy growth or you could mix your own.
You may want to enhance root production in the early days and there are plenty of booster products on the market to do this. You should follow instructions on the packet carefully. If you have a garden, a compost brew juice, aerated for 24 hours (there are Youtube videos to show you how to do this) will give your plants a good boost.
7 Pruning: Yes or No?
You may have heard of these terms which are often used to encourage growth and increase yield. Because autoflowers have a limited lifespan they will poorly recover from stressful conditions that are too stressful. For this reason, as a rule, we do not recommend pruning for beginners.
- Pinching – This process of pruning encourages bushy growth. You pinch a plant to remove the main stem, so that it will grow two new stems below the pinch.
- Scrogging – This process trains your plants to grow through a wire screen. The tops rise 3-4 inches above the screen and the rest of the plant is encouraged to bush out below it.
However, if you do want to pursue this route you should avoid pinching and scrogging too late into the flowering stage, and avoid altogether with early flowering plants or those that had a slow start to their growth. For plants that have longer flowering time it is always possible to pinch, using the Less Stressful Technique (LST).
8 Harvest: Don't Be Hasty!
Above all, be patient! Don’t be too hasty to harvest. Autoflower plants generally take an extra week of flowering outdoor than indoor. There are also many different factors that can affect the growing of your plants. For example a first spring grow will lengthen the plant maturation because the sun hours are still increasing. If you plant them after the solstice, on the other hand, you will notice a shorter flowering time by a week or two.
One thing you will notice with autoflowers is that the main tops become ready for harvest some time before the lower branches. This is normal! If possible, harvest the top buds and wait another week to 10 days for the buds on the lower branches to reach their full potential. Waiting this little bit longer will result in added weight, quality and potency.
At this point in the grow, monitor your plants carefully if you are growing outdoors, as environmental factors can come into effect – from heat and cold damage to the growing of mould. With autoflowering varieties you can expect a first harvest of good buds in the middle of summer and up to 3 harvests a year in a greenhouse at 50° latitude North.
9 Harvest Quality: Grow Organic!
Organic growing promotes micro life (bacteria and trichoderma) that stimulates the digestion process, and makes natural nutrients available to the plant.
By combining a good premixed soil with organic nutrients containing extracts of seaweed, guano, molasses, cane sugar extracts, coconut juice, worm compost, your plant has the best life it can get – from start to finish – and you will notice the results.
10 Round 2: Get Your Next Autoflower Grow On!
Autoflowering cannabis plants allow you to harvest at least twice outdoors at 50° North (including parts of the US, Canada, Japan, Belgium, France, Germany, Czech Republic). For those living in the south of Europe, there is the potential to harvest four times!
If we return to our basic guidelines, you will see that with a little bit of planning you can stagger the sowing of your cannabis seeds to produce more harvests:
- Plant outside between May 1st and July 1st
- Harvest outside from the end of July to the end of September
With a greenhouse it is even possible to get a third harvest – the extra protection allowing the planting of seeds in August and a harvest in late October/early November before the winter frosts come. Of course, harvesting later in the year brings its own problems – notably mould – but a well ventilated greenhouse should help.
We hope this simple step by step guide is useful. Do remember though that it is only a guide as circumstances are different for each grower and there are many factors that affect an outdoor grow. With practice comes experience and more of a gardener's sense about the health of your plants.
However, at the same time, follow these steps and you should benefit from healthier autoflower plants and bigger harvests. The Paradise Seeds website has more grow info to help and grow reports for many of our varieties. We wish you a productive summer!
Words and pics from the Paradise Seeds Company
First published in Weed World Magazine edition 117