What Are Autoflower Seeds?
If you plan on growing your own cannabis, then you will notice three categories of seeds: regular, autoflowering or autoflower, and feminized. Those unfamiliar with cannabis or growing plants, in general, may not be sure exactly what these terms mean.
To put it simply, regular seeds are just the typical cannabis seeds that occur naturally, without any changes made to them. Autoflower seeds will transition to the flowering stage at a specific time, regardless of light conditions. Feminized seeds will only produce female cannabis plants.
With that quick overview in mind, take a closer look at what autoflowering seeds are and how you can use them when growing cannabis.
Defining Autoflower Seeds
Those who just want to understand autoflowering seeds at the most basic level will likely be happy with a quick definition. As mentioned, these seeds switch to the flowering stage automatically.
Essentially, they transition from the stage of vegetative growth to that of flowering after a certain amount of time has passed in their growth cycle. This contrasts with regular cannabis seeds, which rely on environmental cues, such as changes in lighting, to enter the flowering stage. If you do not use autoflowering seeds, you would need to carefully adjust the amount of light and dark hours your plants have to trigger this stage.
Additionally, you can easily find numerous cannabis autoflowering strains that have quick growth cycles. In fact, many will go from seed to being ready to harvest in 10 weeks or less.
History of Autoflowering Seeds
No one is positive which autoflower cannabis seeds came first, although there are several theories.
We Know It Comes From Ruderalis
The one thing that experts agree on is that autoflowering seeds come from the genetics of cannabis ruderalis. This type of cannabis grew in northern areas of the world with short summers. As such, they adapted to grow with less light, which led to flowering based on age.
Keep in mind that cannabis ruderalis does not have anywhere near the potency of cannabis sativa or cannabis indica, which is why you will almost never find it in your local dispensary or for sale for consumption. Instead, it is more commonly found in hybrids, where breeders can make use of its characteristics along with the potency of sativa or indica.
It is probably safe to assume that the autoflowering cannabis seeds that you find today will have at least some cannabis ruderalis in their genetic history, no matter how small or far back.
First Bred and Marketed Strains
The first autoflower to be marketed on a large scale is called Lowryder. It was from a breeder known as The Joint Doctor. Lowryder features some genetics from a cannabis ruderalis strain that is Mexican and was called the Mexican Ruby. Experts believe that the Mexican Ruby was the result of a Russian ruderalis being crossed with a Mexican sativa.
Yet another theory behind the first autoflowering seeds is that the genetics come from Finola, the very first of the oilseed hemp varieties. Finola was developed in Finland using a Russian stock in 1995. Finola was an early hybrid that carried a large amount of cannabis ruderalis genes. Still, it missed many of the traits people look for in the cannabis strains they typically consume.
Both Lowryder and Finola certainly played a role in the breeding of early autoflowering strains, as they provided an obvious starting point for breeders. Additionally, breeders used other strains that have shown sensitivities to the photoperiods.
Autoflowering Seeds Do Not Require Photoperiod Changes – Advantage
The biggest reason that many people choose autoflowering seeds over others is the lack of requirement for changing the photoperiod or light cycle. Remember that to grow most cannabis strains, you have to trigger the change to the flowering phase by making adjustments to the amount of light that the plant gets. Many beginners prefer not to have to deal with this, and even advanced growers appreciate the convenience it provides.
Those who prefer to grow outside will also get the unique benefit of being able to produce more than one cycle a year. Since the cycle changes are not dependent on the natural sunlight, you can start growing cannabis at any point, provided it is not too cold outside.
Autoflowering Seeds Have Quicker Grow Cycles – Advantage
One of the many reasons that growers opt for autoflowering seeds over others is due to their tendency to have shorter grow cycles. In most cases, an autoflower strain will have a much shorter grow cycle than other indica or sativa strains. As mentioned, the entire growth cycle may be less than 10 weeks. Quick One, for example, only needs about eight weeks while Royal Dwarf needs eight or nine weeks.
This quick grow cycle provides numerous benefits, both for those growing for personal use and commercial growers. Anyone can fit more growth cycles into the year with autoflower seeds, and they will also be able to start at square one and get a yield much more quickly.
Autoflowering Seeds Tend to Be Compact - Advantages
Another strong advantage of autoflowering seeds is that most autoflower strains are compact and small, although there are exceptions to this rule. Some people may see this as positive traits, while others find them to be negative. Most people who opt for autoflowering strains, however, believe it to be a good thing.
The small size of autoflowering strains means that you need less space to grow them. Considering that most people who grow cannabis do so indoors where space is limited, this is a very strong point in favor of the strains.
There are two main sides to this particular benefit. If you only have a small amount of space in which to grow cannabis, an autoflower strain may fit somewhere that another one would not.
On the other hand, regardless of how much space you have in your grow room, you will be able to fit more autoflowering plants than you would other strains due to their compact size.
Depending on where you live, you may also appreciate the fact that the compact size of autoflowering strains make them more discreet. Even if you live somewhere where cannabis is legal, there may still be negative public opinions regarding it, which would make this discretion very important.
Some People Dislike Compact Strains – Disadvantage
It is important to note that while many people appreciate the compact size of autoflower strains and see this as an advantage, some growers see it as a disadvantage. While you can fit more of the individual plants in a space, that is not always the goal of a grower.
Many growers who have an abundance of space would rather opt for fewer plants that are bigger instead of a larger number of smaller plants. They see this as less work for the same amount of yield.
Autoflower Strains Have Reduced THC Content – Potential Disadvantage
It is also important to note that most autoflower strains will have lower THC content than regular strains. For many growers, this is a disadvantage since the point of growing cannabis is usually the THC.
This is only a potential disadvantage because of the range of caveats that it comes with. First of all, not all autoflowering strains will have lower THC levels than the average cannabis strain. You can find autoflower strains with a full range of THC levels, depending on what you want. You just need to be aware that it is much harder to find an autoflower with extremely high THC content. If, however, you want something on the higher end of average, you should have at least a few options.
The other thing to note is that not everyone wants high potency from their cannabis. Some people prefer low to moderate THC content, so they can enjoy some effects without being completely overwhelmed. In this case, the low THC content of autoflowering strains would be an advantage.
Growers Must Take Care With Lighting Costs – Potential Disadvantage
Another potential disadvantage of using autoflowering strains is that you may find yourself paying more in electricity bills if you are not careful. This comes from the fact that lighting changes are not crucial to the plant’s growth cycle. For some people, this is an invitation to be lazy when it comes to controlling the lighting of the grow space. That will likely result in leaving the lights on too often, which would lead to an increase in the electric bill.
Of course, this particular disadvantage is only a potential problem since it is easy to avoid. All you have to do is make sure you do not overuse the lighting, and this should not be a problem.
Autoflowering Seeds Can Be Feminized
One thing to keep in mind about autoflowering seeds is that they can also be feminized. This is a good option for those who want the advantages of autoflower seeds but also want to know that all of their seeds will turn into female plants.
If you choose to get autoflower seeds that are not feminized, then they will include both male and female seeds. You will have to germinate and start growing all of the seeds. Then, when they begin to pre-flower, you will need to identify the males and remove them, assuming that your goal is to produce buds with THC.
Tips for Growing Autoflower Seeds
Growing autoflower seeds is very similar to growing any other type of cannabis, but there are a few unique considerations. Most importantly, you will be less concern about the lighting, and the growth cycle will speed up. That quicker growth cycle means that you need to plan ahead a bit more than you would with non-autoflower strains.
Topping Plants Early On
Although you do not have to, some growers suggest that you train your cannabis plants by topping them after they develop three modes as a way to promote evenness in the canopy. Alternatively, you could pull the plant sideways and down as a way to encourage upward growth. Do not do this after the flowering begins.
Keep the Climate In Mind
Because autoflower seeds do not have specific light requirements, it is common to grow them at any time of the year. There is no problem with this course of action, provided that you keep the general climate conditions in mind, especially if you grow outside. Pay particular attention to rain and cold.
Do Not Overfeed
Compared to other types of cannabis strains, autoflower ones do not typically require heavy feeding. This comes from a combination of their shorter time spent in vegetative growth and their smaller size. In addition to requiring less food, autoflower seeds also require less nitrogen and other vegetative growth nutrients.
Harvest Them Gradually
In most cases, an autoflowering plant will not have enough time to grow a canopy. As such, you will keep the buds that grow on the plant’s lower portions. That distinction makes it wiser to harvest the plants in a sequential manner. Ideally, you will first harvest the colas. Then you will wait a little so that the lower buds can dense up before harvesting them.
You Can Grow Continuously
If you want to, the short growth cycle of autoflower seeds means that you can keep a continuous cycle of growth going in your green room. Start by popping and otherwise preparing the seeds for your next group of autoflower plants before you harvest the current ones.
You can even have multiple plants in varying stages of growth in your space with the same lighting and other conditions since the light does not provide cues for autoflowering plants.
The Bottom Line
Autoflower seeds are a type of cannabis seed that moves from the vegetative growth stage to the flowering stage automatically after a certain amount of time has passed in its growth cycle, regardless of the light ratios. Autoflower strains also tend to have shorter growth cycles and are more compact, which are traits many growers appreciate. You can choose to get feminized or regular autoflower seeds, depending on your preferences.