Are Cannabis Plants Perennial?

December 6, 2016

When it comes to understanding cannabis plants, there are many questions regarding their growth, including whether cannabis plants are perennial.

 

Defining Perennials and Their Advantages

Keep in mind that a perennial is any plant that will grow for two years or longer. Because of that, it is natural for growers to prefer a perennial plant. 

After all, this prevents the need to buy more seeds or baby cannabis plants and lets you avoid the delicate stage of growing a sapling. 

It also lets you skip the step of determining the plants’ sex after the first year, saving you time as well as resources. Essentially, growing perennials would let you save a significant amount of time and hassle.

 

Most Cannabis Plants Are Annual

Traditionally, the cannabis plant is an annual. This means that it will last just a single growing season in which it goes through just one growth cycle. The fact that cannabis grows from seeds instead of using root systems also contributes to its status as an annual plant instead of a perennial.

If growers are following nature, the cannabis plant begins its life in spring as it is a seedling. It will then flower during the summer and be ready to harvest in the fall. Since the plant naturally developed to follow this type of growth cycle, it is not healthy for it to make changes. If you were to try to take an annual cannabis plant and have it grow like a perennial, the plant’s health would likely suffer.

Some people wonder how an annual plant can be so abundant in the wild in certain areas. After all, if it is an annual, it should die off after a season. The abundance of cannabis comes from the fact that it is a weed, making it great at self-sowing.

 

The Typical Cannabis Cycle

The typical life cycle for a cannabis plant will start in the spring. Maturation typically occurs in summer and the plant tends to grow the large buds in autumn. There are also some autoflower versions of cannabis that will have a quicker growth cycle. In those cases, the entire growth and life cycle of a cannabis plant may only be four months.

Additionally, cannabis plants have a cloning mechanism. Using that, you could theoretically grow clones of the same cannabis plant for years on end. To do that, however, you would need to keep the cannabis mother plant in the light 24 hours a day. While you would still be able to use that plant for cloning with great results, it would not produce any more buds.

In most cases, cannabis plants are vigorous growers that are hardy. The plant tends to do best when grown in well-drained soil with full sun. Even so, it can grow well in a full range of climates.

The typical wild cannabis plant will only last a single season, typically between five and 10 months. Most cannabis strains are photoperiod sensitive, meaning that whether they flower depends on how much uninterrupted darkness they get. Too much of that uninterrupted darkness will lead to the plant not flowering.

 

It May Have Once Been a Perennial

Cannabis is dioecious, meaning a gendered plant. It is the only annual plant within this category. Because of that, some plant scientists believe that cannabis plants from long ago were perennials. This may have changed as the climate that the plant grew in changed since the plant needed to adapt.

Based on this theory, it would be feasible to find perennial cannabis plants in tropical and sub-tropical areas. Those plants would flower during the fall before entering a slow growth period. At spring, the plants would return to their vegetative growth stage before flowing again come fall.

 

Growing Conditions Are Also a Factor

The growing conditions for a cannabis plant will also severely limit its ability to function as a perennial. In areas with cold winters, the frost will kill the plant unless it is grown indoors in a highly controlled environment.

In areas with more temperate climates, it is more common for cannabis plants to act like perennials. Most anecdotal evidence of wild cannabis plants that continue growing year after year tends to be in these temperature regions.

Despite this, there are certain strains of cannabis that adapted to do well in even the harshest of climates. The perfect example is ruderalis, which can complete its life cycle incredibly quickly and survive Siberian winters despite the sub-zero soils.

 

Perennial Cannabis Plants Exist

Although the majority of cannabis plants are annual, you can find those that are perennial. Some companies claim to have developed their own cannabis seeds that grow the plant for decades on end. The problem, however, is that these are still just claims. You will not usually find concrete testing and information to back up the claims. Furthermore, the prices for these supposed perennial seeds are astronomic.

The first company to produce these perennials was BC SEEDS. Their Forever Buds are genetically modified, but very expensive and with minimal evidence to back up their abilities. These are genetically modified buds, but if you want to give them a try, expect to shell out $100,000. The company claims the buds will last decades. The reviews of the buds are somewhat mixed, with many high reviews, a reasonable number of low ones, and plenty of middle-ground reviews. This is an option for someone who wants perennial cannabis plants, but it is somewhat of a gamble and an expensive one at that.

Given the price of these seeds, you would be better off just dealing with the costs of starting new cannabis plants each year. The perennial seeds could pay off if they work, but it would take decades.

 

You Can Treat Your Annual Like a Perennial

Various methods let you turn your cannabis plant into a perennial. After all, in nature, cannabis plants typically keep enough of their leaves between cycles to enter an additional vegetative cycle when the season changes. This can even repeat until the plant is around a decade old.

The caveat, however, is that these methods rarely produce the same quality buds and flowers as an annual cannabis plant.

 

Turn the Plant Into Cuttings

It is also possible to treat your cannabis plant like a perennial, but this will not lead to very good results. In this case, you would only harvest a very little of the plant. Instead, snip the flowers as you would for cuttings, including on the areas you would normally harvest.

Right after you snip off those cuttings, put the plant back on the veg nutrients and the schedule you use for the veg growth cycle. Your goal should be to get the plant back into the vegetative growth state, but this is much easier said than done. If you achieve that goal, turn the plant into the maximum number of cuttings that you can. This is a better alternative to letting the plant re-flower, as the quality of your buds will be better.

If you were to simply follow the above steps but let the plant re-flower instead of turning it into cuttings, you will likely be disappointed. The plant was designed to use all its nutrients and energy in that first flowering, so the second round of flowers will be very lackluster.

 

Avoid Producing Seeds

Another option is to grow the cannabis plant, as you normally would but do not let it develop enough to produce seeds. Plant scientists indicate that when the plant gets fertilized and produces its seeds, it will produce a hormone that causes plant death. If you can avoid seed production, you avoid that hormone and let it grow the following year.

 

Anecdotal Evidence to Treating Cannabis as a Perennial

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence online via forums and other accounts indicating that it is possible to treat cannabis as a perennial successfully. Doing so, however, will typically require additional effort. This anecdotal evidence typically applies to indoor plants, not outdoor ones, although there are exceptions.

Many people have gotten their indoor cannabis plants to re-veg and then taking clones and grown the plant. Some note that the resulting cannabis plant delivers reduced potency or taste. Others indicate that they did not notice any differences at all, with the product of this re-vegged cannabis plant being the same as its original version. Based on the contradicting anecdotal evidence, some growers wonder if the difference in success comes down to growing conditions, cannabis strains, or the health of the specific plant in question.

At the very least, the anecdotal evidence seems to indicate that you are more likely to treat your cannabis plant as a perennial successfully if you live in a temperate climate. Even indoor plants in areas with freezing tend to do poorly following their first season.

 

Overcoming Nature Typically Wastes Resources

While there are some ways to get around the annual nature of cannabis plants, few growers will suggest you follow those methods. In most cases, your results will not be as good as if you had simply planted a new cannabis plant for the year. Additionally, you will likely find yourself spending more time on tricking the plant into growing again than you would on a new plant.

The wasted time and potential increase in resources used will typically make it more economical to simply grow a new cannabis plant. This is particularly true when you factor in the difference in quality in many cases.

 

It Can Also Put Extra Strain on the Plant

Additionally, the changes in lighting necessary to use many of the previously mentioned methods will add unnecessary stress to the plant. That may reduce the quality of the buds and flowers. It will also likely lead to the plant dying earlier than expected.

 

Success Depends on the Strain

There is also some evidence that whether or not you can get a cannabis plant to keep growing over the years will depend on its strain. Cannabis sativa plants are the tropical versions that are known for being large. You are much more likely to successfully get these plants to turn into perennials. By contrast, cannabis indica tends to be smaller with a limited life span. You are much less likely to have favorable results if you try to regrow that strain.

Even the light requirements for cannabis sativa plants tend to be more favorable for perennial growing. Certain strains of cannabis sativa that grow in the tropics, for example, will only need about 12 hours of light to stop flowering. This means that in nature, those strains do not undergo a regular vegetative period. Instead, they evolved to develop a photoperiod. Thanks to this period, they can flower when they just dip below 12 hours of light each day.

 

Why You May Want to Re-veg the Cannabis Plant

Despite the additional time and resources necessary to re-veg a cannabis plant, there are some popular reasons that growers choose to do so. The most obvious reason is that by re-vegging, you do not need to buy another cannabis plant or seeds and start from scratch with the growing process.

Sometimes, growers will want to keep a particular phenotype active because of its quality. If you are proactive about growing, you will probably take a clone of the plant before you let it enter the flowering state. However, if you forget to do so, you would lose the phenotype when it starts flowering. In this case, re-vegging will be your only option to preserve the phenotype exactly.

Other times, you may want to re-veg a cannabis plant so that you do not have to keep the mother plant around. This is a popular option in situations where you previously kept the mother plant to have a steady supply of clones. When you cannot dedicate sufficient space anymore, re-vegging is an alternative.

 

Instead of Perennials, Try Staggering

Since you are unlikely to be able to grow cannabis that is a true perennial, you need to look for other options if you want continual harvesting of cannabis. One of the best options is to opt for staggering the plants, which involves planting the seedlings in batches.

Plant and germinate the first group of seedlings and in a few weeks, do the next batch. Repeat until you have filled all your space. This way, you will be able to harvest cannabis every few weeks during the appropriate season.

 

Calculating Staggering

You will want to examine your needs and available space when determining how to stagger your cannabis growth. If you grow cannabis for your consumption, then you would likely want to do this with just a single plant per batch, with several months between them. Commercial growers will want larger groups and shorter periods, such as around a month, between the germination of consecutive groups.

Ideally, you will start by determining how many cannabis plants you can fit in your space. Then, determine how much of the year you want to grow the plants during. From there, you should figure out how often you want to be able to harvest, taking into account the maturation period of your cannabis strain. You should also use that maturation period to see how many full-growth cycles each plant location can undergo in a year. You can then divide the number of harvests per year by your available space to determine how many plants to include in each batch.

When determining your staggering schedule, keep in mind that cannabis flowers will degrade if left alone too long. As such, you do not want to grow more than you need, assuming you grow for personal use.

 

The Takeaway: Cannabis Plants Are Annual

When it comes down to it, cannabis plants are annuals. They typically only grow for one season and then die off after harvesting. There is lots of anecdotal evidence of cannabis lasting more than one season, including in nature, but this is not common and frequently not proven.

There are some ways to get cannabis to grow for more than a season. Using these methods, however, tends to be very time-consuming as well as resource-intensive, requiring a great deal of light. Additionally, the resulting flowers and buds may not be the as high quality as those from the first season. You can also buy genetically engineered cannabis seeds that claim to last decades. However, those seeds are incredibly expensive, and they have mixed reviews.

The best option for growers is to treat cannabis plants like the annual that they are.

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