The term ‘autoflower’ refers to Cannabis plants that switch from the vegetative to flowering phase depending on the age of the plant, rather than the amount of light they receive.
Regular, photoperiod sensitive, strains of Cannabis are grown vegetatively on 18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness and are triggered into flowering by altering the ratio to 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. Reducing the light ‘fools’ the plant into putting out flowers (growing buds); as, in nature, a reduction in daylight hours would mean that Autumn is approaching and the plant needs to reproduce.
Autoflowering plants will begin to produce buds, regardless of the amount of light they receive. Grown from seed, the plants will begin to develop buds from around 3 to 4 weeks old. There is no need to reduce the amount of light hours they receive.
In an outdoor situation, regular Cannabis Sativa and Indica varieties can take 6 months from planting to harvest. Grown indoors, they can take 3 months to harvest.
In contrast to this, autoflowering strains will grow from seed to harvest within 8 to 10 weeks. This means that you plant them alongside your regular outdoor crop and have a nice harvest in the middle of the season!
Basically speaking, you plant the seed, wait for it to germinate, propagate for a couple of weeks and then move into your final container. No need for clones, no need for separate vegging and flowering rooms and no need to change the timers on your lights.
Autos are the fastest, easy to grow and most compact (and easy to hide) plants available on the market.
Put simply, breeders cross Indica and Sativa varieties to produce mixed strains containing the positive characteristics from both parents. Check online or on the back of seed packets and the breeder / seed bank will usually advertise the % of Cannabis Indica and Sativa in that strain.
Autoflowering strains introduce a third Cannabis variety; the Cannabis Ruderalis. Reports vary, but it is largely thought that this variety originated in South East Russia and spread into China and further East. As a smoker or grower, the pure Ruderalis plant is of little interest; it grows small in height – up to around 60cm – produces few female flowers and the buds that it does produce contain relatively little THC.
However, as a breeder, the Ruderalis contains a very interesting characteristic; the variety has the ability to grow from seed to adult in around 10 weeks (allowing it to grow in cooler climates, with less available light). Also, the female Ruderalis quickly generates flowers without needing a reduction in daylight ours. It flowers when it reaches a certain age, rather than being dependant on light. It autoflowers!
The first crosses of the Ruderalis plant weren’t particularly popular but, as different breeders and seed banks got involved, the quality quickly improved.
Now you can get autoflowering varieties of many of your favourite strains and the majority of them are also feminised – no need to sex your plants or change your lighting, what could be easier?
Autos have quickly become popular within the Cannabis community; here’s why;
- Ideal for beginners (or lazy growers!) – no change in photoperiod to worry about, no need for separate vegging and flowering rooms. Just plant your seed, propagate for a couple of weeks and let the genetics do their thing. Get an Auto feminised seed and you don’t even need to sex your plants.
Also, the small stature of the Auto plant lends itself well to the inexperienced grower who needs to concentrate on feeding and creating the correct environment, rather than pruning or training their plants to ensure they don’t outgrow their room.
- More outdoor harvests – because Autos begin flowering automatically, growing outdoors and starting a crop early in the year (weather permitting) means that you’ll be harvesting in the middle of summer. Overlapping your planting and harvest times by a week or so means that, even in the UK, you could conceivably pull 3 outdoor harvests in a year!! The short growth cycle also allows you to start an outdoor crop later in the year. So, if we have a crap spring (and we usually do!) you can plant well into the summer months and still pull an outdoor harvest.
- Grow outdoors, up North! – growers in the North of England and Scotland can conceivably grow an Auto outdoor crop now that they are not reliant on a mild spring and consistent daylight hours.
- Hardy plants – the Cannabis Ruderalis influence in the genetics of Auto strains means that they are more resistant to the cold weather, disease and moulds (they grew up in Russia and Siberia after all!). This is handy for outdoor growing in the UK and for newer growers who don’t have the experience maintain a stable temperature in their grow room.
- Small in size – most of the Auto strains (with the exclusion of the ‘Super Autos’) will remain small. This is perfect for growers with a small room or grow tents and for guerrilla growers looking for an easy to conceal plant.
- Beat your mates! – we all know that loose lips sink ships (and get grows busted!), but we also know that there is some healthy competition between friends who are growers. Beat them to the harvest time with an Auto strain!
- Interesting for hobby breeders – the Auto strains show their sex after just 3 weeks and a female can produce 100’s of seeds despite standing less than 2 feet tall! The fast harvest time means that you can cross and produce quickly. One tip: the Auto trait tends to be recessive, so if you breed with a photoperiod sensitive plant (rather than another Auto), you are likely to lose the autoflowering characteristic.
Every positive has a negative, every ying needs a yang! Autos are no exception;
- Much reduced harvest – you will crop less bud with an Auto plant. The plants are smaller in stature anyway and you can’t control the vegging period in order for the plant to fill out and ‘fill’ your growing space before flowering. The Ruderalis plant, that Auto strains descend from, produces less bud than a Sativa or Indica strain anyway. Some of the dwarf Auto strains, which finish in around 60 days, will typically produce under an ounce per plant. Although, with the introduction of ‘Super Autos’ this is now changing.
- Lower THC content – the influence of the Cannabis Ruderalis means that the THC content of Auto strains can be less than some of the stronger, more established Indica or Sativas available. Some of the early Auto strains produced had very little psychoactive content whatsoever, which gave the plants a bad reputation with some growers. However, with more and more commercial seed banks and breeders coming on board, the quality of Autos has advanced rapidly and will continue to advance – take a look through this magazine and see the big names that are now producing Auto varieties.
- No clones – growing Autos is really only viable from seed. It’s not impossible to clone an Auto plant but, because the plants will mature and flower regardless of the amount of light they receive, you cannot prolong the vegetative phase to develop the clone. If you take a cutting from an Auto plant that is just about to flower, then that clone will begin to flower. So, there is no swapping or selling of clones.
Economically speaking, it’s advisable to think about your electricity bill when you decide on the amount of light you give. Is it worth keeping that 600 watt lamp blazing 24 hours, to get a few extra grams? Probably not, you’ll end up spending more on electricity than you get back on yield.
The best advice is to experiment between 16-20 hours of light and see what results you get with the same strain. As with photoperiod sensitive plants, using a blue / white fluorescent or metal halide lamp in the first 3 weeks will encourage vegetative growth and give your plants a solid structure to flower on. You could change to a HPS lamp in the red spectrum once you begin to see bud development.
Nutrients – as with regular plants, using a specific Grow and Bloom nutrient will help to promote dense lateral growth in the vegetative stage (first 3 weeks after germination) and development of buds in the flowering stage. Use the Grow nutrient until the end of the first week of flowering, just as you would with a regular Cannabis variety. Root and bloom stimulators and PK additives can all be used as normal.
Outdoor growing – autoflowering varieties can be grown in the UK much further North than regular varieties as the maturation time is so much quicker. Just plant out at the end of May / early June and you’ll be harvesting at the end of summer.
Also, the small size of some the Dwarf Auto varieties makes them ideal for sneaky guerrilla grows or that space in the greenhouse or garden, that is just out of site of the neighbours!
A recent development in the field of autoflowering is the emergence of the ‘Super Auto’ strains. These varieties are far larger than regular Autos and have a much longer vegetative period, allowing them to grow to an impressive size before flowering is automatically triggered. Expects harvests after 110-120 days rather than the 60-80 days with a regular Auto. The advantage with the ‘Supers’ is that the longer veg time (a Sativa characteristic) will mean much larger yields.
It’s clear that Auto’s are more than just a short term craze and for the beginner, outdoor guerrilla or grower short on space they can make more sense than a regular variety. They are here to stay!