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If you understand these 5 important stages of autoflowering cannabis, you will be closer to getting a bountiful harvest in the shortest time possible. The good thing about autoflowering cannabis plants is that the cannabis grower can grow plants at a much quicker rate compared to traditional photoperiod plants and is not dependent on the light cycle.
Best of all, autoflowering strains mature in a shorter time compared to photoperiod plants that require a specific amount of light during the vegetative and flowering stages. The difference in light cycle requirementsmakes the process of growing autoflowering plants much simpler and easier, especially for new growers.
But, before you get too excited about growing autoflowering cannabis, here are a few things that you should know to have a successful harvest year-round.
When Should I Expect To Harvest Autoflowering Cannabis?
Autoflowering strains grow relatively quickly and have a hardy nature which makes them beginner-friendly for new growers. Most autoflowering strains are resistant to pathogens and pests and can do well in indoor and outdoor environments.
However, the yields of an autoflowering plant are usually not as impressive compared to those of photoperiod varieties. Still, you can get significant yields from an autoflowering plant if grown properly.
Autoflowering strains usually take between 8-10 weeks to mature. However, some autoflowering strains may take up to 12 weeks to fully mature. These strains include Royal Haze Automatic and Royal Creamatic strains. Still, you can expect to harvest much faster than you would if you grew a traditional photoperiod strain.
A photoperiod strain can take anywhere between 3 to 8 months to fully mature depending on the genetics and growing environment.
Autoflowering cannabis strains do not require a change in the light cycle to trigger the flowering stage, where the plant focuses on growing its flower buds. Photoperiod plants require at least 18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness during the vegetative stage and 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness during the flowering stage.
The autoflowering plants are preprogrammed, so to speak, to start the flowering phase on their own timeline without needing a change in the light cycle.
Some cannabis growers prefer to maintain 18 hours of light and 6 hours of dark during the entire growth cycle. Other growers expose the plants to light 24 hours a day for the entire autoflowering growth cycle. The non-stop lighting can increase photosynthesis and speed up the growth of the plants. However, this method can be expensive since a lot of light and energy is used.
Because autoflowering plants mature in a short span of time, growers can have multiple growing cycles in a year. Ideally, a grower should be able to rake in the first harvest after eight weeks of plant growth and maintainweekly harvests if they germinate seeds on a weekly basis.
Before we go into more detail on the plant growth stages, it is important to make a special mention on pH levels. The pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity of the soil or growth medium. It plays a crucial role in determining how easily the plants can access nutrients from the grow medium.
When the pH is too low or too high, the roots will not be able to absorb nutrients as efficiently. A high or low pH will lead to nutrient deficiencies and stunted growth. The optimum pH should be between 6-6.5 or slightly acidic.
What Are An Autoflowering Plant’s Stages of Growth?
The stages of growth for an autoflowering plant are the same as a regular photoperiod plant. However, the timeline is much shorter in autoflowering strains. Here are the five main stages of growth from seed to harvest:
- Germination and early seedling stage
- Late seedling stage
- Vegetative stage
- Flowering stage
Below, we will describe each stage of autoflowering cannabis plant growth in detail.
Stage 1: Germination and Early Seedling Stage
The first stage of growing autoflowering plants is the germination phase. During this initial stage, the cannabis seeds form a root that grows downwards and a shoot that grows upwards with a couple of cotyledon leaves to absorb the light. There are a variety of ways to germinate cannabis seeds including the paper towel method, using a rockwool cube, or soaking the seed in water overnight.
Germination should take between 1-3 days but can take several days longer. It is advisable to germinate the cannabis seeds directly into the soil to avoid having to transplant it later. Autoflowering plants are likely to be susceptible to the stress and shock that may happen during the marijuana transplanting process. Therefore, it is best to avoid the shock of transplanting as much as you can.
To begin the germination phase, prepare the growth medium adequately. Autoflowering cannabis plants do not need as much nutrients compared to photoperiod plants. Nutrient requirements vary depending on the stage of growth. For instance, the plants needs higher concentrations of nitrogen during the vegetative stage. During the flowering stage, they need high concentrations of phosphorus and potassium and low nitrogen levels.
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You can prepare your own cannabis potting medium by mixing peat moss, compost, and moistened perlite or vermiculite for optimal drainage and aeration. You can also add mycorrhiza (symbiotic bacteria) to the soil to stimulate the uptake of nutrients. This is known as creating a living soil, also known as a super soil, which creates a beneficial ecosystem for optimal plant growth.
Once the soil is prepped for seed germination, make holes 10-15mm deep for sowing the cannabis seeds. Always start off with healthy cannabis seeds for best results. Put the seeds in the holes and cover them lightly with soil. In a few days, you will begin to see the shoots emerging. At this stage, the relative humidity (RH) needs to be maintained at 70%-90%, while the temperature should be 22-25º .
Stage 2: Late Seedling Stage
At this stage, photosynthesis has started to take place. During photosynthesis, the plant absorbs light and carbon dioxide to stimulate plant growth. You can use a 250W LED light to fuel an indoor grow; LEDs are cost-effective and they produce less heat than other bulb varieties such as high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs.
Space the plants one meter apart. If you are using low-stress training (LST), you can plant four weed plants in one square meter.
Stage 3: Vegetative Stage
Now your cannabis plants are ready to be transitioned into the vegetative phase, where the plan focuses on growing its stems and leaves. You will notice a few fan leaves emerging, and the plants will be around 15cm tall at this stage. Aim for a relative humidity of 50% and temperatures of 20º. The light should be hanging about one meter above the canopy to maximize photosynthesis without burning the plant.
You can apply low stress training techniques at this point. Simply tie a soft wire on the stem and bend it parallel to the ground and secure it to the growing medium or rim of the pot. Avoid using anything sharp to tie down your stems since it can cut through the stems and damage them. This LST technique allows light to penetrate the canopy and maximize the growth of lower buds on your weed plants due to the even canopy.
During the later stage of the vegetative phase, you should aim for a relative humidity of 45%. At this point, you may begin noticing pre-flowers emerging at the top. Here is when your plants will transition to their final flowering stage.
Stage 4: Flowering Stage
This is the stage that you have all been waiting for. Here's where your plant focuses on growing its trichome-rich flower buds. You will begin noticing small sacs forming, which will soon turn to sticky, resinous buds. The sticky resin on the buds are the trichome glands, which contain the plant’s active ingredients such as cannabinoids and terpenes.
As the buds mature, they will form a sticky layer on the surface. Trichomes can also be found in lower concentrations on the stems and leaves of the plant. The marijuana plants should be about 30cm tall at this point. Aim for a relative humidity of 45% and a temperature of 23º.
Higher levels of moisture may trigger rotting and mold formation. Set up a hygrometer to ensure that your garden has optimal RH levels. The setting of your LED light should switch from red (used during the vegetative stage) to blue to encourage the budding process on your pot plants.
Be on the lookout for hermaphroditic buds which form banana-like structures on the surface. If you spot any of these structures, it may be a sign that the buds are attempting to self-pollinate. Also, be on the lookout for signs of nutrient deficiency. Nutrient deficiencies will present as a sudden change in the color of the buds or leaves.
Towards the end of week eight, the buds will look dense and resinous. Keep in mind, the life cycles of autoflowering plants vary by plant. When you examine them under a microscope or loupe, you should see a silvery-white or clear layer of resin glands that sparkle against the light. This is a good time to initiate defoliation. Prune the small fan leaves at the top of the canopy to increase light exposure below, improve air flow, and minimize the risk for mold.
Stage 5: Harvesting Autoflowering Cannabis Plants
Autoflowering plants will be ready for harvest in about 8-10 weeks. By this time, the flower buds should appear milky white, while the pistils will have turned to a deep brown or reddish hue. The best time to harvest is when most of your trichomes have turned a milky white. However, letting the trichomes mature for too long can cause the potency, flavor, and aroma to degrade.
The flower buds at the top of the canopy are likely to finish off first since they are exposed to more light. Slower growing strains such as Amnesia Haze Automatic may take up to 12 weeks to reach the final stage of maturation.Monitor your plants regularly to ensure you harvest during the optimal harvesting time window.
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Once you have harvested your ripe nugs, the next part of the harvesting stage is to initiate the process of drying and curing them to refine their flavor and aroma. Drying occurs in a dark and cool room designed to remove the excess moisture from the buds. The drying process is complete when the branches produce an audible snap when broken. Afterward, the curing stage involves placing the trimmed buds inside an airtight container and “burping” them often to create an exchange of fresh and stale air.
The five important stages of autoflowering plants should usher you gracefully into the stage of processing cannabis and creating a wide range of cannabis products. With cannabis buds or even the trim from autoflowering plants, you can create a variety of solvent-based or solventless extracts, as well as butter and oil infusions to makeinfused food and topicals.
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