Plants, just like all living things naturally go through different cycles in their lives. It is important to understand all these different stages in order to take care of your plants as each stage will require different amounts of care such as the amount of light, water and nutrients needed. This is even more needed in the case of the marijuana plants as they are more fragile and sensitive than other plants. Requirements between different stages also change between different cannabis plant varieties.
Autoflowering marijuana plants are plants that automatically switch from the vegetative state to the flowering state automatically with age. This is different from the other species which are dependent on the photoperiod or the length of time that they are exposed to light. Photoperiodism is the physiological reaction of organisms including plants to the length of night and day.
This is the reason why outdoor growers choose a particular month to plant a particular marijuana type in order to harvest them in a month with lesser sunlight. This is never a problem with indoor growers who will simply turn the light on and off when needed.
The development of auto-flowering marijuana is a natural adaptation of some of the marijuana species which were cultivated in areas that have less sunlight such as the northern hemisphere. The cannabis ruderalis is a strain that is known to have this characteristic. Breeders were eventually able to breed and hybridize the Ruderalis with the Indica and Sativa varieties in order to get a plant that has higher THC or CBD content.
Before we understand auto-flowering marijuana better, we need to understand the natural life stages of marijuana plants.
LIFE STAGES THAT MARIJUANA PLANTS GO THROUGH NATURALLY
Seed Germination Stage: Seed germination is the time when it takes for the seed to grow and become a seedling that has leaves and stems. It takes about 5-10 Days and requires a light cycle of 18 hours.
Seedling Stage: A plant becomes a seedling when it literally becomes a small plant with stems and leaves. This stage is about 2-3 weeks and requires a natural light cycle of 18 hours also.
Vegetative Stage: When the plant is in its vegetative state, you need to transfer it to a bigger pot as its roots and even its leaves are rapidly growing in this stage. A mature cannabis plant will usually have 5-7 blades on each leaf. This stage lasts for about 3-16 weeks and requires a light cycle of 18 hours.
Flowering Stage: This is the final stage of the growth of cannabis plants. For a regular strain, this stage occurs naturally when the light cycle is shortened to about 12 hours of light. But for auto-flowering plants, this is no longer required. This stage lasts about 8-11 weeks. This is the stage when the resinous buds develop. It is the buds that are harvested. In this stage, the plant will also show whether they are male or female.
ADVANTAGES OF AUTOFLOWERING CANNABIS PLANTS
QUICKER HARVEST: Autoflowering strains grow faster than regular strains. This is due to the Ruderalis genes that are on auto-flowering plants. Some varieties are even reported to be ready for harvest in seven weeks. This could mean a few harvests in one season of planting regular plants. This is also an advantage for outdoor growers in cold climates where the summer days are short and cold that only last about two months, which is just enough time between the seed stage to the flowering stage.
SMALLER PLANTS: Smaller plants mean that you could have more plant in your limited indoor or greenhouse growing space. Being short also makes stealth growing possible where a grower may try and grow a single plant out of sight of the law where marijuana is illegal.
NO PHOTOPERIOD CHANGE REQUIRED: Outdoor growers would be the people to benefit more from this ability of the auto-flowering plant as they could be planted even off-season compared to other regular plants. As mentioned already, photoperiodism is what makes regular cannabis plant change from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage, and the available length of daylight sun changes between the changes in season. But since auto-flowering plants change as they age without dependence of photoperiodism, a grower may choose to plant in some other convenient time for him or her.
DISADVANTAGES OF AUTOFLOWERING CANNABIS PLANTS
SMALLER YIELD: We’ve mentioned the smaller size of auto-flowering marijuana plants as an advantage but this could be a disadvantage too. Smaller plants yield fewer buds too as there is only enough space on each plant for buds to grow.
HIGHER OPERATIONAL COST: The plants’ maturing from the vegetative state to the flowering state is triggered by lowering the light cycle from 18 hours to 12 hours. But auto-flowering plants need the same 18 hour light cycles which mean that lights should run longer on indoor spaces even during the flowering stage, thus pushing the electricity consumption in this stage.
LESSER THC: Since the auto-flowering marijuana plants are derived from the Ruderalis family of plants, they naturally contain lesser THC than the Sativa or Indica varieties even after breeding that made hybrids between the Ruderalis and other marijuana plants possible. This is quite disappointing for recreational users who are looking for the ‘high’ in THC-rich marijuana varieties.
QUALITY CONCERNS: There are some growers who express concern over the quality of the buds of the auto-flowering marijuana plants. There are also concerns about the use of chemically-derived plant growth regulators or PGRs which are possibly carcinogenic. The US-EPA or Environmental Protection Agency estimated that the cancer-risk of chemically-derived PGR is 240 times greater than EPA accepted levels. Naturally derived PGRs are safe to use on the other hand. PRGs are used in auto-flowering cannabis plants to control growth and other plant activities.
Judging between the advantages and disadvantages of auto-flowering marijuana plants, it is up to the grower to decide whether he wishes to go and try auto-flowering plants that naturally reach the flowering stage without dependence of photoperiodism.