For a long time photoperiod strains have been the only grown and available cannabis strains around and if it wasn’t for ingenuity of some growers that started crossing inconspicuous and noteless Ruderalis plants, originating from harsh climates of Northern Europe and Russia, autoflowering strains have been undiscovered.
It all started, like many great cannabis origins stories, in the 1970s and 1980s with growers and breeders experimenting with all the possible strains that they could get their hands on. Ruderalis plants are small and stocky, barely producing any flowers that have very low levels of cannabinoids and terpenes but they have one special trait that has allowed them to thrive in those harsh and unforgiving environments. That trait is how autoflowers got their name – instead of being dependant on light cycle, Ruderalis plants enter and finish flowering when they reach maturity instead.
To stabilize this trait that allowed many growers to grow cannabis in otherwise not well suited climates wasn’t easy. First autoflowering strains like Lowryrder or William’s Wonder produced very little yield and the quality of the flowers wasn’t something to wish for either but with perseverance, autoflowers have now reached their fourth generation and can go toe to toe to any photoperiod strain in every possible aspect, providing for both great yields and great quality – potency and terpene levels. With increased popularity, many autoflowering varieties of popular strains have appeared, just as high CBD hybrids that provide different medical benefits compared to high THC strains.
The difference between autoflowering strains and photoperiod strains
Autoflowering strains are crosses or hybrids of regular, photoperiod strains with Ruderalis strains and they can be, just as photoperiod strains, Indica dominant, Sativa dominant or hybrids of both and they can come in feminized or regular seed form too but usually they come as feminized seeds, which means they will produce female plants, while regular seeds are used for breeding projects because they produce both female and male plants, which aside for breeding purposes have very little applications and uses to a standard grower.
The main difference between autoflowering strain and a photoperiod strain is that the autoflowers will finish flowering no matter what the light cycle is. They can grow under 24h light a day and they can grow under 12 lights a day, or even less but to achieve best yields and quality using 18/6 or 20/4 light schedule is advised.
The biggest disadvantage of autoflowering strains was that, when they first appeared, they have lacked in both quality and quantity when compared to photoperiod strains but with their constant advance, they have come a long way and can now match them in every way.
Unlike photoperiod plants, autoflowers have a very short vegetation stage, similar to one that photoperiod plants would have, if you had started them on 12/12 light schedule. Because of that, cloning of autoflowering strains is hard and won’t produce good results and all the training and maintenance on your plants is also limited because of the short veg time compared to photoperiods. Other than that, there aren’t really any other disadvantages that would apply to autoflowering strains when comparing them to photoperiods.
The biggest advantage of autoflowering strains is their ability to finish in a short time and in harsh and unwelcoming environments. Not having to wait for days to get shorter and nights to get longer, autoflowering strains can provide for multiple harvests, in climates that have reasonably warm climates. The ability to grow them from March till October with them finishing in seven to ten weeks, makes them a very popular choice among growers worldwide. Short finishing time makes them available to growers in Northern Europe, Russia, Canada and even Alaska where regular, photoperiod strains will not have time to finish.
Another great advantage of autoflowering cannabis strains is their ability to be able to finish in far North places like Lapland or Alaska which have only limited timeframe in which the environmental conditions are right from growing quality cannabis. But places so far up North have polar days and nights, which means that when it’s day, it’s day for 20+ hours which means that the light cycle will never have enough dark periods for the flowering to start. So they could either grow using greenhouses and light deprivation techniques, which can be quite costly or they could grow autoflowering plants.
Third biggest advantage of autoflowering strains is that they are well suited for new and beginner growers. Because you don’t need to worry about switching the light cycle and transplanting your plants, it’s much easier for new growers to start with autoflowering strains both indoor and outdoor, where their resistance to cold and pathogens makes them a good choice as they are less likely to catch any pest or disease issues.
Growing autoflowering strains indoors
Although autoflowering strains were made with people growing cannabis in harsher climates with limited sun exposure in mind, growing autos indoors has gained an ever increasing popularity too, especially among European growers. There are no real advantages in growing autos indoors, except them having to be more forgiving when it comes to feeding and not having to worry about light schedule. With an average flowering time of 10 weeks, you’ll spend more money on electricity growing autos then you would growing photoperiod plants with 7-8 weeks of flowering time and 2-3 weeks of vegetation.
Different light schedules
When growing photoperiod strains, growers utilize several different light schedules with more than 12 hours of light for the vegetation period and 12 hours or more of darkness for the flowering period. Usually during vegetation period it’s 18-24h of light and 10-12h in flowering and the change of schedules is needed for the plants to start flowering.
When growing autoflowering cannabis strains light schedule isn’t the thing that triggers flowering, so there’s no need to have different schedules for vegetation and flowering. Although autos can grow, flower and finish under any light schedule, to achieve best yields and quality, it’s recommended to use strong lights and to provide plenty of hours of ‘daylight’. There are a few light schedules growers tend to use when growing autoflowering strains indoors, most popular being 24/0, 20/4 and 18/6 although there are some alternative ones like 6/2 which also produce decent results.
Current state of affairs and the future of autoflowering strains
Autoflowering cannabis strains have already come a long way since their beginning and producing 10-30g of very mild buds with practically no smell and aroma. Even the third generation and especially the latest, fourth generation produces yields that can match most photoperiod plants and with ever increasing potency you can now find autoflowering cannabis strains that test well over 20% THC. With the increased demand for high CBD and CBD rich strains, a lot of breeders now offer autoflowering CBD strains too, with CBD levels reaching 10-15%.
Increase in yield was followed with increased flowering times and bigger plants, so a lot of the newest autoflowers can easily reach 150cm or more and usually take more than 10 weeks to finish flowering. Mixing autoflowering and Ruderalis genes with photoperiod plants is also gaining popularity, it helps to lower the flowering time and it gives the plants some extra resistance to mold, mildew and harsher weather – usually producing so called ‘early’ versions of cannabis strains.
In the future, we will see an increase in terpene and flavonoid production as well as more outdoor grows and use in extract and concentrate production. Just as with regular, photoperiod plants the race to get the highest THC levels is slowly winding down as users seek more flavorful and tasty strains, not just the highest possible THC levels, especially for those looking for CBD.
Tips for growing autoflowering cannabis strains
More or less the same things apply when it comes to growing autoflowering strains as they apply to photoperiod strains but there are some notable differences. Because autos start flowering when they mature enough, usually taking 2-5 weeks of what would be considered vegetation time, it’s recommended to start the plants in their final containers, avoiding transplanting and causing unnecessary stress to the plants, so at least 20L containers should be used. If you’re using soil-based mediums, make sure to use an airy growing medium which would help with both root development and canopy growth.
On account of usually having great resistance to pests, diseases and harsher weather that come from the Ruderalis genes, autos don’t need any special and additional products that are commonly used to deal with those issues. Having a short vegetative period, means they don’t need as much vegetative nutrients, mostly Nitrogen, too.
First two generations of autoflowers didn’t respond well to most training techniques and methods but newer strains can be topped, fimmed or even low stress trained in order to increase the branching and produce more yield but it’s still recommended to do so in the first few weeks, on account of having a very short vegetation time.
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