Autoflower grow guide: everything you need to know about autos
Autoflowering cannabis plants are pretty much the new kid on the block, only really making an appearance on the mj growing scene in the past few years. I’m aware that some of you may never have tried growing autoflowering marijuana, and thought it may be worthwhile sharing my experiences with them. This is not written as a “autoflowering grow guide” per se, but a collection of thoughts and tips that hopefully will encourage some of you to give these a try.
There is a developing niche user-group for autos. There are excellent forums devoted just to their use (see www.autoflower.net and any posts by the knowledgeable Muddy) and some great seed-banks who are building extra reputation by expanding their ranges of autoflowering seeds for sale. Personally I’ve been playing with autos now for nearly 7 years. I’ve grown approximately 100 different strains both indoors and out. This is partly the result of never being able to say “no” to the thought “its only 7€ I’ll just pop that one in amongst the tomatoes” and lately because I am in the process of developing 3 different strains myself (and that’s another article altogether).
And yet, despite having now grown so many of these from seed, I still have very mixed feelings about autoflowers. Certainly the journey thus far has not been a smooth one and at times its felt like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. Almost all autoflowering seeds are described as being between 7 and 10 weeks seed to harvest, and their finished heights supposedly 30cm to 1m. I’ve experienced yields ranging from 5 grams a plant (“lowbolt” from sagramantha seeds, at 13cm) to one “cream caramel” (sweet seeds) which gave an astounding 105g after an equally astounding 126 days (that’s 18 weeks not 8!). With such a mixed range of development time, yield and growth its not surprising that when it comes to autoflowers, growing can be a difficult experience. Hence the reason for this autoflowering grow guide.
WHAT IS AN AUTOFLOWER?
As we all know, cannabis is a photo-period plant: ie it’s flowering hormones are triggered by changes in the light/dark cycle. Thus you can stimulate a 2 week old cutting to begin flowering by giving it 12 hours of darkness, yet a 4 month old plant grown outside will remain in vegetative growth until mid-summer has passed.
Autoflowers are a different breed altogether (quite literally!) and will flower according to the age of the plant rather than the light/dark cycle. This development has been obtained by crossing a ruderelis strain with a standard photo period plant. Unfortunately ruderelis is fairly weak in the desired thc levels so the first autoflower strain developers had to stabilise two dominant traits: the high thc level provided by the photo-period parent and the all important auto gene from the ruderelis strain. As you can expect, early attempts were generally disappointing, and as little as four years ago autos were viewed as unreliable with poor yields and low thc levels. Most sensible growers put them down as gimmicks for newbies.
Today if you see an autoflower seed for sale you can be (reasonably) assured that its THC content will be as advertised, and its auto gene stabilised.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR AUTOS TO GROW?
Now this is the big question. Most breeders claim 7-9 weeks, with some even boasting seed to harvest in less. It would be fantastic if one could get 50g per plant after just 39 days, but lets face it, its totally unrealistic. A plant doesn’t grow any faster for having an auto gene, and the dwarf autos that will harvest in ultra quick times are just that: dwarfs and thus yield is limited by size.
Of the 15 or so different commercial strains I have tried, not one of any consequence finished in less than eleven weeks – and the best ones can take anything between 3 and 5 months. If you think about it, this is not surprising: most standard autos start showing their sex at around 21 -28 days (super autos not included) – if you add on a flowering time of 8 weeks (average flowering time for a indica) then you would be looking at 11 – 12 weeks.