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What Is Autoflowering?

Marijuana strains are classified as autoflowering or photoperiod. Here we dive into autoflowering strains and whether their characteristics meet your needs.

If you’re looking into growing your own medical marijuana at home, it’s likely you’ll notice some strains of seeds described as “autoflowering.” Before making any purchases, you’ll want to know what it means when a variety of cannabis is autoflowering and whether it’s the right type of marijuana strain for you and your needs.

What is Autoflowering?

Autoflowering strains of marijuana automatically transition from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage on their own with age, regardless of whether there’s a change in the ratio of light to dark hours.

The flowering stage is the final phase in cannabis cultivation, when the plant becomes fully mature and produces usable cannabis flower. In autoflowering strains, this switch to the flowering stage automatically happens without any outside stimulus within 2 to 4 weeks of germination.

Autoflowering is a process that is relatively unique and rare. It’s created when marijuana breeders growing the widely-used Cannabis indica or sativa strains incorporate the genetics from Cannabis ruderalis. Pure indica and sativa strains rely on photoperiods – changes in the ratio of light and dark periods they’re exposed to – in order to flower. Cannabis ruderalis is a subspecies of cannabis plant first identified in the 1920’s. It’s naturally shorter in stature, contains a lower concentration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and has autoflowering attributes.

By cross breeding autoflowering ruderalis strains with indica or sativa varieties, the new marijuana strain flowers on its own time without relying on photoperiods.

Differences Between Autoflowering and Photoperiod Marijuana Strains

Need for Specific Light Cycle

Most strains of medical marijuana are known as “photoperiod” strains. Photoperiod plants will not transition into the flowering phase and begin making buds until they’re exposed to a specific light-to-dark ratio. These more traditional strains naturally produce flowers during the winter, so the amount of light and dark they receive should reflect the winter season. Most growers trigger the flowering process using an even 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark each day.

Autoflowering cannabis strains will begin producing flowers once they reach 4 weeks, no matter what’s going on with light and dark schedules. If you’re growing your own marijuana, this also means you can have multiple autoflowering plants growing at different stages without having to worry about specific lighting needs. Autoflowering plants can also be more easily grown outside, as you don’t have to worry about the time of year.

Length of Growth Cycle

Generally, autoflowering marijuana plants are ready for harvest sooner than photoperiod plants.

The flowers of most autoflowering plants are ready to be harvested 2 to 3 months after they’ve sprouted from seed. This is because the vegetable stage is shorter, lasting for just a few weeks.

Photoperiod plants generally take 3 to 4 months after sprouting from seed before they’re ready to harvest. Photoperiod plants require a longer vegetative stage before they begin flowering.

Size of Yield

Photoperiod strains typically produce greater yields of flower compared to autoflowering strains, although the yield of photoperiod plants can vary significantly depending on the specific strain and growing techniques.

Autoflowering strains, which tend to stay short naturally, generally yield up to about 4 ounces of usable marijuana flower per plant, but most growers end up yielding about 1 to 2 ounces. With that said, an advantage of the short lifespan of autoflowering plants is that growers can produce multiple harvests a year.

Ability to be Cloned

Photoperiod marijuana strains can be cloned, which means a grower take a cutting from the plant and grow more plants from a single seed. Autoflowering strains, however, cannot be cloned effectively. This is because the clones of autoflowering plants, which live short lives, are on the same internal “time clock” as their parent. As a result, autoflowering clones will only live as long as the original plant lives – not long enough to produce their own yields.

Are Autoflowering Strains Good for Medical Marijuana?

Generally, autoflowering Cannabis ruderalis strains wouldn’t be ideal for medical marijuana use because they produce flowers that are low in THC, the psychoactive compound that is beneficial to many medical marijuana consumers.

Today however, most autoflowering marijuana strains do produce bigger flowers that are comparable in THC potency to traditional photoperiod strains. This is because over the years breeders have intermingled these low-THC ruderalis plants with indica and sativa strains that are larger and contain more significant THC concentrations.

Cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, when consumed interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, a signaling network that is continuously working to keep many functions in balance.

While mostly recognized for inducing a high, THC has demonstrated in studies to provide various therapeutic benefits, including managing nausea and vomiting, reducing pain, stimulating appetite, improving sleep, and managing inflammation. The cannabinoid has also shown therapeutic promise for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Autoflowering plants also tend to have higher amounts of cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that’s been highly sought after in recent years.

autoflowering cannabis flower

Popular Autoflowering Marijuana Strains

Interested in trying out autoflowering plants? Marijuana breeders incorporate the autoflowering genetics and shortened overall growing period from Cannabis ruderalis in an effort to make things easier for home medical cannabis growers.

Autoflowering cannabis seeds may be available at your local dispensary, but your best bet is to look for them at retail and online seed banks.

Here’s a look at three of the most popular autoflowering marijuana strains:

  1. Northern Light Automatic

Mixed with primarily indica cannabis and a little sativa, the Northern Light Automatic marijuana strain is particularly abundant in CBD. This strain is said to produce a succulent and sweet-flavored flower.

  1. Amnesia Haze Automatic

As a descendent of nearly entirely sativa, the Amnesia Haze Automatic strain contains high levels of THC and therefore requires a slightly longer flowering period. The flavor and aroma of this strain is described as sweet, spicy, or musky.

  1. White Widow Automatic

Dominated by indica, the White Widow Automatic strain is known for producing greater yields of THC-rich flower in a relatively short amount of time. It has been described as having a sweet, yet earthy flavor.

autoflowering cannabis plant

Learn More about Medical Marijuana

Now that medical marijuana is legal in nearly 30 U.S. states, more and more people are interested in what it takes to get a medical marijuana card, as well as how to properly grow, handle, and consume cannabis.

You can learn more medical marijuana by visiting our Cannabis 101 Page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.
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