Sexing Cannabis: How to Tell the Difference Between Young Male vs Female Cannabis Plants
Are you growing cannabis at home, but aren’t sure if your plants are male or female? Then you’ve come to the right place! This article is going to show you how to tell the difference between male and female cannabis plants to properly sex them.
In particular, I want to show you how we determine the sex of our cannabis plants while they are still quite young. It gets significantly more obvious as the plants begin to mature and flower. On the other hand, it can be a bit more tricky to sex cannabis plants in the early pre-flower phase, but it is definitely possible! We’ll also talk a bit about why it is important to determine the sex of cannabis plants, the difference between regular and feminized seeds, how we treat our plants up until the time we know their sex, and what to do with unwanted male plants.
If you’re new to Homestead and Chill, be sure to check out our other cannabis-related articles! We primarily grow outdoors, 100% organic, and aim to provide helpful information that is easy to follow – both for new and experienced growers alike. As a disclaimer, this article is intended for those who can legally grow cannabis at home.
Feminized vs Regular Cannabis Seeds
If you are growing from feminized seeds, you shouldn’t need to worry about sexing your cannabis plants all that much. While not 100% guaranteed, there is only a very slim chance that a feminized seed will produce a male plant. About 1% in fact. In all of our years growing, we have never had a cannabis plant grown from feminized seed turn out to be a male – though we only grow a handful of plants per year. Folks who grow hundreds of plants could potentially end with a rare male now and then.
Feminized seeds are highly desirable to most growers. They’re efficient. It is almost sure-fire that you’re spending your energy and resources raising ladies. However, some growers accept or even prefer regular (unsexed) seeds! We grow a little of both.
Why grow regular cannabis seeds? Well, maybe a particular breeder or strain you want to try only carries regular seeds. Some growers feel that the feminization process is unnatural, and prefer to kick it old school by growing regular seeds only. Some enjoy the gamble and challenge. Whatever the reason, when you grow cannabis from regular seeds, the odds of getting all lady plants are not in your favor. You will end up with some males. Therefore, you need to learn to sex your cannabis plants! Also, we always start several extra “regular” seeds – assuming a 50/50 chance that some will be culled because they are male.
How are feminized cannabis seeds made?
Curious about how feminized seeds are created? In a nutshell: most feminized seeds come from cannabis plants that have been treated and altered in a manner that inhibits male chromosomes. The most common method is to spray the plant repetitively (daily or more) with colloidal silver. Other chemicals and compounds can be used too, but are far less accessible. Colloidal silver is technically “non-toxic”, but you do not want to smoke it! Thus, the plant is sacrificial – used for the production of pollen and seeds only.
Repeated colloidal silver treatments cause repression of the plant’s ethylene, which is the stuff that creates male flowers. Instead, the treated female plant will grow pollen sacks full of FEMALE pollen (XX rather than XY). Then breeders use the female pollen to pollinate female flowers, resulting in the development of all-female seeds.
Another way to create feminized cannabis seeds is called rodelization. It is a more natural but unreliable method, and less frequently used by breeders. Near the end of a growing season, an un-pollinated female cannabis plant will sometimes produce pollen sacks in a desperate attempt to pollinate herself. That pollen can be used to try to create feminized seeds, but because ethylene hasn’t been repressed, may also result in male seeds.
Okay, back to sexing cannabis.
Why Sex Cannabis Plants? The Role of Male and Female Plants
For the most part, the average home grower wants female cannabis plants. The ladies are the ones that produce the fattest, most resinous and most potent flowers – aka buds. Male cannabis plants are only desirable if someone wants to breed cannabis and save seeds (which is a whole other topic for another day). Even then, the grower will want to spot the difference between the male and female plants and separate them early on, unless they want free cross-breeding and pollination between many types of strains.
Not only are the males less desirable, but male cannabis plants interfere with the quality and production of your female plant. Males grow pollen sacks, and produce pollen. When a female cannabis plant becomes pollinated by a nearby male, her energy shifts into producing seeds.
Like most things in nature, female cannabis plants have a biological drive to reproduce. After the deed has been done, she will sit back and relax. While a pollinated female cannabis plant WILL still develop decent size buds, they are usually lower quality and contain less THC and other desirable cannabinoids. Not to mention, they’ll be full of seeds. When left un-pollinated, a female cannabis plant’s flowers (buds) will continue to swell, develop more trichomes and become increasingly resinous. She is trying to get as sticky and large as possible to catch pollen in the wind. That sweet sinsemilla – aka unfertilized, seed-free cannabis.
When to Sex Cannabis Plants
Our goal here today is to learn how to tell the difference between male and female cannabis plants early on, so you can get the males away from the females as soon as possible! It will help protect your lady plants – but also spare you the wasted time, resources, and energy of tending to male plants that you don’t intend to keep.
Keeping in mind that every strain and grow set-up (e.g. indoors, outdoors, daylight hours) creates varying circumstances, most cannabis plants begin to pre-flower as early as 4 weeks after germination. By week 6, the pre-flowers begin to reveal their gender and you should be able to identify the sex using the tips to follow. Once the plants go into full flower (8 to 10 weeks on average, for a natural outdoor grow) the differences between male and female plants will be glaringly obvious. We’ll talk more about exactly what each sex looks like in a moment.
Until we can tell the sex for sure, we continue to treat the plants equally. We start our seeds in small 4-inch nursery pots. About two weeks after germination, we pot the seedlings up into an approximately two-gallon (trade size) “sexing pot” like these BPA-free nursery pots. This enables everyone to continue to grow in a happy and healthy manner for several more weeks*. Then, once we can surely tell the difference between the male and female cannabis plants, only the ladies move into their forever home – 15 to 25 gallon grow bags full of recycled organic living soil. To learn more about our soil recipe and how we maintain it, see this article.
*Note that our feminized seedlings go from a 4” pot to an 8” pot, and then more quickly into large grow bags, using less soil in the potting-up process.
This little girl (or boy) is far too young to tell, but needs to be potted up soon. The two in plastic pots in the background were determined to be male and culled the next day. The two on the left in grow bags are definite females (one from feminized seed, and one we sexed from regular seed).
How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Cannabis Plants in Pre-Flower
In order to correctly sex cannabis plants, you’ll need to become familiar with their anatomy in general. Both males and females produce pre-flowers and flowers in the junctions between stems or branches. The very first pre-flowers show up in the crook between the main plant stalk and a fan leaf stem (petiole), usually near the top of the plant. The good news is, the males usually begin to develop and show sooner than females. I guess the idea is that the dudes want to have their pollen ready and waiting for when the ladies join the party?
Look for plant pre-flowers at the higher stalk/branch junctions, as described above. If needed, use a jeweler’s loupe to get a better look! That is the same magnifying tool commonly used to examine trichomes and determine plant readiness for harvest. Then, locate the stipule, which is a leafy pointed flap that protrudes from the junction. Don’t confuse that for a pre-flower! The cannabis sex parts are located just behind the stipule. Behind the pre-flower sex parts, taller growth tips will emerge – future auxiliary branches that produce buds.
Identifying a Male Cannabis Plant
Very early, the male pre-flower (early pollen sacs) simply looks like a more round version than the female pre-flower part. It is often referred to as a “spade”, like the spade suit in cards – squatty with a bulbous bottom and very slight tip. As it becomes slightly larger, the male pre-flower resembles a ball at the end of a stick. The male pre-flower is called a staminate. Then, the staminate eventually develops into a long hanging sack of baby bananas – the pollen sacs. Hopefully you can ID and cull the males before they get to this stage.
A 4-5 week old male cannabis plant in our garden, showing his stick and ball. Note that this is a really early and obvious example. Most of the other males in this age group show a round ball, but protruding less and more nestled flat against the stalk.
A more advanced male pre-flower, courtesy of Dr. Weedly (We never let our males get this far to photograph)
Did someone order a banana hammock? The male flowers are about to open and shed pollen, if they haven’t already. Photo from Green Cultured
Identifying a Female Cannabis Plant
In contrast, the very early female cannabis pre-flowers are more ovate in shape: pear-like, but with a longer slender pointed tip. That is called her calyx. Extending from the tip of the calyx may be a pair of pistils, or white hair-like protrusions. However, please note that not every female cannabis plant in pre-flower produces pistils.
If you are still unsure of the sex of your cannabis plant, wait to make any drastic decisions! Yet if you’re fairly certain, consider some of these other common differences between male and female plants. Perhaps it will help you more confidently make a decision.
Other Common Differences Between Male and Female Cannabis Plants
Aside from the clear-cut flower differences, there are a few (potential) trending characteristics between male and female cannabis plants. In many cases, male cannabis plants tend to be more gangly. They may be tall, narrow, have fewer fan leaves, and longer spacing between branches – also referred to as greater inter-nodal spacing. On the flip side, female cannabis plants are usually more compact and bushy than males.
Please keep in mind that these traits are not guaranteed, and shouldn’t be the only way to sex cannabis plants! Variations among strains and phenotypes can lead to all sorts of crazy things. The general plant structure simply may help give you a clue if you’re on the fence.
My Cannabis Plant is Male! Now What?
I hope you started a few extra seeds, and have plenty of ladies left to grow! Once you determine that you have a male cannabis plant, get rid of it. Again, unless you want pollination and seeds, it is best to cull the males as early as possible. Simply separating the plants isn’t enough. Even if you relocate the male plant to another part of your yard, the pollen can carry in the wind. There are stories of female cannabis plants becoming pollinated from neighbors growing several blocks away.
However, the culled males don’t need to go to waste! One option is to chop up the male plant and use it to mulch other plants – much like we do with borage, fava bean greens, yarrow, and comfrey. You could also juice the leaves, which are full of nutrients. Heck, you could even steep the plant material in water to create a natural fertilizer as we do with stinging nettle. Finally, I’m sure your compost pile will welcome the male plant with open arms. Or would that be… with open worms?
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And that is how you determine the sex of cannabis plants.
In closing, I hope this article is interesting and useful in your homegrown adventures. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, and spread the cannabis sex love by sharing this article. Even if you like to grow mostly feminized seeds, don’t you find this stuff fascinating? I sure do. Thanks for tuning in and nerding out with me a bit. Best of luck this growing season!
Cannabis Plants Anatomy: From Seeds To Buds
Many consumers have seen a cannabis flower and maybe leaf but have never seen a plant grow from seed.
When growing cannabis, it’s essential you become familiar with the anatomy of a cannabis plant to know what they need and prevent problems.
It’s crucial you know the parts of a cannabis plant such as roots, nodes, calyxes, and trichomes, and what they’re used for to be able to maintain a healthy garden.
1. Anatomy of female vs male plants
Cannabis plants are dioecious, this means they have separate sexes, so the plants can be male or female.
In cannabis, the female plant produces high levels of cannabinoids and develops flowers (buds) while the male plant produces low levels and develops pollen sacs.
When both of them interact, the pollen fertilizes flowers, producing seeds which are used for breeding and cannabis cultivation.
It’s essential you know which one you need to grow to achieve the desired results, so in this article, we’ll explain the main differences and the anatomy of a cannabis plant.
2. Seeds and seedlings
A seed is the first thing you need to start growing your own cannabis, a cannabis seed has a hard shell to protect the embryo, this embryo is what will develop into a seedling when germinated.
When exposed to the right temperature and moisture, you will see a seedling (baby plant) start to develop, this seedling comes out of the medium with a small pair of green rounded leaves named cotyledons.
The cotyledons already contain chlorophyll which allows the tiny leaves to perform photosynthesis but it’s only in the early vegetative stage that you will see the first pair of serrated leaves develop and this is when the plant will start to absorb energy and nutrients, and direct it to the growth of foliage and stems.
After 3-5 days of exposing the seed to germination conditions, you will see a white “tail” coming out of the seed, this “tail” will start to grow longer and thicker as soon as the seed is planted and will eventually become your plant’s taproot, which is the main root from where rootlets sprout.
Once the taproot grows to a considerable size, several lateral roots will start to emerge from it, forming a network of roots in the soil, this root network is responsible for absorbing water and nutrients which are vital for your plant’s growth.
4. Fan leaves
After the cotyledons have appeared, they will be exposed to sunlight. This is important because the cotyledons use photosynthesis to absorb sunlight and produce energy for the plant to grow. After a couple of days, the first serrated leaves will appear, and as the plant grows, bigger foliage will appear and each time they will have more apexes, which are the fingers of a cannabis fan leaf.
Depending on the genetics, the foliage can have five, seven, nine, or more fingers but either way, independent of the number of apexes, the fan leaves use sun, water, and C02 to produce sugars.
Also, the leaves are different depending on the genetics, for example, Indica leaves are usually wider with more fingers while Sativa leaves are thinners and have more fingers, there are also autoflowers that start with leaves similar to Ruderalis leaves and it can get complicated to differentiate so here’s a table to help you figure it out easier.
Cannabis leaf characteristics
|Sativa||Skinnier with up to 13 “fingers”.|
|Indica||Fat and wide leaves with up to 9 “fingers”.|
|Ruderalis||Short and compact, developing 3-5 “fingers.|
These sugars are a cannabis plant’s source of energy and it fuels growth and all the biological processes it needs.
Have in mind that even though the foliage is a part of a cannabis plant, they have low levels of cannabinoids so their purpose is to absorb sunlight, store water, and also protect the buds from sunburn but are not usually smoked.
5. Sugar leaves
Sugar leaves are regular leaves but unlike fan leaves, they’re not too big and usually grow in between the buds. This foliage can sometimes have trichomes on them but will depend on the trichome production of each specific strain.
These leaves contain less resin that buds and are usually not consumed but depending on the quality of the genetics, these leaves can be used to make edibles, oils, and extracts.
6. Pre-sex structures
The pre-sex structures appear on the internodes in the pre-flowering stage of the cannabis plant, if your plant turns out to be a male, you’ll see small balls appearing which are pollen sacs in the early stages.
These pollen sacs will eventually develop and open up, releasing the pollen needed to produce seeds, now, if you see white hairs (stigmas) instead of pollen sacs, your plant is definitely a female.
If you’re a home grower, you should “sex” your plants before they are completely mature, this will prevent the male plants from pollinating the female plants, have in mind that fertilized flowers will produce seeds which decreases the amount of cannabinoids and overall yield.
Now, if you’re a breeder or just want to experiment with cannabis breeding, you can have a breeding chamber so you can pollinate your plants in a controlled space and prevent cross-pollination because pollen is extremely light and can travel on your hair, clothes, and even by the wind.
7. Branches and stems
As said above, leaves absorb sunlight, and as new leaf growth appears, your plant will consequently get more light and the stem and branches will get thicker and thicker, developing more internodes (and more internodal spacing) on both sides of the stem.
The main part of a cannabis plant’s anatomy is the stem, the stem provides support to the foliage, branches, and flowers (basically the whole plant), inside the stem, there is a vascular system that consists of the Xylem and Phloem.
The Xylem transports water and the nutrients dissolved in water while the Phloem is responsible for transporting sugars, proteins, and other organic molecules in plants.
Sometimes plants can develop mutations, these mutations are genetic mutations so they cannot be fixed, and although some mutations can result in odd growth such as irregular branching and leaf growth, they can still produce good quality flowers, despite sometimes the yields being affected.
Nodes are the point where branches come off from the stem, in the vegetative stage of a cannabis plant they’re parallel to each other but when your plant begins flowering the appearance of nodes can become irregular, now this isn’t a problem at all, it’s just a characteristic of some cannabis strain and is usually a trait that can help you identify a certain plant’s species.
Have in mind that nowadays most cannabis strains are hybrids (a combination of Indica and Sativa genetics) so this won’t always be 100% correct but usually, Indicas tend to have nodes that are closer together while Sativa’s nodes are usually more spaced out.
These nodes are essential because they are where the buds or pollen sacs will start to develop and it’s where the first signs of your plant’s sex appear.
9. Flowers (buds)
The buds (flowers) are the most important part for growers but also for the cannabis plant, the flowers play several roles such as attracting pollinators and producing seed (once they’re fertilized) to perpetuate the species.
Nowadays you can find feminized seeds which means the seeds will result in 100% female plants but in nature, cannabis plants are dioecious which means the plants will be male or female, as said before.
The pre-flowering stage is vital in differentiating whether the plant is a male or a female because it’s when a plant will show the first signs of its sex.
The flowers that form on the top of the stem are known as the cola, typically, a plant has one main cola but growers have come up with several methods of creating multiple main colas with plant training techniques (such as LST and HST) that help increase yields.
The main cola is known as the apical bud or main cola and it’s where most of the buds gather together to form the main bud, you’ll also see small clusters of flowers between the foliage in the internodes but, compared to the main cola, the side colas are smaller so this is why growers use both LST and HST.
These two plant training methods end up changing the structure of the plant by exposing the flowering sites to more light and airflow, allowing the buds to grow bigger while also improving their quality.
When talking about flowers, there’s a distinction between female and male flowers. Male plants usually develop 2-3 weeks earlier than female flowers and, as said above, do not develop buds but they also form colas that consist of pollen sac clusters.
10. Pistils and stigmas
The pistils and stigmas are the reproductive parts of the female flowers, most cannabis consumers know the stigmas as pistils but that is wrong because the pistils are the part where the stigmas (white hairs) grow from.
These hair-like parts are responsible for collecting pollen grains from the male flowers and consequently, produce seeds.
When a cannabis plant is fully mature, the stigmas can change color several times, usually starting with white hues, then yellow, orange, or red, and lastly, brown.
Now, have in mind that the stigmas do not affect the potency or taste because they do not store any cannabinoids and don’t have trichomes so they won’t influence the quality and effect of your buds.
The bracts, which are usually called calyxes by mistake, are what actually form the buds on a cannabis plant, they are pear-shaped nodules that develop between the sugar leaves but depending on the strain, they can appear in several colors, shapes, and sizes.
When the stigmas get pollinated, the bracts essentially turn into an ovary (seed incubator) which allows the seeds to grow and ripen but ends up affecting the yields and can affect the resin quantity on your buds, that’s why “sinsemilla” or feminized seeds are preferred by growers and consumers.
A non-pollinated flower is usually trichome-rich because your harvest will have more trichomes and they are responsible for producing and storing terpenes and cannabinoids.
Trichomes are the tiny crystals found all over the buds and surrounding foliage and are considered the most important part for cannabis consumers, these mushroom-shaped glands are clear and sticky, and form a thick layer on the buds.
These mushroom-shaped glands known as trichomes can be found in different types and sizes, they are:
- Capitate-stalked trichomes 100 µm;
- Cystholitic trichomes 50 µm.
- Unicellular non-glandular trichomes 20 µm;
- Capitate sessile trichomes 20 µm;
- Complex bulbous trichomes 10 µm and;
- Simple bulbous trichomes 10 µm;
All “recreational strains” are THC-rich, depending on the strain, the trichome production may differ, resulting in more or fewer trichomes on your plants, but either way, all cannabis plants will produce trichomes.
For home growers, the trichomes are the standard practice to know exactly when to harvest but in nature, the compounds produce by the cannabis plant provide defense mechanisms, such as terpenes, which smell helps keep away predators.
Also, the sticky trichomes protect the buds from insects and against UV light, and although we don’t usually think about this when growing indoors, all the parts of a cannabis plant have an important role when cannabis plants grow in nature.
13. The Life Cycle of Cannabis Plants
Now that you know everything you need about the anatomy of cannabis plants, let’s understand a bit more about the life cycle of cannabis plants. Cannabis plants can take anywhere from 8 to 32 weeks to grow and mature, and during this time it goes through four stages, they are:
- Germination stage;
- Seedling stage;
- Vegetative stage;
- Flowering stage.
And it’s essential for you to understand these stages to grow healthy plants as each stage requires different light spectrums, light cycles, nutrients, and growing conditions.
The Germination Stage
Just like with any other plant, cannabis plants start from seeds. Cannabis seeds are dormant until exposed to warmth and moisture. This means that if you are looking to germinate cannabis seeds or any other type of seed, you will have to hydrate it and place it in good conditions.
After planted, seeds can take anywhere from 3 to 10 days to germinate and seeds contain enough food for 2-3 weeks, which means there’s no need to water with a nutrient solution until the seedling has come out of the soil. Once the seedling comes out of the soil, you’ll see two small rounded leaves which are called cotyledons, and this is what marks the beginning of the seedling stage.
The Seedling Stage
The seedling stage of cannabis plants can take anywhere from 1- 3 weeks, and sometimes more depending on the strain and growing conditions. During the seedling stage, plants focus on developing roots and foliage, this means that the roots are still small and fragile so be careful to not overfeed or overwater them. Once you’re in the seedling stage, make sure to provide 18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness, and remember to keep an eye on them as they’re extremely susceptible to pests and diseases.
The Vegetative Stage
After a couple of weeks in the vegetative stage, your plants will start needing more food, light, and water as the roots and foliage start to grow exponentially. During the vegetative stage, you have to make sure you’re feeding your plant higher levels of nitrogen and less phosphorus and potassium as nitrogen is needed to develop foliage. If you’re growing indoors, the general rule is to flip to 12/12 (which triggers flowering) once the plant is ⅓ or ½ of the size you want them to be by harvest.
The Flowering Stage
Once you flip to 12/12 (or when autumn comes outdoors), your plants will start flowering. The flowering stage can take anywhere from 6 to 10 weeks or even more, depending on the strain. This stage starts with the appearance of pre-flowers which will eventually fatten up and turn into those delicious sticky flowers you’ve been waiting for so long. Obviously, this is just a quick rundown and there are a lot of things to keep in mind, other than the light cycle but understanding the life cycle and anatomy of cannabis plants will allow you to anticipate problems before they happen.
14. In conclusion
Cannabis plants are millennial plants that have developed and perfected their structure throughout the years, even though we don’t see it like that, all the parts of a cannabis plant are essential for them to grow and perpetuate their species.
Feel free to leave tips and more important information to help educate fellow growers, leave a comment in the comment section below!