Germinating & Sexing Cannabis Seeds

Germination is the process in which a new plant begins to grow from a seed. Also referred to as “popping,” germination is the very first step in starting your cannabis garden.

Cannabis seeds can be acquired from an array of sources and can vary in quality.

When acquiring seeds, you want to make sure they are matured and that they appear dark brown with lighter accents and a hard feel. You don’t want a seed that feels fresh and looks green, which indicates that the seed hasn’t reached full maturity.

Once you have your cannabis seeds, make sure you have the space necessary to allow your plants to grow and be healthy. Don’t pop seeds when you are unsure of your grow space, time availability, or intention with your garden.

What’s the best way to germinate cannabis seeds?

Germinated Hemp Seeds

Cannabis seeds require three things to germinate: water, heat, and air. Because of this, there are many methods to germinate your seeds. The most common and simplest method involves the use of paper towels saturated in water.

For this method you will need:

  • Two clean plates
  • Paper towels
  • Seeds

Step 1:

Take four sheets of paper towels and soak them with distilled water. The sheets should be soaked but shouldn’t have excess water running off.

Step 2:

Take two of the paper towels and place them on a plate. Then, place the cannabis seeds at least an inch apart from each other and cover them with the remaining two sheets of water-soaked paper towels.

Step 3:

To create a dark, protected space, take another plate and flip it over to cover the seeds (like a dome).

Step 4:

Make sure the area they’re kept in is warm, somewhere between 70-90°F.

After these steps have been completed, it’s time to wait. You can check the paper towels to make sure they’re still saturated, and if they seem to be losing their moisture, you can apply more water to keep the seeds happy.

Some seeds germinate very rapidly while others can take several days. You know a seed has germinated once the seed splits and a single sprout appears.

This is the taproot, which will become the main stem of the plant, and seeing it is a sign of successful germination. It’s important to keep this area sterile, so don’t touch the seed or taproot as the seed begins to split.

Transplanting germinated cannabis seeds

transplanting germinated cannabis seeds

Once you see the taproot, it’s time to transfer your germinated seed into its growing medium. Small 2-inch pots are a good place to start.

Fill the pots with loose, airy potting soil and poke a hole in the middle about a quarter-inch down using a pen or pencil.

To transfer the seed, use a pair of tweezers to gently pick it up, then drop the seed in the hole with the taproot facing down. Lightly cover it with soil.

Next, you’ll need to water the soil. Initially, use a spray bottle to provide moisture without over-saturating the soil. You want to give the seed water, but over-watering can suffocate and kill the delicate sprout.

Pay attention to the temperature and the moisture level of the soil to keep the seed happy, and within a week or so you should see a seedling begin to grow from the soil.

Germinating seeds doesn’t always go as planned. Some seeds will be duds. Others will be slow and take longer to sprout. But some will pop quickly and grow rapidly.This is the beauty of seeds—often, you can tell which plants or genetics will thrive right from the get-go. This will help you determine which plants you want to take cuttings from for clones and which to breed with other strong plants to create a seed bank of your own.

In the world of plants, reproduction can happen in a variety of ways. Monoecious plants produce two different types of flowers on the same plant, and hermaphrodite plants grow single flowers that have both male and female reproductive organs.

Cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning male or female reproductive organs appear on different plants.

With cannabis, females are usually isolated away from males—introducing males into a garden will result in pollination, causing females to create seeds.

This is important for a breeder to achieve new genetics, but most growers remove the males to allow females to produce seedless buds, also called sinsemilla. These are the resinous buds that appear on the store shelf; they all come from female plants.

Seeded buds are generally regarded as low-quality cannabis. When seeds are present, the smoke is harsh and unpleasant.

Female genetics can be guaranteed by obtaining clones and feminized (genetically modified) If, however, you’re working with regular seeds and are unsure of your seed’s sex, knowing how to determine the sex of your plant is vital to developing new genetics, gathering seeds, or growing sinsemilla.

Sexing cannabis plants is easy. Let’s see how to tell.

How to determine the sex of a cannabis plant

Female cannabis pre-flowers grow as tiny bracts with hair-like stigma peeking out. Male plants produce small, round balls at the nodes.

Cannabis plants show their sex by what grows in between their nodes (where leaves and branches extend from the stalk). Pollen sacs will develop on a male plant to spread seeds and stigma will develop on a female to catch pollen. You can see these differences weeks before they actually start serving their purposes in the reproduction cycle. These are known as “pre-flowers.”

Pre-flowers begin to develop four weeks into growth, but they may take a little longer depending on how quickly the sprouting phase occurs. By the sixth week, you should be able to find the pre-flowers and confidently determine the sex of your plant.

Pre-flowers can initially be extremely small and hard to identify with the naked eye, but you can use a magnifying glass to get a better look. Examine the nodes of the plant and look for either the early growth of small sacs on a male, or two bracts on a female, which will eventually produce the hair-like stigma.

Though there are other methods to determine what sex the plant is, examining pre-flower formation is the most reliable.

Removing males early on is important for two reasons: it frees up space in your garden so females can grow bigger and stronger, and it prevents males from pollinating females.

What are hermaphrodite cannabis plants?

Hermaphrodite cannabis can express both sex organs and self-pollinate. (Amy Phung/Leafly)

When a female plant develops both male and female sex organs, it is considered a hermaphrodite. This means your cannabis plant is now capable of producing pollen that can pollinate your entire garden. “Herming out,” as some call it, is something that generally happens when a plant becomes excessively stressed. Some plant stressors include:

  • Plant damage
  • Bad weather
  • Disease
  • Nutrient deficiencies

There are two types of hermaphrodite plants:

  • A plant that develops both buds and pollen sacs
  • A plant that produces anthers, commonly referred to as “bananas” due to their appearance

While both result in pollen production, true hermaphrodites produce sacs that need to rupture, while anthers are exposed, pollen-producing stamen.

The other primary cause of hermaphrodite plants lies in the plant’s genetics. A plant with poor genetics or a history of hermaphrodite development should be avoided to protect your garden. If you notice any pollen sacs or anthers at any point, remove the plant from your garden immediately to prevent pollination of female plants.

If you’re interested in pollinating portions of your crop, remember that pollen is extremely potent and very good at traveling. Keep your males intended for pollination far from your garden space and work carefully with that pollen.

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