Grow Guide: Battle of the Sexes

In this Grow Guide, we’re going to cover the basics and walk you through the differences between a male cannabis plant and a female cannabis plant. It’s a surprise to most people that cannabis plants can actually be male or female, but our precious greens do have genders! And it’s important to know the difference if you are growing your own sacred herb.

Clones are guaranteed to be female if they are taken from a female plant (and vice versa). Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

If you purchase a clone from a dispensary, it is 99.9% of the time going to be a female because the dispensary will have taken the cutting from a female mother plant. However, if you buy a pack of seeds, it is often a 50/50 split between seeds that are female/male (you can avoid this issue altogether by finding packs of feminized seeds that are guaranteed to be female).

Female cannabis plants are the ones that produce the big sticky buds we all love to smoke, so if you are growing to smoke, you will be scouting for females.

Male cannabis plants are primarily used for breeding. As male plants mature they develop a different, resin-less flower that releases pollen.

If you are interested in breeding strains, you will want to be on the look-out for healthy males from the strains with your favorite characteristics. However, if you’re purely growing to smoke, you’ll want to remove males immediately after you discover them or else they will ruin an entire grow by turning your female plants into hermaphrodites and forcing their energy to creating seeds rather than resin.

Unfortunately, there is no way to tell gender from the seeds themselves. Discovering gender only comes from growing the plant out for a couple weeks and observing its subtle characteristics.

One of the first things you’ll notice is the vigorous growth of males – they ordinarily grow faster, stronger, and larger than females in the vegetative stage.


Example of a male showing his pre-flower stamen development. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

When your plants have been growing for about six weeks, they may develop pre-flowers which can signal gender. Noticing gender from pre-flowers takes a trained eye. Right around each grow node the plant will develop tiny pistils (white hairs), which signify female, or tiny stamens (round green balls), which signify male. The pre-flowers look very similar at first because the female pistils grow out of a small calyx, which looks almost exactly like the male stamen. The main difference is that the female calyx will be more tear-drop shaped, with a pointier tip.

Gender becomes most obvious when you flip from vegetative stage to flowering stage (childhood to adulthood essentially). In the vegetative stage, your plants will be focused on growing taller and larger, all energy growth is directed towards the stalks and leaves. When you flip to flower, your plants will slow down on the vertical growth and begin directing all their energy towards developing flowers. Flowering is triggered by changing the light cycle from 24 hours of light to 12 hours of light. Within a week or two into flower, the gender of your plants will be quite obvious.

Since it can be difficult to distinguish male versus female in the pre-flower stage, it is easiest to wait until you begin to flower. The only issue arises when you flip to flower and then realize half of your grow is male! This is an unlikely situation but it is possible, so if you are growing purely to smoke then it’s best to avoid this heartache altogether and just stick with clones or feminized seeds.

In flower, males will continue to develop their stamen, which forms pollen sacs in grape-like bunches. If left long enough, these sacs will bloom into beautiful little flowers that open up to release pollen.


Male Stamen just opening and about to drop pollen. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.


Female plant beginning to develop flowers. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.


Female flower shooting out pistils about 2 weeks into flower. Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.

When flipped to a 12/12 light cycle, female plants will direct all their energy on developing resinous flowers at each node space.

Stay tuned because next week we are going to teach you how to breed your own cannabis strains!

A Guide to Starting Your Own Grow 

Grow Guide: Choosing the Best Lights

Grow Guide: Compost Teas 101

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