Before you get started growing, it's important to understand the basics of an Autoflower plant's lifecycle.
Knowing this will give a rough idea of what to expect, and help you spot any issues along the way.
In this guide, we'll delve into each weekly stage of a typical autoflower's growth cycle.
We'll also show you some pictures to help you decide whether your Auto is on track or not.
At the end of the article, we'll look at some common problems that growers face when growing autoflowers, and how you can resolve them.
What Are The Stages of An Autoflower Plants Life?
Unlike photoperiod plants, which require specific light cycles to transition from vegetative growth to flowering, Autoflowers begin flowering automatically based on their age.
Here's a quick overview of the general stages of an Autoflowering plant's lifecycle:
Seed Germination (1-7 days): This is the initial stage where the seed is activated. Typically, seeds are placed in a damp medium (like paper towels or directly in soil) and kept warm. After a few days to a week, the seed splits, and a taproot emerges.
Seedling Stage (1-3 weeks): The seedling stage begins when the sprout emerges from the soil. The first leaves that appear are usually single-fingered, followed by more complex and multi-fingered leaves. The plant is particularly vulnerable during this time and needs careful attention to ensure it is not overwatered or exposed to harsh conditions.
Vegetative Stage (2-4 weeks): In this stage, the plant will focus on growing bigger and taller, developing a robust root system and larger and thicker leaves. This is when the plant builds its overall structure, which will be used to support the buds in the final stage.
Flowering Stage (5-8 weeks): Autoflowering plants typically begin flowering around the 3rd or 4th week of life, regardless of light cycle, hence their name. They start to grow buds, which will eventually be harvested. This is the final growth stage, which ends when the buds are ripe and ready to be harvested.
Harvest: The plant is ready to be harvested when most of the pistils have darkened and curled in. Another way to determine if the plant is ready to harvest is by looking at the trichomes (tiny mushroom-like glands on the flowers) under a magnifying glass. When half of these trichomes turn from clear to a milky color, it's usually a good time to harvest.
Please keep in mind that each of these stages can vary slightly depending on the specific strain that you are growing as well as your growing conditions.
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Advantages of the short Autoflower life cycle
Here's a reminder of some of the main advantages of having a short life cycle.
- Fast growth: Autoflowering strains have a seed-to-harvest cycle of just 8 to 12 weeks, ideal for novice growers and busy schedules.
- Independent of light schedule: Autoflowers transition from vegetative to the flowering stage without a complex light schedule, making growth less dependent on light conditions.
- Quick harvests: The shorter life cycle allows for enjoying the benefits of a cannabis harvest sooner and with less effort.
- Multiple harvests per year: Autoflowers aren't limited by seasonal growth calendars, enabling multiple harvests annually.
- Great for beginners: Autoflowers are an excellent option for those with limited time or experience in cannabis cultivation.
- Pest and disease resistance: Autoflowers exhibit resistance to common pests and diseases, adding to their appeal.
- Climate tolerance: Autoflowers have a wider tolerance for various climates, making them versatile plants.
- Compact size: Their smaller stature makes Autoflowers more manageable and less overwhelming in limited spaces.
> Tip: although Autoflowers are fast, some Autos faster than others. Check out our guide to the fastest Autoflowering strains with the shortest life cycle.
The life cycle of an autoflower plant - week by week pictures
Below are the week-by-week pictures of from very own Bruce Banner Autoflower Seeds.
This grow took around 12 weeks to complete from germination the seeds to drying and curing the buds.
Please keep in mind that every grow will be slightly different depending on the Autoflower strain that you're using and your grow setup, so expect some variation in results.
- Autoflower week 1
- Autoflower week 2
- Autoflower week 3
- Autoflower week 4
- Autoflower week 5
- Autoflower week 6
- Autoflower week 7
- Autoflower week 8
- Autoflower week 9
- Autoflower week 10
- Autoflower week 11
- Autoflower week 12
During the germination stage, which typically lasts between 1 and 3 days, your seed will activate and start to sprout roots below as well as a shoot above.
This timeframe may vary depending on your setup and the specific strain. The germination stage is particularly exciting for first-time growers as things progress quickly and you can observe if your plant is off to a strong start.
Many growers prefer to germinate their seeds before planting them in the soil to ensure they are viable. The paper towel method is commonly used:
- Take a clean plate and lay a few layers of moist paper towels on it.
- Place your cannabis seeds on the paper towel, leaving a few centimeters of space between them.
- Cover them with a few more layers of moist paper towels.
- Put another plate on top to create a sort of 'clamshell' structure – this will maintain the humidity and temperature inside.
- Keep the setup in a warm, dark place. The top of a refrigerator or inside a cupboard are commonly used spots.
- Your seeds should start to germinate within 24 to 72 hours. You'll see a small white taproot emerge from each seed.
- Check your seeds every 12 hours but try not to disturb them. You're looking for the taproot to be about a quarter of an inch to half an inch long (0.5 to 1 cm).
- Make sure the paper towels remain moist but not soaking wet.
Transplanting to Soil:
Once the taproot has emerged, it's time to transplant the seedling into your growing medium.
- Prepare a small hole in the soil about 1 cm deep.
- Using a pair of tweezers or clean fingers, gently pick up the seed by the part that's not the root and place it in the hole with the root facing down.
- Cover the seed lightly with soil.
Providing Essential Conditions:
During this crucial first week, the seedlings need the right conditions to grow well:
- Soil: Use organic, nutrient-rich soil that drains well. Adding mycorrhiza to your soil can improve the roots' ability to absorb nutrients and water.
- Light: Seedlings need a lot of light. If you're growing indoors, place your grow light about 36 inches (90 cm) above the seedlings to prevent them from drying out or burning. Gradually lower the light as the plant grows.
- Humidity: Keep the humidity level high, between 70-80%, to prevent your seedlings from drying out. You can use a spray bottle to mist the plants and increase humidity.
- Temperature: Maintain a temperature between 20°C and 25°C. If the temperature drops too low, the seedlings' growth may slow or stop.
Caring for Your Seedlings:
Water your seedlings with a spray bottle until the soil is moist but not soaking. Be careful not to overwater, as this can cause root rot.
Related:how to germinate cannabis seeds
By the second week, your seedlings should be growing rapidly, and small leaves will start to appear. These leaves will form the base for photosynthesis, which is crucial for their development. You should see at least 2-3 sets of leaves on your plants at this stage.
Now is the time to introduce a consistent lighting schedule. While autoflowering cannabis plants do not require a change in light schedule to start flowering, they still benefit from regular light exposure.
A 16/8 lighting schedule (16 hours of light followed by 8 hours of darkness) is a good starting point. This simulates a long summer day and allows the plant to rest during the "nighttime" period.
Ensure your lights are positioned correctly. They should be close enough to provide sufficient light but not so close that they burn or dry out your plants. A distance of about 30 to 50 cm (12 to 20 inches) is a good starting point for LED lights, but you should follow the manufacturer's guidelines.
If you're using LED lights, they should have a full spectrum - providing both red and blue light for photosynthesis.
Nutrients and Watering:
Autos are usually smaller and less demanding than traditional cannabis plants, so you should adjust nutrient levels accordingly. Start with a reduced dosage (half or even a quarter of the recommended dosage on the packaging) to avoid over-fertilization. You can gradually increase the nutrients as the plant grows.
Watering should be done carefully. Too much water can lead to root rot, while too little will dry out your plant. As a rule of thumb, only water your plants when the top 1 inch of the soil feels dry to the touch.
Temperature and Humidity:
The optimal temperature for seedling growth is around 20-25°C (68-77°F). If possible, try to maintain this temperature range in your growing area.
Relative humidity levels should be kept high for seedlings, ideally around 60-70%. As your plants grow, you can gradually decrease the humidity.
Monitoring Plant Health:
Keep an eye out for signs of stress or disease in your plants. Yellowing leaves, slow growth, or spots could indicate problems with lighting, nutrients, or pests. Catching these issues early can help ensure a successful harvest.
By week 3, your autoflower should have fully transitioned into the vegetative stage and reached approximately 15 cm in height. However, don't be concerned if your plant's growth is slightly faster or slower, or if it's taller or shorter—every seed variety is unique. During this stage, more leaves and offshoots will form, indicating a healthy, vigorous plant. Maintain the same light settings as before to support continued vertical growth.
At this point, the humidity should be significantly lower than during the germination stage, as your plant will have developed strong roots and leaves. Aim for 50% relative humidity and air temperatures around 20°C. Now is the time to start implementing low-stress training techniques, such as SCROG or SOG, to ensure your stems and buds receive ample light in the long run. Keep daily water feeding levels at about 500 ml, and avoid overwatering, as this can increase humidity and encourage mold growth.
At this stage, your cannabis plant is thriving with lush green leaves and consistent growth. It's crucial to fully incorporate training methods during this period to avoid stressing your plant when it enters the flowering stage. You may begin to observe pre-flowering signs on the plant's nodes, but since your plant is still growing, opt for growth-focused fertilizers instead of flowering solutions.
Throughout this week, most of your regimen should remain consistent—maintain steady light levels, keep humidity at 50%, and continue to water at a rate of 500 ml per day. As your plant grows taller, adjust the lighting so that it's no closer than 70 cm from the canopy. This helps to prevent light burn and ensures your plant receives ample, evenly distributed light for optimal growth.
By week 5, your plant should display pre-flowering signs on the stem's nodes. Female plants will start developing pistils, which appear as hair-like structures between the stem and branches. In contrast, male plants produce pollen sacs. If you don't intend to seed your autoflowers, it's important to remove male plants as soon as you notice sac growth, preventing them from pollinating your crop and affecting the yield.
Regarding your plant's care routine, maintain the same feeding and lighting regimen as before. Keep in mind that some plants may begin flowering earlier than others, so closely monitor their progress, as the next stage will necessitate a few adjustments. For now, continue to position your lighting at least 70 cm away from the canopy to encourage healthy growth and prevent light burn.
Upon noticing the characteristic signs of flowering on your plant's nodes, it's time to modify your lighting and feeding regimen. Switch to a flowering stage fertilizer and adjust your lighting to a red spectrum instead of blue, promoting the development of resinous buds. Why is changing the fertilizer necessary? Flowering nutrients contain higher levels of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which support healthy growth during this phase.
Flowering autoflower strains also need twice the amount of water compared to the vegetative stage, so increase your watering to 1 liter every 24 hours. Raising the temperature to around 23°C further benefits the plants during this stage. It's essential to closely monitor the pH levels, maintaining a range of 6 to 6.5 for optimal growth and nutrient absorption.
By week 7, the flowering process should be well underway, showcasing beautiful colors and bud formation. As the aroma intensifies and potency increases, lower the humidity to 40% and increase your daily watering to 1.5 liters. Your plant is likely to reach around 30 cm in height, so it's a good idea to adjust your lighting to approximately 45 cm above the canopy. Additionally, increase feeding as recommended by your fertilizer's instructions.
During this stage, it's important to regularly inspect your plants for any abnormalities on the buds, such as protrusions or abscesses. Although rare, hermaphroditic plants can start to self-pollinate at this phase. Be vigilant for any indications of hermaphroditic plants and remove them promptly to prevent them from pollinating nearby plants.
During week 8, some fast-growing autoflowers may complete the flowering process, while many others continue to thrive. Keep a close eye on the flowering progress and bud development, as patience is crucial during this stage to ensure the highest quality, most potent buds. Avoid rushing the process or prematurely harvesting.
In terms of growing conditions, maintain the current regimen with 1.5 liters of water per day, 40% humidity, and 24°C air temperatures. Regularly examine the leaves for any issues, such as rusty-brown coloring or dullness, which could indicate a nutrient deficiency. If you notice these signs, increase your plant's potassium intake and correct the pH balance. During this stage, a magnifying glass becomes an invaluable tool for inspecting potential pests and maintaining the health of your plants.
In week 9, depending on your strain, you should either continue with your flowering regimen or proceed to the pre-harvest stage. Maintaining consistency in lighting, humidity, nutrients, and water is crucial for promoting growth, and it's important to regularly inspect your plants for pests or mold. Be vigilant for any unusual changes in leaf color, such as browning or burning, as these may signal nutrient-related issues.
During this late-flowering period, controlling humidity levels is essential in preventing many potential problems. Continue using your flower fertilizer, maintain a 40% humidity level, and keep the air temperature at 24°C. Stick to providing 1.5 liters of water per day, and be careful not to over-water, as excess moisture can lead to increased humidity and potential issues for your plants.
As the flowering stage nears its end, buds will become dense, firm, heavy, and resinous, with pistils displaying a variety of colors. The secondary fan leaves may turn yellow as your autoflower plant approaches the final stages of flowering. To improve the taste, it's essential to start flushing the soil of nutrients in the next step. Continue feeding and lighting your flowering plant as usual until it reaches full maturity.
If your buds are still developing, simply consider your plant to be at an earlier stage and maintain consistency with your feeding and nutrient management. Some autoflowers, like Amnesia Haze, can take up to 12 weeks to fully mature through the flowering stage. The key during this period is to be consistent, patient, and diligently inspect your plants for any changes or issues.
Once your buds appear notably resinous and heavy, it's time to consider harvesting. You can harvest your plant when the pistils darken and start to curl. If they're still protruding, give it a few more days for them to curl and unveil the substantial bud beneath. A useful tip is to inspect the bud with a magnifying glass, checking for frosty white, mushroom-shaped trichomes.
Before harvesting, it's essential to flush the plant. Stop providing your plant with its usual nutrient-rich solution and instead saturate the soil with water daily. This process removes residual nutrients in the soil, leading to a smoother and more neutral flavor. Repeat this throughout the week.
Defoliation involves trimming away smaller leaves and overgrown canopies to promote light exposure. Be aware that this increases the risk of mold development over the next week, so stay vigilant. The effects of flushing will become evident as leaves begin to brown and fall off in the coming days. Maintain consistency in watering, and continue with your established light, humidity, and temperature routines.
Autoflower plants typically reach harvest readiness between 8 to 12 weeks after planting. However, each strain's genetic profile can result in varying life cycles, so don't be concerned if your plant matures at a different pace. You'll know it's time to harvest when the pistils turn a brownish-red color and the trichomes become a thick, milky white.
Some buds may ripen faster than others, especially those at the top, which receive more light. In such cases, you can harvest the ripe buds and allow the less developed ones more time to mature, ensuring that light reaches the lower buds as well.
At this stage, you'll finally reap the rewards of your patience. Use sterilized scissors to snip off the buds, then prepare them for drying and curing—a crucial process that turns your valuable nugs into refined, aromatic buds. Always maintain clean work surfaces and utensils to prevent contamination. Although it might be tempting to skip curing, this essential step mellows and matures the flavor of your buds, resulting in a smoother smoke and reducing the prominence of chlorophyll.
Drying and Curing the Buds After Harvest
Once you have successfully harvested your autoflower plants, the next important steps are drying and curing the buds. These processes are essential for preserving the buds, enhancing their flavor, and ensuring a smooth smoking experience.
Drying the Buds
Trimming: Begin by trimming the harvested buds, removing excess leaves and stems. This helps to speed up the drying process and improve the final appearance of the buds.
Hanging: Hang the trimmed buds upside down in a dark, well-ventilated room with a stable temperature of around 18-21°C and a humidity level of 45-55%. You can use a drying rack, clothes hangers, or string to suspend the buds, ensuring proper airflow around each bud.
Monitoring: Check the buds daily to ensure they are drying evenly and to prevent the growth of mold or mildew. The drying process typically takes 7-14 days, depending on the size of the buds and the environmental conditions.
Testing: You can tell when the buds are sufficiently dry by bending the stems. If they snap easily, the buds are ready for the curing stage. If the stems still bend without snapping, give them more time to dry.
Curing the Buds
Preparing: Once the buds are dry, trim any remaining small leaves and place the buds in airtight glass jars, filling them about ¾ full to allow for some air circulation.
Storing: Store the jars in a cool, dark place, like a cupboard or closet, maintaining a temperature of around 18-21°C and a humidity level of 55-62%.
Burping: During the first week of curing, open the jars daily for 15-30 minutes to release excess moisture and replenish the air inside. This process, known as "burping," helps to prevent mold and mildew growth and allows the buds to cure evenly.
Monitoring: After the first week, reduce the burping frequency to once every 2-3 days for the next two weeks. Keep an eye on the buds for any signs of mold or off smells, which may indicate a problem.
Curing Duration: The curing process generally takes 2-4 weeks but can be extended for several months to further enhance the flavor and aroma of the buds. The longer the curing process, the smoother and more refined the final product will be.
Storage: Once the curing process is complete, store the jars in a cool, dark place for long-term storage. Make sure to check the buds occasionally to ensure they remain in optimal condition. Properly dried and cured buds can be stored for up to a year without significant loss of potency or flavor.
Common Autoflower Problems To Look Out For
While growing Autos, you may encounter various issues that can hinder their growth or affect the quality of the final product. Being aware of these common problems and knowing how to address them can help you maintain a healthy, thriving crop. Here are some typical issues and solutions:
Nutrient deficiencies or toxicities: Yellowing, curling, or wilting leaves can indicate nutrient problems. Regularly monitor pH levels and adjust your nutrient regimen accordingly. Flush the soil with water if nutrient buildup occurs.
Over- or under-watering: Wilting, drooping, or yellowing leaves can be signs of water stress. Ensure proper drainage, and maintain a consistent watering schedule based on the plant's needs at each stage.
Pests and diseases: Spider mites, aphids, whiteflies, and fungal infections like powdery mildew can damage your plants. Inspect your plants regularly and treat pests or diseases with appropriate organic or chemical solutions. Maintain a clean growing environment to prevent future outbreaks.
Temperature and humidity issues: Too hot, too cold, or fluctuating temperatures can stress your plants. Keep temperatures and humidity within the recommended range for each growth stage, and use ventilation or heaters as needed to maintain a stable environment.
Light stress: Too much or too little light can negatively impact your plant's growth. Ensure the proper distance between your light source and the plant canopy, and maintain consistent light cycles throughout the growth stages.
Stunted growth: Genetics, environmental factors, or improper care can lead to stunted growth. Choose high-quality seeds, provide optimal growing conditions, and avoid transplanting Autoflowers to minimize stress.
Hermaphroditism: Stress or genetic predisposition can cause a plant to develop both male and female reproductive organs, potentially leading to self-pollination and seedy buds. Inspect your plants regularly for signs of hermaphroditism and remove any affected plants from your garden.