If ten years ago someone said that autoflowering cannabis strains would be as popular as they are now, most of the growers would never believe that. However, this “way to fame” was not easy.
Today, you can buy autoflowering seeds in most dispensaries of the U.S. and Europe. These strains are easy to grow and mostly resistant to mold and mildew. But their biggest advantage still is a relatively short growing time regardless of the light regime. Instead of harvesting cannabis in the middle of September or even in October, now you can plant autflowering seeds in March and get your first yield already in June. This way, some growers have multiple harvests within one season.
Autoflowering strains are the result of interbreeding usual Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica with their wild, untamed sister Cannabis ruderalis. Ruderalis is widely spread in the Central and Eastern Europe, it has a very low level of THC, so it is used mostly for industrial purposes. Why then does it attract the attention of the growers? The thing is, Cannabis ruderalis does not depend on light periods, these plants have an installed program that makes them switch to flowering mode regardless of the climate conditions.
The first attempt to make any profit from this valuable property of ruderalis was made back in the early nineties by a Dutch seed bank Sensi Seeds. Their Ruderalis Skunk and Ruderalis Indica had a low THC level, and the autoflowering properties were not yet stabilized. That meant that buying a pack of seeds, a grower risked having a very poor yield with only half of the plants switching automatically to the flowering period. These strains, of course, failed in sales, and the experiments with ruderalis were put on a back burner.
Only about ten years later, in 2002, the situation started to change. The breeder The Joint Doctor (U.K.) presented the Lowryder strain, which was a mix of Northern Lights #2, William's Wonder, and Cannabis ruderalis. Not only this strain was stabilized, but it also had a small size, which was a big benefit for growing indoors. Lowryder became the first commercially successful autoflowering strain.
However, the high effect was still far from what you could expect from regular indica, sativa, or hybrid strains. Most growers did not even take that strain seriously. However, it became popular in the Central Europe, where the climate is mild, and cannabis enthusiasts were ready to experiment further with autoflowering properties.
The biggest problem was the low THC level. The biggest advantage was the opportunity to harvest plants during summer months. With the changing climate, autumn began to be much more humid and rainy, so the risks of spoiling the whole harvest during the last two months became very high.
The shorter the growing and flowering stages, the fewer the chances for the cannabis garden to get infected by mold and mildew.
So Dutch and Spanish seedbanks started to mix strains in order to improve the taste, aroma, and effects of autoflowering strains. And pretty soon, they reached amazing results. The properties of modern descendants of Cannabis ruderalis are very close to their indica and sativa sisters. Short and strong, autoflowering plants give harvest already by the middle of June. In some cases, they ripen by the beginning of August, but in any case long before the rainy season begins.
So, since autoflowering seeds have so many benefits, why have they not yet driven other strains out of the market? The thing is, there are still some drawbacks that do not let the new “programmed” strains conquer the cannabis industry.
First of all, it is the quantity of the yield. Comparing to regular strains, autoflowering plants give very little yield, up to 50 grams from one plant. Another thing is that some strains are still not resistant to mildew. The chances to get it during the dry season are low, but it is still possible, especially if you grow your cannabis outdoors.
And another quite irritating drawback is that growers cannot get their own autoflowering cannabis seeds since almost all seeds are feminized.
This comes in handy if you want all your plants to be female so that the total yield is bigger. However, every time you need to plant new plants, you have to either use clones or buy new seeds (and they usually cost more than regular strains). Not that it is impossible to buy non-feminized autoflowering strains, but they are much rarer, and the choice is very limited.
So, as you can see, autoflowering strains have their pros and cons, and it is up to every grower to decide what to grow. In any case, it is still worth trying.