Differences Between Autoflower and Regular Strain Marijuana Plants

You’ll very likely come across the term “autoflower” when buying seeds. In fact, this is often a whole category on most websites and you may be confused to see two strains with the same name but classified under different categories. Some may even have a significant price difference. This may draw in unsuspecting beginners who may think “If I can get the same thing for a lower price, why the heck not?”

However, there is a huge difference between an autoflower strain and regular or photoperiod one. The biggest one is how these two types react differently to light which we discussed in “Understanding and Applying Light Cycles for Growing Cannabis”. In addition to this, we’ll also be looking into other differences so you can choose the kind suitable for your growing setup.

The Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis

First let’s look at how autoflowers came to be. If you’ve read the article mentioned previously, it mentions where the Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis subspecies thrived before they were domesticated. The climate in these regions gave early landrace strains some very unique characteristics that used to be a huge consideration when choosing what to grow.

H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sativa is the tallest of the three. It has a slender stature with thinner leaves, having grown in more favorable tropical climates. Since it originated in regions where days are roughly the same length as nights all throughout the year, it isn’t as reactive to light cycle changes. However, it also takes longer to grow and flower in general.

Eiku, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Indica is a bit shorter, bushier with wider leaves, and has a signature Christmas tree shape. Having grown in subtropical and temperate zones where days shorten during winters, it is more sensitive to light cycle changes and is faster to grow and flower compared to Sativa. 

Eiku, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ruderalis is the shortest of the three and does not have the traditional five-fingered marijuana leaf. This feral cannabis, which survived harsh winters and human disruption, grows fast and is able to flower without the need for light cycles. It is largely useless for recreational and medical purposes but its genetics became of great value to breeders that used it to create autoflowering Sativa and Indica strains. 

So which is better to grow, Sativa or Indica?

When buying marijuana seeds, you can now choose based on characteristics like plant height, growing duration, smell, taste, THC/CBD content, effects and so on. Most strains on the market are now hybrids which means the disadvantages of each subspecies is no longer much of a constraining factor for growers. For example, Sativas generally take longer to grow than Indicas but the Grand Daddy Purple Regular, a photoperiod indica strain has a flowering time of 8 to 14 weeks compared to 00 Seeds’ Gorilla FAST Feminised sativa’s 40 to 45 days. 

These characteristics can further be tweaked with modern growing techniques and technologies. Nowadays, growers can grow any subspecies or strain anytime, anywhere, it’s just a question of whether they have enough skills or are willing to spend on it.    

Are Autoflowers Inferior?

Chrisgedwards, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As a product of crossbreeding with Ruderalis, some people have the notion that autoflower strains are inferior to their photoperiod counterparts. While it is true that they typically have lower THC levels and smaller yield per plant, these “inferiorities” are in most cases very much negligible and overwhelmed by the numerous desirable characteristics. 

Why grow autoflowers?  

Autoflowers are a godsend especially to indoor home growers for a number of reasons:

  • No need for light cycles – Possibly the greatest trait autoflower hybrids got from Ruderalis is that they are not dependent on light cycle changes to transition into flowering. Photoperiod plants need 18 to 24 hours of light daily during the vegetative stage and 12 hours of darkness during the flowering stage, otherwise they won’t bloom. Autoflowers also won’t accidentally revert to the vegging stage if exposed to light during dark cycles. 
  • Doesn’t grow tall – Growers who don’t have a lot of vertical space love autoflowers for obvious reasons. Some strains can even grow to a mere 40 to 70 cm and are great for guerilla grows.
  • Short life cycle – Most autoflowers will be ready for harvest in 13 weeks and even as early as 7, saving you the excruciating wait.
  • Hardy genetics – Since they carry Ruderalis genetics, they are not as finicky, a bit more resistant to diseases and can get by with minimal nutrients. 
  • High CBD levels – The Ruderalis barely produced any THC but had good levels of CBD. Most autoflowers will have some CBD in them which can take the edge off high THC strains.

Should I grow a Regular or Autoflower?

While autoflowers sound like a dream, they are not always the best option for every grow setup. Same goes for photoperiod marijuana plants. Rather than thinking in terms of advantages and disadvantages, it is more appropriate to think that the unique characteristics of each subspecies can be more suitable to a particular kind of grow setup. 

Photoperiod Sativa, Indica and hybrid strains

  • Better for outdoor growing since these plants are used to a natural light cycle. Sativa is ideal for warmer, sunnier climates and Indica for cooler climates.
  • Can produce bigger yields with more potent, higher quality buds if properly taken care of.
  • Ideal for training: Screen of Green, Low Stress Training, etc.
  • Can be used as a mother plant for seeds and clones.
  • Flowering stage can be delayed to remedy any problems during the growth stage. 
  • Has to be planted at a certain time of the year if to be grown outdoors.
  • Can produce more yield for growers who are limited to a certain number of plants.

Autoflowers

  • Better for hidden guerilla grows and home growers with not a lot of vertical space.
  • Easier to grow for beginners as they are more resilient and not as nutrient hungry.
  • Only ideal for Sea of Green method and cannot be used for breeding.
  • Can bear flowers all year round.
  • Shorter time from seed to harvest.

To give you a better idea of the difference between a photoperiod plant and their auto versions, here’s a chart comparing some of their characteristics that are often considered by growers:

StrainTHC LevelsAverage yieldAverage heightFlowering time
BC Bud Depot’s Jack Herer Regular21.5%Moderate. Estimated 400 to 600 gr/m2152 to 182cm8 to 10 weeks
Seedsman’s Jack Herer Auto Feminized16%Indoors: 400 to 500 gr/m2
Outdoors: 190 gr/plant
90 to 100 cm9 to 10 weeks from germination
Blimburn Seeds’ Green Crack Feminized21%Around 600 gr/m2600 gr/m27 to 8 weeks
Fastbuds Seeds’ Green Crack Auto 12%Indoors: 500 to 650 gr/m2  Outdoors: 70-300 g/plant60 to 90 cm.8 weeks
Emerald Triangle’s Gorilla Glue Feminized17%Estimated 450-600 g/m2up to 200 cm8 to 9 weeks
Barney Farm Seeds’ Gorilla Glue Auto Feminized25%Indoors: 600 gr/m2; Outdoors: 800 gr/m2110 to 130 cm10 to 11 weeks from seed

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is better to grow, autoflowers or photoperiods?

This will depend on your growing situation. Home growers with little space to spare usually find autoflowers to be better. Meanwhile, breeders, outdoor and commercial growers, usually prefer photoperiods.

Do photoperiods produce better buds?

If they are well-taken care of, photoperiods will likely produce a bigger yield of more potent, higher quality buds.

Conclusion

For home growing purposes, the biggest consideration in your choice between growing an autoflower and a photoperiod would probably be vertical space. Autoflowers rarely grow tall so you can easily adjust the distance of your light and most grow tents are already made to accommodate them. This may not be as easy to do for photoperiod plants as they would likely have to be trained so you can get them to receive light better in an indoor setting. 

THC levels and are not so much of a concern when deciding between a photoperiod and autoflower. Rather, you’d want to look more at the strain and the breeder: a good breeder working with good genetics can pump up levels of THC in an autoflower that can rival its photoperiod versions.

If you’re having trouble deciding what to grow, why not get the best of both worlds and grow both alongside each other? This is totally possible even if you keep both plants in the same room under the same growing conditions since autoflowers aren’t affected by light cycles. This way, you can get buds faster from the autoflowers and be able to get practically unlimited marijuana from your photoperiods.  

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