male hemp plants

Male vs. Female Hemp Plant: What’s the Difference?

Interested in growing hemp for CBD or CBG? You’ll need to learn as much as you can about the hemp plant itself. That starts with understanding the difference between male and female hemp plants.

Every hemp farmer must be able to identify males and females out in the field. Why? Because if your goal is to produce as much resin as possible (which can be processed for its CBD or CBG), then it’s all about the ladies. Keep reading to learn why your profits lay with female hemp plants.

Male vs. Female Hemp Plants

Hemp (also known as cannabis) is a dioecious plant, meaning that individual plants form female or male reproductive organs. Hemp plants can be male, female, or hermaphrodite.

Many hemp farmers would love to be able to tell whether a hemp seed will eventually grow into a male hemp plant or a female. This is possible through DNA testing of a seedling that is just a few weeks along. Outside of this genetic test, the way to tell a hemp seed’s sex is to plant it in the ground and wait four to six weeks until the hemp plant reaches the “pre-flower” stage.

At around six weeks of growth, farmers should be able to accurately sex their plants by looking closely at the crux of the plants’ branches, also known as the plants’ “nodes.” Male hemp plants grow small pollen sacs at their nodes, while female hemp plants grow bracts. As the female plant matures, wispy, hair-like stigma grow from her bracts, which catch the pollen released by the male. Hermaphrodite hemp plants will typically grow both male and female sex organs.

The Problem with Male Hemp Plants in Your Fields

In order to harvest as much resin as possible from your hemp crop, you must cull your male hemp plants and prevent pollination of your females. That’s because your resin crop resides in the flowers of your female hemp plants.

As a female plant matures, she grows flowers, or buds. While both male and female hemp plants produce small quantities of resin in their leaves, the vast majority of resin is produced in the flowers of female hemp plants. The flowers are what CBD and CBG farmers harvest, and are the ticket to your resin crop.

When male plants successfully pollinate female hemp plants, the females grow seeds in their buds. The energy it takes for females to create seeds is energy they can’t use to create more resin. Unsurprisingly, pollinated females are smaller than unpollinated females and produce far less resin. Additionally, seeded flowers are a hassle for farmers. No customer wants to buy seeded buds (which can make smoking the buds a harsh and unpleasant experience), and de-seeding buds is time-intensive and expensive.

How Can Farmers Prevent Male Hemp Plants from Pollinating Their Females?

Farmers who buy regular hemp seeds (which include a mix of male and female plants) will need to figure out whether each plant is a hemp male or female in order to prevent the males from pollinating the females. They will have to plant their seeds, wait until the plants reach the pre-flower stage in four to six weeks, and sex all their plants. Early in the pre-flower stage, the sex organs of male and female hemp plants can be difficult to distinguish. Some farmers like to use a magnifying glass to help them successfully sex their plants. Another option is to wait toward the end of the pre-flower stage when the sex organs are easier to see, but farmers must be careful. If they wait too long, their hemp plants could mature, and the males could pollinate the females.

When a farmer identifies a male plant, that plant should be culled from the field. This system is time- and labor-intensive, especially if you plan on planting several acres or more of hemp. It also requires you to essentially eliminate half your crop after spending four to six weeks cultivating it.

Farmers who want to sex their plants earlier have another option: they can work with one of several labs across the country to sex their plants. However, this option is expensive and is not practical for large-scale industrial hemp farmers.

One final option that many hemp farmers choose is to invest in feminized hemp seeds or feminized hemp starts.

A Quick Note About Hermaphrodites

As we mentioned, hermaphrodites contain the sex organs of both male and female hemp plants. That means they also have the ability to pollinate female plants and should be culled from your fields along with your males.

Some hermaphrodites are the result of poor seed genetics, but hemp plants can also become hermaphrodites as a result of trauma or stress. Some of the most common triggers that cause plants to “herm out” are:

  • Disease
  • Bad weather
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • High temperatures
  • Inconsistent lighting (when growing indoors)
  • Plant damage

If your plants have undergone stress, like a major weather event, or you notice plants with damage, such as broken branches, take the time to check to see if they are hermaphrodites and need to be culled.

Should You Consider Buying Feminized Seeds?

One of the simplest ways to keep male hemp plants out of your fields is to invest in feminized hemp seeds. Feminized hemp seeds are selectively bred to grow into female plants exclusively. Top hemp seed companies have been able to achieve feminization rates of nearly 100%, though no company can guarantee entirely female seeds.

Feminized seeds tend to be more expensive than a regular batch of seeds, usually double the price or more, depending on which hemp strain you purchase. However, consider the fact that buying regular seeds means you’ll need to cull approximately half your crop and the price difference isn’t so great. Feminized hemp seeds will also save you the trouble of all the labor that goes into culling your males.

Here at High Grade Hemp Seed, we’ve achieved a feminization rate of 99.8%. That’s really good, but it means you should still double-check all of your plants when they reach the pre-flower stage. Even a few males can pollinate a large number of female hemp plants (the wind can carry their pollen across your entire field). Feminized hemp seeds can be a great way to dramatically lower the number of male hemp plants in your field, but they can’t eliminate them.

A final option is to invest in feminized hemp starts. These germinated hemp plants are still too young to sex, but since they are grown from feminized seeds, you can expect the same high rates of feminization from your starts as you would from feminized seeds. Feminized starts are a great option for newer farmers and those without a greenhouse infrastructure. Every start has a strong taproot, which will help the plant stay healthy and strong once you’ve planted it in the field.

In Defense of Male Hemp Plants

Lest you think we’ve been too hard on males in this article, at High Grade Hemp Seed, we actually love male hemp plants. They are a central part of our crossbreeding process. Male hemp plants allow us to constantly test and breed for new strains of hemp, including exciting, industry-changing strains like our Matterhorn CBG or boutique strains like our Cherry Wine and Berry Blossom.

For most hemp farmers who do not plan on creating new hemp plant crossbreeds, however, male hemp plants have no place in their fields. For that reason, we only sell feminized hemp seeds and feminized hemp starts. We believe that offering feminized seeds and starts gives hemp farmers the best chance for success and will earn them more in the long run when compared with regular seeds.

Got Questions?

Hopefully, now that you understand the difference between male and female hemp plants, you understand the value of feminized hemp seeds. Have more questions about male vs. female hemp plants? Contact us. We’d love to help you learn more about hemp seed genetics as you plan your next hemp crop.

Did you know that there are both female and male hemp plants? What are the differences between male and female hemp plants? Read on to learn all about it.

Male vs Female Cannabis Plants

Table of Contents

Marijuana Life Stages & Gender: Only Female Cannabis Plants Make Buds

Did you know there are both male and female marijuana plants? Yes, marijuana plants show gender, and the sex matters a lot to the grower.

That’s because only female plants produce buds. How do you grow female plants?

Regular marijuana seeds will be 50% male, and 50% female. That means half of the seeds will be unusable as far as growing buds.

One way around this is to purchased feminized seeds online. These seeds are available from all reputable online seedbanks, and the plants produced by these seeds are always female.

You can also make your own feminized seeds, but you have to start with two known female plants.

When do marijuana plants reveal their gender?

Cannabis plants go through two stages of life, the “vegetative” stage and the “flowering stage.”

They first go through the vegetative life stage, which you can sort of consider its “childhood” since the plant is only focusing on growing bigger and taller, and gender doesn’t matter. At the beginning of this stage you usually can’t tell what the plant’s gender is.

However, once the plant is about 6 weeks old, it will usually show signs of “pre-flowers” which will alert you to the gender before the beginning of the flowering stage.

Pre-Flowers usually reveal the gender around week 6 from seed

Otherwise you must wait for the flowering stage

Next, cannabis plants switch to the flowering stage which means they stop growing bigger and taller, and instead spend all their effort growing flowers (the buds we want are flowers!). The flowering stage is like the “adult” stage of a cannabis plant since at this point it’s only interested in adult stuff like growing their male and female parts, then pollinating 🙂 In the flowering stage, plants start growing buds or pollen sacs in earnest. The buds we want are female flowers, so growers generally only want to grow female plants.

Growers Want Female Cannabis Plants – These Produce Bud

Regular Marijuana plants reveal their gender in two situations:

After spending a long time in the vegetative stage – some strains/plants will show preflowers (pistils for girls and “balls” for boys) during the vegetative stage if they grow old enough, even when they are constantly kept under a vegetative light schedule. For example, clones can come from plants that are several years old, so you’ll see a lot of clones have female pistils showing, yet will not continue to flower any more than that until after they’ve been switched to a Flowering (12-12) light schedule

Otherwise, all remaining plants will reveal their gender in the first 1-3 weeks after lights are switched to 12-12, and plants enter the flowering stage of life.

Diagram Showing What Pre-Flowers Look Like
Male pre-flowers on left – Female pre-flowers on right

Female Marijuana Plant Pictures

Female marijuana plants take a bit longer than males to show their first signs after being changed over to flowering.

Female marijuana plants start showing one or two wispy white hairs where their buds are going to start forming.

They usually first show up where the main stem connects to the individual nodes or ‘branches’.

If a female plant is kept in the vegetative stage long enough (the length of time varies depending on the strain and conditions), then she will start showing the first sign of female hairs even before you move the plant into the flowering stage by changing the light schedule.

If you see wispy white hairs appearing on your plant like the ones pictured below, then you know you have a female plant.

Click on thumbnails for larger picture

In this pic, you can see white pistils emerging from the calyxes. Female pistils are white and wispy, never green.

This pre-flower doesn’t have a pistil sticking out at first, but the shape helps tell you it’s a female plant. If you’re not sure about gender after spotting a pre-flower, it’s a good idea to wait and see for a little while, just to see if a white hair appears (which means it’s definitely a girl)

Adult Female Cannabis Plant Pictures

Those buds turn into this!

Male Marijuana Plant Pictures

Male plants have grape-like balls which form and fill with pollen. The balls will first show up a week or two after changing the plants over to the flowering stage. If the male is allowed to continue growing, eventually these pollen sacs will burst open and spill pollen everywhere.

A small male pre-flower – this is what male plants look like when they first reveal their gender

These male pre-flowers are basically immature pollen sacs. When the plant starts flowering, they will grow and turn into bunches that almost look like grapes.

Click on thumbnails for larger picture

Uncertain pre-flower – ended up being female!

Sometimes it takes a day or two for a female pre-flower to release her first pistil, and the female calyx can look like the beginning of a pollen sac. Generally the more “pointy” ones tend to be female, but sometimes you have to wait and see a few more flowers to know for sure.

Marijuana plants go through 2 life stages: Vegetative and Flowering

Quick Key to Light Schedules For Photoperiod (Non-Autoflowering) Strains

This key breaks down some of the terms used in the article below such as “24-0″ or 12-12”

Vegetative – Indoor cannabis plants kept on these light schedules will display only vegetative growth

18-6 – 18 Hours Light / 6 Hours Darkness each Day
24-0 – 24 Hours Light / 0 Hours Darkness each Day

Flowering – Indoor cannabis plants on this light schedule will start growing flowers (buds)

12-12 – 12 Hours Light / 12 Hours Darkness each Day

* Most indoor growers use a timer to turn their lights on and off automatically.

The first stage, “Vegetative” begins when they first sprout, at the beginning of their life.

Most growers give their plants 18-24 hours of light a day during the vegetative stage.

When a plant is about half the final size you want it to be, you should change it over to the “Flowering” stage.

The second life stage, “Flowering,” is the stage your plant will remain in until harvest..

You get marijuana plants start flowering (making buds) by changing your light schedule to 12-12.

That means you use an electric timer to automatically shine your grow lights for 12 hours a day, with 12 hours of uninterrupted TOTAL darkness during the plant’s “night period.”

Marijuana plants should reveal the first signs of their gender within 2-3 weeks after being changed to 12-12.

How Light Schedules Affect Marijuana Life Stages

Marijuana plants have an internal process where they can detect how long they receive uninterrupted darkness each day.

In the wild, as the days get shorter and nights get longer, the marijuana plant “realizes” that winter is coming and will start budding/flowering as it approaches the end of it’s lifecycle.

When growing marijuana outdoors, a grower doesn’t need to do anything to induce flowering because the sun will take care of things on its own. All you need to do is make sure your plant isn’t directly under a street light or other light source, so that the plant receives complete darkness at night.

However, when growing marijuana indoors, a marijuana gardener will have to “fool” their plants into thinking winter is coming to induce flowering and kickstart the creation of buds.

This is done by changing the plant’s light schedule to 12-12, where the weed plants gets 12 hours of light a day and 12 hours of total darkness.

It’s easier to ensure the plant gets the 12 full hours of darkness each night when the start and end time for your lights to turn on and off is exactly the same each day. This is why most growers end up getting a timer to turn their lights on and off automatically.

I tend to set my timer in flowering to shine line from 7pm-7am. This gives me time to check on my plants at night when the lights first come on, and I can also check them quickly in the morning before I go to work. It also keeps things cooler since the lights are on at night. Some people (like myself) also get discounts on electricity that’s used at night.

But ANY 12 hour dark period will work, as long as you prevent your plant from getting light leaks during their “night.”

In fact, with marijuana plants, the length of night period, not the length of day period, seems to make the biggest difference. This makes sense if you consider that in the wild, a stormy or cloudy day could shorten the light period a plant receives, but few things in the wild will interrupt the darkness of night.

This has been experimentally verified by some out-of-the-box thinkers. They gave marijuana plants different amounts of light and dark, then watched what happened.

What they found is that a marijuana plant will stay flowering as long as she gets 12+ hours of darkness on a regular basis. The length of day period didn’t seem to matter at all. In fact, you could give plants 12 hours of dark followed by 24 hours of light, on a regular basis, and plants would continue to flower as long as their darkness was uninterrupted for 12 hours at a time.

Check out my marijuana grow light guide for more info about picking out the right grow lights for your situation!

Photoperiod dependent strains vs. auto-flowering strains

So all strains of cannabis that respond to light in this way (where the light period effects what stage they’re in) are called “Photoperiod dependent” strains.

“Auto-flowering” marijuana strains pretty much ignore how much light they get each day. Generally you don’t run into these unless you buy them particularly from a cannabis seed bank.

Marijuana plants have a gender: Is my plant Male or Female?

(Some marijuana plants can also be hermaphrodites, which means they display both male and female parts on the same plant)

Most growers prefer to grow female plants, as only female plant produce buds/flowers.

Note: Once the plant is about 6 weeks old from seed, it will usually show signs of “pre-flowers” which will alert you to the gender before the beginning of the flowering stage.

Pre-Flowers usually reveal the gender around week 6 from seed, or you can wait until the plant switches to the flowering stage.

After 2-3 weeks of the 12-12 light schedule, most marijuana plants will reveal the first signs of their gender (they either are a female plant and start growing buds, YAY! or they are a male plant and start growing balls, NO!).

Why do I not want male marijuana plants?

Only a female marijuana plant makes flowers/buds that contain a usable amount of THC. Male marijuana plants only make pollen sacs that they use to fertilize the females. Most growers will throw away any male plants that they encounter to keep them from fertilizing the female plants. If your female plants do get fertilized, they will use all their energy to produce seeds instead of making buds. This is good if you want seeds, but you will run into the same problem since half of the seeds will also be male.

If you would like to start a breeding program to make your own hybrids, I recommend using a method that creates all-female (feminized) seeds so that you don’t waste time having to identify and throw out male plants.

Getting clones of female marijuana plants or buying feminized seeds online from a seed bank are other ways you can ensure that all your marijuana plants are female.

If you don’t have a choice of seeds, and some of your seeds may be male (like if you just found seeds) than you will want to get your plants to reveal their gender right away so you don’t have to waste time and energy on male plants.

For most marijuana strains, the male plants don’t produce usable amounts of THC, so most growers toss them on sight. Unfortunately, 50% of all regular seeds will become male plants.

These male plants can also impregnate your female plants, which causes them not to produce as many buds, so unless you’re breeding, destroy male plants as soon as you notice them growing grape-like balls where their buds would normally be.

A vigilant grower can carefully watch their plants and remove males when they develop the first signs of pollen sacs.

How to identify female plants if starting out with regular bagseed?

You don’t have to wait for the flowering stage! Below we’ll share two tactics growers use to identify gender in the vegetative stage.

Tactic 1: Preflowers let you identify plants in week 3-6 from seed

Pre-Flowers reveal the gender of your plant by around week 6 from seed, and as early as 3 weeks from seed for some plants.

In this area you’ll find pre-flowers nestled where the “joints” of the plant are.

Tactic 2: Taking a clone and flowering it

The following method can help you identify gender for plants that are taking a while to show their pre-flowers.

If you’re just growing 1, 2, or 3 plants, it can be heartbreaking to find out all your plants are male, and you need to start over in order to make buds.

When marijuana plants are seedlings (or when they’re just seeds), there’s no way to tell which plants are male and which plants are female.

You have to “wait and see.” Male marijuana plants develop pollen sacs (look like little balls or nuts). Female marijuana plants start growing white hairs that develop into the marijuana buds (sensimilla) that contain THC and other cannabinoids. Lots of pictures of male and female parts above.

However, you may want to be more proactive and get rid of the male plants before they enter the flowering stage so you don’t have to waste the time and energy in caring for plants that you will eventually get rid of. If so, then you can use to following technique to identify and remove all the males from your grow.

How to Determine Sex of a Marijuana Plant

You can wait until your plants naturally show the first signs of their gender and then remove all the males, but that means you have to watch the plants closely. You also will waste time and energy growing plants only to find out that some or all are male and have to throw them away. If you want to be more proactive and get rid of all male plants right away, then use this technique.

Take a clone from the unverified marijuana plant

Label both the clone and the mother plant so you know which clone came from which corresponding mother. If you don’t label them clearly, then all your effort will go to waste!

Once the clones have established roots, change just the clones into flowering mode by providing them with a light schedule of 12 hours on, 12 hours off

The clones should start revealing their gender in a week or two. Males will start developing balls and females will start developing white hairs. Click on the pictures below to see some examples of male and female plants.

Once you have determined the gender of your clones, you should make sure you throw away any corresponding male plants.

Learn about marijuana life stages and gender. When does the plant start flowering? How can you tell if your plant is a boy or a girl? What…