How to germinate cannabis seeds
So, you’ve decided to grow your own cannabis plants. You purchased a pack of seeds, assembled cultivation materials, cleared a space in your garden, and are ready to grow your first cannabis crop . With everything in hand, it’s time to begin the very first step of cannabis cultivation : germinating seeds.
What is germination?
Germination is the first stage of the cannabis growth cycle : the process that brings a cannabis seed out of its hibernation period and starts the cannabis growth process. After all, seeds in a bag don’t spontaneously start developing roots. Also known as “popping” seeds, seed germination begins when a seed receives environmental cues letting it know the setting is perfect to start growth.
Germination is the process that brings a cannabis seed out of its hibernation period and starts the cannabis growth process. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
When a seed enters an environment with enough moisture, it will increase in size and slowly break out of its shell. A seedling or germ forms from which roots will emerge, helping the baby plant absorb nutrients from the soil. Seeds naturally develop roots facing down and stems stretching upward, allowing the young cannabis plant to simultaneously feed off light and earth.
It’s essential to acquire high-quality cannabis seeds for germination, as these will go on to become high-quality cannabis plants. Seeds that are fresh-feeling or too green indicate that they haven’t reached full maturity, while pale-green, white, or very dark cannabis seeds may have trouble sprouting. However, it’s tricky to know the outcome of a popped seed, so trying may be worthwhile. If you’re not ready to pop your seeds yet, store them in a dark, cool place until it’s time for germination.
Preparing to germinate cannabis seeds
Germination itself is a crucial aspect of cannabis cultivation. The seed germination process is the foundation of every marijuana plant, and steps can be taken to boost successful popping. For example, some cultivators improve germination attempts by soaking seeds in 1% hydrogen peroxide or a compost tea for 12 hours beforehand to kill any dangerous pests.
The environment in which seeds germinate also plays a role in the outcome. While there are several different germination methods, each requires proper moisture, minimal handling, and warm springtime temperatures between 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to germinate cannabis seeds
The best germination method depends on the cultivator’s choice. Here are some of the most common ways to pop your cannabis seeds.
How to germinate seeds in soil
Soil is an easy, more natural method with which to germinate your cannabis seeds. The soil protects the fragile roots from any interference, and soil is, after all, where a cannabis plant would grow in the wild.
Soil is an easy, more natural method with which to germinate your cannabis seeds because the soil protects the fragile roots from any interference. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
First, make sure you use the correct type of soil, either gently fertilized potting soil or a seed starter with a pH level of approximately six (6). The soil contains the right acidity and enough nutrients to strengthen your young cannabis plants for the first two weeks. Be careful not to add more nutrients, or you risk overfeeding and killing your seeds.
Place the soil in a small pot and use your finger or a pencil to push a small hole in the dirt, a bit more than half an inch deep. Insert the seed into the hole and bury it with soil. From this point on, don’t touch your seed. The young plant is fragile and knows how to position itself in the soil bed.
Gently water the soil with a spray bottle and situate your pots under a fluorescent lamp. Keep seeds away from the windowsill, as the temperature is too volatile for germination. In general, you’ll want to keep the temperature in the range of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Monitor your soil every day and keep it moist. Within four to seven days, you should see tiny stems sprouting from the soil.
When the seedling stems reach two to four inches in height, it’s time to transplant your cannabis into larger pots with more room for roots to spread down and out. After you’ve done this, you’ve successfully germinated your cannabis seeds into proper, young plants.
How to germinate seeds in water
You can also germinate your seeds by placing them in water. It’s slightly faster than the soil method, but you need to adjust your environmental factors accordingly. Remember, successfully germinating seeds requires a perfect balance of ideal growing conditions. When germinating in water, seeds need only 24-48 hours to pop their stems, though cultivators can keep them soaking for up to a week as needed. Water germination is faster because the seed gets all the moisture it needs immediately, and the shell softens and cracks more easily after soaking.
To employ water germination, fill a glass with tap water and let it sit until it reaches room temperature or around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Add two to three plant seeds per cup and allow them to sit, watching for any changes. Change the water to fresh tap water every two days, making sure it stays at room temperature.
The seeds should start sprouting in about two days, though older seeds can take up to a week to sprout. You can remove them from the water and place them in the soil at any point once they’ve sprouted. Once the roots are about five millimeters long, they need to be planted.
The downside of water germination is that once they’ve popped, you’ll need to maneuver them into their growing medium manually. This is a delicate process, as germinating seeds are extra fragile, and any harm risks the development of your plants. Make sure to place the seed roots down in the soil when you transfer to a pot.
How to germinate seeds using paper towels
The paper towel method is also a common way cultivators pop their seeds. Some even use this method with cotton pads instead of paper towels, but the necessary steps are the same.
To germinate seeds this way, lay one paper towel on top of a countertop, place a few seeds, and cover them with a second paper towel.
Lay one paper towel on top of a countertop, place a few seeds, and cover them with a second paper towel. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Use a spray bottle to moisten the paper towels and then store the cushioned seeds between two plates, under a face-down bowl, or gently place them in a plastic bag. Maintain a temperature of about 72 degrees Fahrenheit, keeping the paper towel wrapped seeds in the dark and away from a windowsill. In two to five days, the seeds will pop inside the paper towel sandwich and emit tiny roots, ready to plant when they reach about five millimeters in length.
Use a spray bottle to moisten the paper towels and then store the cushioned seeds between two plates, under a face-down bowl, or gently place them in a plastic bag. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
The paper towel method also has its risk, as the fragile seedlings can be damaged during the potting process. The tiny roots can also get tangled in the paper towels, so make sure to move the seeds to potting soil before roots grow too long. Use your hands or tweezers to gently remove each seed from the paper towels and place them in a prepared growing medium.
How do you germinate seeds indoors?
Whether you’re planning an indoor cultivation or outdoor grow, it’s best to germinate your seeds indoors. It’s easier to maintain proper temperature, light exposure, and moisture inside, and you can protect your seeds from the elements. Indoor germination, whether using soil or paper towels, will ensure your cannabis seeds have the best chance for survival.
To germinate seeds indoors, use any of the methods described above. Within a few days, you’ll have popped seeds ready to transfer to a growing medium.
Do you need to germinate seeds before planting?
While many plants can be germinated in the ground, cannabis seeds are fragile enough that you should germinate them before planting.
Once your seeds have sprouted roots, they should be planted in soil, a soil-less medium, or in your hydroponic setup. Make sure not touch the root, caring for and navigating the seedling so that the roots face downward. Plant the seed about one inch deep in your growing medium, cover lightly, and allow for about a week for the seed to emerge from the soil. If the seed hasn’t poked through by day ten, it likely didn’t survive.
Cannabis seeds 101: How to grow marijuana from seed
Cannabis is grown from one of two sources: a seed or a clone. Seeds carry genetic information from two parent plants and can express many different combinations of traits: some from the mother, some from the father, and some traits from both.
In commercial cannabis production, generally, growers will plant many seeds of one strain and choose the best plant. They will then take clones from that individual plant, which allows for consistent genetics for mass production.
If cannabis is legal in your state, you can buy seeds or clones from a local dispensary, or online through various seed banks.
Cannabis seeds vs. clones
For the typical homegrower, it may be easier to obtain cannabis seeds rather than clones. Growing from seed can produce a stronger plant with more solid genetics.
Plants grown from seed can be more hearty as young plants when compared to clones, mainly because seeds have a strong taproot. You can plant seeds directly into an outdoor garden in early spring, even in cool, wet climates.
If growing outside, some growers prefer to germinate seeds inside because they are delicate in the beginning stages of growth. Indoors, you can give weed seedlings supplemental light to help them along, and then transplant them outside when big enough.
Most seeds that you will buy are regular seeds as described above, but here are a couple more types.
How weed seeds work
Cannabis can be either male or female—also called “dioecious”—but only females produce the buds we all know and love. For reproduction, males have pollen sacs and pollinate females, causing female flowers to produce seeds.
Once cannabis seeds are mature, the female plant begins to die, and seeds are either dropped to the ground where they grow into new cannabis plants next spring, or the seeds are harvested for processing into seed oil or food products, or stored so they can be sown in the ground later and become the next generation of plants.
To get the buds found in medical and recreational stores, female cannabis plants are grown in an environment without males—or the males are removed from the area before they release pollen—so the females don’t create seeds. Females can then focus their energies on producing buds and not seeds—this high-potency marijuana is traditionally known as “sinsemilla,” meaning “seedless.”
Some varieties of cannabis can produce male parts alongside female flowers on the same plant, especially if exposed to environmental stressors. These plants are known as hermaphrodites, and sometimes they can self-pollinate to create seeds.
Pros and cons of using cannabis seeds
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
If buying from a reputable breeder or seed bank, growing from seed is the best way to ensure your plants will have solid genetics and start clean, meaning they won’t come with diseases or pests.
Also, buying from a reputable breeder or seed bank will give you a sense of what a particular strain will look and smell like, how it will grow, and how much it will yield at harvest.
The main drawback to growing from seed is there is no guarantee as to what you’ll end up with—if you buy a regular pack of cannabis seeds, it will be a mix of males and females. You’ll need to sex them out (more below) to identify the males and get rid of them, because you don’t want your females producing seeds.
Sexing marijuana plants can be a time-consuming process, and if you don’t catch males, there is a risk that even one males can pollinate your entire crop, causing all of your female weed plants to produce seeds.
One way to avoid sexing plants is to buy feminized seeds (more below), which ensures every seed you plant will be a bud-producing female.
You can also minimize headaches and avoid the hassle of seed germination and sexing plants by starting with clones.
How weed clones work
Aside from producing cannabis through seeds, or sexual reproduction, you can also reproduce the plant through cloning, or asexual reproduction. A clone is a cutting that is genetically identical to the plant it was taken from—that plant is known as the “mother.”
Pros and cons of using cannabis clones
Through cloning, you can create a new harvest with exact replicas of your favorite plant. Because genetics are identical, a clone will give you a plant with the same characteristics as the mother, such as flavor, cannabinoid profile, yield, grow time, etc. So if you come across a specific strain or phenotype you really like, you might want to clone it to reproduce more buds that have the same effects and characteristics.
With cloning, you don’t have to get new seeds every time you want to grow another plant—you just take a cutting of the old plant—and you don’t have to germinate seeds or sex them out and get rid of the males.
One drawback of clones is they need to be taken during the vegetative stage of a plant—flower is too late—so if you have a small setup with only one light, it can be hard to keep clones alive while flowering other plants, because the two need different amounts of light.
Another drawback to clones is they can take on negative traits from the mother plant as well. If the mother has a disease, attracts pests, or grows weak branches, its clones will probably have the same issues.
Additionally, every long-time grower will tell you that clones degrade over time.
What are feminized cannabis seeds?
Feminized cannabis seeds will produce only female plants for getting buds, so there is no need to remove males or worry about female plants getting pollinated. Feminized seeds are produced by causing the monoecious condition in a female cannabis plant—the resulting seeds are nearly identical to the self-pollinated female parent, as only one set of genes is present.
This is sometimes referred to as “cloning by seed” and will not produce any male plants. This is achieved through several methods:
- By spraying the plant with a solution of colloidal silver, a liquid containing tiny particles of silver
- Through a method known as rodelization, in which a female plant pushed past maturity can pollinate another female
- Spraying seeds with gibberellic acid, a hormone that triggers germination (this is much less common)
Most experienced or commercial growers will not use feminized seeds because they only contain one set of genes, and these should never be used for breeding purposes. However, a lot of beginning growers start with feminized seeds because they eliminate the worry of having to deal with male plants.
Top feminized cannabis strain families
A lot of classic weed strains that have been around for a while come in feminized form. Some popular fem seeds are:
- OG Kush
- GSC (Cookies)
What are autoflowering cannabis seeds?
Autoflowering seeds are also popular with beginning growers. They are easy to grow because you don’t have to worry about light cycles and how much light a plant receives.
Most cannabis plants begin flowering when the amount of light they receive on a daily basis reduces. Outdoors, this happens when the sun starts setting earlier in the day as the season turns from summer to autumn. Indoor growers can control when a plant flowers by reducing the daily amount of light plants receive from 18 hours to 12 hours.
However, a type of cannabis called Cannabis ruderalis, which developed in extreme northern conditions without much sunlight, will begin flowering once the plant reaches a certain age—they automatically start flowering regardless of the amount of light they receive, hence the name “autoflower.”
Pros and cons of growing autoflower
Because they grow and flower quicker, growers can fit in multiple autoflower cannabis harvests into the span of one regular harvest.
Autoflowers can be started in early spring and will flower during the longest days of summer, taking advantage of high quality light to get bigger yields. Or, if you get a late start in the growing season, you can start autoflowers in May or June and harvest in the fall.
Also, autoflower plants are small—perfect for closet grows or any small grow, or growing outdoors where you don’t want your neighbors to see what you’re up to.
A couple big drawbacks, though: Autoflower strains are known for being less potent. Also, because they are small in stature, they usually don’t produce big yields.
However, potency in autoflowering varieties has increased significantly since their initial introduction, with some breeders crossbreeding the low-THC ruderalis with other more potent varieties.
Tips for growing autoflower marijuana seeds
Autoflowering strains require some preparation, as they will grow quickly and start to flower whether or not you’re ready for them.
Many marijuana growers start autoflowers early in the season, and at a different time than a regular crop, so keep the season and climate in mind when growing and harvesting—your plants still need warmth to grow, and rain can give them bud rot. Consider growing in a greenhouse to protect them.
Because training happens during vegetative growth, for autoflowering plants, this period could be as short as a few weeks, which means time is limited. Try topping your autoflowers after they have three nodes, and stop once they begin to flower. You will want to prune them lightly.
Go easy on nutrients
Autoflowers don’t need lots of nutrients because they’re small and don’t spend much time in the vegetative cycle. They won’t need as much veg nutrients—such as nitrogen—but will need more bloom nutrients.
What are high-CBD cannabis seeds?
CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the chemical components—known collectively as cannabinoids—found in the cannabis plant. Over the years, humans have selected plants for high-THC content, making cannabis with high levels of CBD rare. The genetic pathways through which THC is synthesized by the plant are different than those for CBD production.
Cannabis used for hemp production has been selected for other traits, including a low THC content, so as to comply with the 2018 Farm Bill. Consequently, many varieties of hemp produce significant quantities of CBD.
As interest in CBD as a medicine has grown, many breeders have crossed high-CBD hemp with cannabis. These strains have little or no THC, 1:1 ratios of THC and CBD, or some have a high-THC content along with significant amounts of CBD (3% or more).
Seeds for these varieties are now widely available online and through dispensaries. It should be noted, however, that any plant grown from these seeds is not guaranteed to produce high levels of CBD, as it takes many years to create a seed line that produces consistent results. A grower looking to produce cannabis with a certain THC to CBD ratio will need to grow from a tested and proven clone or seed.
How to germinate marijuana seeds
Germination is the process in which a seed sprouts and begins to grow into a new plant. Also referred to as “popping,” germination is the very first step in starting your weed grow.
Marijuana seeds can be acquired from an array of sources and can vary in quality. For more info on how to buy marijuana seeds, check out our Guide to buying cannabis seeds.
Cannabis seeds require three things to germinate: water, heat, and air. There are many methods to germinate seeds, but for the most common and simplest method, you will need:
- Two clean plates
- Four paper towels
- Distilled water
Take four sheets of paper towels and soak them with distilled water. The towels should be soaked but shouldn’t have excess water running off.
Take two of the paper towels and place them on a plate. Then, place the marijuana seeds at least an inch apart from each other and cover them with the remaining two water-soaked paper towels.
To create a dark, protected space, take another plate and flip it over to cover the seeds, like a dome.
Make sure the area the seeds are in is warm, somewhere between 70-85°F.
After completing these steps, it’s time to wait. Check the paper towels once a day to make sure they’re still saturated, and if they are losing moisture, apply more water to keep the seeds happy.
Some seeds germinate very rapidly while others can take a while, but generally, seeds should germinate in 3-10 days. If it’s been two weeks and a seed hasn’t sprouted, it’s probably a dud and won’t sprout.
A seed has germinated once the seed splits and a single sprout appears. The sprout is the taproot, which will become the main stem of the plant, and seeing it is a sign of successful germination.
It’s important to keep the delicate seed sterile, so don’t touch the seed or taproot as it begins to split.
Transplanting germinated cannabis seeds
Once you see the taproot, it’s time to transfer your germinated seed into its growing medium, such as soil.
- Fill a 4-inch or one-gallon pot with loose, airy potting soil
- Water the soil before you put the seed in; it should be wet but not drenched
- Poke a hole in the soil with a pen or pencil—the rule of thumb is: make the hole twice as deep as the seed is wide
- Using a pair of tweezers, gently place the seed in the hole with the taproot facing down
- Lightly cover it with soil
Keep a close eye on the temperature and moisture level of the soil to keep the seed happy. It’s very delicate at this stage. Use a spray bottle to water it—over-watering can suffocate and kill the delicate sprout.
Within a week or so you should see a seedling begin to grow from the soil.
Germinating cannabis seeds doesn’t always go as planned. Some seeds will be duds. Others will be slow and take longer to sprout. But some will pop quickly and grow rapidly.
This is the beauty of seeds—often, you can tell which plants or genetics will thrive right from the get-go. This will help you determine which plants you want to take cuttings from for clones or for breeding if you want to create a seed bank of your own.
How to sex a pot plant
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
As we’ve mentioned, cannabis is a dioecious plant, meaning male and female reproductive organs appear on different plants.
Because only female cannabis plants produce buds and you want them to focus all their energy on producing buds and not seeds, it’s important to identify and get rid of male weed plants so they don’t pollinate females. If females are pollinated, it will give you buds filled with seeds, making your weed harsh and unpleasant.
Cultivating males is important for breeders trying to cross new strains and genetics, but most people growing for buds will want to remove the males.
As mentioned above, you can skip the processing of sexing weed plants by growing with feminized seeds or clones.
If growing male and female cannabis seeds, they’ll start to show their sex organs, or “pre-flowers,” after 8-10 weeks from germination.
Cannabis plant sex organs appear on nodes, the points where branches grow off from the main stalk.
Males will have round balls—these will develop into pollen sacs, which will release pollen into the air when mature.
Females will have a round structure with long hairs—these hairs will develop into pistils, which will catch pollen in the air.
Pre-flowers can initially be extremely small and hard to identify with the naked eye, but you can use a magnifying glass to get a better look.
Can I grow a seed I found in a bag of weed?
Finding a cannabis seed in your stash is not ideal, but we’ve all been there before. Although much less common than it once was, it still happens. Sometimes you’ll notice one when grinding down some flower, or you’ll see one pop, spark, and crackle from the heat of a lit bowl.
These are referred to as “bagseeds” and whether or not you can grow one will depend on where it came from.
Is a bagseed good or bad?
Seeds found in finished cannabis buds can develop for a number of reasons. For example, a male plant may have accidentally pollinated a flowering female during the growing process. But more commonly, they’re a sign of stress and can be attributed to high temperatures during the final stages of flowering or an exaggerated spike in climate or environment.
Seeds can also form in plants with genetic disorders or instability, like hermaphrodites—plants that develop both male and female reproductive parts. Generally, stress and genetic disorders are viewed as bad, so temper expectations with any plant you start from a bagseed.
But sometimes you get lucky and find a mature seed in some really nice herb. Strains like the legendary Chemdog wouldn’t be possible without adventurous smokers planting and proliferating the seeds they found in a bag of kind bud.
So don’t discount bud because it has a seed or two in it. While not ideal, it could be the origins of the next great weed strain.
Ask yourself a few questions to decide if it’s worth the time and energy to grow the seed.
Was the seed found in good weed?
If you don’t like the flavor, effects, or even the look of the bud, then it’s probably not worth growing.
Are you ready to grow?
Growing marijuana takes a certain level of commitment: time, energy, and financial resources, so be sure you can commit to the whole process.
Is the seed viable?
For a seed to be viable, it must be mature enough to have a completely formed genetic blueprint, and it must be strong enough to germinate and pop through its hard casing and sprout its crucial taproot.
There are a few indicators that will give you a sense of whether the seed is worth germinating.
- Tiger stripes—dark stripes on the seed which resemble veins on a leaf are generally good
- Solid shell—a seed should be able to withstand a little pressure when pinched between your fingers; if it crumbles or cracks, it’s no good
Immature seeds tend to be light in color and have a soft outer shell.
In some cases, even if a seed isn’t completely mature, there’s still a chance it could be viable. But often these are extremely weak, take long to develop, and express other unfavorable characteristics. Growers usually discard weak plants to free up space.
You might also find a mature seed that has been physically damaged through poor handling, like rough trimming. In those cases, it probably isn’t worth the effort to try and germinate the seed.
But if the seed you found looks decent, you might as well germinate it and see what sprouts.
Time to germinate
Viable or not, there’s only one sure way to find out if a bagseed will grow. If you’re simply curious to learn and not as concerned with the overall outcome, you can plant a couple of bagseeds outside and see what happens.
If you’re ready for a more serious approach, make sure you have the space for a proper garden and pop the seeds to see what fruit they bear.
Even if your seed sprouts fast and grows vigorously, it still has roughly a 50/50 chance of being female and producing buds, instead of turning out to be a male.
Remember, once a seed germinates, the real work begins. Sexing, selecting, vegetative growth, flowering, and the eventual harvest all lie ahead.
How to buy cannabis seeds
Cannabis seeds can be found on numerous online seed banks, but note that it is illegal to bring seeds into the US and Customs will seize any cannabis seeds that they find in packages or on a person. In legal and medical states, you may purchase seeds at a dispensary.