Breeders focus on plant characteristics when breeding cannabis seeds such as their potency, flavor, yield, smell, resistance to pests, color, growth stature and other characteristics. Learn how cannabis breeders combine strains to enhance, strengthen, or combine traits & effects of cannabis to create the perfect experience. Use this technique to create your own cannabis strains and breed weed seeds to preserve genetics – or cross-breed some more!
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Breeding Cannabis Seeds
Step #1 For Cannabis Seeds
You will want to begin by choosing parents for breeding cannabis seeds. Selecting the female plants for breeding is much easier than selecting male plants.
Breeders focus on plant characteristics such as their potency, flavor, yield, smell, resistance to pests, color, growth stature and other characteristics when choosing a female to breed cannabis seeds.
Choosing male plants is not easy since males don’t reveal their characteristics like females do. Some breeders will rub their fingers on the male plants stem to be able to better smell their resinous odor. The best way to test for male characteristics is by a progeny test where the male pollen is harvested and then placed on certain plants.
These plants will create seeds and the next season those seeds are planted then grow up to show off their characteristics. Once a male plant is selected for breeding the other male plants are then cut down and destroyed.
Step #2 Is Collecting Pollen
You will collect pollen from the male plant that you have chosen and strip away all extra male branches to guard against random pollination then isolate the male as soon as anthers show. Before the anther’s open, you will place a plastic bag over the branch and tie it to prevent it from falling.
You will keep the bag over the branch for several days to collect pollen then carefully remove the branch and bag so pollen does not escape from the bag.
Step #3 Storing Cannabis Seeds’ Pollen
You can now either store the male pollen indoors since pollen in a natural condition in the wild will not last for long. Be sure that the storage container that the pollen is stored at low temperatures and moisture since as high temperatures, as well as humidity, will destroy pollen very quickly.
Pollen that is harvested can be stored for several months when it is stored in a freezer. To store pollen in the freezer you will first need to use a fine screen to filter out the plant leaf matter from the anthers that may have fallen into the bag.
If these are not removed it can contaminate the pollen and cause it to spoil. Before you filter the plant material you will want to lay down some wax paper or place a plate that is clean to capture the falling pollen.
You can then place the pollen in a sterile container, tube or sealed bag to make sure that the pollen for cannabis seeds is clean and sterile. When you are freezing the harvested pollen you will not want to continually freeze and thaw it out since this will diminish the viability of the pollen. Use only what is needed and leave the rest frozen.
Step #4 Using Pollen For Cannabis Seeds
Pollination occurs when male pollen comes into contact with the female pistil. Depending on which plant variety you choose to breed the female flowers will be ready to be pollinated within two (2) to twelve (12) weeks after the flowering cycle has been introduced to the plants.
The more pistils that are visible when pollinating then more cannabis seeds will be created. Female pistils that are turgid and most often white or off-white are the best to be pollinated.
Any pistils that are rust- or brown-color are beyond the point that you can fertilize. To pollinate a female plant, you will first cover the female branch with a pollen-filled bag then briefly shake the bag to make sure the pollen makes contact with the female pistils.
You can leave the bag over the branch for two (2) days to ensure pollination occurs. Many times cannabis breeders will contain the male pollen and pollinated-female plants in a separate room to prevent other cannabis plants from being fertilized.
After a few days in the pollination room, the female plant is sprayed with water to destroy the pollen that remains on the plant before the female plant is moved back into the flowering room. This is to prevent any remaining pollen from fertilizing other plants.
Also be sure to spray any room that you have allowed for pollination to occur. Another way to pollinate a female plant is to use a small paintbrush to ‘paint’ pollen onto the pistils for cannabis seeds. You will simply dip the paintbrush into a container of pollen and gently brush the pollen onto a female plant’s flowers.
Be sure that all fans are off to prevent the pollen from being blown around the room. This method is perfect for growers who want to have cannabis seeds created on only a few branches and leave the rest of the female flowers sinsemilla.
After a plant is fertilized the cannabis seeds will be ripe in about six (6) weeks but could be ready earlier. When seeds are mature they will split the calyxes open and make the cannabis seeds visible.
The seeds that are most ripe are seeds that have a dark brown or grey color and well-mottled (tiger striped) and will set loosely within the calyx. Seeds that are not viable and immature will be green, yellow or white in color as well as will be in sealed calyxes.
If you have seeds that are not mature by the end of the plants life-cycle then you can eat the immature cannabis seeds. Plants that are sativa dominant tend to allow seeds to fall from their small, lightly packed buds and while indica dominant plant seeds tend to stay within the large, densely packed buds.
Seeds are harvested from buds by either manually finger-picking each of the seeds out or by crushing the buds to separate the bud from all seeds. Seeds are often tested for their viability with a simple press between your thumb and index finger to test the seeds firmness.
If the seed splits open with this test it means that the seed is not viable or immature. If the seed is very firm then those cannabis seeds will tend to be viable.
Once seeds have broken the calyx then they are ready to plant immediately, if you choose to do so. Otherwise, the seeds may fall off the plant and germinate below the plant.
These ideas and methods are only a guideline for small-scale cannabis seed production. If you plan on producing massive amounts of seeds you will need to adjust what is done to be effective.
Many breeders will clone a male plant so they have multiple-males within a very large room that are able to pollinate many, many females. It all depends on what you plan on doing.
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Cannabis Breeding: How Are New Strains Created?
While browsing Leafly’s strain database, you may wonder what a cross of this and that strain is, what a hybrid or a backcross is, or what a parent strain is. All of these have to do with plant breeding—essentially, breeding a male and female plant to combine or refine the genetics of two plants or strains. Breeding two different strains often results in a new strain, or hybrid.
Cannabis breeders typically breed to purify and strengthen strains, combine strain traits, or enhance specific characteristics.
Cannabis breeders typically breed to purify and strengthen strains, combine strain traits, or enhance specific characteristics like higher yields, specific aromas, potency, and many other things.
When growing and breeding, it’s important to know where your seeds come from and what kind of genetics they have. If the seed breeder can’t give you a detailed history of how a packet of seeds was bred or what they were crossed with, you never really know what you’re getting.
Plant breeding is a fundamental process of growing cannabis. Breeding is highly technical and typically done on a commercial scale, but with legalization increasing, breeding is becoming more popular. You can even do it yourself.
The Basics of Breeding
Cannabis plants can be either male or female. Cannabis consumers are mainly concerned with female plants, because only females produce the sticky buds that we all know and love. But male cannabis plants are important for the breeding process, as they are needed to pollinate the bud-producing females.
Take the strain Super Lemon Haze as an example. It’s a hybrid (or a “cross”) of Super Silver Haze and Lemon Skunk—these are the parent strains. At some point, the breeder decided that they liked some attributes of Super Silver Haze and some of Lemon Skunk and decided to combine the two.
To do this, you need a male of one strain to pollinate a female of the other. Once pollinated, the female will then produce seeds that express the genes of both the male and female plant. Those seeds will be harvested and grown separately, and voilà: You have created a hybrid.
So how do you know whether to pick a male or a female of each strain that you’re crossing?
“Often in cannabis, the traits of the female carry over to progeny (seeds) more than the male. That said, the traits of the male are often obvious to the discerning grower so one should definitely choose a male that will complement the traits of the female,” says Nat Pennington, founder and CEO of Humboldt Seed Company who’s been breeding cannabis for 20 years. “So much is possible with truly intentional breeding strategies.”
How to Breed Cannabis Plants
After two parent strains are selected for breeding, a male and several females are put into a breeding chamber to contain the pollen. A breeding chamber can be as simple as an enclosed environment with plastic sheeting on the sides, or a specially designed sterile environment for large-scale breeding.
“A healthy male can pollinate up to 20 females, and by pollinate, I mean absolutely cover the plant with seeds.”
A single male plant can pollinate tens of females. “It’s always a good idea to have only one male, genetically speaking, per pollination effort,” says Pennington. “A healthy male can pollinate up to 20 females, and by pollinate, I mean absolutely cover the plant with seeds.”
This is intentional breeding—any grower who’s accidentally grown a male and pollinated a crop will know that one male can easy pollinate hundreds of females, filling your whole crop with seeds.
Once in the breeding chamber, you can grow the plants vegetatively for a few weeks to let them get bigger, but it’s not necessary. Put them on a flowering light cycle: 12 hours of light, 12 hours of dark.
The mature male will grow pollen sacs within the first couple weeks of its flowering phase. Pollen will release from the sacs, move through the air, and land on the female plants, pollinating them. Having an enclosed breeding chamber is important to contain the pollen and also to prevent outside pollen from getting in.
You can also help along the pollination effort by shaking pollen from the male onto the females, or by collecting pollen from the male and directly applying it to the females. These female plants will continue to grow and flower, during which they’ll grow seeds (as well as buds). These seeds will express the genetics of both the male and female plant.
When the seeds are mature, they are harvested and stratified (or dried). “The secondary process of maturation happens after the plant is dead, and the seed needs to be stratified before it will germinate,” says Pennington. “In general, harvest for flower takes place three to four weeks before harvest for seed.”
These seeds—now a hybrid of the two parent strains—will be grown on their own, outside of the breeding environment.
But the process doesn’t end there. The hybrid strain that you buy at the dispensary has likely gone through many rounds—or generations—of breeding to strengthen its genes and to ensure that its descendants are healthy and consistent.
Just as you and your sibling might have different physical attributes from your parents, each seed created from a round of cross-pollination will have different attributes from its parent strains. Maybe you have your father’s eyes and your mother’s hair, but your sister has your mother’s eyes and hair. Each cannabis seed is unique and will express different traits, and different combinations of traits, from one or both of the parent strains. These seeds with various expressions are called phenotypes.
Homozygosity ensures that a plant will consistently produce the same seeds with the same genetic makeup over and over again.
A plant that produces a set of phenotypes that have a lot of variety are said to be heterozygous. With cannabis, you typically want seeds that are homozygous—ones that have the same set of genes. Homozygosity ensures that a plant will consistently produce the same seeds with the same genetic makeup over and over again, ensuring that buyers and consumers will get the same plant or seed time and again.
After a strain is crossed, a breeder will then have to select which phenotype of the new strain they like best. For large-scale growers, they want to choose the best phenotype for mass production.
Back to the Super Lemon Haze example: This strain takes a lot of its bud structure, trichome and resin production, and overall appearance from Super Silver Haze. But it takes its flavors and aromas from Lemon Skunk.
Lemon Skunk also tends to grow extremely tall and has loose buds, whereas Super Silver Haze grows smaller and has denser buds. Through selecting specific phenotypes, a breeder can pick one that has the attributes they want to keep. In this case, a phenotype that has the structure and bud density of Super Silver Haze and the flavors and aromas of Lemon Skunk.
Most likely, there were early phenotypes of Super Lemon Haze that grew tall and loose like Lemon Skunk, or tasted more like Super Silver Haze. But the breeder discarded those phenotypes and keep growing the ones that have the attributes of what we now know is Super Lemon Haze.
High-quality breeding still doesn’t stop there. Once a breeder has crossed a strain and narrowed down a phenotype and finally has the one, they will usually backcross that strain to strengthen its genetics.
Backcrossing is a practice where a breeder will cross-pollinate the new strain with itself or a parent—essentially, inbreeding the strain. This makes the strain more homozygous, and strengthens its genetics and desirable characteristics, and also ensures that those genes continue to pass down from generation to generation.
The hybrid that you bought from the dispensary has gone through months and even years of growing, crossing, and backcrossing, as well as a selection process to pick the best phenotype of that strain.
Breeding is about time and patience. Says Pennington: “To be a breeder, you have to be willing to accept the fact that you won’t have uniformity in the offspring, [you’ll get] lots of ugly ducklings in the hunt for your golden goose. To make seeds that will actually reflect the golden goose takes time, and it takes more than just a one-off cross. Even after you found your golden goose, expect to have to do a whole number of stabilizing backcrosses to reproduce your golden goose in seed form.”
How To Easily Breed Seeds And Create New Cannabis Strains
Maybe it’s not every growers ambition to start their own seed company – and nobody’s saying you should. Though it can be pretty cool to create your own cannabis strain. Just imagine you’d be the one creating the next Tangerine G13 or Amnesia Haze – or another legendary, award-winning weed variety.
Imagine you’d be the one creating the next Tangerine G13!
Creating own cannabis varieties is pretty easy too and could potentially be a green goldmine. Even if you don’t create the next Super Silver Haze on your first try, it is still worth trying. Cross-breeding your own weed strains is very educative and results in a huge collection of cannabis genetics. Meaning you might hold seeds to strains that are no longer being produced – to cultivate or cross-breed with.
Crossing Weed Strains
There is one thing you definitely need if you’re planning to breed your own weed strains: male cannabis plants. Unless your plan is to make feminized cannabis seeds, which is a different story we’ll dive into another time. To recognize and distinct male from female (and hermaphrodite) weed plants, have a look here.
Because although you can grow male cannabis plants in the same room as female cannabis plants. It’s important to separate the males before their flowers open, releasing their pollen into the room, to avoid uncontrolled fertilization.
Rest assured, there is no need for a separate grow room for the male plants to develop from there. As a flowering male can be held under a simple lightbulb or simply in the windowsill. Furthermore, you can even cut off a few branches and put them in a vase to collect the pollen a week later. Regular Cannabis seeds create male and/or female plants.
Selecting Parents For Your Strain
The trick to select the perfect male weed plant is to have good and above all trained senses. Because it’s up to you to see which male has the best growth and the most attractive (or present) aroma.
Hollow stems on male cannabis plants may indicate high THC-production in its offspring
Obviously, only select male cannabis plants with a nice structure and a healthy root system. If possible, cut off a few branches in search of hollow stems. As a hollow stem in weed plants is often an indicator for high THC-production in the plants.
Male plants that are quick to flower are often dominant in passing on their genes – so it’s best to leave those be. Late-bloomers however, carry recessive genes.
Crossing your female plant with late-blooming males will therefore retain the desired characteristics from your fem – instead of your cross turning into a copy of your male parent. If you’re serious about selecting the right male, make sure you have a separate room for them. As there you can leave them to flower longer, to discover more about their grow characteristics.
How To Collect Cannabis Pollen
Now you’ve selected the right male, it’s time to collect its pollen. A pretty easy job considering the plant is eager to release its pollen to fertilize female plants. Simply shake a branch with open male flowers above a sheet of (black) paper or a plastic container. And the pollen will fall down from the flower onto the desired surface.
Make sure there are no vents on and windows are closed though. As the male cannabis pollen is designed to travel with wind – and in this case we’re trying to contain it to not fertilize the wrong (or too many) female plants. Also avoid working with your female plants right after this job, as pollen easily sticks to your clothing and hair.
Fertilizing Female Weed Plants
Selecting the ideal female cannabis plant is easier than selecting males. As you can truly judge the fruits before you put in the labor. To guarantee a stable plant, try growing her out of seeds and cultivate it from clone too. Thereafter, you can choose the characteristics you like to see in your own creation(s). Be sure to take aroma, structure, flowering time, esthetics, taste and effect into account – as those are the most important elements to look for in a good cannabis plant. Logically, only select the best of the best females to create your own weed seeds with.
Simply use a paint brush to pollinate your female cannabis plant, with the collected male pollen. [Image: Gracie Malley / Cannabis Now]
Pollinating your female cannabis plants is as easy as collecting male pollen. Preferably wait until the plant(s) you want to fertilize are three to five weeks into their flowering period. Then take the selected female out of the grow room, again, to avoid uncontrolled pollination of the rest of the plants. Label one or more branches to fertilize, to know which plant was crossed with which and when. And use a clean (paint) brush to apply the pollen on one or more branches for seed production – leaving the rest of the flowers to produce seedless weed: sinsemilla.
Deactivating Cannabis Pollen
About three hours after fertilization, it is time to deactivate the leftover pollen on the plant. You can do that by simply spraying your plant with water. Be sure to change your clothes and have a shower after this, before you place the fertilized female back in the room.
After fertilization, you can let your cannabis plants fulfill their flowering period until they are ready to harvest. The seeds are fully grown after two to six weeks, but can stay in the bud and hung to dry after harvest. Your home grown cannabis seeds then require another month before they’re ready to be germinated – preferably with our favorite germination method.
Be sure to keep an eye on them once they start flowering, as you’ve now produced ‘regular cannabis seeds’. This means your plants can turn both male or female when they enter the flowering stage. Providing you with what you need to further stabilize your creation into the perfect weed strain.
What strain would you choose to cross your own variety with?
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The germination of cannabis seeds is illegal in most countries. Amsterdam Genetics cannabis seeds are exclusively sold as collectable souvenirs to customers living in countries where the cultivation of cannabis is illegal. All information on this website is intended for educational purposes only and is not meant to incentivize people to engage in illegal activities.