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:
- 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.
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.