How Do I Germinate Cannabis Seeds and Transplant Clones?

Clones vs Seedlings

Clones and seedlings may seem very similar, but there are some differences between the two starting points. First of all, seedlings (small plants sprouted from seed) have a taproot. This is a central dominant root that tends to grow straight down and proliferate the branching root structures that explore the growing medium. Clones do not have a taproot; instead, they immediately begin producing a fibrous branching root structure. I would argue that the taproot is most important in outdoor grows due to the higher degree of anchoring and stem support that it can provide in windy weather.

Secondly, seeds all have unique genotypes while clones have the same genotype as the mother plant they were cut from. Truly stable seed lines produce plants with phenotypes so similar that they could be mistaken for clones, but usually in the Cannabis industry, a given seed pack for a strain may produce multiple different phenotypes. Sometimes this can be desirable if you are phenotype hunting for a unique plant to grow or breed with, but at least in large scale production, uniformity is usually preferred because it simplifies the growing, harvesting, and processing techniques

How Do I Germinate Seeds?

There are many ways to skin this particular cat. First of all, it is important to consider the environmental conditions required for germination.

Light

While some small seeds without much of a starch reserve require light to germinate, it appears that light actually inhibits the germination of Cannabis seeds. This is likely due to the red light sensing system by light-sensing proteins called phytochromes. In general, far-red light can penetrate further into soil than red light due to the longer wavelength. Plants often utilize the ratio of far red light to red light as a way to sense depth in soil. For Cannabis, it appears that it requires a low far red/red ratio (no to minimal light) in order to germinate. However, pure darkness is unnecessary in my experience. In fact, it is a bit of a balancing act because after germination, your seedlings require light or they will not begin to produce chlorophyll and will continue to etiolate (grow and stretch in search of light to begin photosynthesis). Therefore, you will need to check your seedlings frequently so if you germinate in complete darkness, you can quickly introduce your newly sprouted seedlings to light.

Moisture and Humidity

Seedlings require water uptake in order to trigger germination. The media they are in contact with should be moist, and the humidity should be kept high but ventilated to help prevent microbial growth. In general, this translates to around 70-90% humidity. However, I don’t generally keep track of the humidity of the air in my germination area. Humidity is ensured to be high by enclosing the germination medium with a ziploc bag with holes cut in it.

Temperature

I like to follow the rule of thumb: keep the temp in the 70s throughout the day and night. Don’t let temperatures dip below 70F and don’t let temperatures rise above 80F. In Celsius, this translates to approximately 21-27C. In practice, it is okay if it gets warmer, though I certainly would avoid letting temperatures get above 30C (86F). However, high heat can inhibit germination and encourage microbial growth. Also, dipping below 70F does not ensure failure, but may not be as efficient at germinating seeds.

I will only cover 2 germination methods. This is because in my opinion, they are simple, effective, and I have experience in both.

Method 1: Wet Paper Towel.

Get a paper towel and soak it in water (it is probably ideal if you get sterile, deionized water, though I generally use tap water and it works just fine). Squeeze out the paper towel so that it is damp but not wet. Place your seeds on the damp paper towel, and fold the paper towel one time over the seed. Place the folded paper towel in a gallon size plastic bag.

Option 1: Poke a few holes in the plastic bag (I like to use sharpened pencils, it has a good size for holes), blow into the bag to ensure it’s not collapsed on the paper towel, seal the bag, and place it in a dark, warm place. Check daily for germination and make sure to keep the paper towel moist. If it gets too dry, just use a spray bottle to spritz the inside of the bag and paper towel.

Option 2: Don’t poke any holes, exchange the air inside by sucking the air out the bag and blowing back into it to inflate it. Seal the bag, place it in a cool, dark place, and exchange the air in the bag once to twice/day and check frequently for germination.

Transplanting Germinated Seeds

After germination, I like to wait until the taproot is about an inch long. After this, pick it up by the seed coat with tweezers or a very gentle touch. Don’t touch the taproot. take your soil or growing medium, moisten it using appropriately pH’d water (around 6.5 for soil) and prepare a a hole deep enough to place the germinated seed in with the taproot facing down and the seed coat barely below the soil line. Place the seed in so that the taproot is straight down and so that the tip of the taproot is not bent or hooked when you plant it.

Method 2:

Plant your seed directly in a seed starter (I like to use coco coir with a bit of mycorrhizal fungi sprinkled in).

Option 1 is to buy seed starter coco coir pellets. All that is required is to wet the pellets with properly pH’d sterile water. They will expand and will have a small hole in the center for you to place your seed. After planting your seed, gently cover it up. This will provide both light and local humidity around your seed. Cover the pellet loosely with an open plastic bag to help retain moisture and leave it on a windowsill or under artificial light. This will ensure that once the seed germinates under the soil which is dark and humid, it will sprout above the ‘soil’ line, remain in a humid environment in the plastic bag , and will also be exposed to light so that the seedling can begin photosynthesis. I do not like to use peat moss or peat-based pellets such as Jiffy pellets. First of all, coco coir is far more environmentally friendly because peat is a nonrenewable resource, unlike coco coir. I stay away from rock wool for the same reason, coco coir is just a more responsible consumer choice for the environment. Secondly, peat is extremely acidic and may affect nutrient uptake early in a plant’s life as compared to coco coir. For all seed starting mixes, I like to make about a quarter of the volume perlite. Seedlings do not uptake water well and you want good soil aeration to avoid damping off and root rot diseases. If you use premade pellets, you will not have this option.

Option 2 is to fill a small, 2-3 oz plastic cup with coco coir, moisten it and make a hole for the seed yourself, and sow your seed. Follow the same directions as outlined for the pellets.

What do I do now that my seedling has germinated?

Now that you have a germinated seedling, you will notice two small ‘leaves’ that are kind of oval-shaped. These are known as cotyledons, and can actually help provide your plant with nutrients that were stored in the seed until the plant can feed on fertilizer or nutrients in soil depending on your growing style.

Light

You will want to provide your plant with enough light to not stretch out. You can get away with using even a 60W single CFL ‘grow’ bulb for a seedling, but I tent to keep my seedlings under a 300W LED panel. I like to keep the light source about a foot from the top of my seedling.

Temperatures

Go ahead and keep the temperatures in the 70s (Farenheit). This is a great range for Cannabis growth and isn’t as conducive to disease development as warmer temperatures.

Humidity

You will want to slowly lower the relative humidity. Keeping the same level of humidity as for germination will prove to be too conducive to disease development especially seedling damping off and root rots. Go ahead and keep the plastic bag over the seedling at first, and slowly increase the amount of time each day that it is not under the plastic bag. In general, I like to leave the bag off the seedling at night after it sprouts and during the day, reduce the time it is under the bag by an hour each day until the second set of true leaves are visible, then remove it altogether.

Moisture and Feeding

Seedlings require more moisture that mature plants but you also want to avoid root rots. Therefore, I like to use a spray bottle to mist the soil every day without soaking it. This should be done until the second set of true leaves are visible, then begin your normal watering schedule. Your seed starter mix should not have fertilizer in it. Your plant should have all the nutrients it needs from the cotyledons and all the energy it needs from photosynthesis. However, after the first true leaves are fairly large and the second set of true leaves are barely visible, I will sometimes include a Nitrogen dominant fertilizer at 1/4 strength in the spray bottle and lightly mist until slightly damp (I only ever do this once before transplanting, and only if the leaves are looking light). I tend to use liquid fertilizers (you can find conventional or organic fertilizers depending on your fancy).

Transplanting Your Seedling

By the time the second set of true leaves have grown in, your seed starter plug should be colonized by roots. Or, if you purchased a clone, it is likely already rooted in a rock wool cube. Take a pot approximately 10x the volume of your rooting medium, fill it with the planting medium of your choice (soil or soilless medium[if soilless, it is a good idea to do a light feeding (1/4 strength) as well at this point]). Water the medium in your new pot before transplanting and allow it to drain to field capacity. Make a crater in the center of your moistened medium deep enough to completely cover the seedling medium. I like the lowest nodes on the plant to be about 1-2″ above the soil line after planting. Place in your rooting plant, fill in the crater, smooth it out, and lightly pack in the planting medium around the stem of your plant. Water the pot once more to ensure the soil settles in, allow it to drain capacity.

Congratulations, you have germinated your seed and/or transplanted your clone/seedling. That was pretty easy, right?

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