There are well over 700 different cannabis strains, and that number is constantly growing as breeders — amateur and professional — breed new ones. While creating new cannabis strains is all about genetics, you don’t have to be a trained geneticist to successfully pull it off.
Where Do New Strains Come From?
New strains of cannabis can be created by anyone – experienced breeders or total novices. But when the beginning grower produces a new strain, it is usually less viable than strains produced by experienced or professional breeders.
New strains are created when a breeder takes a male plant of one strain and breeds it with a female plant of another strain. While an amateur breeder would be able to produce a new strain that offers the desired effect, the plant may not survive long enough to create enough clones.
An experienced breeder, on the other hand, will repeat the process of cross breeding until they have a stable version of the new strain. Growers can then name and distribute the strain.
At first, creating a new strain can seem very complicated. But once a breeder understand basic botany and how plants exchange genes, the process is easy to understand and manipulate.
Breeding “Super” Strains
A little research goes a long way for cannabis breeders. When male and female marijuana plants are crossed, the entire genetic lineage of the strains comes into play.
“Super” strains of cannabis are created when breeders know how to “backcross” a strain with another strain that includes it “parent” genes. So for example, crossing a Skunk hybrid with a Kush hybrid that has Skunk DNA as part of its hybrid genetics could create a “Super Skunk.”
Super strains have a higher cannabinoid content. And the more cannabinoids, the more of an effect the strain has on the user.
Two primary active cannabinoids in cannabis are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The strength and pleasurable effects of a new strain of marijuana are usually measured by the amounts of these cannabinoids in the plant.
Other “minor” cannabinoids, like cannabigerol, are also critical components in the signature of a particular strain.
To keep things simple, cannabis plants are classified as either pure sativa or pure indica strains, or sativa-dominant or indica-dominant hybrids. Hybrids that include both sativa and indica genetics tend to favor one or the other, but there are genuine 50/50 hybrid strains.
Breeding 101: A Crash Course In Genetics
The unique characteristics and traits of any given cannabis strain come from its genetic makeup. These characteristics include things like which cannabinoids are present, how much THC or CBD it has, what it smells and tastes like, how large the plant grows, and other similar qualities.
When a male plant pollinates the flowers of a female plant, the genes from both plants are combined. And if the fertilized seed grows into a mature plant, it will exhibit a new set of characteristics.
Some will come from the “father” plant. Others will come from the “mother” plant. But it’s that one-of-a-kind combination of characteristics and traits that make this plant a unique new strain.
When you are making a new strain of cannabis, you need to think about the characteristics you’re looking for in the final plant. You then need to identify parent strains that would help you get those traits and characteristics.
The basic idea behind breeding new strains is to take pollen from the male plant of one strain and use it to fertilize the seeds produced by a female plant of a different strain.
You then harvest the fertilized seeds, germinate them, and plant them to get a new breed of cannabis. If you do it right, the new plant should have an interesting combination of traits, drawing a little bit from each of its parent plants.
Selecting Male And Female Plants To Breed
To successfully breed a new strain you need to know how to identify male and female plants. Male plants produce pollen sacs. Female plants produce pistils.
After you have figured out which two strains you want to cross breed, plant a bunch of seeds from each one. Normally when you are growing weed, you only want female plants. But when you are breeding plants, you need some to be male and some to be female.
As the plants start transitioning from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage, you should see the development of either pollen sacs or pistils.
Keep an eye on the joints between branches. If you see little ball-shaped structures forming there, those are pollen sacs, and the plant is male. If you see little wispy hair-like things forming, then it is a female plant.
Once you’ve identified what’s what, separate the male plant from the female plant. You want full control over everything that happens from here on out.
Next, carefully snip off every branch of the male plant except for one. Keep the branch that seems to be the biggest and healthiest. Continue feeding and watering the plants until they are mature.
When the female plants have sent out tons of white pistils, and the male pollen sacs are fully grown, it’s time for pollination. Carefully place a bag over the top of the male plant and secure it to the plant.
The bag should be covering all pollen sacs and leaves the plant has produced. Gently shake the plant. You are trying to knock as much pollen as you can off the plant and into the bag.
Leave the bag there for a few days, giving the plant a shake every once in a while. At that point, you should have plenty of pollen.
Carefully remove the bag. Now place it over the female plant so that it covers the plant’s buds. Once again, shake the bag. This time you are trying to get all the pollen to fall out of the bag and onto the pistils.
Leave the bag there for another couple days or so and then remove it. The female plant should now be fertilized. Once it produces fully mature flowers, the seeds should be ready to go. Harvest as many seeds as you can and start the growing process all over again.
Grow The New Strain
Take the seeds from the fertilized female plant and start out by germinating them. You can do this a number of different ways, but the most common are:
- peat pellets
- biodegradable pots
- sow directly in soil
When the seed has sprouted, transplant it to whatever growing medium you are using. At this point, follow whatever growing technique you like best.
It could be indoors in a hydroponics system, a closet grow setup, under grow lights, or using the Sea of Green technique. Alternatively, you could grow the plant outside in rich, fertile, organically-fed soil.
Either way, take care of your plant as it moves through its life cycle. Identify the male and female plants and separate them from each other.
This time around you do not want the female plants to be fertilized. If that happens, the buds will have tons of seeds. Instead, you want buds with tons trichomes that are perfect for smoking.
When the flowers are ready, harvest them, dry them, and cure them. Then smoke them and see what you think. Were you able to isolate the characteristics you wanted to? Do you like the effects this new strain produces? What about the smell? The taste?
The Final Hit
If you like the plant you just grew, you can try making clones of it. You do this by taking clippings from the female plant and helping them produce roots so you can plant them and grow them.
Alternatively, you can fertilize and harvest seeds from the new female plant. In that case, you would plant the seeds and start the growing process over again like normal.
Finally, if you weren’t satisfied with the outcome, you can go back to the drawing board. You might want to get a male plant from a different strain and use it to fertilize seeds from your new strain. This could give you a slightly different variation of the new strain you just created.
When you get the hang of it, you can use this general process to breed new strains whenever you want. And the more experienced you become, the better you will get at pinpointing the precise set of characteristics and traits you want your plants to have.