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Mastering The Cannabis Seedling Stage In Just 3 Steps

The seedling stage can be a looming challenge for novice growers. With these three simple steps, however, even inexperienced growers can manage their cannabis seedlings with confidence.

Three simple steps to mastering the cannabis seedling stage.

  • 1. Pick the right genetics, containers, and medium for your seedlings
  • 2. Use the right germination techniques
  • 3. Mastering the seedling stage
  • 3.a. The basics: Optimising light, temperature, and humidity for cannabis seedlings
  • 3.b. Growing seedlings outdoors
  • 3.c. Understanding the seedling stage
  • 3.d. How to water your seedlings
  • 3.e. How to prevent damping off
  • 3.f. How to prevent nutrient problems
  • 3.g. How to prevent pests and bugs
  • 3.h. How to prevent stretchy seedlings
  • 3.i. Know when and how to transplant your seedlings
  • 4. Get growing!
  • 1. Pick the right genetics, containers, and medium for your seedlings
  • 2. Use the right germination techniques
  • 3. Mastering the seedling stage
  • 3.a. The basics: Optimising light, temperature, and humidity for cannabis seedlings
  • 3.b. Growing seedlings outdoors
  • 3.c. Understanding the seedling stage
  • 3.d. How to water your seedlings
  • 3.e. How to prevent damping off
  • 3.f. How to prevent nutrient problems
  • 3.g. How to prevent pests and bugs
  • 3.h. How to prevent stretchy seedlings
  • 3.i. Know when and how to transplant your seedlings
  • 4. Get growing!

Cannabis seedlings can be tricky to keep alive, especially for rookie growers. With a solid understanding of seedlings and their requirements, though, the all-important seedling stage can be a lot less threatening. Keep reading for three simple steps to growing healthy seedlings.

STEP 1: PICK THE RIGHT GENETICS, CONTAINERS, AND MEDIUM FOR YOUR SEEDLINGS

When sourcing your seeds, be sure to actively search out the right strain for you; your experience and skill as a grower, budget, grow equipment, preferences in taste and effect, and whether you’re growing indoors or outdoors will determine which strain will yield the best results for you.

As for the medium, we always recommend growing in a light, well-aerated, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.3–6.5. We recommend using between 20–50% perlite in your medium to aid with soil aeration and nutrient retention. The more nutrients you plan to give your plants, the more perlite you should add to your soil to help with drainage and prevent nutrient lockout.

Remember to water just around the stem of your seedlings, and only once the soil has completely dried out (see the section on over/underwatering below for more info). Also, keep in mind that seedlings (especially autoflowering varieties) are extremely sensitive to nutrients. Never plant them into hot (nutrient-rich) soil and don’t start feeding them until they’ve grown 3–4 sets of true leaves.

When it comes to picking pots, we recommend the following approaches for autoflowering and feminized seedlings.

THE RIGHT POTS FOR AUTOFLOWERING CANNABIS SEEDS

When growing autoflowers, we recommend planting them directly in their final pots. Because of their short life cycle, it’s best to avoid putting autoflowering strains through any kind of unnecessary stress, including transplanting. While the exact pot size you use will vary depending on the strain you’re growing and the size of your grow space, most auto growers use pots between 5–15l.

THE RIGHT POTS FOR FEMINIZED CANNABIS SEEDS

If you’re growing feminized seeds, transplanting isn’t as much of an issue since these plants have time to recover from the stress. Using Easy Start germination pots, you can support robust health right from the beginning. You’ll want to transplant your seedlings just before they start outgrowing their starter pots. We typically recommend transplanting once they’ve grown sets of true leaves that spread out to cover the full circumference of their current container.

From here, most indoor growers move their plants directly into 12l pots, but you can go above or below that to suit your particular strain and grow setup. Keep in mind that you can (and should) up-pot feminized photoperiod plants a few times to max-out development, meaning you don’t need to transplant your seedlings into a giant pot right away.

A NOTE ON CANNABIS POTS

From cheap nursery containers to sophisticated smart pots, growers are spoilt for choice when it comes to picking the right container for their cannabis plants. And while it’s possible to grow great weed in cheap plastic propagation containers, there are a couple of things you’ll want to keep in mind when choosing pots for your weed plants.

• Drainage holes

Make sure your pots drain well to protect your plants against fungal pathogens and root rot. If your pots don’t already contain holes (or some other kind of mesh to allow runoff), you’ll need to puncture them yourself.

• Aeration

One of the functions of a plant’s substrate is to serve as a site for air exchange between the roots and the environment. Smart pots like the RQS Fabric Pothelp your plant’s roots respire by allowing more oxygen to reach them. This translates into faster, more vigorous growth, healthier plants, and a better harvest.

• Pot size

Keeping tiny seedlings in huge pots increases the risk of overwatering, as your plant’s roots won’t be big enough to extract all the water from their substrate. Any water that stays in the substrate will effectively drown the roots and attract pathogens and pests into your garden/grow room.

STEP 2: USE THE RIGHT GERMINATION TECHNIQUES

Cannabis seeds need four things in order to germinate: moisture, warmth, darkness, and time. To ensure you grow healthy seedlings, germinate your seeds using one of the following techniques.

• Paper towel method

Carefully place your cannabis seeds between a few moist pieces of paper towel, and place it all in a plastic container with a lid. Keep the container in a warm, dark place (temperatures between 20–25°C are ideal). Leave a slight crack in the lid to allow for some fresh air exchange.

• Glass of water method

Simply drop your seeds into a glass of water and let them sit in a cupboard for 24–48 hours at 20–25°C. Once you see the first signs of taproots sprouting from your seeds, they’re ready to plant. If your seeds don’t germinate after 48 hours in water, switch to the paper towel method. Don’t keep the seeds submerged for more than 48 hours or they’ll rot.

Your seeds are ready to plant once they’ve cracked open and released a small, white taproot. Plant your germinated seeds one knuckle (roughly 3–5 millimetres) deep with the taproot facing down. That way, your seedlings won’t have to reorient themselves.

• RQS Starter Kits

Alternatively, use the RQS Autoflowering or Feminized Starter Kits to provide your seeds with the perfect conditions from the get-go. This kit contains starter pots filled with perlite and beneficial bacteria, as well as a propagator and lights to breathe life into your seeds. carla

STEP 3: MASTERING THE SEEDLING STAGE

Now that your seedlings are in their soil, the real challenge begins. Cannabis seedlings are extremely fragile; armed with nothing but frail roots and a small set of cotyledons (that first set of small rectangular leaves), minor stressors can take down your seedlings in just a couple of hours. By taking the time to understand your seedlings and their specific needs, however, you’ll automatically know how to optimise their environment and help them grow into strong vegetative plants.

THE BASICS: OPTIMISING LIGHT, TEMPERATURE, AND HUMIDITY FOR CANNABIS SEEDLINGS

Seedlings have very particular needs when it comes to temperature, humidity, and lighting, and missing the mark in any of these areas can prove fatal for such small plants. For best results, we recommend growing seedlings in a propagator where you can easily create the perfect environment for them to flourish in.

• Temperature

Cannabis seedlings like daytime temperatures of 20–25°C and nighttime temperatures that are roughly 4–5°C cooler. High temperatures will stress your seedlings and stunt their growth, which, at such an early stage, can prove fatal. Dry leaves with curled up edges are a telltale sign of heat stress. With time, your seedlings might also develop other symptoms, including pale foliage and red or purple stems. Heat stress can also cause weak, wilting leaves with downward folding tips.

Cold temperatures, on the other hand, can freeze a seedling’s cells and affect its ability to transport and use nutrients, water, and oxygen. This will result in stunted growth and eventually death if not dealt with properly. Wilting foliage, slow growth, and poor plant turgor are some signs that the temperature in your grow room or propagator is too low.

• Humidity

While their roots are young and still developing, cannabis seedlings absorb water via osmosis in their leaves. To optimise this process, it’s super important to keep relative humidity levels at 40–60%.

Humidity levels below 20% will seriously stunt the growth of your seedlings and may cause them to develop symptoms similar to some nutrient deficiencies (yellow or spotted leaves). Humidity levels above 60%, on the other hand, will cause your plants to develop wet spots that can cause foliage to wilt or rot, as well as attract fungi and/or other pathogens and pests. Once your seedlings enter the vegetative phase, you should keep relative humidity at 50%.

• Lights

Seedlings are sensitive to light and will burn under strong HID or LED bulbs. Like adult plants, seedlings will develop burnt, crinkled leaves when suffering from light stress. Alternatively, seedlings that don’t get enough light will grow tall and lanky and topple over.

For best results, we recommend growing your seedlings under an 18/6 light cycle using CFL bulbs with a blue light spectrum for the first 10–14 days. Once they’ve developed healthy true leaves and at least 2–3 nodes, you can move them under stronger HID or LED lights to start vegging.

GROWING SEEDLINGS OUTDOORS

Outdoor growers obviously don’t have the liberty of being able to change the temperature or humidity with the push of a button. If you’re an outdoor grower, you have three options on how to tackle the seedling stage:

  1. Most growers choose to keep their seedlings indoors under CFL lights for the first two weeks to protect them from elements.
  2. Alternatively, you can keep your seedlings outdoors during the day (as long as temperatures sit consistently between 20–25°C) and only move them indoors at night to protect them from the cold, rain, etc.
  3. Finally, you can keep your seedlings outdoors permanently in a propagator, greenhouse, or polytunnel to provide shelter and allow you to drive up humidity and manipulate the temperature.

UNDERSTANDING THE SEEDLING STAGE

Inside that dark, hard shell, cannabis seeds house all the necessary genetic information to sprout and grow into big, luscious plants. When exposed to humidity and warmth, seeds are able to absorb water from their environment. This process is known as imbibition, and it’s the key to life for all plants.

Once water enters a seed, it activates special enzymes that trigger the growth of the taproot (the small white root that pops out of seeds when germinated properly). This root starts to push deeper underground in search of more water while the seed sends a shoot up and out of the soil in search of light.

Cannabis seeds already contain two cotyledons (or embryonic leaves) that unravel and push the seed casing from the shoot. After the cotyledons emerge, cannabis plants will develop their first set of true leaves. These will grow out of the main stem and have just one finger.

During the early stages of their lives, cannabis seedlings get all their energy from stores inside the seed. As their roots develop, they can absorb water via their leaves. Once your plants have developed their first sets of true leaves (that is, leaves with at least 5–7 fingers), they are no longer considered seedlings and are officially vegging.

Remember, rapid growth and vibrant green foliage are telltale signs of healthy seedlings.

HOW TO WATER YOUR SEEDLINGS

There’s no universal schedule on how to water your cannabis seedlings. Instead, you’ll need to pay close attention to your plants and their medium. We recommend sticking your finger roughly 2.5cm (1 inch) into the soil and watering only when the soil is completely dry. Also, remember to water your plants close to the stem where you know their roots are. Finally, remember that your pots need to have drainage holes in the bottom so excess water can drain out.

• Overwatering

Overwatering seedlings is one of the most common (and most fatal) mistakes rookie growers make. Unfortunately, it’s an easy crime to commit; scared to let their seedlings’ soil dry out, inexperienced growers often end up watering their plants too regularly. This essentially drowns a seedling’s tiny root system, starving the plant of oxygen and causing it to droop.

Overwatering can also occur when a plant’s container is too big or too small. When growing a small seedling in a big pot, the excess soil can hold water for days in areas untouched by the plant’s roots. What you’re left with is a big container filled with wet soil that’s not only robbing your plant of oxygen, but also creating a breeding ground for fungi, bacteria, and pests.

Similarly, under-potting can be just as detrimental to your plants. Plants that are root-bound take up water very quickly, encouraging you to water them more regularly than necessary, leading to overwatering.

• Underwatering

While it’s not as common as overwatering, underwatering is definitely an issue for some beginner growers (especially those that have been warned about overwatering their plants).

Cannabis plants constantly lose moisture through their leaves in a process known as transpiration (which plays an essential role in a plant’s ability to transport water from its roots up through its stem). Hence, it’s super important they always have access to water from their soil. When a plant goes too long without water, a lot of its vital functions start to slow down. Any roots that dry out completely die off, stunting the plant’s growth or possibly killing it all together (if its root system is underdeveloped).

Unfortunately, the symptoms of underwatering are mostly the same as those of overwatering (drooping and wilting). However, you’ll be able to tell that your plants are underwatered if their soil is bone dry.

HOW TO PREVENT DAMPING OFF

We’ve all been there; your seedlings look perfectly healthy, then suddenly you find them slumped over the edge of their containers. Within 24 hours (or sometimes less), they’ve shriveled up and died.

This phenomenon, known colloquially as “damping off”, is caused by fungi like Pythium, Botrytis, and Fusarium. While these fungi can lie dormant in soil, they grow and thrive in overly wet conditions. Overwatering and high humidity, for example, are some of the most common causes of damping off.

Unfortunately, by the time your seedlings show the first signs of damping off (a limp and discoloured stem), there’s nothing you can do to save them. We just recommend removing the affected seedlings from your grow room or propagator ASAP to avoid spreading the fungi.

To prevent damping off, make sure to keep close tabs on the temperature and relative humidity in your grow space, and avoid overwatering your plants. Also, make sure both your soil and pots drain well.

Finally, to minimise the chance of a Pythium, Botrytis, or Fusarium infestation even further, be sure to always use new soil or sterilise your soil by baking it in the oven until it reaches a temperature of 85°C.

HOW TO AVOID NUTRIENT PROBLEMS

Healthy cannabis plants look vibrant and green, and any sort of discoloration on a plant’s leaves or stems can be a sign of nutrient stress.

Remember, cannabis seeds are jam-packed with nutrients to help get your seedlings through the first stage of their life. Once these nutrients run out, it’s time for you to step in and give your plants the added nutrients they need to veg and flower properly.

• Feeding seedlings

Cannabis seedlings are super fragile and can easily “burn” in nutrient-rich soil. In general, we don’t recommend feeding during the seedling phase. Instead, keep your seedlings chilling in their Easy Start pots until they’re ready to be transplanted and start vegging.

Most blogs and forums will tell you that your plants are ready to veg after two weeks, but that’s far from true; it usually takes about 3–4 weeks from germination for your seedling to use up all the energy stored in the seed, although some plants develop faster than others. But rather than going by time, we recommend you transplant and start vegging your seedlings once they’ve developed at least three nodes and 4–5 sets of true leaves.

• Transitioning to the vegetative stage

Once you’ve transplanted your seedlings into their new pots, give them 3–7 days to adjust. Remember, transplanting is a stressful process, and your plants will need some time to recover from it. Feed your plants too early after transplanting, and they likely won’t take up all their nutrients from their medium, which can cause problems (like nutrient lockout) further down the line.

Once you’re confident your plants have recovered from being transplanted, start feeding them with a mild nutrient solution. An NPK ratio of 4:2:3, for example, is a good starting point for plants just beginning to veg.

• Nutrient burn

Growers usually run into nutrient burn when they feed their seedlings too early or when they transition into the vegetative phase (either because they transplant their seedlings into hot soil or they start feeding with a fertiliser that’s too strong). The first signs of nutrient burn are dark green leaves with burnt tips. Left untreated, nutrient burn also causes leaves to curl upwards.

Luckily, unlike some of the other seedling issues we’ve mentioned in this post, it is possible to remedy nutrient burn. Simply lay off the nutrients for at least one week and water your plants with plain, pH-balanced water. Once your plant starts to grow more healthy, green foliage, slowly dial the fertiliser back in.

Whenever you start feeding your plants, we recommend giving them half the recommended dose of fertiliser during the first week of feeding. This gives the plants time to adjust to their new diet.

• Going organic

At RQS, we’re big fans of organic cannabis gardening. No amount of chemical nutrients could ever compare to the complex mix of microorganisms that exist in organic soil.

When growing organic, the focus is all about building a vibrant soil from the get-go, rather than growing in a stagnant medium and pumping it full of chemical nutrients once a week. While it’s a lot more hands-on, the taste of organic weed is hard to beat. Just remember that organically grown plants typically don’t provide the same yields as their non-organic siblings.

HOW TO PREVENT PESTS AND BUGS

Pests and plagues can destroy seedlings in less than a day. To prevent this from happening, it’s super important to keep the environment around your seedlings clean and at optimal temperatures and humidity levels. Avoid overwatering, and remember to read up on common cannabis pests so you can spot and treat them early. Some common pests to look out for include:

• Fungus gnats

These small, black, fly-like bugs feed off your plants and lay their larvae in wet topsoil.

• Spider mites

Black or red in colour, spider mites live on the underside of leaves and sometimes spin protective webs around healthy foliage. They love hot, dry conditions.

• Leaf miners

These small, slender, winged insects leave irregular snail-trail-like spots on healthy leaves.

• White powdery mildew

As the name suggests, white powdery mildew is a type of mould that forms as a white, flour-like powder on the leaves of your plants.

• Pythium and Fusarium

These fungi can be hard to spot, but white spots on wet topsoil can be an early sign of their presence.

Cannabis seedlings like warm, humid conditions. Unfortunately, pests and diseases also love these conditions. Keeping things extra clean and growing your seedlings in a propagator can help prevent an infestation.

HOW TO PREVENT STRETCHY SEEDLINGS

Seedlings stretch in order to get closer to their light source. To keep your seedlings from developing unnaturally long, flimsy stalks, grow them under blue spectrum CFLs located roughly 5cm from the top of the plants. Also, avoid keeping your seedlings in the dark for 24 hours after germination (a common piece of advice on grow forums), as the lack of light will force your seedlings to stretch abnormally.

KNOW WHEN AND HOW TO TRANSPLANT YOUR SEEDLINGS

Unfortunately, transplanting seedlings is far from an exact science; rather than following a strict calendar or schedule, it’s all about paying attention to your plant and knowing which cues to look out for.

As we mentioned earlier, a good rule of thumb is to transplant seedlings when their leaves fully cover the circumference of their container. After about one week, try checking on your seedlings’ roots. If you can completely remove a seedling and all its soil, it is ready to transplant.

Remember to be very gentle when handling your seedlings and transplanting them. Any minute damage to their roots can result in a ton of stress that, for such young and fragile plants, can take a while to recover from.

GET GROWING!

Now that you know the theory behind growing healthy cannabis seedlings, it’s time to get your hands dirty. Remember to invest in one of our Starter Kits for the best, most reliable results, and keep reading our blog for more tips on growing spectacular weed at home.

Struggling with your cannabis seedlings? Click here for 3 simple steps to growing healthy seedlings, alongside tips for mastering the cannabis seedling phase.

Sowing The Seeds Of Love: Care & Feeding for Healthier Marijuana Seedlings

Marijuana seedlings are like children. They grow faster and healthier when you nurture them through a steady and sustained program of lighting, feeding and watering. Well, they’re sorta like children. And yet many growers make mistakes that end up injuring, even killing their seedlings.

In this post we’ll help you avoid the most common mistakes so that your seedlings get their best start in life.

Marijuana Seedlings Need Light That’s Kind

I start out by germinating my marijuana seedlings in peat pots or rockwool cubes.

When I first embarked on my grower career, if seedlings were intended for an outdoor garden, I used to place them in bright sun right away. Sad to say, I found out the hard way that direct sun was too much for the little guys, especially as I lived in high-UV areas at the time. I could see their leaves turn downward as they shrunk away from the beating sun. I learned that marijuana seedlings grown outdoors prefer mixed shade for the first 2–3 weeks of their lives.

Here’s another thing I did when first starting out. If my seedlings were intended for an indoor grow op, I would put them under 250-watt or 400-watt metal halide grow lights. Yet even though I had the grow lights placed three or more feet above the seedlings, the light intensity was still too much for them.

Quite simply, tender young leaves aren’t ready for high-intensity lighting. That’s why most growers use fluorescent grow lights or low-power LED grow lights for the first three weeks of grow phase (if not longer) before putting the plants under either high-intensity discharge, or HID, or full-power LED lights.

Encouraging Root Growth: What Are The Best Products To Use?

Leaf growth and root growth are essential for marijuana seedlings, and root growth is what drives leaf growth.

There are several supplements and nutrients you can use to encourage root growth:

  • Vitamin B, such as that found in a hydroponics product called B-52. For plants less than three weeks old, I only use 1–2 ml of this product per gallon of water, and I don’t use it every watering cycle. It contains small amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which are added benefits for early growth.
  • House & Garden Roots Excelurator: A high-priced but highly effective root stimulant product.
  • Beneficial bacteria and fungi. In nature, plant roots evolved with microbes that protect, stimulate and enhance roots. You can add those microbes into your root zone using hydroponics products made especially for marijuana. Such products include Advanced Nutrients’ Voodoo Juice, Tarantula and Piranha. I recommend 1–2 ml per gallon of water for each of these products, starting two days after your seedlings produce their first set of true leaves. As your seedlings gain leaves and height, begin to follow the manufacturer’s dosing instructions.

Nutrients & Stimulants Specifically For Marijuana Seedlings

Many growers make the mistake of starting to feed their seedlings too early, too heavily, or both.

When a seedling only has a few sets of true leaves (by “true leaves,” I mean leaves with serrated edges), it has minimal root development and can’t handle high nutrients doses.

Other than overwatering, which is a sure way to kill seedlings, over-fertilizing is also a leading cause of seedling failure.

It makes a big difference if you’re growing in inert media such as rockwool, soilless mix or coco coir, in pure hydroponics such as deep water culture, or in soil.

If you’re growing in inert media or pure hydroponics, there are no nutrients in your seedling’s root zone and you have to provide them beginning a day or two after your seedlings produce their first set of true leaves.

But you want to be very conservative in how much and how often you feed them.

You definitely don’t use your nutrients at full strength, or even half strength. When I’m using pH Perfect Connoisseur grow phase base nutrients, for example, I use only 10–15 percent of the full-strength dose.

With seedlings, less is more. Your plants can sometimes recover if you give them too few nutrients. But if you give them too high a dose, you burn their delicate young roots — and your cannabis seedlings will likely never recover.

If you intend to grow marijuana seedlings in soil, ask the soil manufacturer ahead of time if the soil you want to use is meant for seedlings.

Some manufacturers load their soil with too many nutrients, especially nitrogen. This soil is good for transplanting established plants into, but it’s too nutrient rich for seedlings.

More Top Tips For Sturdy Seedlings

I have three more tricks to help your seedlings survive. First, place a small oscillating fan so it blows the seedlings gently, from side to side. This will help to strengthen their stalks, so the plants grow to be sturdier later on.

Another tip is to use reverse osmosis water, rainwater, or tested and clean well water.

Marijuana seedlings are very sensitive to chlorine, chloramine, pollution, pesticides, and other contaminants found in most municipal water supplies. Use reverse osmosis water and your sprouts will thank you for it.

Thirdly, give seedlings an environment with 57–67 percent relative humidity for the first 1–3 weeks of their lives. I’ve seen grow ops in Southern California (where outdoor humidity levels can be as low as 15 percent) that have indoor air so dry that seedlings died.

Those growers were forced to use humidity domes or humidifiers so that the next seedling crops survived.

Of course, seedlings don’t usually need a humidity dome like young clones do, but seedlings need the aforementioned humidity range until they’ve developed root systems adequate enough to draw moisture from below.

So now you’ve got the lowdown on giving your marijuana seedlings the best start in life, what’s stopping you on your path to grower glory?

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