How to Create Your Own Strain

Emily Mullins

Posted by Emily Mullins on 04/04/2024 in Growing

How to Create Your Own Strain

There are myriad reasons why people decide to create their own strains of cannabis. A cannabis strain is a specific variety of cannabis sativa plant that consistently reproduces the same characteristic traits, like aromas, flavors, and medicinal effects. Some people breed new cannabis plants as a business venture, some want to customize their cannabis experience, and others are looking to enjoy the botanical pursuit of crafting novel plant varieties.

If you are inexperienced in the wide world of cannabis plant care, or plant care in general, the idea of creating your own unique strain may sound ludicrously daunting. True, the breeding process does require a level of patience, labor, and skill, but with enough dedication and guidance, you can take on the challenge of breeding your very own cannabis strain. 

Breeding Cannabis Plants

Typically, breeders opt to grow new strains in a breeding chamber, but this process can also occur outdoors if the plants are kept close together. To create a growing chamber, you can use whatever equipment or decoration your budget allows, but all you basically need is a simple enclosed space with plastic sheeting to control the environment and spread of pollen during the process. The chamber typically houses one male plant among multiple female plants, since it only takes one male to pollinate many female plants in the breeding chamber – one male can pollinate about 20 females. 

  1. Choosing your strains

There are over 700 strains of cannabis. Each strain has its own characteristic flavors, aromas, and medicinal properties. When selecting plants to cross for your exclusive cannabis strain, the right strains to choose will depend on your motivation for breeding a strain. You might want to experiment with a special terpene profile, or perhaps there is a potency level you prefer. Choose a couple of strains you enjoy or do some research into what strains are known to produce the effects you desire. 

  1. Determining plant sexes

Cannabis plants come in male and female varieties, and you will need to distinguish the plants before setting them up in the pollinating chamber. Female cannabis plants produce flowers that contain all the desirable compounds used in cannabis products. Therefore, when breeding your plants in general, look more closely at the females for the floral traits you desire, because you cannot know what genetics the male plant will contribute to flowering from examining them. 

Once the plants reach the flowering stage at around three weeks, you should be able to tell them apart. Males have small, closed, round “buds” that are actually pollen sacs, whereas female flowers take on more of an open, fuzzy look. 

  1. Gathering pollen

In the first weeks of the plant’s flowering stage, the male plant will form pollen sacs. The pollen is released from these sacs into the air and lands on the female plants’ flowers to accomplish pollination. This is why it is helpful to utilize an enclosed breeding chamber to contain the spread or loss of cannabis pollen and to prevent the invasion of outside pollen that might interfere with your project. 

Alternatively, you could also collect the male plant’s pollen by gathering it yourself. Using a paper sheet or plastic container, collect pollen by gently shaking a branch with pollen sacs over the sheet or container, allowing the pollen to fall onto the surface. You can also shake pollen from the male plant directly onto the females.

  1. Pollinating

If you opted to manually gather pollen to pollinate the plants yourself, the next step is to pollinate the female plants with the male’s pollen. The best time to pollinate female cannabis plants is around two or three weeks into the flowering stage. Just gently blow the pollen you collected from the male plant to distribute it over the female plants. It is also good practice to deactivate leftover pollen three hours following pollination. You will simply need to spray the newly fertilized female plants with some water. 

Allow your cannabis plants to continue their progress through the flowering period. As the females continue to grow, they produce both seeds and buds. Seeds typically mature after two to six weeks. 

  1. Harvesting the seeds

Once the seeds are fully mature, they are harvested and dried. Drying the seeds is a necessary step for germination to occur when you grow your next generation of plants. The seeds can dry in the flowers, which are typically harvested 3 to 4 weeks prior to the harvest of seeds, meaning it can take about a month after you finally have seeds before the seeds can be germinated.

The resulting seeds will contain the genetics of both male and female plants and can be grown on their own as new hybrid plants. Each seed is genetically unique and carries different combinations of traits from each of the parent strains, like the way human siblings take on various different and similar traits from their parents. 

  1. Backcrossing and Stabilization

Breeding two plants together doesn’t seem super complicated, but you will need to do more than just obtain hybridized seeds to develop a stable new strain. New seeds are not the same as new strains because without stabilization, the plants’ characteristics will be lost in later generations, and your plants will not produce consistent results. This means breeding your own cannabis strain can likely take years.

Depending on the stability (homozygosity) of your parent plants, your seeds will come with varying levels of genetic heterozygosity. In order to stabilize a cannabis cultivar such that it will replicate the same traits predictably, breeders next work on breeding the strain to be homozygous. Homozygosity ensures that a plant will produce the same seeds with the same genetic features repeatedly, so consumers are able to receive consistent results from the plant’s products.

Backcrossing is the practice of cross-pollinating the new strain with itself or one of the parent plants. After multiple generations of crossing brothers, sisters, and parents based on their desirable traits, greater homozygosity can be achieved, allowing the seeds to stabilize their variability over time. This is because, over generations of inbreeding the plants, homozygous genes become dominant and are eventually always present in the seeds, and undesirable traits are gradually eliminated from the gene pool until they are no longer expressed. By inbreeding the strain in this way, breeders can reinforce the reproduction of desirable characteristics and ultimately stabilize consistent plant genetics to last over generations. 

  1. Documenting

Finally, it is imperative that you label and document everything. It is crucial to keep track of which parents produced certain seeds, when the plants were pollinated, when the seeds were harvested, and which resulting plants are best for breeding again. Without documenting the results, there is no way for you to keep track of what procedures worked best and what plant crossings and trait expressions were ideal for reproducing, which can impede your breeding progress.

Additionally, since breeding is a lengthy endeavor, you may want to return to certain seeds to either continue your breeding efforts or just to grow for the sake of having more cannabis. Either way, it is interesting and potentially useful to note down which pairings created which offspring.

Get to Growing!

Now you have some starter information to take the plunge into the world of cannabis plant breeding, as well as perhaps a newfound appreciation for the incredible amount of labor, resources, and time that went into the development of your favorite strains. Although it is no easy task, creating your own cannabis variety can be a fascinating way to enjoy a custom, exclusive cannabis experience.

If you enjoy plant-keeping already, breeding your own cannabis strain can provide a rewarding way to take your skills to the next level. If you are not so experienced with plants, there may be a learning curve, but breeding success is still possible – perhaps you will find that you have a talent for it. Overall, producing a unique variety of cannabis plants can be a challenge at first, but with practice and devotion, you can someday find yourself smoking the only bowl in the world containing your own personal brand-new cannabis strain. 

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