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Cannabis

Sexing Cannabis: How to Tell the Difference Between Young Male vs Female Cannabis Plants

Are you growing cannabis at home, but aren’t sure if your plants are male or female? Then you’ve come to the right place! This article is going to show you how to tell the difference between male and female cannabis plants to properly sex them.

In particular, I want to show you how we determine the sex of our cannabis plants while they are still quite young. It gets significantly more obvious as the plants begin to mature and flower. On the other hand, it can be a bit more tricky to sex cannabis plants in the early pre-flower phase, but it is definitely possible! We’ll also talk a bit about why it is important to determine the sex of cannabis plants, the difference between regular and feminized seeds, how we treat our plants up until the time we know their sex, and what to do with unwanted male plants.

If you’re new to Homestead and Chill, be sure to check out our other cannabis-related articles! We primarily grow outdoors, 100% organic, and aim to provide helpful information that is easy to follow –  both for new and experienced growers alike. As a disclaimer, this article is intended for those who can legally grow cannabis at home.


DeannaCat standing amongst mature cannabis plants in various stages of flower. The evening sun is shining in through trees casting a warm glow. She is wearing a blue dress with a floral/plant pattern.
No boys allowed.


Feminized vs Regular Cannabis Seeds


If you are growing from feminized seeds, you shouldn’t need to worry about sexing your cannabis plants all that much. While not 100% guaranteed, there is only a very slim chance that a feminized seed will produce a male plant. About 1% in fact. In all of our years growing, we have never had a cannabis plant grown from feminized seed turn out to be a male – though we only grow a handful of plants per year. Folks who grow hundreds of plants could potentially end with a rare male now and then.

Feminized seeds are highly desirable to most growers. They’re efficient. It is almost sure-fire that you’re spending your energy and resources raising ladies. However, some growers accept or even prefer regular (unsexed) seeds! We grow a little of both.

Why grow regular cannabis seeds? Well, maybe a particular breeder or strain you want to try only carries regular seeds. Some growers feel that the feminization process is unnatural, and prefer to kick it old school by growing regular seeds only. Some enjoy the gamble and challenge. Whatever the reason, when you grow cannabis from regular seeds, the odds of getting all lady plants are not in your favor. You will end up with some males. Therefore, you need to learn to sex your cannabis plants! Also, we always start several extra “regular” seeds – assuming a 50/50 chance that some will be culled because they are male.  


How are feminized cannabis seeds made?


Curious about how feminized seeds are created? In a nutshell: most feminized seeds come from cannabis plants that have been treated and altered in a manner that inhibits male chromosomes. The most common method is to spray the plant repetitively (daily or more) with colloidal silver. Other chemicals and compounds can be used too, but are far less accessible. Colloidal silver is technically “non-toxic”, but you do not want to smoke it! Thus, the plant is sacrificial – used for the production of pollen and seeds only.

Repeated colloidal silver treatments cause repression of the plant’s ethylene, which is the stuff that creates male flowers. Instead, the treated female plant will grow pollen sacks full of FEMALE pollen (XX rather than XY). Then breeders use the female pollen to pollinate female flowers, resulting in the development of all-female seeds. 

Another way to create feminized cannabis seeds is called rodelization. It is a more natural but unreliable method, and less frequently used by breeders. Near the end of a growing season, an un-pollinated female cannabis plant will sometimes produce pollen sacks in a desperate attempt to pollinate herself. That pollen can be used to try to create feminized seeds, but because ethylene hasn’t been repressed, may also result in male seeds.



Okay, back to sexing cannabis. 


Why Sex Cannabis Plants? The Role of Male and Female Plants


For the most part, the average home grower wants female cannabis plants. The ladies are the ones that produce the fattest, most resinous and most potent flowers – aka buds. Male cannabis plants are only desirable if someone wants to breed cannabis and save seeds (which is a whole other topic for another day). Even then, the grower will want to spot the difference between the male and female plants and separate them early on, unless they want free cross-breeding and pollination between many types of strains. 

Not only are the males less desirable, but male cannabis plants interfere with the quality and production of your female plant. Males grow pollen sacks, and produce pollen. When a female cannabis plant becomes pollinated by a nearby male, her energy shifts into producing seeds.

Like most things in nature, female cannabis plants have a biological drive to reproduce. After the deed has been done, she will sit back and relax. While a pollinated female cannabis plant WILL still develop decent size buds, they are usually lower quality and contain less THC and other desirable cannabinoids. Not to mention, they’ll be full of seeds. When left un-pollinated, a female cannabis plant’s flowers (buds) will continue to swell, develop more trichomes and become increasingly resinous. She is trying to get as sticky and large as possible to catch pollen in the wind. That sweet sinsemilla – aka unfertilized, seed-free cannabis.


A hand holding a cannabis cola or flower that is hanging downwards due to the weight of the branch. The trichomes are visible in the sun and most of the pistols have turned brownish orange aside from a few that are still white.
Swollen, sticky sinsemilla


When to Sex Cannabis Plants


Our goal here today is to learn how to tell the difference between male and female cannabis plants early on, so you can get the males away from the females as soon as possible! It will help protect your lady plants – but also spare you the wasted time, resources, and energy of tending to male plants that you don’t intend to keep.  

Keeping in mind that every strain and grow set-up (e.g. indoors, outdoors, daylight hours) creates varying circumstances, most cannabis plants begin to pre-flower as early as 4 weeks after germination. By week 6, the pre-flowers begin to reveal their gender and you should be able to identify the sex using the tips to follow. Once the plants go into full flower (8 to 10 weeks on average, for a natural outdoor grow) the differences between male and female plants will be glaringly obvious. We’ll talk more about exactly what each sex looks like in a moment. 

Until we can tell the sex for sure, we continue to treat the plants equally. We start our seeds in small 4-inch nursery pots. About two weeks after germination, we pot the seedlings up into an approximately two-gallon (trade size) “sexing pot” like these BPA-free nursery pots. This enables everyone to continue to grow in a happy and healthy manner for several more weeks*. Then, once we can surely tell the difference between the male and female cannabis plants, only the ladies move into their forever home – 15 to 25 gallon grow bags full of recycled organic living soil. To learn more about our soil recipe and how we maintain it, see this article.

*Note that our feminized seedlings go from a 4” pot to an 8” pot, and then more quickly into large grow bags, using less soil in the potting-up process.


A hand is holding a young cannabis seedlings  that is in a small pot. In the background there are two young cannabis plants in two different sized plastic pots and two cannabis plants that have been planted into 15 gallon grow bags. You want to determine the cannabis sex before you plant it in its forever home.
This little girl (or boy) is far too young to tell, but needs to be potted up soon. The two in plastic pots in the background were determined to be male and culled the next day. The two on the left in grow bags are definite females (one from feminized seed, and one we sexed from regular seed).


How to Tell the Difference Between Male and Female Cannabis Plants in Pre-Flower


In order to correctly sex cannabis plants, you’ll need to become familiar with their anatomy in general. Both males and females produce pre-flowers and flowers in the junctions between stems or branches. The very first pre-flowers show up in the crook between the main plant stalk and a fan leaf stem (petiole), usually near the top of the plant. The good news is, the males usually begin to develop and show sooner than females. I guess the idea is that the dudes want to have their pollen ready and waiting for when the ladies join the party?


Cannabis anatomy, courtesy of the Colorado Cannabis School


Look for plant pre-flowers at the higher stalk/branch junctions, as described above. If needed, use a jeweler’s loupe to get a better look! That is the same magnifying tool commonly used to examine trichomes and determine plant readiness for harvest. Then, locate the stipule, which is a leafy pointed flap that protrudes from the junction. Don’t confuse that for a pre-flower! The cannabis sex parts are located just behind the stipule. Behind the pre-flower sex parts, taller growth tips will emerge – future auxiliary branches that produce buds.


Identifying a Male Cannabis Plant

Very early, the male pre-flower (early pollen sacs) simply looks like a more round version than the female pre-flower part. It is often referred to as a “spade”, like the spade suit in cards – squatty with a bulbous bottom and very slight tip. As it becomes slightly larger, the male pre-flower resembles a ball at the end of a stick. The male pre-flower is called a staminate. Then, the staminate eventually develops into a long hanging sack of baby bananas – the pollen sacs. Hopefully you can ID and cull the males before they get to this stage.


A close up image of a male preflower that resembles a ball on the end of a stick. The preflower is circled I. white and the bottom of the image has text that reads, "See the male stick and ball?"
A 4-5 week old male cannabis plant in our garden, showing his stick and ball. Note that this is a really early and obvious example. Most of the other males in this age group show a round ball, but protruding less and more nestled flat against the stalk.
Close up image of male flowers that are starting to protrude fro. the main stalk of the plant. The flowers are more  pronounced with larger balls forming.
A more advanced male pre-flower, courtesy of Dr. Weedly (We never let our males get this far to photograph)
Male flowers at an advanced stage, there are now many male flowers protruding from crooks in the main stalk, they resemble bunches of bananas hanging from the plant. Pollen will soon be dropped from these flowers.
Did someone order a banana hammock? The male flowers are about to open and shed pollen, if they haven’t already. Photo from Green Cultured


Identifying a Female Cannabis Plant

In contrast, the very early female cannabis pre-flowers are more ovate in shape: pear-like, but with a longer slender pointed tip. That is called her calyx. Extending from the tip of the calyx may be a pair of pistils, or white hair-like protrusions. However, please note that not every female cannabis plant in pre-flower produces pistils. 


A close up image a female preflower or calyx with a pistil coming out of the top.  Look for preflowers when determining your cannabis sex.
One of our fine young ladies of the 2020 season.
A four way image collage showing the difference between cannabis sex. The first image shows a close up of one of the nodes on the plant, coming out of the crook of the main stalk and auxiliary  branch is a smaller rounded, spade like male preflower. The second image shows a close up of a male preflower that is sitting atop a stem. The third image shows a close up of a female preflower calyx, it has the shape of a pear. The fourth image shows a female preflower that has a white pistol or hair coming out of the top of the female preflower.


If you are still unsure of the sex of your cannabis plant, wait to make any drastic decisions! Yet if you’re fairly certain, consider some of these other common differences between male and female plants. Perhaps it will help you more confidently make a decision.


Other Common Differences Between Male and Female Cannabis Plants


Aside from the clear-cut flower differences, there are a few (potential) trending characteristics between male and female cannabis plants. In many cases, male cannabis plants tend to be more gangly. They may be tall, narrow, have fewer fan leaves, and longer spacing between branches – also referred to as greater inter-nodal spacing. On the flip side, female cannabis plants are usually more compact and bushy than males. 

Please keep in mind that these traits are not guaranteed, and shouldn’t be the only way to sex cannabis plants! Variations among strains and phenotypes can lead to all sorts of crazy things. The general plant structure simply may help give you a clue if you’re on the fence.


My Cannabis Plant is Male! Now What?


I hope you started a few extra seeds, and have plenty of ladies left to grow! Once you determine that you have a male cannabis plant, get rid of it. Again, unless you want pollination and seeds, it is best to cull the males as early as possible. Simply separating the plants isn’t enough. Even if you relocate the male plant to another part of your yard, the pollen can carry in the wind. There are stories of female cannabis plants becoming pollinated from neighbors growing several blocks away. 

However, the culled males don’t need to go to waste! One option is to chop up the male plant and use it to mulch other plants – much like we do with borage, fava bean greens, yarrow, and comfrey. You could also juice the leaves, which are full of nutrients. Heck, you could even steep the plant material in water to create a natural fertilizer as we do with stinging nettle. Finally, I’m sure your compost pile will welcome the male plant with open arms. Or would that be… with open worms? 


A three part image collage, the first image shows the tops of three 25 gallon fabric grow bags that are heavily mulched with a variety of plants. The second image shows a close up of the mulch which shows a variety of yarrow flowers, lavender flowers, horsetail, and others. The third image shows another close up image of mulch that contains fava bean plant material, horsetail, and yarrow.
Who knew mulch could be so sexy?
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And that is how you determine the sex of cannabis plants.


In closing, I hope this article is interesting and useful in your homegrown adventures. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, and spread the cannabis sex love by sharing this article. Even if you like to grow mostly feminized seeds, don’t you find this stuff fascinating? I sure do. Thanks for tuning in and nerding out with me a bit. Best of luck this growing season!



DeannaCat signature keep on growing

43 Comments

  • Clifford Robinson

    Yes this was a site that helped me explain the looks of a male plant to others… And to say that the male plant grows balls not and doesn’t have the the hairs that make a v which is a female… And I really appreciate the pictures cuz its easier to show someone not tell them… So thank you for sharing your knowledge….

  • Lnmn Adams

    last year was my first outdoor grow in decades. not knowing the difference between male and female plants i grew them together. got a lot if seeds, which i think is a good thing. using those seeds for this yrs crop. the prodduct was great. since we dont have stores yet this was very great product. very good smoke that i shared with good ppl.

  • DENNIS GREEN

    BOUGHT FEMINIZED SEEDS AND AM GROWING 14 PLANTS IN A GROW ROOM 6X8 VEG FOR 12 WEEKS AND PUT INTO FLOWER ABOUT 2 WKS AGO. I HAVE WHAT I BELIEVE TO BE 4 MALES THE REST APPEAR TO BE FEMALES. I AM REMOVING THE MALES NOW. NO POLLEN YET. WHAT CAUSES FEMINIZED SEEDS TO TURN MALE OR WERE THEY MALES FROM THE START? THANKS, DENNIS

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Dennis, sounds like you plan on growing some huge plants! If you got the feminized seeds from a reputable breeder, they should be female plants close to 99% of the time. Your ratio seems to be a bit off unless the female plants started producing male flowers which can happen due to stress and other environmental factors, although you would likely be seeing female flowers and pistils as well as a few male flowers. If you are only seeing male flowers, the seeds likely weren’t feminized to begin with. Hope that helps and good luck on the rest of your grow.

  • Daif

    Good post, I’m growing some non-feminized seeds for the first time. I figured I would cut my teeth on non-feminized seeds to save a few bucks while I learn the ropes. I’ve got my fingers crossed on this one. Are you using 10+ gallon pots?

    P.s. Your big plants look lovely.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hey Daif, using regular seeds is great just germinate twice as many seeds as the number of plants you want to grow out. We typically sprout seeds in 4 inch pots, pot up to 2 gallon pots until they show sex, and from there they go into grow bags ranging in size from 15-25 gallons depending on space and number of plants. Hope that helps and have fun growing!

  • Daniel

    Hello, we have been growing about 20 plants outside in phoenix for about 3 to 4 months now as they are barely getting big enough to support flowers. our tallest plant is maybe 10 to 12 inches tall. we planted in the winter here which is really a mild temperature as you may know, but the days are very short, so in turn we built a little pop up green house enclosure fitted with one grow light, the plants look lovely and healthy, i think our biggest plant is showing some flower growth at the very top but that is it. I have been looking for these differences in sex and cannot honestly tell a difference. They all look female to me although i know the odds of that are very slim. when they get a bit bigger we will change the light cycle to accommadate flowering. i could really use some help in identifying the males, as this is our second grow and the first was very good although very seedy due to a rogue male. any help would be greatly appreciated. i will send pictures thank you sincerely for any help.

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Daniel, if you can’t tell which one is male then they aren’t that far along in their flowering process because once they are, there is an obvious difference between the males and females. You shouldn’t have to worry about the males pollinating the females as they will still take some time before they release pollen. The females will produce white pistils out of their growth tips first if you can’t see the pre-flowers. Hope that helps and good luck.

  • Margret Hefner

    I really have to hand it to you two. Thanks, more than I can say, for how you’ve said what I needed to hear, and see. Not feeling as confident as I’d like means going out to find the right information. You’ve just blown me away.

    This could become my “just before I shut it all down for the day,” reading library. Y’all have variety!

    At 65+, I’m retired in Baja California. I’m going to move to the last place I expect to live in a year. I’m growning the base plants for the gardens I want to be surrounded by, starting this year. I have a little corn field, besides some plants, like hedge worthy bushes that need early attention to encourage bushiness, the veggies I really like to have from anybody’s hobby garden, flowers and herbs that take years to mature for use… and just a couple of girls.

    ‘Just because I can’t resist; thank you so much for information per the irrelevance of males to the substance of my girls. I won’t have a rooster, either! I bet that Mr DeanaCat is a wild and crazy, better kind o’ boy.

    Welcome to 2022 y’all
    Love it, thanks,
    Margret

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Sounds like you have a lot going on Margaret and live in a beautiful place! Thank you for the kind words and support, best of luck to you in the future and keep us posted on your progress.

  • Anne

    Really lovely, useful article! Just a minor correction about this statement
    “Curious about how feminized seeds are created? In a nutshell: most feminized seeds come from cannabis plants that have been treated and altered in a manner that inhibits male chromosomes. The most common method is to spray the plant repetitively (daily or more) with colloidal silver.”
    It would be so interesting if it were possible inhibit transmission of just one chromosome), but that’s not actually how “seed feminization” works here. The plant is already XX. It can’t produce male offspring…. but.. it can’t produce seeds at all if it doesn’t make pollen, and only male flowers can make pollen. Spraying silver actually forces the development of male flowers on the plant (masculization of the plant! to get feminized seeds!)- and these masculinized flowers can pollinate the female flowers (which don’t make pollen). The plant already has nothing but X chromosomes anyway- it just can’t pollinate itself until you cause this developmental change.

  • Scott

    Hi I was just wondering if you can grow weed in a green house
    I have currently growing 4 and have been told to not grow them in the green house as they wont grow properly

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Scott, yes you can grow cannabis in a greenhouse, we have grown a few in a small greenhouse with great success. All you need is adequate lighting (either artificial or from the sun) and good airflow. You many need to keep an eye on the inside temperature as well (depending on you greenhouse) as they can get quite hot in the summer and also cold in the winter without supplemental heat. We would typically open the door during the summer, plus we had an exhaust fan blowing air out of the greenhouse with a fan inside the greenhouse circulating air. Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Nkosenhle jordan Mntungwa

    Hi there. Lovely website you have here. I have been searching online and each illustration I come across doesn’t help me out. So far your site is the closest i’ve come to being able to identify my plant’s sex. I just desperately need to know so that I do not waste precious time as I have limited resources and I live in a place with a very poor climate. I have until Mid-April before the weather changes for the worst and for the rest of the year. SO, please may I send you close ups of my plant and perhaps you can tell me?

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      How old are your plants? It will usually take the plant anywhere between 6 to 8 weeks before you can tell its sex, I realize it can be frustrating to keep a plant alive that may be male but they will show themselves in time. You will not have to fear them releasing pollen as by the time they are able to do so, you will absolutely know for sure it’s a male, although you will know its sex well before this time. If your weather turns for the worst in April, if your plants start to flower by February, even longer flowering strains should be finished by that time.

      • AWanker

        It may be worth noting that if you are mulching female plants w/ chopped males, the pollen sacks should be left out or at least buried. Many people freeze or store pollen in a cool dry place to use in the future, so it’s still viable after the plant is dead.

    • Eddie Grant

      It’s a girl!!!!!

      Thanks for the article. I’ve been growing my first plant for a few weeks now outdoors and it just became legal in my country a few days ago.

      So glad that I’ve got a little baby girl 😂

  • Rachel

    Hello! I’ve started growing my first plants in a sunroom where they are exposed to outdoor elements but with some control (fans, opened screened windows,etc). They are approximately 9 weeks old, and I believe have been stunted from our extreme heat this year (high 90s and high humidity). They are strong, are not stretched, just seem to be slower. Is there any concern if I cannot obviously tell at this point if the plants are male or female? I can send pictures if neccessary!

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Rachel, some strains or specific plants take longer to show their sex than others. Soon you should be able to tell and if the plants are getting less than 12 hours of light, they should start flowering before you know it. There is still plenty of time before you run into an issue as the males won’t release pollen until you are more than certain that they are indeed male. The only slight bummer is having to care for extra plants that you may not keep. Good luck and let us know if you run into any trouble.

    • Sheila

      The easiest and so far sure fire way for me to tell male from female is the position of the stems males directly across from from its other and females stair step I haven’t been wrong w my sexting as I can remember, knock on wood. It works and I take time for my plants like I do for my animals and visit n sing and have a close relationship w my plants and it helps for happy n healthy plants . thank you for your article.

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