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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.mshe 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 stains. 

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


  • Autumn C.

    Hey! A marijuana plant popped up in my driveway (random right) any tips for rehomeing and sexing this lil guy?

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hi Autumn, you can try and transplant it by pulling up the seedling although you will want to be sure to not rip or tear its roots as that will cause it harm. If you can pull it out in one piece, plant it in a 6 or 8 inch pot with 1/4 seed starting soil mix and 3/4 potting soil and let it grow until it is 10 to 12 inches tall. By this time hopefully you will be able to tell the sex of the plant, if it is a plant you want to keep, then transplant into its forever home in the ground or a large pot (at least 10 to 20 gallon). Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Leo Van Den Heede

    You got straight to the point and made it easy to understand. The simplistic manner of explanation together with the photographs was all I need to remove doubt out of my mind on how to tell the difference between male and female plants. Well done and thank you for taking the time and effort that you have.

  • Jo

    Hey, this is definitely one,, I think the best of photos, information and way of explaining everything so well. Has helped so much.
    If there is a male or two are found among the female plant’s will they all turn straight away and that’s that.. or can my girl’s be ok

    • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

      Hello Jo, thank you for the kind words. As long as the male plants haven’t developed flowers and or spread pollen, the female plants won’t be pollinated. If you don’t want to have seeds, just remove the males from the female plants before they release their pollen and you will be just fine. Good luck!

  • Megunticook

    Thanks for a very helpful post. Am growing for the first time and needed to identify females early before transplanting into the ground. Your explanation was by far the clearest I found and enabled me to choose the right plants for the garden. With a jeweler’s loupe I found it was pretty easy to distinguish once I read your post carefully and examined the photos.

    Good work! I must admit I felt bad about composting the males after nuturing them along for 8 -10 weeks, but c’est la vie.

    The surviving girls are just starting to flower now and it looks like I chose correctly. Muchas gracias!

    • Bailey

      Great article. I am curious more about allowing the males to pollinate the females to create seeds, and the process involved in this. Do you have a recommended article you can direct me to to read up on this. I find this all very fascinating myself. Thank you

      • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

        Hello Bailey, we don’t have any articles off hand. It really depends on if you want to pollinate the entire female plant or only select flowers, if you don’t care if there are seeds in all of the flower, the easiest way is to just leave the selected male next to the female plants you want to pollinate. The wind or circulation will be enough to move the pollen around. If you want to only pollinate select flowers so you can have some flower that is seed free, we have found that removing the select male from the females and placing it in a different location is the first step. Once the male starts to flower and a few of them start to open, you can cut off or remove the flowers even if they aren’t fully opened yet. Leave the flowers to dry for a few days on parchment paper or something similar, then agitate or grind the flowers until you see the yellow pollen, use a paint brush to paint select flowers with the pollen. Last year we pollinated two flowering sites and ended up with over 500 seeds! Hope that helps and good luck!

  • Ian

    Do you have a guide on pruning cannabis? I know there are many but you your approaches and ability to convey are usually better.

    • DeannaCat

      Hi Ian – No, sorry we haven’t written anything about that subject yet. We sometimes top our plants, but often times we don’t. Aaron likes to experiment with topping and low stress training if he is putting a plant in a location that may be visible to neighbors if it gets too tall. If we do top the plants, we usually like to do it once they have at least 6 to 10 node sets (when the root ball is developed enough to not shock) – and then you can cut off the top couple of nodes. In terms of ongoing pruning, we don’t cut off much throughout the season. We allow the yellowing fan leaves to basically fall off on their own, or be able to be pulled off with very minimal effort (and then drop them on top of the soil for mulch). If a plant is looking really crowded and has weak understory (lowest) branches, some folks don’t mind removing those if they’re not getting enough light to be big bushy producers anyways. In really humid conditions, removing some of the center/inner fan leaves can help increase circulation too. Though, remember the leaves are their solar panels – are what are helping the plant photosynthesize to grow! I hope that helps!

    • Lorinda

      Hi Deanna and Aaron! This was such a helpful guide and reading, especially for first time growers. I do have a question, let’s say you are growing 4 plants and 3 of them turn out to be female, can you put all 3 females together in the same 25 gallon pot? Is there a threshold of how many can be grown together in the same pot?

      • Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)

        Hello Lorinda, it really depends on where you intend on growing the plants. If they will be grown outdoors a 25 gallon pot will be too small for three plants, I would opt to grow one in that size container. A 10 gallon pot is the absolute smallest I would use outdoors but preferably at least 15 gallons. If you are growing indoors, you can fit all three in one container as long as you train them properly so they don’t interfere with each other. Growing indoors you can make the plants switch to flower sooner and at a smaller size than growing outdoors where they will get quite large before flowering. Hope that helps and let us know if you have any other questions. Good luck!

  • Courtney

    These “early” close up images are suuuuuper helpful! It’s definitely disappointing when males happen, but great to be able to identify them early on! Thank you!

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