Are Seeds or Clones Better for Commercial Cannabis Cultivation?

One of the biggest questions in the commercial cultivation game—particularly at the onset of operations— is whether you should start with cannabis seeds or clones propagated from a “mother” plant. The answer lies entirely in what kind of grow operation you want to run, and the larger goals of your business. 

When you compare the pros and cons of seeds vs cannabis clones, it’s a prime opportunity to dial into the strategic planning that drives a cultivation business forward.

Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation From Seeds

Seeds are better for commercial cultivation under a few different conditions. For example, if you have an outdoor facility, growing from seeds may be a better fit. Unlike cannabis clones, plants grown from seeds produce a primary tap root that makes them hardier in growing environments exposed to wind, rain and other meteorological conditions.

While clones can technically be transplanted outdoors, it’s prohibitively a labor-intensive process. The sheer quantity of plants required can be feasibly impossible from both a cost and logistical standpoint. Clones grown outdoors must also be hardened off first to withstand greater and more variable UV exposure, temperature and humidity—a process that can be challenging without the right facilities and equipment. 

Most cultivators come to recognize that seeds are really the only reasonable option for sun-grown operations. Most large operations tend to propagate seeds out of the field in a greenhouse or hoop house which, unlike clones, can be in full sun from day one. Seeds started in the ground won’t have the same reaction to the current natural outdoor photoperiod conditions as plants transferred from an indoor environment—put clones outside carelessly and you might find their development thrown into disarray, including blooming or revegetating off schedule.

Autoflower Seeds, Photoperiod Seeds and Feminized Seeds

Not all cannabis seeds are created equal. If you do decide that seeds are the right place to begin for your cannabis business, you’ll next need to choose between autoflower, photoperiod and feminized seeds. All have different advantages and qualities that are better suited for various cultivation conditions. And some share characteristics with clones that may be better suited for different growers’ approach.

Time to Harvest and Overhead Costs

Whether your commercial cultivation facility is indoor or outdoor, and no matter which kinds of seeds you choose for your grow, the fact remains that seeds and clones have different timelines and associated costs. With any given strain, popping seeds to find winning characteristics worth replicating adds time to the production runway and requires expertise from a breeder or a grower with enough time. 

It can take a good grower five or six production runs to figure out a strain’s optimal growth requirements in the facility’s cultivation setup. Starting from seeds can add an additional two to three production runs to find the ideal plants to use as mothers for clones. If your goal is to start driving revenue as quickly as possible through sales of flower, or if your vertically integrated business needs to establish production quotas for its dispensary or extraction operations, seeds may be too slow for your strategy. 

Commercial Cultivation with Clones

The truth of the matter is that 99% of the time, growers choose clones over seeds. There are a number of reasons for this decision. For one, it’s difficult to find an operator who is both focused and passionate on breeding high-end genetics and who also meets production targets set by the demands of both budgets and dispensary customers. Most operators are focused on either genetics or selling flower, each of which are a full-time job in their own right.  

Pros and Cons of Cannabis Clone Cultivation

Both genetics and flower cultivation are distinct business models that require skill, effort and capital, but not always incompatible proportions or on similar timetables. Most flower-focused operators, for example, are working on narrow margins and are expected to produce high yields while juggling continual harvest schedules. Also at play is immense pressure from sales staff to pivot among strains to meet shifting consumer demands for the latest must-try strains.

Clones provide a degree of reliability that’s hard to match for cultivators focused on quality and efficiency. Clones are suitable in either outdoor or indoor grows, but thrive especially in the latter setup where precision growing techniques can ensure top yields with reduced labor. While storing mother plants takes up more space than a safe of seeds does in an indoor facility, a well-curated strain library is an invaluable tool for commercial cultivators whether they’re hanging their hat on exotics, extraction or top-shelf flower. 

Of course, that consistency and convenience does come at a price. Clones are a greater investment at the outset than seeds, but many cultivators find that upfront cost is recouped in the first production run, when time to market is taken into consideration. Clones are easy to propagate, don’t require various sizes of growing media, and mother plants can be maintained without needing the services of an on-staff phenohunter or genetics specialist. Indeed, the genetics of cannabis clones are already established and without mystery.

Cannabis Clones Vs Feminized Seeds

Cannabis clones also boast many advantages of feminized seeds without the additional time spent sprouting them, the inevitable variability, or the cost of repurchasing seeds for each crop. Cannabis clones are genetically identical to the mother and—unlike feminized seeds that have a small risk of hermaphroditism—there are no questions about pollination and undesired seed production. 

An added bonus is that clones are essentially free to a facility that has a mother library. While clones tend to be thought of as the more expensive choice, with one good clone a grower can save $3-5 per feminized seed on future plants. After all, once the investment is made in quality cannabis genetics, a cultivator can access that exact strain and lineage forever, all for no more than the price of a clone plug, a little labor and some fertilizer.

When deciding between clones vs seeds, either can be a good choice for commercial cultivators. It all depends on what kind of grow you hope to run. But the vast majority of cultivators opt for clones—the balance of cost, convenience and consistency is simply unparalleled for producing cannabis for retail markets and hitting operational budgets.