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It’s A Boy!

Pollination, breeding & how to avoid pollen contamination
By Colin Gordon and Ben Owens

For even the most inexperienced growers, the importance of sexing plants is well known; if you’re growing for that sweet sinsemilla, that seedless beautiful flower ripe with cannabinoids, you want to ensure you’ve only got females in your garden. The dreaded male plant is feared by many as a “crop ruiner”. Common advice is to tear up and toss out any males that appear. But, if you’re a breeder, or looking to try your hand at creating your own genetics, a male can be an attractive opportunity for a variety of possibilities. Similarly, if you have a standout female that you’d love to combine with another standout female, reversing one of these plants could allow you to create the desired cross, but what do you do about the pollen? And what type of breeding are you attempting? We dive in to the various types of breeding, the process of pollination, and advice on how to avoid cross contamination and protect your ladies from your male or reversed female.


Breeding is a simple process: you need pollen and pistils. Pollen comes from a male plant or a reversed female whose pollen production has been induced, and you then coat the female plant(s) with pollen. But not all breeders are the same. Those breeding with intention are likely looking for specific traits, while those with less intention may simply be opportunistic with unexpected pollen. At the bottom rung, there’s the unintentional, "oops I found a male too late” breeding that largely produces unstable, intersex-prone genetics. For our purposes, we’ll be talking about intentional pollination, based on an concerted effort to breed a plant with another.

There are three main types of cannabis breeding:

Directional Breeding

One of the two true breeding pursuits, directional breeding looks for a specific trait or cultivar and attempts to hone in and stabilize that particular expression or trait. For example, if you are particularly fond of a specific terpene profile, directional breeding would allow you to narrow your focus with each filial generation, seeking to identify that one particular phenotype that gives that exact terpene profile, regardless of other aspects.

Compensatory Breeding

The second of two true breeding approaches, compensatory breeding attempts to take the best traits from two plants and produce an offspring with a balance that compensates for each of the parent’s shortcomings. For example, if you wanted to tame a gangly, tall strain like a Haze while getting the gassy, bushy nature of a Chem Dog or Afghan Kush, compensatory breeding would be selecting parents whose combination would compensate for each plant’s weaknesses (in this case vertical height and spacing of bud sites).


Not a true breeding type, but something colloquially referred to as “pollen chucking.” This is the least intentional of the three efforts to breed. As the name suggests, this breeding method starts and ends with having pollen and applying (chucking) it on your female plants. You’re intentionally doing it but you may not be selecting pollen or recipient plants for any reason in particular other than that you want to breed something, anything. The goal here is to produce seeds, nothing more. Hopefully they’re great, but the intention is to make something, not necessarily something special.

Many breeders use a combination of Directional and Compensatory Breeding to create their genetics. Then, there are seed-makers, those that have no real end game in mind, who are crossing what they believe to be two worthwhile varieties. ETHOS uses compensatory breeding in our initial projects, then, once particular expressions have been identified and selected, we breed directionally, to homogenize each expression in its truest form.



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