A cannabis plant can take anywhere from 4-8 months to fully mature, depending on where you’re growing, what type of cultivars you’re working with, and what sort of cultivation methods you’re utilizing.
While these types of factors are easily customizable, there’s one facet of cultivation that won’t change no matter how you’re growing your marijuana plants: the seven stages of cannabis growth, and the TLC required for success in each imperative phase.
The first stage of cannabis growth is the germination stage: when your cannabis seeds first begin to take root. This initial phase can last anywhere between 1-7 days, and is defined by the first root popping out of the seed’s shell.
If stored in a cool, dark setting, a cannabis seed will be good to use for years. Until you decide to expose your seed to warmth and moisture, it will remain dormant. But once you’re ready to begin germination, there are a few handy techniques to defer to for success.
The first thing you should do is inspect your seeds to avoid any future letdowns. The best kinds of cannabis seeds are usually hard, dry, and light to dark brown, while underdeveloped plants (often pale green or white in color) are likely to fail.
Once you’ve taken stock of your collection, it’s time to set up your growing environment. An ideal system will look something like this:
- Temperature: Around 71-77 degrees Fahrenheit
- pH Value: Around 5.8-6.2
- Humidity: Between 70-90 percent
You should also opt for a damp or moist environment – while being careful not to cross the line into wet territory. When your growing space has a good warmth-moisture ratio, your seeds will likely develop within about 12-36 hours (but as we mentioned, that timeline can vary depending on environmental factors).
One of the most popular germination methods growers like to utilize is one of great sophistication: the wet paper towel approach. With this technique, you’ll place a damp kitchen towel on a flat surface, space your seeds about two inches apart from one another, and place another damp kitchen towel on top.
When those root tips have grown about 0.07 inches (roughly two millimeters), you’re ready to plant.
The second stop on the stages of cannabis growth trail is the seedling stage: an exciting period where your plant has successfully germinated and is ready to seriously sprout.
At this point, your plant is just starting to look like cannabis. It’s developed its first few sets of leaves, which are just beginning to photosynthesize and take on that familiar cannabis-like shape.
The seedling stage can last from two-six weeks, depending on environmental factors or the type of strains you’re working with. The light cycle is particularly essential during this phase, and your plant will need about 18 daily hours of direct light (or six hours of sunlight for outdoor growers).
It’s also important not to overfeed or overwater, as your plant will be particularly susceptible to nutrient burn (folial damage caused by over-fertilization). Stick with a nutrient mix that’s higher in nitrogen, but don’t be afraid to dilute it a bit before feeding.
Another thing to keep a careful eye on is pests and disease. Cannabis seedlings are quite vulnerable to these buggers (both literal and figurative), so you’ll want to do what you can to prevent mildew from developing or mites to begin their attack.
Don’t be too worried, though: cannabis plants do a great job of telling you how they’re feeling, and as long as your leaves are vibrant, green, and shiny, you’re doing just fine.
Weed plants will be considered seedlings until they develop a “finger”: a.k.a., five or more leaves sprouting from the root.
The next of the cannabis growing stages is the vegetative stage. Your seedling has developed around 5-7 sets of pointed, serrated, quintessential “pot” leaves, and you’re ready to move your plant baby to a bigger, better pot.
Running anywhere from 2-8 weeks, the vegetative phase is your plant’s time to really shine, as growth typically takes off exponentially (especially after you’ve transferred pots). Humidity should sit at around 65-70 percent, and the light cycle should continue to look like 18-hour days for indoor plants, and six daily hours of direct sunlight for outdoor plants.
How quickly your cannabis plants grow during vegetation will tell you how good of a job you’re doing, and if that growth is minuscule or stagnant, that’s your cue to switch things up (more or less water and nutrients, or adjustments to humidity or lighting levels).
Your plants will start demanding more food – with an emphasis on carbon dioxide – and you’ll be able to really see whether your plant is an indica, sativa, or hybrid, depending on the shape it’s beginning to take.
This is also where topping and training tend to come into play: popular growing techniques designed to change a plant’s development and ultimately increase yields. These methods aren’t required, but they’re increasingly recognized as best practice among expert growers.
A halfway point between vegetation and the cannabis flowering stage is the pre-flowering phase. This phase is defined by pre-flowers appearing about four weeks into the vegetative cycle – and this helps you determine whether you’ve got male or female plants on your hands.
Figuring this out is pretty simple. Male plants will develop small, egg-shaped pollen sacks, while female plants will grow small white pistils – a.k.a., your plant’s reproductive organs. Pistils resemble tiny white hairs, and will emerge directly from the bud sites.
Determining your plants’ sex is pretty important, as male plants have minuscule cannabinoid content compared to their female counterparts. Male cannabis plants are important for breeding and things like soil enrichment, hemp products, or cannabis juices or teas. But when it comes to the bulk of legal cannabis products, the future is always female.
Once you’ve narrowed down the respective genders of your crop, it’s time for the plants to start flowering.
The cannabis flowering stage is the final step before your plant stops growing and you can begin the harvest.
Spanning anywhere between 6-12 weeks, the flower stage can be split up into three sub-stages: initation, mid-flowering, and late flowering.
During initiation, your plants grow as usual, and female plants will continue developing those pistils.
Mid-flowering has commenced when your plants are no longer growing vertically. Instead, the lush buds are bulking up, and your plant starts to enter peak reproductive territory.
Around week six, your plants will enter late flowering stage, when trichome density increases, resinous buds continue to develop, and pistils begin to turn orange/amber.
Less light (about 12 hours per day) is required at this stage if you’re growing indoors, but outdoor plants will still need about six hours of sunlight per day. It’s also important to stop pruning or topping at this stage, as this might disrupt your plant’s hormones.
In regards to feeding and other forms of environmental maintenance, swap your nutrient mix for something higher in phosphorus, and place a heavier emphasis on air flow and drainage as you water. Humidity should also sit at around 40-50 percent.
The flowering phase timeline can vary pretty widely, but there are a few things to look out for that will let you know whether or not it’s time to harvest.
- Your trichomes will change color, going from white or clear to amber brown. The THC is beginning to weaken at this stage, and if you wait any longer, you might be too late – especially if your trichomes start falling off.
- If you wait until all of your pistils have gone from white to amber/brown, you’ve waited too long. Get ready to transition once just over 50 percent of the pistils have changed color.
Harvesting can take anywhere between 1-2 months, and is where your love for growing cannabis can really shine. This phase is characterized by trimming your plant down into smaller pieces so it can dry, cure, and get ready for consumption.
This is an exciting time for any grower: when all of your hard work is finally coming to fruition, and you can enjoy the rewards of all of the TLC you’ve put into the process along the way.
There are two approaches you can take to trimming down your cannabis: wet or dry.
With wet trimming, you’ll cut down the plant’s sugar leaves as soon as the harvest period has commenced – while your plant is still carrying a pretty high water content and feels wet or moist. This method is a little more streamlined, as it doesn’t require a room for hanging up your plants to dry, but it can be a sticky, messy process.
If you decide to dry trim, you’ll have to dry out your crop first. This is usually done by hanging the plants upside down from a line of string in a temperature-controlled room until they are completely dry. Then, it’s time to trim.
Curing is next: a phase that is recommended, as it’s believed to improve flower flavor and burn quality.
The curing stage will redistribute the last bit of water from your plants, which also minimizes mold risk and extends your plants’ life cycle. There are a few different approaches, but generally, growers will fill airtight glass jars about ⅔ with flower, opening the jars about once or twice a day to check for mold, though this “burping” step isn’t necessary when using purpose-built material for curing.
After a few weeks, your buds should be cured, and ready to be enjoyed to the fullest of their potential – or, for concentrate experts, taken to the next stage of processing.