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When to Harvest Cannabis Buds for the Best Results

Harvesting cannabis correctly requires diligent attention to detail, somewhat-extensive plant knowledge, an eager green thumb, and a solid chunk of time. 

In regards to how to get it done, there’s no single method that reaps cultivation room success. Instead, growers utilize a variety of techniques they all swear by – but as long as you’ve got the basics down and are approaching the process with a patient hand and an open mind, you’re bound to come away with some high-quality results. 

How long does it take weed to grow?

Depending on whether you’re growing outdoor, indoor, or opting for some sort of hybrid greenhouse approach, cannabis plants grow anywhere between three and eight months before they fully mature. Knowing when your plants are ready also depends on the strain you’re working with, as some will have shorter flowering stages than others – and vice versa. 

No matter what your method of cannabis growth is, the life cycles will run through four stages: germination, seedling, vegetative, and flowering.

The germination stage – when the cannabis seed is initially planted – will last anywhere between 3-10 days. In this initial stage, your cannabis plants will require 18 hours of light per day if they’re being grown indoors, and about six hours of direct daily sunlight for outdoor plants.

Once germination is complete, it’s time to plant that seedling – typically in soil, or whatever growing medium you’ve opted for. Two leaves (known as “cotyledon leaves”) will sprout from the stem, responsible for absorbing sunlight so your marijuana plant can thrive. 

Roots will eventually develop, and your plant’s fan leaves will begin to grow – a.k.a., the stereotypical “pot leaf” rendering we’re all too familiar with. Now, the seedling stage has begun.

Cannabis seedlings

The cannabis seedling stage lasts around 2-3 weeks, and the same amount of light will be required for optimal growth (18-hour days for indoor plants, six hours of direct sunlight for outdoor plants).

Plants will develop more fan leaves, and will become increasingly sensitive to disease and mold. You’ll need to take some extra steps to ensure your grow environment is healthy and clean for your plants – and make sure not to skimp on the light cycles. 

The good news is, if your plant happens to develop mold spores or some other type of disease, the change should be fairly easy to spot with the naked eye. But you may want to keep a magnifying glass in your grow space just in case, and monitor your plants very closely during this stage.

Once you made it through seedling, it’s time for the vegetative stage: a 3-16 week process that varies depending on the cultivars you’re working with. Again, the same amount of light-per-day is required for indoor and outdoor plants. 

During this exciting period, your plants’ growth will really soar. You’ve moved your plants into larger pots, and its foliage and roots are developing at a rapid pace. This is also when training and/or topping comes into play: taking care to remove dead leaves and branches, shaping the plant, and generally ensuring it grows to the best of its ability.

You’ll want to increase watering, moving away from the stalks to encourage root flexibility and expansion as they work to absorb that H2O. It’s also important to be diligent about nutrient feeding, opting for higher levels of nitrogen.

The final stage of growth is flowering: 8-11 weeks of 12-hour light days for indoor plants, and the continued six hours of direct sunlight for outdoor growth.

Your plants will develop cannabis buds ripe with resin glands, and studying these closely will help you determine when to harvest. 

Trichomes can tell you when it’s time to harvest

There are a few different methods to utilize when figuring out when to harvest cannabis, but many growers look to their plants’ trichomes for helpful hints.

A closeup of a cannabis but with a mixture of clear and milky trichomes

A magnifying glass will help you closely examine. Essentially, you’re looking for amber trichomes. Once they’ve gone from clear to milky to this burnt red/orange shade, your plants are beginning to ripen, and it’s time to harvest. 

Some growers use pistol color to tell when it’s time to harvest

Another popular method for knowing when to harvest marijuana is to keep an eye on pistil color – a.k.a., the shade of those tiny white hair-looking organs that pop up on mature plants. 

When your plants are ready to harvest, the pistils will go from white to red to brown. And while some growers will begin harvesting with red pistils, a good general rule of thumb is to wait until more than 50 percent of your plants’ pistils have turned red and/or brown.

Keeping an eye on pistils is also easier for anyone who doesn’t have a magnifying glass for trichome examination – so if you’re relying on eyeballs alone, this might be the approach you want to take. 

How to know if it’s too early to too late to harvest weed

In the game of knowing when to harvest weed, you might be wondering what sort of effects can take place if you’re too early to harvest – or too late.

You can generally use the above trichome and pistil tips to figure out whether or not it’s too early to harvest your plants: if the trichomes and pistils are clear or white instead of red/brown, you’ve likely gotten too trimmer-happy too soon.

And if you’re wondering if you’ve waited too long to harvest, keep a similar eye on the pistils. Optimal harvesting time occurs when just over 50 percent of your pistils have turned red or brown, so if most of them have darkened, it might be too late. 

Thankfully, consequences won’t be too severe if your plant is a week or two past peak maturity – it may just lose some of its potency. However, if you wait several weeks or longer, your plant will probably dry out and feature shrunken buds. Wait even longer, and your plant is susceptible to rotting or mold, and likely irreversible in its damage.

Despite these risks, try not to overthink when it comes to harvesting cannabis. There are quite a few tools available for determining whether or not it’s time to harvest, and even if you don’t obsessively stick to the plan, there’s some good cushion room that will still allow you to grow quality plants. 

You basically have to pay little-to-no attention to your plants in order to really screw up – which just isn’t likely. As long as you’re patient, diligent, and well-informed on the process, you’ll be successful in your cannabis plant growth and harvest.

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