The Cannabis Growth Timeline: Seed to Harvest
Typically, growing a cannabis plant from seed to harvest takes 10-32 weeks or about 3-8 months. Using a clone or autoflower seed can speed up the process. The duration of the vegetative stage has the most variability, occurring after the seedling phase and before flowering. Indoor growers can force a plant to flower at different times, while outdoor growers must wait for the changing seasons.
The Four Main Stages
- Germination (3-10 days)
- Seedling (2-3 weeks)
- Vegetative (3-16 weeks)
- Flowering (8-11 weeks)
- Stage One: Germination
Stage One: Germination
The germination stage lasts 3-10 days, with the light cycle consisting of 18 hours indoors or 6 hours outdoors. During this stage, cannabis seeds sprout and can then be placed in a growing medium like soil. Two rounded cotyledon leaves emerge from the stem, absorbing sunlight for healthy growth.
Stage Two: Seedling
Seedlings require a light cycle of 18 hours indoors or 6 hours outdoors and develop the iconic cannabis fan leaves. Cannabis plants are considered seedlings until they develop leaves with the full number of blades. A healthy seedling is vibrant green, and it is important not to overwater at this stage. Disease and mold are significant risks, so maintain a clean environment and provide ample light.
Stage Three: Vegetative
The vegetative stage lasts 3-16 weeks, and the light cycle is 18 hours indoors or 6 hours outdoors. Rapid growth of roots and foliage occurs during this stage, and it is the ideal time for topping or training your plants. Increase watering as the plant develops, and feed with high-nitrogen nutrients.
Stage Four: Flowering
The flowering stage of cannabis growth lasts 8-11 weeks, and the light cycle is 12 hours indoors or 6 hours outdoors. Buds develop during this stage, and the exact duration depends on the strain. Outdoor flowering occurs as the days shorten, while indoor growers can trigger flowering by reducing light exposure. There are three subphases in the flowering stage: flower initiation, mid-flowering, and late flowering/ripening.
Adapting to the Stages
As your cannabis plant transitions through these stages, it is important to adjust your approach. Pruning during the flowering stage is not recommended, and plants should be trellised or scrogged for proper bud support and airflow. Bloom or phosphorus nutrients can be beneficial during this time.
Growing Marijuana: Timelines and Considerations
Outdoor growing timelines differ depending on your region and local climate, while indoor growing allows for more flexibility. Keeping a grow journal and taking photos can help you learn from past experiences and improve future growing endeavors.
Knowing when to harvest cannabis is crucial for ensuring optimal potency and flavor. It usually occurs 8-11 weeks into the flowering stage of cannabis growth, depending on the strain. To determine the ideal harvest window, examine the color of the trichomes (tiny, resinous glands) on your cannabis buds. They will transition from clear to milky white and, finally, to an amber hue. Harvesting when most trichomes are milky white with a few amber ones ensures the highest THC levels.
Drying and Curing
After harvesting, drying and curing the buds are essential steps to preserve flavor, aroma, and potency. Here’s a step-by-step guide:
- Trimming: Remove large fan leaves and trim excess foliage from the buds. You can either trim “wet” immediately after harvesting or “dry” after hanging the buds for a few days.
- Drying: Hang the branches or buds in a dark, well-ventilated room with a temperature of 60-70°F (15-21°C) and a humidity level of 45-55%. Drying typically takes 5-15 days, depending on the size of the buds and environmental conditions. Buds should feel dry to the touch but not brittle.
- Curing: Once the buds are dry, it’s time to cure them. This process helps to preserve the terpenes, which contribute to the aroma and flavor, and allows for the remaining moisture to slowly escape, preventing mold and mildew.
Here’s how to cure your cannabis buds:
- Prepare the buds: Gently remove buds from the branches and discard any remaining foliage.
- Place buds in jars: Use airtight glass jars, filling them about ¾ full to allow for air circulation. Seal the jars tightly.
- Store jars: Keep the jars in a cool, dark place. The ideal temperature for curing is around 60-70°F (15-21°C), with humidity levels between 55-65%.
- Burp the jars: During the first week, open the jars for 10-15 minutes every day to release excess moisture and replenish oxygen. This process, known as “burping,” helps to prevent mold and mildew. After the first week, you can reduce burping to once every few days.
- Monitor humidity: Using a small hygrometer inside the jars can help you keep an eye on humidity levels. If the humidity is too high, leave the jars open for a longer period to release moisture. If it’s too low, you may need to rehydrate the buds with a humidity pack.
Curing typically takes 2-4 weeks, but some connoisseurs prefer to cure their buds for several months to further enhance the flavor and aroma. The curing process also helps to break down chlorophyll and other unwanted compounds, resulting in a smoother smoking or vaping experience.
- Check for mold: Inspect your buds regularly for any signs of mold or mildew. If you spot any, remove the affected buds immediately to prevent the mold from spreading to the rest of the batch. Moldy buds can be dangerous to consume and should be discarded.
- Optimal curing time: While curing for 2-4 weeks is standard, some growers prefer to extend the process for up to 6 months or more. The longer the curing period, the more complex and refined the flavor and aroma of your cannabis will become. However, the THC potency may degrade over time, so it’s essential to strike a balance between curing time and desired effects.
- Storage: Once the curing process is complete, store your cannabis in a cool, dark place to maintain its quality. Airtight glass jars work best, as they help to preserve the terpenes and cannabinoids. It’s also a good idea to use opaque or amber jars to protect the buds from light exposure, which can degrade the potency.
By carefully following these steps for harvesting, drying, and curing your cannabis, you can ensure the best possible quality, flavor, and potency for your buds. The process may require some patience, but the end result is well worth the effort.