If you’re new to the world of cannabis cultivation, you are probably eager to taste the fruits of your labor at harvest time. In this beginner’s guide to harvesting cannabis, you’ll learn the best time to harvest marijuana as well as the key indicators that tell you when cannabis plants are ready to harvest.
Harvest time is the most rewarding and exciting aspect of cultivating cannabis for many growers. After months of witnessing your plants slowly morph from seedlings into fully bloomed plants, it’s almost time to reach for the trimmers and proceed to dry and cure your bounty. However, it’s important to remain patient and not become too hasty. There are numerous signs you need to be aware of and look out for on both the macro and micro levels to make sure your flowers are truly ready.
Harvesting cannabis flowers at just the right time ensures optimal quality. Doing so too early can reduce both yields and potency, and doing so too late can result in THC degradation and a far more narcotic and sleepy high.
There is a large debate surrounding exactly when to harvest buds. There are general guidelines for each cannabis subspecies in regards to the optimal time. Indica strains are usually ready after 8 weeks of flowering, and sativa strains after a 10-week period of flowering. Autoflowering strains often take approximately 10 weeks after the seedling stage. Although these guidelines can be helpful in estimating when harvest time may occur, more attention to detail is required to make sure you are spot on with your timing.
A slight knowledge of cannabis anatomy is required to make an accurate assessment of ripeness and of when your cannabis flowers are ready to be gathered. Below we explain how several parts of the cannabis plant that display signs that drying and curing are just around the corner.
What is the average time from planting to harvesting cannabis?
From seedling stage to harvest, marijuana plants have a broad range of growth periods. The duration of the growth cycle may depend on several factors, including growing medium, desired yield, and marijuana strain. This combination of factors means that you’ll need to wait between six weeks and 16 weeks to harvest most cannabis plants. On average, you can expect between nine weeks and 12 weeks to elapse from planting to harvesting, but again, timing is contingent on a number of factors.
Here are three strains known to grow faster than average, in case you want to accelerate your harvest:
- Early Girl. As the name implies, Early Girl is speedy and may be ripe to harvest within seven weeks of planting.
- OG Kush. Known for its earthy, spicy taste and high THC content, OG Kush is a perennial favorite among weed lovers and can be harvested within eight weeks.
- Chocolate Skunk Auto. Like other autoflowering strains such as Northern Lights Automatic and Easy Bud, Chocolate Skunk Auto impresses with its rapid growth and is usually ripe within eight weeks.
How to know when to harvest cannabis
As a grower you’ll know that your cannabis plants are ready to harvest when you observe these visual clues:
Trichome color: The appearance of the trichomes, the small resin glands on flowers, is one of the surest ways to tell it’s time to harvest. Ideally, half of the trichomes should appear milky white and the others should be a vivid amber. Clear trichomes, on the other hand, indicate that it’s a good idea to wait a little longer before harvest. Of all the signs to look for, trichome color is the most reliable. This color change might be hard to see with the naked eye, so make sure you have a magnifying glass handy.
Leaf color: Another reliable indicator of when a marijuana plant is ready to harvest is the changing shades of the fan leaves. During the flowering stages, nitrogen gives the leaves their green color. When it’s time to harvest, fan leaves will turn yellow and start to fall off as nitrogen decreases.
Curling leaves: As the fan leaves turn from green to yellow, they may also curl and dry. The lack of moisture is a natural occurrence as cannabis plants take in less water when harvest time draws near.
Brown pistils: For photoperiod cannabis plants, the pistils will turn brown at maturity. The optimal time to harvest is when about half the pistils are shaded brown. Similar to checking trichome colors, you’ll want to have your magnifying glass handy for this step.
Bud shape: Though not as surefire a way to know when it’s time to harvest as the trichome test, the shape of the buds can still offer a few hints about the plant’s maturity. Look for firm, tight buds on a marijuana plant as a sign that it’s ready to harvest.
These visual indicators are all observable with the naked eye and are clear signals that it’s time to harvest. Likewise, there are other clues that demonstrate when a plant is either too young or past its prime for successful harvesting.
How can you tell if it’s too early to harvest cannabis?
Trichomes will signal if your crop is not yet ready for harvest, just as they let you know when it’s the best time to start harvesting. If the majority of trichomes are clear, then the cannabis plants are not ready to harvest. Clear trichomes indicate that resin production has not reached its peak and the resulting weed is likely to be less potent, flavorful, and aromatic.
How can you tell if it’s too late to harvest cannabis?
Check the trichomes again and note the color. If you observe mostly amber trichomes, then the cannabis flowers are overripe. At this stage of development, the harvested weed will have an unpleasant taste. In addition, cannabinoids such as THC begin to degrade when amber trichomes overtake the milky white ones. In rare cases, trichomes can even begin to turn black if growers didn’t harvest their marijuana plants. Besides the amber color, trichomes can also become noticeably brittle. Trichomes on overripe buds may even crumble in your hands.
Harvesting cannabis past its prime is not recommended but may be preferable to harvesting prematurely. The terpenes, which are believed to contain healing properties, can become more potent during a late harvest, but at the expense of scent and flavor.
Next steps after harvesting cannabis
Drying, trimming, and curing are the important next steps after you harvest marijuana plants. Once these steps are complete, your weed will be ready to enjoy or store for future use. If storing cannabis, be sure to keep it in a vacuum-sealed container in a cool, dark place for maximum freshness and shelf life.