In states like Oklahoma, having medical marijuana cannabis gives you the ability to grow your own cannabis at home (reducing the cost of weed and giving you access to your favorite strains all year round).
There are several stages of cannabis growth, but we are most concerned about the harvest. So, let’s answer perhaps the most important question for homemade cultivators – when should you harvest?
When do you Harvest Weed?
Knowing exactly when to harvest marijuana plants is often a confusing (and even nerve-wracking) issue for beginner growers. Although the process of harvesting plants is not that difficult, knowing the perfect time to do so is not so easy. And time is of the essence.
If you wait too long, your buds will overripe and possibly die. If you harvest too early, the buds may not have finished growing (or developed their strength) yet. Ultimately, the goal is to harvest when your plants’ trichome and resin production is at its peak.
In general, cannabis plants will take 8-12 weeks to fully mature and be ready for harvest. Houseplants usually take less time, 7 to 9 weeks. However, the exact harvest time will depend on the growing method, growing environment, and the cannabis variety you choose.
How to Tell When Weed is Ready to Be Harvested
The exact time it takes for your plants to be ready can vary greatly. Luckily, there are some (relatively) easy ways to find out when your plants have reached their peak maturity.
- Pistil method
- Trichome method
Let’s take a closer look at each!
The Pistil Method
The pistil method is the easiest way to determine if your plant is ready to harvest. However, it is not as accurate as the trichome method.
The pistils are the female reproductive organs of cannabis, resembling thick white hairs protruding from the buds. When flowering marijuana plants are still developing, most of the pistils will be white and protrude straight from the plant. As the plant approaches maturity, these pistils begin to darken and take on a brownish or orange color. In doing so, they will also begin to curl up towards the cannabis buds.
Once 60-75% of the pistils on the plant have changed in this way, your cannabis plants will be ready to harvest. The longer you wait from now on, the less THC will be stored by the plant.
Using pistils to determine the maturity of your cannabis plants is easy, but it’s easy to make the mistake of inadvertently harvesting too early or over-ripening your cannabis plants.
This is why, although it is more difficult, many manufacturers prefer the trichome method.
The Trichome Method
A more accurate way to tell if your marijuana plants are ready to harvest is to look at the trichomes while your plants are flowering.
Trichomes are small, resinous glands on marijuana plants. Up close, they resemble tiny transparent mushrooms. When you take a sticky piece of bud, the trichomes become sticky.
Like pistils, trichomes darken and change color as the plant approaches maturity.
While your cannabis plant is still maturing, you will find that the trichomes will be translucent. When the plant is ready to be harvested, most trichomes will be milky or cloudy white (and some will change to amber or brown).
Unlike pistils, you don’t want to wait until most of the trichomes turn brown, which means your plant is overripe.
How to Identify Over Ripe Buds
Many novice cannabis growers wait too long to harvest their plants. In doing so, marijuana plants will overripen, which may reduce the quality, potency, and even size of your harvest.
Overripened cannabis flower can also become harsh or unpleasant when smoked. In a worst-case scenario, if you wait too long to harvest, the bud will be ruined and unusable.
So how can you tell when your bud is becoming overripe?
Things to Look Out For:
If you’re worried about overripe buds, you should look for several things.
- Your plants may start looking dry; leaves may turn brown or even wither.
- Mature cannabis plants may smell herbal, fruity, or even sweet. However, an overripe plant will smell pungent and like a skunk (not in a good way!).
- When your plant is ready to be harvested, some of the trichomes will inevitably be brownish or amber in color. Yet, if all or most of them are brown/amber, you’ve waited too long.
So what do you do if you find that some of your marijuana is overripe?
First, you must collect your plants immediately. Depending on how late you harvest, some buds can still be smoked.
After all, it is better to have some lower quality flower than not to have a good bud at all.
If you find yourself waiting too long, take a few notes to figure out what went wrong and then get ready to try again.
How to Identify Under Ripe Buds
Harvesting too early can also reduce the efficiency and yield of your crop.
If the pistils are mostly white, stiff, and sticking straight out of the plant, you’re not ready to harvest yet. Similarly, if the trichomes are small and crisp, your plant needs more time.
These visual characteristics suggest that your plant needs more time to fully mature so that more THC (and possibly even more flowers) can develop.
Depending on the strain, growing method and environment, this maturation can take several weeks. So you will need to keep a close eye on your plants (it only takes a few minutes to check them every day).
The signs that your plant has gone from immature to mature are relatively subtle.
You will notice that the tops of the trichomes will swell and become cloudy white. Some will inevitably turn amber brown. Once these trichomes are fully mature, the aroma of your plants will also peak at the same time.
Similarly, you will notice that most of the pistils have darkened to brown or orange.
Signs that your plant needs more time to mature:
If the trichomes of the plant are small, clear, and the caps are not filled.
If 40% or more of the pistils on your plant are still white and stand straight on the plant.
When to Harvest Cannabis Grown Indoors
Unlike growing weed outside, indoor cultivation setups allow you to grow and harvest bud all year round. In many cases, indoor cannabis plants only need 6 – 9 weeks to flower fully, and then they’ll be ready to harvest. However, as is the case for all marijuana plants, there is considerable variability in this timeframe.
For instance, if you’re micro-growing cannabis plants, you’ll need to harvest much earlier than you would otherwise.
From seed to harvest, your indoor cannabis plants will need anywhere from 3 – 8 months.
When to Harvest Cannabis Grown Outdoors
Outdoor cannabis is an annual plant that grows well in the warm months of the growing season. If seeds are germinated and planted in the early spring months (around March or April), they’ll be ready to harvest towards the end of the summer. Typically, most outdoor marijuana plants should be ready around September or October.
Still, seasons vary dramatically depending on geography. For instance, cannabis cultivators in California can usually extend their growing seasons until around November.
If you’re growing weed outdoors, you should understand the particulars of your local climate and the optimal length of your growing season. This will affect when your marijuana plants are ready.
Most cannabis plants start flowering when their photoperiod (the amount of time they are exposed to sunlight daily) shortens. Autoflowering cannabis plants are a bit unique in that they start flowering automatically based on a set amount of time, rather than light cycles.
So if you plant autos in early spring in March/April, your plants will be ready to harvest around June/July (you can still use the trichome or pestle method to check when it’s time to harvest).
This way you can subsequently plant more autos and get two cannabis crops per season.
Harvesting With Light Deprivation
Unlike autoflowers, normal cannabis plants transition from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage as soon as their photoperiods shorten. This naturally happens as summer begins to turn into autumn as there is less and less daylight.
Using a technique called light deprivation, cultivators can control plant photoperiods, causing their marijuana plants to bloom earlier and potentially produce multiple crops in a season.
Lighting is usually done by placing light-tight tarps on plants or greenhouses to deliberately shorten the photoperiod. Houseplants can take advantage of light deprivation more easily by simply turning off the lights.
So if you are using light deprivation, the optimal time to harvest will be the same as for autos. Plants with mild depression have a similarly short life cycle.
Unfortunately, there are many factors to consider when determining the right time to harvest marijuana.
It all depends on the region you are growing in and whether you are growing indoors or outdoors, the variety you are growing and the specific growing methods will all come into play.