You set up your grow room, figured out the best method of germination, and paid careful attention to your marijuana plants as they morphed from delicate seedling to sturdy bush, and now you’re wondering what the best techniques are to ensure you get the maximum yield from your marijuana growing experiment. We’ve got you covered. harvest-marijuana-plants


By now you know that despite being, well… a weed… growing marijuana is not your average gardening experience. A lot goes into getting high quality cannabis that smells good, tastes good, and provides the promised experience. The work doesn’t stop once the buds are covered in sticky trichomes, and you surely don’t want to waste your time and money by cutting corners come harvest.

Timing is everything when harvesting marijuana 

Marijuana goes through several stages before the flowers are ready to be dried, and consumed. If you have problems with instant gratification, this may be a hard pill to swallow, but when it comes to weed, slow and steady wins the race. 

Cannabis has a “harvest window”, a period of time where your plants and buds have achieved their maximum growth and THC production. Once this level has been reached, cannabinoids, like THC, begin to break down and lose their potency. This is particularly of note to gardeners with recreational ganja growth in mind, as the by-product of the breakdown of THC has proven quite therapeutic.

NB: Most marijuana strain descriptions list a maximum percentage of THC that the strain may contain,or its “ceiling” (it will never produce more than that percentage, either), but this only means your specific seeds have the potential to produce that amount; it’s not a guarantee.  Breeders will practice special techniques such as low- or high-stress training, pruning, and the incorporation of fertilizers and nutrients to try and have their plants “top out” at their highest allowed level of cannabinoids for better value and ROI.

There’s no set-in-stone time that can be listed across the board for every strain, but the following provides a general guideline for what to be aware of: 

  • When the majority of your pistils have turned from white to amber, marijuana buds are ready for harvest 
  • When growing outdoors, plants should be harvested the first few weeks of October before cooler weather can take a toll on their structure.
  • Indica strains tend to be fussier than sativa, often presenting about a two week period where they are at their ripest. Sativa strains offer a little longer time frame before their sought after cannabinoids begin to break down into other compounds.

What are you looking for? Effect-dependant Harvesting

Many people don’t realize that the cannabinoids found in marijuana plants begin to break down over time, producing compounds that are equally beneficial but may not provide the same desired effect. 

Here, specifically, we’re talking about tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid that most recreational consumers are hoping to produce. The longer you leave a marijuana plant that is higher in THC, the more likely that cannabinoid is going to breakdown into something called CBN, a mature compound that has a lot of therapeutic potential, as it tends to be more calming and sedating. 

Indica strains, and those harvested at the end of the harvest window will be higher in “couch-lock” inducing CBN, where early harvest window strains and sativas are better suited to an energetic and uplifting head high. 

Taking a closer look at trichomes

If you’ve ever gotten up close and personal with a cannabis plant as its growing, you probably noticed the sticky substance covering the leaves and petals. This resin, which can also appear like little crystals, is produced by trichomes, glands that cover the surface of the budding sites. More of these sites are developed as the plant matures, which explains how it can go from a light dusting to a heavy coat by the time your tree is ready to be cut down. 

Many marijuana gardeners with a little experience under their belt can tell when their plants are ready to harvest by keeping a close eye on their trichomes (literally – sometimes a magnifying glass is necessary to inspect these miniscule details). Trichomes start out clear, and overtime their color begins to get cloudy, and eventually, the tips will begin to turn amber or brown. Once the majority of trichomes on the plant have turned brown (50% and over),your plant is likely ready to be harvested. Bare in mind, the more trichomes that are amber or brown when you start harvesting the more of a physical sensation will be experienced when you take the strain for a figurative spin. 

Need a few more indicators?

In case you don’t trust yourself to judge your weed’s suitability by its trichomes, you can also keep an eye out for the following: 

  • The plant has stopped producing crystals and resin; 
  • Fan and lower leaves are starting to turn yellow or brown and drop off; 
  • The smell is as strong as its going to get; 
  • The buds haven’t increased in mass or size over a period of a few days. 

Pro Tip: It isn’t common knowledge that fertilizers and nutrients used during the growing process can leave a nasty taste in your mouth if they aren’t flushed from the plant before harvest. You need to flush your plants two weeks before you’re ready to cut the buds down – do this by running at least a litre of clean, filtered water through the potting material to clear out any remaining food or minerals. Give it about 15 minutes and then repeat the first step. This will force the plant to use up the remaining food stores within stems and stalk and provide a cleaner flavor when you smoke it. 

Marijuana harvesting: the good, the bad, and the smelly

You’ve determined your marijuana plants are ready to be harvested, the next step is to actually cut them down. Lay something down beneath the plant to catch anything that falls and prepare yourself with gloves and a sharp knife scissors. 

The actual harvest process is quite simple – using a sharp, clean blade, you cut the stem below the base (below the lower leaves). Place the branches on your covered surface, being mindful that you don’t jostle them around and lose too much of that all important crystal covering. 

Next, while the plant is still soft and supple, take a smaller pair of shears or scissors and remove the larger from the stalks – make sure to remove the entire leaf stem so as not to provide a spot for moisture and mold to grow. Be careful what you throw out!!! Saving smaller leaves and “popcorn” buds (those that didn’t receive as much light and nutrition as they are located lower down the plant stem) are an excellent way to maximize your harvest as you can collect any resin to make hash, or slowly simmer these cuttings in oil or butter to create a cannabinoid-rich infusion that can be used in cooking, baking, or for making tinctures and topicals. 

As you trim away the larger leaves, your bud will take on the characteristic cone shape with a sugary coating of resin. Be sure you leave a long enough stem that you can handle the branch without jostling the delicate flowers, and one that can be attached to a drying rack if you plan on simply hanging them upside down for the drying process. 

NB: Marijuana plants can have a strong aroma when they’re growing, which can be even more potent come harvest time. If the smell is a potential problem and you haven’t already, harvest time is the time to invest in some kind of strong exhaust system that can keep the telltale aroma at bay. Alternatively, you can stick to low-odor cannabis strains like Jack Herer or Blue Mystic

Your marijuana plant is harvested, what’s next? Read on to find out about how to properly dry and prepare your bud so all your hard work doesn’t go to waste.