Anticipation. The process of growing marijuana for personal use is exciting but instant gratification and cannabis gardening do not go hand in hand. It might be tempting to cut branches down as soon as buds start to form but you’re going to want to wait for a little (or a lot) longer to really reap the benefits of that sticky icky.
Just when, exactly, can you harvest your sweet, sweet marijuana? Believe it or not, your plants are more than capable of letting you know when your buds have reached their peak development. It takes a little bit of a practiced eye and a closer look to determine the right time to start cutting, and even that can mean the difference between seriously potent pot, more medically beneficial marijuana, or a total waste of time.
Whenever the weather with weed
Some folks like to plant their weed out in the open (so to speak), taking advantage of nature’s bounty. Often, cannabis grown in the wide outdoors will fare extremely well, proffering high yields from tall, bushy plants that aren’t hindered by space considerations and can take advantage of the full spectrum of light supplied by the sun.
The downside? Gardening in nature limits you to the natural growing season. If you plan to grow outside, you should start the germination process by at least the last week of May, and move your seedlings outdoors by the first of July at the latest. This gives your plants three to three and a half months. Ideally, you want to cut them down before the temperatures start to dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (this can happen anywhere from mid-October into November, depending on your climate and region) which can cause lasting damage to your poor plants, especially if you aren’t using a greenhouse or other enclosure that can keep conditions like frost at bay.
NB: The limited growing season shouldn’t be considered a con, per se: despite regulations dictating the number of mature plants you can have at any given time is usually limited to anywhere from 4-6 (depending on your state or province), many marijuana trees cultivated outdoors can yield upwards of 10 ounces, and often much more, when conditions are optimal.
The general rule of thumb? Assuming your marijuana plants demonstrate the criteria we’ll state below, your outdoor cannabis plants can be harvested starting mid-October.
Hippie Dippie things you can easily remember
- The Spring Equinox kicks off the outdoor growing season.
- Cannabis plants love sun – make sure your outdoor plants are ready to be outside come the Summer Solstice.
- The Spring Equinox is a good reminder that it’s time to kick off the outdoor growing process and start popping your seeds.
- As the sun reaches up high in the sky, your cannabis will want to as well. Make sure all of your plants are outside around the Summer Solstice.
- The weather will start to turn and the sun will begin descending as your plants fatten up with sweet, sticky buds. It might be tempting, but wait until around the Fall Equinox to start harvesting.
- Everything should be cleaned up, dried, and curing well before the Winter Solstice. Now’s a good time to make your own cannabutter, topicals, or tinctures with all that trim from the harvest. Kick your feet up, relax, and hunker down for the cold, it’s been a long growing season!
On closer inspection
We mentioned above that marijuana plants give off visual cues when they’re ready for harvest. Outdoors or in, a huge tell indicating marijuana plant’s readiness is when the fan leaves – the large, wide leaves that are necessary for soaking up all that lovely light – begin to change from green to yellow to brown and die. At this point, nutrients and energy are being funneled into the flowers to create big, fat colas and lots of sticky resin.
Note: If your fan leaves are starting to make color changes during the vegetative stage, this is a sign that something is amiss with your tree. Time to get diagnosing!
Another relatively easy to recognize sign are the change in color of the pistils. Pistils, the tiny hair-like protuberances that cover your flowers, contain the reproductive organs (it is within the pistil the seed will develop if the plant is pollinated). During the first part of the flowering phase, pistils show up as white, and turn darker shades of red, brown, and orange as harvest time approaches.
Ideally, you’ll want to wait until at least half of your pistils have turned their darker color, an indication that your plant is at least close to its maximum production of TCH. If your aiming for higher levels of THC, start trimming when 60-70% of the pistils have turned. For a more medical smoke, wait until 70-90% of the pistils have turned (as marijuana plants mature, THC is converted into cannabinol (CBN), which is characterized by its couch-lock qualities).
Take a look at those trichomes
If you want to get really scientific and personal with your weed plants, you can monitor the trichomes -sticky, crystal-like outgrowths responsible for the production of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that make each strain unique in flavor, aroma, and experience.
When your maturing marijuana reaches the flowering stage, trichomes start to pop with sticky crystal clear resin. You’ll need a microscope to really view the trichomes properly. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, as long as it can reach up to about 100x magnification.
If you’re diligent, you can watch as these crystals turn from clear to opaque, and eventually to amber. This happens when trichomes reach their peak THC content and begin to break down with continued exposure to oxygen and sunlight (resulting in the production of cannabinol (CBN).
Let your plants have the final word
We’ve gone through all these tips on what to look for so that you know for a fact that you can start harvesting your marijuana plant, and now you’re wondering, “Why don’t I just do what it says on the box?”
Fair enough. Every (legitimate) seed purchase will come with information about the strain, including growing recommendations by the strain breeder. This is more a basic outline of what the plant expects (under breeder conditions) and you should consider it a suggestion to dictate your gardening schedule rather than gospel about when to cut your plants down.
It may seem a bit new age, but allowing your plants to dictate their own schedule can go a long way to guaranteeing a healthy harvest. Start out with top quality marijuana seeds from Pacific Choice Seed Bank, and you’re well on your way to the best possible marijuana garden your tiny seeds can muster.