Jack Frost Landscapes & Garden Center blog for updates on sales and products as well as gardening tips and tricks, recipes, crafts, and more! Everything you need to know about the 6 stages of cannabis growth. From selecting seeds to determining plant sex. Knowing how to care for your cannabis plants at each of the four distinctive stages of their life cycle will provide a healthy, productive garden.
Stages of Growing Cannabis
Cannabis, weed, marijuana, kush, ganja – whatever you want to call it, it’s now legal to own and grow in the state of Virginia. So what does this mean for those interested in growing it?
Growing Cannabis for the first time can be quite overwhelming. A quick Google search will lead you to hundreds of results with more information than you can ever sift through. There’s so much to learn – lighting, pH, soils, training methods, curing, and so much more. Where does one start?
It’s really easy to fall down the rabbit hole of information online. The sheer amount of information can almost hinder you when you’re first getting started. I think it’s easiest to just get started and learn as you go.
Starting with gaining a general understanding of the stages of growing Cannabis is a great place to begin before you try growing for the first time. It will help you have a decent idea of what to expect along the way.
How long does Cannabis take to grow?
How long Cannabis takes to grow can vary based on the variety of the plant and conditions it is grown in. On average, from seed to harvest, it takes anywhere from 10-32 weeks (about 3-8 months). It’s a quicker process if you start with a clone (rooted cutting) or an autoflower seed. The biggest variability in how long a marijuana plant takes to grow will happen in the vegetative stage—after the seedling phase and before flowering.
Stages of Growing Cannabis
Every plant begins with a seed. Cannabis seeds should be germinated just like any other seed. They can take anywhere between 3-10 days to germinate, although it can happen in as few as 24 hours or as long as 2 weeks. To germinate, you can place the seeds in a damp paper towel, which you should then place in a dark place, such as inside a drawer. Check on them after a few days to see if the primary root, called the radicle, has emerged. This will look like a little white “tail” coming out of the seed. Once germinated, move them to damp soil.
Alternatively, you can place the seeds directly in damp soil to germinate and grow, without having the trouble of moving them. For this method, I would recommend a seed starting mix. These are usually lighter and fluffier than traditional potting soil, which gives your fragile germinating seeds a start on the right foot. We carry Coast of Maine Sprout Island Blend Organic Seed Starter Mix. It has additional perlite that aerates the soil and helps prevent damping off. It also has mycorrhizae, worm castings, lobster meal, hen manure, and kelp to get your plants off to a healthy start.
2. Seedling Stage
Once your seed has germinated, it’s now time to move the germinated seed from its paper towel to a growing medium. If you started them in a seed starting mix, you will want to move them from the seed tray to a larger pot with a high-quality potting mix, such as the Coast of Maine Stonington Blend Grower’s Mix. This is a super soil, that works especially well for growing Cannabis. It contains mycorrhizae, kelp, alfalfa meal, fish bone meal, worm castings, perlite, manure, peat, coir, and lobster compost that feed your plant throughout the growing cycle, with no need to use additional nutrients.
Plants are considered seedlings for about 2-3 weeks after germination. During this time, the plant should be moved to a spot with direct sun, if growing outdoors. If growing indoors, set your grow lights to run for 16 hours a day.
3. Vegetative Stage
After the seedling stage, Cannabis plants move to a vegetative stage. This is the time when the plant focuses on leaf production. It will not produce flowers at all during this stage, as the plant needs to grow plenty of leaves to take up enough photons (sunlight) to create the necessary energy to produce large flowers. The vegetative stage can last anywhere from 3 to 16 weeks, depending on the variety.
During this stage, indoor plants need 16-18 hours of light per day, and outdoor plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight (“full sun”), plus several hours of indirect sunlight. They will also need plenty of Nitrogen during this point, as Nitrogen is the nutrient that promotes healthy leaf growth.
The flowering stage is the last stage of the Cannabis plant life cycle. This is the time when your plant will stop putting as much energy into leaf growth and will instead focus that energy on creating the flowers (buds), which are used for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Stages of Flowering – Source: Katie Plummer
Cannabis is triggered to flower when the hours of light it receives are reduced. If you’re growing outdoors, you’re at the whim of the seasons and will have to wait until the sun starts to go down in fall for it to flower and then harvest. If you’re growing indoors, you get to play mother nature and can force your plant to flower at any point. When you’re ready for plants to start the flowering stage, change your lights to a 12/12 cycle ( 12 hours with the light on and 12 hours with it off ). You will see signs of flowering in 1-3 weeks . On average plants will be ready to harvest after 8-11 weeks of flowering.
Your plant will be ready to be harvested once flowers are compact and the pistils turn orange/brown. These pistils look like “hairs” coming out of the flowers.
To dry your Cannabis, hang sections of the plant upside down in a dark, cool space, such as a closet. You want to aim for 55-65% humidity and 60-70°F in the spot that you’re drying your plants in. Prolonged periods of light, friction from handling, and humidity/dampness can degrade resin glands, so you will want to avoid all of these.
During the drying process, plants lose roughly 75% of water weight, which increases the cannabinoid to weight ratio. It also helps equalize moisture content, preserve cannabinoids, and shed chlorophyll.
Cannabis is ready to trim once the stem snaps when bent, typically after 3-7 days of drying.
After your plant has dried, it’s time to trim! Trimming makes your fingers very sticky, so wear gloves if this is something you want to avoid. Simply trim off the larger leaves and stems. You can leave smaller sugar leaves if you’d like, as these still contain a good amount of cannabinoids and terpenes that provide the medicinal properties of Cannabis. It’s all personal preference of exactly how much you trim off. And you can save all the trimmings to make edibles, tinctures, salves, and more.
Curing is an essential part and the last stage in growing Cannabis. It helps the buds achieve full aroma. Curing is as simple as placing your freshly trimmed buds in a glass jar with a lid, like a mason jar. You’ll then want to place the jar in a cool, dark place, such as inside a drawer or in a cabinet.
During the first week of curing, you will want to “burp” your jars. This means you should open the containers once or twice a day for a couple minutes to allows moisture to escape and replenish the oxygen inside the container. After the first week, you only need to burp containers once every few days.
You should allow buds to cure for at least 2 weeks, but some people choose to cure for as long as 6 months. This helps stop the loss of moisture and to preserve flavors and aromas.
The Stages of Cannabis Growth
Cannabis growth is made up of a series of stages that plants undergo during their lifecycle. Each stage during the cannabis cultivation process requires its own unique demands, including different levels of light, water, and nutrients.
It can take anywhere from 4 to 8 months to grow a cannabis plant, this varies based on where you’re growing. If you have an indoor grow room, your plant has the ability to flower after only a few weeks!
The quality of your plant depends on your knowledge of the cannabis growth stages and the lifecycle of your plants.
Cannabis Growth Timeline
1. Germinating: 1-7 days
2. Seedling: 2-3 weeks
3. Vegetative: 2-8 weeks
4. Pre-Flowering: 1-2 weeks
5. Flowering: 6-8 weeks
1. Germinating Seeds
2. Seedling Stage
3. Vegetative Growth
How to tell if your plant is a male or female
Female: Two pistils (the pistil contains the reproductive parts of a flower) will be growing on the buds (flowers grow above these leaves, one cluster on each side).
Male: Small green sacs full of pollen will be seen on the node areas.
- If there is a high color ratio of white to red pistils your cannabis will provide a euphoric THC high.
- If the color ratio is more red to white, your cannabis will provide a calmer, CBD-stoned feeling.
- If you harvest once half the trichomes are opaque and the pistils haven’t turned brown, your cannabis will provide a balanced THC/CBD high.
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From Seed to Harvest: The Life Cycle of Cannabis
Knowing how to care for your cannabis plants at each of the four distinctive stages of their life cycle will provide a solid baseline of knowledge and healthy, productive gardens.
It can take four to eight months to grow a cannabis plant. During this time, it goes through four distinct stages: germination, seedling, vegetative, and flowering. It is essential for cannabis growers to understand each stage in the life cycle so they can properly care for their plants. Each phase requires different nutrients, hours of light, and type of light. There are also different tasks that can help make each stage more successful.
It all begins with a seed. If stored in cool, dark conditions, a cannabis seed can remain viable for years. The best seeds are hard and dry and will be light to dark brown in color. Underdeveloped seeds tend to be soft and either white or green. It’s very unlikely these seeds will germinate.
The seed lies dormant until it is exposed to warmth and moisture. You can germinate your seeds by planting them in a moistened seedling starter mix, covered with plastic and placed on a heat mat. It is important to use a seed-starting mix instead of potting soil.
There is enough nutrition in a seed to feed a sprout for about two to three weeks. Any additional fertilizer can burn your plants at this tender age. Once planted, a seed can take five to 10 days to sprout.
Once your seeds have sprouted, the two seedling leaves will be the first to appear. Place a fluorescent grow light about two inches from the top of your plants for 18 hours per day. You don’t need a powerful light for them in the beginning. When the true leaves appear, your little plants can officially be considered a seedling.
The seedling stage of a cannabis plant can last three to six weeks.
The seedling stage of cannabis plant lasts three to six weeks, depending on environmental factors and the strain you’re growing.
During this time, your seedlings are focusing their energy on growing roots and foliage. Because the roots are so small, be careful not to overfeed or overwater. Use a fertilizer high in nitrogen and be sure to dilute it so you don’t harm your plants.
Fluorescent lights still work well at this point. Set your timer so the lights are on for 18 hours and off for six.
Seedlings are susceptible to pests and disease at this age, so this is a good time to apply a preventative neem oil treatment. It’s much easier to prevent spider mites and powdery mildew than to treat them while your plants are so young. If they do get infested or infected at this age, the stress on your plants will likely produce a smaller harvest down the line.
The vegetative stage of a cannabis plant can last one to four months.
After a few weeks as seedlings, your cannabis plants will outgrow their starter pots and start demanding more food and light. The roots and foliage grow rapidly during this stage, which allows the plant to take in more nutrients and carbon dioxide. Don’t be surprised if your plant shoots up two inches in one day!
If you don’t already know, this is when you’ll be able to identify whether you are growing an indica or sativa. Indicas tend to be short and bushy, while sativas are lanky with less foliage.
You will also be able to identify the sex of your plants. About four weeks into the veg cycle, pre-flowers start to appear. By six weeks in, you should be able to determine whether those new buds are male or female. Most growers remove the males from their garden, so they don’t pollinate the females and cause seeds to form.
When growing indoors, the vegetative stage can last one to four months, or even indefinitely in the case of mother plants. You control the length of this phase by the number of hours of light you give your plants. As long as they receive 18 hours, they will remain in this stage.
During the vegetative stage, you’ll need to trade in your fluorescent lights for a metal halide or powerful LED. This blue light mimics the light in spring and sends the message to grow roots and foliage to prepare for the flowers.
If you haven’t already, transplant your cannabis into larger pots and start feeding them more. As they grow, be mindful you will need to increase the PPM of your nutrient solution and transplant them into larger pots as needed.
At this age, your plants need high levels of nitrogen and modest amounts of phosphorus and potassium. Silicon is also beneficial at this stage because it helps to build strength in the stalk and stems, which you’ll need to support those big buds that will soon grow.
As your plants grow taller and fill out, you’ll need to start pruning and training them. This focuses their energy on growing large colas, opens up the plant so light can reach all the leaves, and prevents fungal diseases by increasing air flow.
The general rule of thumb is to flip the lights to 12/12 and trigger the bloom cycle when your plants are about one third of the size you want them to be at harvest.
The flowering stage lasts six to 10 weeks, depending on the strain you’re growing.
You imitate autumn in your garden when you reduce the light to 12 hours on and 12 hours off, and switch to a red high-pressure sodium bulb. This triggers your cannabis plants to start blooming so they can procreate before they die at the end of the season.
The flowering stage lasts six to 10 weeks, depending on the strain you’re growing. During this time, dense buds covered in a sweet-smelling, sticky resin will form on your plants. This resin is where the THC and terpenes are, and so growers do whatever they can to grow the stickiest colas possible.
Your fertilizing schedule will change during this stage. Start feeding your plants minimal amounts of nitrogen, moderate amounts of potassium, and high amounts of phosphorus. This is the time to add bloom boosters and sugars to your regimen.
Be on the lookout for nutrient deficiencies or toxicities during this phase. Brown leaf tips can signal nutrient burn, while yellowing leaves may indicate a nutrient deficiency. It is normal, however, for the lower leaves to turn yellow towards the end of the flowering cycle, when your plants feed on themselves for more efficient nutrition.
Keep feeding your plants until about 10 days before harvest, and then stop fertilizing and flush your crop. This clears your plants of excess nutrients and is crucial to making sure your end product is smooth instead of harsh.
As your buds grow large and dense, environmental conditions and poor air flow can cause bud rot. If you don’t catch it in time, you can lose all of your plants. Keep a close eye on your buds as harvest time approaches. Inspect your buds often and harvest immediately if you see signs of rot. If you catch it early, you can cut the rot out of your buds and salvage most of your crop. You’ll know your cannabis is ready to harvest when the pistils, or the hairs, turn the color of rust and the resin changes from clear to a milky white.
If you understand the life cycle of cannabis, you’ll be able to care for your plants the right way in each stage of their life and anticipate problems before they occur. You’ll be a better grower and have top shelf smoke to prove it.