Growing a cannabis plant can be a labor of love or a heartbreaking adventure.
Like everything in life, growing cannabis plants involves several important stages. Whether you’re growing under controlled indoor conditions or at the mercy of the elements outdoors, the phases remain the same, although their duration may vary.
For the home growers, here are the six main stages of growing cannabis, from seed to harvest.
1) Germination – The Beginning of Growing Cannabis
Those potent buds that lie on the dispensary shelves all started out as a humble seedling. They harbor the genetic blueprint for a plant that can bring about the most remarkable changes to our physical and mental well-being.
A quality seed should be firm and dry with a brown texture. Seeds that are soft and accompanied by a faded white or green color are unlikely to germinate and best avoided.
Germination times can vary substantially and may occur in as little as twenty-four hours or take as long as a week or more. The most common way to induce germination is to place soaked paper towels on two plates before putting one on top of the other with the seeds in between. By keeping the towels moist and the temperature constant at between seventy and ninety degrees Fahrenheit, the seeds will eventually sprout a white taproot.
Once the seeds sprouts, you’re growing cannabis! You now have a seedling on your hands, and it’s time to transfer it to a growing medium.
2) The Seedling Stage
During the seedling phase, small leaves will begin to grow upward, in an attempt to harness the available light for further growth. Down below, the plant will further develop its roots in a process that takes approximately three weeks.
At this point the seedling requires eighteen hours of light per twenty-four-hour cycle. The cannabis plant remains in the seedling stage until it develops multiple blades on newly formed fan leaves.
3) Growing a Cannabis Plant At The Vegetative Stage
It’s during the vegetative phase where growth really takes off, and growers will generally transfer the plant to a larger pot at this point. This phase can last anywhere from three to ten weeks, and the plant will also begin to demand much more water and nutrients.
Vertical growth can occur at astounding rates during the vegetative phase. Growers should begin training and pruning to ensure optimal growth and optimal use of the available light.
The shape of the leaves will also provide clues into the cultivar’s underlying genetics. While Sativa and Indica have lost much of their meaning as a descriptor of the properties of the plant, their characteristics still manifest in the leaves and the form the plant takes.
Indica genetics tend to produce broad, short leaves with short and wide blades while Sativa genetics result in long leaves with elongated, thin blades.
4) Identifying if the Plant is Male or Female
It’s at the end of the vegetative phase where it becomes possible to determine the sex of the plant. It’s vitally important to identify and remove any males from the crop. This prevents them from pollinating the females, and rendering the crop much less useful for medicinal benefit.
Spot the females by identifying the two white pistils that constitute the sex organs. The telltale sign for the male plants is the development of the pollen sacs, the little green bud-like formations that grow lower down. The immediate removal of male plants is crucial as once the pollen sacs open, they’ll pollinate any females in the vicinity and ruin the harvest.
Many growers avoid this situation by only using feminized seeds. As the name suggests, this type of seed produces only female varieties and eliminates the risk that male plants pose.
5) The Flowering Stage
It’s during this stage where the hard work begins to pay off. In the flowering stage, a growing cannabis plant will begin producing flowers with sticky, resinous buds enveloped in trichomes that contain much of the eventual cannabinoid and terpene content.
During this phase the light requirements reduce to twelve hours per twenty-four-hour cycle. Trellising can help provide support to the weight of the dense buds, and growers may need to provide additional nutrients during this crucial phase.
6) Knowing When to Harvest
Timing the harvest is the key to ensuring maximum potency of the crop. There are different ways of doing this.
- One way is to examine the pistils regularly. When the pistils begin to turn brown and the leaves begin turning yellow, it’s time to harvest. But don’t wait until all the pistils turn brown. This means the plant is overripe – and may start to lose potency.
- Another option is to examine the trichomes with a magnifying glass or a microscope. Examine both the shape and color. Look for well-rounded trichomes. They should have a noticeable mushroom head, followed by the transition from a clear or milky color to a brown or amber one. This represents the peak of THC production and is the ideal time to harvest.
Missing the ideal harvest window will affect potency and taste, as many of the compounds begin to degrade. At this point, it’s time to trim and cure before finally enjoying the fruits of your labor!
In the end, growing cannabis is a labor of love. You’ll get better at it with every crop.