• Post last modified:February 28, 2022
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In the last 3-8 months, you have toiled, worried constantly, spent numerous resources, and learned a great deal of things as you walked the journey of cannabis cultivation. Your plants are now mature with an impressive yield: the extra effort was all worth it! The question is, how do you determine when to harvest cannabis? 

With cannabis, timing is golden. Harvesting too early will lead to less potent buds, and harvesting too late will degrade vital cannabinoids, such as THC. As a grower, you need to determine the ideal time to harvest cannabis – when the plant is at its peak in potency levels. This piece covers everything you need to know about harvesting cannabis – the signs of maturity, preparation, the tools required, how to harvest, and finally, some valuable tips to utilize for better results. 

Harvesting methods

Weed is harvested by cutting down the plant from the main stem or branches using shears/pruners. After harvesting, one must start the drying process immediately to avoid bud rot caused by high moisture levels in the bud’s core. You can approach the drying process in either of the following two ways:

Hang drying cannabis after harvesting

Drying whole plants 

After harvesting, the whole plant is hung in a hanger or line in a room. Under optimum conditions (humidity, darkness, and temperature), the plant dries within 2-7 days. Once the drying process is complete, the buds are trimmed, and the curing process is initiated. 

Drying individual buds

Some cultivators prefer bucking the buds (removing them from the branches) while the plant is still wet. This is referred to as wet trimming. The trimmed buds are placed in drying racks and left to dry. 

How far you trim your buds will depend on the humidity levels of the drying room. If you live in an area with high humidity, cut off most of the leaves to avoid mold and other pathogens. In low humidity, keep the leaves until the drying process is complete. This prevents the outer parts of the buds from drying too quickly, leaving a moist core. After completing the drying process, cure your plants for improved potency and flavor. 

But first, having the knowledge on how to tell when cannabis is ready to harvest is the first step towards enjoying the fruits of your labor. Below is all the information you need…

How to tell when cannabis is ready to harvest

There will be observable tell-tale signs when the plants are ready for harvesting. As a grower, you need to be very keen not to miss the opportunity to harvest when your buds are at the peak of their potency. So, if the question ’When is cannabis ready to harvest’ has been lingering in your mind, here is your answer. You can determine the maturity of your plants based on the following six ways.

Harvesting marijuana based on trichome color

Trichomes are the top indicators of mature cannabis plants. These are minute, shiny, and mushroom-shaped resin glands that make up the crystalline layer spotted in most marijuana plants. They are the primary carriers of THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid. So, what do trichomes look like when ready to harvest? Trichomes remain clear throughout the flowering stage and then turn milky and amber as they approach maturity. 

What do trichomes look like when ready to harvest
Using a jewellers loupe to asses when the trichomes look ready to harvest

If you spot a roughly 50/50 amount of milky and amber trichomes, that is when the plants are at their peak in potency levels. The buds will produce an invigorating high. Waiting any longer will lead to the THC degrading to CBN, the ultimate relaxation cannabinoid. At this point, your buds will provide a relaxing, body-centered high. 

Harvesting based on leaf changes

As the plant matures, its water and nutrient absorption rates significantly reduce. As a result, you may notice the fan leaves turning from green to yellow. Another sign is the curling of the leaves. 

Harvesting marijuana Based on calyxes

As the plant nears maturity, the calyxes will become swollen. Do not harvest based on this factor alone, as it can also indicate a hermie. Ensure you look at a combination of other indicators before harvesting.

Harvesting based on pistils

Pistils/hairs will turn from amber or orange to brown as an indicator of plant maturity. 

Note: You will need a moderately strong magnifying glass or a smartphone camera magnifier to inspect all the parts of the bud mentioned above. 

Harvesting marijuana based on the time of the year and weather changes

Sometimes, the location and weather patterns can determine when to harvest cannabis. Outdoor cultivators in certain areas harvest at the same time each year. Interacting with growers within your locality and monitoring the weather patterns can help you determine when the plants are mature enough for harvest. 

LocationIdeal harvesting time
Northern Hemisphere September or November 
Northern CaliforniaLater October to the middle of November
Pacific Northwest Mid-October to early November 

Based on the type of strain

In general, Indicas take 8 weeks to flower and reach maturity. On the other hand, Sativas take a bit longer, budding for up to 12 weeks before they become harvest-ready. Autoflowers do not depend on light to switch from one growth phase to another. Instead, they transition automatically and grow from seed to maturity within a record 8-10 weeks. Keep a history of the plants’ progress as they grow. Track the weeks they spend on one growth stage. Having knowledge of the genetics of the strain you have cultivated can help you determine the ideal time to harvest.

Factors that can lead to early harvesting 

Sometimes, things do not go as planned. Circumstances change, forcing us to find a way to make the most of the situation. While you may plan to harvest your cannabis at the right time, some factors may prevent you from doing so. These factors include 

Freezing weather – exposure to frigid weather is tolerable for about 3 hours. After that, the extreme cold will destroy your plants. 

Rain – prolonged periods of rain increase the moisture content of your buds, which can lead to mold formation. Building a temporary shelter for your plants can help the rain at bay. However, the increased humidity may still lead to damaged plants. At this point, it’s best to harvest to save your crop. 

Bud rot – undiagnosed bud rot can quickly destroy your plants. If some plants have bud rot and you suspect the remaining may be affected, harvesting is the best option.

Frequency of harvests per annum

Indoors

The cultivator determines the number of harvests they want in an indoor setup. The grow tent/ room provides optimum growing conditions that support multiple harvests per annum. Autoflowers, in particular, take 8-10 weeks to grow, meaning one can have as many as five harvests in a year. 

Outdoors

The outdoor environment restricts the number of harvests a grower can have per annum. The best growing season is from spring to fall for photoperiodic strains.  

Tricks on how to have multiple harvests outdoors

Grow autoflowers

Autoflowers grow from seed to being harvest-ready within 2-3 months. Additionally, due to the Ruderalis genetics, the plants are very resilient and resistant to unfavorable weather, molds, and pests. Autos are easy to grow, and the bonus is that they don’t depend on light to transition from one growth stage to the next. With autoflowers, one can manage two growing seasons – March/April to June/July and June/July to October/November.

Limit the plants’ access to light 

If you grow photoperiod plants, manipulating the light cycle can help with multiple harvests. Light deprivation is a technique that involves placing a tarp over a greenhouse to cut off light supply to the plants. The cannabis plants respond to this by transitioning to the flowering stage earlier than they were supposed to. As a result, the plants take less time to mature, giving way to more harvests. 

However, this method requires that you have a greenhouse, a tarp, and multiple other equipments. Additionally, you will need to put and remove the tarp every day, following the same schedule. If the plants get 12 hours of sunlight today and 14 hours tomorrow, they may affect the quality and quantity of your yield. Let’s now dive into the harvesting process.

Harvesting marijuana

Preparing for harvesting

As you approach the harvesting period, you need to prepare beforehand so that you can harvest when the plants are healthy and when the conditions are right. If your crop consists of one type of strain, it’s an easy process since all the plants will mature simultaneously. However, multiple strains will mature at different times. You may have to harvest the ripe ones and leave the rest until they are mature enough. 

Harvesting different strains at the same time means you will have some strains that will have little THC, others with sufficient THC, and another batch with significantly degraded THC (CBN-rich buds). This is how to prepare for harvesting;

  1. Discontinue feeding the plants with nutrients, growth boosters, and any additives. If applicable to your growing conditions, flush your plants with distilled water to remove the harsh or chemical taste from your buds. You can start two weeks to ten days before the designated harvesting day(s). 
  2. If you are growing indoors, keep the temperatures between 65 degrees to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Turn off the grow lights 24-72 hours before harvesting. This helps to increase resin production and degrades the chlorophyll (it has an unpleasant taste and harsh smoke when combusted).
  3. If growing outdoors, pick a day with minimal wind and average sunlight. Avoid rainy days as the water fills your buds, leaving them susceptible to bud rot and powdery mildew. The ideal time to harvest marijuana is early in the morning before sunrise.
  4. A day or two before harvesting, inspect your cannabis plants to ensure that they are in perfect condition. Remove any damaged or less-than-ideal buds to guarantee a quality harvest. This makes it easy for you during harvest as you are assured that all the buds that made it that far are exceptionally healthy. 
  5. The last thing to do is to prepare your tools. Below is a list of all the tools you will need;

Scissors: you will use scissors for a very long time; thus, ensure they are designed for prolonged use. Additionally, they should be the right size for your hands. The resin-filled buds will be sticky, and you may need to clean the scissors several times. Getting more than one pair of scissors is recommended.

Pruners: the scissors should be primarily used for trimming the buds. Let the pruners handle the tough job of cutting the stem and branches. 

Bowl or tray or a table or any clean surface: basically, the buds will be temporarily placed on any of these items before they are dried later on. 

Small towel or rags and rubbing alcohol: these will be used to clean the scissors and pruners after they are filled with resin. 

Old clothes or an apron (preferably a silk one): You will be filled with resins by the end of the harvesting and trimming exercise. Wear something you won’t mind discarding after you are done, or wear an apron.

Gloves (optional): if you don’t want your hands all sticky, wear a pair of gloves or apply coconut or olive oil before beginning the harvesting. 

Your favorite playlist, stand-up comedy, or podcast: this will keep you entertained during the long hours of harvesting. Alternatively, good company is also an option. If you have friends or family that can help you harvest as you reminisce on the past, catch up, or make future plans…then why not?

The process of harvesting weed

How you harvest marijuana depends on your preferred trimming methods and the size of your plants. For large plants, cut the big branches while being extra cautious not to damage the delicate buds. If dry trimming, ensure the branches have a hook at the base that makes hanging them on hangers and lines easier. 

For wet trimming, strategically cut the branches to make it easier to execute the bud trimming process without damaging the buds. Small plants are cut at the base and hung in that condition when dry trimming. If wet trimming, their small stature makes the process straightforward. 

Take away

The amber and milky white trichomes are the primary indicators of when to harvest cannabis. The stage between the final budding stages and the yellowing of the leaves is when the buds are most potent. Harvesting cannabis is a straightforward process that requires precision, focus, and prior preparation. Start preparing for the harvest days before and ensure you start the process before the sun rises/in dark conditions.

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