Learn about when the right time to harvest cannabis is and how to tell apart the signs that can indicate your plant's ready to be harvested! Harvest is an exciting time when it comes to growing weed, because you finally get to see your trichomes mature. Learn how and when to harvest marijuana. There are two common methods to determine when a cannabis flower is ready for harvest: with the naked eye or with a magnifying glass or microscope.
When to Harvest Cannabis Plants
Cannabis growers spend a lot of time taking care of their plants in order to produce much better results. Sometimes it can be hard to wait until the time is right to harvest; between impatience and that feeling of being near harvest time, it can be hard to resist. Knowing when to harvest cannabis is quite subjective; growers all have their own method, plus it depends on the substrate, water quality and other determining factors.
This post is designed to help growers that have just started out and have questions regarding when to remove the flowers from their plants in order to cure and dry them. We’re going to have a look at some of the most important things to keep in mind when harvesting cannabis and knowing what a mature plant looks like.
How to Tell if your Plant is Ready to Harvest
There are plenty of signs that can show you when to harvest your cannabis plants. There are also lots of myths and legends that end up causing growers to harvest too early or late. Some people even think harvesting early will stop them from going bad – most growers have had that thought at least once, but if you let them keep growing without getting too impatient, you can get some amazing results. There are still many things you can keep in mind when figuring out when to harvest cannabis. For best results, use a good pair of pruning shears.
Seed Bank Reference
Whenever you get your cannabis seeds, we highly recommend checking out the dates given by the seed bank and their recommendation. They know their strain perfectly and they’ll be able to guide growers with the correct information. Keep in mind that these dates are still just guides, and aren’t 100% accurate. There are many different factors that intervene when it comes to each plant (growing conditions, outdoors or indoors, level of care, latitude etc.). Nirvana Seeds, Seedsman Seeds, Barney’s Farm, Ministry of Cannabis, Exotic Seeds and GB Strains all have an amazing selection of cannabis strains.
We all know that the pistils are the little brown “hairs” on your cannabis flowers when they begin to mature. These pistils can, in some cases, be a sign that your plants are almost entirely ready to harvest. The less brown, the more psychoactive and the more brown pistils the more intense the narcotic effect. Some growers recommend harvesting when more or less half of the pistils are brown, while also keeping in mind the effect/flavor/aroma that you’re looking to get.
Keep in mind that pistils going brown doesn’t almost indicate that your plants are ready to harvest; it could be caused by excess watering, spraying at night, having used a certain type of spray product, stress etc. Once your cannabis plant is ready to harvest it won’t be thirsty anymore, absorbing much less water than usual.
Trichomes are small cells that appear on the surface of your plants’ leaves and flowers. They contain cannabinoids, which produce psychoactive and narcotic effects in your buds. They look like droplets, and keep growing until they take on a mushroom shape. A good sign is that they’re no longer producing any more trichomes. Essentially, you should see calyxes covered in resin, which essentially look like mushrooms when looked at under a microscope, and they’ll want to have a creamy, milky color and some should be an Ambar-like color. The best way to check if your plants are ready is to use a Mini 60x Microscope With White LEDS.
When the top of the trichome is perfectly round, it’s too early to harvest. You’ll need to wait until they look like a sort of an over-pumped ball, slightly deformed. This indicates that there are more cannabinoids inside. If you don’t harvest early, they’ll explode and degrade – if you wait until they explode, you’ll have waited too long.
What Happens When you Harvest Cannabis at The Wrong Time
All of the previous signs can help you to figure out when your cannabis plants are ready to harvest. However, it’s pretty easy to get impatient towards the end – you’re itching to taste your buds and see how the effect hits. However, this usually leads to issues with your harvest.
If you harvest too early, you may run into quality issues with your harvest; the flavor will most likely be less intense, its buds will produce less chlorophyll and therefore less terpenes. Plus, their buds will probably be a lot smaller and less dense than what you were expecting. Keep in mind that it can also influence the effect, as the pistils haven’t finished growing yet – you can lose a large part of your harvest if you don’t wait long enough.
If you wait too long to harvest, it’ll will essentially go “bad”. The flavor will be much softer and it’ll take less time to cure. The more time goes by the less psychoactive the effect is. This is because THC turns into CBN when it begins to degrade, losing most of its characteristic effects. If you wait longer, your cannabis will have a more relaxing, intensely narcotic effect.
Recommendations for When to Harvest Cannabis
We highly recommend following the previous advice as much as you can; if you don’t have the tools to fully check on your plants, don’t just go by the amount of brown pistils on your plant, pay closer attention to the state of the leaves and how they begin to use up their reserves and fall off. The best way to tell when to harvest is by using a microscope; if you don’t have one, wait until its pistils are more or less all brown and then wait another week or two. If the seed bank says 60 days, you’re better off stretching it to 75 days.
When done right, you can harvest enormous flowers. These tips and tricks can help you to harvest delicious, large and high quality yields. We hope this information has been useful, and that this year you have a better idea regarding when to harvest cannabis plants! If you have any questions or suggestions, go ahead and leave a comment below.
How to harvest marijuana plants
It’s been months since that little weed sprout first popped out of the ground, or you put that delicate clone into some soil. You’ve watched your plants grow and mature, getting bigger and developing buds, and can’t wait to get those buds off the plant and light up.
But not so fast—harvesting cannabis isn’t just cutting down plants and trimming buds; you’ll also need to dry and cure buds before you can smoke them.
There are a few different ways to harvest weed, depending on whether you trim buds wet, straight off the plant, or dry, allowing them to dry first:
- In wet trimming, the plant is cut down, buds are removed off branches—called “bucking”—then trimmed, and then dried, all in one sitting.
- When dry trimming, the plant is cut down and hung to dry for several days; buds are bucked off branches and trimmed when fully dried.
Harvesting is one of the most exciting steps when growing weed, and here’s what you need to know before cutting down your crop.
Overview of how to harvest weed
- Flush plants a week before harvesting
- Determine when to harvest based on trichome color
- Decide if you’ll be wet or dry trimming
- Prepare equipment
- Chop down plants
- Dry and trim plants
Learn more on harvesting weed
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
How to know when to harvest cannabis
It’s important to note that every gardener has a different opinion on when to harvest their cannabis plants—some like to harvest early while others prefer later. When you harvest can also depend on other factors in life, such as your schedule, a job, the weather, etc.
Harvesting weed a week early or late probably won’t be the end of the world, but don’t let your plants sit around much longer than that.
When to harvest cannabis according to trichomes
The best way to tell if your marijuana plants are ripe and ready to harvest, both indoors and outdoors, is to look at:
- Stigma: These hair-like strands that cover buds will turn from white to orange and will start to curl.
- Trichomes: The resinous glands all over the plant will turn from clear to opaque and then amber.
The color and clarity of trichomes will tell you when a plant has reached peak maturity and is ready to harvest.
Ripe, healthy trichomes will be sticky and milky white; unripe trichomes will be clear; and overripe or diseased trichomes will be amber or brown. You want to look for milky white trichomes before harvesting.
Keep in mind that top colas might reach maturity faster than bottom buds because they receive more light. You may need to harvest a plant when some buds are ripe and others are under-ripe.
Additionally, information from the breeder or grower can be helpful in getting a rough estimate of when a particular strain should be harvested.
Weed is a warm-season annual, so if growing outdoors, harvest time comes between September and November in the Northern Hemisphere.
There is some variability—growers in Northern California may be able to harvest into November, whereas growers in the Pacific Northwest will likely need to pull their crops down by mid-October, before fall rains set it.
Know your local climate and talk to other growers in your specific area to see when they harvest marijuana.
Tips for determining when to harvest outdoor weed
Strains from regions close to the equator—sativas—need a long, seemingly endless summer to fully ripen, while strains from harsh, cold climates—indicas—tend to finish earlier. That being said, some indicas take a long time to finish and some sativas finish on the early side.
The best time of day to harvest outdoor marijuana plants is in the morning, before the sun blasts them. Ideally, you don’t want them to be wet and dewey, but you don’t want them to under the bright light of the sun, which can degrade terpenes.
You can also harvest at night when the temperature cools off, but the morning is better as plants haven’t been sitting under the sun all day.
Follow the weather
As cannabis buds pack on weight and the season changes from summer to fall, there will be fluctuations in the weather. Depending on your climate, there might be cold snaps or rainstorms.
These aren’t disasters but you do need to keep an eye on the weather and possibly make a game-time decision on when to chop down plants, balancing peak ripeness with conditions that could compromise your harvest.
Harvesting weed in cold temperatures
Most cannabis plants can sail through a light freeze—28-32°F for up to three hours—with no trouble. But a hard freeze, any temps lower or for longer, can spell disaster.
Frost can cause ice crystals to form in plant tissue, damaging their cells. Leaves will appear wilted before turning dark and crispy. The deeper the frost, the more of the plant that will get damaged.
Note that potted plants experience more severe temperature fluctuations than plants in the ground, making the cannabis more susceptible to frost damage.
Similar to a cold snap, rain itself isn’t a huge problem, but the duration and severity of the storm is. If it’s going to warm up and dry out quickly, you can leave almost ripe cannabis to weather the storm. If the rain will be there to stay, mold awaits—cut your losses and harvest before things get soggy.
Covering your plants will help, but there will still be moisture in the air. You can cover plants with a few tall stakes and a tarp, just be sure to remove the cover when the cold or rain passes to let plants warm up and get the sun and air they need.
When growing indoors, plants generally get harvested about 7-9 weeks after flipping them into the first stages of flowering. Some strains may take longer, some shorter; it depends on the strain. Indicas usually finish quicker, while sativas longer.
How often do you harvest weed?
Harvesting indoor marijuana
When growing weed indoors, you can harvest as much or as little as you want. The sky—rather, your grow room—is the limit.
Weed can take anywhere from 3-8 months to grow from seed to harvest, so you can fit in as many as four harvests of smaller plants, or one or two harvests of bigger plants each year.
More harvests mean you’ll have fresh, homegrown weed to smoke more often, but it will also be more work in cleaning up the space between harvests, trimming, etc.
You can even fit in more than four harvests a year if you start with clones or autoflower seeds, both of which shave off some weeks of the grow cycle.
Harvesting outdoor marijuana
By and large, cannabis grown outdoors gets harvested once a year. In most climates, seeds or clones will start in the spring, and you’ll harvest in the fall. In some tropical regions, you can squeeze in a second harvest in a year because of the climate.
You can set up your outdoor weed grow to have more than one harvest a year if you grow autoflower seeds. Autoflower weed plants have a shorter life cycle—they “automatically flower” when they get to a certain age, instead of beginning the flowering stage when sunlight starts to decrease in the sky outdoors.
Because of this, you can start growing a set of autoflowers early in the season, around March or April, harvest them in June or July, and then start growing a second set for harvesting in the fall. You’ll be able to have multiple harvests, but keep in mind that your plants will be smaller because they’re autoflowers.
Light deprivation, or light deps, are another technique to get multiple outdoor harvests in a year. A tarp is placed over a greenhouse to cut off the amount of light outdoor weed plants receive, giving you the ability to control the flowering cycle of plants. As with autoflowers, this will allow you to fit in multiple outdoor harvests in a season.
The drawback to light deprivation is you have to have a greenhouse and other equipment, and you have to place and remove the tarp every day. If marijuana plants receive too much light on even one day, it can confuse them and ruin their flowering and bud production.
Preparing to harvest marijuana
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
If you’re growing the same strain, you’ll want to harvest all your cannabis plants in the same window of time because they’ll all ripen at the same time.
If you’re growing multiple strains, they may ripen at different times. But you may still want to harvest all strains at once to get trimming done all in one sitting, just keep in mind that some strains might get harvested on the early side and some on the late side.
Before you harvest, you’ll also need to know if you are going to trim wet or dry. Wet trimming involves trimming buds immediately after the plant is cut down, and with dry trimming, chopped plants are hung up to dry for several days before trimming.
It’s also a good idea to flush your plants a week before harvesting—give them only water to clear out the nutrients.
What do trichomes look like when they’re ready to harvest?
Trichomes will be sticky and milky white when ready to harvest.
When looking at trichomes you’ll need a microscope. Handheld microscopes ranging from 30x-100x will work and can be purchased at any growing supply store.
During their change from clear to opaque to amber, trichomes reach their maximum THC content. After that, they begin to break down due to exposure to oxygen and UV rays.
What happens if you wait too long to harvest?
Waiting a week or two after a plant’s peak maturity to harvest isn’t the end of the world, the plant might just lose some THC. Busy schedules or too many plants to harvest and cause growers to delay harvesting plants for a little bit.
If you wait for a long time, several weeks or more, the plant will likely dry out and the buds shrink. The plant may start to rot and develop mold, especially in an outdoor environment and in cold climates.
Equipment needed to harvest cannabis
To harvest weed, you’ll need the following tools:
- Scissors (for trimming buds)
- Pruners (helpful for big branches)
- Comfortable chair and area
- A clean surface, like a table
- Tray or bowl
- Rubbing alcohol
- Clothes that can get dirty and sticky
- Optional: Non-powdered latex gloves
Make sure scissors are ergonomic and will fit comfortably in your hand, as you will be holding these bad boys for quite a while. With time, these scissors will get very sticky, so get a pair that will clean easily, or buy two pairs so you can switch between them.
There are many types of scissors you can buy; some are spring-loaded, some not. Beginners often go for spring-loaded ones because they seem quicker.
However, a lot of trimmers recommend Chikamasa scissors—these are not spring-loaded and might take a day or two to get used to, but you will soon notice the precision and speed they provide.
You may also want to invest in a larger pair of shears for cutting branches. Save the scissors for the more precise work.
Comfortable chair and area
Give yourself plenty of space and have an ergonomic setup so you can settle in for a long trim. Pick a cool place with plenty of light, and try to stay away from places with excess dust, hair, or particulates, which can contaminate the weed.
The longer you sit, the more work you get done, so find a comfy chair. Avoid anything that makes you hunch over and compresses your lower back.
Tray/bowl and a clean surface
Many trimmers opt for trimming trays because they are much easier to transport and can make a great lap companion. We recommend something that has a screen for collecting kief. The simpler the design the better.
You can also just trim onto a flat table and put your finished buds in a bowl.
Whatever you choose, make sure the surface is easy to clean.
Rubbing alcohol and rags
Trimming scissors will inevitably get gunked up with resin, so you’ll need to clean them or switch them out with a fresh pair periodically. Keep a rag and a cup with rubbing alcohol handy.
Clothes that can get dirty and sticky
Wear old clothes you don’t care about or an apron. Better yet, wear a silk apron—the resin won’t stick to silk and your laundry will thank you.
Gloves are also great to keep your hands resin-free. If you don’t like trimming with gloves on, you can rub coconut or olive oil on your hands to prevent resin buildup.
A long trim session can seem even longer without anything to pass the time. Staying entertained is crucial to your sanity when trimming. Anything that doesn’t require visual attention is recommended, such as music, podcasts, audiobooks, and stand-up comedy.
Tips for a successful marijuana harvest
Once your plants are ready for harvesting and you have all your equipment, it’s time to chop down your plants.
With dry trimming, chopped plants are hung up to dry for several days before trimming.
Wet trimming involves trimming buds immediately after the plant is chopped down.
Either way, to chop down plants, grab a large pair of shears and start cutting off big branches, making sure to be delicate with the buds. If plants are small, you may be able to cut them directly at the base, above the soil.
If dry trimming, it’s helpful to cut branches in a way to give them a hook on one end, making it easy to hang them. If wet trimming, cut branches so they’re easy to handle and snip buds off of.
- Make sure to flush your plants with only water, no nutrients, for about a week before harvesting
- Check trichomes on plants to make sure they’re ready to get chopped down
- Wear clothes that can get dirty—harvesting weed is sticky
- Keep shears and scissors sharp
- It’s good to harvest before plants get too hot—outdoors, this means harvesting in the morning; indoors, harvest soon after the lights come on
- If growing different strains, some plants may be ready to harvest before others
- If wet trimming, be sure to trim buds immediately after chopping down plants
Now that you’ve harvested your weed, what comes next? Learn how to trim, dry, and cure your marijuana harvest.
I’m a first-time cannabis grower and my first plants are starting to flower, but I’m not sure exactly sure when I’m supposed to harvest them. How do I know my buds are ready? Also, is there anything I can do with the fan leaves after harvest, or do I just throw them out?
There are two common methods to determine when a cannabis flower is ready for harvest: with the naked eye or with a magnifying glass or microscope.
With the naked eye, the grower should closely watch his or her flowers until the pistils (little white hair protruding from the flowers) start turning red or brown.
As the cannabis flower reaches maturity, more of the pistils will become red or brown. A good rule of thumb is to harvest when just over 50 per cent of the pistils have become red or brown in color. The naked eye method is good for beginners who do not have access to a magnifying glass or microscope.
If possible, use a magnifying glass or microscope to determine the appropriate time to harvest your cannabis flowers. A magnifying glass or microscope allow a gardener to observe the trichomes (the small mushroom-like glands that contain most of the cannabinoids).
As the cannabis flowers start to ripen, the trichomes will turn from translucent to milky, and then, eventually, to an amber color.
For most hybrid plants, the peak THC percentages will be when the trichomes are mostly milky in color. In other words, most growers wait until most of the trichomes have become milky to harvest.
However, some growers like to harvest earlier (when trichomes have developed, but are still translucent) which produces a more energetic high for most users or later (when the majority of the trichomes have turned amber) which produces a more lethargic high for most users.
Having a magnifying glass or microscope allows the grower to determine when to harvest more accurately depending on his or her personal preferences. All in all, a magnifying glass or microscope is a valuable tool for harvesting and an investment worth making.
To answer the second part of your question regarding the fan leaves, you can make extracts from them. The large fan leaves contain cannabinoids, albeit at a far less concentration than the flowers.
Due to the low percentage of cannabinoids they contain, many growers dispose of the fan leaves. Personally, I like to make a coconut oil extract with my fan leaves. I do this by heating water and coconut oil in a large pot (I use one of my water bath canning pots).
The amount of water and coconut oil will vary depending on the amount of fan leaves you have. After the coconut oil has melted completely in the water, add the fan leaves, and cook over low heat for three to five hours.
You do not want to heavily boil the leaves; a light simmer is sufficient. After cooking, strain the water/coconut oil mixture through cheese cloth to remove the leaf material. The remaining mixture can be placed in the refrigerator for separation.
After 12 hours, the coconut oil will separate from the water and become hard. Discard the water and scrape the bottom of the hardened coconut oil to remove any sludge left by the plant material.
The resulting cannabis-infused coconut oil can be used for making capsules, baked goods, or as a topical ointment.