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.
How long does it take to grow marijuana?
Fr om day 1 of your marijuana plant’s life to a smokable harvest, you’re looking at 2-6 months. Many factors affect the total time (especially the strain and size of the plant) but the average grow takes 3-4 months .
The average indoor cannabis grow takes 3-4 months from seed to harvest. The full range is 2-6 months and depends on the strain and desired size of plants.
You can control the timing if you plan ahead.
2-3 months from seed to harvest
- Use an autoflowering strain (ready to harvest in as little as 10 weeks from germination)
- Standard (photoperiod) plants from seed typically won’t be ready to harvest in under 3 months
- Average 1-2 oz per plant
- In 5-gallon pots with strong grow light, expect up to 4 or 5 oz per plant indoors
- Autoflowering plants can get huge outdoors in full sunlight, where they can produce many ounces per plant
3-5+ months from seed to harvest
- Photoperiod strains are your best bet (they are flexible on timing and allow you to choose the final plant size/yields)
- In 5-gallon pots with strong grow light, expect up to 5 oz per plant indoors
- Up to 10 oz per plant or more if you have a strong light, a 10-gallon pot, and let the plant get big before initiating the flowering stage
- When growing photoperiod plants outside, you must get a strain that’s suitable for your climate and plant in the spring so buds are ready to harvest before winter
These factors have the greatest impact on total time from seed to harvest:
- Cannabis strain – Some strains are ready to harvest in under 2 months, while others may need 5 months or more from seed to weed. Strain has a big impact on growing time. Luckily, breeders almost always give time estimates so you can plan ahead.
- Desired yields – Do you want to grow a few grams, a few ounces, or a few pounds? Bigger plants produce bigger yields, but also need more time to grow.
- Setup – Different grow methods or setups can add or subtract a few weeks. For example, plants grown without added nutrients tend to grow slower than plants getting nutrients in the water.
How to grow marijuana as quickly as possible:
You want to get an auto-flowering strain. These cannabis plants automatically start making buds after about a month from germination, and are ready to harvest by the time they’re 2 or 3 months old.
Auto-flowering plants tend to stay small since they go from seed to harvest in under 3 months. These auto-flowering plants produced about 7 ounces.
However, if you take really good care of auto-flowering plants for the first 4 weeks and give a lot of light, they can grow much bigger. These auto-flowering plants reached half this height in the first 4 weeks and produced about 11 oz under the same grow light as above.
Counter-clockwise from top left: Alaskan Purple Auto, White Widow Max Auto, Candy Kush Auto, Pink Kush CBD 30:1 (short purple plant), Zkittlez Auto, Gelato Auto
Here are some of great auto-flowering strains I’ve personally grown and recommend. These are all ready to harvest 8-10 weeks from germination:
(American stabilized version) – These plants responded well to plant training and produced nice yields. I really enjoyed the strong yet unique bud effects of this strain. It reminded me of a sativa/haze with more of a body stone. – Easy to grow with buds that smell amazing. This didn’t get the best yields, but the bud quality was worth it. by G13 Labs – An extremely popular autoflowering strain. Plants stay short, are quick-to-harvest even for an auto, and the sparkle-encrusted buds smell like heaven. by Bomb Seeds – I’ve grown 5 different plants of this strain over multiple grows in different setups, and every one came out marvelous. Easy to grow, great yields, beautiful sparkly buds, and potent effects. Highly recommended! by Dutch Passion – Average potency buds, but the best yields of any auto-flowering plant I’ve ever grown. Always yields twice as much as the next auto-flowering plant in the tent. However, plants can get big so watch the height! A great choice for someone who wants classic bud effects that aren’t too overwhelming. by MSNL – The plants grew big but with a good bushy structure (not too stretchy), responded well to training, and produced enormous yields of high-quality bud. (American stabilized version) – This strain has grown fast and healthy for me and produced fat buds that smell sweet and look gorgeous.
Recommended Autoflowering Breeders
Many other breeders also produce great auto-flowering strains (Dutch Passion, FastBuds, Barney’s Farm, etc.), but the following breeders stand out for consistency.
Zkittlez Auto is ready to harvest 8-10 weeks from germination. Every time I grow this strain the smell and bud effects are excellent
What if time is not an issue?
This gives you the freedom to choose the exact strain you want without any worry about how long it will take. This gives you the freedom to grow some strains that otherwise are inaccessible to growers who are worried about timeframes.
Strains from warm climates tend to have long flowering periods before their buds are ready to harvest, adding weeks or months to the time needed. Long-flowering strains often produce higher yields than short-flowering strains because buds have more time to grow. For example, Acapulco Gold takes almost 3 months after initiating 12/12 before buds are ready to harvest. However, it produces amazing yields and unique psychedelic effects.
Important Milestones in the Marijuana Plant’s Life
Depending on how you set up your grow, it can take anywhere from 2 months to 6 months or more to grow a marijuana plant from a seedling to the point where the plant is ready to harvest. Some methods, such as growing hydroponically indoors, give your flexibility to get a harvested plant in as little as 2-3 months. Growing outdoors generally takes longer than growing indoors and is more dependent on when you plant your seeds and how long your growing season is.
Once your plant is harvested, there is a drying and curing process that takes about a minimum of two weeks before your buds are “ready” for smoking. If you aren’t a smoker and plan on turning plants into edibles or concentrates, you should still dry your buds but typically you don’t need to cure your buds.
For more information about how to grow your own marijuana at home, then check out my Basic Marijuana Growing Guide or one of my more detailed How-To Guides which will explain how to grow your marijuana plant from beginning to end.