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.
Preserving Cannabis Genetics: How to Collect and Store Seeds and Pollen
Sometimes a grower has to move on from a certain strain. Maybe you’ve been growing the same strain for a long time and it no longer makes as much money as it used to, or maybe you just want to mix it up and start growing something else and don’t have the space for it.
It can be bittersweet saying goodbye to old genetics, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. You can take clones or keep a mother plant, but those aren’t ideal because they require a lot of care and maintenance, especially if they aren’t producing flower.
Fortunately, preserving genetics for long-term storage is easy and will save time, money, and space in the long run. Through seed and pollen collection, you can hang onto those genetics that you can’t fully get rid of and safely store them for future use.
The Benefits of Long-Term Storage
Cannabis genetics are often sourced from external companies and organizations such as nurseries and seed banks. For the individual grower, saving seeds and pollen removes this reliance on external companies. This is especially true with pollen, as very few (if any) companies offer pollen to the public.
Saving space is a big reason to consider long-term storage of seeds and pollen. Mother plants lay dormant in a vegetative state and take up lots of space. Maintaining this extra space is time-consuming and takes extra resources like water, soil, nutrients, light, and other costly elements, all for something that doesn’t produce flower. Even keeping clones of an old strain around will take up space and resources.
A grower or breeder can also freeze the progress of a breeding project for months or years without losing any of the long, hard work. Endeavors such as phenotype hunting and maintaining desired mothers for breeding and cloning can all be saved for later through genetic preservation. This process is like backing up work on a hard drive.
How to Collect Seeds
Cannabis is for the most part dioecious, meaning that the male and female reproductive organs exist on two separate plants (although hermaphroditic plants do occur). It is also a wind-pollinated plant, so pollen must be transferred from a male stamen to a female pistil via the air in order for pollination to occur and seeds to form.
A female cannabis plant that has received pollen from a male will produce many seeds over the course of its maturation cycle. Upon senescence, when the female plant is fully mature and ready for harvest, its seeds will be ready for stratification and collection.
To collect seeds, it’s important to wait until they are fully mature and ready for harvest. Cannabis with seeds takes longer to mature than cannabis that only produces flower.
To tell if a seed is mature, take a look at its shape and color. Premature seeds will be small and light in color, taking on a beige hue. Fully mature cannabis seeds are more full in shape and size and have a much darker brown hue, sometimes accented by black tiger stripes.
Deseeding cannabis can be done by hand or machine. This process typically takes place after the plant has been dried for one to two weeks after harvest. This way, seeds will have reached their maximum maturity and plant material will be brittle enough to break apart with minimal effort.
When collecting seed by hand, use a fine screen to help catch trichomes that will break off during the process. This material is valuable and it would be a shame to waste.
To release the seeds, simply break up the dried buds over a screen and they will fall out. You can release the seeds en masse by rubbing the flower between your fingers and lightly breaking it apart.
Separate or sift seeds over the screen to remove any unwanted plant matter from the seeds themselves. Brush off the seeds—they should be completely free of any remaining plant material such as leaves, stem, or trichomes, as these elements put seeds at a higher risk for contamination and spoilage during long-term storage.
Male cannabis plants will produce pollen several weeks into their flowering cycle. Once their pollen sacs have opened up and released, the plant will begin to senesce and eventually die. It is important to collect pollen right as the sacs are beginning to open up, as this is the time pollen is most viable.
The best way to harvest pollen for storage is to remove an entire male flower cluster and place it in a sealed storage container for several days. After the cluster has dried, place it over a micron screen with parchment or wax paper underneath, and give it a light shake. This will allow the pollen to separate from any remaining plant matter and fall through the screen and onto the wax paper.
Moisture is a death sentence for pollen viability. Because of this, many breeders opt to mix flour into their pollen at a ratio of 4:1 (flour to pollen) when storing it long-term. This additional step will help keep pollen dry for a longer period of time.
Seed and Pollen Storage
Long-term storage requirements for seeds and pollen are similar. Both require cool, dark, dry, and oxygen-deprived environments for optimal preservation.
When storing seeds, place them in an air-sealed container that doesn’t have any light leaks. Film canisters, medicine bottles (non-translucent), and any sealable storage jar will work fine. The idea is to reduce the amount of oxygen present in the storage space as much as possible. You can also add uncooked rice to the storage container, which acts as an absorbent, to reduce moisture content.
For a cool environment, store seeds in either the refrigerator or freezer. Seeds need a consistent temperature without fluctuation to remain dormant long-term.
As mentioned above, the best way to reduce moisture in pollen is to mix it with flour. For long-term storage, it can be kept in a sealed vial or freezer bag. You can keep it in the refrigerator or freezer, though for optimal long-term storage, the colder the better.
The Shelf Life of Seeds and Pollen
You can expect cannabis seeds that have been sealed and properly stored to last for several years, and in many cases, longer. Seeds may be dormant, but they are still alive. Over enough time, they will lose their viability.
It’s important to continually practice germination testing to be sure your stored seeds haven’t lost all viability. To test this, periodically plant a seed and document its ability to germinate.
Fresh seeds should have a germination rate close to a 100%, whereas older seeds will see a significant drop off over time in their ability to germinate.
Out in the open, pollen may be viable for one or two weeks under normal conditions. However, when frozen and sealed, it can last up to a year and even longer. Pollen is more unstable than seed and even under the most optimal conditions, it isn’t expected to have as long of a shelf life.
For both seeds and pollen that have been frozen long-term, it’s important to avoid defrosting until they are ready to be used. Fluctuations in temperature and moisture content will quickly destroy their viability, so maintain a steady temperature for as long as possible. Warming and freezing multiple times isn’t good.
When it comes time to use frozen seeds, remove them from their container and let them sit out on a dry surface for several hours. Letting the seeds reach room temperature will help ensure a successful germination.
Pollen should also be placed at room temperature before using. Since pollen can be much messier to handle, it’s best to carefully transfer a sample from its long-term storage container to a fresh container before using it to pollinate a plant. This way, you don’t have to use all of the pollen and saved pollen can go back in the freezer with minimal exposure to warm air.
When To Harvest Marijuana Seeds?
After the whole process of germination, growth and flowering, a lot of growers ask themselves when to harvest Marijuana seeds. Usually, the breeders will include a suggested flowering time for each strain, but as a rule of thumb, Indica marijuana plants harvest in 6-8 weeks while Sativa Marijuana plants take 10-12 weeks.
Look for these signs for when to harvest Marijuana seeds
You can also judge the ripeness of the Marijuana by taking a look at the trichomes; or little hairs/crystals on the flowers and surrounding areas of the Marijuana plant. If they are transparent its still too soon, if they are milky white they are ready and if they turn brown they have become over-ripe. It is also advisable to follow the instructions to harvest Marijuana seeds on the packet since most reputable breeders also have a tried and tested flowering time for optimum ripeness, potency and flavour of a Marijuana strain.
If you meant when to harvest seeds from cross-pollinated Marijuana plants, then the seed will fall from the flower by itself once it is mature and ready to germinate into another Marijuana plant. Usually, as a best practice to harvest Marijuana seeds, some growers wait for the whole flowering cycle to end just as if they were harvesting the flower.
You might find our FAQ Submission How Do I Harvest My Plant? useful