Marijuana plants grow naturally in many parts of the world. Strains that originate from warm places like Jamaica, Mexico, Africa or the Middle East are generally Sativas, which grow best in long, warm grow seasons, while Indicas are usually grown in colder environments with shorter grow seasons, such as in Europe, Canada and the US. This doesn’t have to be the case. Both types of marijuana can be successfully grown in different parts of the world, and in different environments, so let’s take a look at the process these plants go through from seeds to harvest and curing.
All plants favor an appropriate grow medium or appropriate soil that contains the right percentage of water and nutrients. The plants’ roots absorb the water and the nutrients from the soil, and the stem transports these two main ingredients up and down the plant, bringing food and water to the leaves and flowers.
As the plant matures, it starts to flower and becomes either male or female. Male plants pollinate the female plants and they form seeds that fall to the ground as the plant dries up and dies. Some of these seeds will later on germinate and become new marijuana plants. This is the process that marijuana plants go through in their natural environment.
During this article, we’ll go through all of the separate phases of the marijuana plant growth cycle including: germination, seedling, vegetative state, flowering, harvesting, trimming and curing, so by the time you’re done reading, you’ll have all the necessary skills you need to successfully grow your own plants from start to finish.
Let’s start at the beginning and go over each phase step by step, so that you can have all the necessary information you need before you purchase your seeds and start growing your own cannabis plants at home.
Germinating your seeds is the first phase of the marijuana growth cycle. Before you start this part of the process, you need to have your environment and all your equipment ready.
The main things you’ll need to germinate your seeds include:
- Seeds (they should be hard, dry and have a brownish color)
- Potting soil (2/3 potting soil, 1/3 organic plant material)
Once you have everything ready you can begin the process of germinating.
First thing you’ll need to prepare are your seeds. You can either use seeds you’ve collected from a plant yourself, you can buy some from a marijuana seed store or order them online. You’ll typically have the option of ordering medical, feminized and auto-flowering seeds, and a huge array of different strains to choose from.
If you’re using feminized seeds, you’ll need 1-2 seeds per one female plant, and if you’re using regular seeds, you’ll need up to 4 seeds per one female plant.
The first step to germinating seeds is getting your pots ready and filling them up with a mixture of 2/3 soil, 1/3 organic plant material, although it’s generally up to you what kind of soil mix you want to use.
The next step of the process includes filling up and loosely packing the pots with soil, always leaving a half inch (1.3cm) on top. Water your soil before putting your seeds in, so as not to disturb them afterwards, and get your seeds ready for planting.
Depending on how many plants you’re going for, you’ll need to calculate how many seed you want to put in your pots. If you’re going for 2 female plants you can put 8 evenly distributed regular seeds.
Once you evenly distribute your plants in your pots, you’ll need to take some of the soil you mixed before and cover them with half an inch (1.3cm) of soil on top, forcing the roots to grow a little bit deeper.
Pack the soil loosely and lightly tap it on the top. Add a little bit of water and leave the pots in some sunlight. Don’t leave them out on direct sunlight though and make sure you keep them moist by adding water when necessary. In 3-5 days the seeds will start to break in the form of a root.
Once the plant forms its first two leaves, the first stage of its growth ends and the second one begins.
This is a very delicate stage of the marijuana growth cycle and it requires the most care. During the seedling stage of the growth cycle, the marijuana plant is highly susceptible to diseases, therefore you’ll need to be all the more careful how you take care of it and its needs.
During the germination stage, the seeds you planted sprouted in 3-4 days and in 7 days’ time they became ready for transplanting.
During the second part of the marijuana growth cycle you’ll need to transplant your seedlings into separate pots. In order to do that, you’ll need:
- Potting soil
- Your marijuana seedlings
The first thing you’ll need to do is gently separate the roots of your seedlings.
The next step includes feeling up the pots up to one third with potting mix, making a hole with your finger that goes almost to the bottom of the pot and dropping one seedling into it. You can use your finger to firm up the soil and then add more soil to cover up the roots. Fill the pot with soil to the top and gently firm it in.
Once you finish this step, add some water and let the soil settle in.
The most important part to look out for in this stage of the growth cycle is to make sure not to overwater or add too much fertilizer to your soil. What the plant needs most during this stage is light, so if you don’t have the option of placing your plants next to a window or in an outside garden, then a cheap and easy way to make sure they get enough light is to install LED growth lights on top of your pots.
Once your leaves get 5-7 leaflets, the seeding stage is over. This typically takes about 2-4 weeks.
The vegetative state lasts somewhere around 3-16 weeks, although the general time you need to keep your plant in this stage is 3-5 weeks, but it all depends on the strain. During this stage the plant’s growth really takes off. It grows rapidly and develops into a larger plant, filling up the larger pot you transplanted it to. Its roots and leaves are growing stronger and can grow up to 5 inches (13cm) a day.
You’ll need to supply your plant with the right nutrients and nitrogen is one of the crucial ones at this point, as it helps provide the plant with protein and chlorophyll.
You’ll also need to increase your plant’s water intake, and make sure to water the stalk as well as further away from it, so that all the roots that are growing on the sides can get an optimal supply of water as well. The best way to know that your plants are getting enough water is to keep pouring until 20% of the water you poured drains from the bottom of the pot.
Another vital if not the most important component of your plant’s growth continues to be light. If your plant doesn’t get enough natural light, you’ll need to make sure you provide a nice source of grow light. Some LED lights that are used for these purposes come with their own specific settings; if so, you can simply choose the vegetation mode which is optimized for this stage of your plant’s growth and not worry about whether or not it’s getting enough light.
If you don’t have automatic settings to choose from, then you can manually switch the light on-off, following an 18-6 hour cycle, meaning 18 hours of light and 6 hours of night.
Knowing when to make the switch from vegetative to flowering stage is a crucial factor that will determine how successful your end result will be.
Although the vegetative state can last anywhere from 3-16 weeks, by closely observing your cannabis plant, you’ll know when it’s time to make the switch.
In theory your plants can stay in a vegetative state for as long as you keep them on an 18-6 hour light cycle, but the general rule of thumb is to switch to the flowering stage when they reach half the height you want them to be. Keep in mind that different strains of cannabis grow differently, so only use this rule as a guideline.
By now, your plant should have reached half the height you want it to reach before harvest. Once your plant reaches the desired height for this stage, you can either switch your LED light to flowering mode, or you can switch it on and off manually, making sure you keep your plant on a 12-12 hour cycle.
As soon as you switch its cycle, your plant will believe it’s autumn and start flowering.
If you’re growing your plants outdoors, you’ll notice that they’ve reached the flowering stage when they start growing their gender-specific parts, and not just leaves and stems.
If you use clones, feminized plants or seeds from a hermaphrodite plant you can guarantee to have female plants, which is what you want to have in order to get female flowers, also known as sensimilla, which are the smokable, or usable part of the cannabis plant that you want to harvest in the harvesting stage.
In order to make sure you get these flowers, you’ll either need to get rid of your male plants or isolate them from the female plants so they cannot pollenate them and produce seeds.
The best way to determine the sex of the plants is to observe them closely within a few weeks after they enter the flowering stage and see if they start growing pistils/white hairs/buds which means they are female, or balls/pollen sacs which will mean they are male.
A few important things you’ll need to take into account as your plant enters the flowering stage is to make sure you water them enough, give them the required nutrients for them to bloom (potassium and phosphorus-based nutrients), and not to prune them up to 3 weeks into this stage, as this will upset their hormones.
Another key fact you’ll need to keep an eye on during this stage is your plant’s health. The flowering stage is when your plant is the most vulnerable, so you’ll need to keep an eye out for:
- Your plant producing a bad smell
- Its leaves falling off
- Spotting or coloring
- Stretching and
- Slow growth
If you’re worried you have an issue with your plant, make sure you address it immediately before it gets worse.
At the end of the flowering stage you might notice some yellowing in the leaves, which is completely normal at this point.
The flowering stage typically last around 8-11 weeks, but it warries from strain to strain. Once your buds have fully matured it’s time for the harvesting stage to begin.
You’ll notice when your buds are ready for harvest when they reach a very pungent smell and develop milky pistils, half of which are brown. However, the best way to determine the right time for harvest is by far by observing the color of the trichomes.
Since the trichomes are not visible with a naked eye, you’ll need to use a magnifying glass to observe their color.
Trichomes can have a clear, cloudy or amber color. The best time to start harvesting your buds is when half of the trichomes have a clear or cloudy color and half are amber.
Early Harvest Benefits Vs. Late Harvest Benefits
Both early and late harvests have their own specific pros and cons, so you should always consider all factors before you decide when to harvest.
If you want to get the most that you can get out of your plants and harvest the maximum of buds possible, you should avoid harvesting them too early.
Although you risk a chance of suffering a damage to the potency, the potential damage is minimal and won’t affect the buds a lot. Harvesting early is less than ideal, but in some cases is actually required. Those cases include poor weather and bad climate that can affect the plant and even make it rot or get moldy.
To prevent damage from occurring, early harvest is oftentimes unavoidable.
On the other hand, if you let your plants surpass their point of peak potency, you’re also risk damaging the plants’ potency due to degradation of THC.
Harvesting later than the optimal harvesting period results in plants having more of a stoney effect or high, rather than an energetic one. Even a Sativa strain can have Indica-like properties if harvested later than recommended.
Once your plants are harvested, your job is finally done, and you can get ready to trim and collect your long awaited reward.
The trimming process basically involves removing all of the leaves from the cannabis plant, leaving the buds clean or “manicured” as they are also called. Some growers often trim the bigger leaves before they even harvest their plants, and continue removing the rest after harvest.
There are two different trimming methods – wet and dry trimming.
Wet trimming is when you do the manicuring process right after you harvest your plants, while dry trimming is done 4-10 weeks after harvest or later. The second method is more suitable for drier climates because it doesn’t allow the buds to dry at a rapid rate, and keeps the moisture for a longer period of time.
For this part of the process all you’ll need to have are a pair of sterilized scissors and a nice comfy chair.
Remember to use the tips of your scissors when trimming the buds and work towards leaving a uniform surface around the buds, removing anything that isn’t completely covered with trichomes, including leaves and pistils down to the foliage.
Even though many confuse curing with drying, it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that. Although you can dry your cannabis quickly and get it ready for consumption faster, if you allow it more time to cure, you will eventually have a much better product with high potency, great flavor and a better quality smoke.
The curing process basically involves removing moisture from the plant as slowly as possible. This process preserves your cannabis buds and prevents mold from forming.
The ideal way to cure your freshly harvested plants is to keep them within a temperature range of 65°F – 75°F (18°C – 24°C) and humidity levels between 45-55% for about 1-2 weeks. You can use a small fan or air conditioner to circle the air in the room and maintain the perfect temperature.
Once you notice that the flowers are a bit crunchy and the smallest branches snap rather than fold, you can go onto the final manicuring process of the buds and then place them in an airtight container so they stay fresh and keep their potency for an extended period of time.