Everything you need to know about the 6 stages of cannabis growth. From selecting seeds to determining plant sex. Marijuana Cultivation/Producing Seeds Sooner or later every grower is going to want to produce marijuana seeds. Developing a new stable strain is beyond the scope of this discussion and requires Knowing where your cannabis plants are in their life cycle will dictate when to prune, train, and harvest your plants. Learn more about marijuana growth stages today.
The Stages of Cannabis Growth
Cannabis growth is made up of a series of stages that plants undergo during their lifecycle. Each stage during the cannabis cultivation process requires its own unique demands, including different levels of light, water, and nutrients.
It can take anywhere from 4 to 8 months to grow a cannabis plant, this varies based on where you’re growing. If you have an indoor grow room, your plant has the ability to flower after only a few weeks!
The quality of your plant depends on your knowledge of the cannabis growth stages and the lifecycle of your plants.
Cannabis Growth Timeline
1. Germinating: 1-7 days
2. Seedling: 2-3 weeks
3. Vegetative: 2-8 weeks
4. Pre-Flowering: 1-2 weeks
5. Flowering: 6-8 weeks
1. Germinating Seeds
2. Seedling Stage
3. Vegetative Growth
How to tell if your plant is a male or female
Female: Two pistils (the pistil contains the reproductive parts of a flower) will be growing on the buds (flowers grow above these leaves, one cluster on each side).
Male: Small green sacs full of pollen will be seen on the node areas.
- If there is a high color ratio of white to red pistils your cannabis will provide a euphoric THC high.
- If the color ratio is more red to white, your cannabis will provide a calmer, CBD-stoned feeling.
- If you harvest once half the trichomes are opaque and the pistils haven’t turned brown, your cannabis will provide a balanced THC/CBD high.
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Marijuana Cultivation/Producing Seeds
Sooner or later every grower is going to want to produce marijuana seeds. Developing a new stable strain is beyond the scope of this discussion and requires the ability to grow hundreds or even thousands of breeding plants. However, just about any grower can manage to preserve some genetics by growing f2 seeds where they have crossed a male and female of the same strain, or can produce a simple cross which would be referred to as strain1xstrain2 for instance white widow crossed with ak-47 would be referred to as a WW x AK-47. You can produce some excellent seed and excellent marijuana this way.
To Feminise or not to Feminise Edit
There are numerous myths surrounding feminized seeds. Feminizing seeds are a bit more work than simply crossing two plants naturally. However it will save you a lot of time in the end. If you make fem seeds properly then there is no increased chance of hermaphrodites and all seeds will be female. This means no wasted time and effort growing males and it means that all your viable seeds produce useful plants. Since roughly half of normal seeds are male this effectively doubles the number of seeds you have.
Feminized seeds are bred to contain no male chromosomes, which will be able to produce the crop of resinous buds sought by most growers. For gardeners who require a quick and easy cultivation process, feminized seeds are the ideal choice. Some medicinal cannabis users may be deterred from growing their own supply because of the perceived difficulty of growing or of identifying the different genders and removing males early in the blooming period. Feminized seed-strains offer a simple solution to these issues, as there is no need to spend time in the first weeks of flowering checking for male plants.
Other times you will have no choice but to produce feminized seed because it will be a female plants genetics that you want to preserve and you won’t have any males. Perhaps you received these genetics via clone or didn’t keep males.
The new thing on the market for commercial Cannabis cultivation are auto-flowering feminized strains. By crossing of the cannabis ruderalis with Sativa and Indica strains many cultivators have created interesting hybrids which boast benefits from both sides of these families.
The first ‘auto-flowering cannabis seed’ which came on the market a few years ago was the Lowryder #1. This was a hybrid between a Cannabis ruderalis, a William’s Wonder and a Northern Lights #2. This strain was marketed by ‘The Joint Doctor’ and was honestly speaking not very impressive. The genetics of the ruderalis was still highly present which caused for a very low yield and little psychoactive effect. Not very attractive.
Auto-flowering cannabis and the easily distributed seed have opened a whole new market in the world of the online grow-shop, making it easy for home growers with shortage of space to grow rewarding cannabis plants in many different varieties. To grow plants indoors, a growing medium (e.g. soil or growing Potting soil, irrigation (water), fertilizer (nutrients), light and atmosphere need to be supplied to the plant.
Auto-flowers have been rising in popularity fast and there are now auto flower growers communities. These Web properties allow users to get information on how to grow these non photo-sensitive plants and what are the best practices when producing and germinating auto-flower seeds.
Selecting Suitable Parents Edit
There are a number of important characteristics when selecting parents. First are you making fem seeds? If you are then both parents will be female. This makes things easier. If not then the best you can do is select a male with characteristics in common with the females you hope to achieve from the seed.
Obviously potency, yield, and psychoactive effects are critical to the selection process. But some other important traits are size, odor, taste, resistance to mold and contaminants, early finishing and consistency.
Collecting and Storing Pollen Edit
In order to collect pollen you simply put down newspaper around the base of the plant. The pollen will fall from the plant onto the newspaper. You can then put this newspaper into a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator or freeze it. Pollen will keep for a few months in the refrigerator and can be used on the next crop. Filtering the pollen through a silkscreen, drying, and freezing can extend viability for decades. At least one reader indicates success using pollen treated in this manner and stored at -30 c for 17 years. The chance of viability does decrease with time, even in the freezer, so the more fresh the pollen the better. Wrapping the pollen in a layer of aluminum foil and then a layer of plastic should help to protect it from freezer burn. Additionally, oxygen evacuation such as with a heavy gas like nitrogen or vacuum sealing should provide additional assurance of preservation.
Pollinating a Plant Edit
To pollinate a plant you can brush the pollen on a flower with a cotton swab or you can take the plastic bag, then wrap the flower inside it and shake, trapping the pollen inside for easier transportation. In this way you can selectively pollinate plants and even individual buds and branches.
Male Isolation Edit
A male plant or a plant with male flowers will pollinate your entire crop rendering it seedy. You probably don’t want THAT many seeds so how can you avoid it? Moving the male to another room might work but if that other room shares an air path via ducting or air conditioning then pollen may still find its way. One technique is to construct a male isolation chamber.
A male isolation chamber is simply a transparent container such as a large plastic storage tub turned on its side (available at your local megamart). Get a good sized PC fan that can be powered with pretty much any 12v wall adapter, by splicing together the + (yellow or red on fan, usually dotted on power adapter) and the – wires (black on fan, usually dotted power adapter) just twist with the like wire on the other device and then seal up the connection with electric tape. Then take a filtrate filter and cut out squares that fit the back of the pc fan so that the fan pulls (rather than pushes) air through the filter. Tape several layers of filter to the back of the pc fan so all the air goes through the filter. Now cut a large hole in the top of the plastic container and mount the pc fan over top of it so it pulls air out the box. You can use silicon sealant, latex, whatever you’ve got that gives a good tight seal.
This can be used as is, or you can cut a small intake in the bottom to improve airflow. Pollen won’t be able to escape the intake as long as the fan is moving but you might put filter paper over the intake to protect against fan failures. You can also use grommets to seal holes and run tubing into the chamber in order to water hydroponically from a reservoir outside the chamber. Otherwise you will need to remove the whole chamber to a safe location in order to water the plant or maintain a reservoir kept inside the chamber.
Making Feminized Seed Edit
To make feminized seed you must induce male flowers in a female plant. There is all sorts of information on the Internet about doing this with light stress (light interruptions during flowering) and other forms of stress. The best of the stress techniques is to simply keep the plant in the flowering stage well past ripeness and it will produce a flower (with seed).
Stress techniques will work but whatever genetic weakness caused the plants to produce a male flower under stress will be carried on to the seeds. This means the resulting seeds have a known tendency to produce hermaphrodites. Fortunately, environmental stress is not the only way to produce male flowers in a female plant.
The ideal way to produce feminized seed through hormonal alteration of the plant. By adding or inhibiting plant hormones you can cause the plant to produce male flowers. Because you did not select a plant that produces male flowers under stress there is no genetic predisposition to hermaphroditism in the seed vs plants bred between a male and female parent. There are actually a few ways to do this, the easiest I will list here.
Colloidal Silver (CS) Edit
This is the least expensive and most privacy conscious way to produce fem seed. CS has gotten a bad name because there is so much bad information spread around about its production and concentrations. It doesn’t help that there are those who believe in drinking low concentration colloidal silver for good health and there is information mixed in about how to produce that low concentration food grade product. Follow the information here and you will consistently produce effective CS and know how to apply it to get consistent results.
Simply construct a generator using a 9-12 v power supply (DC output, if it says AC then its no good) that can deliver at least 250ma (most wall wart type power supplies work, batteries are not recommended since their output varies over time). The supply will have a positive and negative lead, attach silver to each lead (contrary to Internet rumors, you aren’t drinking this so cheap 925(92.5%) Stirling silver is more than pure enough. You can expose the leads by clipping off the round plug at the end and splitting the wires, one will be positive and the other negative just like any old battery. Submerge both leads about 2-3 inches apart in a glass of distilled water (roughly 8 oz). Let this run for 8-24 hrs (until the liquid reads 12-15 ppm) and when you return the liquid will be a purple or silver hue and there may be some precipitate on the bottom.
This liquid is called colloidal silver. It is nothing more or less than fine particles of silver suspended in water so it is a completely natural solution. It is safe to handle without any special precautions. [ citation needed ] The silver inhibits female flowering hormones in cannabis and so the result is that male flowering hormone dominates and male flowers are produced.
To use the silver, spray on a plant or branch three days prior to switching the lights to 12/12 and continue spraying every three days until you see the first male flowers. Repeated applications after the first flowers appear may result in more male flowers and therefore more pollen. As the plant matures it will produce pollen that can be collected and used to pollinate any female flower (including flowers on the same plant).
Silver Thiosulfate (STS) Edit
Silver Thiosulfate is a substance that has similar principle, application and results of CS, but is more difficult to make. STS is more difficult to acquire, but it can still be obtained directly from a chemical supply company. STS is not an expensive or controlled substance.
Gibberellic Acid (GA3) Edit
This is probably the most popular way to produce feminized seed, but at the same time the least effective. GA3 is a plant hormone that also causes the plant to stretch uncontrollably. It can be purchased readily in powdered form, a quick search reveals numerous sources on e-bay for as little as $15. Simply add to water to reach 100ppm concentration and spray the plant daily for 10 days during flowering and male flowers will be produced.
4 stages of marijuana plant growth
Cannabis plants go through a series of stages as they grow and mature, and those different growth stages call for different amounts of light, nutrients, and water.
It’s important to know these stages and how long each lasts to know what the plant needs and when. Knowing where your cannabis plants are in their life cycles will dictate when to prune, train, and trellis your plants, and when to harvest.
How long does it take to grow a marijuana plant?
Generally speaking, it takes anywhere from 10-32 weeks, or about 3-8 months, to grow a weed plant from seed to harvest. It’ll be quicker if you start with a clone 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.
If you’re growing indoors, you can force a weed plant to flower after only a few weeks when it’s small or after several weeks when it’s big.
When growing outdoors, you’re at the whim of the seasons and will have to wait until the sun starts to go down in the fall for plants to flower, and then to harvest.
However, one way outdoor growers can control the flowering cycle is by using light deprivation techniques.
What are a weed plant’s growth stages?
The growth stages of marijuana can be broken down into four primary stages from seed to harvest:
- Germination (3-10 days)
- Seedling (2-3 weeks)
- Vegetative (3-16 weeks)
- Flowering (8-11 weeks)
Cannabis seed germination
Seed germination length: 3-10 days
Marijuana light cycle: 18 hours a day indoors; full, direct sun 6 hours a day outdoors
The first marijuana plant stage begins with the seed. A cannabis seed should feel hard and dry, and be light- to dark-brown in color. An undeveloped seed is generally squishy and green or white in color and likely won’t germinate.
Once your seed has germinated, or sprouted, it’s ready to be placed in a growing medium, like soil. The tap root will drive down while the stem of the seedling will grow upward.
Two rounded cotyledon leaves will grow out from the stem as the plant unfolds from the protective casing of the seed. These initial leaves are responsible for taking in sunlight so the plant can grow healthy and stable.
As roots develop, the stalk will rise and you’ll begin to see the first iconic fan leaves grow, at which point your cannabis plant can be considered a seedling.
Can you speed up the germination process?
No. Cannabis seeds are delicate and don’t like to be moved around. They need a warm environment that doesn’t fluctuate in temperature, and not too much water. Once you put them in soil, we recommend leaving them be.
Quality seeds typically have high germination rates, but you may get some duds that don’t sprout. Let them do their thing; helping them along can decrease their change of survival.
Seedling stage in cannabis plants
Seedling stage length: 2-3 weeks
Marijuana light cycle: 18 hours a day indoors; full, direct sun 6 hours a day outdoors
When your marijuana plant becomes a seedling, you’ll notice it developing the traditional cannabis fan leaves. As a sprout, the seed will initially produce leaves with only one ridged blade.
Once new growth develops, the leaves will develop more blades, or “fingers” (3, 5, 7, etc.). A mature cannabis plant will have between 5 or 7 blades per leaf, but some plants may have more.
Cannabis plants are considered seedlings until they begin to develop leaves with the full number of blades on new fan leaves. A healthy seedling should be a vibrant green color.
Be careful to not overwater the plant in its seedling stage—its roots are so small, it doesn’t need much water to thrive.
At this stage, the plant is vulnerable to disease and mold. Keep its environment clean and monitor excess moisture. Be sure to give it plenty of light.
Even if growing outdoors, a lot of growers will start their seeds inside under an artificial light to help them through this delicate stage of marijuana growth.
If you buy a clone from a grower or breeder it will be a seedling, so you can skip the seed germination phase.
Vegetative stage in cannabis plants
Vegetative stage length: 3-16 weeks
Marijuana light cycle: 18 hours a day indoors; full, direct sun 6 hours a day outdoors
The vegetative stage of cannabis is where the plant’s growth truly takes off, and it typically lasts 3-16 weeks. At this point, you’ve transplanted your plant into a larger pot and the roots and foliage are developing rapidly. This is also the time to begin topping or training your plants.
Be mindful to increase your watering as the plant develops. When it’s young, your plant will need water close to the stalk, but as it grows the roots will also grow outward, so start watering further away from the stalk in the soil so roots can stretch out and absorb water more efficiently.
Vegetative plants appreciate healthy soil with nutrients. Feed them with a high level of nitrogen at this stage.
Cannabis plant flowering stage
Flowering stage length: 8-11 weeks
Marijuana light cycle: 12 hours a day indoors; full, direct sun 6 hours a day outdoors
The flowering stage is the final stage of growth for a cannabis plant. This is when plants start to develop resinous buds and your hard work will be realized. Most strains flower in 8-9 weeks, but some can take even longer, especially some sativas.
Outdoors, flowering occurs naturally when the plant receives less light each day as summer turns into fall.
Indoor growers can trigger the flowering cycle by reducing the amount of light marijuana plants receive from 18 to 12 hours a day.
There are three subphases of the flowering stage:
- Flower initiation (week 1-3): The plant will continue to grow and females will develop pre-flowers—pistils, or white hairs, will grow out, which are the beginnings of buds.
- Mid-flowering (week 4-5): The plant itself will stop growing and buds will start fattening up.
- Late flowering/ripening (week 6 and on): Trichome density will increase and plants will get very sticky; keep an eye on the color of the pistils to tell when to harvest.
There are a number of changes to consider once plants go from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage:
- Don’t prune when plants are flowering, as it can upset their hormones
- Plants should be trellised or scrogged so buds will be supported as they develop and air can flow through plants
- Consider giving plants bloom or phosphorus nutrients
What does the pre-flower stage look like?
Pre-flowers are the beginnings of cannabis plant sex organs. If you’re growing regular seeds, you’ll likely have a mix of male and female plants and will need to determine the sex of your plants to discard the males. It’s imperative to separate males so they don’t pollinate the females.
Pre-flowers appear at the nodes of the plant, where a branch grows out of the main stalk. Females will develop an oval-shaped bract with hairs or pistils sticking out, while males will develop round pollen sacs.
Learn more about pre-flowers and cannabis plant sexing in our anatomy article.
How to tell when a cannabis plant is ready to bloom
When growing outdoors, weed plants will start flowering, or blooming, after the summer solstice, when the daily amount of light starts to decrease. Plants will start developing pre-flowers, as mentioned above, telling you that flowering has initiated.
When growing indoors, growers make the decision to force blooming or “flip” plants into flower by cutting off the amount of artificial light they receive.
What to do when cannabis plants flower early or late
The amount of time it takes a plant to finish, or be done flowering and ready for harvest, will depend on what strain it is. Typically, indicas finish flowering early and sativas finish flowering late.
Note information from the breeder when you buy seeds to grow to get a sense of how long it takes to flower. You may have to harvest some plants early and some late depending on their finish times.
For late-flowering strains, keep an eye on the weather and make sure cold weather doesn’t ruin your plants before they finish.
When do buds grow the most?
Buds typically grow the most toward the end of the flowering life cycle. You probably won’t notice much budding out at the beginning of the flowering stage, and it will slow down toward the end of the cycle, when buds become fully formed.
Once buds have reached full maturation, it’s time to harvest your marijuana. How long it takes to harvest buds depends on many factors, including harvesting methods and how many plants you harvest.
How long can a marijuana plant live?
Weed plants are annuals, meaning they grow and live for one season and then die. Wild cannabis plants grow seeds and drop them when they die, which will grow into new plants the following year.
When harvesting, plants are cut down and die in order to get their buds. New seeds need to be planted in order to grow more plants.
If left unharvested, weed plants will eventually wither and rot within a few months after the peak flowering phase.
When should you grow marijuana?
If you’re growing outdoors in the Northern Hemisphere, growers usually get their seeds between February and April and start germinating seeds by the end of April.
Many start growing seedlings inside in a more controlled environment because seedlings are more delicate, and then put the seedlings in the ground outside once they’re a little bigger and the weather is warmer.
If you’re growing clones or autoflowers, you have a grace period of another month or so. Plants usually need to be outside, in the ground, by the end of June.
Harvesting happens sometime between September and November. This depends on your local climate, as well as the weather that particular year—one year it could be the end of September, the next, end of October; growers in the Pacific Northwest will have to pull down their crops earlier than those in Northern California because of cold weather.
If you’re growing weed indoors, you can grow whenever you like. Keep in mind that the outside environment will affect your grow space—you may need to add heaters in the winter or fans and ACs in the summer.
Other than that, you can start seeds whenever you like and flip them into flower whenever you like, depending on how big you want the plants.
Important dates for growing marijuana outdoors
Many growers begin germinating seeds as early as February and March in order to have big plants come harvest time, but the Spring Equinox is a good reminder that it’s time to kick off the outdoor growing process and start germinating your seeds if you haven’t already.
Many farmers wait until after Mother’s Day in May to put their plants outside. Just make sure all of your plants are outside by the Summer Solstice at the latest.
The weather will start to turn and the sun will begin descending in the sky as your plants fatten up with sweet, sticky buds. It might be tempting, but the Fall Equinox is about when to start harvesting. It’ll depends on your climate and the year—it could happen a little before or after.
Everything should be cleaned up, dried, and curing by Thanksgiving, and in some places, even by Halloween.
As winter approaches, it’s prime time to make your own cannabutter, topicals, or tinctures with all that trim from the harvest. Kick your feet up, relax, and hunker down for the cold, it’s been a long growing season!
Notes on marijuana growth phases
We can’t stress enough that the timeframes in the above graphic are ranges of time for the Northern Hemisphere. You’ll need to adjust them based on your specific region and local weather and climate.
Be sure to keep a grow journal to track the progress of your plants. Looking back on your notes will help you learn from mistakes and maximize the quality and quantity of your buds next year.
Take meticulous notes on when and how you perform each step, noting:
- How much water you give plants, and at what intervals
- Nutrient amounts
- When you top and prune
Pictures will also give you a better sense of how your plants look along the way.