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A cultivation worker preparing a cannabis plant seedling for transfer.

Stages of Cannabis Growth: From Seed to Harvest

Cultivation is equal parts art and science. It requires a deep understanding of the stages of cannabis growth and the needs of the plant at every phase of its lifecycle. Each presents unique requirements and challenges to overcome.

When met with knowledge and care, these challenges should lead to a successful harvest. In this article, we’ll explore the distinct stages of cannabis development, from the germination of a seed to the final act of harvesting the mature plant.

Learn about the anatomy of the cannabis plant.

 

A full grown cannabis plant in the flowering stage.
A full grown cannabis plant can take 4-8 months to reach maturity depending on different factors.

How long does it take to grow a marijuana plant?

The timeline for growing a marijuana plant, through all stages of cannabis growth, typically ranges between 4 to 8 months. The time required can vary significantly depending on several factors, including the strain, growing conditions, cultivating indoors or outdoors, and whether you’re starting with a clone.

After germination, which takes 3-10 days, you move to the cannabis seedling stage for 2-3 weeks, followed by the vegetative phase lasting 2-8 weeks. The pre-flowering and flowering stages generally take an additional 7-10 weeks. Finally, the harvesting stage requires preparation and the actual collection of the mature plant’s flowers.

Cannabis Growth Timeline

  • Germination stage: 3-10 days
  • Seedling stage: 2-3 weeks
  • Vegetative stage: 2-8 weeks
  • Pre-Flowering stage: 1-2 weeks
  • Flowering stage: 6-8 weeks
  • Harvest

Germinating Seeds (3-10 days)

Germination is the first chapter in the life of a cannabis plant. This critical stage involves sprouting the mature, dormant seed in a controlled environment. A mature cannabis seed should be hard, dry, and light brown or dark-brown. If your seed is immature it will be soft and white to green in color.

Proper germination requires warmth, moisture, and gentle handling. In this critical stage soaking the seeds in water or placing them in a moist paper towel inside a dark cabinet will help promote sprouting. The crack in the seed coat and the emergence of a tiny root, known as the radicle, mark a successful start to the plant’s lifecycle.

 

Cannabis plants sprouting from the soil.
Making sure conditions are optimal is your best way to encourage seeds to sprout.

Can you speed up germination?

While germination is a natural process, certain techniques can speed up germination of cannabis seeds. Providing an optimal environment that includes consistent moisture, warmth, and darkness can encourage seeds to sprout more quickly.

Techniques such as soaking seeds in water for 24 hours or employing the use of a germination station can help speed up this initial stage of cannabis growth. Most importantly, never move, change or disturb your seed during the germination process.

Closeup shot of cannabis seedling.
In this stage, the plant first develops its trademark serrated leaves.

Seedling Stage (2-3 weeks)

As the radicle pushed the plant from the soil, it enters the seedling stage. As the radicle pushes the plant from the soil, it enters the seedling stage, marked by the growth of its first set of leaves. These embryonic leaves, or cotyledons, are round and help the plant begin photosynthesis.

During this period, seedlings require around 18 hours of light to encourage healthy growth, along with a stable environment featuring moist soil and mild humidity. It’s also important to avoid extremes of temperature in the seedling stage. The first true serrated cannabis leaves will appear soon after the cotyledons, signaling the seedling’s development into a more robust plant. 

  • Soil Conditions: Begin with placing your seedling in a small pot, maintaining soil pH levels between 5.5 and 6.5. On the first day, introduce a small dose of nutrients to encourage early root and shoot development.
  • Environment: Control the ambient temperature to stay within the range of 71-78 degrees Fahrenheit and maintain humidity levels at 65-80%. These conditions are ideal for nurturing young cannabis plants.
  • Lighting: Provide the seedlings with 18 hours of light followed by 6 hours of darkness. Use low-intensity, blue spectrum light, which is optimal for the early stages of growth.
  • Watering: Keep the soil slightly moist by using a sprayer for watering. Ensure the soil is not drenched to prevent overwatering, which can be detrimental to the fragile seedlings.

 

Cannabis plants in the seedling stage.
Cannabis plants in the seedling/vegetative stage.

Vegetative Growth Stage (2-8 weeks)

During the vegetative phase, the cannabis plant undergoes significant growth, developing a thick stem and numerous branches. It’s crucial to provide 18 to 24 hours of light daily, which can be reduced to promote energy savings without affecting growth.

Plants in this stage need increased water and a nutrient-rich environment, especially high levels of nitrogen to support the development of foliage. Proper air circulation and humidity control are essential to prevent disease and ensure robust growth.

  • Soil Conditions: Continue to maintain a soil pH of 5.5-6.5. Transition the growing plants to a larger pot size or into the ground to accommodate their increasing size. Ensure good drainage in the pot to avoid issues with overwatering, and provide frequent nutrients to support rapid growth.
  • Environment: Keep the environmental temperature steady between 71-78 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity levels adjusted to 60-80%. These conditions help sustain vigorous growth and health during the vegetative stage.
  • Lighting: Maintain an 18-hour light cycle with 6 hours of darkness, but increase the light intensity while continuing to use a blue spectrum. This stronger light supports more robust growth and development of the plant structure.
  • Watering: Water the plants regularly, ensuring that the soil remains moist to the touch. Avoid letting the soil become soaked to prevent root issues, such as rot.

Pre-flowering Stage(1-2 weeks)

Pre-flowering marks a transitional phase where the plant begins to show its sex through small pre-flowers at the nodes, where branches meet the stem. Identifying the sex early allows for the removal of male plants, preventing unwanted pollination.

This stage is crucial for growers aiming to produce sinsemilla (seedless cannabis) as it determines the purity and quality of the buds. Monitoring these subtle changes helps prepare for the flowering stage, ensuring optimal yield.

What does the pre-flower stage look like?

In the pre-flower stage small growths called calyxes appear at the nodes of the plant, which are the points where the branches meet the stem. In this stage, identifying the sex of your cannabis plant is crucial.

 

A Male cannabis plant, isolated on a black background.
Male plants should be removed as soon as they are identified.

How to tell if your plant is a male or female

Sexing your cannabis plants is a critical step in the cannabis pre-flowering stage. Males will exhibit pollen sacs that develop in the joints of the plant, while females will produce two small bracts that eventually form the stigma and pistils where the buds will grow.

 

Extremely macro of the cannabis hemp plant with trichomes.
The pistil and bract; calyx will eventually form the flower on a female plant.

It’s essential to identify and separate male plants to prevent them from pollinating the females. If the pollen sacs on a male or intersex plant break open, pollen will fertilize any nearby females and ruin the potential of their trichomes.

A cannabis plant in the flowering stage.
A cannabis plant flowering stage is triggered by changes in the light cycle.

Flowering Stage (6-8 weeks)

The flowering stage is where the plant focuses its energy on bud production, triggered by reducing light exposure to mimic the shorter days of late summer. During this phase, phosphorus and potassium intake should be increased to facilitate bud growth.

The plant’s white hairs, or pistils, will darken and curl as they mature. Observing the color change in trichomes from clear to milky to amber is key to determining the optimal harvest time, aiming for a balance that maximizes THC levels while maintaining desired CBD concentrations.

  • Soil Conditions: Keep the soil pH at 5.5-6.5. If not already done during the vegetative stage, consider transitioning to a larger pot size or in-ground planting to accommodate the full size of the mature plants. Continue providing frequent nutrients to support the budding process and ensure your pot has good drainage to avoid overwatering.
  • Environment: Adjust the environment to maintain temperatures between 64-78 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity around 50%. These conditions are crucial to promote optimal flowering and to avoid issues such as mold and mildew as the buds develop.
  • Lighting: Shift the light cycle to 12 hours on and 12 hours off, which is necessary to trigger the flowering stage. Increase light intensity and switch to a red spectrum to support bud growth and development.
  • Watering: Continue watering regularly to keep the soil moist but not soaking. Good drainage remains critical to prevent root rot and other moisture-related issues.
  • Pruning: Early pruning should be managed to shape the plant and improve light penetration, but late-flowering adjustments can hinder the process.

How to tell when a cannabis plant is ready to bloom

When a cannabis plant is ready to bloom, you’ll notice a change in growth and the development of distinctive white or orange pistils at the nodes, where the branches intersect with the main stem. This marks the onset of the flowering phase.

Additionally, the plant’s white hairs will begin to darken and curl inwards. Growers often switch to a 12/12 light cycle, mimicking the shorter days of late summer to trigger flowering. Paying attention to visual cues so you can recognize the transition from the vegetative to pre-flowering and flowering stages of cannabis growth.

What to do when cannabis plants flower early or late

When cannabis plants flower out of schedule, it’s usually due to environmental stress or lighting issues. If plants flower early, take a look at your light schedule, especially if growing indoors, to ensure they are not being exposed to a 12/12 cycle prematurely.

For late bloomers, extending the light exposure to 18 hours a day may help revert the plant back to its vegetative state. Make sure to monitor and maintain stable environmental conditions to avoid stressing the plants, which can lead to early or late flowering.

When does flower grow the most?

Flower grows the most about midway through the flowering stage. This period, often called the “flowering stretch,” produces a rapid increase in bud size and density.

Proper light, nutrients, and water during this phase are needed to maximize growth. In the final weeks, bud development will slow as the plant begins to mature, focusing its energy on resin and cannabinoid production rather than growth.

 

A Revolution cultivation technician working during harvest.
Once harvested, it’s time to dry and cure your flower.

Harvest

Harvest is the culmination of all your efforts. Timing the harvest is involves observing the maturity of trichomes and pistils to ensure maximum potency and flavor.

When your plant is ready for harvest, the pistils on the flower cola turns from white to reddish orange and trichomes change color – first from transparent to milky then to opaque, and finally amber.

Once harvested, your flower should be properly dried and cured, which will greatly enhance the final product’s quality. Cannabis is typically dried by hanging the cola and branches upside down at a humidity level of between 40 and 50%. The plants should remain hanging for a week to two weeks. This step is necessary to prevent fungus and bacteria from growing.

Curing, although optional, is recommended to enhance the final product’s quality, involving sealing the dried buds in airtight containers and storing them in a cool (between 50 and 60 °F) , dark place to refine flavors and potency.

 

Cannabis plants in the flowering stage at the cultivation center grow room.
Cultivators who use science and deliberate methods get the best results.

Drying Your Cannabis

The drying and curing processes are critical steps in cannabis production that significantly influence the final quality and characteristics of the buds. Drying should be done in a controlled environment, ideally in a dark space where the temperature is kept between 60-70°F (15-21°C) and humidity around 50%. This ensures that the buds dry slowly and evenly, preserving their potency and preventing the degradation of cannabinoids.

Airflow is crucial during this phase to ward off mold, but it’s important to avoid directing air straight at the buds as this can cause them to dry too quickly and unevenly. Typically, the drying process can take anywhere from 5 to 15 days, depending on the conditions. The buds are ready for the next stage when the smaller stems snap rather than bend.

Curing Your Cannabis

Once drying is complete, the curing process begins. First, any remaining leaves shielding the buds are trimmed off; these leaves are less rich in cannabinoids but are useful for making edibles or extracts. The trimmed buds are then placed loosely into airtight containers, ideally filled three-quarters of the way to allow some air circulation inside.

The containers should be opened several times a day for about 10 minutes during the first week or two to ‘burp’ them, allowing moisture to escape and fresh oxygen to replenish. This step, known as burping, is essential for preventing mold and for achieving optimal flavor and cannabinoid development. Although curing can be as short as two weeks, many connoisseurs recommend extending this period to at least four weeks to enhance the flavor and smoke quality further.

Proper drying and curing improve the cannabis in several ways. They help break down chlorophyll and minimize other unwanted compounds, which enhances the smoothness and purity of the smoke. Additionally, these processes allow cannabinoids like THC to continue developing and become more concentrated, thus increasing the potency of the buds.

Moreover, thorough drying and curing are imperative for eliminating residual moisture, significantly reducing the risk of mold and bacterial growth. Following these meticulous steps ensures that the cannabis not only maintains its quality and effectiveness but also offers a more enjoyable consumption experience.

Advanced Cultivation Techniques and Troubleshooting

Topping and Training Plants

Topping and training techniques are used during the vegetative stage to shape the plant and enhance light exposure to the plants lower branches, promoting an even canopy and larger yields.

This involves carefully pruning the main stem and upper branches, which encourages the plant to grow more laterally. Consistent monitoring and adjustment ensure that as much of the plant receives adequate light and air circulation as possible, which can reduce the risk of disease and stress.

Managing Male and Hermaphrodite Plants

The identification and removal of male and hermaphrodite plants during the pre-flowering stage are critical to prevent pollination of female plants. Males and hermies can be identified by their pollen sacs and mixed glands, respectively. Remove any male or hermaphroditic plants early in the growth cycle to ensure that the energy is directed towards producing high-quality, seedless buds.

Pest and Disease Management

Vigilance in pest and disease management throughout the growth cycle is crucial for maintaining healthy cannabis plants. Common pests like spider mites and diseases such as powdery mildew can be managed through the use of organic pesticides and maintaining optimal air circulation and humidity. Regular inspections and immediate action at the first sign of infestation or illness can save a crop from significant damage or even a total loss.

Environmental Stress

Managing environmental stress involves carefully controlling light, temperature, and humidity levels throughout the indoor growing process. Fluctuations in environmental conditions can  cause a variety of issues like plants flowering prematurely or developing poorly. Maintain a stable environment to promote a regular, healthy growth cycle and maximize the plant’s genetic potential, leading to a successful harvest.

Cannabis Plant Stage FAQ

How long does a marijuana plant live?

The lifespan of a marijuana plant can vary greatly. While most annual cannabis plants complete their life cycle in a single season, living approximately 4 to 10 months, some strains, particularly those bred for perpetual harvest or “clone mothers,” can live for several years under optimal conditions and with proper care.

When should you grow?

The best time to grow marijuana depends on whether you’re growing indoors or outdoors. Outdoor growers should plant in late spring, after the last frost, to take advantage of the full growing season, allowing plants to be harvested in early fall.

Indoor growers have the flexibility to start at any time of the year, as they can control the environmental conditions.

Notable dates for growing marijuana outdoors

Important dates for outdoor cultivation revolve around the specific climate and region. Generally, you should plant seeds or clones after the last frost of spring. Most growers aim to transplant seedlings outdoors in late May or early June.

Pre-flowering typically occurs as the days start to shorten after the summer solstice. Harvest dates range from late September to November, depending on the local climate and strain.

Final thoughts

Cannabis plants have specific needs at each stage of growth. While the stages are usually consistent, there are variations depending on strain, growing conditions, and desired outcomes.

As a grower, you need to be adaptable and pay close attention to your plant/s. The process of growing cannabis can get very complex but its rewarding for growers who invest the time and scientific understanding into their cultivation practices.

Sources:

Medical Cannabis Home Cultivation Guide

General Cannabis FAQ

Cannabis, often referred to as marijuana, is a plant that has been used for thousands of years for various purposes, including medicine, textiles, and recreation. The plant contains compounds known as cannabinoids, with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) being the most well-known. THC is primarily responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects, while CBD is recognized for its potential therapeutic benefits without causing a “high.”

Many countries and U.S. states have decriminalized or legalized the use of marijuana for medical use, recreational, or both. The legal status changes frequently as legislation evolves.

In the U.S., states vote to regulate marijuana use on an individual basis. While it remains illegal at the federal level, numerous states have legalized it for medicinal and/or recreational use.

The following states have legalized medical, recreational, or both:

  • Alaska – Medical
  • Arizona – Legal
  • Arkansas – Medical
  • California – Legal
  • Colorado – Legal
  • Connecticut – Legal
  • Delaware – Legal
  • District of Columbia – Legal
  • Florida – Medical
  • Hawaii – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Illinois – Legal
  • Louisiana – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Maine – Legal
  • Maryland – Legal
  • Massachusetts – Legal
  • Michigan – Legal
  • Minnesota – Legal
  • Mississippi – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Missouri – Legal
  • Montana – Legal
  • Nevada – Legal
  • New Hampshire – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • New Jersey – Legal
  • New Mexico – Legal
  • New York – Legal
  • North Dakota – Medical (Possession decriminalized for small amounts)
  • Ohio – Medical (Possession decriminalized)
  • Oklahoma – Medical
  • Oregon – Legal
  • Pennsylvania – Medical
  • Rhode Island – Legal
  • South Dakota – Medical
  • Utah – Medical
  • Vermont – Legal
  • Virginia – Legal
  • Washington – Legal
  • West Virginia – Medical

 

Outside of the U.S., countries like The Netherlands, Canada, and, more recently, Thailand have legalized cannabis on a national level.

Always check local laws and regulations in your specific location.

In states where marijuana has been legalized, you can purchase products at licensed dispensaries. Revolution products are available at Enlightened, Revolution, and partner dispensaries in Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, and Maryland. Find a dispensary near you.

Keep in mind that dispensaries may cater to medical patients, recreational consumers, or both, depending on local laws.

Always ensure that you are buying from a reputable and licensed establishment to guarantee product quality and safety.

The effects of cannabis vary widely depending on the strain, dosage, method of consumption, an individual’s endocannabinoid system, and more.

Some commonly reported effects include:

Psychoactive Effects: Euphoria, mood elevation, cerebral stimulation, stress relief, calming effects, and relaxation.

Physical Effects: Pain relief, body buzz, anti-inflammation, anti-nausea, energy boost or sedation, and appetite stimulation

*Medical Benefits: Cannabis is believed to have a range of therapeutic effects and alleviation of symptoms related to conditions like epilepsy, PTSD, and more.

*Marijuana is not approved by the FDA to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

The primary difference lies in their intended use:

Medical Cannabis: Used as a treatment and alleviation of symptoms for specific health conditions. Medical strains might be cultivated and processed to have higher CBD content or other therapeutic compounds. Medical cannabis requires a physician who usually prescribes or recommends it as a treatment option.

Recreational Cannabis: Used without a medical justification but for personal enjoyment and fulfillment.

The process varies from state to state but typically involves the following steps:

Doctor’s Recommendation: Schedule an appointment with a physician who is authorized to recommend medical marijuana. Discuss your health conditions and reasons for seeking cannabis as a treatment.

Application: Once you have a doctor’s recommendation, you’ll usually need to apply for a medical marijuana card through a designated state or country agency.

Proof & Identification: Provide necessary identification and proof of residency as required by your jurisdiction.

Fee Payment: Most jurisdictions require a fee for the application and issuance of a medical marijuana card.

Card Issuance: Once approved, you will receive your medical marijuana card, allowing you to purchase cannabis at designated medical dispensaries.

If you’d like more detailed information, please read our state-specific medical card guide here.