Each marijuana plant is a living creature, and as such, it goes through different stages of development during its lifespan.
From being only a fragile seed, a cannabis plant will gradually turn into a cute seedling. Next, it will enter vegetation and transition into flowering as time goes by. Understanding the 7 key stages of marijuana plant growth will help you lay your hands on multiple flavorsome, juicy, sugar-coated buds.
Moreover, understanding the do’s and don’ts during these crucial stages will ensure that your cannabis growing journey will be full of joy.
Yes, working your way through the 7 key stages of marijuana plant growth can help you prevent TONS of issues from ever happening.
Finally, as a result of a bountiful and successful harvest, you can reap the amazing spectrum of benefits of the green medication regardless of whether you’re a recreational or a medical marijuana user.
In this article, we will break up the 7 key stages of cannabis plant growth with a focus on providing the exact bits of practical information in an easy-to-digest way. We won’t be selfish in sharing all the know-how we have accumulated with years of practice but we will also make sure that you really understand each of these important stages.
We believe that all things cannabis-related can be made easy once you sprinkle science-backed up research with a genuine passion for the green medication.
“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love for learning” – Brad Henry.
Stage 1: Germination
Every marijuana plant out there starts its journey as a delicate, fragile seed.
At this very first stage of development, a marijuana-plant-to-be is still dormant, protected by a waxy coat. It is patiently waiting for the right conditions that will bring it to life. Creating these conditions is when germination takes place.
And since cannabis seeds that have not been germinated won’t grow into plants, we refer to germination as the first stage of a marijuana plant’s growth.
However, some experts point out to the very seed as being the first stage of a pot plant’s growth. In any case, both of these theories is truthful enough, and it is mainly a matter of different perspectives.
If we compare the germination stage of marijuana plants with a stage from our development as human beings, germination resembles giving birth. Except for, germinating marijuana seeds takes approximately a week or so, contrary to the 9 months that a human being spends as an embryo.
As a rule of thumb, the germination stage can typically take from 24 hours to 7 days.
There are many ways of germinating marijuana seeds.
The method that gives off best results (meaning highest germination rates), though, is the paper towel method of germination. We have compiled a comprehensive guide on that matter and we do encourage you to explore it and put it into practice.
In any case, before you get down to germinating the seeds, take the time to give them a closer look. It is truly amazing to get to know marijuana seeds better but this process takes a whole LOT of practice.
However, if you do take the time to pay attention to the appearance, texture, and structure of cannabis seeds, we do promise you that your eye will become better trained in distinguishing between a high-quality and a low-quality seed at the very first sight.
Beautifully, different marijuana strains can look different when they are still just tiny seeds.
Above all, marijuana seeds germination is nothing complex. Your seeds will be eagerly waiting for a combination of moisture and warmth to show off their delicate taproots.
Stage 2: Seedling
As soon as the process of germination is completed, it is only a matter of days before two embryonic leaves open up from the thin stem of your baby marijuana plants.
But these embryonic leaves have nothing to do with the cult classic shape of mature marijuana leaves.
Starting with the production of only a single-ridged finger, leaves will gradually mature, producing more fingers in return as the seedling stage is progressing.
Marijuana plants are considered seedlings until they are able to develop leaves with the full number of fingers (the emblematic type of leaves were used to associate with marijuana plants) these signify maturation and the beginning of the vegetative stage.
Mind that some strains will produce fan leaves that possess 5 fingers while others can produce fan leaves with 7 fingers.
The seedling stage can take anything from 2 to 3 weeks on an average.
At this point, light supplementation truly matters, as opposed to the germination stage when no extra light is needed. Indoor growers are advised to provide a minimum of 18 and up to 24 hours of light to help the seedlings grow healthy and vigorously.
For outdoor growers, it is the living nature, and in particular, the Sun, that will do the job of supplying the right amount of light perfectly.
However, it is a MUST to acknowledge the strain’s growing specifications according to the climate in your region.
If you plant your seeds outdoors too early or too late in spring, this can mean the failure of your outdoor cannabis growing operation. Because of this, we have created an excellent guide to growing weed outdoors where you can find everything you need to know on that note.
As a rule of thumb, healthy seedlings will be vibrantly green in color. Also, they will grow dense as opposed to tall and lanky.
If a seedling has a hard time reaching for the light, it won’t possibly grow into a compact-structured baby plant.
The dense, compact structure is important because this means mature marijuana plants will be able to grow thick, stable stems. In return, these stems will support the branches and the buds better.
Depending on the grow lights you use, you’ll need to position these at the correct distance so that light will reach your seedlings effortlessly (check out our comprehensive guide on marijuana grow lights for more details).
When it comes to watering, keep in mind seedlings have not yet developed a complex root system. Hence, be careful not to overwater your plants because they can’t possibly intake big amount of water at this stage. Overwatering seedlings can lead to various mold or disease-related issues.
However, high humidity levels ranging from 70% in the first days of the seedling stage and lowered down to about 65%-60% throughout the next weeks of the seedling stage can be very beneficial.
Even though the root system has not developed yet, the leaves will be able to intake more water instead.
Stage 3: Vegetation
As soon as you notice the emblematic 5 or 7 fingered marijuana leaves, then you know that your seedlings have reached one of the most exciting stages of development vegetation.
At this point, marijuana plants’ growth really takes off. Because of this, it is high time to transfer your pot plants into bigger containers. Don’t delay. The sooner you transfer them into suitable containers, the better they will develop while experiencing less of a shock.
“The larger the root zone (the area in the soil where the roots grow), the larger the plant, the larger the yield. Think: wider, not deeper,” explains Mark B. – the Director of Cultivation of the Verdes Foundation’s cultivation team.
Basically, stressing or shocking marijuana plants can lead to the worst consequences during flowering.
However, during the vegetative stage, cannabis plants are quite hearty creatures. Mechanical damage, disease, pests attacks, nutrient issues, under- or over watering can be all handled very efficiently during the vegetation stage without decreasing your yields.
But the more the plants progress into flowering, the more care and attention you’ll need to dedicate to your green ladies to avoid possible trouble.
The vegetation stage usually takes between 2 and 8 weeks. This is a fairly relative time frame, as some strains can spend 10+ weeks in vegetation.
Reliable retailers/breeders always point out to the average time a particular strain spends vegetating so you can use these guidelines as a reference when planning your cannabis growing mission.
You can choose to intentionally keep your plants in vegetation for a restricted period, for example, only for 1 month (4 weeks) as opposed to 2 months (8 weeks).
This will result in decreased yields as the plant won’t grow to its fullest potential. But for those who are dealing with a limited grow space and/or limited time to reach harvesting shorter periods of vegetation can do the trick.
Vegetating marijuana plants indoors will thrive when introduced to 13 and up to 24 hours of light.
There are no strict rules on that note. You can go for 13 hours of light or you can go for 16 hours of light.
Many growers swear by the benefits of the 18 hours of light cycle for marijuana plants in vegetation indoors.
The more light, the healthier the foliage of your plants, meaning more fan leaves to help in the process of feeding the hungry buds later on, and stronger stems that will support the branches and the increasing weight of the buds during flowering.
While cannabis plants progress in vegetation, their root systems will get stronger. With this in mind, vegetating marijuana plants can absorb more water through their roots than seedlings.
But then again, this doesn’t mean you should over water them.
“Don’t let your plants sit in water! Overwatering is the number one common mistake. Do not water your plant unless the soil is dry at least 1” into the root zone,” highlights the head cannabis grower Mark B.
Humidity levels should be gradually lowered, starting with about 65% and getting the humidity down to about 50% – 40% at the beginning of flowering.
The vegetative stage is also the time when you can start training your marijuana plants.
Various training techniques can help to keep the plants bushier and flatter as opposed to tall and unruly.
Also, training your plants can greatly help to increase yields, optimize the full capacity of your grow lights, grow fatter colas, and that’s just to name a few.
Less experienced growers should best stick with Low-stress training (LST) techniques which are super beginner-friendly, such as SCROGging marijuana plants.
Topping marijuana plants belongs to the category of high-stress training (HST) methods but it is the simplest one so it is also beginner friendly.
With each growing mission, you can start experimenting with more advanced training techniques during vegetation, such as stem-mutilation (aka super cropping), for example.
Last but not least, vegetation is the perfect time to give your marijuana plants a major nutrient boost.
There are various ways to do so you can opt for organic or non-organic fertilizers, you can get your fertilizers readily-available online or offline, or you can mix your own solutions at home.
Just keep in mind that higher levels of Nitrogen(N) are needed during vegetation.
Wait until a week has passed from your seedling’s transition to vegetation before you start with extra nutes. As summed up in the article Responses of plant growth rate to nitrogen supply: a comparison of relative addition and N interruption treatments, published by the Journal of Experimental Botany:
“The zero‐N plants developed paler green leaves and grew at an increasingly slower rate than the control (+N) plants during the course of the experiment.”
Stage 4: Pre-flowering
Unfortunately, pre-flowering is often neglected as a crucially important stage of marijuana plant growth.
We truly want to put out spotlights on the fact that pre-flowering is a super important stage.
A lot of significant decisions, accompanied by careful monitoring, should be done at this particular phase.
Also referred to as the pre-budding stage, pre-flowering marks the gentle transition when a vegetating cannabis plant starts forming what growers are waiting for – the future buds-to-be.
The pre-flowering stage encompasses the time frame when marijuana plants are approaching the flowering stage.
With this in mind, pre-flowering is actually part of the late vegetation.
When growing weed indoors, flowering won’t be initiated before you switch to the light cycle of 12 hours undisturbed light vs. 12 hours of undisturbed darkness.
Pre-flowering (last week of vegetation or so) is the best time to flush out the soil so that your plants will be able to make up the most from the nutrients you feed during flowering.
Pre-flowering is when you will be able to determine the sex of your pot plants. Male marijuana plants are not capable of producing the sticky buds we consume.
But male cannabis plants are not your enemies either. You can use male marijuana plants for intentional pollination of the female marijuana plants that’s how the miracle of breeding works.
However, once a male plant pollinates a female plant, this means that your females won’t be able to produce good yields.
Instead of focusing their energy on nurturing the succulent buds, they will focus on producing numerous seeds.
As a result, the psychoactive potential of pollinated female plants will greatly decrease. That’s why most hobby growers want to remove all male plants from their garden as soon as possible to prevent pollination.
Growing cannabis female plants that are kept away from pollination by male plants results in producing a Sinsemilla plant flowering marijuana plant that possesses far higher concentrations of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Translated from Spanish, Sinsemilla literally means “without seeds.”
Interestingly, as highlighted in an article compiled by Robert C. Clarke and Mojave Richmond published by Cannabis Business Times “Little, if any, marijuana was grown in Europe and North America until the 1960s, and domestically grown “sinsemilla” flowers first appeared in the 1970s.”
If you have a spare room or if you are an outdoor grower who has more free space available, keeping male marijuana plants can be a great idea.
You won’t really need to pay too much attention to precisely catering to their needs but once males mature, you can use stems and leaves to make awesome cannabis derivatives at home.
This can be especially wonderful for those who want to have more room for experiments with marijuana edibles, tinctures, or topical ointments without wasting too much of the delicious buds produced by female plants.
You will be able to tell the difference between male and female marijuana plants based on the traits of their pre-flowers.
Female pre-flowers will grow two hair-like pistils. Male pre-flowers will grow tiny sacs instead of the hair-like pistils. It is in the sacs where the pollen is contained.
Feminized marijuana seeds will give birth to female marijuana plants, although careful monitoring is still a MUST.
Although rather rare, marijuana plants can exhibit both female and male pre-flower traits. In such a case, you are dealing with a hermaphroditic marijuana plant.
Immediately isolate the hermaphroditic plant from the rest to avoid pollination.
You can destroy hermaphroditic plants but if you’ve got the nerves and compassion to pay them some extra attention, you can also try to remove the male pre-flowers (the sacs) by spraying them carefully with water.
In any case, you should keep hermaphrodites in an isolated space, even if they manage to survive and keep developing without producing more pollen sacs. Better play safe than ruin your crops, right?
Quick Tip: The best way to avoid having to deal with hermaphroditic plants is to opt for seeds from reputable retailers only. Nothing can out-beat poor genetics so every successful marijuana growing journey starts with nothing less but excellent seeds or clones.
Stage 5: Flowering
Ah, the sublime pleasure of seeing your green ladies nurture their delicate female pre-flowers into succulent buds that start growing fatter and fatter week after week – it’s almost impossible to put this incredible sensation into words. But every journey consists of small steps.
The flowering stage can take anything from 6 to 10 weeks on an average, depending on the strain’s you are growing.
With autoflowering cannabis varieties, though, the flowering stage can take as little as 4 weeks.
In the case of triggering the process of flowering, the small yet crucial step you’ll take is to give your green ladies 12 hours of consistent and undisturbed access to light vs. 12 hours of undisturbed darkness.
It is the decrease in the light duration, no matter if it’s artificial for indoor growing or natural for outdoor growing, that helps your plants move into flowering.
Naturally, outdoor marijuana plants start flowering on their own as the summer days shorten (the decrease in light duration we mentioned above).
According to a revolutionary study by Cornell University published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, plants “know” when to flower based on a complex reaction triggered by a little known key protein.
The flowering stage is, by far, the most important stage of marijuana plant growth.
It is during this stage that your efforts and dedication as a grower will eventually pay off upon harvesting. Meanwhile, it is also during this stage when your skills (and patience, and will) as a grower will be put to the test.
As we briefly discussed in the section for marijuana plants in the vegetative stage, possible issues or mistakes can get very hard to handle during flowering.
That doesn’t mean you won’t be able to fix the possible problems, but the number and complexity of errors will be proportionate to decreasing yields and/or potency of the green medication.
Our best advice is that you keep a growing journal and pay extra love and attention to your marijuana garden during flowering. Treat your green ladies as nothing less but queens.
Here are several important things to keep in mind and act accordingly during the flowering stage.
1. Make sure you provide extra support for the buds. That means trellising or staking your green ladies. Both of these methods should be applied at the very beginning of flowering so that you get best results later on.
2. Avoid pruning your plants once they have spent their second week into flowering. Experienced growers can still prune later during flowering but this takes a lot of experience and know-how to avoid upsetting the hormones of your pot plants.
3. At any cost, keep high humidity at bay during flowering. Anything above 60% is really, really bad. Best off, keep the humidity rates at about 40%.
The further your plants get into the flowering stage, the more you need to be careful about exposing them to high levels of humidity.
As a comparison, high levels of humidity can be very beneficial during vegetation but with or without high humidity levels, your plants can still make it into flowering.
However, high humidity during flowering can literally devastate your crop due to pests’ attacks, but especially because of the nasty mold related issues (trust us, bud rot is NOT what you want to deal with).
4. Be careful with nutrients. Fertilizers serve the mere purpose of boosting your plants’ development (and, subsequently, yields). Nutrients function much like vitamins too much definitely doesn’t mean the better.
Nitrogen levels should be kept moderate while the amount of Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) can benefit plants into bloom.
Also, apart from readily available liquid or powder fertilizers, there’s an array of all-natural, easy peasy homemade nutrient solutions for those who wish to stay on the organic side of cannabis cultivation.
Stage 6: Late Flowering
Much like the case with pre-flowering, the late flowering stage is often overlooked. However, we want to pay this extremely important stage of marijuana plant growth the attention it truly deserves.
Yes, the last week or so of flowering matter a LOT, and it is during this period that you can apply tiny but significant techniques for boosting the quality of your green medication.
Late flowering encompasses a period of between 1 and up to 2 weeks the final week’s before harvest.
Lower humidity as much as possible keeping the humidity levels at 35% -40% at this point is your wisest move. Or else, bud rot can develop quickly and sneakily you will be able to tell that those magnificent buds are actually rotten only when you get down to harvesting (yes, this scenario is quite painful!)
Late flowering is the time when you can bring out the subtle hues of purple marijuana strains by exposing them to slightly lowered temperatures (that’s a controlled process of intentionally stressing out your plants to trigger the vibrant hues).
Stress during vegetation, early flowering or peak of flowering can and will harm your plants as it can stunt their growth but controlled stress in late flowering can be beneficial for your crop.
You’re simply mimicking the way temperatures naturally fall lower in the autumn season and the natural way that nighttime vs. daytime difference in the temperatures switches from only 4-5 degrees lower to about 10 degrees lower.
But what’s more, this type of well-controlled, light temperature shock can also boost the trichomes’ production.
Generally, marijuana plants produce more trichomes as they are trying to “protect” the buds from damage.
At any cost, do NOT keep your green ladies too close to the grow lights. If you’re growing weed on a rooftop or balcony, make sure to shelter your green ladies from the strongest sunlight in peak hours.
At this point in their lifespan, light can be counterproductive because it can lead to THC degradation.
The last 1.5 – 2 weeks of flowering is when you want to perform one final flush out of the soil.
For hydroponic growers who cultivate cannabis only in water, though, don’t flush out the growing medium before the last 5 days before harvesting, or the yellowing process of the leaves will occur too speedily.
Mentioning yellowing leaves these are a good sign in the late flowering stage, so don’t panic. This means your green ladies have focused all their energy towards the buds, and not towards the leaves anymore.
Flushing out the soil may not be necessary if you haven’t used any non-organic fertilizers at all.
But since the majority of growers will add various nutrients during vegetation and flowering, it’s a must to stop feeding your green ladies with any nutes now. Just distilled, perfectly pH-balanced water and you’re one step away from harvest!
Stage 7: Harvest Time
If you’re wondering what does harvesting has to do with the key stages of marijuana plant growth, then we’re sure more than happy you’re reading these lines.
Depending on when you harvest marijuana plants, you can achieve a different type of the recreational and/or medicinal value of the herb.
In order to determine when to harvest your pot plants, you need a simple magnifying glass or a jeweler’s loupe.
Some mobile apps can do a pretty decent job, too. A digital microscope is, undoubtedly, the best device you can opt for but that’s only in the case you don’t mind spending some extra budget on that particular equipment.
Most noteworthy, no matter what type of these devices you choose, you want to start monitoring the changes in the color of the trichomes during late flowering. Otherwise, you may fail to really notice the changes with accuracy.
The trichomes will turn from clear, glass like, mirror-like in color to milky/ blurry/opaque/whitish in color until they finally reach amber hues.
The trichomes of some strains do never really fully turn amber, though. When more than half of the trichomes have turned cloudly milky white in color, you can expect the highest concentration of THC.
If you want to enjoy higher levels of CBD, though, harvest when all or most of the trichomes have become opaque.
For more of an energetic, euphoric high, harvest when the milky white trichomes are just about 70% – 80%.
The more you let the trichomes transition to 100% milky white and start displaying their amber hues the more of a calming, stoney, sedative type of high you can achieve. This particular type of high is not as potent as with buds featuring milky white trichomes at a 70% to about 85% rate.
You can also choose to harvest depending on the changes in the colors of the pistils. Most experts recommend harvesting when 70% and up to 90% of the pistils have turned brownish/reddish in color.
However, this is NOT the best method for determining the harvest time but it can still do the trick, though.
The more of the pistils turn brownish/reddish the more the sedating effects of the strain will become dominant. If you’re looking for a more euphoric effect of the green medication harvest when the ratio of white pistils is slightly higher than the ratio of brownish/reddish pistils.
Once you chop down your green ladies, it’s time for curing and drying the buds for best results. It’s truly important that you skip the rush. Both curing and drying affect the quality and the potency of your green medication.
So far in this article, we have highlighted all the pinpoints that will help you enjoy every minute of your cannabis growing journey.
Of course, we can’t possibly cover every tiny detail of a successful marijuana growing operation because every grower is unique – but that is also why we love the science behind cannabis cultivation so much!
Most importantly, once you consider the essential milestones based on the 7 key stages of marijuana plant growth, everything else is only a matter of loving and caring for your green queens. We wish you wonderful cannabis venture