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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 cycle 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. 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. 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 to harvest.

When should you grow marijuana?

If you’re growing outdoors in the Northern Hemisphere, growers usually get their seeds between February and April, and you should start your seeds by the end of April. Some growers will start their seedlings inside in a more controlled environment because seedlings are more delicate, and then put their seeds in the ground outside once they’re a little bigger. 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.

Harvest 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, and growers in the Pacific Northwest will have to pull down their crops earlier than those in Northern California.

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

The Spring Equinox is a good reminder that it’s time to kick off the outdoor growing process and start germinating your seeds.

As the sun reaches up high in the sky, your cannabis will want to as well. Make sure all of your plants are outside by the Summer Solstice.

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 wait until around the Fall Equinox to start harvesting.

Everything should be cleaned up, dried, and curing well before the Winter Solstice. Now’s a good 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.

Take meticulous notes on when and how you perform each step, as well as what the weather is like. Other notes can include how much water you give plants, at what intervals, and how much nutrients you give them. Pictures will also give you a better sense of how your plants look along the way.

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)

Seed germination

Seed germination length: 3-10 days

Marijuana light cycle: 16 hours a day

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 needed for the plant to become 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.

Seedling stage

Seedling stage length: 2-3 weeks

Marijuana light cycle: 16 hours a day

When your marijuana plant becomes a seedling, you’ll notice it developing more of 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 (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 very 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

Vegetative stage length: 3-16 weeks

Marijuana light cycle: indoor—16 hours a day; outdoor—at least 6 hours of direct sunlight (“full sun”), plus several hours indirect sunlight

The vegetative stage of cannabis is where the plant’s growth truly takes off. 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 higher level of nitrogen at this stage.

If you need to determine the sex of your plants (to discard the males), they will start showing sex organs a few weeks into the veg stage. It’s imperative to separate males so they don’t pollinate the females.

Flowering stage

Flowering stage length: 8-11 weeks

Marijuana light cycle: 12 hours a day

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 16 to 12 hours a day.

Within the flowering stage, there are three subphases:

  • 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 stage, as it can upset their hormones
  • Plants should be trellised so buds will be supported as they develop
  • Consider giving plants bloom (phosphorus) nutrients

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.

Cannabis Growth Time Lapse: One Chapter at a Time (With Pictures)

The growth of a cannabis plant can be divided into 5 main chapters: germination, seedling, vegetative, flowering, and finally, budding. Within these stages of growth, many changes occur to the plant that should be noted and carefully watched for by the grower. Here, we’re going to dive into these different stages, to give you an idea of how long things generally take and what to keep an eye out for during cannabis growth.

Chapter 1: Germination

This is where it all begins, the seed. During this formative stage of growth the cannabis seed, once planted or placed in a germination station, breaks apart and the spindly taproot emerges looking for nutrients.

1-week-old plant

The seed should be hard, dry and darker brown to grey before being used. Younger seeds won’t “pop” as readily. It can take up to a week to 10 days for the plant to finally emerge from its seed, but once it finally does it is ready to be transferred into a more permanent location.

This is assuming the grower is using a germination technique that doesn’t involve direct planting, otherwise, they simply need to wait for the plant to sprout to begin the seedling phase.

Chapter 2: Seedling

As the taproot of the germinated plant begins to take hold, the first set of iconic fan leaves begin to develop. This signals the beginning of the plant’s seedling stage of growth and should be placed in a large growing area immediately if it hasn’t been done so already.

Image Credit: Ryan Lange, Unsplash

2-week-old plant

The first leaves should be developing at this point, which the plant uses to photosynthesize light into nutrients.

It will grow a bit taller and begin to straighten up during this week. The very first new growths will appear as well, which will be another leaf along with the development of additional blades on the current leaves. Initially, they will be quite small.

3-week-old plant

A healthy plant will start turning a more vibrant green color and those blades will finally start becoming sizable, it will start looking more and more like a marijuana plant at this point. Once these seedlings fully develop these initial leaves and blades, they will be considered maturing and move onto the next stage of growth.

Chapter 3: Vegetative

After those initial leaves develop the plants begin to enter a stage of explosive growth. This is the vegetative stage. A healthy vegetative stage is the period of growth most associated with great yields, as the size of the plant can make a huge difference at the end of it all.

This is also the stage with the greatest variability for the length of time it will take to get through, dependent on strains and growing conditions.

It can last anywhere from 3-16 weeks, so knowledge of the particular strain being used is crucial here.

Image Credit: Pixabay

4-6 week-old plant

Somewhere in this time frame is generally when the sex of a plant can be determined. The pre-flowers develop here, though they can be quite small, and once sex is determined it is time to separate the males from the females before any fertilization can take place.

Sexing can technically wait until the flowering stage, but cautious growers should remove them now.

7-12 week-old plant

The length of the vegetative stage of growth is dependent on the genetics of the plant, as well as the period of time they are receiving light. Plants can technically remain in the vegetative state pretty much indefinitely, but eventually, they will hit their max growth or the amount of growth comfortable for the room and need to be switched over to flowering.

There will be a ton of foliage at this point and the plants will want more water than seems possible. Any training should be done at this stage, as long as the plant is healthy and growing rapidly.

Chapter 4: Flowering

This is the final stage of cannabis growth. All the previous work keeping the plant healthy and structurally sound pays dividends here as the plants begin to produce their buds. All males need to be removed at this point, otherwise, fertilization will occur and the females will lose a fair amount of yield and quality.

Flowering is triggered by the light cycle shifting to 12 hours on and off, so the timing of it will vary from growing to grow but this generally begins around week 13 of a grow.

Image Credit: tdfugere, Pixabay

13-14 week-old plant

This is the transition phase. It technically isn’t flowering at this point, but the plant will begin preparing for bud growth. The biggest growth occurs in this short period, the structure it develops within the vegetative stage is important now as the plant can almost double in height during this transition.

Towards the end of these transition weeks, the first wispy, white hairs known as pistils will begin developing. These are what eventually will become the buds that you’re after.

15-16 week-old plant

Those pistils will begin developing larger and larger and become darker in color. This is also when the odor from the plant becomes very apparent, so a good filtration system is a must at this point for indoor growth.

The growth of the plant will begin to slow down here as well, eventually stopping altogether as the plant’s energy will be focused entirely on the buds.

Buds will not have grown too much at this point, so don’t worry if they are still fairly small.

Chapter 5: Budding

17 weeks and onward

The final stage of flowering will have begun at this point for most plants, and the length of time can be variable. Buds will begin to grow very quickly now, seemingly overnight turning into dense flowers all over the plant.

The rest of the growth is up to the plant, but when it seems to be getting close to harvest time flushing nutrients is important for quality tasting harvest. Simply flush the plants with pH-balanced water and stop administering nutrients at this time to ensure a good harvest.

  • See also:8 Best Nutrients for Growing Cannabis – Reviews & Top Picks

Conclusion

The weeks involved for each plant are variable for a lot of conditions, but this is a good general gist of what each week and group of weeks involve for standard cannabis grow.

Things like auto-flowering plants or quickly growing strains will heavily veer off this, but for the most part, following this guide will give a grower a good idea of what to expect each week of their growth.

Ready-To-Harvest Cannabis Picture Gallery

Cannabis buds come in all shapes and sizes! Although variety is the spice of life, it can make it a little confusing to know when to harvest your buds based on how your plants look. But if you harvest when buds are ready, you’ll get the best yields and potency, so it’s a good idea to try to harvest at the right time if you can!

We have a full harvest tutorial, but this article is mostly just a picture gallery

When buds first appear on your plant, they look like little round puffs of hair. Each bud is made up of many white hairs (“pistils”) that stick straight out.

Not Ready

Baby buds (budlets) look like a ball of white hairs. These buds have many weeks to go!

Still Not Ready

As the marijuana plant buds get closer to harvest, they thicken, and those white pistils start to darken and curl up. You’ll notice your buds are slowly getting thicker and denser. However, if you still have a lot of straight white pistils, like this bud, you know you still have a few weeks to go.

Ready to Harvest!

You’re in the weed harvest window when most of the pistils have darkened and curled in. However, sometimes it’s a little challenging to identify when buds are ready since each plant is different, and buds can look very different at harvest time. So today, I want to share lots and lots of pictures of many different cannabis buds that are ready to harvest so you can see the full gamut of variation!

A bud is ready to harvest when most of the hairs darken and curl in

These Cannabis Plants Are Ready to Harvest!

Without further ado, here’s the gallery of “ready for harvest” cannabis buds!

Some buds kind of look almost white at harvest due to either lots of trichomes or the buds themselves may be pale. This type of coloring is how strains like “White Widow” got their name If you look closely, the actual pistils/hairs have all darkened and curled in, so this bud is ready to harvest!

A few more examples of pale buds that are ready to harvest

This cannabis bud keeps putting out new white pistils right when it looks like it’s about ready to be harvested! Some plants keep doing this over and over during the flowering stage, and you may eventually have to decide to make the chop. This picture is right before the grower decided to harvest this plant. Learn more about what to do if your plant keeps making new pistils.

Here’s that plant from a little further away for context

This strain grows in a similar way, and this bud is also ready to harvest even though there are lots of new white pistils

This bud has many tiny new sugar leaves and new pistils on top. It also has a top-heavy “fist” shape. These are common symptoms of heat or light damage, especially if they only appear on the parts of the plant close to the light. If this is happening, look at the older parts of the buds to decide when to harvest. Even though there’s a bunch of new white pistils on top, this bud is ready right now because the rest of the bud looks ready!

Since the non-damaged parts of the plant are ready to harvest, this plant is ready to harvest now. All the new pistils are from heat or light damage, and should be ignored! Learn more about why this happens!

Examples of Outdoor Buds that Are Ready to Harvest

These outdoor buds are ready to harvest! Sometimes outdoor buds look a little different than indoor. For instance, they’re often leafier (though not always!)

When to Harvest if Pistils Are Pink or Purple?

Sometimes it’s harder to know when to harvest with certain strains because the pistils might be purple or pink from the beginning instead of being white at first. For example, the pistils on this plant came in pink, and as they got closer to harvest, they curled in, and they darkened slightly to an orange hue.

You need to do your best to try to harvest when most of the pistils have darkened and curled in as best you can tell

Ready to Harvest Auto-Flowering Buds

Auto-flowering strains of cannabis are a special strain variety. Autoflowering plants start flowering (making buds) after about 3-4 weeks, and are usually ready to harvest 2-3 months from germination. This is different from standard photoperiod strains, which need to receive 12-hour dark periods every day to start flowering and develop buds properly. Learn more about why growers put plants on a 12/12 light schedule.

For the most part, autoflowering buds are the same as photoperiod buds. Some of the newer autoflowering strains have buds that are indistinguishable from their photoperiod counterparts. But some autoflowering buds tend to be a bit leafy looking. Here are some examples of different autoflowering buds that are ready to harvest.

Auto Lemon OG Haze plant that’s ready to harvest

Cinderella Jack Auto by Dutch Passion (one of the most potent auto-flowering strains I’ve grown so far)

Black Cream Auto plants just before harvest

What If Buds Appear “Burned”?

This bud was too close to LED lights and got burnt, and is ready to harvest. Anytime you see a completely “burned” looking bud without any green leaves left, it’s time to harvest before the quality of the bud starts degrading further.

This plant also got burned from a too-close LED light. When a marijuana plant is damaged this extensively, harvest immediately to prevent further yellowing from spreading to the buds!

Nothing terrible happened to this plant, the grower just wanted to let it go a little longer. However, a plant is usually ready to harvest by the time the sugar leaves are turning yellow.

What About Trichomes?

Looking at the buds themselves is very important, but if you want to ensure the best potency, you also want to look at the glittery trichomes on your buds under a magnifier. By combining looking at the buds with looking at the trichomes, you can pinpoint the perfect time to harvest with any strain!

Read Full Marijuana Harvest Tutorial – with more information and additional tools to help you check if buds are ready

How to Dry and Cure Buds – this process is necessary to ensure a good taste/smell, to prevent headaches, and to increase potency compared to fresh buds