How And When To Harvest Marijuana Plants | The Complete Guide
As the legalization of marijuana spreads across the United States, many people are beginning to grow a few plants of their own. That, of course, raises a whole host of questions about how, when, where, and why. One of the most common questions is when to harvest marijuana.
In this article, the cannabis experts at Honest Marijuana will show you everything you need to know about the end of your pot plant’s life cycle and what you should do to get the best buds from all your hard work.
Why Grow Your Own Weed?
One of the many wonderful things about marijuana is that you can grow it, harvest it, and cure it all on your own. You can literally cut out the middleman and go from seed to sinsemilla in as little as three months.
But growing a marijuana plant from seed is actually the easy part. The difficult part is, to paraphrase Kenny Rogers in The Gambler, knowing when to hold ‘em (let the plant mature more) and when to fold ‘em (harvest that sucker).
So that’s what we’re going to talk about today — when to harvest marijuana, not playing poker.
Before we get to the whens, the hows, and the whys of harvesting, let’s take a slight detour into marijuana plant anatomy so we know what all the fuss is about.
Marijuana Plant Anatomy
We know from elementary school biology that all plants start with a seed. The seed produces roots on the bottom and a stem on the top. The stem pokes its way through the soil and begins to grow tall and strong.
From there, the plant produces leaves, branches, and eventually flowers. It’s these flowers we’re most concerned about. But before we focus on the good stuff, let’s briefly examine the other pieces of the plant.
The stalk is of no use to us because it doesn’t contain any THC. Cut it and forget about it.
The Fan Leaves
The fan leaves (the iconic, universal symbol for marijuana) do contain a bit of THC, but not really enough to make using them worthwhile. Most of the time, you’ll toss the fan leaves after you trim them.
The Stem Of The Fan Leaf
The stem of the fan leaf does contain a bit more THC than the leaf itself. For that reason, you can use the stems, in large enough quantity, as an additive for tinctures, extracts and concentrates.
And now to the pièce de résistance: the cannabis calyx (a.k.a. the flower, bud, or about a hundred other names). This is what we came here for. This is what we hope to harvest a lot of at the end of our ganja-growing adventure.
For the purposes of knowing when to harvest marijuana, we need to get familiar with three parts of the marijuana flower:
- Sugar leaves
The trichomes are where all the action is (they contain the highest concentration of THC). We’ll focus on them later on when we talk directly about when to harvest marijuana.
Just to be clear, sugar leaves don’t look anything like the fan leaves we mentioned earlier (that’s why they have different names). But unlike fan leaves, sugar leaves have a high concentration of THC, so you can use them to make edibles after you’ve trimmed, dried, and cured them.
The pistils are the red or orange-colored hairs that protrude from the body of the flower. They don’t have any THC but, as you’ll see in the When To Harvest Marijuana section below, you’ll use them as an indicator of when it’s time to start cutting and drying.
Okay, so now that you know the parts of the marijuana plant, let’s take one more step toward learning when to harvest marijuana by talking about the tools you’ll need to do the job right.
Tools Of The Marijuana-Harvest Trade
These are the basic tools you’ll need to harvest your marijuana when it’s mature:
- Jewelers loupe, magnifying glass, or digital microscope
- Sharp knife or pruning shears
- A place and a way to hang your bud
- Wide-mouth mason jars with lids
- Hygrometer (optional)
- Humidity, temperature, and airflow equipment
All right, now on to the big show.
When To Harvest Marijuana
There are three basic methods for determining when to harvest marijuana.
Method #1: Examine The Pistils
In a healthy pot plant that is approaching maturity, the pistils will be white and stick straight out from the body of the marijuana flower. When the marijuana is ready for harvesting, at least half of the pistils will turn dark and curl back in toward the flower.
Method #2: Examine The Trichomes
This is where the jeweler’s loupe, magnifying glass, or digital microscope comes in handy. Point your magnifying tool of choice at the trichomes that cover your marijuana flower. If the trichomes look clear and glassy, let the plant grow a bit more.
You’ll know when to harvest marijuana when at least 50 percent of the trichomes turn cloudy.
Method #3: Examine The Pistils And Trichomes
Either of the above methods will work for determining when to harvest marijuana, but your best bet is to use a combination of both.
Sometimes, the trichomes will start to turn cloudy but the pistils will still be white. And sometimes, the pistils will begin to curl but the trichomes will still be clear. It’s only when both the pistils and the trichomes start to change that the cannabis plant is ready for harvest.
When To Harvest Marijuana For Different Effects
Want a euphoric high as opposed to a relaxing high? You can control these effects by harvesting your marijuana at different times. Here’s how to do it:
- Energetic high = 50 percent clear trichomes, 50 percent cloudy trichomes
- Intense, euphoric high = 50-70 percent cloudy trichomes
- Relaxing high = 70-90 percent cloudy to amber trichomes
Pistil color also corresponds to marijuana effect:
- Intense, euphoric high = 60-70 percent dark, curling pistils
- Relaxing high = 70-90 percent dark, curling pistils
This latter percentage (of both pistils and trichomes) is also associated with an increase in the presence of CBN and heightened anti-anxiety effect.
How To Harvest Marijuana
1) Check For Mold
Mold is the bane of the marijuana grower’s existence. It grows in the presence of oxygen and humidity — even in the dark — and can seriously ruin large crops of otherwise healthy ganja.
And before you say, “Oh, it’s just mold. I’ll smoke it anyway,” it’s vital that you understand that inhaling mold can cause some pretty nasty health problems.
Bud rot (a.k.a. Botrytis cinerea) — the least dangerous of the marijuana molds — can cause lung damage if inhaled in high enough concentrations
Aspergillus — the other type of marijuana mold — is a whole ‘nother, more serious ballgame.
Even minimal exposure to aspergillus can cause an infection called aspergilloma. Symptoms of aspergilloma range from a chronic cough to severe fatigue to a bleeding airway. You don’t want that from your pot.
Heavier exposure to aspergillus can even lead to invasive pulmonary aspergillosis, which can be fatal if not treated properly.
Avoid these molds — both bud rot and aspergillus — at all costs.
Check out our article The 5 Best Ways To Check For Moldy Weed, Plus How To Avoid It for tips on finding, preventing, and disposing of moldy marijuana.
2) Cut Down The Marijuana Plant
You can either cut the entire plant off at the stem or trim off individual branches. Either way will work. It might depend on how you decide to hang your bud, but don’t give this step too much thought. Just start cutting.
3) Trim Fan Leaves
Definitely trim the fan leaves off your pot plant. You may choose to trim any smaller leaves off the bud as well. That’s fine, but it won’t hurt the process if you leave them until later.
In the end, getting rid of those smaller leaves gives you a smoother experience (too much leaf matter gives your bud a harsh quality). Plus, it just makes your buds look nice.
For more on trimming your weed — while it’s growing and when you’re ready to harvest — check out our article Trimming Weed: How To Trim Your Marijuana Plant In 5 Easy Steps.
4) Hang The Buds Up To Dry
There are many ways to hang bud to dry. Find one that works for you. The simplest method is to use a clothes rod and some hangers. Clip or tie your weed upside down on the hangers and store them on the clothes rod.
However you choose to dry your marijuana, you’ll need to keep the environment at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) and 50 percent humidity. This is where all the environmental controls we mentioned earlier come into play.
Many novice growers — and even some experienced growers — are unclear about what constitutes drying and what constitutes curing.
We’ll discuss curing in another step, but drying removes moisture from the surface layers of your bud. It doesn’t get to the moisture on the interior of the flower.
Think of drying your bud in relation to drying yourself after taking a bath. After a nice long soak, you wrap yourself in a fluffy towel and rub your skin to remove the water.
But that towel doesn’t reach the moisture deep inside your skin. It’s only going to remove the water on the surface.
The same is true for drying your pot — it only affects the surface moisture. Drying doesn’t affect the interior of the plant. For that you need curing.
5) Remove Buds From Stems
When your buds feel dry to the touch and smaller stems snap instead of bend (typically 3-7 days), remove the flowers from the stems.
6) Place Buds In Jars
After you remove the buds from the stems, pack them loosely in a mason jar and screw on the lid.
7) Cure The Buds
We touched on the difference between drying and curing in step three, but let’s delve a bit deeper into curing so you understand exactly what’s going on.
Curing weed is the manipulation of moisture deep within the bud in order to start, maintain, and control the chemical reaction of decomposition while keeping the ganja from actually decaying.
The easiest way to understand curing weed is to think of it like aging wine. Allowing the wine to sit in a barrel or cask imparts flavor and smoothness that wouldn’t be there if you just drank it right away.
The same concept is true for curing your pot buds. Curing your weed allows the flower to develop a full spectrum of flavors and smells.
Curing is basically just storing your cut buds in the right environment and in the right conditions to facilitate the maturation of the plant matter.
During the curing stage, store the jars in a dark room with the temperature at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 60-65 percent humidity.
The curing period usually lasts about three weeks. You should open the lid of the jar and let the bud breathe for the first 2 weeks of curing. You can also shake the jar gently (with the lid on) to prevent moisture from collecting in any one place (which can cause rot).
The curing process is one of the most important parts of producing a quality pot plant. At the same time, it just may be the most overlooked and ignored step in the journey from soil to joint.
Don’t underestimate the importance of curing weed. Take the time to do it right and you’ll enjoy everything the marijuana plant has to offer.
8) Store The Buds Long-Term
Place the mason jars in a cool, dark room for long-term storage. A closet or cabinet works great. If you’re going to store your bud for six months or more, consider vacuum sealing or keeping the mason jars in the freezer.
Honest Marijuana goes even further to keep their buds fresh longer. We remove all the oxygen from our unique sealed cans and replace it with nitrogen.
Nitrogen helps preserve the plant so that you see, smell, and taste everything exactly the same way we do at the growery. That way, the products stay fresh for years to come and every time you open a can of Honest Marijuana, it’s the same way it was when it first came off the plant.
Long-term storage has always been an issue for pot enthusiasts, growers, and weekend toker. But oftentimes, it is an invisible problem because consumers don’t think they can prevent it.
Yes, decay and chemical breakdown are natural processes that can’t be stopped completely. But with proper storage and preservation, you can slow it down so that the life and the effectiveness of the product can be extended.
But one preservation method by itself isn’t enough. Like the synergistic interaction between THC, CBD, and other cannabis compounds, preservation involves the entire growing process.
It goes beyond just placing the bud in a baggie and setting it on a shelf for sale. It goes beyond getting the light exposure just right or the oxygen content of the room at optimal levels. It goes beyond using only natural soils and fertilizers.
Preservation is a state of mind. It’s the philosophy that guides all the choices we make at Honest Marijuana. It’s the reason we produce the highest quality marijuana that doesn’t lose its effectiveness the moment you take it “off the lot”.
But enough about us. This is about you. Are you ready for the final step in the marijuana harvest process?
Reward Yourself For Learning How And When To Harvest Marijuana
You did it! You successfully grew, harvested, and cured your own marijuana. You’re officially a pot farmer. Congratulations! Now it’s time to celebrate.
Pull one of the buds out of storage, grind it, roll a joint or blunt, and fire it up. Ahh, delicious. Homegrown weed does taste better, doesn’t it?
Take a moment to enjoy the fruits of your labor. But don’t sit too long. Soon, it will be time to plant another batch of cannabis seeds and start again.
Deciding when to harvest marijuana can be tricky. The cannabis experts at Honest Marijuana reveal the harvest secrets that all pot farmers should know.