Finding the right time to harvest your marijuana plants is not as easy as it sounds. Just because your plant has produced its buds and looks mature, it doesn’t mean that you should go chop-chop-chopping right away.
In fact, this is exactly the time that you need to be more careful. The final stage of your plant’s life is crucial to the quality and effects of the harvested bud. Considering that growing cannabis is a significant time and money investment, it is important to make sure everything goes smoothly.
When to Harvest Marijuana Plants
Right timing is the key behind a successful harvest. After the flowering period ends, your plant is likely to wilt and lose some leaves as it focuses on producing more bud sites. That’s completely normal and shouldn’t alarm you.
In order to get the most out of your buds, you must harvest within the appropriate time frame. Generally, plants harvested at the earlier stages of this window contain more THC, while harvesting later will provide a more CBD-rich experience. Unfortunately, there is no standard time for harvesting, as there are many variables at play. Not all strains grow at the same rates and imbalances in the growing medium or deficiencies might impede a plant’s development.
However, there are some ways you can determine the best time for your particular needs. The only things you’ll need to find the best harvest time are a good magnifying glass and plenty of patience.
The Pistil Method
The first method we are going to examine is often called the “pistil method“. The premise is you can identify whether a plant is ready by examining its pistils.
In case you have never heard of them before, the pistils are the hair-like strings covering the bud sites. Provided you know what to look for, they can give you a good first impression about your buds’ ripeness.
As the flowering period draws to a close, these strings will gradually turn from white to orange and then dark brown, signaling that the plant is almost ready to harvest. For peak THC, you should harvest when around 70% of the pistils have turned brown. On the other hand, if you like the stoned effect, harvest when 90% of the hairs have curled.
However, this method is problematic for one key reason: Cannabis comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Therefore, some varieties will naturally have different pigments on their pistils, making the process of identification too complex.
Unless you know the strain you are growing inside and out, we suggest using the second method, which we explain in detail below.
The Trichome Method
The trichomes are the sparkly, resinous glands on top of the marijuana flower. These little guys are full of THC and other cannabinoids. They are the main ingredient of the kief that is used in hash making and also, they hold the key behind a successful harvest!
Trichomes may not seem like much with the naked eye. However, if you take a closer look (really closer, with a magnifying glass or a macro lens), you will see that they have a very distinct structure, with a small stalk and a mushroom-like head. These little crystals are super sensitive to outside stimulation and are the main ingredient of kief.
Like pistils, trichomes also change their color approaching maturity. You will need a 50x-100x magnifier in order to observe them clearly, but the progression goes like this:
- Transparent glands (not ready for harvest)
- 50% milky white, cloudy glands (slightly immature, ready for harvest)
- 70-80% cloudy trichomes (more THC, ready for harvest)
- Cloudy trichomes turn amber (more CBD, ready for harvest)
- All amber trichomes (smoke at your own risk)
Determining which trichome is “clear” and “cloudy” is easier said than done. It takes training and experience before you can tell. Until then, Google is your friend! We have also added some images to help you with identification.
Of course, you are free to use both methods together. A little bit of detective work will make you a much better grower and will provide much more accurate data. Remember that proper drying and curing of your plant is the final step towards an excellent product, so be sure to follow our detailed guide here.
At a Glance
- The “harvest window” opens once your plant stops growing pistils (white hairs). Do take this advice with a grain of salt though. For reliable info, contact your breeder. If you didn’t buy your seeds from a good breeder, pray for the best!
- Mostly cloudy trichomes are a sign that your cannabis plant is reaching peak THC levels. Again, not all strains are the same. The best course of action is to get more familiar with what you are growing.
- As time goes on, THC will break down to CBD and CBN, providing a gradually more sedative effect. If you like your pot to hit you like a ton of bricks, wait until most trichomes turn amber. Beware though: It’s all about genetics! You will never get more THC or CBD from a plant than it is “programmed” to produce.
- Harvesting too early is better than harvesting too late. Overripe marijuana is not a pleasant experience. Trust me.
- If you feel unsure, try harvesting in parts! Cut small pieces off your plant and keep a record of your experience. This way, you will have a better idea of what to do the next time.
Finding the right time to harvest marijuana is only hard in your first couple of grows. Especially if you are growing specific strains of marijuana, it is even easier to “read between the lines” and find the sweet spot of your plant.
For more information on harvesting, drying, and curing marijuana, see our detailed article here. Also, if you have any personal experience you’d like to share, leave a comment! We’d love to hear from you!