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 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 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 length: 3-16 weeks
Marijuana light cycle: indoor—16 hours a day; outdoor—at least 8 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 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.
Pat Goggins and Trevor Hennings contributed to this article.
Knowing where your cannabis plants are in their life cycle will dictate when to prune, train, and trellis your plants, and when to harvest. Learn more about marijuana growth stages today.
Slow Cannabis Plant Growth And What You Can Do About It
When your cannabis plants grow slowly or stop growing altogether, there is always a reason. It could be a problem with nutrients, an environmental factor, or something else entirely. Let’s explore the reasons your cannabis plants or seedlings may experience slow or stunted growth.
“Why are my plants growing so slow?”. Sometimes, marijuana plant problems occur out of the blue. Your baby may not have shown any signs of an issue, but now you notice that development has halted and have no idea why. Here are some possible factors behind the slowed growth of your cannabis seedling or plant.
18 REASONS FOR SLOW OR STUNTED CANNABIS GROWTH
1. SEEDS ARE OLD OR LOW-QUALITY
Old seeds don’t just take longer to germinate (if they germinate at all); plants grown from aged seeds can also sometimes grow at a reduced pace. Likewise, good genetics are essential for healthy and vigorous growth from seed to harvest. A random bagseed will not perform nearly as well as quality seeds obtained from a reputable seedbank.
2. CLONE STRESS
Sometimes cuttings don’t root well, which hampers their growth. To prevent this from happening, apply a little bit of rooting hormone immediately after taking your cuttings.
Also, make sure your environment promotes root growth. The medium should be humid (but not too moist) with a pH level of about 6.0. Keep your cuttings at a temperature of around 22ºC. If they get too cold, they won’t root at all, and if it’s too hot, the roots will die.
3. ROOT HEALTH
When your plant’s roots can’t receive enough oxygen, metabolic functions slow down. In some cases, a lack of oxygen may stop their growth altogether. One common reason for this is overwatering or using substrates with poor drainage.
What to do about it? Create a light and airy growing medium with good drainage. You can improve poor-draining soil by adding some perlite.
The root zone for your cannabis plants should never get much hotter or colder than room temperature. Likewise, physical damage to the roots, mould, or bacteria can severely affect the growth of your plants. Always use non-transparent planters so light doesn’t reach the roots, as this is bad as well.
4. CANNABIS PLANTS STRETCH TOO MUCH
Stretching among seedlings can be particularly problematic. Multiple factors can induce this response, but the most likely culprit is a lack of light.
If your seedlings are spindly, increase light intensity or bring the lights closer. Prop them up with dowels as an aid during recovery. As a last resort, you can (carefully) replant them deeper into a new pot.
5. PLANTS ARE NOT GETTING ENOUGH LIGHT
Although requirements can vary from strain to strain, light is nonetheless a critical factor for the development of all cannabis plants. A lack of “good” light can absolutely lead to slowed growth. If you grow indoors and suspect that your plants aren’t getting enough light, try to decrease the distance between your lamps and the tops of plants. If you grow outdoors in pots, move your plants to a sunnier spot.
6. PLANTS ARE GETTING TOO MUCH LIGHT
Any type of stress on your cannabis plants, including many hours of exposure to direct sunlight without rest, can also halt or slow down growth. If you grow indoors and suspect light exposure to be the source of stress, decrease the intensity or move lamps further away from the canopy if possible. Know that seedlings are particularly sensitive to intense light! If you grow outdoors and you’re able to, move your plants into a spot where the light is diffused, such as around a shade tree.
7. INCORRECT LIGHT SPECTRUM
How fast and how vigorously plants grow are influenced by the spectrum of light they receive. Make sure you use the correct type of light according to each stage of growth. For healthy vegetative growth, you want a cooler light with more blue in its spectrum, a so-called “vegging light”. Lights with a warmer, more reddish spectrum are used for the flowering phase.
8. LIGHT STRESS: DARK CYCLE INTERRUPTION
Light is essential for all plants to grow. Any changes in light intensity or exposure will have an effect on growth. Flowering cannabis is especially susceptible to interruptions in the dark cycle. A light leak in your tent, stray light from a street lamp, and even a red light from a camera can disrupt flowering, and in a worst case scenario, can turn plants hermaphroditic. For that reason, it is very important to maintain complete darkness during the lights-off hours.
Exposing weed plants to irregular light hours can cause a hormone imbalance that confuses their internal clock. Your plants could flower prematurely, or they could revert back to the vegetative stage. If this happens, growth and yields will greatly suffer. For that reason, make sure to keep your light cycle consistent.
The above suggestions predominantly apply to photoperiod strains, as autoflowering cannabis flowers based on age rather than light exposure.
Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes made by new cannabis growers. It’s like suffocating your plants, and one of the main reasons behind slow growth, nutrient deficiencies, root rot, fungus, and many other problems. Don’t water too often and do not water on a fixed schedule. It is better water less frequently so that the soil can dry out between waterings. A good way to test whether you should water or not is to lift up the pot itself. If it feels quite light, it is time to water again.
10. NOT ENOUGH NUTRIENTS
Although not as common as overfeeding cannabis plants, an insufficient amount of nutrients for healthy growth can well be the reason for slow growth. Know that the nutrients found in most commercial potting mixes will only last for 3–4 weeks; afterwards, you will have to administer some more quality nutrients. Check the label of your nutrient products for the recommended dosage for healthy growth. Also know that your plant’s nutrient requirements are closely linked to the light intensity your plants are exposed to. Plants under intensive lights grow faster and will require more nutrients than plants under fluorescent lights, for example.
11. CALCIUM DEFICIENCY
Calcium is among those vital elements that your plant needs for healthy development. A lack of calcium can manifest in the following symptoms:
- Fresh growth is slow, twisted, and curled
- Young shoots are discoloured and turn purple or yellow
- Overall plant growth is slow and lacks vigour and vitality
- You can avoid a calcium deficiency by adding dolomitic lime to your soil or growing medium
Address a calcium deficiency immediately with commercial CalMag products that contain liquid calcium. You can add these products to your nutrient solution or administer them as a foliar spray.
Be aware that some growing media, like coco, increase the risk for a calcium deficiency. If you grow in coco, you should use special coco nutrients and/or regularly add CalMag to your nutrient regimen.
12. INCORRECT PH LEVEL
Incorrect pH level of your nutrient solution is among the most common reasons for cannabis growing problems, including slow growth. The reason for this is that cannabis thrives only in a relatively small window of suitable pH values. If the pH is off, the plants are unable to take in nutrients, even if they are present.
Make sure to dial in the correct pH level depending on your growing method. If you grow in soil, make sure the pH level is from 6.5 to 7.0. If you grow in hydro, an optimal pH level is 5.6 to 5.8. For soilless grows, such as coco, a pH level of 6.0 to 6.3 is optimal.
13. TEMPERATURES ARE TOO LOW OR TOO HIGH
Cannabis likes it warm to grow healthy, and does best at daytime temperatures between 25–30°C. Temperatures lower than that will slow down your plant’s metabolism, resulting in slower growth. But excessive temperatures are not optimal either. At very high temperatures, heat stress can also slow down or even halt plant growth altogether. If you grow indoors, adjust your temperature to a comfortable level. You can also provide some cooling with fans that blow a mild stream of air over your plants. This can also help prevent hot air pockets from forming inside your grow room.
14. PLANTING POTS ARE TOO BIG
Cannabis growers often start their seedlings in small cups. Later on, when the plants have reached an adequate size, they will “pot-up” to larger containers.
If you start your cannabis plants in containers that are too big, there is a high risk that you’ll overwater them. The issue is that seedlings cannot absorb all the moisture that is held in a large container, unlike mature cannabis, which can “drink” much more. Furthermore, a large pot will also take much longer to dry out.
To avoid the problems that come with too much soil and moisture, start seedlings in smaller containers until they’re growing vigorously. Once they have a set of 5–6 real leaves (not counting the cotyledons), then transfer them to a larger container, at least twice the current size.
If your seedling is already in a big container and you don’t want to or can’t move it into a smaller cup, water only a small area around the seedling.
• What Is The Right Size Pot For Your Cannabis Plant?
Use this rough guide to determine what size pot you should use for your cannabis plant:
- Plant height 30cm: 7.5–11l container
- Plant height 60cm: 11–19l container
- Plant height 90cm: 18–26l container
- Plant height 120cm: 22–37l container
- Plant height 150cm: 30–37l+ container
15. STRESS CAUSED BY PESTS / DISEASES
Insects, pests, and disease can cause damage and compromise a plant’s immune system. In a best case scenario, your plant may survive, but you will have poor yields. In the worst case, your plants could die.
Insects may feed on the leaves, affecting a plant’s ability to retain water and transpire. Other pests may damage the roots or cause additional problems. Any time your plant is sick or infested with insects, it will spend most of its energy defending itself and recovering from damage, which will slow down growth.
If your plants are infested, you’ll want to treat them immediately with appropriate measures. Even better, you can use preventative methods (e.g. neem oil, slug barriers, etc.) to minimise the risk for pest infestations. During all stages of growth, ensure that you regularly check for symptoms of pest infestations, including under the leaves.
16. STRESS CAUSED BY TISSUE DAMAGE
Physical damage, such as broken branches, can significantly slow your plant’s growth. Any damage will make the plant redirect valuable resources to repair wounds—resources that could be better spent on growing or flower production.
If you’re growing outdoors, situate your plants in an area sheltered from strong winds and heavy rains, and use chicken wire and stakes to maintain support.
Seedlings and young cannabis plants are especially vulnerable. Allow your seedlings to mature indoors for some weeks before setting them outside.
17. STRESS FROM CANNABIS TRAINING TECHNIQUES
Tissue damage from high-stress plant training techniques always causes some delay in plant development. But when you’re pruning excessively or too frequently, your plant may ultimately spend more energy repairing itself than growing.
If you plan on pruning, don’t overdo it. Be aware that each pruning can delay the development of your plant for days, if not weeks.
If you’re using other plant training techniques such as topping, make sure you start as early as possible. If you’re growing autoflowers, don’t use any plant training techniques that involve tissue damage, such as pruning and cutting.
18. AGE STRESS
Older cannabis plants have different nutritional requirements than young plants. Their tissues become hard and woody, they’re less vigorous, and they’re unable to take in as many nutrients.
Because of this, you’ll want to adjust your feeding regimen accordingly. Otherwise you risk overfeeding, which in turn results in stunted growth, deficiencies, and disease. Keep this in mind if you’re keeping mother plants around for a long time.
Why is my cannabis plant growing slowly or not at all? Find out the answer to this question and see what you can do to solve it.