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.
How to care for your cannabis seedling
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- What happens during the seedling stage?
- Choose the right container
- Be mindful of how much you water your cannabis seedlings
- Know the signs of nutrient deficiencies
- Choose the right lighting
- Keep your environment at the right temperature and humidity
- Get out there and grow your seedling into a full-grown marijuana plant
When you’re growing cannabis, you want to keep your plants strong and healthy through every stage of the growing process — and that includes the seedling stage.
The seedling stage can be an especially vulnerable time in the growing process. The cannabis seedling is in need of a lot of TLC to grow into a healthy cannabis plant.
In the seedling stage the cannabis seedling is in need of a lot of TLC to grow into a healthy cannabis plant. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
But what does that TLC look like? What steps do you need to take to support your cannabis seedlings through the seedling stage and as they grow into mature marijuana plants?
Let’s take a deep dive into how to care for your baby marijuana plant so you know exactly how to take care of your growing seedling and make sure it grows into a healthy, mature cannabis plant.
What happens during the seedling stage?
Before we jump into how to care for your cannabis seedling, let’s quickly cover what happens during this grow stage.
The growing process has four key stages: the seed germination stage, the seedling stage, the vegetative stage, and the flowering stage. Once the cannabis seeds germinate and are placed into their growing medium (like a potting mix), they start to root into the soil as the stem grows upward, sprouting two cotyledon leaves, which help the plant absorb light and continue to grow.
As the plant grows, it starts to produce more fan leaves — and those leaves continue to develop the ridged edges that you’ll immediately recognize as the marijuana plant. As more leaves grow, more ridged edges develop until finally, the plant is fully grown with each leaf reaching its maximum number of edges (which can be anywhere from 5 ridges per leaf to upwards of 10).
This stage — moving from germinated cannabis seeds to cannabis plants with the maximum number of ridged edges per leaf — is the seedling stage.
The seedling stage is an incredibly important part of the growing process; because the cannabis plant is still young and fragile, proper care is essential if you want to lay the foundation for a healthy mature plant.
But what does that care look like? What are the key things to know when it comes to how to take care of marijuana seedlings?
Choose the right container
Your cannabis seedling needs space to grow. But too much space and too little space can both create problems for your plant.
If you try to grow your seedling in a container that’s too large, the root system won’t be able to absorb all the water in the soil. If you start growing your seedling in a container that’s too small, the roots won’t have space to extend and will start to wrap around themselves, which will also impact their ability to absorb water.
Choosing the right pot is an essential part of caring for your growing plant. You need a pot that’s going to give the root system space to grow, but not so much space that the roots won’t be able to absorb all the water in the soil. You should also make sure the pot has drainage holes to get rid of any excess water that could overwhelm the plant.
Choosing the right pot is an essential part of caring for your growing plant. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Be mindful of how much you water your cannabis seedlings
When it comes to watering your seedlings, you want to give them the water they need to thrive. But too much water can actually have a negative impact on the growth process, so it’s important to be mindful of how much you water your seedlings.
The root system of a seedling isn’t elaborate; the roots are small and don’t need much water to grow. Misting the plants with water once or twice a day should be plenty to give them the hydration they need to grow.
If you’re not sure how much water is too much water, keep in mind that you want the growing medium (AKA the soil) to be damp and moist — not soaked and oversaturated.
Know the signs of nutrient deficiencies
A nutrient deficiency can cause serious issues for your growing plant, so part of proper care is knowing how to spot the signs of a nutrient deficiency.
Nutrient deficiencies can come from a variety of places. “Hot” potting mixes that contain too many nutrients could cause nutrient toxicity. On the other end of the spectrum, under-watering can cause a deficiency in the key nutrients your plant needs to grow.
Some red flags that signal your seedling may have a deficiency in nutrients (or nutrient toxicity) include:
- Dark coloring (cannabis seedlings should be a vibrant shade of green)
- A burned appearance on the tip of the leaves
- A curling on the tip of the leaves
- Yellowing leaves
If you notice any of these issues with your plant, it could be the result of too many or too few nutrients. You’ll need to adjust your growing strategy to support your plant’s health.
Choose the right lighting
Like any plant, seedlings need light in order to grow and thrive. But not all light is created equal. If you want your seedling to grow into a healthy cannabis plant, you need to expose it to the right type of light.
If you’re growing your seedlings outdoors, they’ll need to be exposed to as much sunlight as possible. Keep them in the sun from sunrise to sunset; the more sunlight exposure they get, the better.
If you’re growing your seedlings outdoors, they’ll need to be exposed to as much sunlight as possible. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
But growing your seedlings outdoors can be tricky. Because you can’t control sunlight, there’s no way to ensure your cannabis seedlings are getting the light they need to grow properly. A cloudy day can prevent your seedlings from getting enough light and throw off your entire growth process.
Growing your seedlings indoors with artificial light gives you more control over the process, making it easier to ensure your plants are getting enough light each day. If you’re growing with artificial lights (compact fluorescent lights that emit cooler, blue spectrum light are especially effective), aim to give your plants 18 hours on and six hours off each day.
Keep your environment at the right temperature and humidity
Environmental conditions are essential to growing healthy cannabis seedlings, and some of the most important conditions to control are temperature and humidity.
The temperature in your grow environment shouldn’t exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit, otherwise the seedlings may grow too tall. (You should also plan on lowering the temperature at night to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.)
You should also aim to keep humidity in the grow environment at a higher level, typically around 70 percent. That way, the plants can absorb moisture from the environment to develop stronger roots without getting weighed down by over-watering.
Get out there and grow your seedling into a full-grown marijuana plant
Watching your cannabis seeds transform into seedlings is an exciting part of the growth process. And now that you know how to care for your cannabis seedling, you should have everything you need to transform your seedling into a mature, healthy, and flowering cannabis plant.
How to care for your cannabis seedling Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents What happens during the seedling stage? Choose the right container