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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 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

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.

The 7 Stages of the Cannabis Plant Growth Cycle

Marijuana legalization is spreading. Medicinal marijuana use is now legal in over half of states, allowing patients access to the herb once they have a recommendation from a licensed physician. However, it’s no secret that weed is expensive.

Some of these states allow users to grow their own pot at home rather than buying from a state-run dispensary. This can save them money if they are a talented cultivator.

And then there are other states, in which recreational marijuana is legal. In fact, Colorado, Alaska, Massachusetts, and Maine make no distinction between medicinal grows and legal grows. In other words, any adult of legal age can cultivate marijuana in their home, but there are limits as to how many plants you can have.

If you want to try your hand at cannabis growing, check the laws in your state beforehand. Then, it’s vital to read up on all this related to cultivating cannabis so you can have a successful grow. In this article, we look at the seven steps of cannabis growing and harvesting to help you get the most out of your grow op.

1. Germination: Between 24-Hours and 2 Weeks

Plants use sexual reproduction in order to carry on the species into the next generation. There are male and female cannabis plants which must reproduce. Sometimes, hermaphrodite plants exist, but these are not something you should concern yourself about right now.

Growers want to use female plants because these are the only ones that produce a massive quantity of trichomes. In case you didn’t know, trichomes are the white crystals packed full of cannabinoids like CBD and THC. Male plants are virtually useless, but they could end up contaminating your crop if you keep them around.

As a result, you should look out for feminized seeds. Seed banks often sell this type, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find. If you use regular seeds, there is a 50/50 chance you will get male or female plants; with feminized seeds, all your plants will be females.

Once you have your feminized seeds, it’s time to germinate them. Each and every seed contains a cannabis plant just waiting to emerge, but it will need some tender love and care in order to do so. Seeds need heat and water in order to sprout; otherwise, they will remain dormant.

There are a few ways to germinate a cannabis seed, but most people use the paper towel method. It’s super easy and won’t take long at all. Here’s what to do:

  1. Soak four paper towels in water and place two of them on a plate. Space out the cannabis seeds on top of the paper towel.
  2. Place the other two paper towels on another plate. Use this plate to cover the other one, so the cannabis seeds are inside.
  3. Keep the room temperature somewhere between 70 and 90˚F, and keep checking to make sure the paper towels are still wet.

Check on your seeds every so often. Eventually, a white taproot will sprout from the seeds. Germination can take anywhere between 24 hours and seven days, so be patient!

When the taproot has emerged, you can transfer the seeds to a growing medium. Depending on the strain, your growing experience, and your budget, you might want to use a different growing medium. Some people prefer a hydroponics setup, but first-time cultivators are likely to prefer soil.

When handling the seed, be extremely careful. Avoid touching the taproot as it is fragile and may break. At first, you can transplant the seed into 2-inch pots of soil.

Congratulations! The seed is ready to start growing.

2. Seedling Stage: 2-3 Weeks

Once the germinated seeds are planted, they will begin growing. A little cannabis plant will sprout from the soil and begin to develop familiar characteristics. During the seedling stage, it will produce two leaves that open outward from the stem to start receiving sunlight. Next, its trademark cannabis leaves will begin to sprout at the top of the plant as it enters its first growth cycle.

During this time, the plant will also start developing its root system. While this is happening, it is officially a seedling. Pot plants can stay in the seedling stage for 2-3 weeks, but this stage may last for up to 6 weeks in rarer cases. The length of time can vary depending on the strain you’re growing and a few environmental factors.

As a general rule, the seedling should be kept at 77˚F with a humidity of around 60%. Often, marijuana prefers a light cycle of 118-hours of white light per day once the leaves have emerged. You should be using a nitrogen-rich fertilizer at this point. Remember that all this is a rule of thumb. To get the best results, read up on the requirements of your particular strain.

3. Vegetative Stage: 3-8 Weeks

By the time the vegetative stage comes round, you should have transferred the plants to larger pots. At this point, they will be growing rapidly as they take on more nutrients and carbon dioxide. This allows them to develop leaves and take shape very quickly.

Vertical growth will take place now, with plants growing taller. We have heard of people’s plants gaining 2 inches in height in just 24 hours!

You will now be able to tell what kind of plants you’re growing as they show their defining characteristics. Sativas will become taller and narrower, whereas indicas will appear short and bushy with dense foliage.

Furthermore, the end of the vegetative stage provides a vital opportunity to look for males in your crop. As plants leave this stage, the females will start developing two white pistils, where males will grow pollen sacs. If you see these sacs, remove the plant from the vicinity before it pollinates the females and ruins your harvest.

During the vegetative stage, the general rule is to keep the temperature between 68 and 77˚f, and the humidity between 50% and 70%. Once again, nitrogen is the essential nutrient, but you can also increase levels of other key nutrients in the feed. The plants will need 16-24 hours of sunlight.

4. Flowering Stage: 6-8 Weeks (Most Important Stage!)

The flowering stage is the last stage of growth, and it is the most crucial for you as a cultivator. You can transition plants into the flowering stage by reducing their light exposure. A 12-12 cycle (12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness) is ideal.

When the plants flower, they begin to produce a sticky resin on the leaves. Trichomes will develop, too. This means that the cannabinoids in the plant are developing nicely. The final potency of the cannabis will depend on how long it spends in the flowering stage.

At this point, you should keep the temperature somewhere between 68 and 77˚F, with the humidity at around 50%. You can stop giving the plant nitrogen now, but up the intake of potassium and phosphorus.

5. When to Harvest Marijuana

Now comes the tricky part: Figuring out when is the right time to harvest! You will have to keep a close eye on your plants to determine when it’s the right time to reap them. Your timing can affect the smell, taste, weight, and potency of the final product.

A good trick is to look closely at the pistils. When they begin to turn brown, and the leaves start to yellow, now is the time to harvest. Generally, experts say you should harvest the plants when 70-90% of the pistils have browned. If the pistils are entirely brown, the marijuana may be ‘overripe’ – it won’t taste good, and its effects will be less pleasant.

If the plant’s stem swells, it stops producing calyxes, and the yellow leaves fall off, then it’s too late. The cannabis is basically useless at this point.

Harvesting early is better than harvesting too late. The weed won’t be as potent, but you will still get something out of it.

6. Pruning Your Marijuana

After cutting down the plants, it’s time to prune them. This process ensures you will have rounded and smokable bud. You can perform wet or dry pruning. The general consensus is that the former method is easier. When the plants are dry, the leaves curl in on themselves, and it’s harder to perform the task at hand.

Invest in some delicate scissors – not the same ones you used to cut the plants down. It’s also a good idea to grab a chair because you could be here a while! Wet pruning will also require gardening gloves because the plants will be sticky.

Pick the fan leaves off the buds, and then trim off the sugar leaves. You can use these leaves for edibles, or you can throw them away. It’s also a good idea to collect the resin which accumulates on your gloves to use for dabs – it’s pretty potent stuff!

Once pruned, your buds are ready to be dried and cured. And then your work is complete!

7. Preparing for Next Season’s Cycle

Once you have completed your first growing cycle, you will be rewarded with a potent, delicious bud. So what happens now?

If you’re planning on cultivating your own weed continuously, you’re going to need some more seeds. We mentioned removing the males from your cannabis crop, and this means that your females won’t be pollinated and won’t be producing seeds. As a result, it’s unlikely that you will have your own seeds to work with.

One option is to buy more seeds from a seed bank. This way, you can keep buying and trying different strains.

However, some growers prefer to use cloning. All you need to do is cut a branch of at least four inches from the most productive plant in your crop and plant it into a rooting solution. The plant that grows will be genetically identical, making the growing process predictable and easy. It does mean that you get the same every time, though, which can get a bit repetitive.

Final Thoughts: Growing Your Cannabis Through 7 Stages

Using your own home-grown Mary Jane can be very rewarding. If you’re a cannabis user with a green thumb, then we recommend giving it a go at least once. You never know, you might find your new favorite hobby! Once you get the hang of things, you can start growing more challenging and exciting strains.

Before you start, though, it’s crucial to find out the laws in your locality. Growing weed in a state where it’s illegal can carry hefty penalties, so it’s just not worth it! Make sure you stick to the laws in your state, and you will find the experience much more pleasant.

Ever wondered what each stage of growth is like when cultivating DIY weed? In this article, we explain the 7 key cannabis growth cycle stages.