When To Harvest Cannabis?

With the legalisation of cannabis in South Africa, many people have started to grow cannabis at home. Many cannabis users want to grow their own cannabis, but are unsure about what the process entails. This is why we have compiled all the information you need to know regarding growing your own cannabis plants, harvesting, and perfect timing.

Stages of Cannabis Growth

Cannabis plants undergo a series of growth stages during their lifecycle. Each of these stages have unique demands and requirements to develop into a fully flowering plant.

1. Germination Period (1-7 days)

Seeds need to be mature in order to germinate. You can identify mature seeds by their shiny appearance, light to dark brown colour, and they will be hard to the touch. Underdeveloped seeds are soft, with a white or green hue.

In order to germinate your seeds, they must be kept in a wet, dark environment. You can keep your seeds in a cup of water or wrap them in a wet paper towel before placing them in a cabinet or closet. 

During this stage, your seed will grow roots, a stem, and rounded leaves. At this point, as the first true leaves grow, your seed is now entering the next stage of growth.

2. Seedling State (2-3 weeks)

Seedlings are very fragile and need frequent monitoring. Seedlings should receive 18-24 hours of sunlight, have a moist soil bed, and an environment with mild humidity. Overwatering can easily drown the roots of the seedling, so make sure that it stays moist rather than soaked. You should also be wary of excess moisture and unclean growing environments, since this can cause the plant to grow mould or catch diseases.

During the seedling stage, more traditional-looking cannabis leaves start to develop. Whereas mature marijuana plants have leaves that consist of 3 to 13 fingers, the seedlings start with leaves that only have a single finger. Healthy seedlings should have a short stem with a high density of leaves that are a vibrant green colour.

Once the leaves of your seedlings start to develop a full number of fingers, the next growth stage will commence.

3. Vegetative State (2-8 weeks)

Once your seedlings reach the vegetative state, you will need to move them to bigger pots. The growth of your plant will speed up; the stem will thicken and grow taller, the plant will produce more leaves, and the root system will develop. 

You can identify which type of cannabis plant you are growing by looking at the nodes (where two branches intersect off the main stalk). Sativa plants are more stretched out with fewer leaves. Indica plants are short, and their leaves are densely packed.

Since your plant’s root system is spreading out, you can give it more water to aid its development. It is important to water all the way to the outer edges of your pot, since you will want the outer edges of the roots to moisten as well. 

Warm water works best during this stage along with a moist airflow, a combination of nitrogen and potassium-rich nutrients, and enough growth space. You should make sure that your soil fully dries out between each watering period to avoid drowning the roots. The growth rate of your plant will depend on the amount of resources it obtains for photosynthesis.

When growing plants indoors, you should allow 18 hours of light with 6 hours of darkness. You can keep the plants in a 24-hour light cycle, but they grow best when given a break between periods of photosynthesis.

4. Pre-Flowering Period (1-2 weeks)

Once plants enter the flowering stage, you can determine its sex. You can do this by looking at the pre-flower located at the nodes. 

Female plants have two pistils (these look like little hairs) that will start growing on the buds. Male plants will have small green sacs of pollen on the node areas. When the pollen sacs on male plants (or intersex plants) burst, they can fertilise the female plants. You will need to remove all of these plants from your growth group, since pollinated female plants do not produce many cannabinoids. 

Female plants that are not pollinated produce Sinsemilla, have no seeds, and produce a greater amount of cannabinoids. Sensimilla is full of psychoactive ingredients that are necessary for a great high. These plants produce large amounts of resin and fake seeds, which contain high levels of THC.

You can start reducing the amount of light your plants receive after a week or so (about 12 hours of light per day), which will cause a halt in growth and prepare your plant to enter the flowering stage.

5. Flowering Stage (6-8 weeks)

Plants need 10-12 hours of darkness in order to go into their flowering stage. Once the plant’s pistils turn from white to a red-orange hue and when the trichome heads (small resin glands that look like small lollipops) of your buds turn amber, you know that your plant is ready for harvest. Flowering plants like warm weather, a medium humidity, and intermittent blooming treatments. 

If you see that your trichomes have fallen off, you have missed the harvesting period and most of the cannabinoids in the plant will be gone. In order to get more THC than CBD out of your plant, you should harvest once half the trichomes appear opaque. In addition, the more white pistils you have on your plant, the more THC it will contain. If you have a higher colour ratio of red to white, your plant will contain more CBD.

6. Harvesting Period

Once you are ready to harvest your plant, the first step is cutting the plant down into smaller pieces. You should then hang these pieces upside down in a cool and dark room. You should let the plant hang like this for 7 to 14 days. The drying process is important to prevent fungus and bacteria from growing. This includes removing moisture from the plant at a humidity level of 40% to 50%.

The curing process is an optional step in the harvesting process. This process is used to age cannabis by placing it in an airtight container with temperature levels between 10º C and 25º C. Do not pack them too tightly and store them for up to three weeks. You should open the jars briefly once a day to make sure that any build-up of gases is avoided. Curing is said to improve the burn quality and flavour of your cannabis, and reduces the harshness.

The prep before harvesting

In order to fully prepare for your cannabis harvest, you can do the following:

  • Get a dark room or tent
  • Set your temperature to around 20º C
  • Humidity should be around 50%
  • Make sure there is good airflow

How do I know if my plant is ready to harvest?

Look at the Pistils

Pistils start off as a pair of white hairs. They will start grouping to form the buds of your plant.

  • White pistils – at this stage, the plant is still young and not ready to harvest
  • Upright orange/brown pistils – these plants are close to harvesting time, but not completely ready
  • Majority orange/brown curling pistils – Once your pistils have curled in towards the bud, you can start checking the trichomes to know if your plant is completely ready for harvesting
    • Once some trichomes are milky-white and others are amber, your plant is fully ready to harvest

You can also determine the strength of your marijuana by the ratio of different coloured pistils:

  • 50% brown and 50% white pistils – light marijuana
  • 70% – 90% brown/orange pistils – ripe marijuana with a good strength
  • 90% – 100% brown pistils – sharp and heavy marijuana

Look at the trichomes

Checking both your pistils and trichomes is the best way to make sure if your plant is ready for harvest.

  • Transparent trichomes – not yet ready for harvest
  • Milky white trichomes – almost time to harvest, make sure your pistils are ready before deciding
  • All amber trichomes – overripe and needs immediate harvest to save its properties

Prepare your Harvesting Equipment

You will need the following tools for your harvest:

  • Strong scissors or shears
  • Alcohol-based cleaning solution (for your tools)
  • Plastic gloves (harvesting can get really sticky)
  • A plastic tray to hold the branches
  • A drying rack/box

How to Harvest your Cannabis

The harvesting process should be done as accurately as possible for the biggest harvest:

  1. Clean your tools with an alcohol-based product, put on your gloves, and leave some rubbing alcohol nearby to clean your tools as they get sticky.
  2. Cut the branches first, or cut the entire plant at its base. You can cut off the big leaves as you will not need them.
  3. Divide your branches into smaller branches with buds.
  4. Keep your room dark as you hang the buds and make sure there is ventilation.
  5. Wait 2-3 weeks for your buds to fully dry out.

Harvesting for Strength and Quality

When it comes to harvesting quality and high strength buds, timing is everything. If you harvest your plants too early, they will not contain enough THC and other cannabinoids. Harvesting too late can cause the resin to degrade, destroying the cannabinoids within it. This means that your environment has to be suitable for your plants and that you will have to take some extra measures for a bountiful harvest.


Before harvesting, it is a good idea to flush your plants. This removes all built up minerals and salts from the growing medium and forces your plants to use their sugar reserves. This ensures a smooth and flavourful smoke that has a pleasant scent profile. 

You can flush your plants by giving them pH-balanced water only. This should be done for one or two weeks during the flowering cycle. Plants grown in soil or potting mixtures should be flushed with a double dose of pH water for around three days before going back to the usual amount. 

You can test if your flush is working by taking off one of the bigger leaves of your plant. Rip the leaf in half and taste the juice within. Bitter juice means that you will need to continue the flushing process. A clean taste indicates that you have successfully flushed the plant.

Allow the Medium to dry

Once you have completed the flushing process, you have to let your growing medium dry. This will make it easier to dry your plants after harvesting. This will also make your growing room less humid, which increases the production of resin in most strains.

You can also remove the larger fan leaves of your plant that have not fallen off on their own. This will also help to remove excess water from your plants and will promote better circulation during the drying process.  

Use Fans for Airflow

Using fans during the drying period will circulate the air, remove any excess humidity, and draw in fresh air. This is essential during the drying process.

When you harvest, it is also important to keep your lights off, since light will stimulate the plant to draw up sugars that are stored in the roots overnight. If these sugars remain present, your buds will provide a much harsher smoke.

Keep Drying Plants Upside Down and Cure them

Gravity will cause any remaining juice to flow towards the buds. These buds are still alive until they are completely dried out, so keep your drying room dark and improve circulation. 

Curing your buds is optional, but if you keep them mostly sealed with some fresh air throughout the day, the moisture in your buds will spread evenly. Opening the containers now and again will let the flowers breathe and keep them from becoming spoiled.

After two weeks, the curation process should be over, and you will have dried buds that can be stored or used for a long period of time.

Harvesting cannabis is a critical point in the process of cultivating your plants. If you keep record of your plants’ appearance and keenly observe the developments in their appearance, you will soon figure out the best method for cultivating your plants and getting the most out of your harvest. You will also be able to spot the warning signs of a non-usable plant. Take a close look at your pistils and trichomes, keep your environment optimal, and stay patient. Growing the perfect batch of cannabis takes time, and if you want a potent and successful harvest, you will have to put in the time and take care of your plants. 

For more cannabis related accessories, products, and tools, you can have a look at our Cannarite site. We provide high-quality products that will ensure a smooth and enjoyable cannabis experience. You can also use our Activated Carbon Filters when you roll up your cannabis to remove the harshness and get a smooth smoke.

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