The Stages of Cannabis Growth
Cannabis growth is made up of a series of stages that plants undergo during their lifecycle. Each stage during the cannabis cultivation process requires its own unique demands, including different levels of light, water, and nutrients.
It can take anywhere from 4 to 8 months to grow a cannabis plant, this varies based on where you’re growing. If you have an indoor grow room, your plant has the ability to flower after only a few weeks!
The quality of your plant depends on your knowledge of the cannabis growth stages and the lifecycle of your plants.
Cannabis Growth Timeline
1. Germinating: 1-7 days
2. Seedling: 2-3 weeks
3. Vegetative: 2-8 weeks
4. Pre-Flowering: 1-2 weeks
5. Flowering: 6-8 weeks
1. Germinating Seeds
2. Seedling Stage
3. Vegetative Growth
How to tell if your plant is a male or female
Female: Two pistils (the pistil contains the reproductive parts of a flower) will be growing on the buds (flowers grow above these leaves, one cluster on each side).
Male: Small green sacs full of pollen will be seen on the node areas.
- If there is a high color ratio of white to red pistils your cannabis will provide a euphoric THC high.
- If the color ratio is more red to white, your cannabis will provide a calmer, CBD-stoned feeling.
- If you harvest once half the trichomes are opaque and the pistils haven’t turned brown, your cannabis will provide a balanced THC/CBD high.
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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 cycles 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 to harvest. 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.
When growing outdoors, you’re at the whim of the seasons and will have to wait until the sun starts to go down in the fall for plants to flower, and then to harvest.
However, one way outdoor growers can control the flowering cycle is by using light deprivation techniques.
How long can a marijuana plant live?
Weed plants are annuals, meaning they grow and live for one season and then die. Wild cannabis plants grow seeds and drop them when they die, which will grow into new plants the following year.
When harvesting, plants are cut down and die in order to get their buds. New seeds need to be planted in order to grow more plants.
If left unharvested, weed plants will eventually wither and rot within a few months after the peak flowering phase.
When should you grow marijuana?
If you’re growing outdoors in the Northern Hemisphere, growers usually get their seeds between February and April and start germinating seeds by the end of April.
Many start growing seedlings inside in a more controlled environment because seedlings are more delicate, and then put the seedlings in the ground outside once they’re a little bigger and the weather is warmer.
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.
Harvesting 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; growers in the Pacific Northwest will have to pull down their crops earlier than those in Northern California because of cold weather.
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
Many growers begin germinating seeds as early as February and March in order to have big plants come harvest time, but the Spring Equinox is a good reminder that it’s time to kick off the outdoor growing process and start germinating your seeds if you haven’t already.
Many farmers wait until after Mother’s Day in May to put their plants outside. Just make sure all of your plants are outside by the Summer Solstice at the latest.
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 the Fall Equinox is about when to start harvesting. It’ll depends on your climate and the year—it could happen a little before or after.
Everything should be cleaned up, dried, and curing by Thanksgiving, and in some places, even by Halloween.
As winter approaches, it’s prime 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 next year.
Take meticulous notes on when and how you perform each step, noting:
- How much water you give plants, and at what intervals
- Nutrient amounts
- When you top and prune
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)
Cannabis seed germination
Seed germination length: 3-10 days
Marijuana light cycle: 18 hours a day indoors; full, direct sun 6 hours a day outdoors
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 so the plant can grow 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 in cannabis plants
Seedling stage length: 2-3 weeks
Marijuana light cycle: 18 hours a day indoors; full, direct sun 6 hours a day outdoors
When your marijuana plant becomes a seedling, you’ll notice it developing 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, or “fingers” (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 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 in cannabis plants
Vegetative stage length: 3-16 weeks
Marijuana light cycle: 18 hours a day indoors; full, direct sun 6 hours a day outdoors
The vegetative stage of cannabis is where the plant’s growth truly takes off, and it typically lasts 3-16 weeks. 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 high 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.
Cannabis plant flowering stage
Flowering stage length: 8-11 weeks
Marijuana light cycle: 12 hours a day indoors; full, direct sun 6 hours a day outdoors
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 18 to 12 hours a day.
There are three subphases of the flowering stage:
- 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, as it can upset their hormones
- Plants should be trellised or scrogged so buds will be supported as they develop and air can flow through plants
- Consider giving plants bloom or 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. How long it takes to harvest buds depends on many factors, including harvesting methods and how many plants you harvest.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Weed Indoors?
This is one of the most common questions we receive from curious soon-to-be indoor cannabis growers: How long does it really take to grow weed? What’s the growing timeline?
It’s actually a really good question! Every new marijuana grower should know how much work they’re signing up for! The short answer is…
The Average Indoor Cannabis Grow Takes 3-5 Months
The long answer is: from Day 1 of your weed plant’s life to actually smoking your harvest, it can take… 8 weeks – 7+ Months! That’s a huge range, right?
That’s why most cannabis growers won’t give you a straight answer. The truth is, there are many factors will affect the total time until you have ‘ready’ buds, by days, weeks or even months. This includes your strain, your setup, and how big you plan to grow your plants (bigger plants need more time!). So instead of giving you a huge range, an easier-to-swallow answer might be to say that the average grow takes 3-5 months for indoor growers.
This includes the time needed to grow your cannabis plant from seedling to harvest plus an additional 2 weeks (or more) which is used to cure your cannabis buds after harvest (making them more potent and better smelling).
Additionally, for at least the first time you grow, you also need to consider the time needed to get your equipment and seeds/clones.
This article will give you the total time breakdown, so you can plan out the details of your grow in order to achieve the harvest times you desire:
Ultimately, How Long to Harvest Marijuana Depends on the Desired Yields, Strain and Grow Style
Today I will show you how to plan your grow so it takes the amount of time you want!
Note: When growing cannabis indoors, it takes 3-5 months on average to go through the life cycle of a plant. When growing outdoors, the total time depends on your local climate as most strains are ready to harvest in mid-to-late Autumn.
Jump to the Section of the Tutorial You’re Interested in:
- Before You Start Growing Weed– Get seeds and supplies so you’re set to start growing!
- Time Needed to Grow Weed, From Seedling to Harvest
- Germinate Your Seeds (1-7 days) – Learn about fail-proof methods to germinate perfectly in soil/coco or hydro.
- Vegetative Stage (average 4-8 weeks, length based on desired plant size) – In the vegetative stage, the cannabis plants are growing just stems and leaves. On average, most indoor growers vegetate their plants for 4-8 weeks. Seedlings are able to start flowering as early as 3 weeks from germination, but the resulting plants will be tiny. Most growers choose to let plants vegetate for longer because giving them more time to grow results in bigger plants, which tend to produce bigger yields as long as you have enough light to cover all the bud sites. That being said, you can still produce quite a bit of bud with a lot of small plants growing at once as long as you fill up your grow space.
- Flowering Stage (average 8-10 weeks, depends on strain) – This is when plants start making buds. The length of the flowering stage depends heavily on the strain/genetics, with an average of about 8-10 weeks for most strains. Some strains are bred to have very short flowering stages (for example, most auto-flowering strains will naturally start flowering at around 3 weeks old and some are ready to harvest just 5 weeks later, for a total of only 8 weeks from seed!). Other strains take months in the flowering stage before they’re ready to harvest. Typically, longer-flowering strains produce higher yields and short-flowering ones tend to produce lower yields. Buds that are exposed to more light-hours have more time to fatten up, though that’s not always the case.
- Post-Harvest (This is when the smell/taste/look you love shows up) (1-2+ weeks) – After buds are harvested, they are dried for about a week then placed in glass jars to “cure” for 2+ weeks in order to achieve the best quality. This post-harvest processing dramatically improves the taste, smell and the perceived potency of the buds. It also reduces the chance of buds causing headaches or unpleasant “speedy” effects. Don’t skip this step! It will account for nearly 50% of your final bud quality! Learn how to dry & cure your buds to perfection.
If you choose the right strain, you could be smoking your own buds as soon as 3 months from germination!
Before You Start Growing Weed
Total preparation time needed: Up to a few weeks
Here’s the breakdown…
Get equipment: 0 days – 2 weeks
This includes purchasing your equipment and/or waiting for it to show up in the mail. This goes much quicker if you buy everything locally, for example at a hydroponics shop. Once you have your marijuana growing supplies, you’ll need to setup your growing area and equipment. A standard setup should take an afternoon at most. Depending on how you purchase your equipment and how quickly you setup, you could be ready the same day or in two weeks (after factoring in shipping time).
Check out examples of new grower shopping lists to learn exactly which supplies you’ll need.
Get seeds or clones: 0-4 weeks:
If you’ve found seeds in your bud or have instant access to genetics (like knowing a grower or buying seeds/clones locally), you’re already good to go. If you order from a seed bank overseas (especially US residents), expect to wait 1-4+ weeks to get seeds. Shipping time depends on the shipper and how fast the mail gets delivered. Sometimes seeds get caught up in customs for weeks. Make sure to always order from a trustworthy vendor.
Time Needed to Grow Weed, From Seedling to Harvest
Total growing time needed: 3-5 months on average
Here’s the breakdown…
Germinate your seeds: 1 – 7 days
Seedlings can sprout in as little as a day, but by 3-5 days, they should be good to go. If you have access to clones, you get to skip this wait.
Learn my fail-proof method to germinate your seeds in soil/coco or hydro.
Vegetative Stage: 4-8 week average (but if you want big plants it may take longer)
The length of this stage is a matter of personal preference. Most cannabis plants won’t start flowering until they’re at least 3 or 4 weeks from germination, but after that you get to choose how long your plant spends in this stage (except auto-flowering strains, which automatically start flowering in 3-4 weeks from seed). Except for auto-flowering strains, you have total control over the vegetative stage because you’re the one to ‘flip the switch’ and get your plant to enter the next life stage: flowering.
When you start with a seed, even with an auto-flowering plant, you will always have at least 3-4 weeks of vegetative growth before any buds start forming no matter what you do. Growers generally allow their plants to stay in the vegetative stage from a few weeks to a few months.
The size your plant achieves in the vegetative stage has a very large effect on your final yields since bigger plants produce more bud sites than smaller plants. However, you need enough light to cover all the bud sites or they will never develop properly. Light is like food for bud growth!
These vegetating plants are about 4 weeks old from germination
To give you an idea as to what your FINAL marijuana plant may look like depending on how long it spends in the vegetative stage…
This plant didn’t spend any time in the Vegetative Stage. It was given 12-12 lighting almost immediately after sprouting. It’s so small that it spent its whole life in a solo cup, and its only light came from CFLs. I weighed down the bottom of the cup so it didn’t fall over. It ended up yielding about 0.75 oz.
These auto-flowering plants spent about 3 weeks in the vegetative stage before they automatically started flowering, and were ready to harvest just 5 weeks later. They were about a foot tall at harvest and yielded approximately 2 ounces each. Read the step-by-step tutorial to grow plants exactly like this.
This marijuana plant spent about 6 weeks in the vegetative stage before being changed over to flowering and yielded just over 6 ounces at harvest. View the complete grow journal with instructions on how to grow your plant so it looks just like this at harvest!
These cannabis plants were vegetated for about 8 weeks before being flipped to the flowering stage. Although they were grown in the exact same conditions from seed to harvest, their final heights are remarkably different because their strains had vastly different genetics. The smaller plant produced 6.6 ounces, while the big plant produced 9.3 ounces. Strain can make a big difference! Learn about growing different strains together.
These cannabis plants were vegetated for about 9 weeks before being flipped, in the exact same setup as above, and produced over 10 ounces each. Besides an extra week of veg, the biggest difference between this grow and the one above was simply the strains.
This human-sized plant (one of my very first plants) spent a little more than 3 months in the vegetative stage before I realized I needed to turn it over to the flowering stage. It then spent another 12 weeks in the flowering stage before it was ready to harvest because it was a long-flowering strain. It got way too tall for its space (taller than me!) and started falling over. However, despite the huge size and more than 5 months of growth, it only ended up yielding about 6 ounces. This is because it was under weak CFL grow lights. Though there were a lot of buds, the lack of strong light made them airy, without a lot of weight. Click the picture for a close-up.
Some people put their seedlings or clones right into the flowering stage if they want to harvest quickly though this makes for extremely small plants. For example, super-stealth growers who are growing in small hidden spaces – like out of a computer case – would want to put their seedlings into flowering nearly right away to keep their plants as small as possible. It’s also important to remember that container size and grow lights make a big difference. Small containers constrain the roots and keep plants from getting as big as they could, and small lights prevent buds from fattening up as much as they could.
I personally recommend at least 4 weeks in the vegetative stage with 18+ hours of light each day for the best results. Plants that are forced to start flowering sooner than 4 weeks don’t yield much compared to how much work you put in. That being said, keeping plants relatively small does have some benefits!
A good rule of thumb…
Your plant will likely double in size (maybe a bit less, maybe more) from when you first put it into the flowering stage; this is known as the Flowering Stretch. So make sure you end the vegetative stage before your plant reaches half the final height you want, or your cannabis plants may outgrow your grow space during the flowering stage!
Flowering Stage: (average 8-10 weeks, length depends on the strain/genetics)
Here’s the breakdown…
- Week 1-3 – Transition to Flowering
- Week 3-4 – “Budlets” Form
- Week 4-6 – Buds Start Fattening Up
- Week 6-8 – Buds Ripen, Pistils Darken – some strains spend longer in this stage
- Week 8-12+ – Flowering Ends, Harvest time!
The length of time needed to stay in the flowering stage depends heavily on the strain. Once you have switched your plant into the flowering stage they will stretch (the ‘flowering stretch’), form buds and then fatten.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite and best cannabis strains by the length of the flowering period:
Short (6-8 weeks)
– Known for being especially easy to grow – High-yielding, medical, high-CBD, medium-THC strain – Based on the famous White Widow strain but with a much faster finish – This version of Blue Cheese is fast flowering and easy to grow, yet buds are extra potent and produce great effects – One of the best strains for outdoor growing (and buds may turn pink or bright purple!) – A gem by Barney’s Farm, this strain “lifts you up” and causes a strong “head high” that can be a great way to relax after a tough day, or for when you want to get in a creative mood. – One of the most potent auto-flowering strains I’ve grown so far, ready in about 10 weeks from germination (7-week flowering stage) and just overall a healthy, easy, and high-yielding plant.
- In fact, if you’re interested in a very short flowering time, most auto-flowering strains are ready to harvest less than 3 months from seed.
Frisian Dew plant growing outdoors with deep purple buds
Medium (8-12 weeks)
– I just finished a grow with this strain and it impressed me. The buds did not turn purple but the smell, yields, and potency of buds were outstanding. – Medical strain, has a THC:CBD ratio of 1:1 – An award-winning strain that’s fruity, vigorous, and potent. The yields are not necessarily the highest, but it’s worth it for the quality of buds. I’ve grown this strain in many different setups and buds always come out great. – An award-winning strain that’s curiously strong. It’s one of the few “haze” cannabis strains that doesn’t take forever to finish flowering. – A cross between Gelato and OG Kush; two extremely popular strains in the US on the west coast. Finishes on the faster side, yet still produces great yields, potency, and smell. – Another beautiful Gelato cross, this time with the famous Gelato 33 clone (a very specific cut of Gelato), with Wedding Cake. – Another west coast favorite, this produces beautiful buds that are covered in crystals/trichomes, also high yielding. – Yields were so-so yet buds produce powerful effects. It turned a bit purple when I grew this strain (pictured below in the middle), which was a delightful surprise, but the potency is what I remember. – Easy to grow. Wants higher levels of nutrients in the flowering stage but rewards you with big yields, a strong spicy smell, and great potency.
Long: (12-14+ weeks)
- Many Haze strains, as well as some Sativa strains, and generally any strains that originated near the equator. – A cross between some of the best Haze strains in Southeast Asia. If you want to try something different that is almost impossible to find in the US or Europe, this is it. It produces psychedelic effects that defy its cannabinoid content. May be too intense for some people.
In general, most strains (besides auto-flowering strains) are in the medium range as far as how long they take to flower.
It’s not exact – There’s a 2-3 week harvest window for most plants, and keeping your plants in the flowering stage for a bit longer tends to increase your yields. This is because the plants tend to really bulk up their flowers once they’ve become ‘ripe’.
So often times, even though you could harvest at the shortest recommended time, waiting an extra week or two will give you 10-30% more yield compared to harvesting as early as possible.
Utopia Haze is a mix of Brazilian landrace strains
Post-Harvest (before you smoke you should do this stuff too)
Total post-harvest time needed: 2.5 weeks – 1.5+ months
Drying: 4 – 10 days
Good marijuana buds can be dried in as little as 4 days, but ideally, drying should be a slow process taking up to a week or more. Making sure your plants have been thoroughly dried (but not over-dried) will lower chances of mold during the curing process.
Curing: 2 weeks – 1+ months
Curing really seems to make the effects of buds feel less ‘speedy’ and be better suited to medical applications like treating anxiety, reducing pain, and improving feelings of depression.
Additionally, curing gets rid of any ‘cut grass’ smell, harsh taste and other undesirable traits of some freshly dried buds. Over time with proper curing, those traits will be replaced by the ‘real’ smell and potency profile of your buds.
Two weeks is considered the minimum time to cure your buds, but I personally cure all my buds for a month or even a bit longer because the buds continue to improve for several more weeks.
So, after you’ve bought seeds and equipment, grown a plant from seed to harvest, trimmed, dried and cured your buds, that brings us back to the original answer…
Total Time to Grow (and Be Ready to Use) Your Own Weed:
8 weeks – 5+ Months
Average Time to Grow (and Be Ready to Use) Your Own Weed:
3 – 5 months
If you haven’t started growing your own weed yet, today is the day!
New Grower Shopping Lists – What You Need to Get Started
How to Grow a Pound of Cannabis – Step-by-Step Instructions from Seed to Harvest
7 Tips for Growing Top-Shelf Buds – How to Grow Better Cannabis than the Dispensary!