Stages of Growing Weed 101 – The Top Things You Need to Know
Weed is a highly complex plant in comparison to most considering it has distinct stages of cannabis growth stages. Unlike other plants that typically grow with just sun, soil, and water – each weed plant stage requires its own specific protocol of nutrients, light, and environmental conditions to survive and thrive. Which makes knowing these stages of cannabis growth from the start that much more crucial for the overall health of your plants. That’s why we’ve put together the ultimate guide to the stages of growing weed with all the information you need to know for success.
The Germination Stage
As the saying goes, ‘it all starts with a seed’ which holds true for cannabis growth stages.
Unless of course, you’re beginning crops with clones, which is a cutting from a plant in its vegetative state. In that case – you can skip to that portion of the guide but for the most part, seeds still reign supreme especially for home grows.
First thing’s first, you’ll want to ensure the seed you’ll be germinating is viable. If you’re unsure of the quality or viability of seeds there are a few telltale signs to check for. Healthy seeds should be brown in color with visible stripes, and shouldn’t feel weak or be white or green. If you’re waiting to germinate your seeds, or storing them for future crops, be sure to keep them in a cool, dark space like a refrigerator or cooler area of your home.
The act of germinating seeds promotes the ‘popping’ of the initial seedling. This initial sign of life is the plant’s taproot that will take hold in your chosen medium. While some growers do just toss a seed in soil and hope that it takes, germinating the seed before the seedling stage is the best way to guarantee your seed takes life. In the germination stage seeds need –
- A warm temperature
One common way to nurture germination with these factors in mind is a method that requires a couple of plates or a ziploc bag and a paper towel. Slightly dampen the paper towel and fold it in half once or twice. Place the seeds inside the paper towel, and fold the other half over them. You can then place the paper towel in a plastic bag, and store it somewhere dark. Or, between two plates works as well.
In general, you can expect to see your seeds pop in 3-10 days making that duration the entire length of time for the germination stage. Every day or so, check back on the seeds to see if the taproot has emerged and once it has – you’re ready to move onto the cannabis seedling growth stage. So, let’s cover that more in-depth, next.
The Seedling Stage
For the start of cannabis seedling growth, you’ll place the germinated seed and taproot into your medium of choice. It’s ideal to use a small pot size for seedlings with adequate drainage for optimal results. To keep it simple, many growers use solo cups with holes in the bottom during this stage of growing weed.
Once the seed is in its growing medium, soon the growth of cotyledons AKA the first oval-shaped leaves will emerge. From there, upon providing the optimal conditions for seedling growth you’ll notice serrated leaf growth. Over the next three weeks, the seedling will continue growing new leaflets until digitate leaves sprout which are the more recognizable ‘fan leaves’ you’d expect from cannabis plants.
When plants are in the early seedling stage it’s imperative to provide an environment that’ll nurture optimal health. Because cannabis seedlings are more sensitive in this stage, they won’t require as many nutrients to start but will benefit from the following –
- Water with pH levels ranging between 6 – 7
- Pro tip: Use a spray bottle to water young seedlings to avoid overwatering.
In regards to lighting, cannabis seedlings benefit from lower intensities of light with a blue spectrum if possible. As for light cycles, seedlings thrive with 18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness to optimize photosynthesis for healthy, overall growth. It’s best to keep lights around 24-36 inches away from the top of the seedling, to avoid burning, but also close enough to provide optimal levels of energy.
Due to the delicate growth of cannabis seedlings they can be highly susceptible to mold. To avoid any mold issues, it’s recommended to keep the area free of excess moisture and as clean as possible. Last but not least, as cannabis seedling growth progresses the level of nutrients should be slowly increased. This increase in nutrients is vital to the transition of seedlings to vegetative plants, which we’ll cover next.
The Vegetative Stage
The vegetative stage of marijuana may be less thrilling than flowering but is just as important for maximized yields. That’s because the veg period is spent bolstering the plant for strong, healthy growth to support the buds you’ll soon be harvesting. To continue favorable environmental conditions, here are a few controls to keep –
- Warm temperatures ranging between 71 – 79℉
- Relative humidity kept between 40-60%
- Watering with pH levels between 6 and 7
- Increased airflow, and CO2
A part of the process in strengthening the plant is providing adequate levels of nutrients, with an increase of nitrogen, and establishing a regular feeding schedule. In addition, you’ll want to allow your roots the room to grow which requires the transplanting of your plant into a bigger pot. Without transplanting, your roots can become rootbound. Rootbound is a condition where roots hit the side of the container, and begin circling. If the circling continues, the roots can choke themselves which significantly deters plant health or kills it altogether.
Some growers will transplant their veg plants into a medium-size pot and then transplant once more before flowering. While others will wait until their veg plants are big enough, and transplant into the final flowering container size just once and avoid the extra step. Each method is appropriate and the decision ultimately depends on the grower’s preference, budget, or size of the room.
For light cycles, the veg stage of cannabis growth continues to require 18 hours of light with 6 hours of darkness for photosynthesis purposes. Plants will also continue to benefit from higher spectrums of blue light during vegetative growth, which can promote even node spacing, and canopy uniformity. Because each stage of marijuana growth benefits from different spectrums of light, LEDs are quickly becoming the preferred grow light setup for their full-spectrum capabilities.
While it’s important to monitor the plants closely in every cannabis growth stage, a close eye is even more crucial during the vegetative period if growing with a regular or non-feminized seed. As you may know, cannabis plants are dioecious meaning they can be male or female in sex. However, female cannabis plants are the ones that produce high levels of cannabinoids, like THC that are associated with high-quality crops. So, the veg stage is when growers determine if plants are female or male, discarding any males that pop up immediately to avoid pollination. Typically, plants will show their sex around the 6-week mark for reference.
All in all, the veg cannabis growth stage typically lasts anywhere from 4-8 weeks. But just because a plant can go into flowering at 4 weeks – doesn’t necessarily mean it should. By doing so you can risk growing a smaller plant than originally intended. The transition from veg to flower will depend on the strain, and upon the specific plant’s health or stature hence the variation in the estimated time range. Ultimately, growers will decide when individual plants or crops are big and strong enough to support the flowering stage of growing heavy buds, themselves, or go based on strain history.
In fact, – the vegetative stage of marijuana growth can go beyond 8 weeks, and even perpetually. Many commercial growers will keep ‘mother plants’, or varieties forever in veg that have stable, consistent, and trusted end-results. This is where the art of ‘cloning’ also comes into play, as they can ‘clone’ the variety over and over with successful results and without the risk of unknown genetics or phenotypes.
But how? Plants can be kept in their vegetative stage because cannabis is photoperiod in nature. Meaning, the species requires specific periods of light and dark to begin blooming or flowering. So, without further adieu – let’s move on to the flowering portion of our weed plant stages guide to learn more.
The Flowering Stage
Finally, we get to the stage of growing weed when the magic happens – the infamous flowering period. The flowering weed plant stage begins when light cycles of 12 hours of light, and 12 hours of dark get initiated. This occurs outdoors when the days become shorter towards Fall, and indoors when growers set specific schedules of light. During the flowering stage of marijuana growth, here are a few key factors to maintain –
- Warm temperatures ranging between 65-79℉
- Relative humidity ranging between 40-50%
- pH levels ranging between 6 and 7
- Maintain airflow, and increase CO2
Lighting is more intense during the flowering stage and a red spectrum is beneficial for the growth of plants. Flowering plants will also benefit from another increase in nutrients, and during the final weeks, growth can be supplemented with the addition of ‘bloom’ solutions that have ample amounts of phosphorous.
Flowering cycles will differ upon the strain but ranges from 8-12 weeks. During this time, there are a few distinct periods of growth, including –
- Flowering initiation (week 1-3) –With new light cycles and amplified light intensity, plants spend the flowering initiation period growing and stretching in size. In this stage, plants often double in size and begin showing signs of flowering like the emergence of pistils, or white hairs. Reaching week 4, bud sites will begin to appear in the nodes of the plant, where the main stem and branches meet.
- Mid-flowering (weeks 4-5) –In weeks 4 and 5, plants stop stretching and growing in size and stature and begin packing on weight instead. It’s important to maintain regular and adequate levels of nutrients during the mid-flowering stage of growing weed as this is when the development and production of cannabinoids and terpenes are strongest. The extra strength is also helpful for the fattening of buds, which can be supported by trellis’ or staking and tying. Near the end of mid-flowering, pistils will also begin to darken as the cannabis life cycle matures.
- Late-flowering or ripening (weeks 6+)-The final weeks of ‘ripening’ in late flowering is when the flower buds gain the most weight, making the additional support measures that much more important. Especially considering plants can bend and break from bud weight. This is also the weed plant stage when that sticky-icky crystal coating of resinous trichomes becomes more established. These trichomes also play a pivotal role in deciding when to harvest, as their transparency and coloring change as the stages of marijuana growth progress. The flower’s pistils will also transform in color, and curl inward near the end of growth, too.
When the plant is nearing the end of its cannabis life cycle – flushing is recommended as one of the final steps during the flowering stage. Flushing refers to only watering your plant for the last week or two. Essentially, this ‘flushes’ out nutrients by triggering the plant to use the nutrients leftover in the plant – a crucial step in finishing the flowering stage and increasing plant senescence. Without this step, plants can be less aromatic or harsh upon puff, puff, passing.
After flowering and flushing, come the final stages of growing weed which is the harvesting of plants, along with the drying, and curing of buds. For more detailed information on the post-growth cannabis life cycle, including when to harvest, and how – we’d recommend checking out our complete guide to growing indoors.
Nourish to Flourish – The stages of growing weed
While the stages of growing weed differ greatly there’s one important thing to remember for each – you’ve got to nourish to flourish. Meaning, with each cannabis growth stage, the plant requires a specific routine of nutrients, lights, and environments for optimal growth and health.
Even though the cannabis life cycle may be somewhat tricky to master for beginners, with the information you gained today you’ll be on autopilot for managing weed plant stages before you know it.
So, keep staying in tune with all the latest knowledge on navigating the stages of cannabis growth, and providing your plants with the TLC they need. Stay connected to Scynce for more grower tips and tricks by following us socially or signing up for our email newsletter today!
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.
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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