Learning how to harvest marijuana at the right time is critically important because it plays a huge part in determining the quality of the weed that is produced and the high that it gives you.
Many growers rush the cannabis harvesting process because they are too eager to try the bud they have worked so hard on growing over the past few months and this can be detrimental to the stash.
As the plant matures it begins to develop and produce more terpenes, these are the aromatic compounds found in most plants that give them their distinctive smell profile. While this is happening the plants trichome heads also begin to create more THC and CBD, which together are the main compounds found in cannabis. THC is the main psychoactive compound that makes you feel ‘high’ and CBD is another compound that is not psychoactive, but is known for its calming and pain relieving effects.
Harvest too soon and the plant wont have had enough time to develop its full smell and taste profile, and it will be noticeably less potent because it will contain less THC & CBD. Harvest too late and the plant has passed the point where it is its most potent and if left too long the taste and smell will also begin to degrade with it.
How to tell when cannabis is ready to harvest?
When your cannabis plants are ready to be harvested, it should have a healthy and robust appearance. All breeders will give you a guide as to how long the flowering time is for that particular strain and you can use your their recommendation, but the surest way is to check the following signs to time your harvest to perfection:
- Trichomes: The trichomes (the small resinous glands on the flowers) should be fully formed and mostly cloudy or amber in color.
- Pistils: The pistils (the hair-like structures on the flowers) should have turned from white to a darker, reddish-brown color.
- Leaves and buds: The bottom leaves usually turn yellow by this point and the buds should be dense and tightly packed.
- Color: The flowers should have a vibrant color, with no signs of yellowing or browning.
- Smell: The flowers should have a strong and pungent aroma, indicating high potency and quality.
What cannabis trichome colour should look like at harvest
To assess whether or not your plants are ready for harvest based on their trichome colour you will need a jewellers loupe or magnifying glass to look through. This method is thought of as the most accurate way to assessing a plants maturity. As cannabis plants mature their trichomes begin to change colour and these small resin glands that cover the buds start out glassy and gradually become more cloudy and eventually change to amber.
You want to harvest your trichomes ideally when around 85% of them are milky, 10% amber and 5% clear.
Trichome color is glassy
If the trichome heads are glassy, this means that the plants are still developing and the buds are not yet ready. Glassy trichomes will not contain as much THC or CBD and so the bud will be much less potent.
Trichome color is cloudy/milky
Trichome heads appear to be cloudy or milky, at this point the bud be most potent because it will contain the highest level of CBD and THC.
Trichome color is amber
Trichome heads begin to turn amber coloured. This indicates that the buds will contain slightly less THC, however the effect will be more of a relaxing and less intense high.
How to harvest marijuana and when to harvest is partly down to preference, if you want your buds to be as potent as possible then you should harvest them when they are mostly cloudy/milky, whereas if you wait a little longer for them to turn amber the high will be less intense and more relaxing.
What cannabis pistils should look like at harvest
Pistils are the small ‘hairs’ on the buds of cannabis plants that can be white, brown, orange or yellow.
- Pistils are white and stick straight out: This indicates that the plant is not yet ready for harvest.
- Pistils are yellowish: This shows that the plant is not ready for harvest.
- When most of the pistils have turned orange/brown and curled inwards: the buds will have the highest THC levels.
What cannabis leaves and buds should look like at harvest
Another sign that a cannabis plant is almost ready to be harvested is when the fan leaves at the bottom begin to turn yellow and the buds are dense and tightly packed, with no signs of mold or mildew.
As the plants matures and nears the final stage of their lives, they gradually takes on less water, you will notice that the leaves begin to curl up and dry out, this is usually a sign that the plants are ready to be harvested. However do not confuse this with other issues that can also cause leaves to dry out such as under watering or nutrient deficiency, if in doubt, check our article on Why are my cannabis leaves curling up or down?
Preparing for cannabis harvesting at the end of flowering
Before harvesting marijuana commences, you should begin preparing your plants. Below are some little tricks to get more yield and potency out of your buds before harvesting:
- Cut out old fan and shade leaves.
- Flush your cannabis plants with plain water to clear out any leftover nutrients. This should be done about 1 – 2 weeks before you begin harvesting marijuana.
- Stop watering 1-3 days before harvesting.
- Experiment with darkness.
- Reduce the humidity on the last day.
Trimming off the fan and shade leaves
As your cannabis plants start getting ready for their big harvest day, you might notice some of their older leaves throwing in the towel and turning yellow. It’s okay, they’ve lived a good life. In outdoor grows, these leaves might even start falling off the plants on their own. You can give your buds some extra TLC by snipping away these tired leaves (just don’t get too close to the budding sites). This way, your buds can have all the energy they need to reach their full potential and become big, beautiful, ripe buds.
While you are trimming your plants, check for any pests, mold or insect infestations.
Flushing your marijuana plants
Flushing marijuana is only necessary if you are using nutrients. You do not need to flush with organic grows that use no added nutrients.
Pre-harvest flush is a process whereby you cut out all nutrients and feed the plants with plain pH adjusted water for a few days to 2 weeks depending on your cannabis growing media, this should be done just prior to harvesting marijuana. This process flushes fresh water through the plant, clearing out any of the chemicals that are left over from the nutrients you have been feeding them.
Is flushing necessary
Whilst some people may argue that pre-harvest flushing isn’t important, others believe that it will improve the taste and smell of the buds and remove the chemicals in the fertilizers that could be harmful to smoke. It is down to personal preference, but I would prefer to flush for 10 – 14 days before harvesting, because I use soil for growing cannabis. If you use other growing media then you may want to check how long to flush your cannabis plants for.
Experiment with light schedule
According to some growers, giving your cannabis plants 1-3 days of complete darkness before harvest can lead to some serious resin production. It’s like their own little spa day before the big chop!
Reduce the humidity on the last day
If you want some sticky icky, keep the air less sticky!
Low humidity will boost resin production. As such, in the 24 hours before harvest time, make sure to keep the humidity low in your grow room for that extra resinous goodness.
Harvesting marijuana step-by-step
When it’s time to collect your ganja goodies, you should first decide whether you want to trim the buds wet or dry:
- With wet trimming, you’ll take down the whole plant, then swiftly remove the buds from their branches (aka “bucking”), and give them a trim while they’re still wet. Then, you’ll let the buds dry out.
- With dry trimming, you’ll chop down your plant and give it a few days to hang out and dry off. Once the branches are fully dried up, you can start “bucking” the buds off the branches and give them a proper trim
Wet trimming is like a shortcut to harvesting paradise – it’s quick, easy, and won’t take up too much of your precious space. It comes with other perks such as preventing mold, quicker drying process, and having more room for buds on the drying rack. So if you’re a newbie to the harvesting marijuana plants, this might be the way to go.
Dry trimming is a bit of a different story. It’s not as simple, and you’ll need more space for it. But here’s the thing – it can lead to some seriously top-notch joint. You’ll get a smoother, cleaner smoke, and your buds will thank you for all the love and care you put into them. It’s like taking the long way home – sure, it takes a bit more effort, but the payoff is totally worth it.
Your decision to wet or dry trimming will dictate the way in which you’ll dry and cure your cannabis so give it some thoughts.
Whichever route you decide, the whole harvesting process can be summarized as below:
- Decide if you will be wet or dry trimming
- Step 1: Prepare your plants
- Step 2: Check for mold, pests and fungi
- Step 3: Monitoring the trichome color, pistils, leaves and buds to determine the harvest time
- Step 4: Prepare your drying space
- Step 5: Prepare your tools
- Step 6 – 9: For wet trimming, the order is: cut down branches – buck the buds – trim – dry. For wet trimming, the order is: cut down the plants – dry the whole plants or branches – buck the buds – trim the buds
- Step 10: Cure
Let’s go into the step-by-step for each methods below.
How to harvest marijuana plants with wet trimming
In wet trimming, before drying cannabis buds, we will remove any extra leaves or stems so that the flowers look the way they will when they are ready to be sold or used.
Step 1: Prepare your plants
Carry out some light pruning and a pre-harvest flush, time the flush based on your growing media. Stop watering your plants 1-3 days before the big day. You can leave them under the normal light cycle or alternatively you can also consider giving them 1-3 days of complete darkness before harvest day (i.e. the same period when you stop watering). Reduce the humidity on the last day.
Step 2: Check for mold, pest, fungi
Check the branches one by one for any pests, mold or fungi. If you do find any, be sure to cut out any infected parts.
Step 3: Check the trichomes, pistils, leaves and buds
We went through this above. To judge when to harvest cannabis plants you need to take a close up look at the trichomes with a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe. Look at the colour of the trichomes, once the trichomes are around 75 – 85% amber coloured your plants are ready.
Step 4: Prepare your drying space
Ideally your drying conditions should be:
- In a dark room.
- Temperature around 60 – 70°F (15 – 21º C)
- Humidity around 50% – 60%
- Good airflow – using something such as a rotating tower fan is ideal for this.
Make sure that the your drying space does not experience significant changes in temperature or humidity. Additionally, installing a small fan to circulate air might be necessary, and you may need to add a dehumidifier or air conditioner to control the humidity levels.
Step 5: Prepare the tools needed for harvesting marijuana plants
What you will need:
- Pruners for big branches
- Shears or scissors for trimming
- 70% alcohol or isopropyl alcohol to clean the scissors (they will become very sticky)
- Plastic gloves
- A large plastic tray or a clear table
- A drying rack or line to hang buds for drying (you can make this yourself with some string or coat hangers)
- Air conditioner and dehumidifier (if necessary)
- Hygrometer to measure temperature and humidity
Begin by setting up your work space. Keep your gloves on and sanitize your scissors every now and then. The resin from the plants will get very sticky so remember to keep cleaning your tools as you go.
Depending on how big your plants are, harvesting marijuana typically takes around 1 hour per plant.
Step 6: Cut the branches off and divide them into smaller twigs
Here is where the proper harvesting begins. Start by cutting off all of the main branches one by one, you may need heavy duty scissors or some garden shears for this as they can grow thick. As you cut each one, pile them onto a plastic tray or clear table.
Now you should be left with a pile of branches of bud and leaves. Fan leaves have no to little trichomes, so it’s best to remove them. Go through the branches that you have cut off one by one and trim off any large fan leaves so that you are left with mostly buds and small sugar leaves on the branches.
Step 7: Buck the buds from the branches
Buck the buds from the branches at this step, i.e. snipping each bud off from its branch.
Step 8: Trim the buds
Trim the buds immediately after chopping down the branches and bucking. If you have some big buds, break them down into smaller buds for a more even dry and to dodge mold.
Now, to trim the buds:
- Trim the stem as close as possible to the bottom without damaging the bud. No stem should be seen except at the bottom.
- Bid adieu to those little ‘crow’s feet’ leaves that look like bird feet.
- Trim away any excess plant material and give that bud a good mani! Remove as much of the sugar leaves as possible. The body of the bud may cover entirely some of the sugar leaves, so be careful not to damage the bud. Angle your scissors and keep snipping until it’s smooth sailing.
- The goal is to only leave what’s fully covered in trichomes, so get rid of any pistils that don’t meet the cut. They won’t have much in the way of trichomes anyway.
Step 9: Dry the buds
Put your finished buds on a drying rack in a room with mild heat for a few days and use a fan to circulate the air. Make sure the drying room is dark and you have an extractor running to help regulate the humidity level. Once your buds have been drying for 7-14 days they should be noticeably smaller and weigh a lot less after the water has evaporated.
Transfer the dried buds to jars for the curing process.
Step 10: Cure the buds
Once you’ve worked your green thumbs and harvested your buds, it’s time to cure those babies to perfection! Store those precious buds in airtight glass jars to prevent them from getting too dry and to keep those flavors and aromas locked in. Give it two weeks to a month and keep that container’s humidity level between 55-65% for optimum results.
Curing your cannabis buds after harvest is like aging a fine wine, but for your weed. It brings out the full flavor and aroma, increases potency, reduces harshness, and keeps your buds mold-free.
How to harvest marijuana plants with dry trimming
When harvesting cannabis with dry trimming, step 6-9 will be slightly different, as explained below.
Step 6: Cut and dry the plant
Cut down your plant at the base, and hang it upside down in a warm dry room with good air circulation. I find that it speeds up the harvest process if you break down the branches and separate the smaller twigs off of the large branches so that they dry quicker. Once you have done this you will be left with two piles, one of large branches and buds and the other of the smaller buds on twigs. Either way is correct, the choice is yours.
Dry the whole plant or the branches by hanging them in the pre-prepared drying room, you may need some string or clothes pegs to help you hang all of the branches up. Drying usually takes around 7- 14 days.
Step 7: Break down the branches
Plants are ready for trimming when the stems snap instead of bending. After the plants are fully dried, cut the branches off if you haven’t already and keep them aside for trimming.
Step 8: Buck the buds
Separate the buds from the branches.
Step 9: Trim the buds
The last stage of the marijuana harvest process is to trim off any remaining leaves that you don’t want. You should cut them while keeping them above a tray or tub so that the falling leaves, as well as any loose trichomes or fragments of bud that may come off, can be collected.
Due to the fragility of the dry leaves and buds, to avoid excessive loss of buds materials, use a gentle ‘skimming’ motion with the scissors. With this techniques, you don’t fully close the scissors blades to remove the buds; you simply use the sharp edge of the blade to cut through the delicate leaf material, leaving the buds intact.
Once you have dried out your buds and trimmed them the process is over and it’s time to load up those gorgeous, freshly manicured buds into the curing jars. Curing is vital if you want your bud to stay fresh for longer and keep its taste.
How to store your cannabis buds after harvesting
Once you’ve successfully harvested and cured your cannabis buds, you’ll be able to enjoy them for up to two years without any significant loss of potency. Your cannabis buds should be kept in a cool, dark place, away from the icky mold and mildew that thrive in warm temperatures between 77 – 86°F (25 – 30º C).
If you’re not careful, excessive heat can zap all the good stuff out of your buds and leave you with a harsh, unpleasant smoke. To prevent this tragedy, here are a few tips for storing your precious buds:
- Keep them out of direct sunlight and in a cool, dry spot.
- Store them in neutral containers, like glass jars.
- Use hygrometers to keep an eye on and control humidity levels.
- Vacuum seal your jars and containers to minimize oxygen exposure.
- Separate different strains to keep their unique flavors intact and always label them with a date – nobody wants to mix up their strains!
What happens if you harvest your cannabis plants too late
Harvesting your cannabis plants too late is likely to result in lower quality of the buds.
Firstly, the THC content will begin to convert to CBN resulting in weed that is less potent. While CBN can have therapeutic effects, it is less psychoactive than THC and may not provide the desired high. If you want to feel like you’re on cloud nine then you don’t want to harvest your plants too late.
Some people prefer cannabis that is less potent and a more relaxed calm high and may choose to harvest a sativa dominant strain a bit late so that the high will be like that of an Indica; i.e. instead of the typical uplifting active high, they will feel more laid back and relaxed.
However, leave it a bit longer beyond this point and the flavor and smell will also start to degrade. The flavor profile of the buds may change, becoming harsher and less pleasant to smoke. And last but not least, the plant may start to rot and develop mold, the buds may become overripe and begin to degrade, and you may be left with a loss of yield.
Don’t stress too much if you miss the perfect moment to harvest your plant. Harvesting 1-2 weeks after the buds have hit their prime won’t ruin everything.
However, if you leave it way too late, your cannabis female plants have not been pollinated by a male for a long time at this point so they may decide to take matters into their own hands (or leaves) and transform into hermaphrodites. This means they’ll switch from producing buds to creating seeds, as if to say “I don’t need a man, I can do this myself!”
What happens if you harvest your cannabis plants too early
If you pick your cannabis buds before they’ve had a chance to really stretch their legs, you might end up with lower yields and buds that are a bit underwhelming. They won’t have had time to fully develop their special cannabinoid and terpene profiles, leaving you with a weaker buzz that might not quite hit the spot. So let your buds do their thing and get as comfy as they need before you give them the snip!
Immature buds may also have a more grassy or vegetal taste that can be harsh on the throat when smoked or vaped.
There are exceptions when an earlier harvest may be necessary. For example poor weather conditions or an issue with your grow room climate can lead to issues such as bud rot. If you get a bad case of bud rot that is isolated to one section of your grow when it is fairly close to harvest, rather than trying to cure it and risk it spreading the mold to other plants, you can prematurely harvest the plants to salvage what you still have. While this may compromise somewhat on yield and quality, sometimes it is the safest way to save what is left of your grow. You will need to make the decision yourself depending on how bad the damage is and how close to harvest your plants are.
Should I hang my whole cannabis plant to dry?
Yes, hanging whole plant to dry for harvesting is also a popular method, but it would take longer to dry.
Does hanging the whole plant to dry vs. hanging branches make a difference?
Totally. Hanger the whole plant allows a longer and slower dry. And the longer it takes to dry your cannabis plant the better the end products, as the plant will have the time to maintain a broader and more intensive terpene profile, preserving more of its aroma and medicinal properties that would otherwise be lost by a quicker drying process.
When should I stop watering before harvesting?
I would recommend to stop watering your cannabis plants about 1-3 days before your planned harvest day. If you do a pre-harvest flush, then after this final flush, you can stop watering the plants completely and allow them to dry out before harvesting.
This water stress tricks the plant into ‘thinking’ that it’s nearing the end of its life. The natural survival mechanism of a cannabis female plant would kick in and dictate that it gives any remaining nutrients to the buds; this will help resin development as well as flavor and potency of the buds.
What to do with the excess trim?
Once you’ve finished trimming your entire harvest, your collection tray will be filled to the brim with stems, stalks, fan leaves, and sugar leaves. Although it might seem like these components are waste material, they actually contain valuable stores of cannabinoids and terpenes. While you might not want to smoke them, you can use them to make all sorts of homemade products, such as sugar tea leaf or cannabutter.
How do I know if my cannabis buds are dry enough for curing?
To see if your buds are ready to be placed in jars and cured, take a twig with buds and give it a little bend. If it bends easily, it’s not quite there yet. But if it snaps like a dry twig, it’s ready for curing! And don’t forget, your buds should feel a little bit crispy. If they’re still spongy and fluffy, give them some more drying time.