Stages of Growing Cannabis
Cannabis, weed, marijuana, kush, ganja – whatever you want to call it, it’s now legal to own and grow in the state of Virginia. So what does this mean for those interested in growing it?
Growing Cannabis for the first time can be quite overwhelming. A quick Google search will lead you to hundreds of results with more information than you can ever sift through. There’s so much to learn – lighting, pH, soils, training methods, curing, and so much more. Where does one start?
It’s really easy to fall down the rabbit hole of information online. The sheer amount of information can almost hinder you when you’re first getting started. I think it’s easiest to just get started and learn as you go.
Starting with gaining a general understanding of the stages of growing Cannabis is a great place to begin before you try growing for the first time. It will help you have a decent idea of what to expect along the way.
How long does Cannabis take to grow?
How long Cannabis takes to grow can vary based on the variety of the plant and conditions it is grown in. On average, from seed to harvest, it takes anywhere from 10-32 weeks (about 3-8 months). It’s a quicker process if you start with a clone (rooted cutting) 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.
Stages of Growing Cannabis
Every plant begins with a seed. Cannabis seeds should be germinated just like any other seed. They can take anywhere between 3-10 days to germinate, although it can happen in as few as 24 hours or as long as 2 weeks. To germinate, you can place the seeds in a damp paper towel, which you should then place in a dark place, such as inside a drawer. Check on them after a few days to see if the primary root, called the radicle, has emerged. This will look like a little white “tail” coming out of the seed. Once germinated, move them to damp soil.
Alternatively, you can place the seeds directly in damp soil to germinate and grow, without having the trouble of moving them. For this method, I would recommend a seed starting mix. These are usually lighter and fluffier than traditional potting soil, which gives your fragile germinating seeds a start on the right foot. We carry Coast of Maine Sprout Island Blend Organic Seed Starter Mix. It has additional perlite that aerates the soil and helps prevent damping off. It also has mycorrhizae, worm castings, lobster meal, hen manure, and kelp to get your plants off to a healthy start.
2. Seedling Stage
Once your seed has germinated, it’s now time to move the germinated seed from its paper towel to a growing medium. If you started them in a seed starting mix, you will want to move them from the seed tray to a larger pot with a high-quality potting mix, such as the Coast of Maine Stonington Blend Grower’s Mix. This is a super soil, that works especially well for growing Cannabis. It contains mycorrhizae, kelp, alfalfa meal, fish bone meal, worm castings, perlite, manure, peat, coir, and lobster compost that feed your plant throughout the growing cycle, with no need to use additional nutrients.
Plants are considered seedlings for about 2-3 weeks after germination. During this time, the plant should be moved to a spot with direct sun, if growing outdoors. If growing indoors, set your grow lights to run for 16 hours a day.
3. Vegetative Stage
After the seedling stage, Cannabis plants move to a vegetative stage. This is the time when the plant focuses on leaf production. It will not produce flowers at all during this stage, as the plant needs to grow plenty of leaves to take up enough photons (sunlight) to create the necessary energy to produce large flowers. The vegetative stage can last anywhere from 3 to 16 weeks, depending on the variety.
During this stage, indoor plants need 16-18 hours of light per day, and outdoor plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight (“full sun”), plus several hours of indirect sunlight. They will also need plenty of Nitrogen during this point, as Nitrogen is the nutrient that promotes healthy leaf growth.
The flowering stage is the last stage of the Cannabis plant life cycle. This is the time when your plant will stop putting as much energy into leaf growth and will instead focus that energy on creating the flowers (buds), which are used for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Stages of Flowering – Source: Katie Plummer
Cannabis is triggered to flower when the hours of light it receives are reduced. 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 harvest. If you’re growing indoors, you get to play mother nature and can force your plant to flower at any point. When you’re ready for plants to start the flowering stage, change your lights to a 12/12 cycle ( 12 hours with the light on and 12 hours with it off ). You will see signs of flowering in 1-3 weeks . On average plants will be ready to harvest after 8-11 weeks of flowering.
Your plant will be ready to be harvested once flowers are compact and the pistils turn orange/brown. These pistils look like “hairs” coming out of the flowers.
To dry your Cannabis, hang sections of the plant upside down in a dark, cool space, such as a closet. You want to aim for 55-65% humidity and 60-70°F in the spot that you’re drying your plants in. Prolonged periods of light, friction from handling, and humidity/dampness can degrade resin glands, so you will want to avoid all of these.
During the drying process, plants lose roughly 75% of water weight, which increases the cannabinoid to weight ratio. It also helps equalize moisture content, preserve cannabinoids, and shed chlorophyll.
Cannabis is ready to trim once the stem snaps when bent, typically after 3-7 days of drying.
After your plant has dried, it’s time to trim! Trimming makes your fingers very sticky, so wear gloves if this is something you want to avoid. Simply trim off the larger leaves and stems. You can leave smaller sugar leaves if you’d like, as these still contain a good amount of cannabinoids and terpenes that provide the medicinal properties of Cannabis. It’s all personal preference of exactly how much you trim off. And you can save all the trimmings to make edibles, tinctures, salves, and more.
Curing is an essential part and the last stage in growing Cannabis. It helps the buds achieve full aroma. Curing is as simple as placing your freshly trimmed buds in a glass jar with a lid, like a mason jar. You’ll then want to place the jar in a cool, dark place, such as inside a drawer or in a cabinet.
During the first week of curing, you will want to “burp” your jars. This means you should open the containers once or twice a day for a couple minutes to allows moisture to escape and replenish the oxygen inside the container. After the first week, you only need to burp containers once every few days.
You should allow buds to cure for at least 2 weeks, but some people choose to cure for as long as 6 months. This helps stop the loss of moisture and to preserve flavors and aromas.
Is it too early to start germinating cannabis seeds?
Canadians have now spent a few solid months in frigid cold temperatures, and we’re starting to get antsy as we notice the birds starting to return, and the snow melting away. The shining sun and mild weather can feel fantastic on the skin, but we aren’t quite yet to the point where flowers begin to come to life, and so for many, the idea of starting marijuana seeds is still a distant plan for the future.
Benefits of choosing to germinate early
Now, we’re pretty fortunate to live in a region with a long enough growing season that starting marijuana seeds indoors isn’t necessary, so not everyone concerns themselves with this extra step. Those that do get to sit back and enjoy the spoils with a bigger and better harvest at the end of the season are starting the process of germination early in the year as it can help in a variety of ways, including:
- Stronger plants
- Higher seedling survival rates
- Larger harvest
- More potent product
Is it possible to start germination too early?
The truth is that the ideal time for any stage of the growing process is entirely up to you and the circumstances that you must work within. Many cultivators have great success growing year-round indoors, but that can be time-consuming, space-taking, and financially less ideal, so instead, what you need to know is how long you should have a sprouting cannabis plant indoors before transplanting it outdoors, to thrive.
As we first enter into spring, the temperatures are perfect, and the days get longer, providing much-needed sunlight for the earliest stages of growing cannabis plants. Eventually, we reach regular double digits during both the night and daytime hours, which is ideal for the flowering period, as it enhanced the plant’s ability to produce vital cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
Towards the end of our Canadian growing season, the temperatures cool, the days get shorter, and this results in a response from your cannabis plants. Basically, it tells them to hurry up and finish production, and this reaction occurs because they can sense that winter is closing in quickly, which means that they are likely to die soon.
All of these things significantly impact the best time to start germination, but they only explain the why rather than the how of the process. Even after knowing all of this, it’s easy to misjudge the best time of year to germinate, which is why it is essential to keep one rule in mind the whole way through as you decide.
When is the best time for germination?
Most gardening experts start digging up their soil in early May, but that tends to be out of habit and to make the ground softer for when the time comes for planting. Very few seasoned growers will plant anything before the big May 24th weekend, which is also when the majority of greenhouses and nurseries open their doors to the public. This is fine for some vegetables and flowers that are climatized to lower temperatures, but at that time, it’s still incredibly cold at night.
Cannabis plants are a tropical plant that can survive in less than ideal conditions, but they prefer hot and humid weather, and that is why they are usually planted halfway through June. By this point, there is no longer a threat of frost looming overhead, which gives seedlings a much higher chance of surviving the strenuous transplant from inside to outdoors.
Marijuana seeds planted directly into the soil often don’t get planted until the end of June, but seedlings started indoors have a much stronger head start allowing them to be planted earlier, but that still doesn’t exactly tell you how early you should start, or whether or not it’s too early right now. What you need to know is that the ideal amount of time for seedlings to hang out indoors is between 6 and 12 weeks.
That might sound like a short period of time, but if you do the math, we are already so close to spring. By the time this article is published, there will only be between 3-4 months left to wait, which is between 12 and 16 weeks total. That means that right now, and any point over the next month is probably the safest window of time to get started with germination if you intend to put your cannabis plants outside for the remainder of their lives.
How to germinate marijuana seeds
If you have already gathered all of the necessary tools for germination, then you are probably wondering how to get started. It really isn’t that hard to germinate marijuana seeds. The trick is to provide just enough moisture and heat to open up the fibrous shell, which will release the fresh, new seedling. There are several different ways that you can do this, but the most popular and widely used option by small-time home growers is the paper towel method, which we have included easy directions for, down below.
- Paper towel
- Translucent plastic bag
- Marijuana seeds
Fold a paper towel in half and use it to line the inside of a plastic baggie.
Add just enough water to one side of the paper towel where you can see it’s been absorbed, without pooling in large amounts.
Gently place the marijuana seeds at least one inch apart onto the wet half of the paper towels.
Press the dry side of the paper towel onto the wet one to encase the marijuana seeds.
If parts of the paper towel still feel dry, then add a bit more water to the mix.
Set the baggie somewhere warm and cool for the next few days. Light will only dry out the paper towel because, at this stage, there are no exposed leaves to soak in the powerful light, so keep it in the dark until you see small jagged leaves start to poke out from the shells.
Usually, small germinated marijuana seeds can last for several days this way as long as you continue to add moisture and introduce light once the leaves form, but it isn’t going to take long for the seedlings wanting to stretch out as they try to form a complex root system. Cannabis seedlings should not spend more than seven days in one of these bags before being transplanted into soil-filled pots.
How to successfully germinate old cannabis seeds
The thing is, that even if you are having difficulty germinating old seeds, there are several things you can do to achieve a higher success rate.