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When to start marijuana seeds indoors

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.

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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
  • Water
  • 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.

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.

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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:

  • Weather
  • 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

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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.