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How and when to harvest cannabis plants

When to harvest cannabis
May 5, 2021
Soil Ammendments

Growing quality weed is a long and intensive process, but it’s only half the battle. You need to know when to harvest cannabis, or all your hard work will count for nothing. Get this procedure right, and you’ll be well on your way to creating the marijuana of your dreams.


In this guide, we explore the ins and outs of harvesting marijuana. From knowing when it’s time to cut your buds to best practices, you’ll find everything you need right here.


Read on to find out how to tell when cannabis is ready to harvest!


It’s important to harvest cannabis at the right time

There’s no worse feeling than spending weeks caring for your weed plants to one day find them ruined. This is a sight many first-time growers discover and is easily avoidable if you follow a few simple steps.


Learning when to harvest marijuana is an essential skill if you hope to produce quality buds. To get this process right requires a firm understanding of the anatomy of marijuana. That way, you’ll know what to look out for.


Harvest buds at the right time for the highest potency

As your plants enter their flowering stage, the colas start developing and brewing that all-important THC. Each weed strain offers different amounts of this psychoactive cannabinoid. The levels of THC peak in the late stages of flowering, making this the perfect time to harvest cannabis.


The longer you leave your marijuana after the flowering stage, the more the THC will degrade and turn into CBN (cannabinol). While CBN holds medicinal benefits, it lacks the potency and effects that THC provides.


How to know when to harvest marijuana

There are two parts of the marijuana plant you can monitor to tell when to harvest cannabis. The first is the shape of the bud and the other is the color of the trichomes.


So, when is weed ready to harvest? Let’s look at some of the things to look at to determine how to tell when marijuana is ready to harvest.


Bud shape

You can tell a lot from the shape of the marijuana nuggets. Waiting for fat buds is one way to know when your marijuana is ready to harvest, but it isn’t accurate. This is because genetics plays a huge role in the appearance of a plant’s colas.


Cannabis ready to harvest


Indica strains produce thick and dense nugs, while Sativa breeds create slightly longer and fluffy buds. You should keep this in mind when buying cannabis seeds and deciding when to harvest pot.


Trichome color

Observing the trichomes is by far the most accurate way to tell when to harvest your weed. By tracking the changes in these colors from white to brown, you can determine the best possible time to reap your crop.


How to check if buds are ready to harvest

Expert growers rely on two trusted techniques to decide when to harvest buds. While both of these methods have their advantages, using the pair together will increase your chances of acquiring potent cannabis.


Look at the buds

The pistil method is used to check the color of the hairs protruding from your green nugs. As the flowering stage begins, you’ll notice transparent stigmas shooting out. As soon as most of these pistils (around 80%) turn orange-brown, it’s time to get the shears.


Don’t wait for all of the hairs to change color, as you’ll miss the best time for your marijuana harvest.


Check the buds with a magnifying glass

The second method relies on using a magnifying glass or jewelers loupe to view the trichomes on your bud. The color of these crystals gives you the most accurate representation of potency levels, letting you know exactly when to harvest cannabis.


Clear trichomes indicate the weed plant isn’t ready, while an amber hue suggests the bud is past its peak. To get the best out of your weed, wait for these crystals to turn cloudy or milky white.


Pictures of trichomes ready to harvest

Trichomes turn milky-white when they’re ready to be harvested, this is when THC levels will be at their highest.


Trichomes almost ready to harvest
These trichomes are close to being ready.


However, when buds are richer in CBN, trichomes will begin to turn a brownish amber color.


Pictures of trichomes ready to harvest
Trichomes begin turning amber as they become ready to harvest.


As you can see in the image above, not all trichomes turn color at the same time and therefore you must check your trichomes regularly for the optimum coloring.


Depending on the cannabinoid you desire the most, wait until trichomes turn milky-white or amber!


What tools do you need to check if trichomes are ready to harvest?

There are several great tools that you can use to get up close and personal with your trichomes and figure out the best time to harvest weed. Below, we take a look at three fantastic options catering to all price ranges. While some offer incredible zoom and quality, others provide convenience.


Jeweler’s loupe

The first tool that you can use is a trusty jewelers loupe. This device generally allows you to get a magnification of 10x, but there are also advanced versions that offer more zoom.


You need to hold your plant gently to get a clear image, but with some practice, you should quickly resemble a diamond thief. What’s great about a loupe is that it’s small, compact, and doesn’t run on batteries.


Camera phone

These days, most smartphones come with brilliant built-in cameras. They allow you to zoom relatively close to an object and still get a decent picture.


We all have a mobile phone; you’re probably using one right now to read this, making it an accessible tool to check on your trichomes. Besides, using your camera allows you to snap a few pics of your maturing buds and track progress.


Digital microscope

When it comes to figuring out when to harvest cannabis, a digital microscope trumps all. This hand-held device allows for magnification between 30x and 100x, resulting in a detailed evaluation of the trichomes.


Finding one with an additional light will help even more as it gives you an unobstructed view of the bud’s crystal landscape. The only downsides are the tool’s price and the need for a laptop, as most digital microscopes require a USB port before they can function.


How to tell when it’s too early to harvest weed

As we’ve already pointed out, there are three key factors to consider before harvesting your cannabis. These are:


  • The bud’s shape
  • The color of the pistils
  • The color of the trichomes


When the nuggets are small and light, you’ll need to give your weed plant more time or check for a nutrient deficiency. If the hairs or pistils are a white hue or clear, your cannabis is still flowering and has low THC levels.


Cannabis pistils
If pistils are still white, THC levels are still low.


Finally, you can tell it’s too early to harvest cannabis when the color of the crystals is clear. While each option gives you a solid indication of whether you can garner your plants, the best way to tell is by using all of them.


What tools do you need to harvest marijuana?

Once you’re happy with the current flowering stage, it’s time to start harvesting your cannabis. While this is one of the most exciting periods of growing weed, it’s very hands-on, requiring a few tools to get the job done right.


– Scissors and pruners

As you may have guessed, the first item on our list is a pair of scissors or pruners. Without them, you’ll struggle to remove the leaves effectively and run the risk of damaging those precious colas.


Scissors for harvesting


While you could use a knife for the bigger branches, it lacks the precision of scissors. You also don’t want to butcher the delicate cannabis plant that you’ve looked after all this time.


– Clean surface, tray, or bowl

The next item on the list is a tray or a bowl where you can place the severed branches or nuggets, depending on the trimming method. Either way, make sure you clean the surface sufficiently to avoid unnecessary contamination.


Use natural solutions to clean your tray, like water or alcohol. Avoid using detergents as they can compromise the quality and taste of your weed.


– Rubbing alcohol

Another brilliant tool that you’ll thank yourself for getting is a cloth and rubbing alcohol. The reason for this is to clean both your scissors and tray, avoiding unnecessary bacteria. This is an excellent solution as it also evaporates quickly, removing any moisture from the surface.


Another use for rubbing alcohol is to keep your scissors from gunking up and not working. This is something that happens due to the sticky trichomes present on the plant. Some strains like Gorilla Glue are famous for mucking up scissors, which is the reason for its name.


– Comfortable chair

The last item on our list is an absolute must. Find yourself a comfortable chair or cushion if you prefer sitting on the ground. The reason for this is because harvesting marijuana takes a long time, no matter how many plants you’ve grown.


No matter how fit you feel, standing throughout this process puts unnecessary strain on your back. To avoid any mistakes and a visit to the chiropractor, grab your chair and find somewhere peaceful to sit.


How to harvest marijuana – dry trimming

Once you’re happy with the condition of your cannabis and when to harvest it, it’s time for the drying process. Before you hang up your weed, you’ll need to pick a cutting method. The first technique is known as dry trimming.


Dry trimming is when you remove the excess leaves after your marijuana has dried for between ten and fourteen days. Below, we take you through the steps involved in this technique.


1 – Flush plants a week before harvest

The first step involved in this process is to flush your plants. Flushing cannabis is where you feed it only water two weeks before harvest. The reason for this is to remove any traces of nutrients and minerals from the plant.


While some believe this method is counterproductive, the results speak for themselves. It prevents a nutrient lockout and also helps the marijuana plant transition better into its next phase.


2 – Prune off some of the bigger branches

You shouldn’t chop down your tree the first chance you get. Besides, you’re not going to hang up the whole thing. Instead, remove the larger branches by cutting them where they join the main stem or trunk of your tree.


By doing this, you avoid the bush lying on the ground and damaging the fragile colas. You also won’t need to worry about accidentally standing on it while you’re busy with the smaller branches.


3 – Cut off all branches

Next, cut off the small branches that you’ll eventually hang to dry. There’s no need to remove all the leaves as they’ll initially help keep the buds moist for the first few days.


4 – Hang the branches to dry

Finally, hang up your small branches to dry. Ideally, you should find a spot that stays cool and dark the entire time. Make sure that there’s airflow to prevent any mold from growing.


How to harvest cannabis – wet trimming

The other option that you can use is known as wet trimming. This technique involves removing all the leaves before drying, effectively leaving you with only the cannabis buds.


It also helps to use this method if you live in a humid climate, as it speeds up the drying process.


1 – Flush your plants

Just like dry trimming, you’ll want to start flushing your plant two weeks before your trichomes are ready to harvest. Failing to complete this step will ruin your weed’s taste and quality.


2 – Cut off the branches

Remove small branches so that you can efficiently work with them. Again, you should refrain from cutting the whole bush down as it can ruin all your hard work. It’s best to cut one branch and finish with it before you get another.


3 – Trim the buds from the branches

Carefully cut away the bigger leaves and stems before you remove the smaller sugar leaves. This will allow you to remove the moist buds without damaging their shape and the delicate trichomes on them.


4 – Leave buds to dry

The last step involves placing your manicured nuggets on a drying rack. Make sure that you leave your herb in a cool, dark room with some airflow. It also helps if you turn the buds every day to avoid them becoming misshapen.


Tips for harvesting marijuana

Here are a few tips to maximize the quality of your bud when it’s ready for harvest to make life even easier:


  • Place a label with the strain’s name and the date it started drying can help when you have multiple breeds.
  • Look out for any friendly creatures and their homes while removing leaves, especially if you’ve grown your crop outside.
  • Add a fan to your drying room to circulate the air during the drying phase.
  • Try to maintain a temperature of between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit in your drying room.


What comes next?

The next step of your marijuana adventure is curing. Apart from the actual growing, the drying and curing phase is vital if you want to get the best quality. This also is the last stage required before smoking your bud.


Harvested buds hanging to dry


Curing is when you place your dried cannabis into air-tight jars for a few more weeks. This process helps bring out the taste and aroma locked inside the terpenes. Skipping out on this step can mean the difference between a participation medal and the podium.


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