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Calculating the right time to harvest

May 4, 2020
Growth Stages

When Is the Right Time to Harvest Your Cannabis Plants?

Cannabis cultivation is rewarding in and of itself, and harvest time is one of the most exciting parts of the process. The harvest is the result of months of caring for your buds while waiting for them to grow and develop, but it’s not always easy to know when to pick those buds. In the rush to collect the product, many growers cut their buds down too early, missing out on the full effects the plant can offer when allowed to come to full maturity.

Most cannabis cultivators use one of two methods to determine when it’s time to harvest: the trichome method or the pistil method. The latter requires only a visual inspection, while you’ll need a magnifying glass to do the former.

Timing the harvest is one of the most difficult aspects of the process, especially for first-time growers. When the buds are picked too early, the potency of the cannabis is reduced. If they’re left on for too long, the weed will taste harsh and offer undesirable effects. In this detailed guide, we’ll show you what to expect and when to harvest those sticky, green buds to get the perfect high for yourself or your customers.

The Right Time to Harvest a Crop

After the plants have been in the flowering stage for several weeks, their health may start to decline. Once most of the plants’ pistils (the tiny hairs on the buds) have acquired a reddish tinge, it may be too late. The cannabis harvested from such a plant may lack the euphoric effects most growers desire. During the last part of the flowering phase, the plants’ trichomes may turn also turn an amber color.

At this time, the buds have reached their peak THC level. If the plants haven’t yet been harvested, this valuable cannabinoid will start to degrade as it’s exposed to oxygen and UV rays. With time, the THC will break down into CBN or cannabinol. While CBN has some medicinal benefits for those with insomnia, it doesn’t provide the psychedelic effect for which high grade marijuana seeds are known to provide.

Generally, Indica strains are ready to harvest after about eight weeks, while Sativa strains need slightly longer. The highest yielding autoflowering strains need seven to 10 weeks of growth from seedling to harvest. However, these recommendations shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee, and growers should use one of the two methods mentioned below to determine when it’s time to pick the buds from their blue dream or gorilla glue plants.

The Pistil Method

When most of a plant’s pistils are straight and white, it’s too early to pick the buds, and the grower should wait a few more weeks. Once about half of the pistils have turned a reddish-brown color and start to curl up, it’s almost time to harvest.

By waiting for approximately 70% of the pistils to darken, you’ll harvest the product for its highest potential THC content. Once 85% of the pistils turn dark, the product will offer more calming effects. If it’s left for too long, the cannabis loses almost all its psychoactive side effects.

When 0-49% of a plant’s pistils are brown, it’s best to wait to harvest so the buds can achieve maximum potency. You will get a nice clear and functional high from your

girl scout cookie strain or sour diesel sativa buds, but by waiting a few more days you can get a higher THC content. It all depends on your preferences and priorities.

If 50-69% of the pistils have browned, the plant still isn’t at its highest THC level. However, harvesting at that time would yield a light taste and a mellow high.

As 70-90% of the pistils darken, it’s time to harvest those potent buds. Many growers believe that 75-80% is the sweet spot, with anything above 70% and below 90% being considered a premium quality crop.

If more than 91% of the plant’s pistils have darkened, it’s past its prime, and the THC has started to degrade into CBN. When plants are left unharvested this long, the buds may taste harsh and offer a strong narcotic effect. However, some growers focus more on trichomes than on pistil color.

However, some cannabis cultivators think this method does not work. Many believe that letting 90% of a plant’s pistils change color is a bad idea, but some growers say that it provides a unique kind of high. Others say that they’ve let all their plants’ pistils darken, and the weed they picked still did the job. For other growers, the focus is on an entirely different aspect of the plant to see out their clues – the trichomes.

Examining Trichomes

Unless you’re a superhero and have incredible vision, it’s impossible to use this method without a magnifying device. We suggest using a hand-held microscope ranging from 30x to 100x magnification. With it, you’ll be able to evaluate the resin glands or trichomes on the plants’ buds and nearby foliage. With an illuminating microscope, you’ll get an unobstructed view of those trichomes.

For those who didn’t already know, trichomes are the small crystals we see growing on a plant’s leaves and buds. They’re what lends marijuana its stickiness, and they play a crucial role in a crop’s potency. Look for trichomes that look like tiny mushrooms, or resin glands topped with little balls.

If the trichomes are transparent, the plant isn’t ready. Harvesting at that stage would bring decreased potency and a lower yield. Do your blueberry weed plants justice and let them wait out the additional few days.

Cloudy trichomes indicate that it’s the right time to cut down the buds. A plant with milky white trichomes has a high THC content, and the product will provide a potent, energetic high. Hopefully you have some more autoflower seeds or feminized seeds already germinating in order to be ready for your grow tent after you harvest this batch.

Cloudy and amber trichomes show that the plant is past its highest potency, but the product will still offer a cerebral high. If all the trichomes have turned amber, the product will offer a sedative effect. It can be also perceived as more hazy or groggy than the usually get from classic cannabis strains that you are quite used to.

Once there are a significant number of swollen, mushroom-like trichomes, the cannabis has reached its maximum potency. Growers should also pay attention to the product’s color. A plant with transparent trichomes isn’t yet ready to harvest, while weed with amber or milky white trichomes is ready. If all the trichomes have turned dark, it’s too late!

Tools for a Successful Harvest

Though every grower’s techniques are different, most use a select few tools when harvesting cannabis.

A magnifying glass helps you examine a plant’s pistils and trichomes to determine whether it’s ready for harvest. There are numerous types of magnifiers on the market, and a grower’s choice will likely depend on their comfort level.

Gloves will protect your hands from the plants’ sticky resin. Though disposable gloves are best, it’s important to avoid the use of latex gloves as resin will stick to them quickly.

Pruners will ensure a smooth, efficient harvest. If you’re bringing in a few helpers, be sure to have a few extra pairs on hand. As with other tools of the cannabis trade, with pruners, you’ll get what you pay for.

When Should Plants be Harvested for Maximum THC Content?

The right time to harvest depends on the effects a grower is seeking. For example, if you’re looking for a sedative effect, wait until the plants’ pistils are almost all amber. This provides a product with elevated CBN content. However, for more THC, consider picking the buds when 70-90% of their pistils have darkened.

Alternatively, a grower can wait until the plants’ resin has become slightly darker. For buds with a high THC content, examine the trichomes through one of the magnifying devices mentioned above. If the trichomes are clear, the buds aren’t ready. It’s best to evaluate the trichomes regularly, as their condition will tell you when the plants are approaching maturity.

Our Suggestions on Optimal Harvest Timing

As you’ve likely gathered from reading our guide, there’s significant disagreement on when to harvest cannabis plants. Marijuana cultivation is a personal experience, and its processes can only be improved through practice. Every strain is different, and there’s no gold standard for either the trichome or pistil method.

Many of today’s cannabis cultivators are experimenting with high-CBN products, as this cannabinoid is known to have analgesic properties. High-CBN strains will produce a sedative effect, but most users describe the experience as being rather pleasant. For optimal results, harvest the plants when they’re slightly past their peak. With this strategy, you’ll get a good blend of THC and CBN.

Harvesting Plants in a Cold Room

Some cannabis aficionados grow for the sole purpose of flavor and exquisite quality. They are primarily concerned with preserving the terpenes and flavonoids in the plant, even moreso than the THC level, which can easily break from heat or light once the plant is cropped. This is why it is never advisable to fast-cure your buds in an oven at a high setting. Instead some concentrate-producers even cut down and trim their plants in a cooled room to preserve maximal flavor.

Can You Freeze Weed After the Harvest?

If Cannabis seed farmers find themselves with an excess yield that they do not need for smoking or making edibles, there are a few ways they can freeze it. You can store excess trim or sugar leaves in a freezer to make hash later, some take things further by freezing flower as soon as it’s dried and picked.

If you’re growing cannabis for personal use, wide-mouth glass jars may not keep the product fresh for a long enough period. Though most cultivators agree that an airtight jar will keep buds fresh for about a year and a half, that’s not always ideal when dealing with a bumper crop. So you can vacuum seal and keep in the freezer for at least twice that length of time.

Freezing Flower for Increased Shelf Life

Whether you’re freezing buds or storing them in airtight jars, the standard trim-and-dry procedure must be followed. Vacuum jars are a great choice, but any box with no static charge will work. Pack the container and seal it tightly before putting it in the freezer for storage.

When you need more buds, simply take the container out of the freezer and allow it to thaw naturally. Don’t handle the product while it’s frozen, as its trichomes will be fragile. Also, don’t try to defrost the flower in the microwave.

In most cases, the topmost layer of bud will be of lesser quality as exposure to cold, water, and air might have degraded it slightly. Overall, freezing buds after the harvest will still yield a quality product. The longer you can hold out before dipping into the stash, the greater the chances of success.

Harvest According to the High You Seek

For a more cerebral high, harvest the product when more than 40% of the plants’ pistils have gone dark and more than half of their trichomes have become opaque.

For more potent cannabis, wait until 70% or more of the plants’ pistils have darkened and the trichomes resemble tiny mushrooms. At that time, the flower has reached its maximum THC content.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed high, wait until more than 80% of the plants’ pistils have darkened and some trichomes have taken on an amber color. The more trichomes turn amber, the more relaxed the high will be. However, if the wait is too long, the product will contain more CBN and less THC.

These are just suggestions, not hard and fast rules. Your results will depend largely upon strain selection and overall cultivation experience.

The Bottom Line

Choosing the right time to harvest a cannabis crop is tricky, especially for first-time growers. It may help to cut away small pieces of a plant if you believe that it’s getting close to harvest time. Sample these cuttings, and if they provide the desired effect, it’s safe to harvest the remainder of the crop.

New growers face several obstacles, with excitement being the main issue. Though it’s understandable to want to sample the product, patience is crucial. There’s no point in spending weeks or months tending to a crop if it can all be wiped out by a premature harvest.

Although there’s no universal solution, it’s not as hard to choose the right time to harvest as some believe it is. Once the plants’ trichomes and pistils start to change color, it’s time to observe the crop more closely. Check the plants daily and follow the guidelines we’ve set forth. Cut the weed down, cure it, and dry it once the buds have reached their highest potency. Alternatively, the buds can be harvested a little later for a relaxed high, or earlier for more mellow feelings. Whether you’re harvesting early or late, the best crops start with great seeds. With help from the pros at, you can find the right seeds for a flavorful crop.

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