When to Harvest Marijuana Buds: A Guide for Beginners

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Knowing when to harvest marijuana can be one of the trickiest aspects of marijuana growing. Too soon and your marijuana won’t be very potent. Too long and you end up with an overly narcotic effect and too strong of a taste.

It’s true, harvesting can be tricky! However, I’ll teach you some strategies for timing your harvest. This guide explains the various methods for determining when the harvest is ready as well as what to expect during the harvest process.

Keep reading to start learning.

Or, skip ahead to your favorite section:

The Basics Of Marijuana Harvesting

Harvesting marijuana is a bit like harvesting grapes (or other fruits). The longer you wait, the more potent the grape and the stronger the alcohol. With marijuana, the longer you wait, the more cannabinoids there will be.

That means a stronger product.

See, after the flowering phase, your plant starts to die…

But, guess what?

There are many signs that will alert
you of this upcoming event. Such as:

  • The pistils turning red
  • The stem broadening
  • Resin on the buds browning and darkening
  • Leaves starting to yellow and die

If your plant has flowered and you notice
any of these symptoms, the chances are good that you are ready to harvest!

Pistils are turning red, and the leaves are turning yellow

There are some basic guidelines for when to harvest, but there is some contention on the exact ‘best’ time. Just like with fruits or vegetables, it partly depends on your personal tastes.

My free harvesting mini-guide has a handy cheat sheet, be sure to download it below!

  • Time your harvest for Perfect Taste
  • Get THC levels for a Perfect High
  • Don’t waste any Precious Bud

Flowering time

  • Indica Strains – Harvest after 8 weeks of flowering
  • Sativa Strains – Harvest after 10 weeks of flowering
  • Autoflowers – 10 weeks from seedling to bud

Pistils

  • 50-70% brown – young, light marijuana
  • 70-90% brown – ripe, heavy marijuana
  • 90-100% brown – sharp, heavy marijuana

Trichomes

  • Clear trichomes – wait a bit longer
  • Milky white/amber trichomes – ready for harvest
  • All Amber trichomes – overripe

Looking At Pistils and Trichomes

A magnifying tool is the best way to
see if your plants are ready for harvest.

How do you know it’s time?

Look for glistening, resin-filled trichomes on your buds, like the ones in the photo below.

Magnifying tools for harvesting
Magnifying tools for harvesting

With the right magnifying tools you can clearly see these details.

There are a few magnifying options to choose from:

Jewelers Loupe

Perfect for those on a budget, this low-tech tool is the least helpful. However, it’s still good enough to provide somewhat of a gauge.

Handheld Magnifier

This option steps it up, but it can be cumbersome to use. You’ll really need to get the focus right to view those trichomes.

Download my free Grow Bible for more tips on properly harvesting your plants

  • Grow with my Quick Start Guide
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  • Avoid common grow mistakes

Digital Microscope

Although expensive, this is the best option, as it will give you a clear answer as to rather your plants are ready to harvest. The main downside is that you’ll need a laptop to see the results. If you go this route, you’ll definitely need to read the instructions.

Bud under a digital microscope
Bud under a digital microscope

Keep in mind, all of these options will get the job done, but only if you know how to use them properly.

Not bothered by micromanaging your grow? Grab a Pot for Pot deal and you will be growing your plant in no time!

Longer Is Not Necessarily Better

Although a longer flowering period
may lead to a greater harvest, letting your plants flower longer doesn’t always
lead to optimal results. You must time it correctly.

I can’t say this enough:

If you wait too long, you could
experience an overpowering and unpleasant flavor. You may also experience decreased
effectiveness of the active ingredients – and yes, I mean THC!

The easiest way to keep from reaching that point is to pay attention to the pistil color. In fact, it is the most common approach.

Some growers harvest as soon as the pistils begin to turn red. Others wait until they are almost entirely red, and the resin is dark.

The right color of the pistils
The right color of the pistils

As I said earlier, you can examine the resin on your flowering plants to see if they are ready to harvest. Under magnification, the glands will be enlarged and covered in resin when mature. They may also swell and look sort of deformed.

That’s exactly when you should
harvest.

That resin will darken from transparent to opaque amber as it matures. Harvest when the resin is still sticky and transparent. Once that resin darkens and becomes more amber-hued, there’s not much time left before the plant’s active ingredients start to deteriorate.

Harvesting Based On Flowering Time

Looking at your flowers is just one way to know if it is time to harvest. You can also simply time it based on the plant’s typical flowering time. As a rule of thumb, all marijuana will be ready to harvest around the same time, with some variation based on the specific strain. You’ll need to know your strain to effectively use this method.

Browse our selection of feminized and autoflowering strains to find the perfect strain for you.

Successful marijuana growers do
these two things before timing their harvest:

  • Read the strain descriptions
  • Read comments from other growers

If you purchased your seeds from a reputable source (like me) chances are someone else has already shared some ideas about when it is typically ready to harvest.

Now, of course, there are other
variables that could impact when your harvest will be ready. The specific
conditions in your grow room, or outdoor climate also plays a role in the
development of your plant.

To summarize:

There is no accurate way of deciding
when it’s time to harvest. However, there are some guidelines that give you an
idea of when it is time.

Indica vs Sativa

Harvesting Indica Plants

If you are growing an indica plant, you can expect the flowering time to last about eight weeks before you can harvest. Outdoor growers can expect to harvest around the end of September.

Indica dominant cannabis plant

Looking for inspiration? Girl Scout Cookies is a delicious Indica dominant strain. If you haven’t grown GSC yet, you really should!

Harvesting Sativa Plants

For sativa plants, the flowering period lasts for about a month longer than indicas, meaning it will take about 12 weeks. That being said, several haze strains will actually flower faster – more like 9 to 10 weeks long. Read the strain-description before you order to be sure. Normally sativas will be ready for harvest at the end of October.

harvesting sativa marijuana plants

Need a fast sativa? Super Silver Haze can be harvested a bit sooner than most Sativas and can usually be cut and dried mid-October.

Harvesting Autoflowers

Autoflowering marijuana strains don’t rely on lighting changes, so they are somewhat easier to predict based solely on time. Once you see the first seedlings, you can expect the harvest to be ready in 10 weeks.

harvesting autoflower marijuana plants

While harvesting based on flowering time is not an exact science, it can be a good jumping-off point for figuring out when exactly to harvest your marijuana plants. It also works well for planning ahead because you can see what your growing season will look like.

Look For Red Or Brown Pistils

Observing the pistils is the best and easiest method for deciding when to harvest. Check a bud’s pistils to see what their coloring looks like. If they’re mostly white, it is too early to harvest. If they’re all brown or red, you’ve missed the peak time – harvest right away before the quality of the marijuana lowers any further.

Almost ready for harvest
Almost ready for harvest

If using this method, be precise. Here is a picture guide:

brown pistils on cannabis plant
0-49%

0-49% of the pistils are brown, it is not ready yet.

if 50-75% of the pistils are brown, the harvest time has come but it is still early, making it best for a lighter taste and mellower high. Waiting might be your best option
50-75%

50-75% of the pistils are brown. Harvest time has come, but it is still early. These will have a lighter taste and mellower high. Waiting might be your best option.

70-90% brown on marijuana plant pistils
70-90%

70-90% of the pistils are brown. You can harvest your marijuana plants because they are as strong and heavy as they ever will be.

90-100% brown on pot plant pistils
90-100%

When 90-100% of the pistils brown you’re almost too late for harvest. The taste will be heavy, and the effect will be narcotic. Harvest right away and don’t wait any longer

Can I harvest with white hairs?

The “hairs” around the pistils don’t tell you when to harvest. You need to look at either the pistils or trichomes. It can be hard to wait once those pistils start changing, but trust me, it’s for the best.

Here’s the deal:

Once those pistils are ⅔ brown or a
bit more, you can safely harvest.

Not sure if you prefer 70% or 90%? Experiment and find out. Some new growers harvest their plants at different times so they can figure out exactly when is best for their personal preferences.

If you’ve ever wondered, “can I harvest with white pistils,” the answer is yes. Some people prefer earlier harvested marijuana as it has more uplifting and lighter effects; while others prefer theirs as potent as possible.

Red or brown pistils
Red or brown pistils

Look:

When you harvest affects the quality
of the resulting buds. Now, what you consider to be high-quality comes down to
personal taste. You’ll have to decide. One of
the best things about growing marijuana is being able to control this
incredibly powerful variable.

Watch The Trichomes

If the pistil method doesn’t work
and you have one of the magnification tools mentioned above, you could look at
the trichomes to determine if you are ready for harvest.  This method is actually considered the most
accurate, so it’s a good idea to know what you are looking for.

Clear trichomes
Clear trichomes

The concept is simple: look at the trichomes on your plants’ buds. Trichomes grow on the buds and look like little mushrooms since they have a little ball on top.

Some of those trichomes are resin glands. They will have a crystalline structure or appear frosty as they grow on the leaves and buds of your plants.

Why does this matter?

Trichomes are responsible for the stickiness of weed. They are also where much of the THC and other fun chemicals are housed.

When we harvest based on trichomes,
we are determining when those trichomes are at their highest THC level. This is
difficult to see with the naked eye.


Status of trichomes

Harvesting based on trichomes

So, when do you know that the
trichomes are ready? You need to compare them based on these guidelines:

Clear, White Hairs

This is definitely not the time to harvest. If the trichomes are clear, they won’t be potent enough for harvest, and your final yield will suffer. Wait until nearly half of the hairs are dark in color and not sticking out so straight.

Half Clear or Cloudy Trichomes

It is still too soon to harvest. The buds haven’t reached their full potential,
although they will still produce a high
if harvested now. This type of high will most likely be more energetic or
“speedy.” You’ll get a stronger odor and flavor if you wait, however.

Mostly Cloudy Trichomes

Congratulations, you have reached
the perfect time for harvesting your buds! This is when they have the highest
levels of THC; so, if you want to maximize your yield, you must act fast. You’ll know your plants have reached this
stage when 50 to 70 percent of the hairs are no longer white.

I can’t say this enough:

Harvesting now is ideal. This is
when your plants are their most potent. As a result, the high that comes from
buds harvested at this time will provide some serious
euphoria and pain relief. It will be the most “intense” high you can get.

Amber and Cloudy Trichomes

If your plants have made it this far, it is a bit after the absolute peak time for the greatest amount of potency.

However, this is only because the buds have slightly less THC and more CBN. If you are looking for a more relaxing, anxiety-reducing high, this could actually be the perfect time to harvest.

A high from marijuana harvested at this time will be more narcotic and often result in a “couchlock” effect. You’ve reached this stage when 70 to 90 percent of the hairs have darkened.

Learn more about trichomes in my free eBook, the Marijuana Grow Bible

Again:

In terms of the ideal time, try
experimenting with harvesting slightly earlier or later to reach your desired
results. Harvest a few buds during their peak harvesting time and save some to
harvest once they’ve matured a bit more. That
way, you have a variety of options.

One important reminder:

Remember to label everything! You don’t want to end up extremely relaxed when you were looking for a more energetic high.

Now that you’re almost done with your grow, be sure to stay posted on the latest deals for your next!

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How To Harvest

So, you’re ready to harvest?

Start by removing the lamps from your grow room. Then, hang some wire from the ceiling in its place. You’ll need it for your plants.

Carefully cut the plant at its base, then secure it (upside-down) from the wire you just hung. Turn on a fan and aim it right beneath the buds, keeping the humidity around 45% and the temperature around 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Make sure the room is dark, and the extractor fan is running.

Expert growers have these supplies
on hand:

  • heavy duty shears or scissors
  • a dish of isopropyl alcohol
  • gloves

You’ll need those shears for cutting
through thick plant matter. The alcohol is for cleaning your tools and hands,
as resin can be quite sticky. You’re best off wearing gloves for the cutting
process, as it can get quite messy.

Harvesting: by pictures

Once you cut your plants and hang them, the next step is drying out all of the excess moisture. It needs to evaporate from the plant matter while the chlorophyll in the plant breaks down.

You don’t want to dry the plants too quickly because it will cause some chlorophyll to remain, which negatively alters the taste of your weed. That is why you keep the room dark and the temperature moderate.

You can expect the drying process to
last somewhere between 10 and 14 days. Keep a close eye on your plants while
they dry. Make sure no mold is growing or developing. (That’s why you keep the
humidity low). Maintain the temperature as well.

Outdoor harvesting

Harvesting outdoors is just like
harvesting indoors, except that not planning it carefully would be a serious
mistake.

In addition to understanding the
basics of harvesting, you also need to understand the seasons, watch the sun,
and think about your personal security. All those variables sure make outdoor
harvest time rewarding.

If
you grow cannabis outdoors, you will soon find that fall is your favorite time
of year. For more on growing outdoors, read this Howtogrowmarijuana article.

The sun is your guide

As an outdoor grower, you’ve monitored the sun throughout your cannabis plants’ life. Watching the sun is key to measuring how much energy the plant receives and for how long.  The sun is the most consistent and important element of any kind of gardening.

The sun’s role is as important at the end of your plants’ life as it was in the beginning.

Once summer comes to a close, start keeping track of the sun (if you haven’t already). You’ll need to pay attention to the amount of light it is providing to your cannabis plants.

Fundamental for your plant, the sun!
Fundamental for your plant, the sun!

The seasons will let you know

During the middle of the summer, your plants are probably receiving 14 hours or more of sunlight. In the northern hemisphere, there could be 15 hours of continuous sunshine around the 21st of June. When August becomes September, the amount of sunlight decreases dramatically.

For instance, in September you could lose as much as 90 minutes
of sunlight per day. This rapid loss in daylight is exactly what causes your marijuana plants to change their energy
focus to flowering instead of vegetation.

This strong reaction is no accident;
all plants have the strong ability to
distinguish day from night. So, when summer becomes fall, and there are only 12 or 13 hours of daylight
per day, the flowering process initiates within days.

How do you know how much sunlight you’ll get?

The best way is with a grow calendar.

Once you know when your plants will flower
based on the sun, it’s easy to plan for your harvest.

Light exposure can impact your harvest

Although the amount of sun that your
plants receive is easy to measure, it’s not as easy to monitor the darkness.

That is because marijuana is sensitive
to all types of light – even artificial lights. In some cases, it will react to
light pollution in the same way it would natural sunlight.

In the case of indoor growing, this is
a good thing, because you can manipulate your plants to produce buds exactly
when you want them to. However, for outdoor growing, it means ensuring your plants
do not receive uncontrolled artificial lights.

This is why you never plant marijuana near street lights or any other form of artificial light. Your plants need properly dark nights like they would experience in nature during the fall. If they do not receive enough darkness, flowering could be delayed.

Are you prepared to harvest cannabis?

Once flowering begins, it’s time to
start planning your harvest.

Let’s be honest, you’ve probably been looking forward to this time for months. You have managed to keep your plants happy, healthy, and secure during the whole season, and now you can reward yourself with a high yield and a good harvest.

Just like with any other step in the
process of growing marijuana, there are some tricks to harvesting outdoors
successfully.

Prepare yourself to harvest
Prepare for the upcoming harvest

You do not want to ruin everything due
to a silly mistake.

Keep an eye out for the signs, so
that you can avoid potential mistakes. The last thing you want is a complete
failure after getting through an entire growing season.

Time it right

I can’t stress this enough. You must time your harvest correctly.

If you are feeling eager and harvest
too early, the potency, as well as the yield,
could be greatly reduced. If you are too
hesitant and wait until after the plants’ peak time, the potency decreases.

As soon as the flowering phase begins,
start paying attention to the sun’s timing and strength as it correlates with
the seasonal changes. Then, keep a close eye on the details to determine when
your plants are at their perfect harvesting time. When in doubt, be more patient.

Flowering phase -  week 2
Flowering phase – week 2

“Do not water your plants for one or two days before harvest. The soil should be fairly dry, but not so dry that the plants wilt.”

~ Jorge Cervantes

Once you’re close to harvest time, start
planning how you will approach it.  Be
ready with answers to these questions:

  • Do you have enough time and security to cut the plants on-site?
  • Will you need to dig up and move the entire plant?
  • How will you transport your cuttings or plants?

These logistical questions will make
a huge difference when it comes to harvest security.

Signs you are ready to harvest cannabis outdoors

Whether you are growing indoors or
outdoors, your plant will provide some signs that it is ready for harvesting.

In addition to looking at trichomes
and pistils, you should also consider the weather. Ideally, you’d want to
harvest outdoors on a dry, calm day.  

No one really enjoys harvesting in
the rain.

In terms of your plant, pay
attention to the leaves and buds. The physical characteristics of the plant
will change considerably, letting you know it’s time.

The larger leaves will turn a
yellow-brown color signifying the slow death of your marijuana plant. The
stigmas of mature plants will wither at the base of the buds while remaining a healthy white color on top.

The yellow-brown color leaves shows it's time to harvest
The yellow-brown color leaves show it’s time to harvest

Another sign; one with a bit of latitude; is the color of the marijuana buds themselves. It is a good idea to pick them at the first sign that they are losing their rich green color. If they turn brown, (a sign that they’ve withered a bit), the buds will smoke more harshly.

More waiting, more resin

The one benefit to waiting until you near the point of the leaves turning brown is that the resin glands will contain more resin. Some people don’t mind the harsher smoke since they bargain that they are receiving a stronger, more intense high. This is a personal decision that gets easier after you learn more each harvest.

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