When it comes to harvesting cannabis, timing is everything. Knowing when to pick your buds can make a big difference in the quality and potency of your plant’s final product. In this quick guide, we'll show you how to determine the best time to harvest your crop for maximum benefits—and maximum enjoyment.
The Cannabis Life Cycle
In nature, cannabis takes about five or six months to go from seed to harvest. These annual plants start sprouting in spring when the days become longer and more light is available. As summer comes and goes, most plants will hit their peak growth period and begin to flower around August or September. However, some strains can take up to nine months to mature.
This slow-moving process is sped up exponentially when cultivation happens indoors. Depending on your setup, your crop can go through as many as three or four cycles per year. While this accelerates the timeline for production, it also requires growers to be extra mindful of their plants’ specific needs during each stage.
Knowing When To Harvest
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to when you should harvest your cannabis plants. Different strains have different flowering times, and the exact moment of peak maturity can vary from crop to crop.
But generally speaking, there are a few signs that signal your plants are ready to go.
The trichome is the resin-filled gland that protects the plant’s flower and leaf structures. It also contains cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, which are responsible for cannabis’ effects.
By observing these tiny bubbles under a magnifying glass or microscope, you can get an idea of when your crop is ready to harvest. You want your trichomes to be half milky white and half amber in color. If they're still clear and translucent, that's a sign that you need to wait a little longer.
The leaves of your cannabis plant can also be used to help you judge when the right time to pick is. As a rule of thumb, fan leaves that start yellowing and falling off are an indication that the plant is ready to harvest. Nitrogen is decreasing, and the plant’s energy is being redirected to the flowering buds.
When your cannabis is flowering, its leaves will be bright green and somewhat flat. But as the plant matures, moisture will be drawn out of the leaves to nourish the buds. As a result, they'll start to curl inward, dry up and take on a yellowish hue. This is another sign that harvest time has come.
The pistils, or white hairs on your plant’s buds, are another great tool for gauging ripeness. When they're still mostly white and standing straight up, that's a sign that you need to wait a bit longer. But when the middle starts to darken and the pistils start curling inwards, it's time to start harvesting.
The shape of the buds can also provide clues about when to pick them. You want your buds to be firm and dense with tight, compact calyxes. If they start to loosen and become fluffy, that's a sign that you waited too long and the THC is beginning to degrade.
What Happens If You Harvest Cannabis Too Early
Harvesting your crop too early can cause a number of issues. For one, the trichomes won't be fully developed, meaning the plant won't have reached its full potency. Additionally, buds that are harvested early can be harsh and have more of an earthy taste—definitely not something you want to inhale.
However, some cases may require you to harvest earlier than planned, like a bug infestation or bad weather. If that happens, an early harvest isn't the end of the world. Your bud will just be a little less potent.
What Happens If You Harvest Cannabis Too Late
Waiting too long to harvest can also lead to a decrease in potency. As the trichomes age, they'll start to break down, and the THC will degrade. If the THC degrades too long, it turns into cannabinol or CBN, which is non-psychoactive and produces more of a sedative effect. Your plants' terpenes will be more pungent, but their flavor and smell won't be as vibrant or pronounced.
Additionally, your crop may become more prone to mold and rot. Keeping your plants in the flowering stage for too long can increase the risk of mildew, fungus, and other contaminants.
To Sum It Up
In a nutshell, harvesting at the peak of maturity is key to getting the most out of your cannabis crop. By keeping an eye on trichome color, leaf curl, pistil color, and other visual cues, you’ll be able to determine the perfect time to harvest.
And once that moment arrives, don’t hesitate to start picking your buds. They’ll be bursting with flavor, potency, and aroma—A.K.A., the ultimate reward for your hard work.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time of day to harvest cannabis?
Ideally, you want to harvest early in the morning before the lights come on. At the end of cannabis' dark cycle is when the terpenes and cannabinoids are at their peak potency. Capitalize on this window by harvesting while it's still dark.
What should my cannabis plant look like when ready to harvest?
When ready to harvest, your cannabis plant should have half milky white and half amber trichomes. The leaves will also be turning yellow and starting to curl inwards. Additionally, the pistils will be darkening while the buds stay firm and dense with tight calyxes.
When should I stop watering before harvesting?
Halt your plant's watering schedule at least two or three days before harvesting. This will give the plant time to absorb any excess moisture and helps it transition more easily into the drying process.
Some growers even extend that period by up to a week, claiming that drying out your plants prior to harvest results in bigger and denser buds. So feel free to experiment and see what works for your crop.