During its life cycle, cannabis passes through four main stages. These stages are germination, seedling, growth and flowering. Anyone who wants to cultivate cannabis needs to recognise these stages. Each stage brings its own challenges and problems. Knowing where your cannabis plants are in their life cycle will dictate when to prune, train, and harvest your plants. Learn more about marijuana growth stages today. Want to grow cannabis from seeds? Read on for everything you need! Includes info on your genetics, lights, nutrients, grow tents, soil media, and more!
The Life cycle of Cannabis: From seed to harvest
Cannabis passes through a series of stages in its life. The most important of these are the germination, seedling, growth and flowering stages. Each stage brings its own challenges. Novice growers need to be aware of these, to be sure of giving their plants the attention and care that they deserve.
Plants are living beings. They are at the base of the evolutionary tree, they heal our bodies and souls, they delight our senses. I think all our readers know by now which is our favourite plant: Cannabis sativa L. – a fantastic crop and medicinal plant, and one of the oldest plant genera in the world.
No matter why cannabis is being cultivated, to see with your own eyes how a small seed grows into a bulky plant, which then starts flowering, is a moving experience every time.
Cannabis is an annual plant, so its entire lifecycle takes place within a single year, with most varieties reaching the end of their life after between four and ten months. In general terms, the following four stages of life can be distinguished:
- Germination stage
- Seedling stage
- Growth or vegetation stage
- Flowering stage
A quick glance is usually enough to determine the current stage. Over time, it is not just the appearance of the plant that changes, its needs also change. Different stages require different quantities of light, water and nutrients. Furthermore, if you want to determine the sex of the plant or prune it, it is useful to know which stage the plant has currently reached.
1 – Germination stage (1 to 2 weeks)
All forms of life start from a seed of some kind. High-quality seed is the single most important factor for successful cultivation. Cannabis seeds should be hard, dry and brownish in colour. There are a number of different ways of getting the seeds to germinate. The easiest is the paper towel method.
In the germination process, the germ in the seed breaks through its shell and forms a root, which is known as the taproot. Germination takes anything from 24 hours to 7 days. Generally cannabis varieties with a high proportion of Indica germinate faster than pure Sativas.
The germinated seed can now be placed carefully into the growing medium. The plant will start to grow and force its way upwards.
While the first two cotyledons (seed leaves) are being formed, the plant shrugs off the protective seed husk. That signifies the end of the germination stage.
Top 5 Ways Cannabis Can Affect the Menstrual Cycle
2 – Seedling stage (2 to 4 weeks)
Particular care is necessary at this stage in the lifecycle. Seedlings are susceptible to illnesses and mould. Many novices get carried away with watering and give the seedlings too much fertiliser. Even if you plan to grow outdoors, it may be useful to give the plants a healthy start indoors, assuming that a location is available with adequate light (e.g. a windowsill). The plants need as much light as possible at this stage.
How long the seedling stage lasts depends on the variety and on the environmental conditions. The main focus of the plant is on developing a root system. This forms the foundation for its later growth.
Meanwhile the plant will grow its first “real” leaves with the characteristic marijuana shape.
The leaflets are long and jagged. Initially a leaf has just one leaflet, although a mature cannabis plant will have five to seven leaflets per leaf.
Once the plant produces the full count of leaflets for each new leaf, the seedling stage is over.
3 – Growth stage or vegetation stage (2 to 8 weeks)
Now the plant starts its main growing phase. Provided it receives enough light, it can grow up to two inches (5 cm) in a single day. It is obvious that the plant needs to be repotted if it is still growing in a small pot.
Leafy plants like a healthy soil that is rich in nutrients. The production of chlorophyll and proteins depends on a supply of nitrogen. It is worth investing in the right kinds of fertiliser or even producing them yourself.
As it grows, the plant also needs more water. Young plants are best watered close to their stem, but later on water should be distributed more widely so that the tips of the roots can absorb water more efficiently.
Have you ever heard of topping, super-cropping or lollipopping? Using these techniques you can train cannabis or manipulate the shape of the plant. Growers use them to develop stronger plants with more buds. Opinions vary, however, on whether these techniques actually deliver results. They are only necessary for special cultivation methods such as the Screen of Green (SCROG).
How long the growth phase lasts is not a simple question to answer. Autoflowering cannabis varieties move automatically on to the flowering stage within 2 or 3 weeks. Regular or feminised varieties only start flowering once the days become shorter (outdoor cultivation) or the grower reduces the lighting period to 12 hours (indoor cultivation).
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.
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.
Can you speed up the germination process?
No. Cannabis seeds are delicate and don’t like to be moved around. They need a warm environment that doesn’t fluctuate in temperature, and not too much water. Once you put them in soil, we recommend leaving them be.
Quality seeds typically have high germination rates, but you may get some duds that don’t sprout. Let them do their thing; helping them along can decrease their chance of survival.
Seedling stage in cannabis plants
Seedling stage length: 2-3 weeks
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.
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
What does the pre-flower stage look like?
Pre-flowers are the beginnings of cannabis plant sex organs. If you’re growing regular seeds, you’ll likely have a mix of male and female plants and will need to determine the sex of your plants to discard the males. It’s imperative to separate males so they don’t pollinate the females.
Pre-flowers appear at the nodes of the plant, where a branch grows out of the main stalk. Females will develop an oval-shaped bract with hairs or pistils sticking out, while males will develop round pollen sacs.
Learn more about pre-flowers and cannabis plant sexing in our anatomy article.
How to tell when a cannabis plant is ready to bloom
When growing outdoors, weed plants will start flowering, or blooming, after the summer solstice, when the daily amount of light starts to decrease. Plants will start developing pre-flowers, as mentioned above, telling you that flowering has initiated.
When growing indoors, growers make the decision to force blooming or “flip” plants into flower by cutting off the amount of artificial light they receive.
What to do when cannabis plants flower early or late
The amount of time it takes a plant to finish, or be done flowering and ready for harvest, will depend on what strain it is. Typically, indicas finish flowering early and sativas finish flowering late.
Note information from the breeder when you buy seeds to grow to get a sense of how long it takes to flower. You may have to harvest some plants early and some late depending on their finish times.
For late-flowering strains, keep an eye on the weather and make sure cold weather doesn’t ruin your plants before they finish.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
How to Grow Cannabis from Seeds in 7 Steps: The Ultimate Guide to Your Best Cannabis Grow – 2020
Growing cannabis from seeds is easier than you might think. Read on for info on genetics, soil & other grow media, grow tents, lights, nutrients and more!
Before we begin, I’ll be straight with you: All you really need to grow cannabis from seeds is a pot, grow media like soil or coco, seeds, water, plenty of light, and a few nutrients. That’s it. Of course there are other supplies you could use such as a grow tent or high performance LED light, but they’re not always necessary. Cannabis has a long history of wild growth without any help from people. There’s a reason they call it “weed,” and that’s because it grows like one.
But even though you can grow cannabis without any special equipment, there’s an advantage to spending a little money on the right equipment. Industry experts are constantly improving their products which in turn help produce higher cannabis yields and a better flower. So today, as part of our mission to educate and provide valuable information, we’re going to go through each stage of your cannabis grow and highlight some of the equipment that can help you maximize your harvest.
Do you want to learn how to grow cannabis? Check out Growers Network University!
1. Cannabis Genetics
Genetics is just a fancy word for your seeds, and that’s what you need if you want to grow cannabis from seeds! The term can also refer to cannabis clones, but for the beginning grower, seeds are much easier to source. If you are interested in starting from clone stock, you can generally purchase them from a qualified local grower, assuming there are no laws against clone sales in your jurisdiction.
But which Cannabis seeds to buy? That depends on your grow style and personal preference. You’re going to choose an Indica, Sativa, or hybrid or course, but do you want regular seeds, feminized seeds, autoflowering seeds, or some combination? With regular seeds you’ll have to remove any males before they mature and pollinate your females or you’ll end up with seedy, low-quality buds. Additionally, cannabis grown from regular seeds will only flower in response to a change in the photoperiod (how many hours of light they are exposed to) so farming these types of seeds requires a bit more care and attention than autoflowering strains (which produce buds when they are old enough, not in response to the light) or feminized seeds which eliminate the need to monitor for males. If you’re looking for the simplest type of seed, you can go with autoflowering, feminized seeds.
Note: See our cannabis seed FAQ section below the article.
2. Cannabis Germination
Germinating refers to sprouting your cannabis seeds prior to planting. This isn’t always necessary when growing cannabis from seeds, but it WILL improve your chances of germination. The easiest way to do this is to fold your seeds inside of a moist paper towel and wait for a few days, making sure your paper towel remains moist. In this time you should see your seed “pop” as the tap root emerges. Now you’re ready for planting.
If you want a more controlled germination of your cannabis seeds, there are mini-greenhouses available with starter pods which allow your seeds to begin rooting prior to transplanting them into your grow media and offers an overall safer transition from germination to pot.
You can have a look at germination domes here.
3. Grow Media, Grow Tents, & containers
More than likely, you’ll be growing indoors in a grow tent and in soil. There are a variety of media types available including soil, peet, and coco. We recommend soil for the beginner, but whichever you choose it’s important not to skimp on the media. Spending a little extra money on your media will pay off in terms of cannabis quality and help you avoid problems such as pests, unbalanced pH, and poor nutrient delivery. You can see a few recommended soil and other media products here.
You’ll probably also need a pot. The pot you choose should be at least one-gallon and allow excess water to drain off. Once you’ve added the media to your pot and have your seeds, you’re ready to plant. Just insert your finger into the soil to create a ½ inch to 1 inch divot and place your popped seed inside. Cover and water appropriately. We recommend fabric pots which are reusable, lightweight, and drain very well.
The last thing to consider when planting your germinated seeds is where are you going to grow them? Are you growing in a closet? Do you have a dedicated space somewhere in your home? If not, a grow tent is an excellent option for creating a highly controlled growing environment. Grow tents are easy to assemble and their reflective interior maximize light efficiency. There are even kits that will provide everything you need including a fan to generate necessary air flow and a filter that will help keep the smell of your plants from wafting from your grow tent into your personal space. Even if you don’t mind the smell, your neighbors might! You can check out this grow tent configurator which will guide you through the best grow tent set up depending on the space you have available and the number of plants you plant to grow. You can check out our recommended soil media here. Need a pot? Check these out.
4. Cannabis Grow Lights and the Vegetative Phase
The vegetative stage is where your plants bulk up and develop the frame necessary to support the eventual flowers. As mentioned in the genetics portion of this guide, your seed choice will influence the amount of care and attention you’ll need to provide. If you choose regular seeds, the vegetative stage of cannabis growth will require an 18-6 light cycle (18 hours on and 6 hours off). The size of your grow will determine your light requirements and there are many choices. I tend to recommend LED lighting because they’re energy efficient and produce less heat than other types of grow lights, which will help keep overall temperatures down in your grow. Check out a few LED recommendations for your cannabis grow here. Keep in mind the size of the light if you’re using a grow tent to assure it will fit.
Fluence is a great LED brand, but far from your only option.
The vegetative phase is also where you begin monitoring the sex of your plants and then remove and destroy the males as soon as you identify them. If you have access to female clones, this step isn’t necessary, but it will be if you grow cannabis from seeds. You can check out our guide to sexing your plants here. Again, this is a step you need to take when growing from regular seeds. If you use feminized seeds you can be nearly 100% certain that all of your plants are female (1 in 1000 feminized seeds may turn out male).
Since the vegetative stage of growth is where your plant will bulk up and develop its framework, you’ll want to make sure you use some quality nutrients to ensure your cannabis grows strong and healthy. Click here for our recommendations.
A nutrient bundle is a great way to save money
Last but not least, an important consideration during the vegetative stage is pest control. It’s important that you monitor for pests and diseases during the duration of your grow to deal with any problems before they reach crisis level and threaten your crop. Fortunately, close monitoring and cleanliness will help you avoid most of these problems, but should you encounter pests or disease, there are a number of great, organic products that can take care of nearly any problem. And don’t worry, we recommend only products suitable for treating consumable plants. Check them out here.
5. Flowering & Nutrients
The flowering stage is when your cannabis plants will develop their buds. Again, if you choose to grow from “regular” seeds, you’ll change up the light cycle from the 18-6 you used in veg to a 12-12 cycle (12 hours on and 12 hours off up until harvest); autoflowering varieties won’t require this change as again, they flower when they are mature enough.
During this stage you are going to want to continue monitoring for pests and also add a “bloom formula” nutrients to help make big healthy buds. See our recommendations for your cannabis grow here.
6. Cannabis Harvest
A week or so before harvest you’re going to want to “flush” your media. This simply means that you stop feeding your plant nutrients and give only water. This allows your cannabis to use up all the available nutrients remaining in the soil so they won’t end up in your buds. Also, you can expect a degree of leaf yellowing during this final week as your plant converts its available resources into energy for continued bud development.
You can see our full article on when to harvest your buds here, but generally, you can determine when your buds are ready for harvest by examining the trichomes. You can use microscope to get a close up look at the trichomes. Clear trichomes generally mean it’s too early to harvest and your buds won’t be as potent. Milky white-amber trichomes means you are ready to harvest and can expect decent buds. If you wait longer, until the trichomes are completely amber in color, you’ll get a stronger psychoactive effect as CBD levels decline.
Harvesting generally requires scissors or gardening shears to remove your colas (bud sites) from your cannabis plants. Be gentle as to not disturb the potent trichomes.
7. Drying and Curing
Before we go into drying and curing, we should quickly revisit trimming. Trimming can be done before drying (wet trimming) or after drying (dry trimming). Either method is fine and will depend on your preference. The goal when trimming isn’t only to make your buds pretty by removing any fan leaves (which it definitely does) but also to collect the “sugar leaves” that surround your buds. Don’t get rid of these sugar leaves. They’re great for extracts, hash making, and in a pinch you can even smoke them, though smoking them will be a bit harsh.
With proper temperature and humidity control, you’ll be able to dry your cannabis in the same space you grew it. Most growers I’ve spoken with dry for a minimum of one week and often up to 10-14 days. There are a number of drying racks available that will allow you to spread out your buds for even drying. If you choose to dry trim, you’ll do this after drying but before curing.
Curing is a specialized drying process that comes after the initial drying and trimming. The goal is to cure the buds much like you would with homegrown herbs. You want a dark space with low humidity. You can cure in a glass jar, plastic tub, or a specially designed c-vault. You’re going to want to “burp” your container daily to remove any moisture remaining in your buds, and this is accomplished by simply opening the container and closing it again. The curing process can last anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks. Check out a few helpful products here.
A hanging mesh drying rack is only one option for your drying needs.
The CVault is designed to provide complete darkness and airtight bud curing.
So are you ready to grow cannabis from seeds? Hopefully we provided some good tips for media, lighting, and grow tents to get you started. We’d love to hear from you regarding your grow so please leave a comment in the survey below or click one of the “Join Now” buttons at the top and bottom of this article to get into our private, vetted, professional forum. And don’t forget to check out Growers Network University! See you there and happy growing!
A few questions about mail order cannabis seeds
Where can I buy cannabis seeds safely?
There are a number of good seed vendors out there. Our recommendations are established companies with great customer reviews so you know you’re purchasing quality cannabis seeds.
Is it safe to order cannabis seeds through the mail?
People always wonder about the legal risk of purchasing cannabis seeds through the mail. Legitimate seed vendors (including those we recommend) ship discreetly to most locations. Seeds can be stopped by customs, but this doesn’t happen often. You also want to make sure that wherever you decide to purchase your seeds will also ship to your country. This information should be transparent and available on the vendor’s website.
Before You Purchase
Questions you should ask before purchasing Cannabis seeds online
- Do you recognize the name of the cannabis seed company name? Branding goes a long way and a recognized, established brand is something to consider when purchasing Cannabis seeds online.
- What are customers saying in their reviews? Did they receive their seeds? Were they high quality?
Researching these questions will increase your chances of being happy with your Cannabis seed purchase.
- Do you know anybody who has used them as their Cannabis seed supplier?
Word of mouth recommendations are very powerful in the cannabis community. Someone else’s first hand experience can be helpful if you aren’t sure about which brand of Cannabis seeds to purchase.
- What’s their return or refund policy?
A good seed shop should at least have generally positive reviews and a well-defined refund or exchange policy.
Beware of cannabis Seed Scams
If you’re contacted via social media to purchase seeds, chances are you’ve been targeted for a scam. We recommend using established cannabis seed vendors such as those linked above.