The Life Cycle of a Cannabis Plant

If you’re anything like me, the life cycle of a cannabis plant didn’t necessarily cross your mind when you first started smoking jive. As far as I was concerned, the only stages of the cannabis plant were Grower > Dealer > User. However, like other living organisms, the cannabis plant goes through multiple stages of development as it grows towards developing the buds that we’ve all come to know and love. 

Those stages for cannabis (and most other plant life) are: Germination, Seedling, Vegetative, Flowering, and then finally, Harvesting. Read below to learn more about each stage.

Image from VisualCapitalist

Germination

Germination is the start of it all where the first spout emerges from the seed. I’ve never experienced childbirth personally, but I imagine it’s a quite similar feeling. This can be done in a few different ways, but when done for a home cultivation grow, the easiest way is to just place your seeds between two damp paper towels. It can take upwards to eight days before your seeds are ready for planting, but once you see the taproot, you’re good to move them into your growing medium (root-side down). 

Lightly water the soil (very lightly) and wait to see a sprouting seedling. Watch the temperature of the room (70 – 90 degrees F) and the moisture level, but within about a week you should see them start to sprout out from the dirt. We’ll cover in another article how you want your grow lights set up exactly, but if you’re using a high-intensity (HID) light, then start a few feet away.

Seedling

As we mentioned above, keep your HID lights away from your growing plant (or just use fluorescents). As it grows, you can slowly move the light closer, but make sure it doesn’t heat up your newly sprouted plant too much. If the heat coming from your light feels too hot on your hand after a few seconds, then move the lights further away from your plants. 

You might not see much growth, but know that there is a ton going on that you can’t see. As the famous cannabis grower, Jorge Cervantes, describes in Marijuana Grow Basics, “During seedling growth, the root system grows rapidly while green aboveground growth is slow.” After about four weeks, the plant enters the vegetative growth stage.

Image from growweedeasy.com

Vegetative

This stage is when you really begin to see the cannabis plant grow. The plant growth during this phase is essential to growing heavy buds, so plan on your plants getting at least 18 hours of light per day. If you plan to prune or train or transplant your plant at all, the vegetative stage is the time to do that. Be sure to take advantage of the fact that buds have not yet started to grow and be sure to feed the foliage of your plant. 

As Danny Danko described in the most recent episode of Grow Bud Yourself, “The vegetative state is the time to do that [training]. Trim the plants, bend them, any kind of techniques that you want to do to ensure that you get more than just that one sort of Christmas tree style plant and more like a Hannukkah bush type plant”

Flowering

This is the final stage of growth for your cannabis plant. Flowering begins occurring after it begins to receive 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness (coupled with 12 hours of light). As the plant transitions from vegetative to flowering you’ll be able to identify the plant’s sex at about the eight-week mark (did someone say puberty?). Plants under an 18/6 light will generally show their sex before plants that are under 24-hour light. Unless you’re looking for seeds, don’t allow the males to grow near any females. I’m not sexist, but I do want my plants focusing on producing full and heavy buds. Most growth occurs near the end of the flowing cycle.

Harvesting

Once your plant has reached full maturity, it’s time to harvest. Stop using fertilizers two weeks before you plan to harvest, otherwise, it will impact the taste and quality of the bud. Don’t water the plant for a few days before harvesting so the plant is pre-dried for harvest. Cervantes recommends giving your plants total darkness for a couple of days to allow more resin to develop on the buds. Before chopping, remove all the large fan leaves. 

After you’ve cut your plants, trim the branches and then hang them to dry. Keep the air moving in this room but not blowing directly onto your drying branches. After about a week, your buds are ready for curing. The most commonly used method for the final step of the process is using glass jars. The curing part is important, and there are many factors in curing that can impact your final product.

After the cannabis plant (which was a seed just months earlier) has been dried, trimmed, and cured, you should have some dank weed all ready for smoking, extracting, or baking!  

Published by Tanner B

A Minnesotan dedicated to learning more about cannabis while educating others along the way. I focus primarily on education with an emphasis on career education for individuals unable to navigate traditional career and training programs. Email me: tanner@mncannabiscollege.com

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