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Marijuana timeline – The cycle of cannabis

Marijuana Growing Timeline

marijuana-life-timeline

You’ve decided it is time to grow your first marijuana plant. You’ve spent hours going through our 1000+ strains review catalog, our tutorials, and our forum. You’ve bought all the necessary equipment and your seeds have arrived at your doorstep. You are, in other words, ready to dive nose first into the deep waters of marijuana growing. However, there is one question bugging you (and every aspiring grower for that matter):

Five factors that influence timelines

So, your first question is: how long will it take before I have a taste of my own product?

A simple question, with a not-so-simple answer. You see, the growth rate of marijuana is not always what ‘ss written in the back of your seed pack. There are, in fact, five important factors that will determine how soon (or how late) your plants will flower and blossom.

  • Genetics;
  • Using seeds v. using clones
  • Growing conditions and medium;
  • How much you train your plant;
  • Your harvest timing;

The growth of marijuana can take anywhere from 7 weeks to 8 months depending on if you are fast tracking indoors or going natural outdoors. This is a huge time difference. In reality, the average grow time from seed to harvest is likely to be somewhere between 3 – 5 months. Keep this in mind when forming your plans.

Outdoor growing times are different to hydro growing. Growing hydroponically can be done anytime of year and you can take the plant through the stages of growth quicker. If you grow outdoors, then you are going to have to play by mother nature’s rules. You will plant in spring and harvest about five months later in autumn.

We will assume from this point forward that you are going to grow indoors. Check out outdoor growing tips here.

Genetics

marijuana-genetics

Perhaps the most important variable in an otherwise unstable equation. If you are using a non-auto (regular) marijuana strain, then you will need to trigger your plant’s flowering stage yourself through a change in light patterns. Auto-flowering strains enter their flowering stage …well, automatically, after a certain point of growth. Depending on the strain you will choose, you will get a shorter or a longer time until flowering. We have created a handy list with some of our favorites for you to review

Quick Flowering Marijuana Strains

Normal Flowering Marijuana Strains

Slow Flowering Marijuana Strains

Of course, you should remember that, when it comes to marijuana, patience pays off. Quicker flowering plants usually produce smaller yields than their slower growing counterparts, which can produce ounces of smokeable buds upon flowering.

Plant Training

marijuana-plant-training

We have talked in depth about plant training in past articles. Generally, experienced growers train their plants so that they can increase yield. While these methods actually bear fruit, this is often at the expense of speed. Some methods, like topping or super cropping, might delay the development of younger plants, in the hopes of a massive yield in the end.

The main philosophy between training plants involves strategically hurting them, to trigger their defense mechanisms. While these ancient methods are effective and universally accepted, it might take a while for the plant to recover, delaying its journey to maturity.

Harvest Timing

harvest-marijuana-timing

As we will see later, the harvesting period of your plant can last between two to three weeks. Harvesting within this time frame is absolutely fine whether you do it earlier or later. However, the effects of your buds might differ significantly: buds collected earlier have more intense THC levels (cerebral high), while the ones that are collected later offer a more relaxing, CBD-rich experience.

Therefore, according to your needs, growing your plants might take a longer or shorter time.

Growing Environment

marijuana-grow-room

“Environment” is a rather broad term, that covers a lot of technical details. In this context, we are using it to refer to the lighting, temperature of the grow room and growing medium. All of these aspects have been extensively covered by our website in the past. So, in case you are considering to start your first indoor grow, you should definitely take a look at the links above.

Lighting

lighting-marijuana-plants

Your plants’ one and only true feeding source. It is very rare to see any marijuana tutorial on the web that will not mention proper lighting as an absolutely essential component of proper marijuana development. If you are growing indoors, regardless of the medium, you should carefully research how to properly use lights.

Bear in mind that this is a problem for indoor growers only. If you are growing outdoors, nature is both your greatest ally and your mortal enemy. Even if your location is friendly towards growing outside, you should carefully select the time you want to plant your seeds Then, you have to take good care of the light intake of your plants. Generally, outdoor crops grow at much slower intervals (half a year for a fully grown plant, give or take), but are significantly larger and produce vast yields.

Indoors, things are simpler. By controlling the lights, you can emulate growing conditions. However, you still need to make sure that all your plants are receiving adequate levels of light, so they can feed properly and grow at a normal rate.

Temperature

temperature-marijuana

Marijuana plants do not like extreme temperatures. When it comes to plant development and growth, you should be especially wary of colder temperatures. After a certain point (outside 70-85ºF (20-30ºC) in the earlier and 65-80ºF (18-26ºC) in the later growing periods), the development of the plants is hindered. Warmer than normal conditions can harm your plant too, but will not stall development. Instead, you might experience airy buds and burned leaf tips.

Growing Medium

marijuana-growing-medium

Soil is not the only way to go and often no the best! Although it might be the most popular option for outdoor growers, there are a lot of other substances that can act as a host (medium) for your seeds. Each one offers different pros and cons apart from the obvious soil or compost solution that is ubiquitous and easy to obtain, there are many soilless (hydroponic) mediums for you to choose from. These alternatives offer slightly quicker plant development and higher yields. They also avoid many diseases. This is because hydroponic setups provide as many nutrients as necessary to the roots of the plants in an extremely convenient form. Nutrients are essentially delivered to the roots of the plants. Therefore, the plant does not have to “search” for them, saving its energy for faster development.

Assuming that you’ve read all of our exhaustive tutorials, you are now more than ready to start growing. In the next sections, we will guide you through all the different phases of the life of a marijuana plant. This is a detailed timeline, with specific instructions, videos and pictures about each stage. Before we start, it is important to remember that marijuana is an annual plant. This means that after it flowers, it has completed a generation and it is up to the next seeds to continue the life cycle that just ended.

Your Timeline: Getting started

We are going to assume that you are completely comfortable with growing from seed and just skip straight to the decisions you need to make to become a successful cultivator of cannabis.

marijuana_seed

The first decision, before you even begin to grow, is what you want to grow and why. Look here to see our review of different marijuana strains to get you started. When you know the best strain for you and your purpose, it is time to move onto some gardening. In short, you should choose your beans wisely. The genetics of the bean are the foundations of your crop. You need non-pollinated female plants. You need to make sure you are not dealing with male plants or hermies. The hermaphrodite strains can still be used to produce your bud, but the male seeded plants must be removed to maintain the purity of your crop. It is best to source female plants for the best crop.

If you select an auto-flowering variant, then you are going to have to be vigilant. These plants may offer quicker harvest, but it is easy to get caught out. Remember there are a lot of seeds out there, from high yield, autos, high THC, high CBD, hybrid, sativa, indica, and more. You will have done your research and chosen your strain – but make sure you also understand what differences this makes when planning out your growing timeline.

By the time you have done your research, gathered the equipment, and sourced your beans, you are likely somewhere between 2 – 4 weeks in your growing timeline. Don’t see this as wasted time. This time could guarantee your success.

Germination

Germination is the seeds initial stage of growth. It is the magical time when the embryo that is hidden inside the shell of the seed cracks open and produces a tiny root. This root will be affixed to the soil (or your growing medium), starting your plant’s life. The growth occurs in the meristem cells; after germination, cell division is rapid throughout the plant, although the bulk of development is concentrated in the stem and roots.

Meristem cells are basically the same everywhere on the plant. It is only their place and the environmental stimuli that make them react in different ways. This is especially useful to remember when cutting clones: the cells at the base of the cutting will become roots, and those at the top will grow into the rest of the plant. Many growers are using clones instead of germinating new seeds, as it takes less time and it is less risky. You can initiate the germination of the seed by facilitating the stratification process and by providing your seed with enough darkness, to begin sprouting.

Before attempting germination, you should check your seed is ready. It should be hard and a pale colour. If the seed is anyway squishy – forget about it.

The time to germination tends to be about a week. Sometime between day 1 and day 7 the seed should germinate. People often use the paper towel method – this is a tried and trusted technique that could avoid failure from the start. This allows the seed to sprout without potential damage to the small new roots. This is a process of popping in the seeds to your paper towel kit and waiting. It really is that simple. Sativa strains will take more time to germinate that indica strains, so it is a matter of just waiting for the tap root to appear.

germinated-marijuana-seeds

Want some guidance on the paper towel method? Here goes:

You will need:

  • Paper towels / Kitchen Towels;
  • Two plates;
  • At least one seed (obviously).

After you have all the necessary equipment (and you have established that your seeds come from a reliable source), follow our simple, step by step guide. Always remember: before doing anything sanitize your workspace and your hands thoroughly, especially if you are a smoker. Sanitize your hands every time before touching your seeds. They are particularly fragile organisms, and everything is potentially dangerous to them.

  • Dampen the towel and place it on top of the first plate. Remove any excess water;
  • Place the seeds on top of the towel, leaving a generous amount of space between them;
  • Place some more layers of damp towels on top of the seeds. Remove any excess water;
  • Cover everything with the second plate;
  • Store this makeshift clam you just created somewhere warm-ish (about 70ºF/20ºC);
  • Check the towels every day to ensure that they are not dry. If they are, spray them with more water;
  • In about three days (approximately), a tiny root protruding from within the core of the seed;
  • When you notice that the root has sprouted, transfer each one to your growing medium with the utmost care.
  • Poke a small hole (about 2-5 mm) in the surface of your medium and place the seed inside root first. Cover it up with just enough substance to block excess light, but not too much. Young seedlings are not that powerful, and you don’t want to stop their development;
  • After a few days, you will notice a small seedling poking out of your growing medium. Congratulations, your infant-seed is now a toddler-seed!

marijuana-germination-guide-chart

Please note:

  • The process should take around a week, but this is not set in stone. Be patient;
  • This step-by-step guide is useful only if you are growing from seed. If you plan on cloning your plants, check out this!

marijuana-seedling-support

This is a crucial period of time for your young plant, as it will start to build a strong root system that will delve deeper and deeper within the soil (or other growing media). Also, it will start “breathing” (transpiration) and begin producing chlorophyll, which is essential for photosynthesis and nutrition. You will notice that the seedling will have a tendency to follow the suitable light sources. In this stage, plants do not need intense lighting, so fluorescent or full-spectrum LED lights might be more suitable.

The seedling stage

Cannabis_Seedling

This is the stage before the vegetative growth stage. Here the need for 18 – 24 hours of light is the same, however your concern here is that you do not harm the delicate seedlings before they become established. The transition to vegetative growth will happen between day 10 and day 15. Before this it is likely that your crop will look like any old plant growing.

Once the plant takes on the characteristic looks of a marijuana plant, then you know you are entering the sturdier, vegetative stage. You should be looking for a marijuana leaf to be having approximately seven fingers before it is considered a mature plant.

The ideal temperature for your propagator is ideally 70% RH and with temps from 20°C – 25°C (68°F to 77°F). You should choose LED’s for the best outcome, or HPS (HID) lights. You want these seedlings to develop the strongest roots possible, so lightly fertilise the soil too.

At this point, every new pair of leaves that appears will be more finely formed and larger than the least. Their maximum number will reach 10 or 11 leaves. The seedling stage is completed within one to three weeks for indoor growers and four to six for outdoors. This is also the time when you might want to consider transplanting your plants to a large enough vessel. This step is vital for the well-being of a cannabis garden. Tiny pots can tangle the roots and subsequently hinder growth. In severe cases, it can even cause root rot, which will ruin the whole plant. Baby plants need adequate space to reach their full potential. A handy rule of thumb is to have at least a one-gallon pot to transplant to for the next stage. Just before the plant enters the flowering phase, upgrade to a five-gallon pot per plant. Of course, everything depends on your experience and grow room space, but the premise is the same: give your plants space!

marijuana-transplanting-seedlings

Vegetative Growth

Woop, Woop! You have hit the vegetative growth stage – usually somewhere between 2 – 8 weeks. You are close to success. Now your priorities are the development of the root zone and giving the plants chance to create robust branching. In short, this means transplanting – moving some plants to new containers to give them more space.

During its vegetative phase, marijuana plants are working full force to increase development and biomass. There is a major increase in root growth rates, which expand rapidly to cope with the drastic increase in nutrient demand. Leaves also grow larger to be able to produce a sufficient surface area for photosynthesis, and transpiration is noticeably increased. In this phase, it is very important to water your plants more (however, be careful not to overdo it). Outdoors, this phase takes place in the summer, to take advantage of the long sunny days.

marijuana-transpiration

Indoors, where you have the huge advantage of being able to play around with the light supply of your plants, you can manipulate the timelines according to your needs. For a “summer” setting, you can use an 18/6 photoperiod, until your plants have reached a satisfying size. Contrary to the previous stages of plant growth, there are no real signs that tell you this phase is over. Theoretically, you could keep your plant in vegetative stage for months before you decide to change the light patterns. On average, plants need two to four weeks to reach an adequate size. After that, you can switch to a 12/12 period to force the plant into the flowering stage. Light cycles are all too important at this stage and should remain consistent. If you do not provide a steady source of light to your plants, they will become stressed and their development might be severely delayed.

Cannabis_Vegatative_Stage

You need a high RH of 50% at this point – and temperatures up to 24°C / 75.2°F – so increase ventilation at this point – LEDs make this easier. The cooler temperatures will promote more female growth from regular seeds, if you haven’t sourced female only beans. Your plant will appreciate healthy, nutrient filled soil if you want the best results. It is a good higher to use a higher level of nitrogen at this stage.

The containers you choose now are the final ones you will need before harvest. Therefore, choose wisely, as the size and health of your crops will be impacted but this selection. Whether you choose to wait to grow bigger plants to increase your crop, or you attempt to grow a lot of smaller plants for the same outcome is your choice. A common rule is that the bigger the plant the more buds will grow.

Majuana_vegetative_stage_two

While your plant is in its vegetative stage, it will start growing upwards. If left untrained, it will reach its apex height before entering the pre-flowering stage. However, very few growers leave the plant to grow naturally and that’s perhaps what you should do too. Think of this as your plants’ adolescence: the more you train them in this phase, the tougher they become in the future. There are quite a few methods for training your plants.

Pre-Flowering Stage

While this is not a growth phase per se, we added a separate section about it as in this period growth can double in an exceptionally short time. At this final step before full flowering period, the plant is working full force, consuming nutrients as a furnace. In this phase it is important a) not to worry about any loss or yellowing of leaves and b) never, under any circumstances, try to harvest the plant. At this point, it is giving one final push before its environmental changes indicate that the time for reproduction has arrived. By changing your light cycle from 18/6 to 12/12, you will automatically trigger this pre-flowering or transitional period.

If the seeds you are growing are not feminized, this period is all the more important as now you will be able to determine whether your plants are male or female. When the plants are younger, it is very hard to determine their sex. Male and female characteristics of marijuana may start to show up during pre-flowering. Therefore, it is important that you learn what to do as your plants slowly approach maturity. You can see all the tiny details with the naked eye, but a 30x magnifier will make life much easier for you. The appearance of pre-flowers can not be manipulated by altering the light cycles. It occurs naturally when a plant is grown enough to show signs of sexual maturity. You will notice the pre-flowers developing behind the stipule at the fourth to fifth branch internodes.

harvesting-marijuana-magnifier

Male marijuana plants are easily distinguishable by a green sack between the stem and the leaves (hanging like little balls). If you notice any males around your female plants, remove them immediately from the grow room. This way, you will eliminate the chance of fertilization, which can ruin the psychoactive effects of the resin that forms on the trichomes.

male-marijuana-plant

The same should be done with hermaphrodite plants; unless you know what you are doing, you can’t afford the risk of pollination. Female pre-flowering plants have a pair of white pistils emerging underneath and around the seed bract of the plant.

female-marijuana-plant

female-male-marijuana-plant-comparison

We still do not know how the sex of the plants is determined. Things are even more confusing in marijuana, as it appears that environmental factors play a significant role in the sex of each plant.

It is generally advised to induce your plants into full flowering mode after pre-flowers appear and not stress them out. Let nature do its work and facilitate it when it is needed! The pre-flowering stage is essentially the “buffer zone” between the vegetative stage and flowering, so you will often find it gets overlooked, despite playing a huge role in the final yield and development of the plant.

Flowering Stage

So, now we are at the business stage of the growing cycle. This can happen as early as five weeks in but can be more that 16 weeks. If you are growing outdoors, then nature dictates that your plant flowers in the late summer and early autumn months. If you are growing indoors, you can obviously impact on the time of year your plant buds.

Bud_Harvest_Marijuana

Generally speaking, when budding, you should change to a 10 – 12-hour light-dark cycle, which will promote plant growth. You are essentially mimicking the light cycle experienced in the outdoors – but with your indoor equipment. This stage involves intense hormonal fluctuations, brought forth by an increase in red and far-red wavelengths of light (provided in controlled settings primarily by high-pressure sodium bulbs) and by LED grow lights that offer far-red byond PAR into 780 nm. If you are not using a full spectrum LED light, you’ll want to adjust your settings accordingly. If you do not have a full spectrum LED grow light you might want to use a HID light with a bulb that falls into the orange/red color band. This band is suitable for promoting healthy flowering and HID lights ensure that your plants are getting the right quality and amount of light they need.

marijuana-red-light-band

In terms of temperature and humidity, aim for levels between 68-77ºF (20-25ºC) when the lights are on. For the 12 hours your plant is in the dark, play around on the lower levels of these settings. The humidity should be steadily at around 70% to avoid pest problems. Also, many growers believe that changing to a “blooming” nutrient solution actually helps their plants. Although this might help in some cases, you should be very careful with bottled nutrient solutions. Always start by using half of the recommended dosage.

marijuana-nutrient-bottled-solutions

If you absolutely must use extra nutrients beyond the bormal blooming nutes, cannabis in the flowering stage generally require more potassium and phosphorus, so focus on that. Keep in mind though that you should use it sparingly and focus on simulating the transition of seasons as effectively as possible. Nature knows its way around.

Most strains will flower for a window of 8 – 12 weeks – but some last only 7 and others last as long as 14 weeks. You need to continually assess when the plant is ready for harvest. The best way is to use a scope to see if the rein heads are milky and amber rather than clear is the fool-proof method of judging. As soon as you notice the “crystallizing” like effect all around your buds and trichomes, then your buds are fully mature. If you see that your buds are fully grown and resinous, it is the time to go!

marijuana-buds-crystalizing

You should stake and trellis the plants to make sure they can support the buds they grow. You should also keep feeding the plants through this period and increase the watering. Only prune in the first two weeks to avoid upsetting the hormones of the plant.

Harvesting

harvesting-marijuana-preparation

Proper harvesting might seem like an easy feat, but this is not the case. Preparation is needed, and if you only care about smoking your buds, you’ll end up losing in quality.

When you reach approximately 10 days of flowering, you should spend them removing any excess nutrients from your growing medium via a process called flushing. This is extremely important because traces of these extra nutrients are actually diminishing the quality of the smoke. Cleaning them off your plant will offer a cleaner bud with better taste.

The flushing of the plants should begin about 14 days before harvest. The first step, as we stated above, is to stop giving your plant any nutrients. This way, you are actually forcing your plant to burn through what is left in the growing medium to feed. Flushing is achieved by essentially dissolving and washing out all remaining nutrients from the growing medium.

How to Flush your Plants

Flushing is really easy. All you need is a 5-gallon container filled with pH’d water. The process is this

  • Empty the water on your grow medium and wait a few minutes. This will allow the nutrients to be dissolved;
  • Add more water to your container and repeat. This will clean up any remnants of the first dose;
  • As nutrients, compounds and surplus elements decompose, they can be effectively flushed out by the second dose.

Here comes the real “pro” part: after a few days, your plants will show signs of nutrient deficiency (yellowing of the leaves). To determine whether your plant is clear of extraneous elements, snap a leaf off and taste it. If it tastes bitter, your plants still have lots of nutrients inside them (incidentally, if you don’t flush, this bitterness goes all the way to your smoke). If it doesn’t have a taste, you are good to go. It is recommended that you do one more flush two days before harvesting your plant. After that, your plant should go through a short period of absolute dryness. Let’s see why.

Why is a Dry Period Necessary?

The final flush of your plant should be the last time water is introduced to it ever again. By letting the air in your grow room go completely dry, you are effectively aiding resin production.

harvesting-marijuana-resin-production

This phenomenon is easily explained in scientific terms. When the relative humidity in your grow room is low, your resin production will increase because the plant will try to protect itself from an oncoming drought. Marijuana resin actually has one of the highest UV-resistance ratings among plants. In this case, it works as a natural sunscreen. This is why it is recommended to eliminate the humidity in the grow room right before you harvest. Some growers even subject their plants to a 24-hour dark period, as they claim it improves resin production.

Get them Buds!

harvesting-marijuana-buds

Timing the harvest is essential to ensure quality. Do not let anything to chance; you should harvest your exquisite flowers in the dark period, just before the lights normally come on. If you can, keep your plants away from direct light as long as they are still at their root. This is because light draws nutrients from the root to the buds (and we don’t want that)! During the night time, marijuana plants are storing nutrients in their roots. You want to take advantage of that and reap your harvest while they are busy there!

  • Cut the entire plant away from the root;
  • If the plant is too large to deal with just one cut, start by cutting the larger branches first.
  • Leave one or two larger stems attached to the branches you are cutting off. This will help you with the drying of the buds.
  • Continue your harvest by snapping off all leaves not associated with the buds. You should then proceed to trim off the smaller leaves.
  • Look for leaves with little resin coverage first and then move into the interior of the nuggets.
  • Turn the buds over and get to the underside of smaller leaves and then remove them. This process is called manicuring.
  • After the cutting, trimming and manicuring of your plant, it is time to hang your branches to dry. If you have a drying chamber, remove the buds and proceed normally.
  • You can find more information on harvesting here.

Post-Harvest

Your timeline is not done just yet. You now must wait 3 -4 weeks for the buds to take on the qualities of marijuana that you enjoy. This is a process of drying – and how you dry can dramatically impact the taste, smell and potency of your crop. You can impact on whether the bud causes headaches or how quick the effects are. It is important to put some time into research how best to dry and cure your buds to achieve the perfect effect.

Marijuana_Harvest_Drying

Curing equalizes the moisture levels within the bud with the outside. Essentially, you need them to dry out slowly so that no humidity is trapped in the middle. When your buds are half-dry, put them into air-tight jars. They will eventually start to sweat and releasing moisture. Once the buds are evenly moist, open the container and let the air flow. These air exchanges are essential to the curing process because the air inside the jar (or air-tight bin) is actually more humid than the outside air. You should repeat this several times per day to ensure proper airflow. In about 10 days or so, the moisture level in the herb will be stabilized. Congratulations, your buds are ready to be enjoyed!

Some quick tips on drying and preparing your buds

  • THC is naturally an acidic, non-psychoactive chemical. During the drying period, it is converted into its psychoactive form. This is why you should let your buds properly dry out;
  • Marijuana will lose approximately 75% of its weight during drying;
  • Do not try to rush things. If you dry your buds too fast, they will be fragile and crumbly. Keep a level of humidity at around 50% in your drying room to prevent this;
  • When the stems are snapping and not bending, your buds are ready for the curing process;
  • Let the air flow inside the container every 5 hours during the curing process.

Check out our Harvesting Guide

The Marijuana Cycle of Life

Total Time Indoors (Seed – Smoking): 12 – 16 Weeks

We have already mentioned that marijuana is an annual plant, meaning that after harvesting, the plant will eventually die. However, there are some things you can do to help close and restart this never-ending circle of life and death. For example, you can use dead plants as compost for your new crops, or can even try your hand at breeding! Also, if you want to save some hassle for your next grow, you could always try cloning before your plant dies and see it grow once again from the seedling phase!

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