Learning the cannabis life cycle starts with understanding these 4 stages.
Photography by Georgia Love for Herb
In some parts of the world growing cannabis is as easy as dropping a seed in the ground and letting nature (and the perfect climate) do its thing. But whether you’re growing outdoors in the perfectly fertile valleys of Colombia or a well-tuned basement grow-op in Michigan, a grower needs to know the stages of the cannabis life cycle to harvest a healthy crop. A cannabis plant goes through four basic stages of life from seed to harvest and each requires its own level of care and attention to detail.
The first among these steps, as you might imagine, begins with the seed and is known as germination – or convincing the seed to sprout with the use of water. This process can take anywhere from one day to a week depending on the method of germination and the type of seed, with some growers claiming that Sativa strains generally take longer to germinate.
At this point, the plant does not need any light or nutrients as the goal of germination is to get the seed to sprout a tap root so that it can be planted. The most common method for germinating a seed is to soak the seeds by resting them between pieces of wet paper towel like the biology experiment we all remember from grade school.
Seeds that are ready to germinate are usually light or dark brown in color and hard to the touch, whereas white or green seeds are not yet prepared to sprout. Dormant, or dry but usable, seeds can be stored for up to a year without having to germinate them, so long as they are stored in dry conditions.
Once the seed has split open and begun to sprout it can be planted in soil which allows it to progress to the next level.
As a plant enters the seedling stage it will sprout leaves which appear round in shape and do not resemble the familiar pot leaf. These are the earliest stages of the plant’s growth and the purpose of these tiny sprouts is to allow the plant to absorb the light it needs to develop its more recognizable features.
This stage of growth requires at least 18 to 24 hours of sunlight in order for the cannabis plant to take root and sprout new leaves. A cannabis plant will remain in the seedling stage for two to three weeks during which time it will require very little water as its roots have not developed to absorb large quantities.
The next step, known as the vegetative stage, is the point at which the plant begins to develop a thick stem as well as new branches and the distinct features of the cannabis plant. It is also the stage at which growers will need to move their plants to a larger growing medium to allow the roots to expand.
In the vegetative stage of growth, cannabis plants need plenty of nitrogen and water to develop thick branches capable of supporting the dense buds of the next stage in the life cycle.
Cannabis plants will remain in the vegetative stage so long as outdoor conditions remain ideal and it receives at least 18 hours of sunlight a day. Typically, the vegetative stage lasts anywhere from two to eight weeks with outdoor plants naturally transitioning to the next step as sunlight wanes later in the year while auto-flowering plants transition regardless of light.
Some indoor growers may choose to extend the vegetative stage of a plants life because they are hoping to harvest clones or groom the plant for the optimal yields in the flowering stage.
A plant enters the flowering stage only when its photoperiod (the amount of light it receives) is reduced to 12 hours a day. This occurs naturally in outdoor grows as the days get shorter, especially regions that are closer to the equator where the natural day/night cycle offers 12-hour days and nights.
In this stage, plants begin to sprout the buds that will eventually be harvested. It’s important to note that male plants, identified by the pollen sacks which grow where the stem and branches meet, should be removed from the grow room in order to allow female plants to grow dense, trichome rich, buds. If a male plant pollinates a female plant, she will focus her energy on growing seeds rather than clean buds with a heavy psychoactive effect.
This stage can take up to seven weeks and is the point at which you will be able to smell your plants as they begin to sprout trichome rich buds. The buds will be ready for harvest when the hair-like sprouts begin to transition from white to orange.