The Cannabis Cultivation Timeline

An overview of the 5 stages of cannabis cultivation.

Contents:

Growing cannabis comes with a lot of uncertainties. That said, cannabis cultivation itself can be broken down into five distinct stages, regardless of which seeds you’ve selected.

GETTING STARTED

Before you just start throwing seeds into soil, consider what kind of grower you want to be. Are you running an indoor operation, or working in the great outdoors? Do you have the supplies fit for your growing environment? Have you made sure to pick seeds that'll thrive where you're planting them, indoors or out? Speaking on that last point, any aspiring grower should know the difference between photoperiod and autoflowering cannabis plants. There are a few key differences to note.

PHOTOPERIOD PLANTS

The main marker of a photoperiod plant is the potential for indefinite vegetation—as long as you keep the plants on an 18/6–24/0 light/dark cycle. We'll talk more about that later, but it means these plants can withstand more mistakes in the growing process. It also means you can ensure your plant produces the best crop possible once you initiate flowering. All you need to do to make the switch is adjust the light cycle to 12/12. This becomes even more useful when you're able to make unlimited clones of your optimised plant. The main drawback is that it'll take around four months to get a substantial yield. However, you'll have a larger and usually more potent plant once you're there.

AUTOFLOWERING PLANTS

The way these differ from photoperiod plants is written in the name. Regardless of whether you feel the plant is ready, it'll start flowering at a certain time depending on the strain's genetic programming. In one sense, these plants are easier for novice growers because there's less to think about in regards to light coverage and cycle adjustment. On the other hand, due to the limited vegetation time, you have fewer opportunities for mistakes. This isn't ideal for first-timers, but the fact that it only takes two months from germination to harvest is definitely appealing. Autos tend to produce lower, milder yields than their photoperiod counterparts, but modern advances are bridging the gap.

5 STAGES OF CANNABIS CULTIVATION

Now that you’re familiar with the distinctions between photoperiod and autoflowering strains, we can begin to break down each stage involved in cannabis cultivation.

STAGE 1: GERMINATION — 1–7 DAYS

STAGE 1: GERMINATION — 1–7 DAYS

Even when your plant is a mere seed, the work you put in will dictate its success or failure. Germination is the stage when the first root cracks out of the seed's shell, which takes between 1–7 days. The wet paper towel method is a classic approach here, but you start out with the major setback of tiny fibres all over your new root. You can plant directly in the soil, of course, but you need to ensure temperature and moisture are dialled in.

If you want to keep all your seeds safe and clean, we recommend the Royal Queen Seeds Starter Kit. With that, they can enjoy clean, undisturbed germination. Once they get to 2–3cm high, you can remove them from the starter and place them in a suitable growing container.

STAGE 2: SEEDLING — 2 WEEKS

STAGE 2: SEEDLING — 2 WEEKS

Breaking through the germination stage, plants enter the seedling stage next. At this point, they'll need about 18 or more hours of daily light. After two or so weeks of proper care, though, they'll be well on their way to robust growth.

This is the point where it starts to look more like a cannabis plant. There will be one ridged blade per leaf at first, but the blades will get closer to their typical 5–7-finger stage by the end of this period. Until they get the full 5–7 blades, though, the plants are considered seedlings. Along with the increasing blade count, a vibrant green colour is another mark of a healthy plant. To keep them healthy, the two main things to keep an eye on are water and cleanliness. Seedlings are still fragile, so only light watering is necessary. Cleanliness is equally vital due to their disease and mould vulnerability. The perfect home for cannabis seedlings is a propagator, ideally with 70% RH and temps 20-25°C, under either white CFL lights or LED’s.

STAGE 3: VEGETATIVE PHASE — 2–8+ WEEKS

STAGE 3: VEGETATIVE PHASE — 2–8+ WEEKS

Vegetative growth is normally associated with a transplant at some point as plants outgrow the starter medium be it a Rockwool block or paper cup filled with soil or coco. Continued development of the root zone and robust branching are the top priorities for the grower. High RH of 50% is ideal and cooler temps 20-24°C can promote more females if growing regular seeds.

Autoflower cultivators have even less time to play with than photoperiod growers as most autos will race into flowering after just 2-3 weeks of vegetative growth. It’s for this reason that many auto growers plant their autoflowering seeds directly into the final container. The clock is ticking with autos from the moment of germination.

Photoperiod strains can be kept in vegetative growth indefinitely so long as 18+ hours of light and suitable conditions prevail. This is what allows indoor growers to keep mother plants for years and why outdoor grower’s plant in springtime. Indoors or outdoors 18+ hours of light facilitates taking cuttings too.

This is the stage to pot up photoperiod plants into final containers, at least a couple weeks before switching to bloom or prior to Summer outdoors.

While the photoperiod strains can be kept in veg weeks or even months to allow for all kinds of pruning and training to boost yield like topping, FIM, LST or even a ScrOG the Auto grower is somewhat limited by time.

STAGE 4: FLOWERING — 6–12 WEEKS

STAGE 4: FLOWERING — 6–12 WEEKS

At this stage, the focus of the grower and plants switches to the production of buds and the grower is already dreaming of a frosty marijuana harvest in the near future. RH needs to be reduced to 40-50% and temps kept between 20-28°C.

Cannabis plants will first give you an indication of their sex in the early phase of bloom. Typically within the first two weeks of flowering females will develop pistils or “hairs” to confirm their femininity.

If you see “nanners” or anything resembling a cluster of grapes protruding from flowers or anywhere on the stem then you have a male cannabis plant. Should you see both hairs and nanners then you have a hermie to remove right away.

Photoperiod strains are induced to bloom by the hours of light they receive; indoors the grower changes to a 12-12 light-dark cycle to artificially promote flower growth.

Outdoors Mother Nature dictates the grower’s schedule and flowering will only commence in Summer/Autumn as the hours of daylight naturally diminish, making for a longer more gradual flowering period. Weed growers in the Northern hemisphere don’t refer to October as “Croptober” for nothing.

Of course Autoflowering strains don’t follow the rules due to their Ruderalis genetics, so they will begin to bloom in about a month post-germination. Auto’s prefer to stay in 18+ hours of light for flowering and will be more productive on a light-dark cycle that would inhibit photoperiod strains from blooming at all.

Flowering generally lasts 7-10 weeks for indica and hybrid photoperiod cannabis strains, while the more Sativa dominant strains can take 10-14 weeks to fully ripen into primo head stash.

Autos really only flower for 30-45 days with a much more sudden transition into flowering, choosing feminised autos is a wise choice for novices that don’t want a seeded stash.

It’s always best to evaluate if a cannabis plant is ready to harvest by taking a closer look at those resin dripping buds. Using an inexpensive scope to zoom in on those resin heads to make sure they are milky and amber rather than clear removes all the guess work.

Once you confirm you’ve got a ripe marijuana crop on your hands it’s time to break out the trimming scissors and get harvesting. After two weeks slow drying in paper bags or hung up, at room temp and approximately 50% RH, you’ve got a stash.

Trimming

STAGE 5: HARVEST AND CURING — 1–2 MONTHS

Harvest is the most gratifying part of the process. In terms of timing, the first thing you should look to are the plant's trichomes. These are the glands that contain most of the plant's cannabinoids and terpenes. As the flowering phase starts, trichomes feature a translucent appearance. As you see 60% or more turn from translucent to cloudy, it's harvesting time. Some growers will wait until around 90% have turned in order to obtain a more sedating end product. For a comprehensive guide on the subject, read our blog on harvesting cannabis.

Foliage is another key sign. Peak maturity is indicated by the leaves becoming increasingly yellow. This indicates that the buds are fully utilising the nutrients, exactly as it should be. Once you see both of those signs, it's time to trim and cure your product.

Wet trimming happens soon after harvesting while the buds still have a high water content. They’re stickier, and that complicates the process a bit, but overall it's far more common and easy. Dry trimming, if you have the space, is easier on your scissors. However, it takes a lot longer for your buds to dry post-harvest.

STAGE 5: HARVEST AND CURING — 1–2 MONTHS

Finally, curing. If you wet trimmed, you'll have to dry first, but dry trimmers are already ready. Get some airtight glass jars and fill them two-thirds full with buds. Curing gets rid of remaining moisture, sugars, and chlorophyll, ensuring a final product that hits smoother than the rest. Open the jar once or twice per day for the first two weeks to release stale air and check for mould. After further drying out, you'll only need to check once or twice per week. After those few weeks, your buds should be all ready to go!

For more info on drying and curing your herb, check our blogs Top Tips To Successfully Dry And Cure Your Fresh Cannabis Buds and How to Cure Your Cannabis Buds.

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