September 23, 2020 6 min read

By George Mouratidis

Cannabis growers often feel conflicting emotions the first time they see a glossy sheen of trichomes.

While you’re probably feeling pumped to smoke those pungent terpenes, you might also feel apprehensive about cutting your buds too soon.

Cultivators can’t let these wild emotions cloud their “weed whacking” schedule. When you decide to harvest will have a significant influence on your strain’s potency, so it’s worth taking your time before breaking out your scissors.

Although there’s no “ideal” harvest time for all marijuana strains, there are a few key indications you could use to gauge the “doneness” of your dagga. Knowing what features to look for will help you decide when to transition to drying & curing.

The Trichomes Tell All – What Color Signals Peak Potency?

Trichomes are to cannabis what eyes are to humans – windows into the soul. OK, maybe that’s a tad overdramatic, but trichome color is a big deal. Indeed, all of the other features in this post can’t hold a candle to the importance of trichome appearance.

So, what are trichomes, and why are they so important?

Trichomes are those sticky, mushroom-like glands that first appear on buds in the flowering stage. Although trichomes serve a defensive purpose in nature, the reason we care about them is they contain terpenes and cannabinoids like THC.

These trichomes will have a clear and almost “glass-like” appearance in the early stages of flowering. If left to progress on their own, trichomes eventually take on a cloudy white appearance that eventually morphs to amber.

Each of these colors tells home-growers critical information on their strain’s cannabinoid content.

Unsurprisingly, cannabinoid counts are at their lowest when trichomes first appear on the plant. It’s only after these trichomes turn milky white that they have the highest concentrations of THC. Amber trichomes indicate most of the THC has oxidized into another non-psychoactive cannabinoid known as CBN. 

Could Pistils Indicate Marijuana’s Maturity?

Although trichome color will always be the prime feature to examine, please don’t push those pistils to the side.

These stringy protrusions may not contain cannabinoids, but they could serve as reliable secondary indicators of whether your plants are ready for harvest.

When you first see pistils appear on your plants, they should be snow white and stand out like the pins on a porcupine.

As your plant matures, you should notice more of these pistils starting to darken and curl inward. When about 50 percent of your pistils have curled, that’s a clear sign your trichomes may have reached peak THC content.

Please remember that you shouldn’t evaluate your cannabis plants strictly using pistils. While you could take pistil appearance into account, trichome color should always play the most significant role before harvest.

What Tools Do You Need To Scan your Weed? 

We don’t care if you have 20/20 vision; nobody’s eyes are strong enough to see cannabis trichomes.

At a minimum, you should invest in a pocket-sized jeweler’s loop to help you get a better read on your weed. These affordable devices are easy to carry in your grow tent and offer a decent view of your cannabis buds. If possible, go for a magnifying glass that has at least 30-times magnification power.

If you have extra money to spare, please consider investing in a digital microscope.

While these high-tech options aren’t a requirement, they will make determining the optimal harvest time almost effortless. In general, you only need to invest in a digital unit that offers a max of 100-times magnification.

On top of one of the two tools listed above, you could also take a few pics of your cannabis buds with your smartphone.

Try to zoom in as close as possible to get the most accurate read on your trichomes. While this tends to be the least accurate measure of trichome quality, it could provide a bit of supplemental data.

Does Harvest Time Affect Marijuana’s Effects? 

When you choose to harvest your marijuana will have a significant impact on your strain’s effectiveness.

Harvest too soon, and your weed will be weak. However, if you harvest too late, your ganja will lean on the sedating side of the spectrum. Those who cut their buds when most trichomes are milky white will be rewarded with a potent psychedelic high.

The reason marijuana produces a “couchlock” experience later in the flowering stage has to do with a compound called CBN. Not to be confused with the more popular CBD, CBN is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that appears as THC oxidizes.

Although there’s a great deal we don’t know about CBN, many users claim this cannabinoid might have sedative potential. Indeed, some medical marijuana users harvest late in the season to take advantage of CBN’s effects.

So, home-growers should aim for the highest concentration of milky white buds if they want an intense, euphoric high. However, those who prefer their cannabis on the “stoned” side might want to wait till a decent chunk of trichomes turn orange.

What Are The Average Harvest Times For Different Strains?

Before you plant your cannabis seeds, take a few moments to research your strain’s average flowering schedule. Although these timetables aren’t written in stone, they could give you a good sense of when you should be on high alert for harvesting.

In general, sativa-heavy strains will need more time to reach peak potency versus indicas. If you’re growing an indica-heavy strain, expect it to be ready for harvest eight weeks after flowering. Sativas, on the other hand, don’t mature till about ten weeks into the flowering phase.

As for autoflowering strains, you have to begin monitoring trichomes at least seven weeks after planting your seeds.

Amazingly, many autoflowering varieties are ready for harvest within only 8 – 10 weeks.

Is It Better To Harvest Too Early Or Too Late?

As we’ve mentioned above, most home-growers prefer snipping their cannabis buds in the “Goldilocks stage” between clear and amber trichomes.

But if you had to choose one side of the spectrum, would it be better to harvest too early or too late?

In most cases, people don’t willfully harvest their weed too early unless they’re forced to.

The most common reasons a cultivator would choose an early harvest include stealth concerns, avoiding bad weather, or minimizing the damage of an infection. Although these buds will have reduced potency, they’re better than risking your entire crop.

While premature harvests aren’t unheard of, it’s far more common for growers to deliberately cut their buds too late rather than too early. The reason these growers hold off on harvesting is to take advantage of the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBN. 

Although scientists are still learning CBN's potential benefits, many people believe it gives their ganja a strong sedative quality. For obvious reasons, insomnia patients are often drawn to strains with high traces of CBN.

My Leaves Are Yellow During Flowering – Is There Something Wrong?

Understandably, many first-time growers get super worried after they notice yellow leaves on their flowering cannabis plant.

While yellow leaves often signal a severe nutrient deficiency during the vegetative stage, usually this symptom isn’t a big deal late in the flowering stage.

The most common reason cannabis leaves turn yellow is a nitrogen deficiency. However, plants only need a ton of nitrogen during vegetation (hence the low traces in flowering veg mixes). Therefore, you only need to get serious about this symptom if you notice it during the vegetative stage.

While yellowing leaves could signal a more serious problem, it’s generally not a big deal if you notice it late in the flowering season. Indeed, yellowing leaves often indicate your marijuana plant is reaching peak THC content, so they could be useful when determining your harvesting calendar.

While we’re on the subject of cannabis nutrition, please don’t forget Everything But The Plant now offers a variety of powder and liquid nutrients. Please click this link to find out more about our high-quality nutrients catalog.

Before You Harvest, Don’t Forget To Flush!

As a final tip, please remember to flush your cannabis plants before harvesting. While you may still enjoy potent marijuana without following this step, buds that haven’t been properly flushed often have a nasty “nutrient-dense” taste.

Flushing is the simplest way to clear your soil or hydroponics unit of excess nutrients, resulting in a cleaner cannabis flavor.

How do you flush a cannabis plant? Simple: at least one week before harvest, stop using nutrient supplements, and feed your plants a generous dose of purified water every day.

The only exception to this rule would be pH controllers. If you’re growing hydroponically, you must adjust for pH as you would during any other stage of growth.

If you’re interested in learning more about hydroponics grow set-ups, you could read all about it in this previous postEverything But The Plant also sells plenty of easy-to-use hydroponics systems perfect for cultivators of all skill levels.

With Trichomes As Your Guide, You’ll Know The Right Harvest Time

Choosing the perfect time to harvest your cannabis requires plenty of patience and practice. Although it might feel daunting on your first grow, you’ll eventually get the hang of “reading” your plant’s trichomes.

Heck, after you’ve grown a few successful strains, we bet you’ll develop a “sixth sense” for evaluating your cannabis plants.

Whenever you choose to harvest your plants, congrats on making it this far! We wish you great success in the drying & curing process.

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