When To Harvest Cannabis For Best Results (With Pictures)

When To Harvest Cannabis For Best Results (With Pictures)

It is almost time for the best moment of growing cannabis. Harvesting gets you one step closer to enjoying the fruits of your labor.

However, there are some steps you still need to take. Before diving in, it is crucial to know when to harvest cannabis and how to tell it is time.

After all, the window of opportunity lasts for a limited time. There are a couple of ways to spot when the plant is nice and ripe. Can you tell just by looking at your plants? Do you need any special equipment?

In this guide, you will learn when to harvest weed, and all the signs of a cannabis plant that is ready to yield her buds to you.

Understanding the Cannabis Growth Cycle

The Vegetative & Flowering Stages in Brief

There are four stages in the cannabis growth cycle:

  • germination
  • seedling
  • vegetative
  • flowering

Germination. Germination can last anywhere between 3-12 days, making it the shortest stage in the cannabis growth cycle. This is the period when the seed may or may not take root depending on the environment. If grow conditions are good, the weed seed's taproot will anchor and two cotyledons will sprout 2-4 days after. 

Seedling. The cannabis plant officially enters the seedling stage once its two cotyledons are fully exposed and capable of photosynthesis. This stage is also where the plant exhibits phototropism - which basically means it'll start growing towards light sources. So grow light placement during this stage is crucial.

The plant's sex (male or female) is usually determined in the second week of the flowering stage. Cannabis growers will typically remove the males.

After about 1-4 weeks of seedling, the plant is ready for the next stage.

Vegetative. The vegetative stage lasts the longest - anywhere from 1 to 2 months. During this stage, the plant experiences rapid growth. It will demand more nutrients. This will require an extensive root system and large leaves to maximize surface area for photosynthesis.

Flowering. The flowering stage is initiated by changing the light cycle, prompting the plant to start producing buds. During this stage, the plant directs its energy towards bud production, and the buds gradually increase in size and density over several weeks. Proper light, temperature, humidity, and nutrient levels are crucial during the flowering stage to ensure optimal bud development. Careful monitoring and attention to the plant's needs throughout these stages are essential for a successful cannabis harvest.

Why You Need to Monitor Plant Development


Timing is critical when you get to the harvesting part of marijuana cultivation. A few growers become impatient and start cutting down the cannabis plants too soon. Some people might be unsure if it is early and end up waiting too long.

When you watch for the signs of a ripe harvest, keep in mind the disadvantages of harvesting at the wrong time. The wrong times includes

When many of the cannabis buds are not mature yet, the potency is low due to underdeveloped trichomes. You might have a less pleasurable experience when consuming cannabis. Not to mention, you could lose out on a small portion of your yield.

The number of terpenes in the buds will be lower as well. Since terpenes control the taste and aroma of cannabis, it could mean a more earthy flavor.

On the other hand, you could miss out on a good experience if you delay the harvest. Once THC reaches its peak, it will start to degrade over time. Instead, you will get more CBN in your buds.

Some growers prefer high levels of CBN since they can have sleep-inducing effects and a relaxing experience. However, the goal of many people is to try to get the highest THC levels.

Additionally, the flavor and smell can go bad if the buds mature for too long.


Signs that Cannabis is Ready for Harvest

The marijuana plant is fully grown, which means it is almost time to harvest. It is necessary to know what to look for to see if the plant is ready. Growers have multiple ways of determining when to harvest cannabis.

The five methods of seeing if the crops have ripened are:

Pistil/Trichome Indicators

- percentage of pistils turned amber/brown

One of the more reliable ways to know when to harvest cannabis is by looking at the pistils. Pistils are little white hairs found on female cannabis plants. When the time is right, they will change colors, like leaves. Instead of becoming yellow, they will appear reddish or brown.

The pistils become red or brown and dry when the plant matures. The browner they are, the more potent the buds become.

If 40% of the pistils are brown on the tips, then the harvesting window has started. The cannabis buds will have an energetic effect when you consume them. You should wait a little longer if you want to increase the potency of the plant.

When at least half of the pistils are brown or red, then the buds are at their peak potency. The optimal range is 50% — 70% of the tiny hairs. If 80% — 90% of them are dried and changed colors, then the plant is past its peak.

The levels of THC have gone down, but the cannabis flowers contain more CBN for a relaxing effect. As mentioned before, some strains flower longer than others. The pistils might need more time to become brown. Also, keep in mind that a few varieties retain most of their white hairs even when they are ripe for the picking.

- trichome color (clear, milky, amber) 

Another effective means of spotting mature cannabis plants involves trichomes. To the naked eye, trichomes appear like tiny crystals or bulbs that rest on the leaves and buds. They are responsible for the production of cannabinoids and terpenes. Trichomes also keep various pests and animals away.

A clear trichome means it is too early to harvest, and the color you are looking for is milky white. Milky white signals that the buds have the most THC content.

A few people wait until the trichomes become yellow or amber, especially if they have insomnia. If they become brown, then it is too late to harvest them.

If you are waiting for amber trichomes, keep in mind that they might not change in a few strains. The ones on some sativa plants do not usually go past milky white despite the weeks passing by.

Unlike leaves and pistils, you will need a magnifying tool to get a better look at the trichomes. Some growers use a piece of equipment called a jeweler's loupe. A jeweler's loupe is an affordable magnifying glass that provides a 40x magnification.

Another tool you can use to determine when to harvest cannabis is a digital microscope. Place the microscope near the plant and connect a laptop to it. You can view the trichomes on your laptop or another device. Some people use a digital microscope to share images with others.

Bud Density & Firmness

Lastly, you can determine when to harvest cannabis by looking at the bud shape. The method might not be as accurate as others since they come in all shapes and sizes. Still, they can provide you with some helpful hints.

The immature buds tend to appear as balls of white hair. They still have plenty of time to go before they can get trimmed.

During the later stages of the flowering phase, the buds become thicker and denser. When most of the pistils are still white, it is still not ready to harvest yet.

A ripe bud is firmer, tighter, and larger compared to immature ones. Of course, many of the pistils and trichomes have changed color as well.

Still, knowing what a ripe bud looks like can be tricky at times. Below is a great picture to help you become familiar with them.

Leaf Discoloration

Yellow leaves can be a sign of a variety of plant conditions. Many issues can cause the leaves to change colors, such as overwatering and nutrient deficiencies. However, growers do not always need to worry about them being yellow, despite their unhealthy appearance.

In fact, it is quite normal for a few leaves to lose a bit of their green shade around harvest time.

The discoloration often happens around two weeks after you flush the roots. Flushing is something growers should do right before a harvest.

After the process is completed, there are no nutrients in the growing medium for the roots to absorb. Specifically, it needs nitrogen to produce chlorophyll. As a result, the plant will begin to use up its nutrient reserves.

While this is concerning news early in the growth cycle, it is great around harvest time. Several yellow leaves are a sign that you can harvest quality buds soon.

If all the leaves are deep green, the plant is still feeding. However, you could still harvest. It is possible that you would have to have a lengthier cure period to show the bud's true terpene potential. Not to mention, the plant gets a head start on breaking down chlorophyll before you start drying.

As mentioned before, yellow leaves could mean a number of things. It is important to rule out problems like bud rot before deciding when to harvest cannabis. Growers tend to use other methods in combination to determine when it is the optimal time to cut down the plants.

Leaves Will Curve

Similar to yellow leaves, a curved shape could happen because of various reasons. The temperature might be too hot or cold, or the plants received too much water.

Sometimes, growers add too much nitrogen during the flowering stage. However, the leaves can change their shape around harvest time as well.

The leaves start to curve or curl, and they may droop. On top of that, they may appear dry as well.

The reason is that the plant is taking in less water during the harvesting period. You do not need to water it as much during the final days of the flowering phase.

Giving the same amount could hurt the plant, and it would take longer to dry after harvest. The curling usually is the leaves trying to retain the remaining moisture it has. Like yellowing, multiple leaves becoming curved is no cause for alarm.

As long as you determine that light or temperature issues are not the cause, you can start gathering your harvest tools. Growers should keep an eye on the condition of leaves during the late flowering stage to estimate when to harvest cannabis.


A ripe bud is firmer, tighter, and larger compared to immature ones

Factors that Influence Ideal Harvest Time 

Cannabis Strain Differences

The type of strain you use can influence when to harvest marijuana plants:

  • Indica photoperiod. Indica seeds are a bit faster. The average time to harvest is after roughly six to ten weeks of flowering.

  • Sativa photoperiod. While sativa seeds can have a shorter vegetative phase, it can take them 10 to 14 weeks to flower.

  • Autoflower. With cannabis autoflower seeds, time primarily indicates when the plant moves to the next stage of life. In general, you can plan to harvest around ten weeks after planting. Learn more about the timing of autoflower harvest in our guide on when to harvest autoflowers.

Growing Environment

- Indoor vs Outdoor

The best time to harvest weed can be different based on whether you are inside or outside. For indoor plants, it is usually after an average of six to ten weeks of flowering.

For the great outdoors, harvest usually occurs during fall/autumn in the Northern Hemisphere. This would be between late September and October. Some people end up choosing to harvest outdoor weed in early November as well.

When you finally get to sit down to start your cannabis harvest, you might wonder if the time of day matters.

It does matter when harvesting takes place. You should get up bright and early since the morning is the best time to get started. Specifically, you will want to begin before the sun comes up.

The reason why harvest should occur before sunrise is that the terpene levels are at their peak. Having the most terpenes present increases the quality of your yield.

Another benefit of an early morning harvest is the plants are fresh with resin that they produce overnight. In fact, they make the most resin right before the sun comes up. Not to mention, the temperature in the morning is the best to work in.

Getting up at dawn may not seem preferable to late risers, but you have the whole day ahead of you to work on your harvest. The harvesting process can take hours, especially if you have a big crop size.

It can help to have all of your supplies ready to go to avoid wasting precious minutes.

Flushing Time (for optimal taste) 

Target Effects (more THC vs more CBD)

How to Determine Peak Harvest Window

Tip #1: Use a microscope (to inspect trichomes)

Tip #2: Keep a Grow Journal (to track plant changes)

Tip #3: Know Typical Harvest Windows (for popular strains)

3 Techniques for Harvesting Cannabis

There is nothing like the anticipation of checking the buds regularly to see if they are ripe. Now that you and your plants are ready to go, you can begin the actual harvesting process. For this, you will need to collect a few items and follow some basic steps. 

1. Prune away fan leaves first

2. Cut plant at soil level or remove entire plant

3. Drying & curing methods

What We've Learned

Harvesting cannabis at the right time is crucial for optimal potency and flavor. Harvest too early, and the buds might lack potency; too late, and THC levels may decline.

To determine the right harvest time, observe the color of the pistils, the appearance of trichomes, and changes in the bud shape. Tools like a jeweler's loupe can help examine trichomes closely.

Also, yellowing or curving of leaves can be a sign, though it's essential to rule out other causes. For the best results, harvest early in the morning before sunrise to capture peak terpene levels.

Being patient and attentive ensures the highest quality yield from your cannabis plants.

Become a master of cannabis cultivation by visiting our Learning Center, for more guides like this.