Marijuana is big business in the U.S. as more states discover the benefits of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes. To date, 37 states have legalized medicinal marijuana, with more states considering extending legalization.
Professional and amateur growers are also increasingly launching growing operations indoors and outdoors. If you’re considering growing your own marijuana from seed to harvest, here’s a brief guide to the marijuana growth timeline.
The Growth Stages: A Breakdown
Today’s marijuana market has never been brighter, with the medicinal and recreational markets growing 30.5% on average annually from 2018 to 2023. Before discussing each growth stage in more detail, here’s a breakdown of the four primary stages:
- Germination – 3-10 days
- Seedling – 2-3 weeks
- Vegetative – 3-16 weeks
- Flowering – 8-11 weeks
All strains and types of cannabis will follow these four primary stages. How you approach each stage will depend on what you’re growing, where you’re growing it, and your personal preferences.
Cannabis Seed: Germination
The first stage of the process starts with your seed. Before planting your seed, checking each seed for development and quality is essential. This process applies to all types, including auto-flowering and feminized cannabis seeds.
Healthy, developed seeds will be hard, dry, and light to dark brown. In contrast, undeveloped seeds will be white or green and soft to the touch. It’s vital never to plant an undeveloped seed because it’s highly unlikely to germinate.
During this stage, seeds need 18 hours per day indoors or six hours per day when planted outdoors. Once germinated, you’ll notice that the main root, known as the tap root, drives down, and two leaves, known as cotyledon leaves, will grow from the step. It’s these leaves responsible for absorbing light.
Cannabis Seed: Seedling
Like the germination stage, seedlings require the same light over two to three weeks.
At this stage, you’ll notice the traditional fanned leaves of the cannabis plant begin to emerge. When the seed sprouts, the leaves will have only a single ridged blade, but over the following weeks, you’ll notice up to five or seven develop, depending on the plant.
At this point, avoid overwatering the plant because the roots are still small. It’s also the stage when your plant is most vulnerable to disease, so monitoring moisture levels and maintaining a clean growing environment is essential.
Developing a complete set of leaves signals that your plant has moved to the vegetative stage.
Cannabis Seed: Vegetative
Again, the lighting cycle for vegetative plants stays the same as the two previous stages. This is where your plant truly starts to take off over the next three to 16 weeks.
You’ll transplant your plant into a bigger pot to enable it to spread out, and the foliage and roots will develop at an accelerated rate. It’s also when you must start training and topping your plants.
Growers at this stage must be mindful of how much water their plants need because it will change as the vegetative stage develops. For example, plants in the late vegetative stage require further watering away from the center of the pot and the stem because the roots stretch out.
At this stage, your plants will need a fertilizer with higher nitrogen levels to reach their full potential.
Cannabis Seed: Flowering
The flowering stage is the final primary growth stage. You should switch its lighting cycle to 12 hours per day indoors or six hours per day outdoors.
One of the signs of a flowering cannabis plant is the resinous buds that begin to appear. On average, you’ll see this within eight to nine weeks, but some strains can differ. For example, sativa strains tend to take an extra week or two.
In an outdoor scenario, the plant will flower naturally as the plant is exposed to less light every day as autumn arrives. On the other hand, indoor growers are in control of triggering the flowering cycle by lowering light exposure from 16-18 hours to 12 hours.
It’s also worth noting that there are three distinct sub-phases within the flowering stage, which are:
- Initiation – From weeks one to three, the plant will grow, and female cannabis plants will display white hairs or pistils.
- Mid-Flowering – The plant stops growing between weeks four and five, whereas the buds start to fatten.
- Late Flowering – Also known as ripening, the late flowering stage begins from week six. Your plants will grow sticky as the number of trichomes increases.
At this stage, you should be watching the pistils. Their color will tell you when it’s time to harvest.
These are the basic growth stages of cannabis. However, this is only an overview of all the hard work that goes into creating the perfect harvest.
Experienced growers know that every harvest is different and advanced technology is required to manipulate the conditions to achieve the highest quality bud. Achieving perfect harmony between light, temperature, and humidity takes time and effort.
However, everything begins with high-quality seeds from the best-known strains. So, what’s your favorite strain for your home growing operation?