How can you tell when your marijuana is ready for bud collection? Learn when to harvest cannabis for optimal levels of ripeness, deliciousness, and potency. Harvest is an exciting time when it comes to growing weed, because you finally get to see your trichomes mature. Learn how and when to harvest marijuana. Harvesting cannabis at the right time is just as important as how you grow the plant. Harvest marijuana buds too soon and you lose potency and yields; too late and you can end up making a batch of sleep medicine. Learn how to harvest at the perfect time, every time! Here's what you need…
When To Harvest Cannabis: Tips & Tricks From Kyle Kushman
One of the most important decisions you can make is when to harvest cannabis plants.
Harvesting too early or too late can seriously affect the quality of your buds.
But how do you know when your buds are ripe for harvesting?
Well, just like a piece of fruit, there’s a peak time for ripening.
Collecting a little bit too soon or too late will produce a less than ideal harvest.
So how do you tell? How do you make sure your cannabis harvests are done at exactly the right time?
By reading this article! Let’s go!
What is the average time from planting to harvesting cannabis?
Some autoflowering cannabis plants can finish their entire cycle in 10-12, while big sativa strains can take up to 32 weeks, from planting to flowering!
Your average indoor cannabis grow will be 3 – 5 months.
Okay, this all sounds a little vague, and I apologize, but it all does depend on the cultivar!
Knowing exactly when to harvest cannabis is about knowing what you’re growing, when you flipped into flower, and knowing what signs to look out for.
We shall deal with this without delay.
How can you determine when to harvest pot?
Let’s start with the basics.
Save the date. When you flip to flower, mark the date on your calendar. You won’t know when to harvest cannabis without this basic barometer.
That day is going to be the best indicator of when your particular strain of marijuana is going to be ripe and ready for harvest.
Be equipped. When it starts getting close, you’ll see the pistils turning red.
That’s when you will need a lighted loupe, a handy magnifier that provides a better, closer view of the buds.
Know where to look. To harvest marijuana properly, the last few inspections are the most important of all.
Make sure you always check the buds that grow on the interior, so the coat of trichomes has not been touched.
When walking through the garden or tent, any contact like rubbing or brushing against the flowers could turn the bulbs brown, potentially leading to misjudgment.
Know what the colors mean. When you first look at the trichomes, those tiny mushroom-looking stalks will be clear.
As ripening gets close, maybe a week or two out, they will begin to turn opaque.
The cloudy or milky heads will then turn amber or brown, just like a ripe piece of fruit.
Once 5 to 10% of the trichomes have achieved the amber color, perfect ripening has been reached and that’s when it’s time to harvest marijuana like a master.
Check out this amazing video on ripening, you’ll love it.
How to tell if it’s too early to harvest cannabis
There are many ways to tell it’s too early to harvest your cannabis buds.
Use these guidelines combined with your knowledge and perception to know when to harvest cannabis at its most resinous.
The time spent in flowering differs among cannabis cultivars. Consult your seed supplier, they should be able to tell you the flowering time of your plants. This will be your first data point.
For example, Gelato Feminized takes 8 to 10 weeks in flower.
Even if you see beautiful flowers and an abundance of trichomes, it’s worth waiting until all the boxes are ticked.
Trichomes make your cannabis sticky. Their color is a superb indicator that your marijuana crops are ready to harvest.
If they’re still glassy and transparent, your plants aren‘t ready for harvest.
Your plants should be cut down during the peak of resin production. Too early means losing out on strength, taste and smokability.
Too late, and the THC levels can drop as it degrades into CBN.
Pistils go through color and shape changes when cannabis is ready to harvest. If the hairs are still white and poking straight outwards, your cannabis isn’t ready yet!
Pistils must be amber-colored before you harvest. Combine trichome hues with pistil color changes to pinpoint the best time to harvest cannabis.
How to tell if it’s too late to harvest
Knowing when to harvest weed is also knowing when you’ve left it too late. Missing the peak window to harvest cannabis buds can lead to over-ripe, super-sleepy buds.
A good sign you’ve left it too late is seeing the majority of the trichomes turn brown or amber.
Your plants will also be close to dying off!
How often can you harvest cannabis plants?
Wouldn’t you love to keep that gorgeous cannabis plant forever?
Harvesting cannabis plants is generally a one-off, as they are annual plants that die after reproduction.
Indoor harvesting of cannabis generally happens only once, though you can stagger the harvest if plants mature at different rates. You can also harvest some branches before others, though I wouldn’t advise it.
The best way is to cut the plants down whole. This helps them dry slowly and evenly.
How do you know when to harvest cannabis outdoors?
You’d typically do it before the cold evenings of late September and early October, but you need to look out for the same signs as with indoor growing.
Mark the dates on the calendar. Look out for darkening pistils. Look for amber trichomes. When 5 to 10% of the trichomes turn amber, you can start cutting the plants down.
What do you need to harvest cannabis?
You now know how to tell if your plant is ready to harvest.
Get ready to harvest by making sure you have the room and the equipment.
When you harvest marijuana you’re going to get covered in resin.
If you’ve got a large garden, things get very messy very fast.
A pair of gloves is a lifesaver! Latex-free ones are best as they don’t contain powder or synthetic resin.
Your eyes are a tool with limitations.
Invest in a magnifying glass, pocket microscope, or 40x magnification jeweler’s loupe. Use them to identify color changes in the trichome heads.
Modern smartphones also have great zoom lenses!
When it’s time to harvest cannabis, growers know all-too-well how thick-limbed a mature marijuana plant can get.
Chopping from the base may require significant cutting power, which is why you’ll need high-quality pruning shears. Especially if you’ve grown outdoors.
A good pair of pruning scissors is invaluable for trimming on busy harvest days!
Your scissors should be sharp, ergonomic, and spring-loaded.
High proof alcohol and clean wipes
Trimming scissors get coated in resin.
Keep 90% proof alcohol and sanitary wipes on hand.
Cleaning your tools makes the task of harvesting marijuana much less of a drag!
Drying rack and drying area
Drying cannabis activates THC in the resin, which is the final step to achieving potency. Plus, it extends the shelf life of your bud!
A drying area isn’t a tool, but you’ll need a clean space big enough for your harvest. Pick a dark, dry place with adequate airflow. Your laundry room or a spare bedroom do the trick.
Moist marijuana plants become a hotbed for microorganisms like fungi.
You don’t want to be smoking that!
Pre-harvest: 5 things to do before harvesting marijuana
Knowing how to harvest cannabis includes steps to take in preparation.
Check out my harvesting video and learn what you need to do ahead of the big day.
Defoliate the plant
As flowering ends, you’ll no longer need large water leaves on stems and branches.
Snip them away for more direct light to the lower flowers.
Tip: Leave some larger leaves here and there. They’re indicators of any potential health issues.
The humidity in your grow room or tent should be dropped to 20%–30% a few days before you harvest cannabis.
By doing this, you force unseeded female flowers to produce more trichomes and resin.
That bud coating boosts potency.
Reduce nute feedings
You’ve been feeding your cannabis to help it reach its full potential.
Start reducing the feed the closer you get to the cannabis harvest date.
Drop the regular nutrient infusions a week, even better two weeks before you harvest marijuana flowers.
Prepare to flush nutes one last time, too.
Flush your plants
Before you harvest weed, you need to flush the remaining nutes from the soil and the plant.
Basically, you skip the liquid fertilizer with each watering and drench the soil with pH-neutral water.
That way, you make sure your plants use up the nutrients, so you won’t taste them in the bowl.
How to harvest marijuana: a step by step guide
Now you know when to harvest marijuana, I’ll show you how to harvest marijuana.
Get the tools we discussed, play some feel-good music, put on an old T-shirt you don’t mind ruining, and follow these steps.
Prepare the space
Excess light can degrade THC. That’s a scenario no eager stoner wants to face!
Turn off the lamps, toss an opaque sheet over the window, or wait for an overcast day. Some leakage isn’t the end of the world, but do your best to make it dark.
Go for a temperature range between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and around 50% relative humidity.
If you’ve already gone through our “how to grow cannabis indoors” guide, you’ll know how to optimize these conditions.
Choose your method
You’ll find many niche cannabis harvest methods online, but why complicate things?
These two are the most common and effective:
- Whole plant. This one is quick and easy, especially with smaller cultivars. Cut and hang the entire plant, and that’s it.
- Ripe bud. This technique is a bit more time-consuming, but it maximizes yield and bud quality. You trim outside-in and top-down, cutting the buds that have ripened and leaving the others to mature for several more days each time.
Trim the leaves
There’s another decision to make before you harvest marijuana. Will you trim the leaves before or after drying?
Here’s the gist of it:
- Trim before in humid environments. This will help you avoid mold issues on the horizon.
- Trim after in low-humidity climates. Leafless flowers sometimes dry too quickly.
The next step is to hang the branches. Hang upside down and leave a tray underneath for falling leaves.
Mistakes to avoid when harvesting marijuana
You now know when to harvest cannabis and which tools you need.
Avoid these common mistakes for peace of mind and confidence in your next harvest:
Harvesting too early
Harvesting cannabis too early compromises your yield, cola size, and bud potency.
Overhandling cannabis rubs away the resin and ruins smoke, sale, and gift value.
While you harvest marijuana, be gentle with your ladies!
Respecting the herb will help preserve it’s quality.
Too few hands
Do you have a large garden? Rally friends, family, and paid hands to help.
When it’s time to harvest cannabis, having help is great for batch consistency.
During harvest windows, 12 hours can turn your cannabis plant’s effects from balanced to highly sedative!
You also have to dry and trim all those buds.
Why not make it fun?
Share the experience with friends and award everybody who helped with a fun type of gift bag.
What’s the next stage after the cannabis harvest?
Congratulations, you’ve done it.
Now, here’s how to get those colas ready for smoking, vaping, and mind-warping eves with your bong.
Trim your cannabis
Buds are lovely, but wheezing after inhaling burning leaves isn’t. Take the time to snip leaves off your cannabis for a smoother, more consistent smoking session.
Do you already know how to trim cannabis? It’s easier than you think!
Dry the trimmed buds
After harvesting, weed requires some time to hang and dry, ideally in an area with 45% to 55% humidity.
Internal moisture is a breeding ground for fungi and other microorganisms. It can ruin your whole batch. That’s weeks of money and effort going to waste.
Drying takes up to 14 days, depending on your climate.
Cure your marijuana
Curing removes trace amounts of moisture hidden deep inside each flower. It can take up to three weeks to complete the curing process.
It’s straightforward—all you need are some mason jars and patience.
Learn all about drying and curing weed right here.
Before you head off to your garden, let’s answer some common questions about harvesting weed.
Can I harvest the top half of my plant?
Good news for impatient stoners—you sure can! No matter how much you trim, top, and prune, the upper side of your cannabis plant receives more light exposure.
The buds up there ripen earlier than those below.
Should all leaves be yellow before harvest?
There are two answers. Both boil down to ‘not really.’
Organic growers don’t have to flush before harvesting marijuana. In this case, it’s normal for the fan leaves to turn yellow. The plant is mature. It no longer needs the green pigment for photosynthesis.
It’s not necessary for everything to go golden for juicy, ripe buds. Those who flush see discoloration, but they should be careful about the sugar leaves. The buds deteriorate quickly once sugar leaves lose their greenery.
It’s better to harvest before this happens.
Should I harvest in the morning or at night?
Marijuana is higher in terpenes, crystals, and THC in the morning.
It also uptakes moisture during the day, which can increase your drying time.
Harvest with confidence
You now know when to harvest cannabis for top-shelf results.
You have the theory down, so why not put your knowledge to the test?
Buy cannabis seeds and start a garden of your own. It’s a gratifying experience, and once you’re smoking the fruits of your labor, you’ll never look back.
About the Author: Kyle Kushman
Kyle Kushman is a legend in the cannabis community. He is the modern-day polymath of pot: cultivator, breeder, activist, writer, and educator. After winning no less than 13 Cannabis Cups, there’s nothing this guy doesn’t know about indoor growing – he’s been there, done it, and is still doing it to this day!
How to harvest marijuana plants
It’s been months since that little weed sprout first popped out of the ground, or you put that delicate clone into some soil. You’ve watched your plants grow and mature, getting bigger and developing buds, and can’t wait to get those buds off the plant and light up.
But not so fast—harvesting cannabis isn’t just cutting down plants and trimming buds; you’ll also need to dry and cure buds before you can smoke them.
There are a few different ways to harvest weed, depending on whether you trim buds wet, straight off the plant, or dry, allowing them to dry first:
- In wet trimming, the plant is cut down, buds are removed off branches—called “bucking”—then trimmed, and then dried, all in one sitting.
- When dry trimming, the plant is cut down and hung to dry for several days; buds are bucked off branches and trimmed when fully dried.
Harvesting is one of the most exciting steps when growing weed, and here’s what you need to know before cutting down your crop.
Overview of how to harvest weed
- Flush plants a week before harvesting
- Determine when to harvest based on trichome color
- Decide if you’ll be wet or dry trimming
- Prepare equipment
- Chop down plants
- Dry and trim plants
Learn more on harvesting weed
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
How to know when to harvest cannabis
It’s important to note that every gardener has a different opinion on when to harvest their cannabis plants—some like to harvest early while others prefer later. When you harvest can also depend on other factors in life, such as your schedule, a job, the weather, etc.
Harvesting weed a week early or late probably won’t be the end of the world, but don’t let your plants sit around much longer than that.
When to harvest cannabis according to trichomes
The best way to tell if your marijuana plants are ripe and ready to harvest, both indoors and outdoors, is to look at:
- Stigma: These hair-like strands that cover buds will turn from white to orange and will start to curl.
- Trichomes: The resinous glands all over the plant will turn from clear to opaque and then amber.
The color and clarity of trichomes will tell you when a plant has reached peak maturity and is ready to harvest.
Ripe, healthy trichomes will be sticky and milky white; unripe trichomes will be clear; and overripe or diseased trichomes will be amber or brown. You want to look for milky white trichomes before harvesting.
Keep in mind that top colas might reach maturity faster than bottom buds because they receive more light. You may need to harvest a plant when some buds are ripe and others are under-ripe.
Additionally, information from the breeder or grower can be helpful in getting a rough estimate of when a particular strain should be harvested.
Weed is a warm-season annual, so if growing outdoors, harvest time comes between September and November in the Northern Hemisphere.
There is some variability—growers in Northern California may be able to harvest into November, whereas growers in the Pacific Northwest will likely need to pull their crops down by mid-October, before fall rains set it.
Know your local climate and talk to other growers in your specific area to see when they harvest marijuana.
Tips for determining when to harvest outdoor weed
Strains from regions close to the equator—sativas—need a long, seemingly endless summer to fully ripen, while strains from harsh, cold climates—indicas—tend to finish earlier. That being said, some indicas take a long time to finish and some sativas finish on the early side.
The best time of day to harvest outdoor marijuana plants is in the morning, before the sun blasts them. Ideally, you don’t want them to be wet and dewey, but you don’t want them to under the bright light of the sun, which can degrade terpenes.
You can also harvest at night when the temperature cools off, but the morning is better as plants haven’t been sitting under the sun all day.
Follow the weather
As cannabis buds pack on weight and the season changes from summer to fall, there will be fluctuations in the weather. Depending on your climate, there might be cold snaps or rainstorms.
These aren’t disasters but you do need to keep an eye on the weather and possibly make a game-time decision on when to chop down plants, balancing peak ripeness with conditions that could compromise your harvest.
Harvesting weed in cold temperatures
Most cannabis plants can sail through a light freeze—28-32°F for up to three hours—with no trouble. But a hard freeze, any temps lower or for longer, can spell disaster.
Frost can cause ice crystals to form in plant tissue, damaging their cells. Leaves will appear wilted before turning dark and crispy. The deeper the frost, the more of the plant that will get damaged.
Note that potted plants experience more severe temperature fluctuations than plants in the ground, making the cannabis more susceptible to frost damage.
Similar to a cold snap, rain itself isn’t a huge problem, but the duration and severity of the storm is. If it’s going to warm up and dry out quickly, you can leave almost ripe cannabis to weather the storm. If the rain will be there to stay, mold awaits—cut your losses and harvest before things get soggy.
Covering your plants will help, but there will still be moisture in the air. You can cover plants with a few tall stakes and a tarp, just be sure to remove the cover when the cold or rain passes to let plants warm up and get the sun and air they need.
When growing indoors, plants generally get harvested about 7-9 weeks after flipping them into the first stages of flowering. Some strains may take longer, some shorter; it depends on the strain. Indicas usually finish quicker, while sativas longer.
How often do you harvest weed?
Harvesting indoor marijuana
When growing weed indoors, you can harvest as much or as little as you want. The sky—rather, your grow room—is the limit.
Weed can take anywhere from 3-8 months to grow from seed to harvest, so you can fit in as many as four harvests of smaller plants, or one or two harvests of bigger plants each year.
More harvests mean you’ll have fresh, homegrown weed to smoke more often, but it will also be more work in cleaning up the space between harvests, trimming, etc.
You can even fit in more than four harvests a year if you start with clones or autoflower seeds, both of which shave off some weeks of the grow cycle.
Harvesting outdoor marijuana
By and large, cannabis grown outdoors gets harvested once a year. In most climates, seeds or clones will start in the spring, and you’ll harvest in the fall. In some tropical regions, you can squeeze in a second harvest in a year because of the climate.
You can set up your outdoor weed grow to have more than one harvest a year if you grow autoflower seeds. Autoflower weed plants have a shorter life cycle—they “automatically flower” when they get to a certain age, instead of beginning the flowering stage when sunlight starts to decrease in the sky outdoors.
Because of this, you can start growing a set of autoflowers early in the season, around March or April, harvest them in June or July, and then start growing a second set for harvesting in the fall. You’ll be able to have multiple harvests, but keep in mind that your plants will be smaller because they’re autoflowers.
Light deprivation, or light deps, are another technique to get multiple outdoor harvests in a year. A tarp is placed over a greenhouse to cut off the amount of light outdoor weed plants receive, giving you the ability to control the flowering cycle of plants. As with autoflowers, this will allow you to fit in multiple outdoor harvests in a season.
The drawback to light deprivation is you have to have a greenhouse and other equipment, and you have to place and remove the tarp every day. If marijuana plants receive too much light on even one day, it can confuse them and ruin their flowering and bud production.
Preparing to harvest marijuana
Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .
If you’re growing the same strain, you’ll want to harvest all your cannabis plants in the same window of time because they’ll all ripen at the same time.
If you’re growing multiple strains, they may ripen at different times. But you may still want to harvest all strains at once to get trimming done all in one sitting, just keep in mind that some strains might get harvested on the early side and some on the late side.
Before you harvest, you’ll also need to know if you are going to trim wet or dry. Wet trimming involves trimming buds immediately after the plant is cut down, and with dry trimming, chopped plants are hung up to dry for several days before trimming.
It’s also a good idea to flush your plants a week before harvesting—give them only water to clear out the nutrients.
What do trichomes look like when they’re ready to harvest?
Trichomes will be sticky and milky white when ready to harvest.
When looking at trichomes you’ll need a microscope. Handheld microscopes ranging from 30x-100x will work and can be purchased at any growing supply store.
During their change from clear to opaque to amber, trichomes reach their maximum THC content. After that, they begin to break down due to exposure to oxygen and UV rays.
What happens if you wait too long to harvest?
Waiting a week or two after a plant’s peak maturity to harvest isn’t the end of the world, the plant might just lose some THC. Busy schedules or too many plants to harvest and cause growers to delay harvesting plants for a little bit.
If you wait for a long time, several weeks or more, the plant will likely dry out and the buds shrink. The plant may start to rot and develop mold, especially in an outdoor environment and in cold climates.
Equipment needed to harvest cannabis
To harvest weed, you’ll need the following tools:
- Scissors (for trimming buds)
- Pruners (helpful for big branches)
- Comfortable chair and area
- A clean surface, like a table
- Tray or bowl
- Rubbing alcohol
- Clothes that can get dirty and sticky
- Optional: Non-powdered latex gloves
Make sure scissors are ergonomic and will fit comfortably in your hand, as you will be holding these bad boys for quite a while. With time, these scissors will get very sticky, so get a pair that will clean easily, or buy two pairs so you can switch between them.
There are many types of scissors you can buy; some are spring-loaded, some not. Beginners often go for spring-loaded ones because they seem quicker.
However, a lot of trimmers recommend Chikamasa scissors—these are not spring-loaded and might take a day or two to get used to, but you will soon notice the precision and speed they provide.
You may also want to invest in a larger pair of shears for cutting branches. Save the scissors for the more precise work.
Comfortable chair and area
Give yourself plenty of space and have an ergonomic setup so you can settle in for a long trim. Pick a cool place with plenty of light, and try to stay away from places with excess dust, hair, or particulates, which can contaminate the weed.
The longer you sit, the more work you get done, so find a comfy chair. Avoid anything that makes you hunch over and compresses your lower back.
Tray/bowl and a clean surface
Many trimmers opt for trimming trays because they are much easier to transport and can make a great lap companion. We recommend something that has a screen for collecting kief. The simpler the design the better.
You can also just trim onto a flat table and put your finished buds in a bowl.
Whatever you choose, make sure the surface is easy to clean.
Rubbing alcohol and rags
Trimming scissors will inevitably get gunked up with resin, so you’ll need to clean them or switch them out with a fresh pair periodically. Keep a rag and a cup with rubbing alcohol handy.
Clothes that can get dirty and sticky
Wear old clothes you don’t care about or an apron. Better yet, wear a silk apron—the resin won’t stick to silk and your laundry will thank you.
Gloves are also great to keep your hands resin-free. If you don’t like trimming with gloves on, you can rub coconut or olive oil on your hands to prevent resin buildup.
A long trim session can seem even longer without anything to pass the time. Staying entertained is crucial to your sanity when trimming. Anything that doesn’t require visual attention is recommended, such as music, podcasts, audiobooks, and stand-up comedy.
Tips for a successful marijuana harvest
Once your plants are ready for harvesting and you have all your equipment, it’s time to chop down your plants.
With dry trimming, chopped plants are hung up to dry for several days before trimming.
Wet trimming involves trimming buds immediately after the plant is chopped down.
Either way, to chop down plants, grab a large pair of shears and start cutting off big branches, making sure to be delicate with the buds. If plants are small, you may be able to cut them directly at the base, above the soil.
If dry trimming, it’s helpful to cut branches in a way to give them a hook on one end, making it easy to hang them. If wet trimming, cut branches so they’re easy to handle and snip buds off of.
- Make sure to flush your plants with only water, no nutrients, for about a week before harvesting
- Check trichomes on plants to make sure they’re ready to get chopped down
- Wear clothes that can get dirty—harvesting weed is sticky
- Keep shears and scissors sharp
- It’s good to harvest before plants get too hot—outdoors, this means harvesting in the morning; indoors, harvest soon after the lights come on
- If growing different strains, some plants may be ready to harvest before others
- If wet trimming, be sure to trim buds immediately after chopping down plants
Now that you’ve harvested your weed, what comes next? Learn how to trim, dry, and cure your marijuana harvest.
When Are Marijuana Buds Ready to Harvest?
This harvest tutorial is part of our “how to harvest cannabis” series:
Intro: When to Harvest Cannabis (for highest potency)
When should we harvest the buds from a cannabis plant? That is the eternal question… I’m sure the answer we’re all thinking is “Not soon enough!”
(How far are your plants in the flowering stage? Check out the flowering stage timeline!)
Unfortunately for us impatient growers, harvesting at the right time is just as important as how you grow the plant. Harvest too soon and you lose potency and cannabis yields; too late and you can end up making a batch of sleep medicine.
These 6 buds are in the harvest window. Buds are ready to harvest when most of the “hairs” have darkened and curled in and you can see the solid bud underneath.
Choose the most precise harvest time by looking at glittery trichomes under a magnifier. Trichome heads start out clear and glassy. At this point, buds are not very potent.
As buds mature, trichome heads turn milky white. They kind of look like plastic. These white trichome heads indicate the highest level of THC and CBD.
If given more time, white trichome heads turn amber/golden (for most strains). Amber trichomes have less THC but produce more of a relaxing/body/anti-anxiety effect.
Quick Summary: Buds are ready to harvest when hairs have darkened and curled in, revealing the solid bud underneath. Harvest buds on the early side for more of an “up” mental/psychoactive effect (trichome heads appear milky white under a magnifier). If buds are allowed to continue maturing, the white trichomes begin to turn amber/golden. The greater the number of amber trichomes, the more buds produce a “down” body/couchlock effect.
This bud with all-white trichomes has reached the highest level of THC/CBD. Wait another week or two for trichome heads to turn amber/golden for more of a relaxing effect.
You only need 3 things to determine the best marijuana harvest time:
- The knowledge of when to harvest – You get that today!
- Eyes for visual inspection – You’ve probably had these for a while!
- A magnifying tool (optional but recommended) – Makes the glittery, resin-filled trichomes on your buds easier to see; although not 100% necessary, this lets you time your harvest perfectly to get the exact effects you’re looking for. See reviews of different magnifiers.
When it comes to magnifying tools for growing, the 3 most popular options are…
- Jeweler’s Loupe – This is the cheapest and most low tech way to get the job done. Unfortunately, it is still difficult to get the best insight into how your buds are doing unless you have really great eyes, though the one I linked to is the best that I’ve tried. Will definitely get the job done in a pinch!
- Your Camera Phone – Many modern smartphones have excellent cameras that can take clear pictures of trichomes. Try to use lots of natural light, hold the phone very still (set it on something stable if possible so you’re not holding it with your hands), and zoom in for the best images.
- Digital USB Microscope– A digital USB microscope is one of the best tools to determine the right harvest time. A digital microscope costs a bit more than a loupe and many models need a connecting laptop, but they will get you face-to-face with your trichomes and allow you to take video to re-examine afterward or get a second opinion. You’ll be almost uncomfortably close to your trichomes!
Use a magnifier to see trichomes clearly
This harvest tutorial will fully cover the two main techniques growers use to identify the right time to harvest marijuana plants.
Note: It’s recommended you flush your cannabis plants in the last week or two leading up to harvest time if growing in soil or coco, and for at least a few days in hydro. Click the following link to get more info on flushing before harvest: https://www.growweedeasy.com/flushing
First, we’ll show you how to identify harvest time by checking the pistils (the ‘hairs’ on your buds). The pistil method isn’t nearly as accurate as checking the trichomes (the ‘glitter’ on your buds), but it’s definitely a good place to start since you can just look at the buds and get a general idea. Then we’ll get into trichomes.
The following marijuana harvest pictures will guide you, so you know when to harvest your marijuana buds using ‘The Pistil Method’.
1st Method to Identify Harvest Time: Pistil Method
Not Ready for Harvest Pictures
When the vast majority of pistils (hairs) are still white and sticking out straight, this plant is not ready to harvest.
Way too early to harvest
These buds still have many weeks to go!
Both potency and yields are extremely low at this stage
Still Not Ready for Harvest Pictures
We’re waiting for most of the white hairs to darken and curl in. S ome of the pistils are starting to turn color on the following buds, but there are still too many white pistils. These buds have at least a few weeks to go before they’ll reach their highest levels of THC. The good news is your buds will get bigger and denser in that time!
Ready for Harvest Pictures
Harvest when 70-90% of hairs have darkened for highest levels of THC.
Harvest when 90-100% of hairs have darkened for a more calming,
anti-anxiety effect as some THC turns to the more relaxing CBN.
With some strains, you may see a bunch of new pistils appear right when you think you’re getting close. This is normal, but it happens more than 3 times you’ve eventually got to just make the decision and chop. Learn how to speed up the time to harvest. You may also be interested in what’s causing buds to take forever to mature?
Ready to Harvest – On the Early Side (more “up” effects, lower yields)
This purple bud is on the early side of the harvest window. Although the pistils / hairs have darkened, they are mostly sticking straight out. In this case, wait a little longer until hairs curl in more and reveal the solid bud underneath. Also look to the color of hairs on the lower buds as they’ll likely be a better indicator of harvest readiness.
Ready to Harvest – Middle of Harvest Window (only a few white hairs)
Ready to Harvest – On the Late Side (more of a “down” or body effect)
Ready to Harvest – Special Cases (when to harvest even with lots of white pistils left)
If all the leaves on a plant die (for example if it gets sick or stressed), the yellowing and discoloration starts spreading to the flowers. If this goes on too long, it can damage the overall quality, potency, smell, and appearance of buds. If you have a sick plant in the late flowering stage that keeps getting worse, keep a close eye on buds and harvest before they get too damaged.
Even though there are still plenty of white pistils on the following bud, the plant is dying (and keeps getting worse) so it’s a good idea to harvest soon.
Heat or light stressed plants may keep growing lots of new white hairs on top of mature, older buds. In that case, look at the older parts of the bud to determine when to harvest.
Too much heat and light can cause other problems. Notice the yellow “banana” sticking out of the top middle bud in the next picture. This is a stress response. The plant is making a last-ditch effort to pollinate itself and make seeds before the plant dies. If your buds start popping up with bananas everywhere, it’s time to harvest. Otherwise, you start losing potency/smell and buds may get seedy.
This plant suffered from extreme heat and light burn and should be harvested.
With some strains, it is much harder to tell when the time is right. Different strains can look different ways at harvest. For example, some strains can keep most of their pistils white even when they’re ready to be harvested.
You can get some good information by talking to someone who has grown your strain before, such as the breeder. The breeder or growers who’ve grown your strain before can often provide extra insight into what to look for at harvest. You can also search online for pictures of what your strain should look like when it’s fully ripened.
Next, we’re going to go over the 2nd (and MUCH more accurate) method of checking your cannabis plants to see if they’re harvest-ready…
2nd Method to Identify Harvest Time: Trichome Method
(how to harvest cannabis using the accurate method)
This harvest method tends to be more precise than looking at the pistils of your cannabis plant.
Look at trichomes under a magnifier to harvest cannabis buds with the desired THC levels
With this method, you look at the glandular stalked trichomes on the buds under a magnifying glass. Trichomes are the mushroom-looking growths on cannabis that are responsible for it being so popular!
In some places, these trichomes are called resin glands. These trichomes are the ‘crystals’, or ‘frosty stuff’ you see accumulating on your bud/leaves. They’re also what makes weed so sticky.
The trichomes you’re trying to see look like little mushrooms. You may also see tiny, clear hair-like trichomes without the mushroom head but these don’t affect potency so you can ignore them. You are interested in the trichomes that have a little ball on top. This is where a lot of the THC and other good stuff in cannabis is located. Since these trichomes are what contribute the most to bud potency, being able to tell when they’ve reached their highest levels of THC will help you be able to choose the exact right time to harvest your marijuana.
Cannabis trichomes are difficult to see with the naked eye, so you’ll need a jeweler’s loupe or other way to magnify the image in order to use the “trichome method” for determining harvest time. Conversely, some cameras can take ‘macro’ shots that are clear enough to see what stage the trichomes are in but they can be pricey…
Jeweler’s loupes are relatively cheap to buy online, at a hardware store, or sometimes a jewelry store.
If you put the loupe right up to your buds, you’ll get a better view of the trichomes, letting you better determine their color and shape.
Although a jeweler’s loupe can make trichomes appear bigger, sometimes it’s not big enough. I know I end up squinting a lot when I’m trying to use one, but they are a heck of a lot better than nothing!
Although it’s cheap, this “Wesley’s Jeweler’s Loupe” is one of the best-rated jeweler’s loupes in the under $20 price range. It’s the one I use. However, please note that although it says you get 40x magnification, you don’t get nearly as much as that. However, I’ve found that with just about every jeweler’s loupe; they advertise more magnification than what you get. That being said, for a lot of growers this will get the job done!
A digital USB microscope typically takes video and produces bigger and more clear pictures of trichomes than a jeweler’s loupe or other small magnifiers. Not only can you see the trichomes better, but you can record video of them to look over after the fact. These are still pretty cheap, costing $30 on average, and they will give you better results than most other methods for determining harvest.
Here’s an example of a digital microscope we got from Amazon. So far I’ve found most USB microscopes get similar results.
A digital microscope lets you see the trichomes up close and personal. You must hook it up to a device with a screen to see the pictures, such as a laptop or computer. It’s nice to be able to see the trichomes on a screen and take pictures or videos to examine afterward. It can be difficult to really evaluate the trichomes when you’re thinking about getting everything in focus.
Will a USB microscope work with smart phones? Likely yes. Most phones don’t have a regular full-size USB port, but newer USB microscopes often come with an adapter to connect the USB microscope directly to your mobile phone. However, this only works if your phone has a compatible USB port and supports OTG USB (some users may need to get an OTG-compatible camera app). Many USB microscopes (including the one linked above) come with an adapter, but if the microscope you choose only comes with a regular USB cord, or your phone needs a different type of plug, you may need to get an OTG adapter separately. Some Apple phones have ports that need Apple-specific OTG adapters. Some old Apple and Android phones don’t support OTG at all. Luckily, most iPhones and many Android phones have a nice enough camera you probably will be able to see the trichomes through the regular camera (zoomed in) as long as you keep it still and use plenty of light. When in doubt, contact the seller of the USB microscope as they usually know which phone models their product will work with.
Here’s a guide breaking down when to harvest marijuana buds based on the color of trichomes.
(note: the trichomes of some strains turn purple or pink instead of amber/gold/yellow)
Clear trichomes look kind of like glass – Not ready to harvest. At this point, buds are not very potent.
The trichomes in the next picture are also mostly clear, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between clear and cloudy if you haven’t really looked at trichomes before. However, in this example, I don’t even really need to look at the trichomes to know these buds aren’t ready yet. I can clearly see several white pistils sticking straight out in the photo. The only two darkened pistils haven’t even curled in yet.
What if you can’t tell the difference between clear and cloudy trichomes? (these ones are all clear)
Here’s that bud from further away. Nearly all the pistils are white and you can’t really see the solid bud underneath. From just looking at the bud, you can tell there’s still several weeks to go. So don’t worry about trichome color just yet. Assume they’re clear for now until buds start looking closer to harvest.
As buds mature, trichome heads turn milky white. They kind of look like plastic. These white trichome heads indicate the highest level of THC and CBD.
Cloudy trichomes indicate the highest levels of THC and CBD
This bud with all-white trichomes has reached peak potency. Wait another week or two for trichome heads to turn amber/golden for more of a relaxing effect.
If given more time, white trichome heads turn amber/golden (for most strains). Amber trichomes have less THC but produce more of a down/body/anti-anxiety effect.
I can’t tell the difference between clear and cloudy trichomes.
It can be hard to tell the difference between clear and cloudy trichomes. Especially if you don’t see both types of trichomes at the same time. This is completely normal, and it takes a little experience before it becomes easy.
However, when in doubt, look at this picture gallery of buds that are ready to harvest to compare against the trichomes. If you combine both methods you’ll get the best results. Although looking at your buds isn’t the most precise way to know when to harvest, it does give you a really good idea. Try to take everything together. If your buds just have white pistils sticking out, you know for sure that it’s nowhere close to ready, so you also know that the trichomes on the buds aren’t all cloudy yet. It’s only when your buds are getting close to looking harvest-ready that trichomes are going to have something to tell you.
When you’re not sure, use a combination of looking at the pistils and trichomes!
Note: It’s usually a good sign to see lots of trichomes, but trichome production doesn’t always indicate quality. Many classic strains give you outstandingly potent buds even though buds aren’t dripping in trichomes. On the flip side, there are some strains that grow frosty buds yet have low potency. Trichome-encrusted strains are extremely popular these days, especially in the USA, but many of my favorite strains (like Liberty Haze or LSD) produce incredible effects even though you only see a moderate amount of trichomes. It’s tempting to want to grow the “prettiest” strains, but I highly recommend choosing strains for effects rather than appearance!
Learn everything you could possibly want to know about cannabinoid levels in your marijuana, and what you need to do as a grower to control the potency of the buds you grow.
Summary: Tips & Hints
Here are some general rules about harvesting marijuana based on trichomes and the color of the hairs / pistils. If you follow these rules, you’ll know how to harvest weed perfectly every time!
- If white “hairs” are almost all sticking straight out and trichomes are all still translucent (clear) then your plant is too young and not ready for harvest. Harvesting now will result in low yield and non-potent harvests.
- The beginning of the harvest window opens when your plant has mostly stopped growing new white “hairs” or pistils and at least 40% of the white hairs have darkened and curled in.
- The highest level of THC is when many/most of the trichomes have turned milky white / cloudy (when viewed under a magnifier). Trichomes that are milky have the highest levels of THC are “ready to harvest” and contribute to more euphoric and psychoactive effects. At this point, 50-70% of the pistils have darkened.
- Some Sativa & Haze strains have trichomes that never really turn amber. If they’ve turned mostly white and don’t seem to be progressing further, it may be time to harvest!
- The most “couchlock” or sedating effect happens towards the end of the pot harvest window, when the trichomes have become a darker color (usually amber/gold). The best results from amber trichomes come from indica strains. The amber/yellow trichomes contribute to a ‘body high’. Some of the THC has converted into less psychoactive CBN, which has calming and anti-anxiety effects. With some strains, the trichomes will even turn red or purple! I like to harvest around when 20% have turned amber. At this point 70-90% of the pistils have darkened. Harvesting later will increase the sedating effects, but may also start reducing the psychoactive effects.
- When trichomes start looking grey or withered, the harvest window has passed, and buds will make you sleepy without many psychoactive effects. Usually it takes several weeks (4 or more) from the beginning of the harvest window for this to happen. It’s much easier to harvest too early than too late!
Want more of a speedy ‘in-your-head’ effect? Harvest your buds earlier, when only 40% of hairs have darkened and curled in and more than half of the trichomes are part clear/ part milky or mostly cloudy/milky.
For the “strongest” marijuana buds with the most psychoactive effects, and the highest levels of THC, harvest when almost all trichomes are cloudy/milky.
For more relaxing, anti-anxiety buds, wait until at least some of the milky / cloudy trichomes have darkened to amber. More amber = more relaxing, though the effects may be somewhat less psychoactive. Remember, curing your buds properly for at least 2 weeks to a month will also give them more of an anti-anxiety effect.
When growing your own marijuana plants, you can certainly sample buds off your plant at different stages to get an idea for what your preferences are. It’s okay to cut off pieces at a time!
The hardest part of growing cannabis for many new growers is waiting for the right time to harvest.
There is a strong tendency for new growers to harvest the plant early due to excitement.
Unfortunately, this often results in low yields and low-potency buds.
If you are feeling excited about harvesting your marijuana plant, pull buds off the plant that look the most done and dry them and check the potency for yourself.
Harvesting the buds in stages (starting off slowly with small batches) can really help abate the excitement.
When in doubt, listen to your gut. Using both methods together will help you pick the best time to harvest, but only YOU know how you want your buds to turn out. This means that even the best methods are just general guidelines. But hopefully, you’re now closer to getting your bud the way you want it.