When to Harvest your Cannabis Plants

Last updated: October 19, 2022 at 14:48 pm

Harvesting Cannabis Plants

When To Harvest Your Cannabis Plants

I’ve been reading a lot of posts on cannabis forums lately and just happened to notice all the repeated posts about “are my plants ready for harvest”. I was surprised at how many people were asking this question and even more shocked at some of the support answers people were giving these growers. I know it’s a very exciting time when you’ve been watching your plants first vegetate, and then actually flower for week after week. It seems that many of the people writing in to ask if they should harvest are just itching to harvest, usually early with some in a panic about harvesting too late.

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Harvesting is an exciting time but it isn’t the end of the line for your cannabis. You still need to dry and cure your harvest so there is just no need to rush. If you get this important call right it will make a huge difference, harvest too soon and you lose potency and cannabis yields; too late and you can end up with a bunch of sleeping medicine.

The great news is that there are only 3 things a grower will need to determine the best harvest time for your cannabis plants.

  • A bit of knowledge which you are gaining right now while reading this article
  • Your eyes for a visual inspection of your cannabis buds
  • A magnifying tool so you can get up close and personal with the shiny, tiny,

resin-filled trichomes. A magnifying tool is a necessity if you want to accurately lock down your harvest time.

Magnifying Tool Options

  • Jeweler’s Loupe – This option is as low tech and as cheap as they come. It isn’t the best option, you will struggle to see the smallest trichomes. If you have great eyes and a tight budget this option could work for you.
  • Handheld Magnifier – The next option is a handheld magnifier. It provides up to 120X zoom and a digital light which helps bring your trichomes into focus.
  • Digital Microscope – A digital microscope is “the way” to view your trichomes in all their tiny glory. You’ll be able to get up close and personal with your trichomes and take stills so that you can take your time examining your buds. Get truly up close and personal with your buds. Here is a sample video was taken from a Digital Microscope.

There are two main areas we will be looking at in depth to identify the correct harvest time for cannabis plants. It’s best to use these two techniques together to get the full picture on your buds.

Identify and Check the Pistils

The first step is to identify and check the pistils which are the female reproductive parts of the cannabis plant. The pistils are the hairs that are visible on your buds. You can’t get the full picture of your plants harvest time by just examining the pistils but it is a great place to start and give you a quick visual que to watch for.

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 a good place to start since you can just look at the buds and get a general idea. Pistils start out is straight white-colored hairs and as harvest time grows closer these hairs begin to curl and change colors.

As the flowering time continues more and more of the pistils will curl and change colors. To get the highest THC content from your buds you want to harvest just as 60 to 70% of the pistils have curled and changed color. If you are looking for a heavy body euphoric buzz than you’ll want to wait until about 80% of the pistils have turned. Don’t be upset while you’re waiting for these changes to take place because your buds are still growing bigger and denser at this stage so remind yourself of that if you start itching to pick your buds early.

Remember that the pistils are only one option for estimating that buds are ready to harvest. What I’ve described to you could be completely wrong depending on the strain you are growing. Some strains have white pistils all the way through to harvest such as White Widow. Remember that checking the pistils is only step one and meant to give you a general indicator. To get the full picture you’ll need to zoom in real close with one of the magnifying tools I mentioned and start to examine the trichomes very closely.

Not Ready for Harvest

Notice the Pistils are still straight and white, these buds are not ready for harvest and likely have at least 4 weeks left to flower.

cannabis pistils not ready for harvest

Closer but Still Not Ready for Harvest

You are still waiting for more than half of the pistils to darken and curl. At this point, some of the pistils have change color and started to curl. But there isn’t close to 60% changed at this point. You are still several weeks away from your plants reaching their highest levels of THC. You can expect that your buds will continue to grow and become denser over the next few weeks.

Cannabis pistils 40 turned

Ready to Harvest

An examination of the pistils of your plants turns up the following results:

  • 60-70% of the pistils (hairs) are now darkened which means that your buds have reached their full THC producing potential.
  • 70 to 80% of the pistils (hairs) have now curled and changed color. Your buds now contain more CBN which produces an anti-anxiety or calming effect (cotch lock)

There are still exceptions to the Pistil rule. You will come across strains of cannabis that can continue to produce new pistils when you are expecting to harvest to be completed based on the color and appearance of the pistils. If this happens you should be waiting for the new crop of pistils to mature, but if your plant continues to produce new pistils you’ll need to make a judgment call and just harvest your plants.

cannabis pistils ready for harvest

Again, using pistils as an indicator of readiness to harvest is only using half the picture. Some strains act differently and can have pistils that remain white all the way through to harvest. If you are growing a strain such as White Widow or another strain that might not display these indicators you can reach out to the creator of the strain or to online forums where you’ll find many people that are willing to offer advice that have more experience.

Examining Trichomes for the Full Picture

At the beginning of this article, we discussed several magnification options which will be used to examine the tiny glandular trichomes on your buds and leaves. Trichomes are just barely visible to the naked eye and appear as tiny shiny bumps located all over your buds.

Once you view trichomes under magnification you will start to see that the trichomes are mushroom-looking growths that cover all the bud material. Those mushrooms looking growths are filled with THC and is the whole reason your growing cannabis in the first place.
These resin glands known as trichomes which look like mushrooms are what you are looking for, you will also see hair like trichomes without the mushroom head those can be ignored, you are only interested in the trichomes with the mushroom shape which is where the THC and other good chemicals are located.

Cannabis plant up close under loupe

To view the tiny trichomes you will need to place your magnification device right up close to the buds just a fraction of an inch away. At this distance, you will begin to see the shape and color of the trichomes.

AS far as magnification devices go the loupe is not the best option. You will still struggle to view the trichomes up close and will likely need to focus on just one at a time using the loupe. Since loupes are so cheap I’ve tested out 4 different ones from Amazon.com and found that this jewelers loupe from Amazon to be the best option.

Jewelers Loupe

The next best option for viewing your beautiful trichomes would be a 60x-120x power illuminated microscope. This will magnify the trichomes more and make them appear larger to you. The draw-back of the microscope is that the viewable area is very narrow so you can only see a tiny area of your buds at once. The microscope option is still quite cheap and in line with the cost of a loupe.

 

The best option to be able to view your trichomes with super detail would be the Carson zOrb. This microscope has the ability to be plugged into your laptop or computer where you can record live video and stills of your trichomes for very detailed examination. I didn’t purchase the Carson right away because it is just under $50, I made due with a loupe for a long time. Once I invested the money in the Carson zOrb I found it to be worth every cent of the investment. The images and video generated by the Carson microscope aren’t just useful but are beautiful and a joy to gaze at.

Carson Zorb Microscope

Now that you are magnifying your trichomes you can get a good extended view of them and start to take note of their characteristics. Remember that different strains of cannabis can generate different colored trichomes. Some are amber, gold, yellow or even purple or pink, keep that in mind as you examine your buds up close.

The trichomes will look like glass or shiny plastic but remember you are most interested in the ones that have the mushroom head or dot at the end of them.

When examining the trichomes try to focus on just one or two at a time. Start to compare the mushroom heads to one each other. This is a difficult process but will get easier as you gain experience. For now, it’s best to reference the pictures we’ve included above and then view your buds, you might have to go between them many times as you try to distinguish the differences in the trichomes.

As you look at your trichomes you need to compare them to each other as you look for cloudy samples. Once you start to be able to identify the cloudy trichomes then you’ll need to start estimation of what percentage have changed.

If you consider the pistils condition and color as well as the translucence of the trichomes you are going to have an adequate ability to make a call on if your buds are ready for harvest.

When to harvest cannabis

In this picture, you will notice trichomes in three different states. The first image shows clear trichomes which on not ready for picking. The next image shows milky trichomes and the final image shows trichomes that have changed color to amber. The milky and amber trichomes are ready for picking. The amber trichomes represent a late pick while the milky trichomes are just right.

Now that you’ve seen them first hand you should be able to recognize them on your buds under magnification. Now that you can identify the changes in trichomes you just need to be able to examine and estimate what percentage of the trichomes you are looking at are in which stage to determine the readiness for harvest. Remember to take into account the pistils as we’ve talked about. These two details, come together to give you a good picture of the maturity of your buds.

Ready to pick trichomes

Above you will see a bud with pistils that have changed color and curled, your initial feeling might be that this bud is ready but if you look closer at the trichomes you will notice that most of the trichomes are still clear and not ready for harvesting. This is why having two metrics to measure in order to determine the readiness of your buds is so important.

Summary

  1. If the pistils (hairs) on your buds are sticking straight out and the trichomes are clear than your plant isn’t ready for harvest. Harvesting now will greatly reduce the yield and strength of the final product.
  2. The opening of harvest season starts when about 40% of the white hairs have curled up and darkened. This is a great time to time to start flushing your plant of nutrients which will improve the taste of your cannabis.
  3. Your buds have their highest THC content when most of the trichomes have turned milky or cloudy. This stage of growth will provide the most euphoric and psychoactive effects.
  4. “Couch Lock” which is the sedating effect of cannabis happens most when the trichomes have switched from milky white to amber or other colors. Most people aren’t looking for that effect and you’ve likely harvested too late.

Controlling the Effect of your cannabis

Depending on the type of buzz or euphoric effect you are looking for you can achieve these states by harvesting your buds at different times.

If you are looking for a head stone you need to harvest your buds earlier when about 40% of the trichomes have become milky. For strong cannabis with heavy psychoactive effects harvest when almost all of the trichomes have become milky white. If you are looking for relaxing, anti-anxiety medicine then you’ll want to wait until some of the trichomes switch from milky white to an amber or darkened color.

You can always cut a bud off at each stage and cure and smoke it to see the different effect of your maturing cannabis plant. This will also help you develop a preference to how you like your cannabis. That’s another big plus with growing your own cannabis is the total control you have over the final product.

Be patient Above all Else

Be patient with your buds, you’ve taken such good care and spent so much time tending to them it’s important not to cut their potential short by being over excited. If you just can’t wait, cut one or two buds and cure them to start. You’ll then have something to test out and still be allowing your plant to mature. There is nothing wrong with removing a few buds early, it will not hurt the plant.

When in doubt follow your but in stinks or even better post closeup quality pics of your buds on a cannabis forum and you’ll get the feedback you need. Don’t be afraid to ask because people love to chime in and discuss this sort of issue. You are definitely not alone.

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