The hands-on, sensory pleasure of planting a garden is an experience like no other. Whether you have a green thumb or not, you can grow a marijuana garden at home by understanding the essential life cycle of the plant.
The cannabis plant experiences growth throughout six distinct stages: germination stage, seedling stage, vegetative stage, flowering stage, harvesting stage, pruning stage, and finally a preparation stage for the cycle to start again.
Here we outline each of these important stages in the growth of a marijuana plant and share how you can oversee each one to optimize your crop. Measuring the nutrient feed is the best way to ensure that you are not overloading your plant with any one element or skimping in one area either.
The marijuana growth cycle
Beginning with tiny seeds and culminating in rich harvests, the marijuana growth cycle can last between 10 and 26 weeks, or as much as half the year. Therefore, growing your own cannabis entails a sizable commitment of time and effort, but the rewards may be equally abundant. In three to six months' time, you can raise a crop to serve you with plant-based medicine, recreational enjoyment, or both. The marijuana you grow can transform into smokable, edible, and topical treasures that may offer a combination of physiological and psychological benefits.
The cannabis plant requires differing amounts of nutrients as it grows. There are three primary nutrients for the cannabis cultivator to understand: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Nutrient packages often label these big three components as NPK , based on the chemical symbols for each one. In addition to these most vital nutrients, there is another trio of secondary nutrients to be aware of: magnesium, calcium, and sulfur. Finally, marijuana requires an array or micronutrients which tend to appear naturally in soil. Some of these micronutrients, or trace elements, include zinc, manganese, iron, boron, chloride, cobalt, and silicon.
The key is balance when nourishing a weed plant. All-in-one mixes tend to be too broad, while overloading with one single nutrient, even those in the NPK group, could be hazardous to the plant's health.
Where to plant cannabis
There are three main locations where cultivators plant cannabis: outdoor, in a greenhouse, or indoors.
Outdoor cultivators often begin to grow their plants in the spring to prepare for a fall harvest. Choosing the right soil is perhaps the most vital component for outdoor cultivators. Choose a soil chock full of plant nutrients and organic materials, including microbes, earthworm castings, and forest humus. Some soils are even classified as "super soils" because they minimize or eliminate the need for liquid nutrients. Overall, an investment in cannabis-compatible soil is the biggest investment for the outdoor cultivator.
One other option to consider is to start growing marijuana in a greenhouse. A greenhouse provides the bright sunlight necessary to raise a healthy plant while offering better environmental controls. For example, darkness is key during certain growth stages, and a greenhouse gives you the control to use blackout shades or roof covering systems. Cannabis also receives protection from the elements in a greenhouse, as well as from animals and pests. However, a greenhouse is an expensive undertaking and not ideal for the budget-conscious grower.
Indoor cultivators have the flexibility to plant their cannabis seeds any time of year, as long as long as indoor conditions are managed with regard to temperature, humidity, light, and air quality. Light management is especially important as plants cannot survive without the right amount of photosynthesis. In an outdoor garden, natural sunlight does all the work, but indoors you'll need to invest in a lighting system, such as LED lights or high intensity white light.
Before you start to plant your outdoor, greenhouse, or indoor marijuana garden, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with state and local laws which can vary significantly. Once you've established the legality of cultivating cannabis at home in your state or region, you can begin the first stage of growth and plant seeds.
Duration: 24 hours to 2 weeks
The germination stage is the first stage in the cannabis plant cycle. As a grower, you will want to maintain an abundance of female plants because they are richer in trichomes than their male counterparts. Trichomes are the white crystals that grow on marijuana plants and contain the sought-after cannabinoids of CBD and THC.
On the other hand, male plants are not as useful and could in fact contaminate your female plants. Therefore, you'll want to purchase feminized seeds and germinate them. Online seed banks are an excellent resource to find feminized seeds.
Duration: 2 to 3 weeks
The marijuana plant is a baby at this point in the life cycle. No longer merely seeds, your plants are now officially seedlings. During the seedling stage you will notice your cannabis plant sprouting from the soil and growing a pair of leaves that fan outward from the stem. Leaves will also sprout from the top of the plant while a root system simultaneously develops. While it's possible for the seedling stage to extend to six weeks, a timeline of two to three weeks is much more typical.
Nurture your seedlings in a warm environment with a temperature of approximately 77 degrees Fahrenheit with 60 percent accompanying humidity. Fertilizer (preferably nitrogen-based) and light are also vital during the seedling stage. To determine what's best for your particular plant, research the strain that you are cultivating. By the time this stage concludes, your plants will have outgrown their tiny pots.
Duration: 3 to 8 weeks
Also called the vegetation phase, the vegetative stage marks a significant growth spurt for your seedlings, which you will need to transfer to larger pots. Growth occurs rapidly during the vegetative stage, with vertical growth especially pronounced. Can you imagine your plant growing two inches taller in just 24 hours? It could happen!
Your plants will also begin to take on a definitive shape at this stage. For example, a sativa plant will become long and narrow, while an indica will be shorter, bushier, and denser with foliage. The sexual characteristics of your plants will also become apparent and you can differentiate between the males and the females now. By the end of the vegetative stage, female plants will exhibit two white pistils and male plants will grow pollen sacs. Be sure to remove these pollen sacs to avoid contaminating your female plants.
A slightly lower temperature is ideal during this phase. When your plants were seedlings, you maintained a temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but now you can adjust to a range of 68 to 77 degrees. Humidity may also vary more, with 50 to 70 percent sufficient. Give your plants ample light: at least 16 hours a day and as many as 24 continuous hours. Finally, keep feeding your cannabis plants with nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Duration: 6 to 8 weeks
If you're wondering which is the most crucial among the stages of growth, the flowering stage is the one to watch! Look out for sticky resin on the leaves and clusters of trichomes as well. The more trichomes you see, the more potent your marijuana plant is becoming. Ultimately, potency also depends on how much time a plant spends in the flowering stage, so if it goes beyond the 8-week mark, you might be in for a pleasant surprise at harvest time.
The flowering stage also represents the final stage in the growth cycle but not in the life cycle of your cannabis plants. One key distinction of the flowering stage is a reduction of light on your plants. No longer does a cannabis plant require 24 hours of light; 12 hours will be adequate, along with a corresponding 12 hours of darkness.
A consistent temperature range of 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit is recommended as your marijuana flowers, along with moderate humidity of 50 percent. Nitrogen is no longer the most important nutrient; now feed your cannabis plant potassium and phosphorous instead.
The end of the flowering stage marks an eagerly anticipated milestone in the growth process as you prepare to harvest your crop.
Duration: Varies; Harvesting generally takes place in fall for outdoor plants but can occur any time of year for indoor plants.
Congratulations! The harvesting stage is when you reap the rewards of your careful planting and cultivation. The challenging part is knowing exactly when to harvest and proceeding with care. If you harvest too soon or too late, your weed may not taste or smell the way you expect, and you could also affect the potency.
So, how do you know when the harvesting stage has arrived? Your plants will provide you with numerous clues to guide you. For example, take a good look at the pistils on your female plants. If the pistils are mostly brown, then there's a good chance that it's harvest time. In contrast, if all the pistils are brown, then you may have missed the optimal moment for harvest and the marijuana will be classified as "overripe." Likewise, observe the color of the leaves. If the leaves are yellow, rather than green, then don't delay the start of your harvest.
Is it ever too late to harvest a marijuana plant? If the stem is swollen and all the yellow leaves have fallen off, then it is too late to harvest the marijuana. Cannabis at this late stage will likely taste and smell unpleasant, possibly bitter. As a general rule, it is preferable to harvest earlier rather than later. Prematurely harvested weed has not reached its maximum potency, but it will probably taste and smell more desirable than that which has become overripe. So, invest in a hardy pair of scissors and harvest your weed when the time is right!
Duration: Varies; May begin in spring to anticipate a fall harvest for outdoor plants or start in any season for indoor plants.
Pruning is the next step to take after you cut down and harvest your plants. The purpose of pruning is to round out the buds and, by doing so, enhance the smoking experience. You can experiment with two different types of pruning, wet and dry. Many novice growers find it easier to prune when the plant is wet, so you may like to start there. Dry plants tend to curl at the leaves, which makes them more difficult to prune.
Whether you use the wet or dry method of pruning, you will need to fully dry the cannabis before proceeding with curing and storage. To dry cannabis, hang the cuttings upside down, perhaps on a clothesline and most definitely in an environment that is not overly moist. Once the plants have dried, you will be ready to complete the last steps of the pruning process.
A precision pair of pruning scissors is your most useful tool at this stage. Whereas a heftier pair of scissors is appropriate at harvest, a more delicate pair does the job for pruning. A pair of gardening gloves is also helpful to protect your hands from the sticky resin of the buds.
First, use your hands to pluck the fan leaves from the buds. Next, use your scissors to trim off the sugar leaves which contain high levels of trichomes and can be used to make cannabis concentrates. You can also save the sugar leaves to use as an ingredient in your favorite edible, such as cannabutter. Others prefer to discard the sugar leaves, but there's no reason to do so unless you're trying to preserve space. Lastly, collect the excess resin that sticks to your gloves and put it to work if you create any dabs.
Everything you have pruned from the plant can serve a purpose, but the crowning glory is the bud. Curing the dried buds is one of the final steps in the process before you can enjoy a relaxing smoke. Patience is essential at this point proper curing can take up to two months and affects the quality of the buds. One easy curing method is to place the buds in a glass jar and leave them there for up to eight weeks. During the first two weeks, open the jar periodically to let in oxygen and "burp" your buds.
Patience pays off at the end of the pruning stage when you can consume the cannabis you've cultivated and effectively store any leftover weed for future use.
As with curing, glass jars make ideal storage units for cannabis if you plan on using the cannabis soon. Long-term storage of up to two years necessitates vacuum sealing of containers to keep the weed as fresh as possible. Even in the most tightly sealed jar, cannabis can lose some THC content the longer it is stored. This is one reason why you might like to clone your excess cannabis and begin the growing cycle again.
To continue the weed life cycle, you can purchase more seeds or you can breed and clone your cannabis during a final preparation stage. Start growing a whole new cycle of cannabis by choosing a branch that is at least four inches long and cutting it off from your most fertile crop. Then, plant the branch into a rooting solution to grow a new batch of plants that will be genetically identical to the ones you just harvested.
Of course, if you were not satisfied with your harvest, then breeding and cloning would not be a good choice. Perhaps the strain you chose was too potent, or not potent enough, for your preferences. In this case, revisit an online seed bank and take the opportunity to learn the difference between strains. Explore your options and you'll not only educate yourself about the growth process but you'll also enjoy the ride.
Cultivating marijuana at home
Understanding these stages of growth is the first step towards cultivating a healthy yield of cannabis. Observe the development of your plants throughout the process and consider keeping a journal of their progress. As you work through trial-and-error with your crops, you can pinpoint which techniques work best to deliver the desired results. You'll also have the satisfaction of seeing a cannabis plant through from its smallest form as a seed to full maturity when it's ready to smoke, eat, and enjoy.