Stages of the marijuana plant growth cycle
Cannabis plants, like all living things, go through a series of stages as they grow and mature. If you’re interested in cultivating cannabis, it’s especially important to understand the changes a plant undergoes during its life cycle, as each stage of growth requires different care.
Different stages call for different amounts of light, nutrients, and water. They also help us decide when to prune and train the plants. Determining a plant’s sex and overall health rely on stages of growth as well.
How long does it take to grow a marijuana plant?
Generally speaking, it takes anywhere from 14-32 weeks, or about 4-8 months, to grow a weed plant.
The biggest variability in how long a marijuana plant takes to grow will happen in the vegetative cycle—if you’re growing indoors, you can force it to flower after only a few weeks when it is small, or after several weeks when it is big. If you’re growing outdoors, you’re at the whim of the seasons and will have to wait until fall to harvest. The plant will develop buds in the last 8-11 weeks.
The life cycle of cannabis can be broken down into four primary stages from seed to harvest:
- Germination (5-10 days)
- Seedling (2-3 weeks)
- Vegetative (3-16 weeks)
- Flowering (8-11 weeks)
Seed germination (5-10 days)
Light cycle: 18 hours of light
The first stage of life for a cannabis plant begins with the seed. At this point, your cannabis plant is dormant, patiently waiting for water to bring it to life.
You can observe the quality of the seed by its color and texture. The seed should feel hard and dry, and be light- to dark-brown in color. An undeveloped seed is generally squishy and green or white in color and likely won’t germinate.
To begin growing from a seed, learn more about germination here. This stage can take anywhere between 5-10 days.
Once your seed has popped, it’s ready to be placed in its growing medium. The tap root will drive down while the stem of the seedling will grow upward. Two rounded cotyledon leaves will grow out from the stem as the plant unfolds from the protective casing of the seed. These initial leaves are responsible for taking in sunlight needed for the plant to become healthy and stable.
As the roots develop, you will begin to see the first iconic fan leaves grow, at which point your cannabis plant can be considered a seedling.
Seedling stage (2-3 weeks)
Light cycle: 18 hours of light
When your plant becomes a seedling, you’ll notice it developing more of the traditional cannabis leaves. As a sprout, the seed will initially produce leaves with only one ridged blade. Once new growth develops, the leaves will develop more blades (1, 3, 5, 7, etc.). A mature cannabis plant will have between 5-7 blades per leaf, but some plants may have more.
Cannabis plants are considered seedlings until they begin to develop leaves with the full number of blades on new fan leaves. A healthy seedling should be a vibrant green color. Be very careful to not overwater the plant in its seedling stage—its roots are so small, it doesn’t need much water to thrive.
At this stage, the plant is vulnerable to disease and mold. Keep its environment clean and monitor excess moisture.
Vegetative stage (3-16 weeks)
Light cycle: 18 hours of light
The vegetative stage of cannabis is where the plant’s growth truly takes off. At this point, you’ve transplanted your plant into a larger pot, and the roots and foliage are developing rapidly. This is also the time to begin topping or training your plants.
Spacing between the nodes should represent the type of cannabis you are growing. Indica plants tend to be short and dense, while sativas grow lanky and more open in foliage.
Be mindful to increase your watering as the plant develops. When it’s young, your plant will need water close to the stalk, but as it grows the roots will also grow outward, so start watering further away from the stalk so the roots can stretch out and absorb water more efficiently.
Vegetative plants appreciate healthy soil with nutrients. Feed them with a higher level of nitrogen at this stage.
Flowering stage (8-11 weeks)
Light cycle: 12 hours of light
The flowering stage is the final stage of growth for a cannabis plant. Flowering occurs naturally when the plant receives less than 12 hours of light a day as the summer days shorten, or as the indoor light cycle is shortened. It is in this stage that resinous buds develop and your hard work will be realized.
If you need to determine the sex of your plants (to discard the males), they will start showing their sex organs a couple weeks into the flowering stage. It’s imperative to separate the males so they don’t pollenate the flowering females.
There are a number of changes to consider once your plant goes from its vegetative stage to flowering:
- Your plants shouldn’t be pruned after three weeks into the flowering stage, as it can upset the hormones of the plant.
- Plants should be trellised so that buds will be supported as they develop.
- Consider feeding plants with blooming nutrients.
What week of flowering do buds grow the most?
Buds typically grow the most toward the end of the flowering cycle, around week 6-7. You probably won’t notice much budding out at the beginning of flower, and it will slow down toward the end of the cycle, when buds become fully formed.
Once the buds have reached full maturation, it’s time to harvest.
This post was originally published on July 18, 2017. It was most recently updated on January 17, 2020.
It’s important to understand the changes a growing cannabis plant undergoes during its life cycle, as each stage of growth requires different care.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Weed Indoors?
This is one of the most common questions we receive from curious soon-to-be indoor cannabis growers: How long does it really take to grow weed? What’s the growing timeline?
It’s actually a really good question! Every new marijuana grower should know how much work they’re signing up for! The short answer is…
The Average Indoor Grow Takes 3-5 Months
The long answer is: from Day 1 of your weed plant’s life to actually smoking your harvest, it can take… 8 weeks – 7+ Months! That’s a huge range, right?
That’s why most cannabis growers won’t give you a straight answer. The truth is, there are many factors will affect the total time until you have ‘ready’ buds, by days, weeks or even months. This includes your strain, your setup, and how big you plan to grow your plants (bigger plants need more time!). So instead of giving you a huge range, an easier-to-swallow answer might be to say that the average grow takes 3-5 months for indoor growers.
This includes the time needed to grow your cannabis plant from seedling to harvest plus an additional 2 weeks (or more) which is used to cure your cannabis buds after harvest (making them more potent and better smelling).
Additionally, for at least the first time you grow, you also need to consider the time needed to get your equipment and seeds/clones.
This article will give you the total time breakdown, so you can plan out the details of your grow in order to achieve the harvest times you desire:
Ultimately, How Long to Harvest Marijuana Depends on the Desired Yields, Strain and Grow Style
Today I will show you how to plan your grow so it takes the amount of time you want!
Jump to the Section of the Tutorial You’re Interested in:
- Before You Start Growing Weed (0-4 weeks) – Get seeds and supplies so you’re set to start growing!
- Time Needed to Grow Weed, From Seedling to Harvest (8 weeks – 5+ months)
- Germinate Your Seeds (1-7 days) – Learn about fail-proof methods to germinate perfectly in soil/coco or hydro.
- Vegetative Stage (3 weeks – 8+ weeks) – In the vegetative stage, the cannabis plants are growing just stems and leaves. On average, most indoor growers vegetate their plants for 4-8 weeks. Seedlings are able to start flowering as early as 3 weeks from germination, but the resulting plants will be tiny. Most growers choose to let plants vegetate for longer because giving them more time to grow results in bigger plants, which tend to produce bigger yields as long as you have enough light to cover all the bud sites. That being said, you can still produce quite a bit of bud with a lot of small plants growing at once as long as you fill up your grow space.
- Flowering Stage (5 weeks – 16+ weeks) – This is when plants start making buds. The length of the flowering stage depends heavily on the strain/genetics, with an average of about 8-12 weeks for most strains. Some strains are bred to have very short flowering stages (for example, most auto-flowering strains will naturally start flowering at around 3 weeks old and some are ready to harvest just 5 weeks later, for a total of only 8 weeks from seed!). Other strains can take months in the flowering stage before they’re ready to harvest. Typically, longer-flowering strains produce higher yields than short-flowering ones because the buds are exposed to more light-hours and have more time to fatten up, but that’s not always the case.
- Post-Harvest (This is when the smell/taste/look you love shows up) (2-4+ weeks) – After buds are harvested, they still need to be dried for about a week (sometimes a bit less or more), then placed in glass jars to “cure” for at least 2 weeks. This post-harvest processing dramatically improves the taste, smell and the perceived potency of the buds. It also reduces the chance of buds causing headaches or unpleasant “speedy” effects. Don’t skip this step! It will account for nearly 50% of your final bud quality! Learn how to dry & cure your buds to perfection.
If you choose the right strain, you could be smoking your own buds as soon as 3 months from germination!
Before You Start Growing Weed
Total preparation time needed: 0 days – 4 weeks
Here’s the breakdown…
Get equipment: 0 days – 2 weeks
This includes purchasing your equipment and/or waiting for it to show up in the mail. Once you have your marijuana growing supplies, you’ll need to setup your growing area and equipment. Depending on how you purchase your equipment and how quickly you setup, you could be ready the same day or in two weeks (after factoring in shipping time).
Check out examples of new grower shopping lists to learn exactly which supplies you’ll need.
Get seeds or clones: 0-4 weeks:
If you have instant access (like knowing a grower, or ordering seeds from a seed bank in your country), this should take only a little time. If you order from a seed bank overseas (especially US residents), expect a wait of about 1-4 weeks to get seeds.
Time Needed to Grow Weed, From Seedling to Harvest
Total growing time needed: 8 weeks – 5+ months
Here’s the breakdown…
Germinate your seeds: 1 – 7 days
Seedlings can sprout in as little as a day, but by 3-5 days they should be good to go. If you have access to clones, you can skip this wait.
Learn my fail-proof method to germinate your seeds in soil/coco or hydro.
Vegetative Stage: 3 weeks – 2+ months.
The length of this stage is a matter of personal preference. Most cannabis plants need at least 3 weeks in the vegetative stage before they will start making flowers, but after that you get to choose how long your plant spends in this stage (unless using an auto-flowering strain), because you’re the one to ‘flip the switch’ and get your plant to enter the next life stage: flowering.
When you start with a seed, even with an auto-flowering plant, you will always have at least 2-3 weeks of vegetative growth before any buds start forming no matter what you do. Growers generally allow their plants to stay in the vegetative stage from a few weeks to a few months.
The size your plant achieves in the vegetative stage has a very large effect on your final yields since bigger plants produce more bud sites than smaller plants. However, you need enough light to cover all the bud sites or they will never develop properly. Light is like food for bud growth!
These vegetating plants are about 4 weeks old from germination
To give you an idea as to what your FINAL marijuana plant may look like depending on how long it spends in the vegetative stage…
This plant didn’t spend any time in the Vegetative Stage. It was given 12-12 lighting almost immediately after sprouting. It’s so small that it spent its whole life in a solo cup, and its only light came from CFLs. I weighed down the bottom of the cup so it didn’t fall over. It ended up yielding about 0.75 oz.
These auto-flowering plants spent about 3 weeks in the vegetative stage before they automatically started flowering, and were ready to harvest just 5 weeks later. They were about a foot tall at harvest and yielded approximately 2 ounces each. Read the step-by-step tutorial to grow plants exactly like this.
This marijuana plant spent about 6 weeks in the vegetative stage before being changed over to flowering and yielded just over 6 ounces at harvest. View the complete grow journal with instructions on how to grow your plant so it looks just like this at harvest!
These cannabis plants were vegetated for about 8 weeks before being flipped to the flowering stage. Although they were grown in the exact same conditions from seed to harvest, their final heights are remarkably different because their strains had vastly different genetics. The smaller plant produced 6.6 ounces, while the big plant produced 9.3 ounces. Strain can make a big difference! Learn about growing different strains together.
These cannabis plants were vegetated for about 9 weeks before being flipped, in the exact same setup as above, and produced over 10 ounces each. Besides an extra week of veg, the biggest difference between this grow and the one above was simply the strains.
This human-sized plant (one of my very first plants) spent a little more than 3 months in the vegetative stage before I realized I needed to turn it over to the flowering stage. It then spent another 12 weeks in the flowering stage before it was ready to harvest because it was a long-flowering strain. It got way too tall for its space (taller than me!) and started falling over. However, despite the huge size and more than 5 months of growth, it only ended up yielding about 6 ounces. This is because it was under weak CFL grow lights. Though there was a lot of buds, the lack of strong light made them airy, without a lot of weight. Click the picture for a close-up. 🙂
Some people put their seedlings or clones right into the flowering stage if they want to harvest quickly though this makes for extremely small plants. For example, super-stealth growers who are growing in small hidden spaces – like out of a computer case – would want to put their seedlings into flowering nearly right away to keep their plants as small as possible. It’s also important to remember that container size and grow lights make a big difference. Small containers constrain the roots and keep plants from getting as big as they could, and small lights prevent buds from fattening up as much as they could.
I personally recommend at least 4 weeks in the vegetative stage with 18+ hours of light each day for the best results. Plants that are forced to start flowering sooner than 4 weeks don’t yield much compared to how much work you put in. That being said, keeping plants relatively small does have some benefits!
A good rule of thumb…
Your plant will likely double in size (maybe a bit less, maybe more) from when you first put it into the flowering stage; this is known as the Flowering Stretch. So make sure you end the vegetative stage before your plant reaches half the final height you want, or your cannabis plants may outgrow your grow space during the flowering stage!
Flowering Stage: 5 weeks – 16+ weeks
Here’s the breakdown…
- Week 1-3 – Transition to Flowering
- Week 3-4 – “Budlets” Form
- Week 4-6 – Buds Start Fattening Up
- Week 6-8 – Buds Ripen, Pistils Darken – some strains spend longer in this stage
- Week 8-12+ – Flowering Ends, Final Flush, Harvest
The length of time needed to stay in the flowering stage depends heavily on the strain. Once you have switched your plant into the flowering stage they will stretch (the ‘flowering stretch’), form buds and then fatten.
Here’s a list of some of my favorite and best cannabis strains by the length of the flowering period:
Short (6-8 weeks)
- Northern Light – Known for being especially easy to grow
- Critical Mass CBD – High-yielding, medical, high-CBD, medium-THC strain
- Quick Critical + – Based on their award-winning Critical+ strain but with a much faster finish
- Blue Cheese – This version of Blue Cheese is not only fast flowering, the plants grow fast and should be flowered when the plant is only 1/3 the final desired size because it may triple in height after the switch. This shaves extra time off the vegetative stage. Great effects!
- Frisian Dew – One of the best strains for outdoor growing (and buds may turn pink or bright purple!)
- Shiskaberry – A gem by Barney’s Farm, this strain “lifts you up” and causes a strong “head high” that can be a great way to relax after a tough day, or for when you want to get in a creative mood.
- Auto-flowering Ultimate – One of the most potent auto-flowering strains I’ve grown so far, ready in about 10 weeks from germination (7-week flowering stage) and just overall a healthy and high-yielding plant. I plan on growing another one in my next auto-flowering grow!
- In fact, if you’re interested in a very short flowering time, most auto-flowering strains are ready to harvest less than 3 months from seed.
Frisian Dew plant growing outdoors with deep purple buds
Medium (8-12 weeks)
- Original Amnesia – Strong effects and very easy to grow. View grow journal
- Supreme CBD Durban – Medical strain, has a THC:CBD ratio of 1:1
- Pineapple Chunk – An award-winning strain that’s fruity, vigorous and potent! Its yields are not necessarily the highest, but I believe it’s worth it for the extremely high quality of buds. One of my favorite strains I’ve grown, and I definitely plan to grow it again!
- Liberty Haze – An award-winning strain that’s curiously strong and one of the few “haze” cannabis strains that doesn’t take forever to finish flowering. Good yields!
- Gelat.OG – An amazingly well-done cross between Gelato and OG Kush, which are two extremely popular strains in the US on the west coast. Finishes on the faster side, yet has great yields, potency and smell!
- Wedding Gelato – Another beautiful Gelato cross, this time with the famous Gelato 33 clone (a very specific cut of Gelato), with Wedding Cake (which has taken the west coast by storm in the last few years).
- Strawberry Lemonade – As pleasant as it sounds, with high potency and uplifting effects. Also is typically very easy to grow.
- Gorilla Zkittlez – Another west coast favorite, this is produces beautiful buds that are covered in crystals/trichomes and is also very high yielding.
- Peyote Critical – This strain seems to get rave reviews from everyone who tries it. Buds produce powerful effects and occasionally the buds even turn purple.
Long: (12-14+ weeks)
- Many Haze strains, as well as some Sativa strains, and generally any strains that originated near the equator.
- Arjan’s Ultra Haze #1 – A cross between some of the best Haze strains in Southeast Asia. If you want to try something different that is almost impossible to find in the US or Europe, this is it! It produces psychedelic effects that defy its cannabinoid content. May be too intense for some people!
In general, most strains (besides auto-flowering strains) are in the medium range as far as how long they take to flower.
It’s not exact – There’s a 2-3 week harvest window for most plants, and keeping your plants in the flowering stage for a bit longer tends to increase your yields. This is because the plants tend to really bulk up their flowers once they’ve become ‘ripe’.
So often times, even though you could harvest at the shortest recommended time, waiting an extra week or two will give you an extra 10-30% more yield compared to harvesting as early as possible.
Utopia Haze is a mix of Brazilian landrace strains
Post-Harvest (before you smoke you should do this stuff too)
Total post-harvest time needed: 2.5 weeks – 1.5+ months
Drying: 4 – 10 days
Good marijuana buds can be dried in as little as 4 days, but ideally, drying should be a slow process taking up to a week or more. Making sure your plants have been thoroughly dried (but not over-dried) will lower chances of mold during the curing process.
Curing: 2 weeks – 1+ months
Curing really seems to make the effects of buds feel less ‘speedy’ and be better suited to medical applications like treating anxiety, reducing pain, and improving feelings of depression.
Additionally, curing gets rid of any ‘cut grass’ smell, harsh taste and other undesirable traits of some freshly dried buds. Over time with proper curing, those traits will be replaced by the ‘real’ smell and potency profile of your buds.
Two weeks is considered the minimum time to cure your buds, but I personally cure all my buds for a month or even a bit longer because the buds continue to improve for several more weeks.
So, after you’ve bought seeds and equipment, grown a plant from seed to harvest, trimmed, dried and cured your buds, that brings us back to the original answer…
Total Time to Grow (and Be Ready to Use) Your Own Weed:
8 weeks – 5+ Months
Average Time to Grow (and Be Ready to Use) Your Own Weed:
3 – 5 months
If you haven’t started growing your own weed yet, today is the day!
New Grower Shopping Lists – What You Need to Get Started
How to Grow a Pound of Cannabis – Step-by-Step Instructions from Seed to Harvest
7 Tips for Growing Top-Shelf Buds – How to Grow Better Cannabis than the Dispensary!
How Long Does It Take to Grow Weed Indoors? This is one of the most common questions we receive from curious soon-to-be indoor cannabis growers: How long does it really take to grow weed?