Understanding the plant’s needs during these 8 growth stages will help growers get the best performance from their crops. Everything you need to know about the 6 stages of cannabis growth. From selecting seeds to determining plant sex. During its life cycle, cannabis passes through four main stages. These stages are germination, seedling, growth and flowering. Anyone who wants to cultivate cannabis needs to recognise these stages. Each stage brings its own challenges and problems.
The 8 Growth Stages of Your Cannabis Plant
Cannabis transitions through several developmental stages, just like we do.
Cannabis requires different inputs and climate conditions during different growth stages.
This plant will grow like a weed when these requirements are met, but success is not guaranteed. Understanding the plant’s needs during these 8 growth stages will help you get the best performance from your plants.
Cannabis Developmental Stages:
1) Seed Storage (Dormancy)
2) Seed Germination Stage
3) Seedling Stage
4) Vegetative Growth
5) Sexual Maturity
6) Early-Flower (Stretch)
7) Mid Flower Stage
8) Late Flower (Senescence)
1) Seed Storage (Dormancy)
A seed is a storehouse of genetic potential.
When cannabis seeds are properly stored, they can remain viable for 10-15 years.
The three key conditions for long term storage are Cool, Dry, and Dark. Seeds are best stored in tinted jars, containing desiccant packs, in the fridge.
When you take them out, let the jar come to room temperature before opening to avoid condensation.
When cannabis seeds are first harvested, they have a high level of dormancy, or resistance to sprouting.
This dormancy is a response to natural seasonal conditions.
If the seeds did not have some level of dormancy, they could all sprout soon after they fell from the plant, only to be killed by the coming winter.
A seed will slowly lose this dormancy over a period of a few months.
One way to increase the germination (sprouting) percentage of cannabis seeds is to store them in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
This technique is referred to as cold stratification and imitates winter conditions to help seeds lose their dormancy faster.
Most reputable breeders will cold stratify their seeds after harvest, so that they are ready to sprout when you receive them.
2) Seed Germination Stage
If a seed is viable, it will germinate when environmental conditions are favorable for growth.
A temperature of 70-80 F (21-27 C) and the presence of water and oxygen are required for germination.
Cannabis seeds can have a germination success rate of over 95% the first season, with a slow decline in viability over time.
Cannabis seeds are protected by a durable seed coat.
This seed coat is softened by the presence of water.
In most cases scarification, or roughening of the seed coat, will help water to penetrate and begin the process of germination.
Penetration of water and oxygen into the seed begins a metabolic reaction which fuels initial plant growth.
A taproot, or radicle will emerge from the base of the seed and begin growing down into the soil.
This root radicle will orient its growth toward the earth’s center through a process known as gravitropism.
As the root becomes anchored in the soil, the shoot will push up through the soil surface.
The seed coat will usually stay attached to the top of the shoot until it is pushed off by the growth of the first set of leaves.
The first set of leaves to emerge are very simple in form, and known as seed leaves, or cotyledons.
As soon as the cotyledons emerge, they begin to photosynthesize, or convert light energy into fuel for further growth. This marks the beginning of the seedling stage.
3) Seedling Stage
As soon as the first true leaf set has emerged, the plant will require sufficient light to avoid elongation, or stretching for the light.
The seedling growth stage usually lasts for 15 to 20 days as the young plant becomes more established.
The second set of leaves to emerge are also single-bladed, but have serrate edges, and look like cannabis leaves. This is the first true leaf set.
Subsequent leaf sets occur in pairs, on opposite sides of the stem and leaf blades will typically increase to 3, 5, and then 7 blades as the plant matures.
The intersection of each leaf stem (petiole) with the main stem is known as a node. A new shoot will emerge from each node as the plant matures.
Seedlings are usually either germinated in small 4” cups or germinated in root plugs before being transplanted into small cups or pots up to 1 gallon in size.
Autoflower seeds are usually germinated in plugs and transplanted directly into their final pot. Autos have a very fast lifecycle and are not tolerant of multiple transplants.
4) Vegetative Growth
Once a cannabis plant has a well-established root system, and 4-6 nodes of growth it enters the vegetative growth stage. The ideal relative humidity at this stage is 65-70%. The plant will continue to elongate and develop mature 5 to 7 blade leaf sets.
Seedlings are usually potted up into a 1-gallon pot, or directly into their final pot for the vegetative growth stage. This allows for root expansion to support continued growth of foliage. As cannabis plants mature, secondary shoots at each node of growth will begin to develop leaf sets of increasing complexity.
If conditions are favorable, your cannabis plants will grow like a weed during the vegetative stage. When plants are well rooted, and growing vigorously, training and pruning techniques will help shape the plant for future production without compromising growth.
Several training techniques are commonly applied to cannabis plants to increase the number of colas, or top flowers, while decreasing overall height of the plant. These techniques include low stress bending, and high stress interventions like topping.
5) Sexual Maturity
Most Cannabis plants will become developmentally mature when they reach 14”-20” in height, or 8 to 10 nodes of growth. At this stage the leaves and shoots at each node will begin to alternate, rather than occurring opposite each other. Plants may begin to pre-flower, developing reproductive organs that allow determination of their sex.
Cannabis plants are dioecious, meaning that male and female reproductive organs occur on different plants. This is fortunate for us, as it allows us to select the desirable female plants, while eliminating male plants before they can seed our crop.
There are a few reliable ways to ensure that our plants are all female.
Hi quality feminized, or all female, seeds are now widely available for purchase. These seeds can save a lot of time and resources for cultivators regardless of size of their garden.
When sourced from a reputable breeder, the plants grown from feminized seed will be over 99% female, with a very small percentage of hermaphrodite or intersex plants.
There are also genetic tests available to determine if a plant is male or female.
These cost about 10 dollars per test and can very accurately identify plant sex through genetic analysis.
For home growers, facing strict plant counts, it is very helpful to quickly determine the sex of your plants, and be assured of complete accuracy.
The process usually involves removing a cotyledon from a seedling, compressing it with blotter paper, and mailing the sample to a lab.
The resulting sample is legal to mail anywhere in the world, as no cannabinoids are present. In most cases, genetic testing costs less than growing plants until they are mature enough for visual identification.
The traditional way to separate male plants from female is through visual identification during the pre-flower stage. These pre-flowers will form next to the stipule at the base of each node.
Visual identification is straightforward, but with some strains the pre-flowers may not be evident until after flowering has been induced. This is inconvenient and can result in gaps in flowering canopies, and accidental seeding if growers are not attentive.
6) Early Flower (Stretch)
Cannabis plants are either autoflower or photoperiod plants.
Autoflowering plants will enter the early-flower stage after 10-20 days of vegetative growth.
Photoperiod plants will begin to flower when they receive more than 10-11 hours of uninterrupted darkness during each 24-hour period.
Plants begin to elongate, or stretch about 5 days after entering flower, and stop growing taller after about 3 weeks.
The early flowering stage is really a hyper vegetative period.
At this point the plant has been trained and a trellis is usually installed to support the large cannabis flowers that are just beginning to form.
Lots of organic Nitrogen, and plentiful water is necessary to sustain vigorous growth.
Ideal climate conditions for this stage of growth include 55%-70% relative humidity and temperatures of 72-84 F (22-29C).
For indoor gardens, light intensity is slowly increased to make up for the reduction in light hours to a 12hour photoperiod.
As flowering progresses, the plant will stop vertical growth, and begin to form much simpler leaf sets. The reproductive organs, or pistils, will multiply, and cluster into small round buds.
There should be a strong focus on pest management during the early flower period. Reduction in pest populations to an absolute minimum during early flower will help to preserve crop quality during later flowering stages when pest pressures are higher, and treatments are more limited.
7) Mid Flower Stage
Plants will stop growing vertically and making new leaves about 20 days after flowering begins. The plant’s development will shift to flower expansion during the mid-flower stage. Flower expansion will continue until about 35 days after initiation. Relative humidity should be reduced to 50-60% to limit the risk of fungal disease.
At this stage, plants are at the peak of their reproductive potential.
Pistils have congregated to form large flower sets, or colas.
Each pistil is a reproductive organ. Their collective sexual frustration, due to lack of pollen fertilization, results in the profuse formation of psychoactive cannabinoids.
These cannabinoids are synthesized within glandular trichomes.
Other substances, including flavonoids, esters, and terpenoids are also synthesized by the plant during the peak flowering phase.
The presence of some of these compounds, particularly monoterpenes, is very evident during this period due to the smell of success that emanates from the crop.
As the flowers expand, some of the older leaves will start to yellow, and fall off. These should be removed as soon as possible. Some of the fungal diseases that affect cannabis are saprophytes and will infect dying plant material.
During early and mid flower, it is often helpful to selectively remove fan leaves.
Fan leaves are removed to allow light to penetrate the canopy and directly illuminate flower sites, and to enable air to flow through the canopy.
Airflow is important for climate equalization, to prevent disease, and promote plant health.
8) Late Flower Stage
The late flowering stage is when the bulk of psychoactive cannabinoids are synthesized. Between 20 and 30 percent of the dried flower weight is added during the final ripening phase. Humidity should be reduced to 50-60% to prevent bud rot from establishing in the large flowers. Temperatures should be reduced to a maximum of 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 C)
Nighttime temperatures are also often reduced during this growth stage. The reduction in temperature during late flower serves several purposes.
When the humidity has been reduced, lowering the temperature helps the plant to transpire more efficiently due to a reduction in the Vapour Pressure Deficit (VPD).
Lower temperature can also help to manage the reproductive cycle of pests, including the three spotted spider mite, which thrives in hot-dry conditions.
Lower nighttime temperatures can also increase the purple coloration in cannabis flowers. Cannabis plants, like many other plants, will produce a purple pigment known as anthocyanin when exposed to temperature extremes.
This pigment absorbs light energy as heat and helps to protect plants against both hot and cold temperatures.
Cannabis flowers change appearance as the white hairs or stigmas emerging from the pistils dry up and lose their ability to become pollinated and form seed. This final stage of plant life is also known as senescence. Many leaves will begin to yellow and die at this stage, and the plant is at its most vulnerable to pest attack.
The Stages of Cannabis Growth
Cannabis growth is made up of a series of stages that plants undergo during their lifecycle. Each stage during the cannabis cultivation process requires its own unique demands, including different levels of light, water, and nutrients.
It can take anywhere from 4 to 8 months to grow a cannabis plant, this varies based on where you’re growing. If you have an indoor grow room, your plant has the ability to flower after only a few weeks!
The quality of your plant depends on your knowledge of the cannabis growth stages and the lifecycle of your plants.
Cannabis Growth Timeline
1. Germinating: 1-7 days
2. Seedling: 2-3 weeks
3. Vegetative: 2-8 weeks
4. Pre-Flowering: 1-2 weeks
5. Flowering: 6-8 weeks
1. Germinating Seeds
2. Seedling Stage
3. Vegetative Growth
How to tell if your plant is a male or female
Female: Two pistils (the pistil contains the reproductive parts of a flower) will be growing on the buds (flowers grow above these leaves, one cluster on each side).
Male: Small green sacs full of pollen will be seen on the node areas.
- If there is a high color ratio of white to red pistils your cannabis will provide a euphoric THC high.
- If the color ratio is more red to white, your cannabis will provide a calmer, CBD-stoned feeling.
- If you harvest once half the trichomes are opaque and the pistils haven’t turned brown, your cannabis will provide a balanced THC/CBD high.
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The Life cycle of Cannabis: From seed to harvest
Cannabis passes through a series of stages in its life. The most important of these are the germination, seedling, growth and flowering stages. Each stage brings its own challenges. Novice growers need to be aware of these, to be sure of giving their plants the attention and care that they deserve.
Plants are living beings. They are at the base of the evolutionary tree, they heal our bodies and souls, they delight our senses. I think all our readers know by now which is our favourite plant: Cannabis sativa L. – a fantastic crop and medicinal plant, and one of the oldest plant genera in the world.
No matter why cannabis is being cultivated, to see with your own eyes how a small seed grows into a bulky plant, which then starts flowering, is a moving experience every time.
Cannabis is an annual plant, so its entire lifecycle takes place within a single year, with most varieties reaching the end of their life after between four and ten months. In general terms, the following four stages of life can be distinguished:
- Germination stage
- Seedling stage
- Growth or vegetation stage
- Flowering stage
A quick glance is usually enough to determine the current stage. Over time, it is not just the appearance of the plant that changes, its needs also change. Different stages require different quantities of light, water and nutrients. Furthermore, if you want to determine the sex of the plant or prune it, it is useful to know which stage the plant has currently reached.
1 – Germination stage (1 to 2 weeks)
All forms of life start from a seed of some kind. High-quality seed is the single most important factor for successful cultivation. Cannabis seeds should be hard, dry and brownish in colour. There are a number of different ways of getting the seeds to germinate. The easiest is the paper towel method.
In the germination process, the germ in the seed breaks through its shell and forms a root, which is known as the taproot. Germination takes anything from 24 hours to 7 days. Generally cannabis varieties with a high proportion of Indica germinate faster than pure Sativas.
The germinated seed can now be placed carefully into the growing medium. The plant will start to grow and force its way upwards.
While the first two cotyledons (seed leaves) are being formed, the plant shrugs off the protective seed husk. That signifies the end of the germination stage.
Top 5 Ways Cannabis Can Affect the Menstrual Cycle
2 – Seedling stage (2 to 4 weeks)
Particular care is necessary at this stage in the lifecycle. Seedlings are susceptible to illnesses and mould. Many novices get carried away with watering and give the seedlings too much fertiliser. Even if you plan to grow outdoors, it may be useful to give the plants a healthy start indoors, assuming that a location is available with adequate light (e.g. a windowsill). The plants need as much light as possible at this stage.
How long the seedling stage lasts depends on the variety and on the environmental conditions. The main focus of the plant is on developing a root system. This forms the foundation for its later growth.
Meanwhile the plant will grow its first “real” leaves with the characteristic marijuana shape.
The leaflets are long and jagged. Initially a leaf has just one leaflet, although a mature cannabis plant will have five to seven leaflets per leaf.
Once the plant produces the full count of leaflets for each new leaf, the seedling stage is over.
3 – Growth stage or vegetation stage (2 to 8 weeks)
Now the plant starts its main growing phase. Provided it receives enough light, it can grow up to two inches (5 cm) in a single day. It is obvious that the plant needs to be repotted if it is still growing in a small pot.
Leafy plants like a healthy soil that is rich in nutrients. The production of chlorophyll and proteins depends on a supply of nitrogen. It is worth investing in the right kinds of fertiliser or even producing them yourself.
As it grows, the plant also needs more water. Young plants are best watered close to their stem, but later on water should be distributed more widely so that the tips of the roots can absorb water more efficiently.
Have you ever heard of topping, super-cropping or lollipopping? Using these techniques you can train cannabis or manipulate the shape of the plant. Growers use them to develop stronger plants with more buds. Opinions vary, however, on whether these techniques actually deliver results. They are only necessary for special cultivation methods such as the Screen of Green (SCROG).
How long the growth phase lasts is not a simple question to answer. Autoflowering cannabis varieties move automatically on to the flowering stage within 2 or 3 weeks. Regular or feminised varieties only start flowering once the days become shorter (outdoor cultivation) or the grower reduces the lighting period to 12 hours (indoor cultivation).