When Are Marijuana Buds Ready to Harvest?
Table of Contents
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, and zoom in for the best images.
- Digital Microscope– A digital 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!
Get a Jeweler’s Loupe on Amazon.com
Although it’s cheap, this 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 microscope typically takes video and produce 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 $30-50, and they will give you better results than most other methods for determining harvest.
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. A USB microscope can also be attached to most Android smartphones with an OTG adapter (if OTG is supported, and you probably need an OTG-compatible camera app). Some Apple products support OTG adapters, but not all. Luckily, most iPhones have a nice enough camera you won’t need it. It’s really nice to be able to see the trichomes on a screen and take pictures or video to examine afterward. It can be difficult to really evaluate the trichomes when you’re thinking about getting everything in focus.
Here’s a guide breaking down when to harvest marijuana buds based on 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.
This harvest tutorial is part of our “how to harvest cannabis” series:
Now you’re ready to harvest your own plants!
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…
Everything You Need to Know About How to Harvest Weed
After investing months of hard work, plenty of patience, and time into lovingly caring for your marijuana plants, it can then be easy to get a little anxious trying to figure out how and when to harvest your cannabis. Especially if money is tight and you are stuck thinking about how amazing your free weed could taste. The thing is, there is a “best time” to begin harvest, and there are several different ways to do it. So how long should you wait, and how do you tell if your plants are ready?
When is the ideal harvest time?
Unfortunately, growing pot is not an exact science in the average person’s hands, and choosing when to harvest should depend on your own needs, which will vary significantly from someone else’s. There are other high-cost options to test for exact potency and content of a plant grown, but the machines can cost thousands, and most takes time or come with the requirement to send a sample away to get results. A visual inspection and the answers to a few questions is all the average person should need to make an accurate prediction of the best time to harvest their plants.
The recommended flowering time that will likely come with any seeds you purchase will give you an excellent base to work from. Usually, this time is the bare minimum that is required for the strain to reach full maturity, which does not mean that the plant will not continue to get better if left past that date. Instead, it should be considered the absolute earliest that a plant should ever be harvested.
Are your plants growing in regular soil outdoors? Are they getting enough sunlight? Growing marijuana in soil isn’t nearly as effective or fast as an indoor hydro operation. Growing plants indoors under ideal temperatures (23°C-25°C) and providing the highest quality lights can easily knock off a week or two from the amount of time it will take the plant to finish.
iStock / Michael Clinton
The trichomes are the portion of the flower that produces and contains the highest levels of THC. To view them, you must have at least a 30X – 100X microscope as they cannot be seen by the naked eye. There are 3 different colors that the trichomes will cycle through with each one being slightly more potent than the last until it reaches an amber color which signals the plant has reached its maximum amount of THC. Below you will find a list of all the different trichomes including colors to look for.
Different types of Trichomes
These are the most common, and easiest to spot either by eye or with a magnifying glass, though still better viewed using a higher-end microscope. These trichomes are found in abundance around the buds on a cannabis plant.
Capitate- sessile trichomes are a bit bigger than Bulbous and much more prevalent, which means easier to find. They can be found in the highest quantities around the tips of a bud and they look a lot like their very own tiny, liquid limb growing outwards.
These can only be seen through a microscope and can be found on the surface of any part of a female cannabis plant.
3 different colors of a Trichome’s cycle
This is the first phase of the trichome and the least potent. Now just because it may not hold the strongest effects does not mean that they aren’t appealing to some growers. A clear trichome will produce a lighter, more energetic, and uplifting effect that can be perfect for those who dread that couch locked feeling and prefer to stay motivated.
Opaque is the best of both worlds. Once the trichomes on a plant begin to look more of a cloudy white, it means that it has reached its second phase of maturity. The effects of a bud that is harvested at this point will provide a slightly stronger feeling than the last but will also stay on the lighter side, making small doses still effective for those who prefer to remain active while high.
This is the third and final phase of the trichome maturing process, which means it is also the strongest of the three. Once the trichomes on a cannabis plant look a deep orangish-red, they have reached their maximum potential. The felt effects will, as a result, be more sedative, relaxing, and intense.
Stigma and pistils
The stigma of a marijuana flower can be an excellent indicator of the plant’s overall maturity. They will slowly transform from a bright white to a dark brown color as the plant ages with an orange phase in between. Stigmas should always be brown before you harvest, no matter what your preference is. Pistils, on the other hand, can come in a variety of colors, but they do change much like the Stigma. Usually into a bright red or orange color that is a good indicator that a plant is ready.
Indica vs Sativa
Cannabis Sativa plants thrive best in hot and humid temperatures, and they can take a really long time to finish flowering, adding an average of a full 2 weeks to the length of time it needs to be ready for harvest. Indica strains, on the other hand, are much faster, without auto-flowering options even quicker. Sativa plants might at first appear to be growing the fastest because they get so tall, but it takes quite some time for the cannabinoids and terpenes to fully develop turning your marijuana buds into a high-quality harvest.
Tools you’ll need
Everyone enjoys the process of harvesting in a slightly different way, but there are definitely some tools of the trade that are considered to be relatively standard to keep on hand, including:
- Sharpened scissors (or pruning shears)
- Something to hold all of the trimmed marijuana buds temporarily like a bag
How to harvest weed
Now that you know how to check for maturity and potency of a marijuana plant and what tools you might need, the next step is deciding exactly how you would like to harvest them. The first thing you will need to do is prepare the room or area that will be used for drying as that may affect which method you will choose. There are 3 main ways to do this:
1. By the roots
If you are trying to be as fast as possible, then you may want to pull the entire plant outright from the base. This will pull up some roots and can get a bit messy, but some people swear by this method as the large stalks can act as great hangers. Unfortunately, this will bring in dirt and take up plenty of space, so it isn’t an ideal option for most people.
2. Individual branches
When harvesting weed, you can also choose to remove the branches one at a time. Leaving some stalk can help to keep the bud spaced out and makes them easy to hang dry. This can be done by getting a large sharp pair of scissors or shears and cutting each branch off at the base of the branch just before it meets the stalk. Once finished, you will be left with a completely bare stem that can be left for compost or to dispose of.
3. Colas only
This is the only method for many who are extremely limited in space for drying. Large single colas are easy to layer with newspaper to dry and take up the smallest amount of room possible. Often, it is possible to fit an entire plant within a shoebox to dry when it is harvested this way. To harvest by cutting individual colas, you should begin with the largest, located at the tips of the flowers, and slowly work your way down. A sharp pair of shear or scissors are needed to gently remove each bud one at a time at the base of the stem. Once you have the large colas removed, it will be easy to cut or pull off any tiny buds that remain.
Harvesting marijuana indoors
When growing cannabis plants inside of a house or greenhouse, you don’t have to be restricted by the colder temperatures, which might force you to harvest a crop early. It’s also easy to stay comfortable throughout the process in a climate-controlled atmosphere which will make you less likely to rush through the job.
Harvesting marijuana outdoors
Harvesting a cannabis plant that has spent its entire life outdoors is an entirely different story. Not only will it take longer to get through the flowering stage no matter the kind of strain chosen, but you remain subject to mother nature’s will, which could mean an early frost risking everything that you worked so hard to achieve. You’ll also lose an element of discretion, especially if you reside in a city or more populated area with neighbors close by.
Harvesting cannabis leaves
iStock / I am a female photographer from Thailand I love create an artworks with my camera
The only thing we didn’t touch on yet was the proper way to harvest marijuana leaf. Though the flowers are often the most sought-after portion of a cannabis plant, marijuana leaf will also contain many of the same components, just in smaller quantities. Leaves should be cut at the base of each fan leaf as the stems will provide absolutely no value.
The smaller leaves that are located on the flowers themselves can be cut away before the bud has been dried. Use a sharp pair of scissors to trim away any large protruding leaves that do not appear to be covered in crystal like the rest of the flower. This will leave your bud more potent and give you a little extra to add to your fan leaves for a concoction of your own.
After the harvesting process you can use your cannabis leaves to make teas, tinctures, creams, ointments, concentrates, and more.
A comprehensive guide for cannabis
Marijuana strains may come in hybrid, Indica or Sativa varieties, but they all carry the cannabis genome.
A visual inspection and the answers to a few questions is all the average person should need to make an accurate prediction of the best time to harvest.