When To Harvest Cannabis: Tips & Tricks From Kyle Kushman

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When to Harvest Cannabis
Author avatar By Kyle Kushman
November 18, 2021
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One of the most important decisions you can make is when to harvest cannabis plants. 

Harvesting too early or too late can seriously affect the quality of your buds.

But how do you know when your buds are ripe for harvesting? 

Well, just like a piece of fruit, there’s a peak time for ripening

Collecting a little bit too soon or too late will produce a less than ideal harvest. 

So how do you tell? How do you make sure your cannabis harvests are done at exactly the right time?

By reading this article! Let’s go!

Kyle Kushman Harvesting Weed

What is the average time from planting to harvesting cannabis?

Some autoflowering cannabis plants can finish their entire cycle in 10-12, while big sativa strains can take up to 32 weeks, from planting to flowering! 

Your average indoor cannabis grow will be 3 – 5 months.

Okay, this all sounds a little vague, and I apologize, but it all does depend on the cultivar!

Knowing exactly when to harvest cannabis is about knowing what you’re growing, when you flipped into flower, and knowing what signs to look out for.

We shall deal with this without delay.

How can you determine when to harvest pot?

Let’s start with the basics.

Save the date. When you flip to flower, mark the date on your calendar. You won’t know when to harvest cannabis without this basic barometer.

That day is going to be the best indicator of when your particular strain of marijuana is going to be ripe and ready for harvest.

Be equipped. When it starts getting close, you’ll see the pistils turning red. 

That’s when you will need a lighted loupe, a handy magnifier that provides a better, closer view of the buds.

Know where to look. To harvest marijuana properly, the last few inspections are the most important of all. 

Make sure you always check the buds that grow on the interior, so the coat of trichomes has not been touched. 

When walking through the garden or tent, any contact like rubbing or brushing against the flowers could turn the bulbs brown, potentially leading to misjudgment.

Know what the colors mean. When you first look at the trichomes, those tiny mushroom-looking stalks will be clear. 

As ripening gets close, maybe a week or two out, they will begin to turn opaque. 

The cloudy or milky heads will then turn amber or brown, just like a ripe piece of fruit. 

Once 5 to 10% of the trichomes have achieved the amber color, perfect ripening has been reached and that’s when it’s time to harvest marijuana like a master.

Check out this amazing video on ripening, you’ll love it.

How to tell if it’s too early to harvest cannabis

There are many ways to tell it’s too early to harvest your cannabis buds. 

Use these guidelines combined with your knowledge and perception to know when to harvest cannabis at its most resinous.

Maturation dates

The time spent in flowering differs among cannabis cultivars. Consult your seed supplier, they should be able to tell you the flowering time of your plants. This will be your first data point.

For example, Gelato Feminized takes 8 to 10 weeks in flower. 

Even if you see beautiful flowers and an abundance of trichomes, it’s worth waiting until all the boxes are ticked.

Clear trichomes

Trichomes make your cannabis sticky. Their color is a superb indicator that your marijuana crops are ready to harvest. 

If they’re still glassy and transparent, your plants aren‘t ready for harvest.

Your plants should be cut down during the peak of resin production. Too early means losing out on strength, taste and smokability. 

Too late, and the THC levels can drop as it degrades into CBN.

Clear Trichomes in a Cannabis Bud
Clear Trichomes in a Marijuana Bud

White pistils

Pistils go through color and shape changes when cannabis is ready to harvest. If the hairs are still white and poking straight outwards, your cannabis isn’t ready yet!

Pistils must be amber-colored before you harvest. Combine trichome hues with pistil color changes to pinpoint the best time to harvest cannabis. 

White Pistils on Marijuana Bud
White Pistils on Marijuana Bud – not ready yet

How to tell if it’s too late to harvest

Knowing when to harvest weed is also knowing when you’ve left it too late. Missing the peak window to harvest cannabis buds can lead to over-ripe, super-sleepy buds.

A good sign you’ve left it too late is seeing the majority of the trichomes turn brown or amber.

Your plants will also be close to dying off!

How often can you harvest cannabis plants?

Wouldn’t you love to keep that gorgeous cannabis plant forever? 

Harvesting cannabis plants is generally a one-off, as they are annual plants that die after reproduction. 

Indoor harvest

Indoor harvesting of cannabis generally happens only once, though you can stagger the harvest if plants mature at different rates. You can also harvest some branches before others, though I wouldn’t advise it.

The best way is to cut the plants down whole. This helps them dry slowly and evenly.

Kyle Kushman Harvesting Cannabis Indoors
Kyle Kushman Harvesting Cannabis Indoors

Outdoor harvest

How do you know when to harvest cannabis outdoors? 

You’d typically do it before the cold evenings of late September and early October, but you need to look out for the same signs as with indoor growing. 

Mark the dates on the calendar. Look out for darkening pistils. Look for amber trichomes. When 5 to 10% of the trichomes turn amber, you can start cutting the plants down.

Kyle Kushman and Parker Harvesting Cannabis Outdoors
Parker and Kyle Kushman preparing for harvest cannabis outdoors

What do you need to harvest cannabis?

You now know how to tell if your plant is ready to harvest. 

Get ready to harvest by making sure you have the room and the equipment.

Latex-free gloves

When you harvest marijuana you’re going to get covered in resin.

If you’ve got a large garden, things get very messy very fast. 

A pair of gloves is a lifesaver! Latex-free ones are best as they don’t contain powder or synthetic resin. 

Magnifier

Your eyes are a tool with limitations. 

Invest in a magnifying glass, pocket microscope, or 40x magnification jeweler’s loupe. Use them to identify color changes in the trichome heads. 

Modern smartphones also have great zoom lenses!

cannabis trichomes

Pruning shears

When it’s time to harvest cannabis, growers know all-too-well how thick-limbed a mature marijuana plant can get. 

Chopping from the base may require significant cutting power, which is why you’ll need high-quality pruning shears. Especially if you’ve grown outdoors.

Trimming snips

A good pair of pruning scissors is invaluable for trimming on busy harvest days!

Your scissors should be sharp, ergonomic, and spring-loaded. 

 Pruning scissors for harvesting
Pruning scissors for harvesting

High proof alcohol and clean wipes

Trimming scissors get coated in resin.

Keep 90% proof alcohol and sanitary wipes on hand. 

Cleaning your tools makes the task of harvesting marijuana much less of a drag!

Drying rack and drying area

Drying cannabis activates THC in the resin, which is the final step to achieving potency. Plus, it extends the shelf life of your bud!

A drying area isn’t a tool, but you’ll need a clean space big enough for your harvest. Pick a dark, dry place with adequate airflow. Your laundry room or a spare bedroom do the trick.

Moist marijuana plants become a hotbed for microorganisms like fungi. 

You don’t want to be smoking that!

Pre-harvest: 5 things to do before harvesting marijuana 

Knowing how to harvest cannabis includes steps to take in preparation.

Check out my harvesting video and learn what you need to do ahead of the big day. 

Defoliate the plant

As flowering ends, you’ll no longer need large water leaves on stems and branches. 

Snip them away for more direct light to the lower flowers. 

Tip: Leave some larger leaves here and there. They’re indicators of any potential health issues.

Parker defoliating cannabis plant
Parker defoliating cannabis plant

Reduce humidity

The humidity in your grow room or tent should be dropped to 20%–30% a few days before you harvest cannabis. 

By doing this, you force unseeded female flowers to produce more trichomes and resin. 

That bud coating boosts potency. 

Temperature And Humidity Monitor
Temperature And Humidity Monitor

Reduce nute feedings

You’ve been feeding your cannabis to help it reach its full potential. 

Start reducing the feed the closer you get to the cannabis harvest date. 

Drop the regular nutrient infusions a week, even better two weeks before you harvest marijuana flowers. 

Prepare to flush nutes one last time, too.

Flush your plants

Before you harvest weed, you need to flush the remaining nutes from the soil and the plant. 

Learn how to flush marijuana plants here. 

Basically, you skip the liquid fertilizer with each watering and drench the soil with pH-neutral water. 

That way, you make sure your plants use up the nutrients, so you won’t taste them in the bowl.

How to harvest marijuana: a step by step guide

Now you know when to harvest marijuana, I’ll show you how to harvest marijuana. 

Get the tools we discussed, play some feel-good music, put on an old T-shirt you don’t mind ruining, and follow these steps.

Prepare the space

Excess light can degrade THC. That’s a scenario no eager stoner wants to face!

Turn off the lamps, toss an opaque sheet over the window, or wait for an overcast day. Some leakage isn’t the end of the world, but do your best to make it dark.

Go for a temperature range between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and around 50% relative humidity. 

If you’ve already gone through our “how to grow cannabis indoors” guide, you’ll know how to optimize these conditions. 

Kyle Kushman preparing marijuana plant for harvest
Kyle Kushman preparing marijuana plant for harvest

Choose your method

You’ll find many niche cannabis harvest methods online, but why complicate things? 

These two are the most common and effective:

  • Whole plant. This one is quick and easy, especially with smaller cultivars. Cut and hang the entire plant, and that’s it. 
  • Ripe bud. This technique is a bit more time-consuming, but it maximizes yield and bud quality. You trim outside-in and top-down, cutting the buds that have ripened and leaving the others to mature for several more days each time.

Trim the leaves

There’s another decision to make before you harvest marijuana. Will you trim the leaves before or after drying? 

Here’s the gist of it:

  • Trim before in humid environments. This will help you avoid mold issues on the horizon.
  • Trim after in low-humidity climates. Leafless flowers sometimes dry too quickly.

The next step is to hang the branches. Hang upside down and leave a tray underneath for falling leaves.

Kyle Kushman hanging plants upside down

Mistakes to avoid when harvesting marijuana

You now know when to harvest cannabis and which tools you need.

Avoid these common mistakes for peace of mind and confidence in your next harvest:

Harvesting too early

Harvesting cannabis too early compromises your yield, cola size, and bud potency. 

Overhandling cannabis 

Overhandling cannabis rubs away the resin and ruins smoke, sale, and gift value. 

While you harvest marijuana, be gentle with your ladies!

Respecting the herb will help preserve it’s quality.

Kyle Kushman Harvesting Marijuana
Try not to touch your buds while harvesting

Too few hands

Do you have a large garden? Rally friends, family, and paid hands to help.

When it’s time to harvest cannabis, having help is great for batch consistency. 

During harvest windows, 12 hours can turn your cannabis plant’s effects from balanced to highly sedative!

You also have to dry and trim all those buds. 

Why not make it fun? 

Share the experience with friends and award everybody who helped with a fun type of gift bag.

What’s the next stage after the cannabis harvest?

Congratulations, you’ve done it. 

Now, here’s how to get those colas ready for smoking, vaping, and mind-warping eves with your bong. 

Trim your cannabis

Buds are lovely, but wheezing after inhaling burning leaves isn’t. Take the time to snip leaves off your cannabis for a smoother, more consistent smoking session. 

Do you already know how to trim cannabis? It’s easier than you think!

Trimming Bud

Dry the trimmed buds

After harvesting, weed requires some time to hang and dry, ideally in an area with 45% to 55% humidity. 

Internal moisture is a breeding ground for fungi and other microorganisms. It can ruin your whole batch. That’s weeks of money and effort going to waste.

Drying takes up to 14 days, depending on your climate. 

Drying Cannabis Buds

Cure your marijuana

Curing removes trace amounts of moisture hidden deep inside each flower. It can take up to three weeks to complete the curing process. 

It’s straightforward—all you need are some mason jars and patience. 

Learn all about drying and curing weed right here.

Curing Marijuana Buds in Jars

FAQs

Before you head off to your garden, let’s answer some common questions about harvesting weed.

Can I harvest the top half of my plant?

Good news for impatient stoners—you sure can! No matter how much you trim, top, and prune, the upper side of your cannabis plant receives more light exposure. 

The buds up there ripen earlier than those below.

Should all leaves be yellow before harvest?

There are two answers. Both boil down to ‘not really.’

Organic growers don’t have to flush before harvesting marijuana. In this case, it’s normal for the fan leaves to turn yellow. The plant is mature. It no longer needs the green pigment for photosynthesis. 

It’s not necessary for everything to go golden for juicy, ripe buds. Those who flush see discoloration, but they should be careful about the sugar leaves. The buds deteriorate quickly once sugar leaves lose their greenery. 

It’s better to harvest before this happens.

Should I harvest in the morning or at night?

Marijuana is higher in terpenes, crystals, and THC in the morning. 

It also uptakes moisture during the day, which can increase your drying time. 

Harvest with confidence

You now know when to harvest cannabis for top-shelf results. 

You have the theory down, so why not put your knowledge to the test? 

Buy cannabis seeds and start a garden of your own. It’s a gratifying experience, and once you’re smoking the fruits of your labor, you’ll never look back.


About the Author: Kyle Kushman

Kyle Kushman is a legend in the cannabis community. He is the modern-day polymath of pot: cultivator, breeder, activist, writer, and educator. After winning no less than 13 Cannabis Cups, there’s nothing this guy doesn’t know about indoor growing – he’s been there, done it, and is still doing it to this day!