Nailing the perfect cannabis harvest window is tricky. Pick flowers too soon, and you end up with a batch lacking flavor and potency. Wait too long, and you get over ripe buds — the same issue from the opposite side of the spectrum.
How do you determine the ideal time to collect the fruits of your labor? By observing the plant and knowing the telltale signs of marijuana maturity.
Join us for an overview of the cannabis ripening process, and never let your buds age past their peak.
The ripening process of marijuana buds
The cannabis flowering stage is an exciting time of bud and resin production. It’s also a sensitive period requiring utmost care to avoid stress, underripe, and over ripe weed plants.
Marijuana usually spends 7–12 weeks in the blooming stage. The precise figure depends on the environment, available sunlight, and your chosen strain. If you grow from indica seeds, you’ll likely see ripeness signals around week seven. Landrace sativa may take 13–15 weeks.
Here’s what happens between the first buds and over ripe cannabis:
- Plants reach full bloom at week four. Buds pop up at internodes.
- By week six, the crop is no longer stretching. Skinny flowers begin to thicken.
- Colas start maturing around week eight. Pistils turn brown shortly after that.
- After week eight, it’s all about resin. The smell becomes pungent and permeating.
Then week nine or ten rolls around, 10% of trichomes are amber, orange pistils curl inward, and resin glistens across the surface. These three factors denote perfect ripeness—everything after leads to over ripe buds.
Common signs of over ripe weed buds
Learning when and how to harvest cannabis is a process of much observation and some guesswork. Your crop will tell you it’s past its prime—but you need to know where to look. Here are the most frequent manifestations of over ripe marijuana.
General condition of the weed plant
The first signs of the flowering stage include a growth spurt. As this phase moves along, your plant becomes speckled with bud sites. Several weeks pass, and it drops most fan leaves and loses its chlorophyll contents.
There’s no more vivid greenery in late blooming, but the plant still seems healthy. Once you reach the overripe weed stadium, your crops appear dry, brown, and brittle.
Trichomes on weed play the role of cannabinoid factories. These glands produce resin packed with THC, CBD, and terpenes, giving flowers an irresistible look and scent.
Resin turns amber as the plant reaches maturity, reflecting changes in its chemical composition. Around 10% of the trichomes are amber at the peak ripeness, while the rest remain cloudy and milky white. Over ripe buds have completely brown trichomes, some bordering on black.
Resin heads fill up with terpenes as cannabis matures, and these aromatic chemicals create a strong scent. When harvests roll around, your garden is fragrant and near-impossible to mask without a carbon filter.
Over ripe trichomes have a smell that seems past its best, with a light fermentation aroma. Expected fragrances—pine, fruit, or skunk—become faint. Proper drying and curing can remove this sickly note and restore some of the flavor profile.
Maturing flowers turn yellow-orange. They’re rich in crystalline trichomes, and sugar leaves surround the cola.
Age makes the flowers turn brown instead of the expected washed-out green and orange. Besides changing shades, they appear small and shriveled. If flowering continues for too long, the stems weaken and bend, and the colas hang sideways.
Note: Outdoor overripe buds could become purple or blue as the days get shorter and colder in early fall.
What are the consequences of waiting too long to harvest?
You now know what over ripe cannabis buds look like. What do they mean for your yield, though?
There are several potential consequences, depending on how far maturation goes. It can be as innocuous as having a weaker stash or as catastrophic as ruining an entire batch!
Over ripe buds are still usable in most cases, but they’re definitely past their prime. The colas lose water, which reduces yield heft and quantity. Potency, bag appeal, and smoke quality are suboptimal.
The outcome also depends on crop quality. Buying from a reputable cannabis seed bank leaves you with plants capable of withstanding prolonged flowering and other stressors. The output is high-quality for longer.
Can I still smoke over ripe buds?
You’re reading the telltale signs and realizing you have a batch of overripe buds on your hands. Is your cultivation effort about to go to waste?
Not necessarily—it depends on how far gone they are.
As a rule of thumb, throw away the specimens with brown and moldy leaves. They’ll produce thick, harsh smoke and leave a nasty aftertaste. Degrading pot isn’t toxic, but it’s far from a flavorful ride.
You can still smoke your pot if:
- The sugar leaves are still somewhat green
- Overripe trichomes haven’t gone black
- The smell is weak but not sickly or really unpleasant
In this case, there’s little difference between early-harvested and over ripe buds. The experience is unimpressive but not harmful.
Tip: Pay extra attention to drying and curing. After all, you want to preserve the remaining cannabinoids and terpenes.
Besides being weaker in effects, over ripe cannabis might make you extra sleepy. When THC ages, it degrades and turns into CBN, a non-psychoactive and highly-sedative compound. It’s safe to consume, but keep your ganja for nighttime consumption.
No more over ripe cannabis
Over ripe cannabis buds aren’t the end of the world. They’re mostly still smokable, although they pack a weaker punch. They also teach you a valuable lesson about the weed plant.
Learn the signs of maturation and combine that information with your strain’s expected flowering time. Stay vigilant during the final weeks of ripening, and you’ll consistently nail the harvest window.
About the author: Derek LaRose
Also known as Kronic from The Cannabis Kronicles, Derek LaRose is a young ambitious cultivator and a staple educator for indoor cultivation.