How To Tell When Marijuana Seeds Are Ready To Harvest

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… Learn about when the right time to harvest cannabis is and how to tell apart the signs that can indicate your plant's ready to be harvested!

When Are Marijuana Buds Ready to Harvest?

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:

  1. The knowledge of when to harvest – You get that today!
  2. Eyes for visual inspection – You’ve probably had these for a while!
  3. 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 (set it on something stable if possible so you’re not holding it with your hands), and zoom in for the best images.
  • Digital USB Microscope– A digital USB 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)

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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!

Although it’s cheap, this “Wesley’s Jeweler’s Loupe” 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 USB microscope typically takes video and produces 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 on average, and they will give you better results than most other methods for determining harvest.

Here’s an example of a digital microscope we got from Amazon. So far I’ve found most USB microscopes get similar results.

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. It’s nice to be able to see the trichomes on a screen and take pictures or videos to examine afterward. It can be difficult to really evaluate the trichomes when you’re thinking about getting everything in focus.

Will a USB microscope work with smart phones? Likely yes. Most phones don’t have a regular full-size USB port, but newer USB microscopes often come with an adapter to connect the USB microscope directly to your mobile phone. However, this only works if your phone has a compatible USB port and supports OTG USB (some users may need to get an OTG-compatible camera app). Many USB microscopes (including the one linked above) come with an adapter, but if the microscope you choose only comes with a regular USB cord, or your phone needs a different type of plug, you may need to get an OTG adapter separately. Some Apple phones have ports that need Apple-specific OTG adapters. Some old Apple and Android phones don’t support OTG at all. Luckily, most iPhones and many Android phones have a nice enough camera you probably will be able to see the trichomes through the regular camera (zoomed in) as long as you keep it still and use plenty of light. When in doubt, contact the seller of the USB microscope as they usually know which phone models their product will work with.

Here’s a guide breaking down when to harvest marijuana buds based on the color of trichomes.

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(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!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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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.

When to Harvest Cannabis Plants

Cannabis growers spend a lot of time taking care of their plants in order to produce much better results. Sometimes it can be hard to wait until the time is right to harvest; between impatience and that feeling of being near harvest time, it can be hard to resist. Knowing when to harvest cannabis is quite subjective; growers all have their own method, plus it depends on the substrate, water quality and other determining factors.

This post is designed to help growers that have just started out and have questions regarding when to remove the flowers from their plants in order to cure and dry them. We’re going to have a look at some of the most important things to keep in mind when harvesting cannabis and knowing what a mature plant looks like.

How to Tell if your Plant is Ready to Harvest

There are plenty of signs that can show you when to harvest your cannabis plants. There are also lots of myths and legends that end up causing growers to harvest too early or late. Some people even think harvesting early will stop them from going bad – most growers have had that thought at least once, but if you let them keep growing without getting too impatient, you can get some amazing results. There are still many things you can keep in mind when figuring out when to harvest cannabis. For best results, use a good pair of pruning shears.

Seed Bank Reference

Whenever you get your cannabis seeds, we highly recommend checking out the dates given by the seed bank and their recommendation. They know their strain perfectly and they’ll be able to guide growers with the correct information. Keep in mind that these dates are still just guides, and aren’t 100% accurate. There are many different factors that intervene when it comes to each plant (growing conditions, outdoors or indoors, level of care, latitude etc.). Nirvana Seeds, Seedsman Seeds, Barney’s Farm, Ministry of Cannabis, Exotic Seeds and GB Strains all have an amazing selection of cannabis strains.

Pistil Color

We all know that the pistils are the little brown “hairs” on your cannabis flowers when they begin to mature. These pistils can, in some cases, be a sign that your plants are almost entirely ready to harvest. The less brown, the more psychoactive and the more brown pistils the more intense the narcotic effect. Some growers recommend harvesting when more or less half of the pistils are brown, while also keeping in mind the effect/flavor/aroma that you’re looking to get.

Keep in mind that pistils going brown doesn’t almost indicate that your plants are ready to harvest; it could be caused by excess watering, spraying at night, having used a certain type of spray product, stress etc. Once your cannabis plant is ready to harvest it won’t be thirsty anymore, absorbing much less water than usual.

Trichome Shape

Trichomes are small cells that appear on the surface of your plants’ leaves and flowers. They contain cannabinoids, which produce psychoactive and narcotic effects in your buds. They look like droplets, and keep growing until they take on a mushroom shape. A good sign is that they’re no longer producing any more trichomes. Essentially, you should see calyxes covered in resin, which essentially look like mushrooms when looked at under a microscope, and they’ll want to have a creamy, milky color and some should be an Ambar-like color. The best way to check if your plants are ready is to use a Mini 60x Microscope With White LEDS.

When the top of the trichome is perfectly round, it’s too early to harvest. You’ll need to wait until they look like a sort of an over-pumped ball, slightly deformed. This indicates that there are more cannabinoids inside. If you don’t harvest early, they’ll explode and degrade – if you wait until they explode, you’ll have waited too long.

What Happens When you Harvest Cannabis at The Wrong Time

All of the previous signs can help you to figure out when your cannabis plants are ready to harvest. However, it’s pretty easy to get impatient towards the end – you’re itching to taste your buds and see how the effect hits. However, this usually leads to issues with your harvest.

If you harvest too early, you may run into quality issues with your harvest; the flavor will most likely be less intense, its buds will produce less chlorophyll and therefore less terpenes. Plus, their buds will probably be a lot smaller and less dense than what you were expecting. Keep in mind that it can also influence the effect, as the pistils haven’t finished growing yet – you can lose a large part of your harvest if you don’t wait long enough.

If you wait too long to harvest, it’ll will essentially go “bad”. The flavor will be much softer and it’ll take less time to cure. The more time goes by the less psychoactive the effect is. This is because THC turns into CBN when it begins to degrade, losing most of its characteristic effects. If you wait longer, your cannabis will have a more relaxing, intensely narcotic effect.

Recommendations for When to Harvest Cannabis

We highly recommend following the previous advice as much as you can; if you don’t have the tools to fully check on your plants, don’t just go by the amount of brown pistils on your plant, pay closer attention to the state of the leaves and how they begin to use up their reserves and fall off. The best way to tell when to harvest is by using a microscope; if you don’t have one, wait until its pistils are more or less all brown and then wait another week or two. If the seed bank says 60 days, you’re better off stretching it to 75 days.

When done right, you can harvest enormous flowers. These tips and tricks can help you to harvest delicious, large and high quality yields. We hope this information has been useful, and that this year you have a better idea regarding when to harvest cannabis plants! If you have any questions or suggestions, go ahead and leave a comment below.