How to harvest cannabis (and use the entire plant)

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How to harvest cannabis (and use the entire plant)

Key takeaways:

  1. Knowing when to harvest cannabis depends on various factors, including whether a crop is indoors or outdoors.
  2. The true test of harvest time lies within the resin glands. The ideal harvest window is about 5-7 days.
  3. Before harvesting, be sure to leach your plants for 10-14 days to clear out the taste of fertilizers, and prep a well-ventilated area to hang the plants to dry.

So your cannabis plant has reached peak maturity, and now it’s harvest time. 

What do you do now? Whether you’re using dirt or hydroponics in your grow operation, the harvesting process is exactly the same. The only difference is cleanup. 

We’ve got a handy dandy guide so you can easily harvest marijuana plants. Let’s go!

When Do I Harvest Cannabis?

Knowing when to harvest cannabis depends on a couple of factors. One big factor is whether you are growing indoors or outdoors. When you’re growing indoors using lights and a grow tent, you can get a lot more control over the growth cycle. 

Another major factor is autoflower vs photoperiod seeds. Most cannabis plants are photoperiod. These grow based on the number of hours of light they get. They enter the vegetative stage when they get more than 12 hours of light, and start flowering when they get less than 12 hours of light. This means outdoor cannabis has about 12 weeks of vegetation and 10 weeks of flowering. People who grow cannabis indoors tend to like photoperiod seeds because you can shorten the grow time to as little as 3 months. 

weed plant stages


If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and you grow outdoors and use photoperiod seeds, the typical cannabis harvest season is October. However, many cannabis growers in the rainy regions of the Pacific Northwest choose to harvest early before the rains come in. Rain and other environmental factors can cause outdoor plants to mold. If you’re looking to harvest outdoor cannabis, you want to pay attention to weather conditions. 

However, if you have an autoflower plant, you’ll need to check the strain. Autoflower seeds initiate flowering after a certain amount of time depending on the strain. Many outdoor growers prefer autoflower seeds because you can typically get two grows of autoflower plants in one growing season. 

If you are growing autoflower cannabis, you’ll want to check the particular strain. Most seeds will give you an estimated grow time. Also directly observe the plant for signs of maturity. The true test of harvest time lies within the resin glands.

If you’d like a rough estimate of when you can expect to harvest, give our cannabis harvest calculator a whirl!

Cannabis Harvest Calculator







How Do I Know if my Cannabis is Ready To Harvest? 

We know you’re eager, but harvesting too early can affect the potency of your final product. Your ideal harvest window is about 5-7 days. The final things your plant develops are its trichomes. As the plant ripens, it will develop clear trichomes. These are the tiny little THC crystals that make the colas feel sticky to the touch. When they fall off your bud, the trichomes become kief. Most of the plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes develop in the trichomes, so it’s very important to give them plenty of time to fully mature. 

up close picture of flowering stage of cannabis plant with pistils and trichomes

As the plant reaches peak maturity, you will want to “leach” your plant for 10-14 days. This means you flush it with plain or reverse osmosis water. Some growers use a special flushing solution. Leaching 10-14 days before harvest clears out the taste of fertilizers. If you don’t leach your plant, the final product can have a weird chemical taste when you smoke it. 

Stop watering a day or two before harvest, you’ll want the soil nice and dry. You don’t need to dig up the roots during harvest, but you’ll want to clear some space before you put anything in that dirt again.

Signs of Cannabis Maturity

Back to the main question: what’s a fool-proof method for knowing your plant is ready to harvest? Grab a magnifying glass or mini microscope to inspect the cannabis flower. 

If you don’t have either, most recent models of smartphones have a good enough camera to suffice. Look for the following:

  • You see mainly milky white trichomes, and some amber trichomes
  • ~90% of the pistil or little hairs you see on the plants have turned from white to yellow
  • Bud mass has not increased in the past few days 

Remember though, you’ll want to leach your plants before they’re ready to get chopped down. So when the trichomes are milky white and the pistils are 50-70% yellow, begin leaching. 

Leaching is pretty much the same whether you use dirt or hydroponics for cannabis cultivation. You simply stop giving it nutrients the week before you harvest it. Some nutrient sets will have a special “flush formula” for leaching, but plain water works just fine. 

How To Prepare for Harvesting Marijuana

Be aware: this is a smelly, sticky process. Chopped plants leave a lot of odor. You are going to want to make sure you have a well-ventilated area to harvest and hang it up to dry. 

If you’re growing in an apartment, you might want to put up some plastic around the entrance, open a window, and burn some incense to mitigate the aroma. You will want your drying and trimming area to be well-ventilated. Make sure you know where you will hang your plants before you cut them down.

The process takes several hours, so be sure to set aside plenty of time. If you have a friend who can help you, recruit them. Maybe even put on a movie or a podcast so you don’t get bored. This is going to take a while.

You will want:

You’ll also want to plan how you’re going to clean everything up. If you leave anything sitting out, your precious buds will mold. 

If you are harvesting different strains of marijuana, make sure you have separate labeled spaces for the harvested cannabis buds. Otherwise, everything goes into a mixed-up pile. 

How to Harvest Your Cannabis Plants

Harvesting cannabis is pretty easy if time-consuming. Here’s the most basic run-down of cannabis harvesting:

  1. Take your lobber of pruning saw and cut down either the whole plant or chop off big branches. 
  2. If you are dry trimming, just trim off the fan leaves and hang up the plant to dry
    1. If you are wet trimming, manicure the buds, then hang up the plant to dry.
  3. Clean up.

Of course, it’s a bit more complex than that. But if you start to get lost in the details, refer back to those 3 steps. 

Pro tip: put some newspaper down so you can set down individual branches or the plant. It’ll be quite sticky, and if you put it on the ground it can pick up dirt or dust. 

Harvesting leaves

When it comes to harvesting leaves, there are two many types: fan leaves and sugar leaves. Fan leaves are the big leaves that come to mind if someone says “pot leaf.” 

Fan leaves do not contain very much THC, but are useful in compost piles if you’re using compost as fertilizer. 

To harvest fan leaves, cut off the entire leaf where the stem meets the plant’s stock. Put them in a paper bag or a plastic bag with the top open. If you do not intend to compost your fan leaves, you can throw them away. 

Sugar leaves sticky little leaves that you need to trim off the bud before you can smoke it. It contains a lot of trichomes and you can use it to make either edibles or concentrate. To harvest the sugar leaves, you’ll want to choose whether to wet trim or dry trim your buds– which we’ll get to in the next section.

Harvesting buds

Before you cut down the plants, decide whether you want to do wet trimming or dry trimming. Many growers prefer wet trimming because it takes less time for wet-trimmed buds to dry. That said, the process takes hours. If you invest in an auto-trimmer, you can dry trim your buds in a fraction of the time it takes to wet trim buds by hand.

Risentek Electric Bud Leaf Trimmer Machine Model-XLE 16-inch Automatic Open Top Hydroponic Bowl Trim Reaper Spin Cut Plant Bud and Flower

To harvest cannabis buds, you’ll want to cut off a branch, manicure the cola (or not), and hang it upside down to dry. Manicuring is easiest to do by hand when the leaves are still supple. Glove up, take a small pair of shears and remove all the sweet leaves still on the bud. There will be a lot of resin building up on your glove and scissors. 

Most growers like to scrape that and save the “finger hash.” That said, you’ll still need rubbing alcohol to keep your scissors working. 

You’ll probably have individual buds falling off colas here and there. This is perfectly normal, just put those in with wherever you are storing your sweet leaf. In the drying process, the buds shrink by about 10-15% because they’re losing their water. Drying takes 5-7 days, after which you will need to store the buds in glass jars for two weeks to cure them. 

Harvesting male plants

If your plant turns out to be male, you can still harvest it. If you have a THC extraction process for your sugar leaves ready, you can throw a male plant in there and get some THC out. It won’t be as good as an extract made from a female plant, but it’s better than nothing. Also, the roots of a male cannabis plant absorb a good amount of nutrients, so the roots go well in a compost heap. 

male cannabis plant signs

The male is at peak THC levels before the pollen sacks open up. The pollen sacs open about 2 weeks into the flowering stage, so you’ll want to cut it down well before that. As soon as you identify a plant as male, it’s time to harvest it. If you see an open pollen sac, spray it with water to keep it from spreading.

The thing you really want to focus on when harvesting a male is pollen control. The easiest way to accomplish this is to put a large plastic bag over the entire plant before you cut it off at the base. 

Tips for Harvesting Marijuana

Ok, it’s a simple process, right? Cut the marijuana down, manicure it, and hang it to dry. Here are some tips to help you through the process.

  • Leach the plant the week before harvest
  • Set aside several hours to harvest, especially if you plan to wet trim
  • Have all your supplies ready
    • Have more disposable gloves and rubbing alcohol than you think you’ll need
  • Prepare a drying space for your buds
  • Decide beforehand whether you will wet trim or dry trim your buds
  • If harvesting different strains at the same time, have labels prepared
  • If you see any mold in your buds, cut it all out

And remember, you’ll want to be ready to clean up before you start. Nothing is worse than scrambling to get more alcohol because the resin has gummed up all of your tools. 

Preparing for Trimming Weed

The most important thing when it comes to preparing for trimming weed is time. It can take 4-6 hours to manicure a pound of wet cannabis. If you have friends and extra pruning shears, now’s the time to utilize them. 

Before you start trimming, you’ll want:

  • Pruning shears
  • Alcohol for cleaning
  • Scraping knife
  • Tray for buds
    • The ideal trim tray has a screen at the bottom to collect kief that falls off the trimmed buds. These are sold at specialty stores. A clean surface will also work, but it won’t capture the kief. 
  • Trash bags for refuse
  • Glass jars to cure the buds

For more information, check out this blog post that details different trimming techniques

Greensadi - Trim Tray

If you are harvesting more than three plants at a time or especially large plants, consider getting an autotrimmer. An autotrimmer or trimming machine is a device that trims weed for you. It’s basically the cotton gin of trimming buds: it vastly reduces the amount of time and labor it takes to trim weed, and gives you a more consistently trimmed final product. Dry your weed before machine trimming it.

Risentek Electric Bud Leaf Trimmer Machine Model-XLE 16-inch Automatic Open Top Hydroponic Bowl Trim Reaper Spin Cut Plant Bud and Flower

Drying and Curing

This is the final step before you have a smokable product. After you trim your weed, you need to dry and cure it. You can’t smoke weed before it’s properly dried, it just doesn’t burn. 

how long does weed take to dry

To dry, hang the plants upside down in an area that’s 60–70℉, has a relative humidity of 45-55%, and is away from cannabis that is still growing. It’s easiest to hang the branches upside down on a clothesline or drying rack. Drying takes about 7-10 days.

Then you’ll want to cure your weed. The curing process gives your buds that excellent flavor and aroma. It also increases product potency since it gives your buds a chance to convert those last little bits of THC. Curing is pretty simple. 

First, put your buds into airtight glass jars. Only fill the jars up about 75%, it needs some room to breathe. Store the jars in a cool dark place. Make sure to open them at least once a day to exchange gasses. You can cure your bud for as little as two weeks, but expert curing takes up to eight weeks. 

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