The Life Cycle of a Cannabis Plant: 6 Essential Stages

Did you ever think that the life cycle of a cannabis plant is a lot like the life cycle of a human? Growers treat cannabis plants like their babies because they are! There are six key stages to the life cycle of a cannabis plant, and you can learn all about them by reading this article.

A cannabis plant goes through as many different stages in its life as a human being does. In fact, the cannabis plant (along with human beings) is one of the most complex organisms on the planet. The fact that this plant is dioecious (it can have individually separate male and female plants) makes it unique in the plant world and so much like the human world.

This will be a discovery into one of the world’s most loved plants and its life story. The life cycle of the cannabis plant is a mysteriously epic story and worth exploring in detail. So, here is the story of the life of a cannabis plant, from seed to harvest.

1. The seed and germination

Just like with almost all plants, cannabis starts out as a tiny little dehydrated thing stuck in a waxy nut. A seed is something that is just waiting for the right conditions so that it can get into gear and start growing. It’s a lot like the half of you that has been sitting in your mother’s egg for decades, just waiting for the right… information, for it to start growing something special.

The Life Cycle of a Marijuana Plant: 6 Stages - WeedSeedShop

So, when seeds are exposed to some moisture and some heat, they break open and the little dried up cannabis plant inside starts to sprout with life. This is the very beginning of the life span of a cannabis plant. In general, the seed is produced by the pollination of a female plant by a male plant. This means that every seed has genes from two different plants.

When some moisture has entered the seed and the seed cracks open slightly, two stems appear – this is called germination. One of these will form the root and one of these will form the above soil part of the plant. It is the environment itself that will decide which cells are going to be produced (whether it is root cells or bud cells), and otherwise these two stems are identical.

In fact, a cannabis seed even contains something a little bit like sperm, and rightly enough, that thing is called the endosperm. It is essentially a tiny store of nutrients (or calories) to get the ball rolling. The endosperm supports the growth in the soil until the plant is no longer an “embryo” anymore.

2. From seed to seedling

The first two leaves that open up towards the sun are still considered to be in the embryonic stage, and the plant is still considered to be a seedling. This is where the points of the cannabis leaf appear rounded, and this is how growers usually identify that the plant is still a seedling.

The endosperm is still supporting the plant with some energy while it soaks up nutrients from the soil, developing roots and drawing in light. It can grow up to eight leaves as a seedling and can stay in this stage for up to 3 weeks before completely breaking out of the seed case.

By the time your baby plant is starting to grow out of being a seedling, the leaves begin to take the characteristic shape of a cannabis leaf. The rate of growth of the foliage is important in this stage, as it will also give you an idea of the general life span of the plant.

3. The vegetative stage – not for vegging out!

The vegetative stage is, unlike the name suggests, not a time for the plant to be chilling out. Actually, this is one of the most exciting times in the plant’s life cycle.

Just like when a human being is a toddler, its growth and learning is accelerating exponentially, and this is right about where we are in the life of a cannabis plant. This time is all about growing and getting taller and stronger so that it can be ready to flower later on. The plant will take its shape during this stage, too.

During this stage, the cannabis plant produces so much more foliage than in other stages because it is capable of absorbing much more CO2 from the air. During this stage, growers are always alarmed by the rate that their cannabis plants can grow in just one day. It’s almost like hearing every parent say, “They are growing up so fast!”.

The vegetative stage is all about consumption and collecting all the ingredients your plant is going to turn into flowers later. For this reason, light exposure is the main key. If you’re growing indoors, you can vegetate for as long as you like and let your plant grow as tall as you like. If you’re growing outdoors, you will be limited to the rules of nature.

Nitrogen-rich nutrients are what the soil requires at this stage, as the entire system is growth spurting (including the roots). This will encourage the maximum number of nodes and leaves producing, so that there is maximized space for creating buds.

The more nodes there are, the more buds that are able to grow, and therefore the bigger the yield that can be harvested.

During the vegetative stage, growers will apply some training principles on the plant, such as low stress training or super cropping. This is really the only time to prune leaves or shape up. Your plant is almost an adult (in the biological kind of way)! Basically, this is the time for getting everything perfect so that you can watch the magic happen.

4. Pre-flowering

This stage is a little bit awkward, because you have to pay really close attention to what is going on in your garden. This is the time where a grower can determine what the sex of the plant is. Right at the end of vegetation, plants will either start to develop pollen sacs or they will start growing white pistils. A white pistil suggests a sensemilla plant, while a pollen sac suggests a male.

The reason this is important is because if a grower wants to make buds, then having males around females is bad. Males completely deflower the females, making them produce seeds instead. It seems a lot like puberty!

Well, in any case, males and hermaphrodites should be separated (but not necessarily thrown away!) from the female plants to avoid pollination, and this should happen as soon as possible.

It can take a plant anywhere between 1 and 5 months to reach pre-flowering, depending on the strain, the seed itself, and the environment. It’s worth noting that some growers force their plants into flowering, which means the pre-flowering stage doesn’t really happen.

5. Time: 420 …Flowering time!

Now, it’s really just time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour as a grower. Your little girls are almost full-grown ladies. This is when the light schedule for an indoor system changes, giving the plants more darkness. It will not actually start growing colas until that decrease in light has taken place.

Note that if you are using autoflowering seeds, the change of light schedule doesn’t really apply. This encourages the growth of flowers, and this is when a cannabis plant will start to produce all the beautiful parts that we love to use.

For regular seeds, the reduction in light will trigger a growth you didn’t see before, of huge luscious buds and flowers. The trichomes will begin to appear on the buds and the delicious smell of THC will start to fill up your grow room. Potassium and phosphorus are the most important nutrients at this stage of a cannabis life cycle, as these assist flowering.

If you never enter the flowering stage, the plant will just continue to grow into sticks and leaves and will never produce parts containing the highest amounts of THC. Hence why indoor growers force flowering after the plants reach a certain height or width by changing the lighting schedule and having longer dark hours.

There is never a better time to enjoy observing the development of your plant than this one, as you will see the buds and colas form and take place. Now, the trick is to be patient and to harvest when it’s just right.

6. Harvest

The Life Cycle of a Marijuana Plant: 6 Stages - WeedSeedShop

The flowering stage has a different duration for each strain and seed, meaning the best time to harvest is going to be different. Typically, 7-8 weeks is enough for flowering. If you harvest too late, you risk losing potency. The same can be said of harvesting too early. For this reason, you must pay close attention towards the end of the flowering stage to know the perfect time to harvest those buds.

This is when the plant’s hard work is over, and it’s time for the grower to put some elbow grease in. The little hairs on the buds will start to change colour when it’s time to harvest. Where they would have been white and milky throughout the flowering stage, they will change to an orange or amber colour. Now, if you leave them on too long, they will turn dark brown and that’s no good!

Even the trichome heads change colour when it’s ready for harvest, meaning they will be opaque rather than clear. In the extremely late stages of flowering, these trichomes will also turn amber. However, to see these you probably need to use a magnifying glass.

What happens after harvest?

Well, that’s basically the end of the life of this particular cannabis plant, but the plant material itself is usually treated further. Growers go through a process of trimming, drying and curing before their buds ever get smoked or used. The stems and leaves can be saved for making cannabis tea or topicals, and sometimes the buds are used to make extractions, too.

Some growers won’t end the life cycle there, either. They will continue cloning so that they never have to end the life cycle of their female plants. This means they can avoid germination of a female seed through cloning and making feminized seeds. Ah, the possibilities are endless when it comes to weed!

Watching a cannabis plant grow is like watching a piece of art take shape for a lot of growers. You never know what you get until all your hard work has been put in, and that can deter some impatient people or really motivate others. There’s a reason growers refer to their plants as “their babies”. It kind of is like that. The more time and love you give your plants as a grower, the more fulfilling the entire process can be!


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  • Author_profiles-WSS-Emma Ryte

    Emma Ryte

    Born in Germany, lived in England my childhood years and spent my high school era in the US. My parents are basically hippies and that is why I have had the possibility to speak freely and explore my passion for the cannabis plant. My love for writing followed soon after. Writing about this subject has taught me so many things about the use, cultivation, health benefits and industrial options, and I love that I can share this knowledge with you! I visit Amsterdam as often as I can and I love the vibe there when it comes to weed, it lets me try new things and learn about the newest developments in the industry. The one person I would love to smoke some with would have to be Stevie Wonder. I love relaxing to his music while high and I would love to meet him!
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