Plant Cultivation

How to Know When to Harvest Cannabis for Peak Potency

when to harvest cannabis

When to Harvest Cannabis: Signs & Methods

Achieving a successful cannabis harvest requires careful attention to detail, especially when it comes to timing. Knowing when to harvest cannabis is crucial to ensure the best quality and potency of the plant's buds. Either harvesting too early or too late can have a significant impact on the quality and potency of the final product. 

In this article, we will focus on two methods to know when to harvest cannabis, each with tellable signs that indicate your cannabis is ready for harvest or not. Plus, you’ll find working techniques for harvesting weed plants. 

Table of Contents

When to Harvest Cannabis by Identifying Pistils

Identifying the pistils of a cannabis plant is one method used to determine when is cannabis ready to harvest. Pistils are the small hair-like structures that grow out of the calyxes, which are the small pods that hold the cannabis buds. In the initial stages of flowering, pistils have a bright white hue and grow vertically. However, as the plant develops, they change to a brownish-orange color and start to bend and curl. 

To determine if the plant is ready for harvest based on the pistil color, look for pistils that have changed color from white to a darker hue. Depending on your purpose, you can harvest cannabis yields in the following two scenarios. 

white pistils

White pistils that are not ready to harvest

  • If you are looking for higher levels of THC or anything with more strong effects, it’s suggested to harvest the cannabis when 70-90% of the hairs have darkened.
darken pistils

Darken pistils to harvest

  • If you are looking for a more calming and anti-anxiety effect, in other words, a higher density of CBN, a type of cannabinoid that produces drowsiness and a heavy sensation, you probably want to wait till 90-100% of the hairs have changed color to harvest the plant. 

While pistil color can be a helpful indicator, it is not the only factor to consider when determining the best time to harvest cannabis. Also, this method can be inaccurate sometimes. In the following part, you'll learn a more decent method to decide when cannabis is ready to harvest. 

When to Harvest Cannabis by Identifying Trichome

Compared with identifying pistil color, verifying the trichome is a much more accurate way to examine the right harvest timing. Trichomes are small, crystal-like structures that cover the surface of the buds and contain cannabinoids and terpenes, which are responsible for the cannabis psychoactive and aromatic properties.

clear trichome

Clear trichome heads

Check the guideline below to know how to tell when cannabis is ready for harvest from the trichomes. 

  1. To identify if the trichomes are ripened enough, look for the color and shape. However, it can be difficult to spot them clearly with the naked eye. Therefore, you’d better prepare a  jeweler’s loupe or other magnifiers for examining the trichomes. 
  2. Spot the trichomes that look like small mushrooms with a ball on top. You may also see hair-like trichomes without the mushroom head. Since they do not impact the potency, so simply ignore them. By focusing on the trichomes with the ball on top, you can determine when they have reached their highest levels of THC and CBD. 
  3. Initially, the trichomes are clear and glassy, but they turn cloudy or opaque as the plant grows into the next growth stage. Similarly, you have two options:
  • When 80-90% of the trichome heads have become cloudy, it indicates that the plant is ready for harvest, and the potency of the buds will be at its peak with the highest THC and CBD.
milky white trichome

Milky white trichome

  • However, if you prefer a more sedative effect, wait until the trichomes have turned amber or golden. At this stage, the THC has converted to CBN, which produces a more relaxing effect. 
amber or golden trichome

Amber/golden trichomes

It is essential to monitor the trichomes regularly, as the ripening process can happen quickly before you realize it. Also, different strains may have varying maturation times. By examining the trichomes, you can ensure that you harvest your cannabis plants at the right time for the desired effect and flavor.

What If You Harvest Too Early

To answer this question, it’s necessary to figure out two main cannabinoids, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBN (cannabinol), which are two major compounds that produce the effects of each strain.

THC is primarily responsible for the euphoric, psychoactive effects of cannabis, while CBN is known for its sedative properties. The ratio of THC to CBN can affect the overall experience and effects of cannabis. To make it easier to understand, strains with higher levels of THC tend to produce a more uplifting and energizing high, while strains with higher levels of CBN tend to be more calming and relaxing.

As the cannabis plant matures, THC levels generally increase while CBN levels increase due to the degradation of THC. Now we can call back the question. If you harvest cannabis too early, the trichomes may not have developed enough THC and other cannabinoids, which can result in a weaker high effect. Additionally, harvesting too early can result in lower amounts of CBN found in the plant as well. 

Signs That Indicate You Harvest Too Early

  • There are too many vertically grown white pistils.
  • There are too many clear and transparent trichomes.

What If You Harvest Too Late 

When cannabis plants are left to mature for too long, there can be a decrease in the amount of THC and an increase in CBN, which reduces the psychoactive effects of the plant and enhances its sedative properties. 

In addition, the overall quality and structure of the plant may also degrade, resulting in less intense flavors and aromas. Terpenes, the compounds responsible for the aroma of cannabis, are volatile and can evaporate with heat and air. Therefore, the longer the plant is exposed to the environment, the more terpenes will evaporate, further reducing the quality of the cannabis.

Signs That Indicate You Harvest Too Late

  • Most of the pistils have turned brown.
  • Trichomes heads on cannabis buds are mostly amber or dark orange. 

Summarize When to Harvest Cannabis

To determine when to harvest cannabis, you should pay attention to two signals on the cannabis. One is the pistil color - when it changes from white to darker hues, it’s time to crop the yields. The other factor is the trichome - harvest your cannabis once the trichome heads turn into milky. If the plant is harvested too early or too late, the potency and quality of the cannabis may be compromised.

FAQs about When to Harvest Cannabis

  • How do you know when your cannabis buds are ripe?

To know when your cannabis buds are ripe and ready for harvest, use a magnifying glass to examine the trichomes on the buds. When the trichomes turn from clear to a milky white color, it is a sign that the plant is reaching its peak potency. 

  • What do trichomes look like when cannabis is ready to harvest?

When the trichomes are ready to harvest, they usually have a cloudy or milky appearance, and some may have turned amber or dark orange.

  • How do you know when you are ready to harvest?

When most of the trichomes have turned cloudy or milky, and some have turned amber or dark orange, it is a good indication that the buds are ready to be harvested. Additionally, if the pistils on the buds have turned brown and curled in, this is another sign that the plant is nearing harvest time.

  • What does overripe cannabis look like?

Overripe cannabis may have a darker color and a more intense odor. The buds may also be dry and brittle, and the trichomes may appear dark and degraded. The pistils may have turned brown or even started to fall off. 

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About Ciki

With over three years of writing experience, Ciki aims to provide informative articles to help readers solve various planting issues.

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