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Stages of Cannabis Growth & Tips for a High-Quality Harvest

Growing cannabis doesn’t have to be difficult, and with the information in this post, you should be well on your way to growing up to four plants from the comfort of your own home. We’ve made a guide that will assist the beginner grower with information about the growing stages of cannabis plants and some tips for growing quality plants from Forest City Marijuana’s resident growing expert.

The information displayed here is generalized and may not be 100% accurate for your plants. Living plants don’t fit into exact schedules; Indica, Sativa, and hybrid plants will all have unique growing paces. These paces can be affected by weather, growing location, and growing techniques. This information will not be applicable in hydroponic growing set-ups due to this guide using soil; or for auto-flower cannabis seeds as they are genetically programmed to head to a flowering stage regardless of seasonal circumstances.

Stage One – Germination

Explanation: The germination stage is the first of four in the plant cycle and lasts five to ten days. The cannabis seed may sprout as early as the second day or as late as the tenth day, so be patient if results are not seen immediately. During this critical stage of development, it’s vital to follow a consistent light cycle when growing indoors. The plants need plenty of light in this stage; typically, 16 hours of, followed by 8 hours of darkness.


  • Starting with a cannabis seed, do a quality check; a healthy one will be hard and dry to the touch, with light to dark brown colouring. Weed seeds that are soft, cracked, or light green in colour will not sprout.
  • One of the easiest ways to germinate your seeds would be to let them pop open on a damp paper towel. You’ll want these seeds to remain moist, not soaking wet, and in complete or near-complete darkness.
  • Once the root and stem have formed, place the seed root-side down in a small pot with soil. From this point, you will want to start a consistent light schedule, as mentioned in the explanation of this first stage.
  • After a few more days, the stem tip should poke through the top of the soil, followed by the growth of two cotyledon leaves, also known as seed leaves.
  • The plant is now moving into the seedling stage.

Tips for stage one:

  • We recommend using a heat mat to speed up the germination process. Heat mats warm the soil and can help pop more stubborn seeds.
  • Use a dome cover with the heat mat to increase humidity levels and to get the most out of this growing stage.

Stage Two – Seedling

Explanation: Once the seed has sprouted, it will spend the next two to three weeks in the delicate seedling stage. After germination, the cannabis plant is prepared to begin developing its root system. This system will develop rapidly and branch outwards once the taproot has grown deeper into the soil. At this point, the seedling will start to produce sets of ‘real’ cannabis leaves, recognized by the serrated edges. The plant should also be a fresh, vivid green at this point in development. During this stage, the seedling needs fewer soil nutrients and less water than in the latter two stages of growth. Overfeeding or overwatering the plant can stunt growth and produce a smaller yield. The recommended light schedule for this phase is 18 hours of light and 6 hours of darkness, mimicking a long summer day. Once the plant has grown healthy leaves and at least three nodes, the part of a plant that connects new stem offshoots with previous growth, it will move on to the growth/vegetative stage.


  • Water the plant when the soil is dry or nearly dry.

Tips for stage two:

  • A heat mat and dome cover are recommended until the seedlings outgrow it.
  • Once the lid has been removed, place an oscillating fan in the room to strengthen the plant stems.

Stage Three – Growth or Vegetative

Explanation: In this 3 to 16 weeks long stage, the cannabis plant focuses its energy on growing large and will achieve most of its vertical growth. This is a time of rapid growth for the plant in many areas, from roots to foliage. Plants at this stage require a light cycle identical to the previous; 18 hours of light and 6 hours of dark. If you plan on topping your plants, this is the time to do it. ‘Topping’ means trimming the top off the cannabis plant to encourage more sideways growth. This is also the stage in which you can determine the sex of the plant and should remove any non-females from the growing area. Once the plant begins producing a distinct odour, it’s time for the next phase.


  • Move the plant from its starter pot into a larger container so the roots have enough space to grow and support your plant.
  • The plant will be thirsty as its root system matures and grows – Water copiously.
  • Listen to your plant and make sure it stays comfortable, only adding the required nutrients as needed.
  • Remove any male or hermaphrodite plants from the growing area to reduce the likelihood of female plants getting pollinated. Pollination will result in your plants producing seeds instead of large buds.

Tips for stage three:

  • Topping your plants is recommended for an increased yield. We also suggest Low-stress Training, gently bending and tying the cannabis branches down, increasing the canopy of your plants and exposing them to more light.
  • We also recommend light defoliation to improve both airflow and light penetration. Light defoliation is stripping the cannabis plant of excess leaves but not removing all of them.

Stage Four – Flowering

Explanation: This is considered the most exciting stage of cannabis growth since it’s the juncture where growers can see and smell the results of their efforts. At this time, you’ll want the light schedule to mimic autumn days; 12 hours of light followed by 12 hours of darkness. During this time, the plants’ buds will begin to develop, the pistils will darken, and the trichomes become whiter. In this stage, your plant will need plenty of water and an ample supply of nutrients. Many growers add extra nutrition in the flowering stage, but adding too much can ‘burn’ your leaves and harm your plant growth. During this time, watch out for fungi and pests. You need to keep a well-ventilated and clean grow space to reduce the risk of problems this close to the finish. To know when to start harvesting, look for the trichomes to change from transparent to an opaque milky white or for the pistils to begin curling inwards and turning golden brown.


  • Give your plant plenty of water and stage-appropriate nutrients. Remember not to add too large a quantity of nutrients, or you could damage the plant.
  • If any male or hermaphrodite plants remain in the growing area, the start of this stage is the last chance to remove them.
  • Keep your growing area clean and well-ventilated to reduce the likelihood of pests and fungi growth.

Tips for stage four:

  • At this stage in the growth, it’s good to have some form of CO2 introduced to the space. You can use CO2 generators or a type of compressed CO2. Introduce the CO2 during periods of light, and since CO2 is heavier than oxygen, it should be presented to the room from above the plants.
  • Use a jeweller’s loupe, or a USB microscope, to inspect the trichomes closely when you’re getting close to harvest.

Next Steps – Harvesting & Drying

  • Flush your plants at least one week before harvest. Meaning feeding your plants only water to remove excess nutrients.
  • Decide if you will be wet or dry trimming. For wet, the plant is cut down, and buds are removed, then trimmed and dried in one sitting. The plant is cut and hung to dry for several days in dry trimming, and the buds are trimmed once dried.
  • You’ll need to prepare the following equipment for your harvest; scissors for trimming the buds; pruners, which will help for the larger branches; a comfortable chair and space to work in; a clean surface, like a large table; a tray or bowl, rubbing alcohol, rags; clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and sticky; and non-powdered latex gloves (optional).
  • If trimming the cannabis wet, you’ll need to clean your equipment frequently to keep it from getting gummed up and dirty.
  • Make sure you have some form of entertainment, like music or podcasts, as trimming cannabis can be an endeavour. It’s vital to keep your mind stimulated during the process, but you should stick to activities that don’t require looking away from the cannabis.

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