You’ve got yourself the essential growing supplies…
Standing in your room looking at all the wonderful equipment that you’ve just bought…
You quickly realize:
You actually have no clue on how to grow marijuana!
Where to put your grow light?
What’s curing and why is it important?
If you’re new to growing marijuana, every question raises another question.
Where do you even start…?
Well, as it turns out:
Growing your own marijuana and producing high quality buds, is a simple and straightforward process…IF you follow 8 essential steps with each and every grow.
And in today’s post you will exactly learn what these 8 steps are. From setting up your growing space to drying and curing your flower…
After reading today’s post, growing marijuana will have no secrets left for you.
Go straight to the paragraph that interests you the most:
- Step 1: How to Set Up Your Grow Space
- Step 2: Germinating Your Seeds
- Step 3: Growing in the Seedling Stage
- Step 4: Growing in the Vegetative Stage
- Step 5: Growing in the Pre-Flowering Stage
- Step 6: Growing in the Flowering Stage
- Step 7: Harvesting
- Step 8: Drying and Curing
Step 1: How to Set Up Your Grow Space
Before you start putting seeds in your soil or hydro system…
It’s important you do your preparatory work:
That is, properly set up your growing space.
Instead of trying to correct mistakes during your grow, it will save you tons of time and facilitate a smooth grow to do this right from the start.
Assuming you’re growing indoors and got a grow tent for that purpose (which you really should if you’re growing indoors, especially when just starting out) …
The most important supplies to position properly are:
- Your lights, and;
- Ventilation (tools).
Then comes the rest.
How to Set Up Your Grow Lights
Here’s the general rule with setting up grow lights:
You want your lights as close as possible to your plants, without bleaching them or burning them and while still covering your full canopy.
Because: the closer your lights, the more compact your nodes, the larger, denser and more potent your buds will be.
But there is such a thing as ‘too close’ and ‘too much light’.
Get your lights too close and you risk burning your plants in 2 ways:
- Light burn / light bleaching, and;
- Overheating / burning.
Both can be devastating to your yield if kept unchecked.
How close this ‘too close’ is all depends on:
- Whether you have LED grow lights, HID (HPS or MH) or CFL;
- How strong your specific light is (in terms of light intensity, but better yet, in terms of watts);
- With LED: what brand and model they are;
- With HID: how effective your heat venting is, and;
- Your coverage area.
The last one speaks for itself…
Your lights should cover the full area of where your plants are located. Plus, your lights should penetrate the full canopy. This means also the lower parts of your plants. Anything less and your yields will suffer.
Also, the more watts your lights, the more heat and intensity they’ll generate and the more distance they’ll need from your canopy.
A 1000W HID light will need double the distance from your plants compared to a 300W HID light.
So, what is the optimal distance for a LED light…?
LED grow lights generate less heat than HID lights, but generally, generate more intense light than HID lights (comparing same wattage lights). Plus, they need some room (height) for all the different colors / wavelengths to blend.
Both these characteristics make LEDs need more distance from your plants than HID lights.
As said before the optimal distance with LEDs also depends on your brand and the specific model of that brand.
Different LED manufacturers use different diodes with different strengths (1W, 3W, 5W, 10W). Not only that, but they use a different quality diodes and/or (secondary) reflective lenses. All of these factors influence the optimal distance between your plants and LED light.
It’s always best to contact the manufacturer of your particular LED light and ask for optimal distances for the different growth stages:
- Germination / Seedling;
But here are the optimal distances for some of the most popular LED grow light brands:
- Germination and Clones: 24” – 30” inches above the plants – Growth switch only;
- Vegetative: 18” – 24” inches above the plants – Growth switch only;
- Flowering: 12” – 18” inches above the plants – Growth and Bloom switches together.
- Germination and Clones: 36” – 40” – VEG switch only;
- Early Vegetative Stage: 24” – VEG switch only;
- Late Vegetative Stage: 24” – VEG and BLOOM switches together;
- Flowering: 18” – VEG and BLOOM switches together.
If you’re still on the lookout for a quality LED light, check out this post:
A very effective strategy for maximizing yield with LED is a flat canopy (make your plants short and wide) so that the light has an easy time penetrating the bottom of the canopy. You want short and wide plants. SCROG is a great training method which helps you achieve this.
What’s The Optimal Distance for a HID (HPS or MH) Light…?
With HID (HPS or MH) lights there is no difference between brands.
All you need to consider to find your optimal distance are 2 things:
- Your watts, and;
- The strength and effectiveness of your heat venting.
And the best way to test if your HID light is too close for your plants, is to test with the back of your hand:
- Too hot for your hand, means too hot for your plant.
If it’s too hot for your hand, move your HID light up in 1-2 inch increments, until it stops burning your hand.
To give you a general idea, here’s a basic guideline based on numbers:
- 400W: 16-24 inches (40-60cm);
- 600W: 24-31 inches (60-80cm);
- 1000W: 31-39 inches (80cm-100cm).
These numbers are based on HID lights with regular reflectors (non-air-cooled).
If you do have air-cooled reflectors, you can put your lights quite a bit closer and that’s where the ‘back-of-the-hand-test’ comes in (check the heat with the back of your hand, and when it’s too hot for your hand it’s too hot for your plants).
- Apollo Horticulture 400 Watt Grow Light Digital – (Amazon)
How to set up your ventilation
Setting up your ventilation properly is extremely important.
To grow properly, your plants need a constant supply of fresh air with CO2.
Not only that…
But it’s also your main tool for temperature control. This is especially important if you’re growing with HID lights which radiate a lot of heat, or live in a tropical climate.
Now that you understand the important of setting up your ventilation properly…
Here’s how to do it:
First of all, it’s important that you position your exhaust fan on the opposite side of your passive intake holes or inline intake fan. There should be a lot of space between them. This way you’ll maximize the airflow in your grow space / grow tent, which helps greatly with venting heat and providing a constant stream of fresh air.
Another important rule:
Place any exhaust fans in the top part of your grow tent / grow space. Hot air rises higher, and you want to filter out the hot air more than anything.
If you’re going for passive intake holes, it’s important that they are at least 3 times the size of the surface area of your exhaust fan’s surface area. Usually a tent does have passive intake holes. If not, it’s best to make 3 same size holes on the opposite side of where your exhaust fan is. You could also make 1 big hole, which is 3 times the size…but this will be less effective in maximizing airflow.
If you’re growing with HID lights or live in a tropical climate, you might need extra measures:
- Regular circulation fans that are placed to the sides and some inches higher than your plants.
This will greatly enhance the movement of air between your lights and the canopy, which in turn will help greatly with venting the heat.
Just make sure not to point them directly towards your plants with full force and they don’t blow too hard as this can result in ‘wind burn’ (wind burn is the term for leaves drying up because of a rapid loss of water, caused by strong winds).
How to set up the rest
After your lights and ventilation…
Here’s what’s left to set up:
- Your carbon filter;
- Your pots, buckets and / or hydroponic system, and;
- Electrical wires and other electrical equipment other than your lights and fans.
How to set up your carbon filter
There are 2 ways you can set up your carbon filter based on whether you’re using air-cooled HID lights or not.
If you’re not using an air-cooled HID light (LED, CFL or regular HID):
In this case, the best way is to connect the carbon filter to the intake of your exhaust fan, inside your grow space / grow tent. This way you will be sucking the air straight through the filter, then outside of your tent.
This simply is the most foolproof way to prevent unwanted smells.
But here’s the thing:
You can only do this if you have enough room in your grow tent.
And this I exactly one of the reasons why it’s always a good idea to get a bigger grow tent than purely the size that’s needed for your plants. The other reason is that you want enough room in your grow space / grow tent to conveniently inspect your plants and make adjustments to the height of your lights for example.
If for whatever reason you don’t have enough room to place the carbon filter inside the tent…
Place your exhaust fan outside your tent, but keep the carbon filter inside. This will be a quite a bit noisier and less stealthy though.
The least preferred method is to place both the carbon filter and exhaust fan outside your grow space / grow tent. But if you do this, take extra caution to seal everything properly (duct tape can come in handy here).
If you are using an air-cooled HID light:
In this case, you just want to make sure the carbon filter is before the reflector hood. This means you can do either:
- Filter > Ducting > Reflector hood > Ducting > Fan:
- Filter > Fan > Ducting > Reflector hood > Ducting:
Both work fine and in both cases, you keep the carbon filter inside…which is the best way to filter out marijuana odor.
Where to set up your pots, buckets or hydroponic system
To give your light an easy time covering and penetrating your full canopy…
It’s best you place your plants and the pots / buckets they’re in, in the center of your growing space / grow tent.
This way you’ll give your lights a much easier time to penetrate the whole canopy. If some of your plants hug the boarders of your grow space, it will be difficult for your lights to reach those specific areas.
How to set up your electrical wires and other electrical equipment
Anytime there are liquids and electrical equipment used together in a confined space…
There’s a safety risk involved.
Here’s the cardinal rule when it comes to the electrical wires in your grow tent:
KEEP THEM OFF THE FLOOR!
This way you run much less risk to get electrocuted in case you do spill some nutrient solution or water.
Now, what I like to do with any sets of bundled up wires, is to attach them to a piece of wood and attach this piece of wood to the poles in the tent. This way you’ll keep them off the floor, have an extra buffer (wood) and keep your cables organized!
Another important note regarding electrical wires:
Bundle them together using zip ties / cable ties – (Amazon).
With regards to other electrical equipment…
Anything that’s non-essential for the growth of your plants other than the carbon filter (like pH- PPM-meters, your light’s ballast and pumps, reservoirs and other parts of a hydro system, other than the buckets/pots):
Keep them outside your grow tent!
Alright, so you’ve set your grow tent up…
Now it’s time for…
Step 2: Germinating Your Seeds
Germinating your seeds can be done in a few different ways.
But the most foolproof method is any method which follows the 4 cardinal rules of seed germination:
- NEVER expose your seedlings to light;
- NEVER touch or disturb seedlings in any other way;
- Allow the emerging radicle to orient itself via gravitropism;
- Keep bright light on the emerging seedling.
This shows that, although the ‘paper towel method’ is a popular germination method, is not the best method to germinate your seeds.
Because with the paper towel method you do disturb the seedling (violation of rule number 2) by transplanting it from the paper towel to your soil / rapid rooter plug.
I have tried to paper towel method myself quite a lot of times and it does work well most of the time.
But giving your seedling a better treatment will result in a better start which in turn will lead to a stronger plant and higher yields.
Use the ‘pre-soak and plant method’.
This is how it works:
- Soak your seeds for 30 mins in a weak bleach solution to kill of any bacteria and / or fungus (1 tablespoon of bleach in 1 gallon of water / 3.8 liters);
- Then soak your seeds for 16 hours in regular water;
- Prepare your growing medium for plantation:
- Hydroponic growing: soak your rapid rooters / riot plugs in water for 12 hours. After 12 hours shake out excess water.
- Soil growing: Sterilize your starting soil by putting in the oven at 200 F. (93 C.) for 20 minutes. Let it cool off. Get 20 oz (0,6 liter) foam cups and punch holes in the bottom to help with drainage. Fill up the cup with the sterilized soil.
- Plant your seeds:
- Hydroponic growing: plant the seeds in rapid rooter or root riot plugs.
- Soil growing: plant the seeds ¼ inches (0.6 cm) deep in your soil (when growing in soil germinate your seeds in 20 oz (0,6 liter) foam cups and punch holes in the bottom to help with drainage). Then water your cups until water runs freely through the drainage holes.
- Moist your growing medium lightly by spraying it lightly.
Pictured Guide ‘Pre-Soak and Plant Method’
Step 3: Growing in the Seedling Stage
The seedling stage is the stage between the time where you planted your seed, and the first few sets of true leaves start to appear.
What do I mean with ‘true leaves’?
True leaves are the leaves that appear after the cotyledons (the 2 round leaves that immediately emerge once the seed has sprouted).
This can take 1 or 2 weeks, depending on your germination method and just general variation between seeds.
In the beginning of the seedling stage, it’s generally a bad idea to water your seedling.
In case your soil or rapid rooter does get dry, all you do is spray it with some water.
Also keep bright light on the emerging seedling with an H5, CFL or LED light (in case of LED make sure to do it from enough distance, check the manufacturer’s recommendations for that). Don’t use a HID light in this stage of the growth, it can promote root rot because of the heat.
Once your plant has developed its first few sets of true leaves, it moves on to the…
Step 4: Growing in the Vegetative Stage
The vegetative stage is the stage where your plants will grow to their full size, before they start flowering and produce the buds we’re all looking for.
They will grow leaves, branches, the stem will grow thick…
This is the stage in which your measly seedling will grow into a strong, full-fledged plant.
Whether it’s horizontal or vertical size, for the biggest yields you want your plants to grow as big as possible in this stage.
To achieve this there are a few points to keep in mind with regards to:
- Light cycles during vegetative growth;
- Space for unrestricted root development;
- Temperature and humidity, and;
- Growing techniques.
What light cycles to use during vegetative growth?
The following applies both to growing in soil and hydroponics!
If you haven’t already…
Now is the time to put your plant under its main grow light, and give it at least 16 hours of light per day. If you have autoflowering plants I recommend you go for 20 hours a day.
The longer the light period, the quicker and larger your plants will grow. This holds true up until 20 hours a day.
Here’s why you shouldn’t do longer than 20 hours a day:
It’s also very conducive to your plant’s growth if you give it at least a few hours of rest (darkness) daily. And if you cross 20 hours a day, you are eating into this rest period which will negatively affect your plant’s growth.
How to water during vegetative growth?
The following only applies to growing in soil!
During the seedling stage, you didn’t water much (after the initial watering). You mostly sprayed.
Now that your plant has sprouted and the first sets of true leaves have appeared, the time has come to water again.
But overwatering is the most common mistake beginning growers make.
How to avoid it?
First let’s understand the frequency of watering your plants…
How often do you need to water?
I’s important that you really understand that the cannabis plant grows best with a clear wet/dry cycle. This means that you let your soil get fully dry (not just the top 2 inches or something), before you water again.
In the vegetative stage, don’t even keep your soil moist. Let it dry up FULLY.
Generally, your soil will dry up every few days. If you’re not sure check the bottom of the soil, if it’s dry: time to water.
That’s about the frequency of watering…
But how much do you need to water in each watering session?
Basically, you want to water until you see the first signs of runoff water at the bottom of your pots/buckets/cups.
This is highly dependent on your pot size and that’s exactly the reason why it’s best to start your plants in smaller cups or pots the first 2 weeks, so you don’t risk overwatering the little buggers.
The bigger your plants get, the more water they’ll need. But I advise against giving them more water than the first signs of runoff. Instead, water them more often (when the bottom part of the soil is dry), this way you won’t risk overwatering.
Then what’s left with regards to watering…
How do you water your plants?
Water your plants slowly, and take pauses often.
Start with a quart and make sure to water your entire surface initially.
If after the initial quart, you can’t detect any runoff water yet, start with the second quart. But this time only water the edges. This way the force of the water, will force the nutrients towards the root-ball of your plant, which is located in the middle.
How to feed your plants during vegetative growth?
While the seed itself has enough nutrients to at least sprout your plant and support the first 1-2 weeks…
After these first 1-2 weeks, your plant is going to need some support in the form of external nutrients, at some point.
But overfeeding is another one of those common beginner mistakes.
Luckily, this is easy to avoid with a few simple guidelines.
The cardinal rule with feeding your plants is:
It’s always better to underfeed (under-fertilize) than to overfeed (overfertilize) your plants.
Flushing out an excess of nutrients out of your soil or nutrient solution is a pain in the ass!
With this cardinal rule in mind, it’s time to split this part up in:
- How to feed when growing soil, and;
- How to feed when growing in a hydroponic system.
Because you will have very different feeding schedules according to this distinction.
How to feed when growing in soil
Before we start…
There are different types of soil:
- Organic nutrient-rich high quality/super soil, or;
- Regular potting soil (which I don’t recommend!).
Generally, when you’re getting organic nutrient-rich high quality/super soil, you won’t have to feed at least for the first 3-5 weeks.
If it’s time to feed because these first 3-5 weeks passed, or you see signs of nutrient-deficiency…
You can start feeding your plants once a week.
How much nutrients you feed depends on:
- Your nutrient brand, and;
- At which stage of the growing process you start feeding.
As a general guideline, if you start feeding in the first 2-5 weeks:
Start with SMALL AMOUNTS! That means not more than 1/4th of the recommended dosage of your nutrient brand.
Then start slowly building it up in 10-20% increments with each feeding cycle, the later you get into vegetative stage.
This way you’ll slowly let your plants get used to the nutrients, and will avoid nutrient burn.
THIS IS EXTREMELEY IMPORTANT!
Nutrient-burn is very common beginner’s mistake.
How to feed when growing in a hydroponic system
If you’re growing in a hydroponic system, you’re going to need to supply your plants with nutrients quicker than when you’re growing in soil.
But how quick exactly?
We use the following guideline:
When the first 2 sets of ‘true leaves’ appear, start fertilizing (feeding).
Just to remind:
True leaves are the leaves that appear after the cotyledons (the 2 round leaves that immediately emerge once the seed has sprouted).
This usually is in the first 2 weeks.
How much you feed in and the frequency of feeding is highly dependent on your specific strain.
For example, Kush strains are notorious for their hunger.
But it’s even more dependent on the specific hydroponic system that you’re using.
In this post, you will learn about how to feed in the most popular hydroponic system…
If you want to learn about all the different types of hydroponic systems, check out our guide on:
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
In a DWC system your plants roots are constantly exposed to your nutrient solution (this is a so called ‘continues flow system’).
This is why it’s extremely important that you start out SLOWLY with adding nutrients.
First, start with 3-4 gallons of pH adjusted water in your reservoir.
Once the first 2 sets of true leaves appear, add 1/4th of the recommended dosage (General Hydroponics, Advanced Nutrients or Jacks) to 1 gallon (3.8L) of water. Make absolutely sure that you test the pH of this gallon of nutrient solution. Then add this 1 gallon to your reservoir.
When growing in any hydro system it’s extremely important that you work your way up with the nutrient strength over a period of 1-2 weeks. This way the risk of nutrient burn is highly reduced.
But how exactly to build it up?
Here’s what I recommend:
After the 1st week, start adding an extra 1/4th of the recommended dose (so on top of the initial 1/4th dose, this means you’re at ½ strength now). Keep doing this every 3-4 days until you’ve reached the full recommended dose. And ALWAYS keep an eye on your plants, looking out for signs of nutrient burn. See signs of nutrient burn? Back-off with the nutrients!
After 2 weeks drain and replenish your full bucket (usually 5 to 6 gallons). Replenish your bucket in 1 gallon increments. So pH adjust 1 gallon, add it your bucket, keep doing this with every until the last gallon, to which you’ll add a full recommended dose of nutrients.
After this first ‘drain and replenish’ it’s essential that you keep draining and replenishing at least once a week. This is also to supply your plants’ roots with extra oxygen by giving them a much-needed air bath.
The further you go into the vegetative stage, the more water (nutrient solution) your plants will drink. To keep the growing process smooth always replenish the amount your plants drank in a particular day, the very next day…while not forgetting to pH adjust it.
And IF you’re in the second week, add as much nutrients to the replenishing water (measured in EC) until the nutrient solution is back at its original EC value.
How you measure this ‘proportional amount’, is with a EC-/PPM-meter. Let’s say the recommended EC value in the vegetative stage is 1.2, and your plants drank 1 gallon of water. You measure the EC-value of the nutrient solution in your bucket, and find out an EC-value of ‘1’. This means your plants absorbed .2 EC worth of nutrients. When replenishing the water, you add this .2 EC worth of nutrients to the 1 gallon that’s going to replace the missing gallon.
This is where you will need a quality EC-/PPM-meter.
- Bluelab Combo Meter – (Amazon)
If you don’t have a quality EC-/PPM-meter you’re going to replace the nutrients based on how many gallons your plants drank.
This means that if your nutrient solution is 5 gallons and your plant drank 1 gallon in a day, it drank 1/5th of the nutrient solution. This means that you add 1/5th of the recommended dose the to the replenishing water.
How to control temperature and humidity in the vegetative stage?
Although the marijuana plant is sturdy plant which can grow in various circumstances…
Marijuana plants thrive in an ideal temperature range and ideal humidity levels.
If you want to maximize your yield and potency…
You’re going to have to take care of the temperature and humidity levels in your grow space / grow tent.
And to do so, you’re going to need a few tools:
Possibly needed when living in a tropical climate:
- AC unit – (Amazon);
Possibly needed when living in a very cold climate:
- Heater – (Amazon);
Nice to have:
- A (de)humidifier – (Amazon) (you don’t technically need this, you could humidify with a simple bucket of water and a towel as well).
But what exactly is the ideal temperature range and are the ideal humidity levels?
- Ideal temperature range: 70°F – 75°F / 21°C – 24°C;
- Ideal humidity levels: 50-60% in vegetation. 40-50% in flowering. Less than 40% in the last weeks of flowering.
As you can see, the ideal temperature range is always the same…whether your plants are in the vegetative or flowering stage: it doesn’t matter.
Humidity levels are a different story. You want high humidity levels in the vegetative stage, and low humidity levels in flowering stage.
High humidity levels are good for your plants’ growth…but in the flowering stage, high humidity levels will invite bud mold and rot, making your yield go down the drain.
Then there’s the ‘how to’ of controlling the temperature and humidity levels…
This is where your fans, a humidifier, possibly an AC, and possibly a heater come into play.
What tools you exactly need is highly dependent on the climate that you’re living in.
If you’re living in a tropical climate, you’ll need good use of fans and possibly an AC unit.
If you’re living in a cold climate, you might need a heater (depending on whether you use hot lights like HID lights and/or what the average temperature in your grow space is).
Most of you will have issues with venting off the heat, because let’s face it: temperatures rise fast in a confined space with a powerful light (especially when it’s an HID light).
So, here’s what to do if you need to cool down your grow tent / grow space:
- Make sure you’ve set up your ventilation (intake and exhaust) properly like explained in the ‘how to set up your grow space’ section;
- Make sure you’ve set up the air circulation in your tent properly;
- If you have an HID (HPS or MH), make sure it has an air-cooled hood;
- If it’s still too hot, install an AC unit in the room where your grow tent / grow space is (not inside the grow tent / grow space).
Some of you will have issues with low temperatures and that’s when you’ll need a way to raise it:
- Install the heater in your grow tent / grow space and continuously test whether your temperature reaches the optimal range.
If you have humidity issues, use a (de)humidifier. Or if you want to keep things cheap, a bucket with water and a towel hanging out of it (in contact with the water).
Another easy way to keep humidity higher, is to mist your plants while they’re in the vegetative stage (don’t overdo this though).
What growing techniques can you use in the vegetative stage?
Growing techniques are a great way to maximize yield.
But what growing technique you should use is highly dependent on what you exactly want to achieve.
Let me explain.
Different growing techniques achieve different goals.
Down below is a list of some of the most popular growing techniques and what purpose they serve.
SCROG stands for ‘Screen of Green’ and what you do in this technique is put a screen with holes above your plants, so your plants can grow through the holes for a few inches and then are pulled back because of the stress and can be grown in any direction you want, including horizontal (which is the goal with this growing technique).
The goal of Scrogging is to cultivate a flat canopy (short, wide, and same height plants). This is a GREAT technique for any type of grow, but an AMAZING technique if you’re growing with a LED light.
One downside of the average LED light is that it has a harder time penetrating the bottom parts of the canopy compared to HID lights. And with the SCROG grow technique you effectively eliminate this downside.
For a full tutorial on Scrogging click here.
SoG stands for ‘Sea of Green’ and what you do in this technique is grow many smaller plants instead of a few bigger plants, either through cloning from a mother plant or just by planting many seeds.
How you keep your plants small is by forcing the flowering stage as soon as possible.
You would think because the plants are smaller, your yield will be less…
But that’s not the case if you do it correctly. You should have way more plants than in a regular grow. Which means that you’ll have faster harvest cycles (faster flowering stage by at least a few weeks), with the same, if not more yield.
Because the number of plants is high with the SoG method, this method is not suitable if you’re limited by the amount of plants you can legally have.
Also the maintenance-time in a SoG grow is a bit higher than a regular grow.
3. Topping & Bending
Topping and bending is a great way to grow a single or a few monster-sized plants and is a great way to maximize your yield if you’re limited by the amount of plants you can legally have.
By topping (pinching off) the top of the branch that is growing upward, your plant will dedicate its resources to the lower branches so they will get stronger and bigger, PLUS your plant will grow more lower branches.
While in the vegetative stage you may top your plants as many times as you like, just allow the plants enough vegetative time to recover and built new tops.
To support this process even better, you need to bend your branches so they grow more horizontally and are not in each other’s way. Bending is not kinking, mind you. Bending is a very low form of stress training.
To take it even 1 step further, you can place a screen like in the SCROG method over your plants, after the initial rounds of topping and bending.
For a full tutorial on topping and bending, click here.
There are more growing techniques, but when you’re starting out, I recommend to stick to these.
Step 5: Growing in the Pre-Flowering Stage
This is the stage where your plants will start preparing to produce those buds that every one of us is looking for.
This is also the stage, where your plants will start showing their sex in case you got photoperiod (regular) seeds instead of feminized seeds.
And once your plants start showing their sexes, you need to remove the male plants otherwise they will pollinate your female plants and your yield will go down the drain.
But how exactly do you recognize male vs female cannabis plants?
When your plants just start out with showing their sex, it can be a bit confusing as pollen sacs can look similar to calyxes (female pre-flowers).
Male plants will show pollen sacs and female plants will show calyxes and after some time, white pistils will start growing out of the calyxes.
If you don’t have autoflowering plants…
This is the stage where you’re going to have to make a decision:
Am I going to continue vegetative growth to increase the size and with it, the yield of my plants?
Or do I want to start the flowering process so I can get powerful buds ASAP?
Depending on what you choose, you’re going to have to keep the light schedule the same or change it up.
If you want to initiate the flowering process, you’re going to have to change the light schedule to a 12/12 cycle (12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness).
Keep feeding your plants veg nutrients in this stage!
Step 6: Growing in the Flowering Stage
You’ve come to the most important stage in terms of the care that your plants need.
This is the stage where your plants will actually start producing those powerful buds that are going to power you throughout the whole year.
And to do so, they’re going to need a bit of extra care in different areas.
What light cycles to use during flowering stage?
If you have regular photoperiod plants, you already switched to a 12/12 light cycle in the pre-flowering stage.
Now it’s important that you make absolutely sure, there are no light leaks in your growing space / grow tent.
Depending on the severity, a light leak can stress out your plants. And stress on your plants during the most crucial stage in their lifecycle, means less yield for you. Or even worse…your plant turning into a hermie, destroying any potential yield from that particular plant.
After you’ve switched to a 12/12 cycle, you should be seeing flowers and buds forming in 4-7 days.
How to feed your plants during the flowering stage?
You shouldn’t introduce blooming nutrients until your plants actually start to flower.
This means that usually, the first week after you’ve switched to a 12/12 cycle, you keep feeding vegetative nutrients…
And once you start seeing the first real flowers…NOW is the time to start feeding your plants with blooming / flowering nutrients.
Flowering / blooming nutrients should always be the highest in Phosphorus (the ‘P’ in N-P-K), then Potassium (the ‘K’ in N-P-K) and lastly small amounts of Nitrogen (the ‘N’ in N-P-K). But it’s also important that you feed them with enough trace elements like Magnesium (Mg) during this time.
Most nutrient-brands have a 3- or 2-way nutrient product:
- Nutrients for the vegetative stage (named: ‘grow’) or something similar;
- Nutrients for the flowering stage (named: ‘bloom’ or something similar), and;
- Trace elements.
Classic example soil-based organic nutrients:
- Fox Farm Trio Soil Formula – (Amazon)
Classic example nutrients for hydroponic systems:
- General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro – (Amazon)
When it’s a 2-way product the trace elements are usually mixed with the veg or bloom nutrients.
How much and how often you feed is highly dependent on:
- Whether you’re growing in soil or hydro;
- When growing in hydro: what kind of hydro-system, and;
- Your specific strain.
There’s 1 thing you have to realize though…
You need take extra care of your feeding schedule in this stage of the growth. Any nutrient-deficiencies will impact your yield very noticeably…way more than any nutrient deficiencies in the vegetative stage.
For specific feeding tips, we again make the distinction between feeding in soil and feeding in hydro.
How to feed when growing in soil in the flowering stage
What I’ve found works best is the following:
If you hadn’t already increased your nutrient strength to the recommended dose in the vegetative stage, keep increasing your nutrient-strength slowly by 10-20% increments until it has reached 100% of the recommended dosage, while keeping a good look on the tips of your leaves for nutrient burn (they’ll turn yellow).
If you see any burn on the tips, slow things down and take a step back.
Different brands of course have different recommended dosages. So always keep this mind when feeding your plants. Always check the recommended dose with your specific nutrient brand!
How to feed when growing in hydro in the flowering stage
Transitioning to the right feeding schedule in the flowering stage in a hydro system is easy…
If you keep a few things in mind!
You already learned that the first days after you’ve switched to a 12/12 cycle (or if you have autoflowers: once you’re plants start showing their pre-flowers), your plants are still in the vegetative stage.
The first 4-5 days after you’ve switched to a 12/12 cycle (or if you have autoflowers: your plants start showing the initial signs of pre-flowers), keep feeding your plants vegetative nutrients.
After these 4-5 days gradually switch the vegetative nutrients for the flowering (blooming) nutrients. I advice to do this in 1/4ths. So the first day that you introduce blooming nutrients, you will keep 3/4th of the total amount of nutrients vegetative and 1/4th flowering. Then with each feeding cycle, you swap 1/4th vegetative nutrients for 1/4th flowering nutrients (of the total amount your feeding).
Flushing at the end of the flowering stage: good or bad?
Most growing guides advice to flush your plants in the last 2 weeks of the flowering stage.
Flushing basically means watering your soil or growing medium with either pH-adjusted water or a clearing solution, completely devoid of nutrients.
The purpose of this is to ‘flush’ out any excess nutrients in the growing medium (soil or hydro), so that the plant uses its own reserve of nutrients that are stored in the leaves and roots. By using its own reserve of nutrients, the plant will make its buds taste smoother and less chemical. Because any build-up of nutrients will also be tasted in your buds and often leads to a chemical taste.
I agree with the statement that flushing does help the end-taste of your buds…
What I don’t agree with is to start flushing 2 weeks before harvest time. I’ve seen over and over again, that an excess of flushing will negatively impact your yield and the quality of your yield.
So, here’s what I recommend instead:
In the last 2 weeks of the flowering stage, start reducing the strength of your nutrient solution up until the last 4 days (the reduction should be proportional to how often you feed: if you feed once a week reduce it by 50% in the first week).
Then wait untill the 4th day before harvest, THEN start flushing.
How to flush…
There are different ways you can flush, with:
- Just pH adjusted water, or;
- Or pH adjusted water with a clearing solution like Clearex.
I personally like to use a clearing solution like Clearex. It’s simply more effective from what I’ve experienced.
The steps are as follows:
- Drain your nutrient solution and refill it with water;
- Add 20ml Clearex per US Gallon (3.8 liters);
- adjust the pH of the solution to the right value depending on whether you’re growing in soil (pH 6.3) or hydro (pH 5.8);
- Now water your plants with this solution. When growing in soil make sure you there’s a large amount of runoff water running through the holes in your pot /container. Clearex itself advices a minimum runoff of 80-90%. In practice, this means that if you have a 5 gallon pot, you run 5 gallons of this solution through it, if you have a 4 gallon pot, 4 gallons of clearing solution, etc.
You’ve come to the end of the flowering stage…
Your plants are at the end of their life cycle and are ready to be taken back and recycled in the earth’s ecosystem…
Now it’s time for you to make up the results.
It’s time for…
Step 7: Harvesting
This is the stage where you’re going to reap what you sowed.
The flowers are going to get separated from their mommas.
This is also the time where you have the most influence on the effects that your buds will give off once you smoke/vape them as I’ll explain later.
But before you’re going to claim what you’ve been waiting for in the past few months…
You need to be absolutely sure, that it actually is time to harvest!
How to know it’s harvest time?
You know what strain you’re growing and where you got it.
Most seedbanks and breeders give good recommendations on when it’s harvest time for that specific strain.
Use this a general guideline, but not as the only guideline…nature is not always predictable and your specific growing conditions might influence the optimal time to harvest as well.
The trichome check
Trichomes are small little hairs that are found all over your plant and flowers, once your plants are deep into the flowering stage.
Legends talk about trichomes being the main component in your final product’s potency…
I’m not sure about this, but they definitely do have an impact on the potency.
But more importantly…
These trichomes actually tell a lot about when it’s time to harvest.
To inspect these little buggers, I recommend you get a small microscope like this one:
- Carson MicroBrite Plus – (Amazon)
Under the microscope, you’ll see that trichomes look like little mushrooms.
Based on the color/state of the cap of the mushroom, you’re going to decide whether it’s harvest time or not:
- Clear trichomes: too early to harvest, you’ll lose out on a lot of potency if you harvest now;
- Cloudy/milky trichomes: best time to harvest if you’re looking for a clear high and just a superior product overall.
- Amber trichomes: best time to harvest if you’re looking a couch-lock and strong sedative effects. This is when the THC starts oxidizing and breaking down in CBN.
Then of course there are states in-between. I personally, like to harvest as soon as the majority of trichomes are cloudy/milky. I don’t wait until the trichomes turn amber, because I like my herb to give clear and clean effects.
When checking the trichomes, check at least 4-5 different spots of the plant ranging from leaves to flowers. You want to get the full picture. If the trichomes found on only 1 or 2 flowers turn cloudy, and the rest is still clear: it’s not time to harvest yet!
Your trichomes look cloudy under the microscope so you’ve decided it’s time to harvest…
But you don’t know yet…
How to harvest
To make things easy for yourself, you need some equipment:
- Rubber gloves, to prevent sticky fingertips;
- Trimming scissors, to actually cut and trim;
- Pant hangers, to hang your trimmed branches.
Once your gloves are on…and the scissors in your hand…
Start by cutting off the individual branches from the plants. If you want you can sort the branches by plant or strain. This way you’ll be exactly sure what it is you’re smoking/vaping/eating and which plants give which effects when you smoke/vape/eat it up.
When this is done, it’s time to trim the individual branches that you’ve just cut off. The easiest way to trim these is to work your way from the coarser to the finer parts of the branch. This means you start by trimming off any large fan leaves and other regular (non-bud) leaves (don’t throw these away, save them for later. You can make delicious tea with them!).
Only once the large fan leaves are trimmed off, start trimming the flower-leaves and the flowers themselves.
Once this stage is done, it’s time for…
Step 8: Drying and Curing
Pay attention here.
Because proper drying and curing can make an average quality yield turn into something to brag about…
And can make a high-quality yield turn into a worthless pile of crap…
…at least from a smoking / vaping perspective. You can ALWAYS make high quality edibles with any kind of yield (as long as you put enough herb in it).
But what exactly is the science behind drying and curing?
Starting with drying…when your flowers are freshly trimmed they contain 70-80% of water. You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that smoking or vaping herb with this much moisture will be a pain in the arse…as burning/vaping anything which such a high-water content SUCKS.
Plus, if you start curing with so much moisture, you’re going to invite mold and bacteria on a massive scale. So if you’re going to cure (actually, it’s not a question…you should ALWAYS cure your harvest)…drying is mandatory.
When you dry, the moisture in your buds evaporates significantly up until a point when the curing process can begin because mold and bacteria won’t have an easy time developing.
But that’s not all…
Drying your herb also converts THC-A (THC in its crude, acidic form) into Δ-9-THC (the psychoactive, absorbable form of THC). Freshly harvested herb is not very potent, and the increase in potency starts with the drying process.
The bottom line is:
Drying is a process to make your herb actually smokeable/vapeable and a process to prepare your herb to get cured.
Therefore, drying is absolutely a mandatory process.
You can always try out some testers after the initial drying, but the quality of the herb will be WAY lower compared to properly cured herb.
You’re going to read this a couple of times throughout this post:
Curing is extremely important if you want high quality herb!
But what exactly is the…
The science behind curing…
There are 2 biological processes going on during your cure:
- Break-down of chlorophylls and other pigments that naturally occur in your cannabis plant, which results in the reduction of the harsh taste which is so characteristic of fresh cannabis flower, and;
- Facilitation of certain metabolic processes which allow cannabinoids, resins and terpenoids to finish ripening, which results in more potent and better, full-flavored tasting herb.
Specifically speaking, metabolic processes in which different cannabinoids and their acids like CBG and THC-A decarboxylate into THC (the cannabinoid responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects) and different terpenes isomerize forming new polyterpenes which, just like a finely aged wine, greatly enhance the taste of freshly trimmed buds.
So curing increases taste AND potency!
But there’s even more…
Curing also slowly continues the drying process, which ensures that your buds won’t be susceptible to mold and rot when stored for longer periods of time.
You see why curing is absolutely essential if you want to end up with high quality herb.
Now that you understand the importance of proper drying and curing, let’s continue because you still don’t know…
How to dry and cure your herb
Once you’ve trimmed the branch and only the buds and bud leaves are left (you did this during harvest time), it’s time to attach your branches to the pant hangers, and hang them in your grow space / grow tent or any other room for the next 4-10 days (depending on humidity-levels) or until whenever you feel the buds are starting to get dry on the outside.
Wherever you decide to hang your branches, do it in a dark room as light will make THC degrade and a grow tent is perfect for this.
The following is not absolutely essential, but it helps tremendously if you take care of the temperature and humidity levels while drying:
- Ideal temperature: 65°F – 75°F (18°C – 24°C);
- Ideal humidity levels: 40-60%.
Temperatures above this ideal range will cause your herb to dry very fast, which will result in harsh herb. And temperatures below this range will cause your herb to dry very slowly, and will usually have high humidity-levels. And a space with high humidity-levels is fertile breeding ground for mold and rot, BAD IDEA!
After these 4-10 days of hanging, it’s time to trim the flowers / buds off of the branches and put them straight into glass jars and seal them.
And this is where you’re your buds will start ‘curing’.
You will keep these glass jars in a relatively cool (50°F -70°F / 10°C-20°C) and dark place.
Light will swiftly lead to decomposition and oxidation of THC into CBN, which will result in less potent buds with strong sedative effects (CBN is a strong sedative cannabinoid).
And high temperatures can promote mold and bacteria and will speed-up the oxidation process as well and are just bad for your health in general if you inhale/eat them.
Now, for the next 2 weeks AT LEAST, you will open the jars DAILY for 10-20 minutes. You need to do this to vent off the gases that emerge in the curing process. Don’t do this and you will invite rot and mold.
About manicuring (trimming leaves on the buds):
Don’t do this before smoking or vaping!
The THC in your buds will actually decompose ans oxidize into CBN WAY quicker if you do this early in the drying and curing process.
You now know EVERYTHING that you need to know to successfully grow your first plants.
From setting up your grow tent to drying and curing your flowers, and everything in between…
You know exactly what to do in which step of the growing process, to make your plants reach the finish line with full vigor.
You learned many tips and tricks to maximize the yield of your plants and the potency of your buds…
So you will have enough extremely potent and high quality herb to power you through a whole year with just a single grow.
If you still need the essential growing supplies, or need more background information on growing in soil vs hydro, or growing outside vs inside, I recommend you check out our guide on growing supplies: