When to Harvest Cannabis for Best Quality and Yield

Harvesting cannabis at the right time is essential for maximizing the aroma, flavor, and effects of each strain. Harvest cannabis buds too early and you risk a lower trichome quality and a lower total weight. Harvest your cannabis plants too late and the THC will start to degrade into CBN. Your cannabis extracts will also be much darker with a late harvest.

There are a few ways to tell if your cannabis flowers are ready to harvest. Learn the stages of cannabis plant growth and key signs of ripeness because this will help you time the harvest for peak terpene and cannabinoid expression and beautiful, golden-colored extracts.

The Best Time to Harvest Cannabis Plants

The best time to harvest cannabis is in the late flowering phase when the trichome density has reached its peak and half of the pistils have turned red, orange, or brown. As you can see in the following table, this is typically 8 to 12 weeks into the fourth stage of plant development.

Stages of Cannabis Growth

Stage Length Notes
Germination stage 3-10 days Ready to plant when brown
Seedling stage 2-3 weeks Needs the right amount of water and light
Vegetative stage 3-16 weeks Needs a larger pot and plenty of water and nutrients
Flowering stage

  1. Flower initiation
  2. Mid-flowering
  3. Late flowering
8-12 weeks

Buds start to developBuds start to fatten

Trichome density increases

It’s important to note that the actual flowering time will be heavily influenced by the strains of cannabis you’re working with, especially strains at either end of the sativa-indica continuum (pure sativas and pure indicas). The length of each stage can also be influenced by:

  • Whether you’re growing indoors or outdoors
  • The climate where your grow operation is located
  • The growing medium
  • The equipment you’re using (type of grow lights, humidifiers, etc.)

As you gain experience with cannabis cultivation, you’ll get a feel for the timing of each stage and when certain actions (repotting, feeding, harvesting) are required.

Signs of Readiness in Marijuana Plants

There are several visual signs that a marijuana plant is ready to harvest. It can help to observe the buds with a magnifying glass or microscope while you get a feel for the timing.

Look out for the following indications of readiness:

  • The buds are firm and tight.
  • At least half of the pistils have turned orange or brown.
  • The fan leaves are starting to turn yellow and fall off. Alternatively, they might curl up and dry out.
  • There is a mixture of milky and amber trichomes. The trichomes should have fully developed heads and stalks that are observable with a magnifying glass or under a microscope.
    • Harvesting your plants before the trichomes turn amber will result in lighter-colored rosin or ice water hash. However, that is often at the expense of some terpene development.
    • Amber trichomes will result in darker extracts but potentially a fuller flavor.
    • If the trichomes are already amber, harvest the cannabis plants immediately.
  • Mature cannabis plants will often smell floral, depending on the strain. Floral is an aromatic note that is especially pronounced with live plants and prized in live extracts.

Experienced growers generally go by trichome color when deciding when to harvest marijuana plants. However, looking for several signs of readiness can be helpful if you’re just starting out.

What to Do With Your Harvested Plants

This is where the fun begins. With the right equipment, you can do a ton of things with harvested cannabis plants. We’ll outline a few things you can do with cannabis buds using our range of post-harvest processing equipment.

Note: Please refer to The Original Resinator Operating Guide for the specific temperatures, times, and speeds that we recommend for each process.

Cryo-Trim® and Freeze Dry Your Cannabis Buds

The quickest and simplest way to process harvested cannabis buds is to follow the steps in our award-winning Crop-to-Cure® method:

  1. Remove the fan leaves, buck the buds (remove them from the stalks), and freeze the buds in turkey bags.
  2. Cryo-Trim® with CO2 using a bladeless trimmer like The Original Resinator.
  3. Freeze dry the trimmed buds in a freeze dryer. For quality results, you’ll need a Harvest Right Scientific model (at the smallest), a StrataVac Bleed Vacuum Controller, and an SOP. All of these items are included in our Crop-to-Cure® Live Dried Bundle.
  4. Test, package, and distribute the buds to dispensaries.

Freeze dried cannabis buds can be smoked, vaped, or used to make products like edibles, tinctures, and topicals. Flower (in general) is the most popular cannabis product and should sell well if the buds are fragrant and fresh. Moreover, your buds should maintain their shape and vibrant colors if you use the Crop-to-Cure® method. This is a huge plus as far as marketability and shelf appeal.

Freeze the Buds and Make Live Bubble Hash

Bubble hash is another great use for freshly harvested cannabis flowers.

  1. Remove the fan leaves, buck the buds, and freeze the buds in turkey bags (as above).
  2. Use The Original Resinator to make live bubble hash by rotating the fresh frozen buds in a mixture of cold water and ice.
  3. Freeze dry the trichomes collected from the bubble bags.
  4. Send the live bubble hash for testing, gramming out, packaging, and distribution. OR
  5. Press the live bubble hash for live hash rosin and then send the rosin for testing, gramming out, packaging, and distribution.

Both bubble hash and hash rosin can be dabbed and vaped or used to make edibles and topicals. Rosin and bubble hash are the first and second-most sold “dabbable” solventless extracts, respectively, and both have an excellent ROI.

Cryo-Sieve® for Dry Sift

Dry sift is a third pathway for creating high-quality solventless extracts. You can create dry sift from fresh, frozen, or dried and cured cannabis flowers.

  1. Complete the Cryo-Sieve® process using The Original Resinator OG or The Original Resinator XL.
  2. Use Static Tech to remove any residual plant matter from the dry sift.
  3. Freeze dry the dry sift if it was made from fresh or frozen flower.
  4. Send the dry sift for testing, gramming out, packaging, and distribution. OR
  5. Press the dry sift to make dry sift rosin and then send the dry sift rosin for testing, gramming out, packaging, and distribution. Most dry sift is pressed into rosin.

Dry sift rosin is a modern, innovative SKU compared to traditional products like flower. This makes it attractive to modern consumers and provides you with a valuable way to expand your offerings. Dry sift can be added to joints and bowls or even dabbed if it’s full-melt dry sift. Dry sift rosin is made into edibles if it’s food grade. If it’s good, it’s always dabbed.

Reduce the Biomass and Blast With Hydrocarbons

So far, we’ve covered solventless post-processing options. However, you can make some great commercial extracts using hydrocarbons, too. Live resin is one solvent-based extract you can make using freshly harvested cannabis.

Please note: Hydrocarbon extraction must be done using a professional, fully licensed closed-loop extraction system in a safety-regulated space with all of the necessary permits and licenses. Blasting with hydrocarbons at home is both illegal and extremely dangerous.

Our recommended process is as follows:

  1. Remove the fan leaves, buck the buds, and freeze the buds in turkey bags with minimal dwell time.
  2. Reduce the biomass using The Original Resinator and a 400µm screen.
  3. Blast the plant material with butane or propane.
  4. Purge the extract to remove any residual solvent.
  5. Send the live resin for testing, gramming out, packaging, and distribution.

When extracted and purged with the utmost care, live resin can be a clean and fragrant extract that’s useful for both dabbing and vaping. There is a market for both live resin (solvent based) and live rosin (solventless), so grower-processors should rest assured that they can do well with either kind of extract. The decision mostly depends on the equipment you have and what you want to make.

Tips When Harvesting Cannabis for Fresh Frozen

Most of the processes we’ve described involve freezing your cannabis buds at the time of harvest (fresh frozen). This essentially stops the clock in terms of terpene and cannabinoid degradation so that you can process your cannabis when you’re ready.

For best results:

  • Harvest your buds before dawn for outdoor marijuana plants or before the grow lights come on for indoor grows. This helps to maximize the terpene and cannabinoid levels as these tend to be higher at night and lower during the day.
  • Harvest only what you can buck and bag quickly (a few stalks at a time) to minimize dwell time. You want to get your material properly processed and into freezers as quickly as you can. It’s a fire drill.
  • Hang the stalks to avoid damaging the buds.
  • Trim whatever doesn’t have trichomes. This will generally be the fan leaves.
  • Turkey bag the buds and stand the bags upright in the freezer so the plant material doesn’t get squashed. You don’t need an ultra-deep freezer.
  • Make sure the plant material is kept frozen when being transported, such as in coolers with dry ice as long as the dry ice is not directly touching the bags.

If you start with quality genetics, optimize the cultivation process, and have top-of-the-line processing equipment, these guidelines can help you create premium live products that cannabis connoisseurs will love.

Interested in learning more about what all you can do with your material? Make sure to check out our handy Product Pathways chart here!

Timing, Storage, and Processing Are Key

Working out when to harvest cannabis can take some thought and close observation, but it’s a skill you’ll develop over time. Once you’ve mastered the timing, pay attention to the post-harvest storage practices (such as big-leafing and freezing) and processing techniques that give you the best end result.

There are a lot of post-harvest machines out there. However, we think The Original Resinator stands out in more ways than one. Its versatility, safety, ease of use, and gentleness on trichomes make it the perfect post-processing partner for maximizing ROI on your harvested cannabis plants. Contact us to find out how our equipment can take your buds to the next level.

TJ Arnovick

Cannabis extraction expert and founder.