Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 19, 2023

Going to your favorite dispensary and purchasing dried and cured cannabis buds, or even trying out some edibles, is the easiest way to get to your favorite strains. Growing your own cannabis plants, on the other hand, not so much. Granted, legal cultivation isn’t legalized in every US state, which is why some people need to purchase weed at the dispensary. However, if you live in one of the states where weed is legal for personal cultivation, you can plant some seeds and try growing your own weed. 

For those of you who have tried your hand at cultivating marijuana, and your plants have gone through the 4 stages of cannabis growth such as germination, seedling, vegetative, and flowering stage, you need to know when to harvest your plants. 

There are some differences between harvesting different strains of weed, similar to how there are differences between the harvest period of photoperiods and autoflowers, and the harvest time between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. To make this process easier for a lot of growers, let’s get into this topic and answer the “when to harvest outdoor weed” question.

The 411 on Harvesting Marijuana Plants

Every cannabis grower knows that marijuana cultivation requires hard work and patience. All of this work pays off when it’s time to harvest the fruits of your labor and collect those resinous buds from the entire plant. 

If this is your first time growing cannabis, it may be difficult for you to figure out the right time to start harvesting your plants. The harvest period comes at the end of the flowering period, which is between September and November in the Northern Hemisphere, and it all depends on the types of cannabis plants you’re cultivating. So, let’s get into the tips that’ll help you figure out when to harvest your weed plants.

There are a few methods that help you figure out if your plant is ready for harvesting:

  • Harvesting based on flowering time;
  • Harvesting based on the pistil method;
  • Harvesting based on the trichome method.

Harvesting Outdoor Cannabis Based on Its Flowering Time

Cannabis plants can flower at different times, although similar cannabis strains will be ready for harvesting at approximately the same period.

In general, Indica strains can be harvested 8 weeks after the beginning of the flowering phase. Sativa strains, on the other hand, can be harvested 10 weeks after the start of the flowering phase. On the other hand, autoflowers will only need 10 weeks to get from seedling to harvesting.

Figure out which types of plants you’re cultivating, so you can use their flowering time as a general guide. Depending on weather changes, you may need to balance the peak ripeness of your outdoor plants with weather conditions that may compromise your harvest and result in bud rot.

Harvesting Your Cannabis Plants With the Pistil Method

One of the most common methods that marijuana growers use to figure out whether their plant has reached its harvest time is the pistil method. Pistils and stigmas are part of the reproductive system of female marijuana plants and they reveal the harvest window. Pistils are the white hairs that develop in the early stages of growth and change colors as the plant matures.

Once the white pistils start changing colors, it’s an indication that the harvesting period is close. They slowly start turning yellow at the end of the flowering stage, and eventually turn brown and recede, which is when the harvesting period begins. 

To figure out whether it’s harvesting time, check how brown your pistils are by using the following advice:

  • 0-50% brown pistils indicate that your plant isn’t ready to be harvested because the buds aren’t near their optimum cannabinoid potency;
  • 50-70% brown pistils indicate that you can start harvesting your plants if you’re after a less intense high and a lighter aroma;
  • 70-90% brown pistils indicate an optimal harvest time and potent weed;
  • 90% and over brown pistils indicate that your weed’s past peak THC content, meaning your psychoactive cannabinoid THC will slowly start to degrade to CBN.

Harvesting Cannabis With the Trichome Method

Both indoor and outdoor growers can use the trichome method to figure out the ripeness of their weed plants if the pistil method isn’t enough. The trichomes are the crystal resin glands of the cannabis plant which are found on the cannabis buds and leaves (fan leaves don’t have trichomes, only sugar leaves). 

Trichomes, similar to pistils, change color and become amber as the plant reaches harvest time.

To find out whether you can harvest cannabis buds at peak levels with this method, check the trichomes. For harvesting, you need to have at least: 

  • 60-70% milky trichomes;
  • 15% amber trichomes;
  • 15% clear trichomes.

If you leave your plant past peak harvest time and all your milky trichomes start turning amber, it’s an indication that the plant is losing THC while increasing its CBD content.

Drying, Curing, and Storing Your Cannabis Plants

After you’ve harvested all your cannabis plants, it’s time to dry them. This process takes between a week and 10 days during which the plants are hung upside down. Remember to keep the relative humidity between 50-55% and the temperature around 68°F (20°C) to prevent bud rot. Also, keep your stash away from direct light to prevent THC from degrading to CBN.

After the drying process comes the curing process which can last between 2 weeks and a few months (depending on the growers’ preference). It’s also important to keep the humidity stable during this period, and it can be beneficial to place humidity packs that maintain RH.

Finally, you can store your dried and cured cannabis buds to enjoy them during the following months. To keep weed fresher for longer, it should be stored in airtight containers in a cold, dark place, and it can remain fresh for up to a year (some can even preserve its quality up to 2 years). If you’d like your weed to last longer, you can turn it into a tincture to prolong its shelf-life.

Final Thoughts on Harvesting Outdoor Cannabis Plants 

Figuring out the perfect time to harvest your outdoor cannabis is crucial for getting buds with the highest THC content and perfect terpene content. Depending on the type of outdoor plants you’re cultivating, they can have a different flowering time. As you’ve learned, Sativas are harvested at a different period from Indicas and autoflowers. 

The best methods for figuring out when to harvest your weed are to base harvesting time on the flowering time, use the pistil method, or the trichome method. While the first two methods can be done using just the naked eye and observing your plants, for the trichome method you’ll need a magnifier such as a magnifying glass, a microscope, or a jewelers loupe. If you don’t have any of those, and want more details on the first two methods, check out our post on how to know when to harvest weed without a microscope.

Finally, if you’d like to improve the quality of your cannabis plants even more, you can flush them a week before you plan on harvesting them. This enables you to have a better terpene profile and aroma. Enjoy your harvest!

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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