When the light cycle provides your cannabis plants with longer hours of uninterrupted darkness, they enter the flowering stage. Your plants will stop growing and instead put their energy into producing buds (flowers). Outdoors, this will normally happen when the days get shorter around the end of summer. When you grow indoors, flowering will begin once you switch your lights to 10-12 hours of darkness.
For most cannabis strains, the flowering period will last about 7-9 weeks, although some sativas require even longer for their buds to mature.
What happens during flowering and at what exact time can somewhat vary depending on the particular strain you are growing. So don’t expect your plants to follow this schedule to the T; see it more as a general guideline that you can go by. Let us look at the flowering phase of cannabis week by week.
When the flowering period starts, it isn’t an abrupt change in your plants’ growth. Cannabis won’t just stop growing and then go into flowering right away. In these first weeks of flowering, many cannabis strains may indeed undergo a considerable growth stretch. This is important to know when it comes to feeding your plants properly, but also if you want to give them sufficient space to grow.
In the very first weeks of flowering, your cannabis plants will be in the transition stage. Thinking that winter is not far away and that she will soon have to carry a big load of bud, your plant will likely grow rapidly. Some strains can almost double in height during this time. Because of the fast growth that your plant is undergoing now, this early flowering phase is also known as the stretch phase.
While your plant is putting in quite some overtime to gain size and height, she will grow a number of new leaves mostly at the top of the main colas. Your cannabis plant is busy growing “green stuff,” like leaves and stems so she can become stronger and sturdier.
Important things to know in this early stage of flowering.
Although your plant has officially entered the flowering phase, she will now have an increased need for growing nutrients. You should not abruptly change your nutrient schedule and use flowering nutrients from one day to the next. It is usually recommended that you continue to give growing nutrients for at least one more week once flowering starts.
With the stretching of cannabis in early flowering, you may possibly want to think about training techniques such as low stress training (LST). This is where you bend the stems down and away from the centre of the plant so you can get an even canopy for a more efficient use of your grow lights. This can help you obtain much better yields later on.
In week 2 of flowering, you may spot the first white pistils growing on your female cannabis plants. These fine and wispy white hairs will develop at those locations where the big fan leaves meet the main stem. It is these fine hairs that will later become buds.
If your cannabis plant happens to be a male, it won’t grow these “hairs,” but will instead grow small pollen sacs. Should you grow regular, non-feminized plants where you don’t know their gender, now is the time when you should “sex” your plants so you can separate the males from the females. The males won’t grow buds and will also pollinate your females, causing them to grow seeds. This is something you do not want to happen.
To properly feed your plants once they start to flower and to initiate the first signs of growing buds, you should check your nutrient manufacturer’s schedule. It is normally around this time at week 2 where you will have to increase flowering nutrients to help your plants reach their maximum yield potential.
Your cannabis plants have still not entirely stopped growing and will now be about 50% bigger than what they were just three weeks earlier. Although still stretching a bit, the stretch will now gradually slow down and soon come to a complete halt.
At the locations on the plant where you previously saw some hairs, you can now see the first signs of real buds developing. There still won’t be many resin glands and trichomes on your plants, which means that the smell won’t be too pungent yet either.
This phase of flowering where your plant is starting to spend increasingly more energy on growing flowers is particularly critical. Make sure that the nutrients you give are appropriate and check the labels for the recommended dosages.
As your plants become more picky, you should check for potential deficiencies that could manifest in various ways, such as discoloured, yellowing leaves or loss of leaves entirely. At the same time, you should also check your plants for signs of possible overfeeding (“nutrient burn”) that could show up around this time as well. Nutrient burn will usually show in the tips of the leaves becoming discoloured. If this happens, you need to cut down on feeding.
At week 4 of the flowering stage, your cannabis plants will likely have stopped growing altogether and are now spending all their energy on growing buds. There will still be white hairs sticking out from the buds, but the buds themselves will become bigger and fatter with each day. With more and larger buds growing, your plants will now produce more trichomes, making the odour a lot more noticeable at this stage.
Since your cannabis plant will have stopped growing, you won’t have to pay attention to training your plants any longer. Where you bent down branches before, now you may possibly consider holding them up should they require structural support.
In week 5 of flowering, you can observe the buds all over your plant becoming thicker. You may also spot new buds growing in new places such as along the main cola. With buds abounding, your cannabis plants will get fatter every day. This is a surefire sign you are in full flowering mode. At this point, your plant will have a very intensive odour. Ensure that you have a good ventilation system in place if you grow indoors or in a region that doesn’t allow for legal cultivation.
Some of your cannabis plants’ previously white pistil hairs may now be turning darker into a brownish or amber colour. At the same time, when you check the trichomes of your plant, you may spot some of them becoming opaque. The trichomes becoming milky white and the hairs turning darker are all signs of your plants not being too far from harvest.
WEEKS 6, 7 AND 8 (LATE FLOWERING STAGE, RIGHT BEFORE HARVEST)
Not all cannabis strains require the same amount of time for their flowering, but many varieties will be ready to harvest in these last three weeks. There are, however, not too many strains that will be ready before week 8.
Flushing Your Cannabis Plants
Depending on the flowering time of your particular strain, the time for flushing your cannabis plant is normally two weeks before harvest. When you “flush,” you stop administering nutrients and give the plant only plain, pH-balanced water in these final weeks. This will get rid of (flush out) salts and minerals in the soil which will make for a better and more pure-tasting bud. Otherwise, your smoke will be quite harsh and can have an unpleasant, chemical taste.
To find out when it’s time to harvest your plant, you can use a jeweller’s loupe or a small microscope to regularly check your plants’ trichomes. You can observe whether the trichomes turn from clear to a milky white colour. If many of the trichomes you see are still clear and transparent, it means it’s still too early for harvest. But when most of the trichomes have an amber colour and an opaque clarity, this means that the THC content of the buds is at its maximum and the plant is ready for harvest.