One of the most important phases of growing cannabis is the last stage of the life cycle of growth, namely that of flowering (or budding). It is the stage where the cannabis, like every other plant, opens up and blooms. For the grower, it is most likely the most satisfying stage, as the hard work and time spent into caring for the plants finally begins to pay off in visual form.
In addition, the flowering stage is where the first indication as to the plant’s sex is given, whether it is male or female. Since only females are useful for recreational use of marijuana and generally for cloning, this indication presents a very important fact to the grower.
Once the plants have reached around 20 inches in height and appear well nourished and green, it’s the grower’s job to change the lighting so as to provoke a transition in the plant’s life-cycle. From 16 to 24 hours of direct lighting, the grower should switch to half on half off, meaning roughly 12 hours of light and 12 of darkness. This tricks the plants into thinking that Fall has arrived, and that is it consequently the time to start budding.
In this important stage of making the plant bud, it’s very important to clearly separate between the lights on hours and the lights off ones. When lights are off, it means that every possible light is forbidden, as it may harm the plants. If the grower insists on doing the gardening doing the off hours, green light bulbs should be used so as to not affect the plants, while still allowing the grower to see. Another key aspect to this stage regarding lighting is keeping a strict cycle, regardless of the definition of dawn (when the grower switches the light on). Even if it’s in the middle of the night at 2 A.M. (under artificial growing circumstances, for example in a lab using hydroponics), it should dawn on the flowers every day at 2 A.M. The illusion of a real environment with steady, predictable changes in lighting is crucial to the success of this stage.
As the lighting’s circle is adjusted, so should the distance of the lights to the plants be adjusted too. Generally, high intensity lamps can be kept around 2 feet away from the plants, while fluorescents can be in fact almost touching the plants. By measuring the temperature around the budding tops, the grower can estimate if the plants are too hot and the lights too close.
As mentioned before, the female plants are practically good for any purpose, while the male cannabis plants are useless unless the grower intends to use them for breeding. For this purpose, as soon as the grower identifies the sex of a plant as male, the plant should be removed so as to allow more room for the females to flower stronger. The most common way to identify a female plant are the two pistils at the branch “joints”, and this difference should be discernible within 10 days into the flowering stage with alternate lighting. Ideally, the grower would want to keep only those female plants, high in THC and with few to no seeds, as they produce the best harvest, in terms of recreational drug use.
As far as temperature, humidity and watering go, the desired levels at this stage are around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a few. The plants should be watered when they are dried, and the room in which the budding takes place should have fresh air exchange, at best in a circulating form around the plants.
Concerning nutrients, the grower should make sure to use mostly Phosphorous or Potassium (or Magnesium) nutrients, but avoid Nitrogen which is preferred during early growth stages. If the plants’ flowering and budding starts to slow down early into the flowering cycle, it is a sign of missing nutrients. Assessment of exactly what is missing requires deeper knowledge of the anatomy of the plant, but keeping the plants constantly well nurtured (with the above mentioned nutrition types) should cover most cases.
One of the aspects that distinguish a good cannabis grower is a timely decision when to harvest the plants. While it can be measured scientifically when the plants are at their best time to be harvested, for many veteran growers it is a matter of gut feeling and knowing this part of the cycle well, which is the most interesting one. Most bought seeds do come with an indication of the flowering stage length, but the experts get a magnifier and examine the plants themselves to reach the best decision possible. One of the best indicators for such a fitting time to harvest is a “snowing” effect around the buds, which are the trichomes actually containing the THC. Using a magnifying glass, the plant can be analyzed and decision can be made whether it has reached the best stage for harvesting.
When the trichomes or resin glands on the buds are starting to turn white or orange-yellow in color, and the small hairs on them begin to turn brown-red, it is considered a high time to harvest the cannabis. During this time, the grower has an assessed window of around 6 days to pick the best time for the most superior harvest with the best potency. General rule of thumb indicates that the more orange-yellow the trichomes are, the more THC the harvested plants are likely to contain.
A useful recommendation is to harvest the plants when around a half of the trichomes have turned orange-yellow in color. This stage requires utmost patience and an innate sense for good timing. Overdoing it may result in leaving peak intensity of the plant, and harvesting at peak intensity itself may also not always be the most desired action – it may result in harvest that is simply too strong for recreational use. The key, then, is to harvest the plants a day or two before their reach their ultimate height.