It's harvest season, but are your cannabis plants ready?

Published Oct 11, 2019 10:00 a.m. ET
iStock / OlegMalyshev

Halloween is drawing near, and the threat of frost looms overhead as many growers patiently wait for the perfect moment to harvest. It’s an exciting time of year that most consumers know that it means a lot more cannabis products are coming in the near future. Though most cultivators are brimming with anticipation, there is an element of risk that comes along with waiting until the very last minute to pull a crop, and those with pot plants still in the earth, are the few brave souls that know that the potential losses are more than worth the spoils if everything works out.

How late is too late to harvest?

There is no perfect date that needs to be marked out on the calendar, as mother nature can be an unpredictable force even at the best of times. It’s getting colder at night now, and the temperatures are dropping well below the nice and warm, comfortable t-shirt weather we have all become accustomed to. That change alone is enough to scare many growers into harvesting early, as it is common knowledge that marijuana plants thrive best in a hot and humid environment, but at this stage unless you’ve planted way too late in the season, a little chill isn’t what you need to worry about.

The most critical situation to avoid is frost, as the frigid, cold moisture can harm your cannabis plants in several different ways. Frost can stunt the growth, destroy the beneficial terpenes and cannabinoids, and significantly increase your chances of dealing with a problem of molds, which can turn all of your hard work to dust. When all of those issues are combined, chances are, if there is any useable product left, then it isn’t going to taste very good, nor will it be as potent as it should.

How to tell if your cannabis plants are ready for harvest

If you aren’t quite sure whether or not your marijuana plant is fully mature, then there are a few signs that you can look for to assess the situation at hand:

1. Stickiness
Use clean fingers to gently press on the outside of a larger bud. If your fingertips stick to the plant or afterward feel gummy, then that means that your cannabis plant has plenty of naturally occurring resin, which is an excellent sign of maturity.

2. Pistils
The hairs that develop on the buds of cannabis plants are called pistils, and this part of the plant goes through some pretty dramatic changes as time passes. At first, they appear as thin, bright, white hairs that protrude from the buds, but by the time the marijuana plant has reached full maturity, they often turn to a darker orange or brown color. If your pistils show signs of age, then that is a good indicator that it might just be ready for harvest.

3. Trichomes
This is a gooey clear liquid that can only truly be seen through a microscope and tends to gather the most around the bunches of pistils. When the plant is young and growing, this substance is entirely clear and looks almost like water, but once it has matured, the color and opaqueness of the fluid changes. Most growers prefer to harvest when the trichomes are a nice light amber color because once it turns darker, that means that the THC has slowly begun to covert in an element called CBN, which induces an intense urge to sleep rather than an invigorating high.

What to do if your cannabis plant isn’t fully mature

The best answer will depend on how late in the season you’ve planted, and the amount of time left for the pot plants growing cycle. If you are close and think you may have a few more days in the sunshine, then that’s all that is necessary, then you should be safe, and can always add some extra protection with a wrap. However, if it isn’t even close to being ready, then you will have to move quickly, and relocate the plant to an indoor space. Just ensure that if you do decide to transplant, then you must take extra special care to remove as much of the root system as possible, which often means loosening the oil at least a foot away from the stem.

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