The stages of a cannabis plant’s growth

Published Dec 5, 2021 12:30 p.m. ET
iStock / Plateresca

When we talk about cultivating cannabis, you’ll generally only hear of three stages of plant growth because it is at these times lighting changes must occur to provide the plant with the appropriate nutrients. In the germination stage, grow lights are placed further away, and they slowly move up closer until the flowering stage, and for many, that’s all they really need to know, but technically there are actually seven phases of plant growth, with each requiring a unique combination of nutrients and light and here we’ll explain each one.


During this phase, there is no plant, only a seed that contains almost all of the building blocks and genetics required to eventually sprout with the help of a little water.


As a sprout, a very small cannabis plant has breached the soil layer using fuel stored inside of the seed, but its supply will be running low after it grows its first leaves, and this is when light becomes imperative to the plant's survival.


During the seedling phase, roots are developed as they are needed to absorb essential and balance nutrients quickly, which triggers significant levels of growth in a very short period of time.


Nitrogen is imperative during the vegetative stage, as much of the plant's energy is being used to produce large, healthy stems and foliage. It is during this time that most of a cannabis plant's growth will occur because its goal at this point is to spread and branch out as much as possible to better absorb light and nutrients.


Once a cannabis plant reaches the budding stage, it is officially done growing, but its need for nutrients doesn’t wane, it just changes ever so slightly. At this point, phosphorus becomes essential for the plant in order for it to have a smooth transition over to the flowering phase.


When a cannabis plant starts to develop those delicious-looking buds, you’ll know that it’s in the flowering stage, which is where the focus shifts to developing healthy flowers. In order to do that successfully, the flowering plants will need a healthy dose of potassium, as it will increase bud size significantly.


At a certain point, the buds on a cannabis plant stop growing in size, shifting much of its energy towards the production of natural compounds like cannabinoids, terpenes, and oils, which is why it also smells the strongest right before it’s ready for harvest. Once you’ve made it this far, there is no longer any need for nutrients, as all the plant really needs to thrive for these final days is access to a sufficient amount of water.

Growing cannabis can be a whole lot of fun, and it’s relatively easy even for those without a green thumb, but if you want to get the most out of a crop, then knowing the stage it’s in can make a massive difference in how much you get and the quality of it, as it will help you to recognize and change feeding and watering regimens and light distance at times that doing so will offer the most benefit. It’s a great hobby but also a science that requires a bit of research if you want to do it well.

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