Ever wonder how commercial growers cultivate the cannabis you can find at the Initiative 71 compliant weed delivery services in DC? Here’s everything you need to know about the life cycle of cannabis, both indoors and outdoors.
What is cannabis?
Okay, that sounds a little obvious. We all know what cannabis is in general— But in terms of plants, cannabis is what’s known as an “annual.” Annual plants limit their life cycles to just one season. That means that instead of losing its leaves during the winter and coming back in the spring, cannabis will instead grow, live, flower, drop seeds, and die in about 3-8 months. In nature, cannabis plants will drop their seeds in the same place where the plant dies. The dead mother plant will leave behind nutrient-rich soil for the seeds to root and grow from in the next season.
However, it’s a little different in a controlled environment. We breed cannabis for its resin-soaked flowers and don’t let them produce seeds since seed production dramatically reduces the presence of THC. Regardless, the same life cycle is regulated indoors. Plants are harvested and processed at peak ripeness. Here’s everything you need to know about that process.
It starts with a seed.
The lifecycle of cannabis plants starts with seeds. To keep genetics changing, some strains are forced to flower and reproduce so that new strains and phenotypes can emerge. Adult plants are pollinated by other adult plants, and seeds form. These seeds are harvested from the flowers and used to create more cannabis plants. Each seed will be slightly different genetically, so many cultivators will germinate as many seeds as they can to test and try different phenotypes of the same cross to find the best-smelling or tasting version or the version of the cross with the most potent effects.
Cannabis seeds are hard and round and typically have a light brown color. Cannabis seeds germinate like any other seed, requiring time and moisture to sprout. In about 3-10 days, cannabis seeds germinate and sprout and are ready to be placed directly into soil or other growing mediums, like coco, Rockwool, etc.
From seed to seedling
Once a seed is transplanted and able to absorb nutrients from the growing medium and photosynthesize the nutrients with plenty of light, they become a seedling. Seedlings are very small cannabis plants that don’t quite look like cannabis plants yet. After a few days, they begin to develop tiny sets of traditional fan leaves.
Starting with 3-point fan leaves and then eventually developing 5-point leaves, they’re ready to be transplanted again when they start producing 7-8 point fan leaves.
Cannabis stays in the seedling stage for about 2-3 weeks before they reach a good size for steady vegetative growth. When the seedlings are large enough, they are transplanted into their final growing medium and a much larger pot, giving them plenty of room to develop during the explosive vegetative growth period.
Next comes the Veg cycle
Once the seedlings are transplanted, they’re ready for a more rigid structure in their hands-on cultivation. Vegging plants get about 16 hours of light per day indoors. If they’re outdoors, they get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight plus several hours of indirect sunlight around mid-May. Depending on the strain, this cycle lasts about 3-16 weeks, with sativa-dominant strains typically taking longer to reach maturity.
During this period, the plants go through explosive growth. Professional cultivators will trim up their plants and top and train them. These processes encourage the plants to grow more of the large top flowers once they begin budding. It also encourages them to bush out and grow sturdier branches that can support large, heavy flowers.
Their sex organs will begin to become visible during this time, so cultivators actively cull or remove male plants to keep the females isolated. This helps them prevent becoming hermaphrodites or from accidentally getting pollinated during the flowering stage, allowing them to produce more flowers and a higher percentage of THC.
Finally, the flower cycle
After weeks of vegging, the plants can be flipped into the flower cycle. Outdoor plants go through this process naturally when the summer days start shortening, and the cooler fall air triggers the plants to begin budding. Indoors, the plants receive 12 hours of sunlight per day.
During the flowering phase, cannabis flowers will start budding after about three weeks. Around weeks 4 or 5, they will taper off their foliar growth and focus mainly on producing flowers. They will begin developing little white hairs from which the buds will emerge, and massive amounts of THC will be produced. The buds will continue to grow and swell for about 8-11 weeks, producing trichomes that cover each flower, giving it a sticky feeling. Trichomes are also where the THC is stored and produced.
Next comes harvesting
After hanging out in the flowering stage for a few weeks, the plant is ready to harvest. Harvesting typically occurs for outdoor plants around October, though it varies for indoor plants and the intended final product.
When a plant is ready to harvest, the trichomes will change color from clear to a 50/50 mix of milky white and amber orange. The plants will be extremely fragrant and sticky, and the water leaves will be changing color, curling, or falling off.
If the plant will be cured for smoking, harvesting involves cutting the plant down at its base and hanging it upside down to cure. If the plant is made into concentrates, the plant will be cut down, and water leaves will be stripped away. Trim, flower, and sugar leaves will be retained and packaged into freezers to be used for processing and extracting.
Finally, the plant is dried and cured or prepped for extraction.
After the plant is harvested, the whole plant is hung up to cure in a humid environment with plenty of air circulation. In some cases, the branches are separated and hung on racks to assist with drying. This allows for a slower cure that preserves the cannabinoids, scents, and flavors of the strain while removing excess moisture, making the dry buds fit for smoking.
However, plants destined for concentrates go through a slightly different process. Instead of hanging and drying, trim, flower, and sugar leaves are separated from the stems, placed into bags, and flash-frozen in freezers. This preserves the cannabinoids and terpenes for extraction and typically makes their way into live products and rosin.
All in all, the lifecycle of cannabis flies by, even though it sounds like a somewhat lengthy process. The plants do something new and different every week to help them procreate as a species. Cannabis cultivation is a fascinating process— and it all starts with understanding its life cycle. But if you want to skip to the good part, don't forget to order weed delivery in DC from Flower Ave to see high-quality harvests in action.