How To Harvest Marijuana

Rambo November 11, 2012 16
How To Harvest Marijuana

Fall has arrived and it’s time for outdoor marijuana growers to begin gearing up for harvest. You dedicated your time, energy, and probably some money to your outdoor garden and it’s time to reap the rewards. Unfortunately even a garden filled with beautiful buds can end in disaster if you don’t know how to harvest marijuana correctly. Harvesting medical cannabis gardens can be a ton of work even if you know what you are doing. For those without the know-how, it can be overwhelming. Not only does this take all the fun out of it, but it often lead to very costly mistakes. Here are some tips to help speed you through the learning curve and teach you how to harvest cannabis correctly.


Once the buds on your plants are fully mature, don’t delay. You have a relatively small window between unripe and over ripe, and time is not on your side.

Staged Harvesting

Try to harvest only the buds that are fully mature. Some plants may ripen from the top down, some from the lower branches up, other varieties of cannabis may ripen all at once. Often the larger buds that have received the most direct light will ripen first. If possible, harvest the larger top colas first and leave the lower and interior buds for an additional week or two. The increased sunlight will quickly bring the remaining buds to full maturity.

Making The Cut

When you cut the colas from the plant use a sharp pair of pruners and make your cuts with your drying method in mind. If you plan to hang dry the colas, make sure you leave a nub of stalk or a smaller branch to hang them from. If you plan to screen dry, it won’t matter since you’ll be stripping most of the buds off of the stem anyway.

Don’t go rip roaring into the garden cutting more than you can handle. Buds are much easier to work with when the leaves are still nice and crisp. Once they begin to wilt, they are much more difficult to work with and will only slow you down. In cool weather, the leaves on cut branches may remain turgid all day, while hot weather may give you under an hour. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Use plastic totes to haul the cut branches to your working area. These tubs come in handy throughout harvest and can be used for curing and long term storage.

Time of Day

For small harvests, try to cut your plants in the early morning. Terpenes are constantly produced by growing cannabis plants but sunlight and warmer temperatures evaporate terpenes. Terpene levels will be highest at the end of the dark period so harvesting in the morning will produce more pungent and flavorful cannabis. This of course is not possible with large gardens that require all day harvesting.

Big Leafing

Table Top Trimming Machine

Large commercial growers often need to harvest tons of cannabis all at once. This volume of work sometimes requires that buds be hung to dry without first removing the larger leaves. Unfortunately the leaves store water, drive up humidity in the drying room, and restrict airflow around the buds. This slows down the drying process and greatly increases the likelihood of mold problems. If your drying room is dialed, this method can work, but I recommend avoiding it if possible. In my opinion, hanging buds to dry before the leaves are removed should only be done out of necessity. This is rarely the case with a smaller harvest.

I prefer to remove the larger leaves from the buds before they are hung to dry. For a small harvest these leaves can be plucked off by hand or with pair of fiskars. This process is made quicker through the use of a table top trimming machine. These trimming machines by TrimPro and a variety of other companies speed up the leaf removal process without damaging the colas or knocking off the trichomes. Trimming machines work best with freshly harvested buds; so don’t cut more from the plant then you can process in about an hour. Make sure you wear safety goggles and watch your fingertips. I should point out that tabletop trimming machines are not meant to give a final manicure to the bud, only to remove extra leaf before drying.

Some commercial growers are now moving to automatic trimming machines like the Trimpro XL or Twister. These machines significantly cut down on the amount of labor required to “big leaf” the buds, but do require that the buds be shucked off the the stems. You are left with no large colas to hang, so buds must be dried on screens. If you have thousands of pounds to process and don’t intent to hand manicure the buds later, this is probably the best approach.

Once the buds are harvested, it’s important that they are quickly moved to a separate area to be dried in a secure, clean space.

Waste Processing

Many medium and large scale growers throw away or compost the leaf material that is removed during the big leafing process. This leaf usually test between 3-7% THC so it does contain some active cannabinoids. It’s not much good for smoking and is a pain to dry, but if you spread the leaf out on tarps or screens in the sun, it can be saved for later processing. Your best bet at processing this quantity of trim into highly concentrated product is through a commercial size butane, co2 or hexane extraction. Keep in mind that if you are only allowed to posses a certain amount of processed cannabis, this trim could easily put you over the limit.

Mold should be removed quickly

Dealing With Mold

At each stage in the harvest process it is essential that you keep an eye out for mold. When it is spotted in the garden, infected buds should be harvested immediately. The infected area, as well as about an inch of bud surrounding it should be removed and thrown away. The same is true if you spot mold while you are harvesting or big leafing. The more leaf that is removed from the bud, the easier it will be to spot mold hidden deep inside the large colas near the stem. Be sure to clean your pruners or fiskars with alcohol after cutting out the mold. You don’t want to contaminate the clean buds as they are being processed.


You are one step closer to the end of the outdoor growing season, but don’t let your guard down now. Most of the work is complete so you are at the highest risk from ripoffs and police raids. Neither cops or thieves want to do any more work than is absolutely necessary.

I hope you found this article on harvesting cannabis helpful. If you have question about the article please leave them in the comments section below. Here are a couple of article that may help if you have questions about identifying when plants are ready to harvest, or about how to dry your cannabis.  If you have questions not directly related to harvesting, please post your questions in the forum. We are happy to answer all questions and help when we can.

Happy Harvesting!

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  1. gore November 14, 2012 at 12:34 pm -

    While I have never witnessed these methods first hand, here are two thoughts regarding dry room mold control.

    1. UV Light
    Ultraviolet light murders mold and its spore and is utilized for sanitation in commercial applications. It’s possible that UV light could be harnessed to help keep dry rooms free of mold and fungus. My first thought invokes images of something like a conveyor-belt type pizza oven filled with tanning bed lamps in place of heating elements.

    2. Ozone
    Ozone gas generators are available from indoor garden suppliers, their often used inline as exhaust odor scrubbing. Ozone is a free radical that has extremely corrosive effects on just about everything. Ozone can even be harmful to people in sufficient concentration. While ozone gas is effective in killing mold and mold spore it must be used with caution.

    • Rambo November 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm -

      I’m definitely interested in experimenting with using UVC light but it should be pointed out that it is highly carcinogenic, considerably more so than UVA and UVB light which is used in tanning salons etc. I am not sure that UVA or UVB light would have the desired effect on treating mold but I suspect UVC light which is used in hospitals would work pretty well. This would present some health risks to the user if not done 100% correctly. Also, I wonder what effect UVC light and Ozone would have on the terpenes and canabinoids. I suspect that they both would cause considerable damage to those fragile compounds. I guess we would have to experiment to find out one way or the other.

  2. gore November 14, 2012 at 12:40 pm -

    Regarding “Time of Day”

    Another advantage to harvesting early in the morning is that the buds will not be as sticky! This sounds obvious but it can make a bigger impact on your harvest than you might think.

    If you intend to use a table type trimmer, cold buds will clean up faster and deposit less resin across the grill. Machines with sticky grills are significantly less effective than those which are clean. Cooler, less sticky buds can actually be processed faster.

  3. esad1964 December 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm -

    With a smaller harvest would cooling the bud help with the sticky?

    • Rambo December 18, 2012 at 5:00 pm -

      Yes it could help to some degree but it will also make the trichomes more brittle and more likely to break off

  4. reyestrees May 5, 2013 at 10:54 am -

    Was on my first grow and wanted to no a bit more about where to cut my stem from. U said cut the mature nuggs first and let the other half sit under the light for a week or to. So does that mean when I have about 80% of my hairs turn red or brownish cut those first not the hole stem completely from the bottom??? So do I cut the mature ones individually ? Great page to read good advise and info would love to hear back from u, thanks.

    • Rambo May 5, 2013 at 7:29 pm -

      First of all red or brown hairs do not mean the bud is mature. You need to look at the actual resin glands (trichomes) under magnification. If about 50% of the gland appears milky or amber then it is ripe. The white hairs that turn brown or red are not the glands. Once you find a cola that is ripe, cut it. Some colas will ripen faster than others. I do not suggest dissecting a cola and harvesting only bits at a time. Harvest the buds that are ready and allow the ones that are not more time to reach maturity.

  5. Laurella June 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm -

    What magnification would you suggest for a Jewelry Looper or can you use a magnifying glass to see the crystal mushrooms ?

    Thank you

  6. Mike June 30, 2013 at 4:56 pm -

    You didn’t mention how long to dry the buds. At what point should they be put into air-tight storage?

    • Rambo July 9, 2013 at 1:11 pm -

      It is not a matter of time it is a matter of moisture content. This may take two days or a week. There are a lot of factors. Instead of giving you an arbitrary amount of time, I gave you a way to figure it out for yourself. “Lightly squeeze a bud between your fingers. If the bud crumbles and breaks apart, it is over dried. If you bend the stem of the bud and it gives off a snapping sound, you know that it is dry all the way to the stem. If the stem bends without a sound, the moisture in the stem is still high and continuing to wick into the bud. You want the stem to make the snapping sound without the bud crumbling.”

  7. Cali July 6, 2013 at 10:24 pm -

    how do yu actually start the plant? where can yu get the seeds from besides regular wees, since most buds dont contain seeds, like kush .

    • kram July 7, 2013 at 11:23 am -

      Hey Cali, I suggest asking this question in the forum where moderators and other people can help answer your questions better.

  8. BushmanJohn September 15, 2013 at 7:15 am -

    id also like to point out that youll find that harvest and drying times are way easier if you stop watering your girls a cuple of days before harvest. this gives your plants a chance to use up some of the water stores it holds, and will cut a couple of days off your actual drying time.

  9. kanabinalkid1 January 11, 2014 at 10:46 am -

    When drying your plants hang them upside down don’t let the buds touch each other this is after trimming the majority of large fan leaves. The buds should be kept with an ocillateing fan not directly blowing on the buds but moveing the air around your drying room. Humidity should be kept between 45 and 65rh. Any higher and you risk mold problems. Temperature should be 55-70 degrees farenhight. 55-60 and you’re there. It will take 3days to2 weeks to dry properly, check daily lightly squeeze a bud it should feel dry but not too dry where the bud crumbles then its way too dry you should be able to bend the stem so it is just about to snap when you fold it over. Now it’s time for the full trim. Don’t forget to save your trimmings don’t waste anything. You can use it laterfor making all kinds of edibles, bho, bubble hash. Well I hope I helped out if only a llittle. P.S. only use 1guart mason jars for cureing your buds. They also have these humidipacks they sell to keep you buds at the perfect humidity for a master cure this distinguishes the pro’s from everyone else. And always start with good genetics it may cost a little more but it’s worth every penny. So long for now Peace, ThtKanabinalkid1

    • Barbz420 April 28, 2014 at 6:43 am -

      What method do you use For curing?

  10. tim July 27, 2014 at 4:13 pm -

    I’m a first time grower and started my seeds about 3 weeks ago and already have plants about a foot tall… do I tell male from female …and I I should remove the smooth round leafs at the bottom when?