A guide to keeping plants healthy during the flower stage as well as how to harvest, dry and cure.

Words & Story Images: Tiffany Jordaan, Grow With Us Club
Main image: Robert Nelson @unsplash

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the final stage of the growing cycle! This is the flower phase: when a healthy plant will bear fruit and for most growers, this is the part we look forward to the most!

Flower season happens when the daylight hours begin to shorten. Autoflowering cannabis strains will go into flower automatically, based on the times given by the breeders. They don’t require the changing light to signal the plant to flower. Remember, stated flowering times often fall short of actual harvest time as cannabis can stay in flower for months at a time. Early harvesting is one of the biggest mistakes you can make in this stage.

At the start of your pre-flower stage, you'll notice an increasing amount of little white hairs that also get progressively longer and thicker developing at your bud sites (where the leaves and stems meet), then your buds will start to bulk up and gain mass and size.

Get yourself a little microscope and keep a close eye on your plants from now on. 

You’ll start to see shiny little crystals on your buds and leaves. These are known as trichomes and they contain THC and other cannabinoids.

Add a ripening nutrient to your feeding schedule from now on - this will help your buds fatten and frost up. If you’re lucky, you might get colourful buds. This is a result of genetics and plants being subjected to cold temperatures

How to take care of your plants in flower?

Once your plants are in flower, it's not a good idea to stress them out with a move so rather move them into large bags or pots (with enough space for roots to grow) during the pre-flower stretch, when plants can double, if not triple, in size.

During the flower phase, switch to a flower feeding regime. Then, around a month into the flower stage (from those first white hairs) you’ll want to start adding a ripening nutrient. Different micronutrients are required to help your plant ripen up.

A plant can only grow fruit as big as the plant will be able to hold so give your plants additional support so they can grow bigger buds and increase your yield. Try a trellis, net or bamboo stakes - just remember to add reinforcement at any weak spots.

Light and airflow are essential for healthy bud development. Introduce a fan to increase airflow but if you're growing outdoors try defoliating, which means removing any large leaves. The leaves act as solar panels of the plant so don’t remove too many. They can also prevent airflow and block light from your bud sites. You can remove any large leaves, just make sure to leave enough to see your plant through until harvest.
Also note that your leaves will start to turn yellow at the end of the flower phase. This is completely normal and it’s the plant's way of dying off and focusing all her energy on her flowers.

Keep a close eye on your plants as bugs and mould love tender cannabis buds. Diagnose and treat as soon as possible.
Remember that cannabis infected with mould can not be consumed - the spores can infect your lungs. On that note, anything you spray on your plants during flower (even organic sprays), will probably still be there at harvest; and since many substances change when they are heated and inhaled, think twice about what you treat your plants with. Also, water that accumulates on leaves and buds can lead to powdery mildew and bud rot which can spoil an entire harvest. If your plants do get soaked, try to give them a good shake to get rid of any excess water.

Remember to use this handy diagnostic and treatment guide

Keep a close eye on your buds and make sure you’re not getting any balls. Stress during the flower phase can lead to your females showing hermaphrodite traits and develop pollen sacs that look like little balls. If this occurs, you are at risk of pollinating your harvest which results in seeds. Males and hermaphrodites should be taken down or quarantined to prevent them pollinating your females. Although pollination is fairly inevitable with outdoor growing, seed production will take vital energy away from flower formation. This will leave you with smaller, less potent flowers which contain seeds. These are considered less valuable.

Whilst light is important for flower formation, so is darkness. Cannabis requires uninterrupted darkness. Light leaks from neighbouring street lamps can cause your plant to stress and become a hermaphrodite. Good quality darkness is just as important as the light.

One of the more difficult tasks during this stage is figuring out when your flowers are ready to harvest. Most people chop their entire tree down in one go. Our theory is that you never see any other plant in nature have all its flowers, fruits or vegetables ripe and ready, all at once. Nature will generally ripen a few flowers or fruits at a time to allow the plant the greatest chance of surviving another generation. That’s why we suggest a progressive harvest. This will mean cutting off the flowers which are ripe and allowing the plant to send more energy to ripen the buds that remain on the plant. This will also allow you the opportunity to gauge your trichomes preference (see below) for future reference.
Processing plants after harvest is also quite a big job. Progressive harvesting allows you to stagger this process over a few weeks, if not months. This will allow you the space and time to properly process all parts of your plant properly.

The stage at which you harvest will have a great impact on the type of effect your flowers will have. Early harvests will lack potency whilst late harvests may lose THC content. As the flowers ripen, the potency changes as well as the percentage of each of the different cannabinoids. When you harvest will depend on the effect you desire. Want a more energetic, head high? Harvest your plants earlier. Want a full body, relaxing high? Harvest near the end of the time period. In fact, harvest time can have more impact on the effects than even the strain you chose. Get a good microscope and check the trichomes on your flowers (not leaves) and monitor them as you go along. Find the sweet spot to harvest to get your desired results.

Keep notes of when you harvest and the appearance and effects of the flowers so you can replicate your favourite methods in your next grow.

If you’ve been feeding your plant, you’ll want to flush before harvest. This simply means giving your plant lots of water to flush the build up of nutrients from the medium and the plant. It’s recommended to flush for a few days and give your plant double the amount of water than the bag size. For example a 10L grow bag will require 20L to flush. If you’re planning a progressive harvest, you can do a proper flush to kick the process off and then mini flushes before each little harvest. Remember to factor this time into your trichomes gauge. For example, if you need to flush for a few days, start doing that a few days before you think your plant will actually be ready for harvest.

When you are happy with your trichomes and you’ve done a flush, you’ll want to prepare for harvest ( a small part or the whole plant). Get a sharp pair of scissors and some disinfectant. Remember it’s important to keep things very clean whilst harvesting. Any pathogens will multiply during the drying phase and could ruin your harvest. We also suggest a bud wash after harvest. This involves washing your flowers in 4 buckets. One containing water with lemon juice, one with water and bicarbonate of soda and 2 with plain water. These 4 buckets act as a disinfectant and anti fungicide. When you see the dirt that comes off your buds, you’ll be glad you washed them. If you’re harvesting a whole plant, remember to pull the roots and wash those thoroughly. All the parts of the plant have great healing properties and we don’t waste anything. After washing your buds, you can leave them to drip dry for a few hours. Remember that cannabinoids are degraded by light. Once your plant has been cut, light will ruin the cannabinoids. We try to harvest in the early evening so the buds can drip dry in the dark for a few hours. After that, your plant will need to dry out for a few days.

This is a very important step. Drying too fast can affect the flavour and potency of your flowers. Again, remember that light degrades cannabinoids so drying and storage need to be done in a cool dark place. We like to leave our leaves on during the drying stage to allow the plant to dry slowly to maintain flavour but if you’re in a very humid place, you may want to remove them and speed the process up a bit. The process should take about a week. We like to dry in a large cardboard box with strings across like a washing line. By punching holes near the bottom, you can allow airflow without too much light. Add more holes if the climate is wet and cold and less if its dry and warm. Your plant is dry when the small stems snap when you break them. Now your flowers are ready for trimming.

Trimming is the process of removing the leaves from the flowers. The leaves contain high quantities of water and chlorophyll which means they aren’t enjoyable to smoke. They have less cannabinoids than the flowers but they still have loads of healing potential. Always save your trim for making concentrates like oils and tinctures. There are 2 types of trimming, dry and wet. Wet trimming is done before your flowers are hung to dry. Wet trimming is easier but it also results in chlorophyll seeping onto your flowers which will affect their taste when dried. Dry trimming is done just before curing. It’s a bit more challenging but we believe the results are worth it. You’ll need a sharp pair of trimming shears. Disinfect them well with alcohol and keep some on hand to wipe your shears. Trimming is very sticky business, so you’ll want to keep cleaning your scissors to keep them sharp. You want to slide the shears down the side of the buds and fluff up the leaves so they’re easier to trim away. Keep moving the bud around to get an even shape. The tightness of your trim will depend on your personal preference and the time and energy you have available. Trimming is an arduous task so make sure you’re comfortable and entertained before starting. We suggest using a salty, oil hand scrub as your hands will also get very sticky. (Cannabinoids are oil based so they don’t come off with water) This is also a chance to have a close look at your buds. Discard anything that does not look healthy. It’s not worth infecting an entire harvest to keep a few grams.

After your plant has been dried and trimmed, it’s ready for curing and storing. Freshly harvested and dried flowers are fine for edibles and concentrated but they haven’t quite reached their full potential. Like fine wine, cannabis will develop flavor and potency over time. The minimum recommended curing time is 1 month and the ideal time would be around 3 months. You should do this process in a glass jar or metal container. Keep the container in a cool, dark place to ensure your cannabinoids and terpenes are maintained. You want to open the container for a few minutes every day. This will allow an exchange of air. As the plant starts to break down the chlorophyll, so the container will start smelling more like beautiful buds and less like freshly cut grass. We also recommend using humidity packs like Boveda. These packs maintain the humidity for your cannabis, preventing moulds and pathogens from growing and improving smell, taste and texture.

After months of hard work growing your flowers and then patiently waiting for them to cure, the time will finally come for you to test your handy work. Sit back and enjoy. The easiest way to test for potency and flavour will be to smoke a sample. We suggest you record the appearance, taste and effects so that you can use this info for future grows. We like to save all our best flowers for smoking and then use the rest of the smaller, less potent buds and other plant matter (leaves, stems and roots) for concentrates.

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