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Why are my buds taking forever to mature?

Sometimes you’ll run into a situation where the buds of one or more of your cannabis plants don’t appear to be maturing as fast as expected, even after you’ve been in the flowering stage as long as the breeder has estimated. Why isn’t your plant ready to harvest yet, and what can you do about it?

Here are some of the most common reasons your buds may be taking a long time to mature. Then, I’ll explain exactly what you need to do to speed things along so your buds ripen faster!

Strain

Some cannabis strains or specific plants take longer than others to finish ripening in the flowering stage, especially Sativa, Haze, and “XXL” strains. However, part of what makes these plants yield so much is the flowering stage takes a lot longer.

Another thing to consider is that some strains are “lazy” and their buds don’t look ready for a long time, but then suddenly look mature almost overnight. I think of these end-heavy flowering plants as “procrastinators” Make sure to keep a close eye on your plant if it’s taking a while because you might be surprised to look one day and realize it’s just about ready to harvest!

This bud looks like it’s a long ways from harvest even though it’s been ten weeks in the flowering stage – look at all those white pistils!

Here’s that same bud only seven days later. It has almost completely matured in that time, and it’s also gained significantly in weight. Nearly all the white pistils have darkened and curled in, and the trichomes have turned cloudy. I think of strains that do this last-minute spurt as “procrastinators”

This impressive growth right before buds are mature is one of the reasons why you don’t want to harvest early; you could be losing out on potency and yields when you only need to wait a few more days!

Unrealistic breeder expectations

When looking at the estimated flowering time for a strain (information you can find with nearly every strain from a trustworthy seed source), remember that most breeders start counting when first flowers appear, not after the switch to 12/12. That makes sense for outdoor growers, but indoor growers should add two weeks to the breeder’s listed time for a more accurate estimate.

Even when doing that, in general, most cannabis plants take a little longer than the breeder’s recommendation to be “fully” mature. This is partially because people are more likely to buy “fast-maturing” strains. Many breeders estimate when to expect the beginning of the harvest window because slightly early-harvested buds will do the job, even if you end up with lower potency and yields.

Heat or Light Stress

High temperatures or very bright light can cause your plant to keep putting out new waves of growth as a result of stress.

If the top leaves of your plant are starting to look yellow or burned and you keep seeing the tops of your buds closest to the lights put out more and more new white pistils or foxtails, it’s a sign of possible light burn or heat burn. Heat and Light stress can both cause the plant to keep trying to make new, “fresh” calyxes that aren’t getting stressed by heat or light.

If you keep seeing more and more new growth on the buds closest to the lights (especially when combined with all the top leaves being yellow), it is likely a sign of heat or light stress. Buds like this will keep getting thicker and thicker on top closest to the lights.

Another example of the plant making new buds in response to heat or light stress is when you see “foxtails.” Don’t pay attention to the trichomes on this type of new growth when determining when to harvest. Make sure you’re checking the trichomes on the sides of the buds with older growth.

And of course, make sure to prevent further damage until harvest by lowering your temps, raising your grow lights or both.

LED Grow Lights

Some LED growers are getting odd results with flowering times, and some plants seem to take much longer than expected for buds to mature. This seems to happen more often with auto-flowering strains though this issue can also affect photoperiod (regular) strains.

At this point, we’re not sure if it’s just specific LED models or light spectrums that are causing this, or if it’s more of a strain thing. Since LED models can perform vastly different from each other, it’s tough to tell what’s responsible! In either case, you can usually get plants to mature faster by reducing the number of hours of light they’re getting each day.

For some growers, LED grow lights seem to be associated with lengthier flowering periods. However, I’ve also done testing where LEDs made plants flower faster! I think it goes to show how much variance there is between LED models.

Reverting to the Vegetative Stage

One possible reason your buds may have stopped maturing is the plant is “re-vegging.” “Re-vegging” means the plant is returning to the vegetative stage in which the plant only grows stems and leaves.

Re-vegging happens most often when plants are somehow getting light during their 12-hour dark period. Sometimes it can take just a small amount of light to trigger the plant to reveg (for example an indicator light, or a small light leak).

Re-vegging will cause buds to stop maturing, and if the plant isn’t put back into flowering, the buds will turn brown and die after a few weeks. If you see new round or “smooth” leaves appearing on the buds, and buds stop getting bigger, it’s a sign the plant is revegging.

Sometimes an extremely stressed plant may show similar symptoms. How can you tell the difference? In the case of heat/light stress, your plant puts out lots of new foxtails/buds, while a re-vegging plant stops making new buds or fattening the ones that are there.

In this example, you can see the strange leaves are appearing on new buds/foxtails. If you observe the plant making lots of new, strange-looking buds, it’s most likely heat stress or light stress because a re-vegging plant doesn’t create new buds. These are more like out-of-control sugar leaves.

Check Trichomes on Buds, Not Leaves

Make sure you’re looking in the right places. Check the trichomes only on buds, not any of the leaves including the small sugar leaves. If plant keeps putting out new white hairs over and over, check the trichomes on the sides of the buds where the older growth is, instead of looking only at younger growth.

Ignore trichomes on leaves because it’s the buds you want to harvest on time!

How to get buds to mature faster!

Here are several tips and tactics you can use to make your buds mature faster, so you get to harvest sooner!

Reduce Light Hours

When the plant is getting less light each day, it “thinks” winter is coming. This is why giving a plant 12 hours of darkness a day causes it to start flowering.

However, some strains (especially sativas and hazes) tend to take a long time to finish maturing. In this situation, shortening the day period will help plants mature faster. For example you could try switching to a 10-14 schedule (10 hours light, 14 hours of complete darkness) or even 8-16.

If you have an auto-flowering strain that is not maturing, try switching from the standard 18-6 schedule to a 12-12 schedule just like for photoperiod cannabis plants. The longer nights can help encourage plants to finish flowering sooner if you have one that’s taking too long.

Important Note: Reducing light hours means lower yields. Switching from 12/12 to 14/10 shouldn’t make a significant change, but it’s still something to consider when you’re making that decision.

Give plants fewer hours of light a day to make buds ripen faster

Complete Darkness at Night

This may seem simple, but double-check to make sure your plants are getting total darkness during the dark period, without any sources of light touching any part of the plant. Sometimes you may find that there’s a light leak or another source of light that you didn’t realize was there. That little bit of light can prevent buds from maturing properly.

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It doesn’t take much light to interrupt your plant’s night period, make sure it’s completely dark in the grow room when lights are off!

Low Temps, Low Light, Low Humidity

Some growers believe lower temperature and reduced light levels can make plants ripen faster by simulating the fall. Another method some growers use to increase trichomes and possibly speed up maturation is to lower the humidity below 40% RH, which may also help imitate cold, dry winter weather.

Buds ripen faster if you simulate the fall because the plant “thinks” winter is coming

Specialized Supplements

There are supplements you can give your plant that many claim will actually help boost the level of maturation, though this hasn’t been proven. These supplements include Kool Bloom (dry version) and Terpinator.

Patience

Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to wait, but you will be rewarded! Harvesting on time increases potency, and the bright side of buds taking longer is you usually end up with significantly bigger yields because buds get more time to bulk up!

Examples of Buds That Should Be Harvested
(Even If Trichomes Don’t Appear Ready)

When determining when to harvest your cannabis, you can visually inspect the plant, but the best way to ensure the highest level of potency in your buds is to look at the trichomes/glitter on the buds themselves. When the buds have reached the highest levels of THC, the trichomes will have mostly all turned white and milky looking.

This means you can check the trichomes under a magnifier to ensure the highest potency when you harvest (learn how here).

However, there are times when your trichomes might not look 100% ready under a magnifier, but you should still harvest them anyway. Keep scrolling for pictures!

Don’t forget to check out the full tutorial on when/how to harvest your buds with even more pictures and information!

Buds Are Becoming Brown or Burnt

When buds start to appear toasted or are becoming brown in spots, it’s time to harvest even if the trichomes don’t look right quite yet.

Burnt Buds – Ready to Harvest

It’s especially important to harvest when the buds themselves are turning brown as potency may start degrading at this point

Plant Has Stopped “Living”

In the wild, a cannabis plant germinates in the spring, lives its entire life, and dies by the end of the year. It is designed to make buds and then perish. Once a cannabis plant has stopped “living” you won’t really be able to get more growth out of it.

If you’ve burned off or otherwise lost all your leaves and sugar leaves, take the plant down. Your buds won’t fatten up without any green on the plant, but buds may start to get discolored or otherwise damaged.

No Green Leaves Left – Ready to Harvest!

Once all the leaves have turned yellow, you should harvest the plant in order to prevent discoloration from spreading to the buds

Hermies

If a marijuana plant has completely busted out with hermie pollen sacs or bananas, you might consider harvesting immediately so it doesn’t self-pollinate or pollinate your other plants, which causes seedy buds. Be very, very careful moving a hermie plant if there are other plants in the room, and realize that even if you can’t see any, pollen may have contaminated your grow room!

Pro Tip: GENTLY cover the plant in a plastic bag before attempting to move it. This will contain most pollen if any escapes.

If you see “balls” or “bananas” among your buds, you have a hermie and may want to harvest immediately to avoid letting buds get seeded

Example of a “banana”

Bud Rot

If you’ve been affected by bud rot, I highly recommend taking down buds immediately. Do it the same day if you can! You don’t want bud rot to spread, and once its hit one cola it can get others overnight!

Although it’s not ideal to harvest plants on the early side, a good dry and cure will help make up for an early harvest. It’s way better to harvest a little early than to lose your entire crop!

As an outdoor grower, it can be a good idea to take down plants if you have dense buds and you know it’s going to be cold and rainy/humid for a few days – those are prime conditions to create bud rot which can ruin a whole harvest!

If you see bud rot, don’t wait; harvest all your plants immediately!

Bug Infestation

If your plant is within a few weeks of harvest but has gotten infested by bugs which you can’t seem to stop, I recommend taking down your plants and salvaging what you can as opposed to treating the plants with potentially harmful pesticides (which can get on your buds). You can safely make hash out of buds you may not want to smoke for whatever reason.

Timeline of the Cannabis Flowering Stage (12/12 to Harvest)

During the phase of life known as the vegetative stage (the first stage of life for marijuana), a cannabis plant grows about how you’d expect… like a weed! In the vegetative stage a cannabis plant only grows new stems and leaves, and can grow several inches a day with the added ability to recover from just about anything!

Even if you run into major problems in the vegetative stage, you can bring your plant back from the brink of death simply by addressing the problem and giving your plant some TLC.

In the vegetative stage, your cannabis plant only grows stems and leaves and is resistant to problems. It grows like a weed!

However, things aren’t so rosy in cannabis flowering stage. In the flowering stage your cannabis plant grows very differently, and is much more sensitive to problems. The tricky thing about the flowering stage is that you don’t have much room for error and big mistakes can lower your yields.

In order to maximize your yields, it’s important to know what to focus on during each part of the flowering stage. It’s also really helpful to know what to expect so you know when something is going wrong!

The Dance of the Flowering Cycle

This flowering stage “walk through” will explain exactly what to expect week-by-week while your plant is making buds, and it’ll tell you what you need to do to ensure you get to harvest with the best bud quality and yields possible!

Week 1-3: Transition to Flowering

When growing cannabis indoors, the flowering stage begins when you change your grow lights to a 12/12 light cycle (12 hours light, 12 hours darkness each day). Getting those 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day gives your plant the signal that it’s time to start flowering. In a way the plant “thinks” winter is coming because the days are getting short.

Note: It’s common to think that a cannabis plant getting 12 or less hours of light is what initiates flowering, but it’s actually uninterrupted darkness that does the trick! If the plant gets any light during the dark period, even for just a minute, it won’t make buds! In fact, a flowering plant may even revert back or express hermaphroditism if it gets any light at night!

Outdoors, it’s also the days getting shorter that cause a cannabis plant to start making buds in late summer, but outdoor buds develop on different schedules depending on the local climate. This tutorial is meant to explain how a cannabis plant usually develops when grown indoors, since that is done under controlled conditions, and plants tend to grow the same way.

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For the purposes of this tutorial, the flowering stage starts the day you switch to 12/12

Autoflowering strains of cannabis don’t need special light periods to start flowering, however the cannabis flowering timeline in this tutorial is a good general guideline for indoor auto-flowering strains, too. Their “vegetative stage” lasts about 3-4 weeks, so as long as you start counting at week 3-4 from seed (when they start getting their first pistils) this flowering timeline will generally apply to autos too, though sometimes they finish up faster.

During the first few weeks after being switched to a 12/12 schedule, your plant will be growing like crazy and rapidly gaining height. In fact, a cannabis plant can (and frequently will) almost double in height after the switch to 12/12. This period of super-fast and often stretchy growth is sometimes referred to as the “flowering stretch.”

Example of flowering stretch – what to expect

Pre-Stretch – just before 12/12

Post-Stretch – 4 weeks after 12/12

Although your female plants will start sprouting lots of white pistils, they usually won’t start growing “real” buds with substance quite yet. If you’re new to growing cannabis, it’s very important to note that only female cannabis plants make buds.

Did you know you can figure out if a plant is male or female while it’s still in the vegetative stage?

If your plant is male, it will start growing distinct pollen sacs and should be removed from the grow room immediately to prevent it from pollinating your female plants and causing ‘seedy’ buds. Learn where to get feminized (all-female) seeds online so you don’t have to worry about male plants.

Remove any plants growing pollen sacs instead of pistils, because they are male and won’t make buds. Plus they can pollinate your female plants and cause them to grow seeds! What if my plant is growing both pistils and pollen sacs?

Female plants should be growing pistils wherever a fan leaf meets a main stem. They look like white wispy hairs emerging from the joints

During the first few weeks of the flowering stage, you will see bunches of single leaves forming at the tops of your main colas (like in this pic). Soon white pistils will start coming out of the middle of the bunches, and they will become your main buds!

During week 1-3 of the flowering stage, your plant will mostly be producing new stems and leaves as it grows taller. Right now your plant is still very resilient and can handle problems just like in the vegetative stage. However, it’s still very important to avoid problems and take great care of your plant!

As part of the stretch, your plant will be growing out its bud sites. Stunting growth at this point could cause the plant to make smaller and fewer bud sites than it would if it were healthy and growing fast.

If you have more room in your grow space under the light to spread your plants out, or if you are running out of headroom, it is important to gently bend stretching stems down and away from the center of the plant to help maintain a flat canopy (a technique known as low stress training).

During the stretch, gently bend new stems down to try to maintain a flat, even canopy

If you keep up with it during the stretch, you can prevent any one stem from getting much taller than the others

When stems are new, they are flexible and easy to bend, but they quickly harden up and turn woody. By keeping a close eye on your plant and bending any too-tall branches down and away from the center of the plant as soon as you can, you will maximize your yields since that flat shape will most efficiently use your grow lights. If all your main bud sites are spread out and about the same height, you can increase your yields by up to 40% or more!

Spreading out your bud sites and maintaining a flat canopy can increase cannabis yields by as much as 40%…or even more!

At this point, you only have a few weeks left until you lose the ability to do any further training, so don’t miss this last opportunity to control the shape of your plant, especially if you’re running out of room!

Week 3-4: Budlets Form

The mad stretching of the first few weeks will start to slow down in week 3-4, but your cannabis plant will still be growing upward. At this point you’ll actually start to see real buds instead of just hairs (I like to call them “budlets” during this stage) and all the pistils will be white and sticking almost straight out.

“Budlets” start forming where buds will be, with white pistils sticking straight out

Your plant is going to start getting a little picky about the environment and nutrients in week 3-4 so it’s important to keep a close eye on your garden. You need to make sure your plant stays healthy all the way to the end of the flowering stage, and you’ve still got more than a month to go so you don’t want your plant to run into any major health problems now!

Be especially aware of leaf symptoms, for example: discolored/yellow leaves, or if your plant starts rapidly losing leaves. It’s completely normal to lose a few leaves at this stage, especially leaves that aren’t getting light (which often look like they may have a nutrient deficiency and then fall off, but it’s just your plant cannibalizing the leaf since it isn’t getting any more light). That being said, overall your entire plant should still be lush and green in week 3-4 while your budlets are forming.

As your plant continues through the flowering stage, it’s normal to see a few yellow or discolored leaves near the bottom of the plant, especially in the places where the leaves are no longer getting light. This isn’t anything to worry about if it’s just a few leaves as the plant is putting its energy to the top of the plant and the buds.

But it’s not normal for your plant to be yellowing or losing leaves rapidly like this

Another thing to be aware of is nutrient burn. This is what happens when you give your plants too-high levels of nutrients – the tips of all the leaves actually get “burned.” While a little bit of nutrient burn won’t hurt your plant, it’s important to try to avoid it if you can. Your plant can never recover the parts of the leaves lost to nutrient burn, so if you accidentally give too much nutrients in the future, the burning will start “climbing” up the “fingers” of the leaves. Cannabis leaves tend to look much less appealing/pretty as more of each leaf gets burned. However, even cannabis plants with severe nutrient burn can produce good bud, so don’t give up if you run into thi problem!

Try your best to avoid nutrient burn (burnt leaf tips caused by too-high levels of nutrients), as it can only get worse as the flowering stage continues

When nutrient burn starts getting bad, it can actually start discoloring your sugar leaves (the small single-finger leaves emerging from your buds). If nutrient burn reaches the base of the sugar leaves, you won’t be able to trim it off at harvest so your buds will end up with yellow/brown spots where all the leaves were burned.

Nutrient deficiencies can also cause the same problem if left unchecked. This doesn’t necessarily affect the potency but buds don’t look as good as they could have.

So to grow bud you’re proud of, you’ll want to be aware of avoiding nutrient burn from the beginning. Since your plant isn’t really growing many more leaves, you need to really care for the ones it has left.

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If they haven’t already, your plants may start to smell!

Some strains like Blue Mystic and Northern Light are known for having relatively low smells, but many strains can start getting pungent quickly!

Week 4-6: Buds Start Fattening

Your budlets are fattening and soon you will have buds with substance! They will still have nearly all white pistils sticking straight up in every direction, but the buds themselves will be getting fatter every day.

By weeks 4-6, the stretch is almost over and you no longer need to pay attention to training your plant. Instead of trying to keep the colas down, from now on you’re doing the opposite – trying to hold any buds up if they start getting too heavy for your plant!

If you’re having trouble fitting your plant in your space within a safe distance from your light, your training options can start looking very grim.

If your plant has grown into the light, you may have to consider last-resort solutions like supercropping (a high-stress training technique of forcing stems to bend at a 90° angle) which you normally should never do this late in the flowering stage.

Since you don’t get many more new leaves, you need to think of your remaining leaves as armor – insurance against any nutrient or leaf problems.

Although you don’t want an excessively leafy plant, and strategic defoliation (for advanced growers) can be helpful to expose bud sites, it’s important to make sure that you let your plant keep enough leaf coverage to power the growth of buds. It may need a little extra help if something happens!

Although defoliation may be used to expose buds sites, make sure your plant still has enough leaves (“armor”) to last until the end of the flowering stage to power the growth of buds, and as insurance against any possible nutrient or leaf problems.

Although most of the pistils will probably still be mostly white by the end of week 6, the buds are getting bigger and denser every day!

Week 6-8: Buds Ripen, Pistils Darken

From now on your plant won’t be making any new leaves or stems. It has completely switched gears away from vegetative growth and all its energy will be focused on growing buds from now until harvest.

It’s normal for some of the bottom leaves to begin to turn yellow as the plant continues to put its energy in the leaves and buds getting the most direct light, though the plant should still be mostly green from top to bottom even in week 6-8.

At this point, your plant may start getting much more picky and sensitive to nutrient problems, including those caused by incorrect pH at the roots. Now is not the time to slack off on caring for your plants!

If your leaves are already turning yellow in week 6-8 it’s too early! Early leaf yellowing is likely caused by either a nutrient problem or light burn (which are both much more common in marijuanas flowering stage). React quickly to problems so you don’t hurt your yields!

Another common problem to watch out for at this stage: if you see a whole new bud or “spire” emerging out of the side of an old bud that’s already developed, it’s usually a sign of heat or light damage.

“Foxtailing” like this is caused by too much heat or light – it’s not normal bud growth! If you see this it means you need to control your temperature and light levels to prevent further damage!

From now until harvest it’s extra important to avoid too-high levels of light or heat because (in addition to foxtailing) this can discolor/bleach/burn your buds and may even “evaporate” away some of the THC / potency.

If things are going well, your buds should be really hitting their stride at this point. They will grow in size significantly over the next few weeks!

Week 8+: Flowering Ends, Final Flush, Harvest

Home stretch! You’re so close! To make sure things go smoothly until harvest, treat your plant like a movie star and attend to its every need! Very few strains of cannabis are ready to be harvested before week 8, but now we’re at to the point where some short strains are getting close to being harvest-ready!

Many growers do a final flush, which involves giving only plain water to your plants (for a few days up to a few weeks) before harvest.

Once you’ve reached week 8, buds are fattening quickly. Trichomes and pistils are maturing, though new pistils may continue to develop on the buds as they grow.

You are basically just maintaining your plant until harvest. Different strains are ready at different times, but from now on you’re going to pretty much treat them all the same. Keep a close eye on the buds, pistils and trichomes as a whole to help you figure out the best time to harvest to get the effects you are looking for.

Now is Probably the Best Time to Take Bud Pics!

Quick Tip: Want to take better bud pics? Try taking a picture of the bud in the dark with your camera flash on. Learn more tips for taking great bud pictures!

Just around 8-10 weeks is when you get to see the buds in their full glory. It’s also when the smell of cannabis often starts to get overpowering!

Your plants are probably STINKING up everything around them!

At this point it’s completely normal for your plant leaves to start yellowing, sometimes rapidly. As long as the yellowing isn’t affecting your buds and you’re very close to harvest then it’s completely normal. You probably can’t prevent this type of yellowing no matter what you do with nutrients because this is just what a cannabis plant naturally does as it’s wrapping up the flowering stage.

After Week 8 it’s normal to see leaves turning yellow, in fact there’s not much you can do to prevent it. As long as it’s close to harvest and the yellowing is not affecting your actual buds it’s ok!

Raising nutrient levels at this stage is not recommended as it won’t stop the yellowing and can possibly prevent your buds from fattening up as much as they could have (cannabis wants relatively low levels of nitrogen in the flowering stage for proper bud growth).

If buds start getting too heavy and fall over, special tools known as plant yo-yos (pictured to the right) can be hung from the ceiling and will hook around your buds to gently hold them up without damaging them.

Many growers choose to give their plants a 2-week flush before harvest to help make sure the plant has used up any additional nutrients that may affect the taste or smell of the buds.

These buds are ready to start flushing – white pistils have nearly all darkened and curled in
(learn exactly when to harvest so your buds produce the right effects)

Sometimes you’ll need to harvest your plant early due to life situations, or because the plant is unhealthy and buds are starting to look burnt or discolored. If your buds look completely done, and you’re seeing leaf symptoms getting worse, it’s often better to harvest a little early to ensure the best possible quality given the situation.

You may want to harvest your marijuana buds early if they’re starting to get damaged by nutrient or other problems. Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses than let your buds continue to get beat up! If you harvest your plants too early you can improve many unwanted effects by curing them. For example, these buds probably should be harvested before the buds get any further damage.

Harvest buds early if they’re getting damaged!

Harvest day is the best day!
(well, until the day you try your buds for the first time!