How to Harvest, Trim, Dry, & Cure Cannabis for Maximum THC Potency

Updated on Aug 04, 2022

Mason jar full of cannabis flowers seen from atop

1. Better

smokability

Icon of smoke being blown to the right side

2. More

cannabinoids

Icon of a cannabis flower black and white

3. More 

terpenes

Icon of smell showing 3 curvy lines going up

4. Prevents 

molds

Icon of a virus or bacteria


Did you know that...


100% of legal commercial cannabis growers have a specific harvest window and they follow specific techniques to dry, trim, and cure their weed plants? In fact, this is what allows them to output consistent, high-potency cannabis every single time.


If 100% of legal commercial growers do this, why shouldn’t you?

The reason why we included harvesting, drying, trimming, and curing into a single guide is because these processes are very closely related and must be done sequentially for best results.

No more waiting. Let’s get right into it!


Harvesting, Trimming, Drying, & Curing

"The BudTrainer Method"

Tools needed:

  • Garden trimmers/scissors
  • Baking trays or large plates
  • Drying rack or hangers
  • 2-way humidity packs
  • Jeweler’s loupe 30x-60x
  • Disposable gloves
  • Garden wire/ties
  • Mason jars
  • Mini hygrometers (optional)

Difficulty Level:

Beginner


Gardening scissors/pruners with light green handles
Garden scissors
Mason jars on white background
Mason jars
Boveda 2-way humidity pack 67 gram
Humidity packs

WHEN to Harvest

Everyone wants to harvest their weed plants early. After waiting for months, no one wants to wait another week or two. And it’s quite understandable, especially if this is your first time growing. However, this lack of patience is unfortunately the reason why so many home-growers end up never growing again. They think: “I grew such beautiful plants, but they just didn’t smoke nice”. Well, friend, sorry to tell you that you may have missed your harvest window and chopped your plants a little too early.
Cannabis flowers full of trichomes inside an indoor grow tent

Cannabis buds ready for harvest

Harvesting is one of the most overlooked yet most important parts of growing cannabis. If you wait too long to harvest, your plants will end up over maturing and yielding cannabinoids that make you couch-locked (CBN) instead of high (THC), and if you harvest too early you will end up with cannabinoids that also don’t get you high but only make you relaxed (CBG). The key to getting high-THC and high-CBD yields lies in your ability to pick the ideal harvest window, and then dry, trim, and cure all at the right times and conditions. The following are 3 ways to tell when your plant is ready to be harvested.

Method #1: Actual Flower Period

Which strain of cannabis are you going to be harvesting? Each strain of cannabis has a unique flowering period and thus requires a different amount of days to mature. Some strains only flower for 7 to 8 weeks before they are ripe, while other strains need to flower for an entire 12 weeks. Knowing the length of your flowering cycle before you grow allows you to know when to expect your plants to mature before they show signs of maturity.

Screenshot of a Google Search on blue dream's flowering cycle

Simple Google search for Blue Dream’s flowering period

In order to find out your strain’s flowering cycle length, you can simply do a Google search or even better: you can look this information up on your seed bank’s website (seed bank = seed store). Your seed bank has the most accurate information since they are already growing the strains they sell.
If you have no idea what you are growing, a rule of thumb is that sativa-dominant strains (long and thin leaves) will usually have longer flowering cycles of 10 to 12 weeks, while indicas (short and wide leaves) will have shorter flowering cycles of 8 to 10 weeks.

NOTE: if you haven’t yet, we recommend defoliating your plants 1 week before harvesting in order to expose your lower bud sites and help your trichomes develop. Here is our own guide on how to defoliate your plants pre-harvest.
Comparison chart between indica leaf and a sativa leaf and showing how many weeks each takes to flower

Flowering time for indicas vs sativas, in general


Method #2: Pistil Color

The next way to tell whether your cannabis plants are ready to harvest is by looking at the color of your pistils, which are those white hairs that stick out from your buds: when 90% to 95% of your pistils are brown, this means it’s time to harvest (but not before you check for number 3). 
Cannabis flower during mid maturity, with half of the pistils brown and the other half white

Pistils 50% brown and 50% white

Cannabis flower with lots of trichomes and brown pistils, almost ready to harvest

Pistils nearly 95% brown


Method #3: Trichome Color

The most accurate way to tell when it is time to harvest is by checking the color of the trichome heads on your flowers with a jeweller’s loupe or a microscope (30x to 60x magnification). 


In order to accomplish this, you can either look directly at the trichomes on your plant, or you can cut a small leaf sample to look at on top of a table instead. 


TIP: sometimes it can be hard to focus on the trichomes with the loupe from far away. To avoid this, place the lens at 0.5" away from the trichomes you are inspecting, and then adjust your distance back and forth until you achieve focus.

Jeweller's loupe being held by a hand and looking at a cannabis leaf with trichomes

Using a jeweller’s loupe to check trichomes


" Trichomes? What are those?"


"Trichomes are the Crystals AKA Kief AKA Dry Sift AKA You Name It"  


Trichomes are the little heads that look like pollen on top of your flowers (although they are certainly NOT pollen), and their main functions are to produce cannabinoids and terpenes, and to protect the plant. In fact, there are 4 main types of trichomes and here is what they do.
Screenshot of a YouTube video showing the different types of trichomes on a cannabis plant

The 4 different types of trichomes (Source)

Cystolithic
Close up shot of a cystolithic trichome
Cystolithic trichomes are the pointy spikes that are present in pretty much every cannabis leaf. Their main function is to keep their predators away, while also keeping the surface of the leaf dry. For those of us who have skin allergies to cannabis plants, the cystolithic trichomes are to blame!
Bulbous
Bulbous trichomes being pointed at by red arrows
Bulbous trichomes are tiny little trichomes that live very close to the left surface and are hardly visible to the naked eye or even the jeweler’s loupe. These trichomes’ functions are still unknown, but studies show that they are useful to protect the surface of the leaf against UV. They are also partly responsible for the stickiness of your buds.
Capitate Stalked
Capitate-stalked trichomes being pointed at by red arrows
Capitate stalked trichomes have this name because they are literally a stalk with a head on top. They produce lots of cannabinoids and terpenes and they are the ones we want to have the most of. They are the easiest to see with our jeweler’s loupe or microscope and they look like a tall mushroom with a small head.
Capitate Sessile
Capitate-sessile trichomes being pointed at by red arrows
Capitate sessile trichomes are the same as the capitate stalked, but instead of having a stalk, they are directly attached to the skin of the leaf. In a nutshell, one has a stalk under the head and the other doesn’t. Similarly, capitate sessile trichomes are full of cannabinoids and terpenes, and they are also very visible and easily identifiable.

Method #3: Continued...

Look at a small area of trichomes on your flower with the jeweller's loupe or microscope, and try to identify the color of your capitate stalked and capitate sessile trichomes. Are they transparent, milky-white, or amber?

If the trichomes are transparent this means they are still full of CBG, which is the cannabinoid that transforms into THC or CBD. While CBG has very similar effects to CBD, most of us want it to develop into full THC or CBD. Ideally, you should have 10-15% of transparent trichomes at most before harvest.

If the trichomes are milky white this means that your CBG has already transformed into THC or CBD. Ideally, you will have 70% to 80% of your trichomes with a milky color before harvest.

If the trichomes are turning amber yellow this means they are already going past the point of ideal ripeness, and the THC is now oxidizing into CBN, which is the cannabinoid responsible for making us tired. When you see about 5% to 10% amber trichomes, it means it’s officially time to chop your plant (unless you are purposely growing for the purposes of getting couch-locked, which means you can wait even longer to harvest).
Close up of cannabis trichomes showing the difference between transparent, milky white, and amber trichomes

The different colors of cannabis trichomes


Different Trichome Maturing Times

Your cannabis plant will never mature its flowers at the exact same time. Some plants mature the tops first while others mature the bottoms, meaning some parts will be ripe, some “green”, and others overripe. What is important is to decide when to harvest based on the trichome color of your best flowers and not your smallest flowers. 
If the smaller buds aren’t ready but the big ones are, it is better to harvest now or the big buds may become overripe with CBN. Conversely, if the smaller buds are ready but the bigger flowers are still underripe, it is better to wait and let the smaller buds go over instead of compromising the good flowers.
Cannabis flowers inside a tent with circles around the tops flowers that are more pronounced

Always look at the trichomes on the biggest buds


After you can check off Steps 1, 2, and 3, it means your plant is officially ready for harvesting!

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HOW to Harvest

Harvesting is pretty easy and there are 2 main ways in which you can harvest your plants: whole plants or branch-by-branch

But before harvesting, we need to decide on something else: wet-trimming or dry-trimming?

What is wet-trimming and dry-trimming?


Wet Trimming

Trimming your flowers before the drying process starts (AKA right after harvest).

Dry Trimming

Trimming your flowers after the drying process has finished. 

Wet-trimming and dry-trimming are both popular methods and each has its ups and downs, which is why at BudTrainer we recommend doing neither but rather doing a mix of both. Let’s understand why.

Wet-trimming: pros & cons

The advantages of a wet trim are that it is faster to do since the plant is much larger and easier to cut when wet, but more importantly it helps prevent mold that can easily appear during the drying process due to the fan leaves. 

The disadvantages of a wet trim are that some terpenes and cannabinoids are lost before they can fully mature into the plant, thus affecting the smokability of the flower later on.
Cannabis branches wet-trimmed after harvest, and drying inside a growbox

Cannabis plant harvested branch-by-branch and wet-trimmed


Dry-trimming: pros & cons

The advantages of a dry trim, is that it preserves more terpenes and cannabinoids that can otherwise be lost during a full wet trim. If you dry before you trim (AKA dry trim), these cannabinoids and terpenes stay trapped in the sugar leaves and further mature during the drying process. 

The disadvantages of a dry trim are that it takes longer than a wet trim since the flowers are now much smaller, it requires more space for drying your buds, and you need some air circulation in the room.
Cannabis flowers after drying and ready for trimming inside a black tray and with the main dried stem beside it

Cannabis plant dried whole, about to be dry-trimmed


In order to get the best of both wet-trimming and dry-trimming, at BudTrainer we recommended first doing a pre-harvest wet trim, and then a dry-trim later on. 

The Pre-Harvest Wet Trim

The pre-harvest wet-trim is very similar to BudTrainer’s recommended pre-harvest defoliation, which can be found in this guide. In order to accomplish this, simply remove all fan leaves that don’t have trichomes attached to them. Fan leaves create pockets of high humidity that attract mold during the drying process, and since they don’t have trichome heads they won’t give you any high.
Cannabis plant full of leaves and at late flowering stage

Before the Pre-Harvest Wet Trim

Cannabis plant right after undergoing pre-harvest defoliation with leaves around it and scissors on the table

After the Pre-Harvest Wet Trim

How to do it

Remove all fan leaves (large and small) by plucking them with your fingers or by using garden trimmers to cut them instead. Don’t remove the fan leaves that are full of trichomes, as you want to save those for your dry trim later on. The reason why this is done before harvesting is that it is much easier to defoliate while the plant is still upwards (instead of hanging). 

Harvesting Method #1: Whole Plants

In order to cut your plant whole, use gardening shears or a serrated knife and cut it at the main stem, closest to the ground. Snip, and you are done! Alternatively, you can also cut it with a serrated knife.
Cannabis plants being harvested whole GIF

Harvesting a cannabis plant whole

The advantage of cutting your plant whole is that the moisture from the main stem ensures a slower drying process since it holds a lot of humidity. This allows your buds to dry more slowly than they generally would if they were chopped branch-by-branch. In fact, most commercial growers harvest their plants whole for this same reason. The only downside to harvesting your plants whole is that you need more space to hang them than if harvesting branch-by-branch.
Man standing beside large cannabis plant trained with a trellis net

This plant has a trellis and is too big to be harvested whole

The only downside to harvesting your plants whole is that you need more space to hang them than if harvesting branch-by-branch. In fact, there are two cases where harvesting whole plants doesn’t make sense: when they are being trained through a trellis net (unless you are planning on cutting the trellis net), or when your plants are too large and/or wide and it becomes impractical to hang them whole. This happens a lot with outdoor plants: sometimes they are so big that you can only harvest branch-by-branch.

Harvesting Method #2: Branch-by-Branch

In order to harvest your plants branch-by-branch, use garden scissors/trimmers or a serrated knife to cut each branch at the base. Make sure to cut 1 inch below the last flower. Once the branch has been cut, tie a garden wire around its end (where you just cut) and get it ready for drying.
The advantage of harvesting your plant branch-by-branch is that you can dry it in smaller spaces, either hanging or simply by having your branches lay flat on a drying tray or rack. The downsides to this method are that your buds dry faster (which compromises the smokability), and it is also more labor intensive to hang them one by one. For these reasons, it is recommended harvesting your plants whole (harvesting method #1) whenever possible.
Cannabis plant undergoing harvest with half of its branches cut off and the other half still on the plant

Cannabis plant being harvested branch-by-branch


Once you have finished the harvesting process, you must start drying your flowers right away. Here are some best-practices on how to dry your cannabis for maximum potency.

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Drying Cannabis

Whether you choose to harvest your plant whole or branch-by-branch, it is time to dry it. At the end of the drying process your plant will lose 75% to 80% of its total weight, and will leave you with dried, crystally buds that are ready for dry-trimming. The drying process starts the minute you cut your plant down, so it is important to follow the next few steps right after harvesting.

Drying Method #1: Whole Plant

In order to dry your plant whole, simply hang it by the main stem and make sure nothing touches it so that you don’t lose trichomes and so your surroundings don’t get sticky. You can use a garden wire tied to the base of the main stem in order to accomplish this, or simply hang it by the fork on the branches.
Two cannabis plants drying whole hanging on copper pipes inside a basement with pink insulation

Hanging marijuana plants to dry whole


Drying Method #2: Branch-by-Branch

Different than hanging a whole plant, drying your marijuana plants branch-by-branch requires you to… well, hang each branch. In order to do this you can either use garden ties or paper clips to attach to each branch and then hang them on a clothesline or a hanger. In this case, we used a trellis net to hang our plants inside of a grow box with environment control. 

Alternatively, you can use a drying rack with netted layers to dry your flowers. In order to dry your buds this way, make sure the branches are not touching one another and that there is enough space between them. It’s the same as cooking nuggets in the oven - the more spaced they are the better they cook.
Cannabis branches drying branch-by-branch on hangers inside a basement with a bunch of stuff in it

Cannabis branches hanging from clothes hangers

Cannabis branches drying inside of a netted drying rack

Cannabis branches drying in a drying rack


Drying Environment

The drying process starts the moment you cut your plant down, and ideally lasts until 7 to 10 days later. During this period it is important to maintain your plants in a dark space at no more than 20C/68F, and at a relative humidity (RH) of 60%, which will allow your plant to slowly lose its water content but not so slowly that it will allow mold to form. Conversely, it won’t allow your plant to dry too quickly, losing out on precious terpenes and on cannabinoids that haven’t yet finished maturing.

In order to figure out the relative humidity in your drying space, you can buy a cheap hygrometer online. They usually come in packs of multiple units that can be used in each individual jar.

There are also many automated temperature and humidity controlled exhaust fans that can be used to dry and cure your plants. If you already have an indoor setup, simply hang your plants back inside your tent after harvesting and set your humidity controller to activate the exhaust fan whenever the sensor goes over 60% RH.
5 mini hydrogmeters and thermometers

Mini hygrometers for measuring drying conditions

Humidity control switch from inkbird

Humidity controller that maintains a constant RH

If you can’t maintain a perfect 60% RH when drying your plants, don’t panic. You can still do a number of things to compensate for it. Here is a table with the recommended drying times based on your drying space’s actual RH and whether to add a fan or a humidifier to your drying space to compensate for it.
Table with the different times to dry cannabis depending on the relative humidity

Recommended cannabis drying times


Testing Your Stems
After your plants are hanging, leave them untouched for 5 days, at which point you can start testing your stems to see if they are ready for dry-trimming. 

In order to know whether your plant is ready for dry-trimming, pick a thin branch and try to snap it in half. If it makes a crack sound, this means your plant is ready for dry-trimming and curing. If they only bend without snapping, this means your plant can still use some more drying.
Snapping a cannabis branch to test if it is ready to harvest

When you hear a "crack" sound, it’s time to dry-trim and cure


After your stems are "cracking" to the bend, this means your plant is dry enough to be dry-trimmed and cured.

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Dry-trimming Cannabis

TIP: Make sure to wear disposable gloves every time you are going to work with your sticky buds!
Table with all of the gear needed to dry-trim: scissors, trimming trays, mason jars, 2-way humidity packs, gloves, and ethanol

Trimming table ready for dry-trimming

Trimming is the very last step that involves touching your plant, and it is the simplest but most laborious part of the entire growing process. While it is easy to trim marijuana, it is very important not to overlook this step. Poorly trimmed cannabis with leafy material doesn’t smoke well, not to mention that no one wants to consume what looks like ditch weed.
Ideally, you want to trim your cannabis to the same standards you would like to buy it from the store, and your own visual cue will be your guide. We are very picky about our trimming, so we always make sure our flowers look amazing.
Cannabis flower after dry trimming being held by a hand wearing white rubber gloves

Cannabis bud that was just dry-trimmed and is ready for curing


Step 1: Cutting Branches

If you dried your plant whole, now is the time to cut it up into branches. For this, we usually like to set aside a tray where we can chop all branches into. If you dried your plant branch-by-branch, just place the branches into a similar tray.

Cannabis flowers in a trimming tray after they have been dried, beside the main stalk of the plant

All branches were cut off from the main stem and are ready to trim


Step 2: Trimming Fan Leaves

In order to accomplish a top-shelf trim, cut away all dry fan leaves by using the Slide’N’Snip technique, where you touch the tip of your scissors on the stem of the leaf, slide the blade all the way to the main stalk, and then cut the leaf at the very base. Make sure to do this on top of a tray.
Cutting the fan leaves of the bud when dry-trimming

Cutting fan leaves off with the Slide’N’Snip technique

In order to accomplish a top-shelf trim, cut away all dry fan leaves by using the Slide’N’Snip technique, where you touch the tip of your scissors on the stem of the leaf, slide the blade all the way to the main stalk, and then cut the leaf at the very base. Make sure to do this on top of a tray.
scissor tips ready to cut a small fan leaf by the base of the stem

Slide’N’Snip: slide the blade to the base of the leaf

Small fan leaf being cut off from the base of the stem during dry-trimming

Slide’N’Snip: once at the base, cut the leaf


Step 3: Manicuring Sugar Leaves

Once you are done cutting all the fan leaves on a branch, it is time to start manicuring (AKA trimming at a precise scale) the sugar leaves that are sticking out of the bud. When cutting sugar leaves, place your trimmers in a position that you can easily open and close at a fast speed, almost like a hair buzzer operating, and cut away on top of your trimming tray.

Manicuring the sugar leaves of a cannabis plant by using the scissors like a hair buzzer

Manicuring: cutting sugar leaves off 


Step 4: Cutting Buds

After you are finished manicuring your buds and everything looks pretty on your branch, you can cut each bud at the base and separate them into the small buds pile and the large buds pile. We recommend curing them in separate jars because the small pile often finishes curing earlier and the large pile usually yields higher potency buds. 

Cutting cannabis buds off the branch after dry-trimming and separating into a small pile and a large pile

Separating small vs large manicured buds


After you check off Steps 1, 2, 3, and 4, it means your plant is officially ready for curing!

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Curing Cannabis

After your buds go through the drying process and your stems are snapping, it doesn’t mean that your flowers are fully dry. It only means that their surface is dry, but the center is still moist. In fact, the core of your bud will always be more moist during the drying process because moisture flows from the inside out. 

This is not ideal because it means your weed has different levels of moisture content across its profile - the outside being dry and crunchy (at the ambient 60% RH) and the inside still being soft and wet (at more than 60% RH).

Diagram showing cannabis buds with arrows pointing out of it toward the outsite

Flow of moisture when buds are drying and curing


How to Cure Weed

In order to make sure the internal moisture comes back out, you need to cure your buds. Curing involves placing your recently trimmed flowers into airtight containers (we recommend using mason jars that sell at Walmart) until the moisture from the inside of the bud has come out and evened out with the dryness from the outside.

Cannabis flowers inside a mason jar from atop

Cannabis flowers curing inside a glass mason jar

During this process water will be moving from the center of the flowers to the outsides, and from the outsides into the airtight container. Eventually the relative humidity inside the container will start raising, and something needs to be done about it. First, it is highly recommended to use a 2-way humidity control pack, which can be easily found on Amazon.
Mason jar full of weed with a 2-way humidity control pack inside

Curing jar with a 58% RH humidity pack inside

These humidity packs have a fixed humidity rating and they either bring the moisture level up or down inside of your container. Here at BudTrainer we recommend curing cannabis at a relative humidity of 55% to 60%, so we like to use humidity control packs that are rated at 58%.


Next, comes "burping" your jars.


"Burping" Your Jars

Since there is still a significant amount of moisture to come out of your buds, it is essential that you open your containers (AKA burping) at least twice a day for a minimum of 5 minutes. This will allow the high-humidity air from inside the jar to come out and be replaced by drier air from the outside. 

Mason jar full of marijuana with a hygrometer inside showing a relative humidity of 56%

Burping a jar by leaving it open for 5 minutes

PRO TIP: in order to help cure your buds you can use mini hygrometers inside of your containers in order to tell you exactly what humidity your buds are at. Ideally, you want to stay anywhere between 55% to 60% inside the jars. If you see that the humidity is much higher, such as 65%, you can then burp your jars more often than just twice a day. Conversely, if the humidity is below 55%, you can leave it without burping for up to a few days. 

When Is Curing Finished?
Curing usually takes 2 to 4 weeks, and this amount of time depends on how much you dried your plants before. We have consumed bud that was cured for only 1 week and it was great, and bud that was cured for 2 weeks and still needed longer to go. In our experience, 3 weeks is the ideal time to cure before consuming.
How to really tell when it’s really done

1. When your hygrometer displays a consistent relative humidity of 55% to 62% for 5 days in a row, this means the moisture content on your buds isn’t changing anymore and the curing process is likely done.

2. Since every strain is different, another way to tell is by consuming a small nug after each week, until you are happiest with the experience. We find that “putting it to the test” is the best way to tell when your plants are really ready to go.

Mason jars full of cannabis beside eachother with colourful post it notes with their strain names

Dried and trimmed weed that just began curing

NOTE: if you are going to extract your cannabis or to make edibles, it is still important to cure at least for one week. This homogenization of moisture allows your cannabinoids to finish maturing and developing, which is why you shouldn’t skip it.
P.S. Don't forget to label your jars!

And you are done!


Harvesting, drying, trimming, and curing are the most laborious parts of the entire growing process, and while the concepts are simple it is still extremely important to do them right. We hope you could learn a thing or two, and if you still have questions, just reach out to us!


Want to continue learning? Here are a few more lessons for you!

Lesson #1: Cannabis Growing Basics And How to Select Seeds for Maximum Yield
Learn the basics of cannabis growing and get ready to select the best seeds for your growing environment after reading this complete guide. Here at BudTrainer, our mission is to help cannabis lovers grow top-shelf weed at home, like the pros do.
How to Harvest, Trim, Dry, and Cure Cannabis Plants for Maximum THC Potency
Want to learn the best time to harvest your weed plants? Should you dry trim or wet trim marijuana? What relative humidity should you dry your cannabis plants at? How long does curing really take? All of these answers, and more, in this unique harvesting, trimming, drying, and curing guide by BudTrainer!
Lesson #2: How To Plant (and Transplant) Cannabis Seeds for Maximum Success
Have you ever wondered why people plant and transplant their cannabis seeds, instead of just sowing directly into the ground? It comes down to growing more roots, and more shoots. Come on in and learn how to plant and transplant cannabis plants like a pro!
How to Mainline Cannabis Plants Like a Pro
Are you looking to hone your cannabis training skills by trying the infamous mainline? If you want to learn where the mainline came from, and how to apply this technique to your plants, this is the most complete guide available online!