When to Harvest Cannabis Plants Using a Digital Microscope

When to Harvest Cannabis Plants Using a Digital Microscope

Pinpointing when to harvest your cannabis plants during the flowering stage can be a bit tricky for some growers to judge correctly. Harvesting cannabis plants either too late or too early can result in less-than-desirable buds that may not even be very potent. 

However, with the right knowledge base and tools at their disposal, clone and cannabis seed growers can make a much easier decision before it’s time to chop their mature cannabis plants down for their bountiful harvests. 

For cannabis growers, valuable tools like digital microscopes are super-affordable and easy to use for anyone seeking to properly harvest the cannabis plants they worked so hard to cultivate. 

There are many reasons why digital microscopes have started to become the grower’s standard come flower and harvest time. So, ditch the jeweler’s loupe and hop in the saucer with me while we learn about how and when to harvest cannabis plants according to trichome color using a digital microscope.

Table of Contents

What Are Trichomes and Why Are They So Important?

Affectionately known to cannabis consumers and growers as “frost,” trichomes are the microscopic, hair-like formations found on the surfaces of cannabis and other plants. Dense trichome coverage or “frost” is highly sought-after by most cannabis consumers and cultivators for its bag appeal, aroma and potential potent effects. 

Trichomes Contain Cannabinoids and Terpenes

Biologically evolved to ward off bugs, diseases, and other environmental factors, trichomes on cannabis plants also contain the cannabinoids and terpenes that make weed the sticky, dank, flavorful, frosty, and potent sensation that we all know and love. 

THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, CBC–you name the cannabinoid and it lives in the trichomes, along with all of the major aromatic compounds aka terpenes found in cannabis such as: myrcene, linalool, limonene, humulene, terpinolene, and caryophyllene [1]. The amount of trichomes directly correlates to how potent and high-quality a specific harvest will be. Harvesting at the peak of the trichome development ensures max flavor and potency. 

3 Types of Cannabis Trichomes

For cannabis plants, there are three distinct types of trichome structures that are found on the entire structure. 

  • Bulbous Trichomes – These are smaller trichomes found on the stems and leaves and shouldn’t be used to determine trichome ripeness. They lack a stem.
  • Capitate-Sessile Trichomes – These trichomes cover the outer sugar leaves and buds within the interior of the cannabis plant. These should not be used to determine whether the plant flowers are ready to be harvested. They have a globular head with a short stalk.
  • Capitate-Stalked Trichomes – This is the trichome type that is most abundant. The stalk and cap structure contains the most amount of terps and cannabinoids. It has a large head on a large stalk is easily visible with magnification in the 40x-50x range. Use these trichomes to determine whether or not it’s time to harvest your cannabis flowers. [1]

When to Harvest Cannabis Plants According to Trichome Color

Trichomes develop around the 3rd or 4th week of the flowering stage, so it’s important to begin to examine them around that time for ripeness which will be determined by their color [2]. And don’t get lazy if by the time the trichomes are supposed to change color, they haven’t yet, as trichome color can change any day without notice. 

When examining trichomes during this stage, pay attention to the following colors as indicators of when to harvest your cannabis plants:

  • Clear – Trichomes start off clear in the early stages of flowering. THC is still developing and may be less potent. They are clear because they do not yet contain any cannabinoids or terpenes.
  • Cloudy/Milky – Cannabinoids are beginning to reach peak maturity as the flowers mature. Look for an opaque cloudy or milky white color. This is the main trichome color to observe before chopping down your plants. Harvest within about a week or two at the most for the best psychoactive and potential medical benefits.
  • Amber Trichomes – Past the point of peak maturation, trichomes at this stage start to turn amber and gold. The THC is starting to degrade at this point, giving way for more CBN to develop. CBN provides a more sedative effect that is much less euphoric. 

Generally, many growers like to harvest their cannabis flower when there’s mostly cloudy/milky trichomes mixed in with some amber-colored trichomes. Around 85% cloudy/15% amber-colored trichome ratio is an ideal time to harvest your cannabis plants. [2]

What Tools Can I Use to Examine Trichomes?

As an alien, I can easily see all the trichomes on my own cannabis plants down to a microscopic level without even so much as a squint, but for my humanoid homies, you’re going to need some help to do that! 

Growers utilize many different methods to examine trichome color when deciding whether to harvest their cannabis plants. However, in today’s technologically advanced age, there’s a major edge to using the right kind of equipment to make that determination.

Cell Phone Cameras & Jeweler’s Loupes Lack the Necessary Magnification Power

Yup, I said it–cell phone cameras and jeweler’s loupes lack the right amount of magnification and optical zoom capability. In order to see the trichomes clearly and more efficiently, a good zone is anywhere in the 40x-100x magnification range, and neither a cell phone camera nor jeweler’s loupe can actually achieve that. 

Jeweler’s Loupes Average 10x Magnification

So many of my humanoid grower friends just starting out have learned the hard way that there’s more important details that they missed when determining the color of their trichomes before harvesting, specifically due to using a jeweler’s loupe. 

Jeweler’s loupes only average around 10x magnification as the standard for gemologists and jewelers. Many jeweler’s loupes will claim to go up to 20-30x magnification or higher, but in reality, they often fall flat in being able to do so. That’s because magnification beyond 10x starts to degrade the depth of field in such a small handheld device as a jeweler’s loupe, making it nearly impossible to get a proper view of the trichomes to make the right decisions. 

The result is a disappointing lack of potency, aroma, taste, and effects that unfortunately, a lot of time and effort went into because the grower didn’t get a deeper, more magnified view of the flower buds.

iPhone & Android Phones Only Reach 5-10x Zoom

Often, my friends are using an iPhone or Android cell phone lens and optical zoom. These built-in cameras and lenses are great for taking pictures of the sunset and your dog. However, when trying to determine the trichome color and ripeness of your cannabis plants they’re no bueno. It is, however, possible to upgrade your phone to a cumbersome and often pricey telephoto lens capable of a higher degree of zoom.

The most optical zoom power for any android phone model currently is only 10x, while iPhones only get about 5x optical zoom power. Again, to see into the trichome structure more clearly is in the 40-100x range, so any humanoid using their cell phone camera to determine trichome ripeness will be doing themselves a potential disservice, right along with those of you with a jeweler’s loupe attached to your face.

Digital Microscopes are the Best Way to Determine Trichome Ripeness

The absolute hands-down best way to view and make the right decision of when to harvest your cannabis plants is by using a digital microscope to determine trichome ripeness. Any other method besides having a friendly space alien look at your cannabis plants for you will severely lack the superior magnification and imaging capabilities of a digital microscope.

Why Are Digital Microscopes the Most Efficient Way to Determine Trichome Ripeness?

There’s a lot of reasons why digital microscopes are the best way to figure out if your trichomes are ripe and your cannabis flower buds are ready to be harvested.

  • Incredible magnification – Digital microscopes go from 10x-1000x magnification, depending on the model. Higher-end models reach upwards of 2000x!
  • Compatibility – Smartphones, WiFi, laptops, HDMI, and tablets are all compatible with digital microscopes.
  • Digital imaging – Digital microscopes can display a much larger depth-of-field and provide more data on more areas of the plant when used in conjunction with other digital media devices like those listed above. This makes it much easier to view, record, share, and store images of the cannabis plant, flower buds, and trichomes. Jeweler’s loupes do none of that.
  • Auto-focus capability – This allows for stable images that eliminate blurriness.
  • LED lighting – This enhances the viewing area for better visibility.
  • Handheld capability – This enables growers to easily maneuver around their grow area and cannabis plants to get proper images.

Digital microscopes also help growers see mites, pests, and the overall health of the cannabis plant much easier and regularly.

How to Use a Digital Microscope to View Trichome Ripeness

Digital microscopes are user-friendly and usually only take just a few minutes to get used to operating. Here’s how to get started using a digital microscope to better view your cannabis plant and it’s very important trichome ripeness and readiness.

  1. Some growers like to get right into the cannabis plant to see the trichomes with a digital microscope, while others will cut a piece of a bud or two off the plant to view on a table or flat surface. I highly recommend cutting a portion off of the flower first to examine on a stable surface. This will ensure less shakiness when trying to zoom in, as well as less frustration, which everybody likes! Bottom line: decide what you want to do beforehand in order to get the most stable image possible. This is paramount.
  2. Attach the digital microscope to your computer or smartphone via WiFi, HDMI, USB, or Micro USB cable, based on the design of your device and/or preference. 
  3. Using a large 1080HD monitor will provide a larger depth-of-field to view, and will provide more data to use in your determinations and analysis of trichome ripeness.
  4. Turn the LED lighting feature on if not automatic in order to get a bright, detailed view.
  5. Take your digital microscope and place it close to the structure of the mature/maturing cannabis flowers on your plant, or that you have laid out on the table. 
  6. Turn or adjust the lens to zoom at about 40x to start. See if you can observe a good representation of the entire trichome structure, in a clear enough view without any blurriness or uncertainty. 
  7. Take a digital photo of the surface and view on a large enough HD screen to see the entire trichome structure.
  8. If it is still tough to see clearly, continue to adjust the zoom until reaching the clearest resolution, and activate any auto-focus features or capabilities for the most optimal image. Some growers like to attach their digital microscopes to tripods or microphone boom arms to enhance stability.
  9. If you can now see the trichome colors in a very detailed and in-depth view on your attached monitor, look for the ideal average ratio of 85% cloudy/15% amber capitate-stalked trichomes to get the best out of your hard work, time, and effort.
  10. If you have achieved the ideal 85% cloudy/15% amber ratio, congratulations, it’s time to chop your beautiful cannabis plants down. If not, no worries. Check again later or tomorrow! 

What Kind of Digital Microscope Should I Use?

A digital microscope that has adaptability to do what you need is a top concern when deciding which model to purchase. Handheld and mounted features are important, so buying a device that can do both takes care of that concern immediately. 

A quick look at online retailers shows high-quality digital microscopes that range anywhere from $25 to several hundreds of dollars–just read some product reviews to see if it’s worth the price tag. On top of adaptability, some other features to look out for include:

  • Wifi, HDMI capability
  • Compact, handheld size
  • Auto-focus
  • Tripod or boom-arm compatible
  • Adjustable LED lighting
  • Fixed zoom
  • Compatibility with digital image software
  • User-friendly controls
  • Durability, reliability, highly-reviewed

Bottom Line: Digital Microscopes Provide Cannabis Growers Peace-of-Mind

You’ve already put in so much hard work and investment with your cannabis seeds and equipment purchases, so it’s critical to finish strong at the finish line. Should you choose a solid, highly reviewed option that fits in with your budget, just consider it a small price to pay in order to get the piece-of-mind that comes with properly assessing the trichome ripeness of your cannabis plants before harvest time. 

Until next time, Greg the Alien here wishing you the best of luck with your growing and harvesting!

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  1. Tanney, C. A. S., Backer, R., Geitmann, A., & Smith, D. L. (2021). Cannabis Glandular Trichomes: A Cellular Metabolite Factory. Frontiers in Plant Science, 12, 721986. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpls.2021.721986
  2. Sutton, D. B., Punja, Z. K., & Hamarneh, G. (2023). Characterization of trichome phenotypes to assess maturation and flower development in Cannabis sativa L. (cannabis) by automatic trichome gland analysis. Smart Agricultural Technology, 3, 100111. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atech.2022.100111