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Marijuana Vegetative Stage
(From Cannabis Plant to Tree)

By Caroline | November 20th, 2020

With an increasing number of countries and states legalizing, marijuana cultivation has become significantly more popular.

As more and more people become interested in this miracle plant, it's important to know about the marijuana vegetative stage to ensure you grow your plants correctly.

After all, growing cannabis isn’t a “set and forget” process.

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What is the Marijuana Vegetative Stage?

All plants go through different stages of marijuana growth. The first stage of life called the Vegetative stage. In this state, they’re much like children, not focusing on producing anything. They’re only focusing on growing properly and getting strong and big.

During the Vegetative stage, plants grow only stems and leaves and don’t grow any buds or fruit. All of their efforts are spent on trying to grow the right way. For cannabis, this includes strengthening the roots.

Essentially, the vegetative stage is the growth stage in a plant’s life cycle. It’s the time after germinating and before flowering when it doesn’t bother with producing anything yet, as it’s still in its child phase.

When Does the Marijuana Vegetative Stage Start?

In marijuana, the plant kicks off its vegetative stage from its third week. Cannabis can stay in this state of growth up until 16 weeks, with up to 18 hours of light for photosynthesis being provided.

What Happens During the Marijuana Vegetative Stage?

During the vegetative stage of marijuana, the plant goes from being a tiny shoot to a whole cannabis tree. 

First, the shoot gets taller, then it morphs into a stem and gets its green color. Then, the stem thickens to keep holding the structure of the plant up as the vegetative state sets in.

The stem thickness varies within strains, and some plants grow thick-set stems while others grow thinner, more bendable stems. 

Height is also something that varies within strains. Some strains, like auto-flowering strains, are rather short, growing to only 30–100 centimeters in height. Meanwhile, other strains, such as those that are Sativa, can grow up to 400 centimeters tall.

The leaves grow out during this stage as well, developing once a stem is strong enough to absorb light needed for photosynthesis. 

Unlike the sprout, which develops a leaf with one blade, progressing in odd numbers to three, five, and seven while it grows bigger, in the vegetative state, the leaves are bigger and fan-like.

Genetics will determine the number of blades a cannabis leaf ends up peaking at, as well as the shape and size of the leaves. An example is that Sativa strains have evolved to develop narrower leaf blades to allow them to breathe since they’re native to tropical and humid environments.

Indica strains, however, have evolved to have wider blades on their leaves as they’re native to mountainous and desert areas. This evolution has helped them protect themselves by retaining water and cover their buds from the heat of the sun.

In the vegetative state, the plant is still growing, and its exact appearance depends on its strain. But, in general, it resembles a cannabis tree of stems and leaves.

Transplanting and the Vegetative Stage

Cannabis plants rarely ever live out their whole lives in one pot. They have to be transplanted as they grow, into pots that can accommodate their new size.

Why Marijuana Seedlings Need to be Transplanted

When deciding on the size of your containers, you have to consider the eventual size of your plant. Larger plants require larger containers, while smaller plants grow best in a relatively small container. You need to match the size of your plant with the size of your container. 

So, while in the germination phase a smaller pot will suffice, as the plant grows it becomes necessary to transplant it. This is because cannabis grows really long roots, which need a lot of space to flourish properly. If there isn’t enough space, the roots will be underdeveloped, and this will lead to stunted growth. Stunted growth shows in red stem discolorations, and flimsy new growth.

When to Transplant

Ideally, cannabis should only be repotted once, and this is after the young plant sprouts four or five leaves. This is at approximately three weeks of growth. Here, the plant is just entering a vegetative state, and the roots need space to accommodate the coming growth.

At this point, the plant should be transplanted into its finishing pot. Some people try to keep transplanting to bigger pots as the plant gets bigger, but this puts unnecessary strain on the plant. 

The Best Pots for Transplanting

Cannabis can grow in anything, just as long as it’s clean. However, there are many factors to consider when it comes to containers for transplanting your cannabis plant. The primary factors are:

  • Containers
  • Soil

Which Containers to Use?

Containers can be made of anything, but some have advantages and disadvantages over others. The common types of containers are:

  • Clay: Using a clay pot requires that you water your plants twice as often, as the clay will sap the moisture out of your soil.
  • Metal: Metal containers will strip your soil of heat, and are open to the risk of rust, which might cause contamination. 
  • Wooden: Wooden containers are pretty much perfect, but they’re also usually expensive, so are considered luxury pots.
  • Plastic: Plastic containers are ultimately the best as they don’t steal the soil’s water or heat, and are very cost-effective.

What Size Container is Best?

Container size average is between 4 and 14 liters and is totally dependent on your plant’s growth. One might feel the need to extend this to up to 45 liters, depending on how long they plan to keep the plant and how big the plant will grow.

Having an undersized container would be bad for your plant. However, having an oversized container wouldn’t do anything to help unless your plant has the potential to get that big.

One should aim for a container that ensures the roots of the plant will never run out of space. This means that the plant should fill it, but not need any more space afterward.

Soil Types

For your cannabis plant to grow to be very healthy, there are a few things that need to be in place:

  • Ability to retain water
  • Soil texture
  • Drainage

The soil used when growing your cannabis plant must be able to retain water. Otherwise, the roots will get injured due to how quickly the water in the soil will dry out. 

However, it must also be able to achieve this water retention without becoming muddy. The soil needs to be wet, not a dirt paste.

To achieve this perfect balance, the soil needs to be of a light, loose texture with a rich, dark appearance. If you’re growing indoors, we advise against getting your soil from outside.

Aside from containing bugs and unwanted bacteria, the PH value of outside soil might not be up to par.
The Ideal PH value for cannabis is between 5.5 and 6.5. If soil is more acidic or alkaline, this can result in various deficiencies. Soil coming from an uncontrolled environment that is too acidic or too alkaline disturbs a plant’s ability to absorb and use nutrients which will ultimately result in a lesser quality harvest and yield.

Your soil should also drain to the bottom easily and not leave a pool above the soil for over a few seconds. Plants need a good mix of oxygen and water to go to the roots, all of the time. If this isn’t happening, the plant will get droopy.

How to Transplant the Plants

Transplanting is a process that should be approached with the utmost care. Haphazard transplanting can lead to transplant shock, which is similar to how a person might badly react to donated organs.

Transplants should ideally be done once. However, a grower might want to keep it in the vegetative stage for much longer. This can be achieved by transplanting a plant into an even bigger pot, giving it loads of room to grow.

When you transplant, you should always check that your plant roots aren’t overcrowded. Additionally, you should always make sure that before you even transplant, you slowly wean your plants off the number of nutrients they expect. Do this until the nutrient supply is down to half, weeks before you transplant. When you do, it will keep you from having the plant go into transfer shock.

You should also avoid packing too much of the growing medium into the container during and after transplant. Doing this will make for bad drainage and has the potential to cause root damage.

How to Care for Marijuana in the Vegetative Stage

The cannabis plant in its vegetative stage is just about ready to begin to yield its produce. It’s important to keep it healthy in this state as it would be rather painful to get so far only to fail at growing it. This is why every grower should know how to care for the plant in this state.

Water, Temperature, and Humidity

Refrain from Overwatering

The right way to water your plant is every two or three days. Water is essential for your plant, but at the same time, it can drown it. This is called overwatering.

The cannabis plant uses its roots to get oxygen, quite similar to breathing. So, when it’s drenched in excess water, having nowhere to get oxygen, it starts to drown.

One surefire way to know a drowning cannabis plant is by the leaves and color. If you’re overwatering, you’ll notice that your leaves begin to droop, curling downwards and feeling stiff to touch. You may also notice a case of chlorosis, which is a yellowing of the leaves.

These are clear signs that you’re overwatering, and you need to stop and fix it as soon as possible. To fix it, drain the water out of the bottom of the pot. Then, you can start watering again, slowly, until it gets better. 

To learn more about the importance of properly watering your plants, you can check out our complete watering guide here.

Ensure the Right Drainage

You can lift the pot to see if it’s light, which means the water has dried out. If it takes four to five days to dry out, then you need better drainage in your soil. If it drains too quickly, then you need more water each time you come to water your plants.

What Is the Best Temperature for the Vegetative State?

During the vegetative stage, the best temperature for your cannabis plant is between 68°F / 20°C and 77°F / 25°C. Humidity is best kept moderate at around 50 to 60 percent.

Nutrients and Lighting

Cannabis is also a very nutrient-hungry plant, and it can enjoy nutrients in both liquid and solid form.

The biggest source of nutrients for the cannabis plant is NPK, which is a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. They help the plants develop healthy roots, and sturdy stalks and stems, and also help the plant to grow while teeming with life. 

The two most popular choices of lighting for indoor-grown marijuana are LED (Light Emitting Diodes) and HPS (High-Pressure Sodium).

HPS Lighting

HPS is the most common light source for greenhouses, being very efficient for this purpose. It burns brightly and easily acts as the sun as the remaining energy from the light is released as heat.

This heat, however, can be too hot if not placed far away. The surface temperature of HPS lights gets as high as 850°F / 455 °C. If placed too close to crops or any flammable material, they will burn them up. As such, they are best used in places with high ceilings.

LED Lighting

LED lights are more suited to smaller places and can be used by hobbyists and professionals alike. They last longer than HPS lights and are also more efficient.

They can be tweaked in wavelength to ensure that they give plants the right lighting. Overall, they’re the best lighting for plants, and this is evident as they’re relatively expensive.

Vegetative Stage Problems and Solutions

There are a few problems that might show up in the vegetative stage of your cannabis plant, but rest assured that we have the solutions, too.

  • Strange colors in the leaves: If you notice strange colors in your cannabis leaves, the easier answer could be that you’re dealing with overwatering or a nitrogen problem. If this isn’t the case, then your plant might be truly sick and require a professional glance.
  • Leaves curling up: Curling leaves are also a sign of overwatering. However, in the case of sickness, a professional is a good option.
  • Rotten smell: One thing many growers are not prepared for is the stink. The smell is different from each strain, but most people complain of a rotten stink when it comes to flowering time. This can also be caused by mold. Dehumidifiers work great to get rid of this, however.
  • Signs of mold: The worst case of mold is bud rot. It can ruin a bud and leave it unusable as it would be infected and rotten and needs to be thrown out. Luckily, mold can be avoidable with proper ventilation and the proper drying of buds.
  • Slow growth: If your plant is growing slowly, it might be stressed. Stress can be caused by excessive transplanting, so try moving to a finishing pot. Your plant might also need proper lighting, proper watering, and good nutrition.
  • Bugs: In all gardening, there’s a risk of bugs, no just with growing a cannabis plant. To get rid of pesky bugs, use a mild, plant-friendly pesticide.


The cannabis plant is truly a wonderful thing. It requires proper care and takes some time to reap from, as is the case with all good things. However, its benefits, after all the effort of growing, make the effort worth it.

In the vegetative state, be sure to purchase high-quality pots and get the right soil, not just commercial soil from a local gardening center. The amount of attention and care you give to your cannabis plants in the vegetative state will pay back dividends in the yield of your final product.

Article by:


Educated by one of the best breeders in the Netherlands, I chose to combine my passion for writing with the fascinating world of cannabis cultivation. What are the best strains for which occasion, what are the effects, and how to use responsibly? Let me take you on a journey.


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