Slow Cannabis Plant Growth And What You Can Do About It
When your cannabis plants grow slowly or stop growing altogether, there is always a reason. It could be a problem with nutrients, an environmental factor, or something else entirely. Let’s explore the reasons your cannabis plants or seedlings may experience slow or stunted growth.
“Why are my plants growing so slow?”. Sometimes, marijuana plant problems occur out of the blue. Your baby may not have shown any signs of an issue, but now you notice that development has halted and have no idea why. Here are some possible factors behind the slowed growth of your cannabis seedling or plant.
18 REASONS FOR SLOW OR STUNTED CANNABIS GROWTH
1. SEEDS ARE OLD OR LOW-QUALITY
Old seeds don’t just take longer to germinate (if they germinate at all); plants grown from aged seeds can also sometimes grow at a reduced pace. Likewise, good genetics are essential for healthy and vigorous growth from seed to harvest. A random bagseed will not perform nearly as well as quality seeds obtained from a reputable seedbank.
2. CLONE STRESS
Sometimes cuttings don’t root well, which hampers their growth. To prevent this from happening, apply a little bit of rooting hormone immediately after taking your cuttings.
Also, make sure your environment promotes root growth. The medium should be humid (but not too moist) with a pH level of about 6.0. Keep your cuttings at a temperature of around 22ºC. If they get too cold, they won’t root at all, and if it’s too hot, the roots will die.
3. ROOT HEALTH
When your plant’s roots can’t receive enough oxygen, metabolic functions slow down. In some cases, a lack of oxygen may stop their growth altogether. One common reason for this is overwatering or using substrates with poor drainage.
What to do about it? Create a light and airy growing medium with good drainage. You can improve poor-draining soil by adding some perlite.
The root zone for your cannabis plants should never get much hotter or colder than room temperature. Likewise, physical damage to the roots, mould, or bacteria can severely affect the growth of your plants. Always use non-transparent planters so light doesn’t reach the roots, as this is bad as well.
4. CANNABIS PLANTS STRETCH TOO MUCH
Stretching among seedlings can be particularly problematic. Multiple factors can induce this response, but the most likely culprit is a lack of light.
If your seedlings are spindly, increase light intensity or bring the lights closer. Prop them up with dowels as an aid during recovery. As a last resort, you can (carefully) replant them deeper into a new pot.
5. PLANTS ARE NOT GETTING ENOUGH LIGHT
Although requirements can vary from strain to strain, light is nonetheless a critical factor for the development of all cannabis plants. A lack of “good” light can absolutely lead to slowed growth. If you grow indoors and suspect that your plants aren’t getting enough light, try to decrease the distance between your lamps and the tops of plants. If you grow outdoors in pots, move your plants to a sunnier spot.
6. PLANTS ARE GETTING TOO MUCH LIGHT
Any type of stress on your cannabis plants, including many hours of exposure to direct sunlight without rest, can also halt or slow down growth. If you grow indoors and suspect light exposure to be the source of stress, decrease the intensity or move lamps further away from the canopy if possible. Know that seedlings are particularly sensitive to intense light! If you grow outdoors and you’re able to, move your plants into a spot where the light is diffused, such as around a shade tree.
7. INCORRECT LIGHT SPECTRUM
How fast and how vigorously plants grow are influenced by the spectrum of light they receive. Make sure you use the correct type of light according to each stage of growth. For healthy vegetative growth, you want a cooler light with more blue in its spectrum, a so-called “vegging light”. Lights with a warmer, more reddish spectrum are used for the flowering phase.
8. LIGHT STRESS: DARK CYCLE INTERRUPTION
Light is essential for all plants to grow. Any changes in light intensity or exposure will have an effect on growth. Flowering cannabis is especially susceptible to interruptions in the dark cycle. A light leak in your tent, stray light from a street lamp, and even a red light from a camera can disrupt flowering, and in a worst case scenario, can turn plants hermaphroditic. For that reason, it is very important to maintain complete darkness during the lights-off hours.
Exposing weed plants to irregular light hours can cause a hormone imbalance that confuses their internal clock. Your plants could flower prematurely, or they could revert back to the vegetative stage. If this happens, growth and yields will greatly suffer. For that reason, make sure to keep your light cycle consistent.
The above suggestions predominantly apply to photoperiod strains, as autoflowering cannabis flowers based on age rather than light exposure.
Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes made by new cannabis growers. It’s like suffocating your plants, and one of the main reasons behind slow growth, nutrient deficiencies, root rot, fungus, and many other problems. Don’t water too often and do not water on a fixed schedule. It is better water less frequently so that the soil can dry out between waterings. A good way to test whether you should water or not is to lift up the pot itself. If it feels quite light, it is time to water again.
10. NOT ENOUGH NUTRIENTS
Although not as common as overfeeding cannabis plants, an insufficient amount of nutrients for healthy growth can well be the reason for slow growth. Know that the nutrients found in most commercial potting mixes will only last for 3–4 weeks; afterwards, you will have to administer some more quality nutrients. Check the label of your nutrient products for the recommended dosage for healthy growth. Also know that your plant’s nutrient requirements are closely linked to the light intensity your plants are exposed to. Plants under intensive lights grow faster and will require more nutrients than plants under fluorescent lights, for example.
11. CALCIUM DEFICIENCY
Calcium is among those vital elements that your plant needs for healthy development. A lack of calcium can manifest in the following symptoms:
- Fresh growth is slow, twisted, and curled
- Young shoots are discoloured and turn purple or yellow
- Overall plant growth is slow and lacks vigour and vitality
- You can avoid a calcium deficiency by adding dolomitic lime to your soil or growing medium
Address a calcium deficiency immediately with commercial CalMag products that contain liquid calcium. You can add these products to your nutrient solution or administer them as a foliar spray.
Be aware that some growing media, like coco, increase the risk for a calcium deficiency. If you grow in coco, you should use special coco nutrients and/or regularly add CalMag to your nutrient regimen.
12. INCORRECT PH LEVEL
Incorrect pH level of your nutrient solution is among the most common reasons for cannabis growing problems, including slow growth. The reason for this is that cannabis thrives only in a relatively small window of suitable pH values. If the pH is off, the plants are unable to take in nutrients, even if they are present.
Make sure to dial in the correct pH level depending on your growing method. If you grow in soil, make sure the pH level is from 6.5 to 7.0. If you grow in hydro, an optimal pH level is 5.6 to 5.8. For soilless grows, such as coco, a pH level of 6.0 to 6.3 is optimal.
13. TEMPERATURES ARE TOO LOW OR TOO HIGH
Cannabis likes it warm to grow healthy, and does best at daytime temperatures between 25–30°C. Temperatures lower than that will slow down your plant’s metabolism, resulting in slower growth. But excessive temperatures are not optimal either. At very high temperatures, heat stress can also slow down or even halt plant growth altogether. If you grow indoors, adjust your temperature to a comfortable level. You can also provide some cooling with fans that blow a mild stream of air over your plants. This can also help prevent hot air pockets from forming inside your grow room.
14. PLANTING POTS ARE TOO BIG
Cannabis growers often start their seedlings in small cups. Later on, when the plants have reached an adequate size, they will “pot-up” to larger containers.
If you start your cannabis plants in containers that are too big, there is a high risk that you’ll overwater them. The issue is that seedlings cannot absorb all the moisture that is held in a large container, unlike mature cannabis, which can “drink” much more. Furthermore, a large pot will also take much longer to dry out.
To avoid the problems that come with too much soil and moisture, start seedlings in smaller containers until they’re growing vigorously. Once they have a set of 5–6 real leaves (not counting the cotyledons), then transfer them to a larger container, at least twice the current size.
If your seedling is already in a big container and you don’t want to or can’t move it into a smaller cup, water only a small area around the seedling.
• What Is The Right Size Pot For Your Cannabis Plant?
Use this rough guide to determine what size pot you should use for your cannabis plant:
- Plant height 30cm: 7.5–11l container
- Plant height 60cm: 11–19l container
- Plant height 90cm: 18–26l container
- Plant height 120cm: 22–37l container
- Plant height 150cm: 30–37l+ container
15. STRESS CAUSED BY PESTS / DISEASES
Insects, pests, and disease can cause damage and compromise a plant’s immune system. In a best case scenario, your plant may survive, but you will have poor yields. In the worst case, your plants could die.
Insects may feed on the leaves, affecting a plant’s ability to retain water and transpire. Other pests may damage the roots or cause additional problems. Any time your plant is sick or infested with insects, it will spend most of its energy defending itself and recovering from damage, which will slow down growth.
If your plants are infested, you’ll want to treat them immediately with appropriate measures. Even better, you can use preventative methods (e.g. neem oil, slug barriers, etc.) to minimise the risk for pest infestations. During all stages of growth, ensure that you regularly check for symptoms of pest infestations, including under the leaves.
16. STRESS CAUSED BY TISSUE DAMAGE
Physical damage, such as broken branches, can significantly slow your plant’s growth. Any damage will make the plant redirect valuable resources to repair wounds—resources that could be better spent on growing or flower production.
If you’re growing outdoors, situate your plants in an area sheltered from strong winds and heavy rains, and use chicken wire and stakes to maintain support.
Seedlings and young cannabis plants are especially vulnerable. Allow your seedlings to mature indoors for some weeks before setting them outside.
17. STRESS FROM CANNABIS TRAINING TECHNIQUES
Tissue damage from high-stress plant training techniques always causes some delay in plant development. But when you’re pruning excessively or too frequently, your plant may ultimately spend more energy repairing itself than growing.
If you plan on pruning, don’t overdo it. Be aware that each pruning can delay the development of your plant for days, if not weeks.
If you’re using other plant training techniques such as topping, make sure you start as early as possible. If you’re growing autoflowers, don’t use any plant training techniques that involve tissue damage, such as pruning and cutting.
18. AGE STRESS
Older cannabis plants have different nutritional requirements than young plants. Their tissues become hard and woody, they’re less vigorous, and they’re unable to take in as many nutrients.
Because of this, you’ll want to adjust your feeding regimen accordingly. Otherwise you risk overfeeding, which in turn results in stunted growth, deficiencies, and disease. Keep this in mind if you’re keeping mother plants around for a long time.
Why is my cannabis plant growing slowly or not at all? Find out the answer to this question and see what you can do to solve it.
Light Burn or Light Stress
Problem: Your cannabis plant can only withstand a certain amount of light. After a certain point, your cannabis will start turning yellow or otherwise exhibit signs of stress on the leaves near the sources of light and/or heat.
Light burn usually causes yellow leaves at the top of the plant directly under the grow lights (though it can appear on older leaves that have been exposed for a long time).
Sometimes the first sign a plant is getting too much light is all the leaves start pointing up or “praying”, like this (though sometimes you don’t see any symptoms until the yellowing starts)
With light burn, often the inside veins stay green. Yellow leaves won’t fall off or be plucked off easily, unlike a nitrogen deficiency where leaves fall off on their own.
The leaves closest to the light may appear much more pale than the rest of the plant, and tips may turn yellow.
Another example of yellow tips from light burn
Sometimes light burn causes edges of leaves to turn up. If it goes on a long time, the leaves also start to become crispy and can even break off if you try to bend them
You may noticed just the tallest colas getting droopy, which is sometimes a sign the light is too intense (though it could also be caused by root problems or over/under watering)
Light burn is often mistaken for a Nitrogen deficiency which makes wilting yellow leaves. Nitrogen-deficient leaves fall off on their own, while light-burned leaves are hard to pluck off. A nitrogen deficiency starts from the bottom of the plant and moves up, while light burn often is worse at the top of the plant.
Cannabis light burn usually affects the top leaves closest to the grow light
A Nitrogen deficiency creates yellow leaves at the bottom of the plant as the Nitrogen is sucked out of the oldest leaves to feed the top of the plant. On the other hand, light burn produces yellow leaves at the top of the plant under the grow lights because the leaves have worked too hard and/or too long from the light being too close. The leaves aren’t able to keep up with regular plant processes.
Imagine sitting outside all day under a scorching sun, possibly for days on end. Even if you could handle it for a day or two, it might wear you down over days or weeks.
It’s probably light burn if mostly just the leaves closest to the lights are turning yellow
With cannabis plants that have light burn, your leaves can sometimes become yellow or red/purple, possibly with brown spotting, often with burnt tips/edges and margins that stay green. Other problems, like nutrient problems, can trigger or make the symptoms of light burn a lot worse. Leaves may also appear generally burnt in places when there’s too much light, especially when combined with heat or nutrient problems.
Nutrient deficiencies make light burn worse!
If you see light bleaching and unhealthy discoloration only on the parts of the plant directly under your grow light, or only on older leaves that are exposed to the light, it often means it’s too bright for your plants and you should move your grow lights further away! If your plant is also having other problems, it is much more likely to be affected by light burn. A healthy plant can withstand higher light levels than a sick plant.
If the lights are only slightly too close, maybe just an inch or a few cm, the yellowing from light burn may happen slowly over the course of days (or even weeks!) because leaves are dying early instead of immediately. Because of that, light burn may first appear on somewhat older leaves, which can be confusing and make it hard to diagnose.
This cannabis seedling is being burned by too-close LED grow lights
Another example of light burn from an LED grow light being kept too close to the plants
These leaves of this LED-burnt plant started curling upwards
This cannabis seedling basically grew up into the grow light! The heat from the bulb caused massive burning everywhere it touched. If a plant’s leaves directly touches the lights, it leaves “burns” from the heat of the bulbs.
This plant was green and healthy through the vegetative stage under an LED grow light, but the leaves started dying soon after flowering started (even though that distance had been fine in the vegetative stage). The reason was the LED was too close. This is also very common with LED grow lights with just read and blue diodes, without any diodes in the green spectrum.
These plants seem apparently healthy, but the top leaves keep getting lighter and lighter, in this case from a 600W HPS that was kept just under a foot (30cm) away. The leaves slowly turned yellow over the course of a few weeks, getting light burn even though the temperature was a comfortable 75°F (24°C).
These yellow leaves were caused by an LED grow light that was too close. If you don’t realize it’s light burn, the symptoms are inexplicable!
A mild case of marijuana light burn is often mistaken for a nutrient deficiency or a pH problem, but if you look closely, the symptoms are concentrated directly under the grow light.
Light Bleached Cannabis Buds Sometimes Turn White
This is how you get “albino” or white buds. Light bleaching is most common with high-power LEDs and HPS grow lights because these can be brighter than the sun. Basically, bud bleaching is what happens when buds get too much light, kinda like how hair can get bleached if you spend plenty of time in the sun. Except a “sun-burnt” bud is often less potent, and may have lost it’s “cannabis” smell!
Buds which have been bleached tend to be low potency or even have no potency (no available THC or other cannabinoids). Therefore you should avoid light-bleaching your plants at all costs!
Sometimes light-bleached cannabis will get mis-labeled as “albino cannabis” or “white cannabis” but the truth is that the white color is not healthy, so this is not a desirable trait (even if it looks pretty cool).
Most of the Time, Light-Burned Buds Appear Burnt
Often though, light burned buds look like they’ve been burned.
LED-burnt cannabis buds – notice how all the tiny “sugar leaves” have turned yellow or brown
In this case the LED-burn caused the leaves closest to the LED to turn red. Although the buds smoked pretty well anyway, they definitely weren’t as pretty as they could have been!
The leaves too close to the LED grow light turned yellow and wilted. For some reason, cannabis plants seem a lot more prone to light burn after they start flowering.
Another example of a bud that has light burn from a too-close LED
Light burned bud on top, healthy bud below
Solution: If your marijuana plants are getting too much light, try removing some of the lights or moving your grow lights further away from the tops of the plants. If you can’t move the light further away, bend your plants over so the tops are further away or if your plant is still in the vegetative stage you might even consider cutting off the top of the plant to remove some of that height.
Reduce power of grow lights and/or move them further away from your plant
(How far away do I keep grow lights from my plants?)
It is unlikely for your plants to get “light-burned” from the sun when growing outdoors, and they definitely can’t accidentally grow into the sun. Outdoor plants can show signs of light stress if plants were used to shady conditions and moved into direct sunlight without time to get accustomed to the brigher light levels. It also may be possible in extreme high light conditions if the plant is unprotected but in general cannabis plants like a lot of light.
When making changes to your plant’s environment, it’s best to make changes relatively slowly if possible. For example when moving a cannabis plant from indoors or outdoors you might consider giving the plant some shade for a few days before moving it into full sunlight.
Sometimes heat stress can look like light stress. When learning how to grow cannabis, it’s best to try to keep things at a comfortable temperature at all times for optimal growth. If it’s too hot for you, it’s probably too hot for your plants. Outdoors, it’s a lot harder to control temperature, but there are steps you can take to protect your outdoor plants from the heat including supplementing with sea kelp, partially covering them and making sure they’re well watered.
Light bleaching is similar to bleached hair from spending ample time under the sun. Read for more information on how to prevent and solve light bleaching.