Several factors distinguish “loud,” high quality cannabis buds from low-end weed: the presence of trichomes being one of them. These microscopic wonders are responsible for everything from defending your plants from fungus, insects, and extreme environmental conditions to producing cannabinoids resin, and terpenes that ensure a satisfying experience. So, it’s understandably frustrating or even unnerving when you find there isn’t a trichome in sight on your buds. But why did this happen?
Cannabis Plant: No Trichomes 1 Cannabis Plant: With Trichomes
The best way to resolve and prevent this issue is to understand its most common causes. These include:
- Harvesting too early
- Improper handling and harvesting technique
- Use of automated trimmer/tumbler
- Loose packaging
In this article, we will discuss the top eight reasons why there are no trichomes on your buds in more detail. We have ranked these reasons in order from most to least likely, but it’s important to note that many are interconnected, making it crucial to understand each to the fullest.
Harvesting Too Early
A strong argument amongst intermediate and expert cannabis growers can be made that this is far from the most common reason why trichomes are absent from someone’s cannabis buds. However, with the increasing legalization of cannabis nationwide, more and more people are trying their hand at growing these plants themselves, and with an increase in beginners comes an increase in beginner mistakes.
Harvesting too early is one of the top reasons why beginner growers see little to no trichomes on their cannabis buds.
Those who have done their research will know that they should at least check their buds for trichomes before harvesting, but it isn’t uncommon for new growers to base their schedule on how long the cannabis has been planted rather than its trichome development.
What to Do and How to Prevent This
The best way to ensure your trichomes have fully developed enough for harvesting is to check them periodically using a digital microscope connected to a laptop or SMART phone, a handheld microscope, or a jeweler’s loupe.
These tools will allow you to easily view your trichomes at a microscopic level so you can determine if their color(s) and coloring percentage is ideal enough for harvesting.
Determining the best time to harvest ultimately hinges on what you plan to do with your plants. Trichomes will begin to develop during the flowering stage and throughout this time, their color will shift from clear to cloudy to amber (yes, amber trichomes are real) to mixed.
For most people, the ideal time to harvest is when 15% or their bud’s trichomes are amber and the remaining 85% are milky white. This can take anywhere from 2-5+ weeks in the flowering stage, depending on the strain. However, if your goal is to create a light wax, then you’ll harvest much earlier when trichomes are still mostly clear in color with a small percentage being milky white.
Identifying Different Types of Trichomes
When you use your magnification tools to check your trichomes, you’ll notice that there are actually three different types of trichomes that develop on the plant. These include:
- Bulbous trichomes: the smallest trichome measuring 10-30 micrometers. These appear in the earliest stages of the plant and cover it entirely to provide protection.
- Capitate Sessile: the mid-sized glands measuring 25-100 micrometers. These predominantly appear on the underside of the sugar and fan leaves and are responsible for secreting cannabinoids as the plant matures.
- Capitate Stalked: the largest trichome type measuring 50-100+ micrometers. These appear during the flowering stage and are responsible for cannabinoid and terpene synthesis.
Of these trichomes, it is the capitate stalked that growers are most interested in, as it produces the majority of the plant’s chemicals sought-after for medicinal and recreational use. These are the trichomes you’ll analyze for presence and color and can separate from the two others most easily by their size.
Trichomes or Pistils?
In addition to knowing the different types of trichomes and how to distinguish one from the other, you’ll also want to know the difference between a trichome and a pistil when examining your buds.
The word trichome originates from the Greek word “Tríchōma”, meaning “hair”. This is one of the reasons why they are commonly mistaken for pistils, which appear as small hairs coming from the flower’s calyxes. Where cannabis trichomes are responsible for the protection and the production of chemical and aromatic compounds, pistils are responsible for reproduction.
Like trichomes, pistils appear within the early stages of flowering and help growers determine three things:
- Bud quality– the more bright orange or bronze colored pistils are present, the higher quality the bud
- The plant’s sex– if there are pistils present on the nodes of preflowers, then the plant is female
- When to harvest– pistils will change in color from white to orange to brown to red as the plant matures. Ideally, you should harvest when 70% of the pistils have turned brown or orange. Once this percentage reaches 90, the plant is past its peak.
As your cannabis buds progress through their flowering stage, you’ll want to check the status of both its trichomes and pistils to determine if it is ready to harvest.
This is another reason that someone could debate should be lower on the list, but it is so commonly connected to early harvesting that we’ve decided to place it here. The cannabis strain you’re growing plays a crucial role in knowing when to expect trichome development.
It is common for growers, especially those who are new to the trade, to check their cannabis buds within the first week or two of the flowering stage. When they don’t see trichome development, they begin questioning their care, environment, light conditions, etc. or running to forums for answers. Most forum responders will say the same thing “give it a little more time.”
Not all cannabis strains develop trichomes within the same timeframe. Indica and hybrid strains, such as autoflowers, tend to take longer than Sativa strains. You might not see trichomes on these late bloomer strains until 3-5 weeks into the flowering stages versus 1-2 weeks. This is why it is crucial to know the specific strain you’re growing beforehand.
Not only will you want to know how long it tends to take your chosen strain to develop trichomes in the flowering stage, but how long the pre-flowering stage takes as well. If you’re getting into weeks 8 and 9 without any trichome development on your Sativa strain then you might want to get a little skeptical, but if you’re growing autoflowers, this is normal.
What to Do and How to Prevent This
The best advice we have for “resolving” this issue and preventing unnecessary stress is simply to do your research. The more you know about your strain’s lifecycle, the better.
Make sure you keep track of your initial plant date and progression through various stages so you can gauge when your strain should start developing trichomes and at some point, a lack of trichomes might indicate an underlying issue.
Try not to get too nervous until you’re certain your plant has been in the flowering stage for a few weeks. Once you realize it is no longer in the vegetative state, you’ll want to use your microscope or jeweler’s loupe to look for trichomes every few days or weekly. Be sure to check the top apex cola first because it will develop quicker than the outer colas.
Improper Handling and Harvesting Technique
One of the most crucial skills you need to learn when working with cannabis plants is how to handle them properly from the moment you plant them to their final packaging.
If you notice that the number of trichomes on your cannabis buds is depleting over time, the reason might be that you’re handling them improperly as you check for trichomes and maintain your plants or during the harvesting process.
Failure to preserve your trichomes during handling and harvesting will have a direct effect on the bud’s potency and flavor. Because they are so delicate and sensitive, it is all too easy for them to become damaged or stick to unwanted surfaces.
What to Do/How to Prevent This
There are several steps you can take to preserve your bud’s trichomes when you’re examining them and finally harvesting your plants. Some tips for handling cannabis buds include:
- Flushing your cannabis, especially in the final stages prior to harvest
- Only handle the plant’s stems
- Periodically removing large fan leaves to give trichomes direct access to ultraviolet rays
- Coat trimming and handling tools, like scissors and gloves, with a slippery substance, such as coconut oil, to reduce the chances of trichomes sticking to the surface
- Use your jeweler’s loupe or microscope as much as possible and limit physical handling
- Know whether wet or dry trimming is best for you and your plants. Dry is the more frequently recommended option.
Use of Automated Trimmer/Tumbler
The accessibility of trimming and tumbler machines (both for wet and dry trimming) has revolutionized cannabis growing. The small gadgets or industrial-scale monsters significantly reduce processing time and allow one grower to do the work of an entire team with just one purchase.
Unfortunately, while automate trimmers/tumblers might be great for business in terms of getting significant amounts of product out to consumers quickly, they wreak havoc on your trichomes.
As we mentioned previously, trichomes are extremely delicate and can be removed or damaged with something as simple as an unprotected hand, let alone a giant machine that spins your buds round and round at moderate speeds.
While these machines are designed to trim the plant’s leaves and other excess material, they also tend to shave a lot of weight off your bud, including the majority of its exterior trichomes. Additionally, they’re never as gentle as the company claims they are.
What to Do and How to Prevent This
The harsh reality of cannabis growing and harvesting is the slow and steady often wins the race. Rarely is it beneficial to rush the process, and the same holds true here.
If you want to preserve your trichomes as much as possible for a high-quality bud, then the best thing to do is to hand trim them. It might be more time-consuming and labor intensive, but your time and efforts will be greatly reward with a more potent and aromatic product.
There’s nothing more frustrating as a cannabis user than to purchase your product and find that when it arrives, there are minimal to no traces of trichomes on the buds. Well… nothing more frustrating except perhaps being the grower who knows those trichomes were definitely there while you were harvesting. So where did they go?
The preservation of your bud’s trichomes doesn’t stop when the plant has been fully harvested, trimmed, and dried. It extends to packaging and transportation handling as well. If your buds are packaged loosely in a staple turkey bag or glass jar, they’ll likely shift and move about in the extra space, knocking trichomes loose in the process.
Even transporting your buds from one stage to the next after trichomes have started to develop could be costly if done incorrectly.
What to Do and How to Prevent This
Whether you’re placing your newly harvested buds onto a store-front shelf in the next room or shipping it cross-country, the best way to package and preserve it is through vacuum sealing.
This will remove all excess air from within the bag, effectively locking your buds, and their precious trichomes, in place.
While these are all viable reasons why your cannabis buds don’t have trichomes, they are far from the only explanations. Other honorable mentions include inadequate growing conditions (ex. lack of nutrients, absence of UVB, poor lighting schedule, etc.), poor drying and/or curing conditions (ex. flash drying, use of fan, bright room, etc.), and poor genetics to name a few.
Ultimately, the more you know about the common causes of the issue, the better prepared you are to prevent it in the future and preserve your trichomes.