by Nebula Haze
It was Summer 2008 and as a beginner grower, I was proud of my beautiful happy cannabis seedling in a solo cup. A good friend asked me to visit for the weekend, and since the seedling only needed water every 2-3 days, I said yes. Before driving to her house, I watered the seedling and put the solo cup in a thin layer of water so it wouldn’t dry out.
That weekend was hot. The temperature soared to 98°F (37°C) but I didn’t think about my seedling at home, which happened to be in a room with no AC…
When I got home after an exhilarating weekend, I came home to this heartbreaking scene
The overwatering (you should never let plant pots sit directly in water!) combined with heat had almost killed my poor seedling. I almost cried (okay, maybe I did shed a few tears). Luckily, in this case, I was able to give the plant some TLC and bring it back from the dead.
Whether you’ve been growing cannabis for a while or are a total beginner, you’ll eventually face your own heartbreaking moment. Sometimes you can fix things, and sometimes you have to come to terms with losing a plant.
I decided to put a list together of 10 common heartbreaking growing events so you’re mentally prepared and won’t be too hard on yourself. This stuff happens to every grower, including me!
1.) Sudden plant death
Your plant is fine one day, and the next day it’s dead. When that happens, it hurts!
Damping Off (Sudden Seedling Death)
The term “damping off” is a lot less common than it used to be, but growers struggle with it to this day. Damping off is the result of a seedling that is watered too much for too long, and it just kind of gives up.
Giving too much water to cannabis seedlings can kill them!
Stem rot is caused when the base of the plant stays too wet for too long. The bottom of the main stem turns mushy and plants fall over like they were cut down with a miniature ax. It’s strange how the plants seem totally healthy until the day they drop..
This solo cup plant was doing well until it started being watered from the bottom instead of the top (the solo cup was put in a tray of water every few days). Look how wet the soil is. One day the seedling was on its side. Upon closer inspection the base was mushy and barely holding together…
Propping the seedling up with crazy straws was too little too late. The damage had been done and the seedling never recovered.
The water level in this hydroponic reservoir was so high the base of the plant stayed constantly wet (notice the dark wet Rapid Rooter). The stem rotted until the plant completely fell over.
Root rot is easily the most common cause of death in a hydroponic setup.
You go to sleep with a fast-growing perky plant
The next morning your plant is drooping. Hmmm, that’s weird.
What’s going on? To your horror, you see the plant’s beautiful white roots have turned brown, mushy, and smelly… By that night, the plant was totally dead. A victim of root rot.
Note: Prevent root rot by controlling heat, giving lots of bubbles, and using a root supplement like Hydroguard.
2.) Technical failure
In hydroponic growing, your plant roots need oxygenated water to survive. If a pump goes out or a tube gets disconnected, your plant roots starve of oxygen and plants simply wilt and die.
Plant roots can die from a lack of oxygen if an air pump stops working or gets disconnected
Broken Exhaust Fan
If your exhaust fan stops working or accidentally gets unplugged, the temperature can skyrocket. Big grow lights put off a lot of heat. Without the hot air constantly being vented out, your plants can experience a torturous heatwave.
Grow Lights Don’t Turn On
Maybe you forgot to plug your grow light back in after checking on your plants (I’ve done that) or your electrical timer stops working. There’s always the possibility that a bulb burns out or an LED panel stops turning on. Plants don’t like being in the dark for long and start turning yellow after a day or two of darkness. Uneven light schedules can also cause plants to grow 3-point leaves, re-veg, or herm.
Weather can be crazy and unexpected. Sometimes you’ll experience an electrical outage, which means all your equipment stays turned off. We made a page with some ideas on what to do during a power outage in different situations, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do.
Cannabis plants hate the cold. If your electricity goes out and plants experience freezing temperatures, they can respond with all kinds of odd symptoms. The top leaves of this plant turned white after the temperature dropped below 20°F (-7°C) overnight.
3.) Plant gets killed or damaged
Light (or Human) Falls on Plant
Grow lights are heavy and awkward, plus we move them up and down all the time. The perfect recipe for a squished plant! I know I’ve dropped a light before. In that case, both me and the light landed on the plant >.< Pro Tip: use rope ratchets to hang lights and carbon filters so you can easily raise and lower them without having to hold them.
Supercropping is a technique to bend stiff stems that otherwise would break if you tried to bend them. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong and a stem gets unintentionally split. Usually, you can tape the wounded ends together like a “cast” and the plant will recover, but a severe split can leave a plant hanging on strings with nothing to do but amputate the whole branch.
Oops! Luckily I was able to put the wounded parts back together and tape the stem in place so the plant could heal.
Other training accident
When it comes to plant training, there’s a lot of bending and manipulation. Sometimes you’ll accidentally split a stem or break off a branch even though you were trying to be gentle.
Oh no, that wasn’t supposed to happen!
Cat or Dog Ate Your Plants
Some cats and dogs love to eat cannabis leaves. They find the leaves irresistible and will break into your grow room to sneak a bite. I’ve also seen pictures of deer and bunnies munching on leaves. It seems cute until a plant gets hurt! But please don’t be too harsh on pets. I get where they’re coming from. They just love weed, too 🙂
A new puppy got into this grower’s tent and left a devastating mess
4.) Buds Come Out Wrong
No Smell or Bad Smell
This may be one of the most common issues growers have with buds after harvest. No smell or bad smell is usually caused by genetics/strain (smell is heavily dependent on strain) or problems with drying and curing. Often the smell strengthens and improves from curing buds in jars for a few weeks.
When buds lose their smell after harvest, it’s often the result of drying in poor conditions (hot, dry, humid, or poor air circulation). Trimming buds before drying in low humidity can also reduce the overall smell.
Curing buds in jars (or any airtight container) usually boosts smells over time
Harsh to Smoke
When buds are harsh to smoke, it can be so frustrating. Luckily you can still turn buds into hash, edibles, oils, or tinctures. Sometimes using a vaporizer as opposed to smoking can help reduce harshness.
But what causes harshness while smoking?
- buds formed in a hot environment during the late flowering stage
- buds got damaged from the lights being too close (light burn)
- nutrients deficiencies that discolored buds or made them brown
- drying problems – air-drying in heat, high/low humidity, poor air circulation
- bud rot, mold, or mildew
- bacteria growth – for example if buds are cured in jars while wet; buds may smell musty or like ammonia
- poor storage conditions – for example, baggies of buds stuffed in the glove box of your car don’t fare well
- smoking leaves or not trimming buds before smoking (leaves are harsh to smoke)
- sometimes harshness is associated with the strain/genetics – for example, “Strawberry Cough” was named for its lung-expanding effects
- plants were sprayed with something after buds started forming – such as insecticides or foliar sprays
- bug infestation – bug poop and dead bugs can make buds harsh to smoke
- synthetic PGRs (Plant Growth Regulators) – these are sometimes used while growing to improve plant growth or yields; luckily many PGR-based supplements have been discontinued so this issue is much less common than it used to be
- buds are not fully dry – can cause sparks and harshness
- smoking method has an effect – joints, spliffs, and pipes without a water chamber are more likely to cause coughing; other causes include taking big hits (smoking too much bud at once) and letting smoke sit in a bong for too long before smoking
Heat or light damage during the flowering stage can make buds harsher to smoke
Buds grown with synthetic PGRs can cause coughing (hint: PGR-grown buds are often hairy and dense with a yucky orange color)
After months of growing, you’re so excited to try your home-grown buds. But they aren’t potent! What happened? Usually, this is the result of harvesting too early or starting with poor genetics. Where to get good genetics.
As long as you started with good genetics, harvesting buds too early (before white hairs darken and curl in) is the #1 cause of low potency
5.) Buds Don’t Form
Cannabis plants can be male or female, but only female plants make buds. Unless starting with feminized seeds, there’s a 50% chance the plant will be male and grow non-potent pollen sacs. Unfortunately you can’t easily tell whether a plant is male until it starts flowering.
If your plant is male, it will grow pollen sacs instead of buds
Re-vegging or “re-vegetating” is when a flowering cannabis plant reverts back to the vegetative stage. This is almost always caused by the plant getting light during its 12-hour daily dark period.
All the buds on this plant died after it re-vegged
Autoflowering plant doesn’t flower
Auto-flowering strains are normally ready to harvest quickly. Plant the seed, and 3-4 weeks later it automatically starts budding. In just 2-3 months from germination, most autoflowering strains are ready to harvest. However, occasionally a plant doesn’t start flowering automatically, either from a breeding error or a mutation. When that happens you have to treat the plant like a photoperiod strain and give it 12-hour dark periods daily to get buds to form. If only one plant of many doesn’t flower, this can be a huge annoyance!
Occasionally you’ll have an auto-flowering plant that doesn’t automatically make buds. The front-middle-left plant hadn’t even started growing white hairs yet while the others were only a few weeks from harvest. I ended up tossing it so I could focus on the 7 other plants.
Luckily, as long as you order seeds from a trustworthy autoflowering breeder, this is rare!
6.) Can’t control heat
If only you could control the weather outside!
The buds were damaged after a week-long heat wave
Air Conditioning Goes Out
Causes the same problem as a heat wave!
Heat damage can cause buds to grow strange growths known as foxtails
7.) Underwatered plants
Underwatering happens! Life can take you away from your plants.
Forget to water
Sometimes you get busy and plain forget to water plants
Emergency takes you away from home
Sometimes an unexpected event separates you from your plants. If you have time to prepare, a Blumat watering system can be used to automatically water plants while you’re gone.
These plants are severely underwatered
Guest arrives unexpectedly
If a family member or other guest appears and expects to spend the night, you may not be able to water your plants without them wondering what you’re up to.
Here are some of the most common cannabis bugs.
Fungus gnats (no biggie)
Thrips (medium difficulty)
Spider mites (hard)
Broad mites (advanced problem)
Hemp russet mites (torture level)
White powdery mildew
White powdery mold forms in heat, humidity, and areas of low air circulation, like most other types of mold.
White patches of powder are the result of white powdery mildew
Bud rot is the result of thick buds combined with high humidity and poor air circulation.
The bud rot is usually located at the base of the discolored leaves
Leaves fall out wherever the bud rot forms, and up close the buds look brown, gray, or moldy
Another example of bud rot. Buds with rot or mold are not safe to smoke!
Mold during drying or curing
If it’s hot, humid, or stagnant air, mold can form during the drying process. Most common when buds are touching each other (for example hanging a whole plant, or drying many buds close together).
These buds were too fat and close to each other during drying. The right plant grew mold on some buds that were touching each other. With buds this big, it’s a good idea to cut off the branches and hang them separately with at least a few inches of air space between them to prevent wet spots.
Gray mold was discovered on some buds after they were taken down to be jarred. Toss buds that look gray or fuzzy!
Mold during curing
Wet buds in jars can also mold. The outsides of buds shouldn’t ever feel wet if they’re in jars!
Mold during curing is upsetting! You were sooooo close!
10.) Other frustrating grow problems
Plants turn brown, yellow or look burnt
A common issue is plants burning or turning brown/yellow. This can be extra frustrating when you don’t know what’s causing it. Diagnose your sick plant.
When I first started growing I didn’t know about light stress. I thought these plants had a nutrient deficiency but eventually realized the cause was the LED grow light being kept too close
Hermie or seeds
Hermies are plants that grow both male and female flowers, potentially causing seedy buds. Often herms are caused by stress, but occasionally it happens under ideal conditions due to the genetics of the plant. This is most common when growing feminized seeds from an untrustworthy breeder, or when growing with seeds you find in your bud (which are often the result of a parent that hermed).
Herming is often the result of light stress, heat stress, uneven light schedules, or light leaks during the dark period
Occasionally a plant herms due to bad genetics (even if you provide ideal conditions!)
Herms release pollen and cause seedy buds. Seeds are popping out of this bud.
Plant Gets Too Tall
Sometimes plants grow too big or get out of control and grow right into your grow light.
The most common cause of overgrown plants is switching to the flowering stage too late
These plants grew way too close to the grow light and there wasn’t room to raise the grow light. Even though the temperature was okay, the buds and leaves were burned from light stress
Now that you have seen some of the most common grow problems and gotten the solutions, you hopefully will be able to prevent these problems from happening in your grow room.
But if something happens to your plants or buds, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not alone. We all make mistakes and ultimately this is a learning experience!