There are two ways to grow cannabis, and both come with a set of pros and cons. Indoor grows are totally controlled by the environment you create, but they can be economically and environmentally costly given their high demand on energy. Outdoor grows don’t need artificial energy, but the plants you cultivate are at the mercy of Mother Nature who has the occasional tendency to be inconsiderate.

You’ve decided to grow cannabis outdoors, but you don’t have a greenhouse. How do you start and what can you do to protect your cannabis?

Choose the Right Outdoor Location  

Your first priority should be the sun.  Since the first baby cannabis plant blossomed on this earth, cannabis has evolved and thrived under the natural light produced by the sun.  Make sure that you choose a south-facing location to plant your cannabis to maximize sun exposure.  It’s also important to keep your cannabis away from plants that could potentially overshadow it and block the sun.

The sun isn’t the only thing to consider when choosing a location for your cannabis plant.

States that allow the legal possession of marijuana plants also state that the plants must be hidden from sight

Make sure that you choose a location discrete enough to keep you within the constraints of the law and to protect you from people who may want to steal or destroy your plant.

Finally, make sure that your plant is growing somewhere that won’t pool standing water.  Cannabis loves water, but too much will cause its roots to mold.

Give Your Plants the Right Soil

The best place to grow your cannabis is directly in the soil, not a pot.  Don’t rely on rocky, nutrient deficient, weed-infested soil, but don’t spend tons of money on soil either.  Marijuana’s evolution has enabled it outdoor cannabis soil to grow pretty much anywhere… kind of like a weed.  But this doesn’t mean that the quality will be as excellent as it would if the plant’s roots were in something a little special.

Cannabis likes a combination of high nitrogen during the vegetative phase, decreased nitrogen and increased phosphorous during the flowering stage, a PH of about 6, and a balance between the soil’s fungus and bacteria.

To provide your cannabis plant with the diversity of nutrients it needs to create the most potent terpenes and cannabinoids, choose a soil mix with natural fertilizers such as fishmeal, rock phosphate, worm castings, or bat guano; fungal foods like kelp or humic acid; and perlite, a mineral that improves water retention and drainage.

Plant at the Right Seasonal Time

The right time is highly dependent on where you live.  Marijuana responds to temperature the way that humans do.

Temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit are too cold and slow plant growth

Freezing temperatures can quickly kill the plant.  Temperatures that are over 80 degrees Fahrenheit can result in decreased potency and increased wilting and stretching.

Cannabis flowering is also dependent on sunlight, so you shouldn’t plant your marijuana too early in the spring season, as the days may still be too short for optimal cannabis growth.  For the most part, the outdoor season begins in April/May and ends in October for growers in the Northern Hemisphere.

Water Your Plants

Cannabis is a thirsty plant.  If it does not rain for three days, water each plant one at a time by moistening about an inch of the soil the plant is rooted in.  Move from one plant to the next to give each plant a chance to outdoor cannabis waterabsorb the water.  Then, water the plants in this way a second time, starting with the very first plant you watered.

This slow watering process protects the plant from being shocked by too much cold water too fast or from root exposure.  Remember, too much water can cause the roots to mold, so take your time and take it easy.

Check on Your Plants

Visit your plants daily and check for signs of pest infestations or mold.  It is also important that you prune your plants of yellowing or dying leaves.  Top your plant in the early vegetative phase of the plant’s growth.  Topping involves finding and cutting off the top/terminal shoot.  This process causes the plant to release hormones that stimulate the growth of shoots directly beneath the top shoot you’ve just pruned.

Protect Your Plants

Any plant grown outdoors is at the mercy of the elements, animals, and curious trespassers.  There are a few ways that you can protect your plants from these factors.

First, plant smart.  Most likely, you will lose some of your plants to the aforementioned variables, so plant more than you need.  Planting 10-12 seedlings will likely result in up to 6 healthy, harvested cannabis plants.  Just make sure that you are following your state’s laws. Most legalized states allow possession of up to mature 6 plants.

Second, give your plants some kind of shelter.  A full-grown bush could protect your cannabis, especially in its infancy, from the wind.

A fence may be even better at protecting your cannabis from the wind and human or animal intruders

It is also a good idea to install some kind of trellis or stake system for your plants since outdoor grows tend to stretch more than indoor grown plants.

You may even consider purchasing and installing a game camera, a small, discreet camera hidden in your garden and designed to continuously capture video or photographs.  If you suspect that you do have visitors, this is one hard-core way to find out for certain.

Harvest Your Plants Properly

It is important not to harvest your plants too early or too late.  You can outdoor cannabis harvest determine the right harvesting time by examining the pistils on the cannabis plant.  60% of the pistils, or the white hairs sticking out of the cannabis flower, will be darkened at harvesting time.

A more precise method of determining when to harvest is to use a magnifying glass to closely examine the trichomes, or the crystal-like mushrooms on the marijuana buds.

When the trichomes appear to be cloudy rather than clear, the cannabis plant is ready for harvest

Some cannabis strains have flower producing stems, so make sure that you harvest your plants in the least damaging way possible.  The easiest method of harvesting is to use a garbage bag.  Cover each plant with its own garbage bag, then, using the lowest possible hold, pull the plant out of the soil.

References

The Big Grow Debate: Which is Better, Indoor or Outdoor Pot

Nico’s Nuggets: Tips on Growing Marijuana Outdoors

10 Tips for Growing Outdoor

Super Soil #2: How to Make the Best Soil for Marijuana

Perlite; a great way to improve drainage (And a primer on what organic means)

Growing Cannabis Outdoors

Outdoor Marijuana Growing Tips For Summer

When do I harvest my marijuana?

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.