Growing cannabis outdoors can be a rewarding, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly experience. Read on so that you can enjoy homegrown bud, even if this is your very first gardening experience.
Is Growing Marijuana Legal?
If medical marijuana is legal in your state, your medical marijuana card may authorize you to grow cannabis. However, there are a handful of medical marijuana states that do not authorize home grows. The same variance exists in states that have legalized cannabis for recreational use. Legal cannabis doesn’t necessarily mean legal home grows. If your state does allow you to grow your own weed, you’ll have to make sure your outdoor grow is hidden from public view. Building a fence around your cannabis garden is a good way to comply with that requirement. It also protects your plant from animals and thieves.
Choosing a Strain
The strain you grow depends on your environment. Generally speaking, sativas are ideal for tropical climates with longer growing seasons. Indicas are a good fit for regions with shorter growing seasons and temperature variance. However, there are many hybrids bred to thrive in specific conditions. As you peruse different strains, choose one that the outdoor climate you live in can accommodate. Another aspect to consider is whether you want to grow an auto-flowering or photoperiod strain. Autoflowering strains flower only a few weeks after they germinate regardless of the light cycle. Photoperiod strains flower when days become shorter than nights. Autoflowering strains tend to be smaller and produce fewer yields because they don’t have as much time to develop as photoperiod strains. Autoflowering strains are more popular with novice growers because they require no light manipulation whereas photoperiod strains sometimes do.
The Cannabis Growing Season
The dates of your growing season depending on your climate. Most cannabis plants will take about 70 – 150 days to grow from seed to harvest. Knowing that range and the length of the strain’s vegetative stage can help you determine when to start growing outdoors. Cannabis needs lots of sun during the vegetative stage. They shift to the flowering phase once the light cycle provides more uninterrupted darkness than light. This starts happening after the summer solstice. The vegetative stage can last anywhere from 3 to 11 weeks depending on the strain. Count back from the summer solstice the length of your strain’s vegetative stage for an idea of when to start your seeds. If your cannabis plant’s vegetative stage lasts 11 weeks, for example, you should start your seeds in early April. If you live in a cooler climate, it might be too cold outside for you to start your seeds outdoors that early in the spring. In that case, you can start your seeds indoors and then transplant them outside once the temperatures are consistently warm enough.
Seeds vs Clones
Clones are cuttings of existing cannabis plants. Plants grown from seed are generally healthier and hardier because they’ve experienced less stress than clones. However, seeds are less predictable than clones. If your clone comes from a female cannabis plant with an ideal phenotype, you know exactly what kind of bud it will produce. On the other hand, seeds might be male. Male plants do not produce flowers. If you buy feminized seeds, you shouldn’t have to worry about growing male plants. If you do grow a male, make sure to keep it separated from females. If a male pollinates a female, the female plant will prioritize seed over potent flower production.
Ideal Outdoor Climate
The ideal temperature for growing cannabis plants hovers around 70 degrees F. Temperatures above 85 degrees will stunt cannabis growth while temperatures below 55 degrees F will kill the plants. Cannabis plants also like about 50-55% humidity. More than that can lead to mold growth. Too little humidity can dry out the plants more quickly than they can rehydrate from their roots. Your plants will thrive if they get at least 7 hours of direct sunlight light each day. Keep this in mind as you decide where to place them. Mild wind is good for your plants. It strengthens their stems and dries off excess moisture. However, high winds can be damaging. If you live in a region subject to occasional volatile winds, consider placing your plants near windbreakers like trees, bushes, walls, or fences.
Containers vs Inground
Whether you plant inground or in a container depends on the quality of your inground soil. If you have great soil, planting weed inground gives your plants plenty of room to grow. It also exposes them to beneficial microbial life and the best soil companions of all—worms. However, if your soil quality is low or you have limited outdoor space, planting cannabis in a container is a great way to grow cannabis outdoors. Grow bags are pots made with cloth. These containers provide excellent drainage, don’t get too hot, and tend to last longer than plastic pots. Smaller plants will do well in a 5-gallon pot, but the more space you can provide, the more room for roots. A 10-gallon container should provide plenty of space for one plant.
The Best Soil for Weed
Like most plants, cannabis likes fertilized, well-draining soil. Cannabis roots use water to uptake nutrients through their root system. Those nutrients are used to help the plant grow. Soil that can’t hold on to water will make it difficult for plants to get the nutrients they need. Soil that holds on to too much water can smother the roots and lead to root rot. The growing medium you use should be crumbly and contain a good mixture of silt, sand, and organic matter like wood chips and compost. It can contain aerating material like peat moss, coco coir, vermiculite, and perlite. Cannabis plants thrive in soils with an acidity range of 5.5-6.5 PH. The growing medium should contain nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK). During the vegetative stage, you will need more nitrogen. During the flowering stage, you will need more phosphorous and potassium. When growing cannabis outdoors, the sky’s the limit. Your plants will have much more room to get as bountiful as their root systems allow. Here’s everything you need to know to keep your outdoor cannabis plants alive.
Germination and the Seedling Phase
If you live in a warmer climate, you may be able to start your seeds directly outdoors. However, seedlings do not have the strength to resist volatile winds, temperature shocks, and diseases. Starting seeds indoors can protect them from these elements. If you live in a region with night temperatures dropping lower than 55 degrees, you will need to start your seeds indoors. Colder temperatures will kill seedlings. To plant the seeds, poke a hole into the soil or potting mix about an inch deep. Place one seed in each hole. Cover the hole with soil, tamp it down, and water. Seeds need moisture to germinate, so keep the soil evenly damp. The seeds should germinate in 5-10 days. Once the seedlings have popped through the soil, carefully monitor your watering. Water the seedling when the topsoil looks dry. Too much water will kill a seedling either through root rot or by encouraging mold and fungal growth. When seedlings sprout through the soil, they quickly unfurl two leaves with smooth edges. These are called seed leaves. They don’t look anything like the serrated, multi-bladed fan leaves weed is famous for. Those leaves are considered true leaves. Cannabis seedlings do not need nutrients until they’ve grown 3-4 sets of true leaves. Keep seedlings under a grow light for about 18 hours each day. You can also keep them on a sunny windowsill.
Transplant Cannabis Seedlings Outdoors
Once night-time temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees F, you can transplant your seedlings outdoors in a location that will receive at least 8 hours of direct light, and 18 hours of light in general. Ideally, your plants will be nearing the end of the seedling phase (about 2-3 weeks after germination) by the time you are ready to transplant them. About a week leading up to transplant, you should harden your seedlings to prepare them for life outdoors. Place them in a shaded area for a few hours each day. Then bring them back indoors. After a couple of days of doing this, place them in direct sun for an hour. The next day, increase the time in direct sun to two hours. Then three hours. By the end of the week, your plants should be hardened and ready for transplant. Whether you’re transplanting your seedlings to a raised garden bed, the ground, or a large pot, you need to prepare the soil. One 10-gallon pot per plant is a safe size, but the bigger the pot, the bigger the plant. Mix the fertilizer into the soil and then soak the soil with water. Before you remove the seedling from its small container for the transplant, lightly water the soil. This will keep the roots from drying out during the transplant process. It’s beneficial for the cannabis plant’s root system to bury the seedlings up to the first node—the point on the stem where a set of serrated leaves grows. Roots will grow out of the stem where it is buried in soil.
Fertilizing and Watering Your Plant
Cannabis needs nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium (NPK) and micronutrients to grow and flower. Nitrogen is especially important during the vegetative phase while potassium and phosphorous are important for flowering. There are plenty of organic fertilizer options that will provide these nutrients. Cannabis roots can absorb these nutrients best if the growing medium is at an acidity level of 5.5-6.5 pH. Yellowing, stunted plants may be nutrient deficient. Cannabis leaves with brown edges may have nitrogen burn—an excess of nutrients. As with nutrients, you will have to monitor your cannabis plants daily to determine how much water they need. When it gets hot outside, you may need to water your plants up to two times a day. In more temperate climates, watering them once a day or even once a week may be enough. If you stick your finger about an inch deep into the soil and it comes out dry, you should water your plants. Likewise, if you notice algae growth or an infestation of fungus gnats, you may need to decrease the water. Water your plants from the bottom. Wet flowers and leaves encourage mold and pathogens. You can cover your plants with plastic tents to shield them from excessive rain.
Pruning Your Cannabis Plants
It’s a good idea to prune leaves that are touching or close to touching the soil. These leaves are susceptible to diseases that can spread throughout the plant. Pruning yellowing, dead, or infected leaves allows the plant to divert energy and nutrients to its healthiest parts. Topping is another pruning strategy you can use to optimize your harvest and control your plant’s height. Once your plant has developed 4-5 nodes, you can make a clean cut to the top of the cannabis plant. This encourages the development of side shoots, which you can top again in about 2 weeks. These side shoots will become new colas, which means a greater flower yield. Do not top during the flowering phase.
Common Cannabis Pests and How to Stop Them
There are all kinds of insects and animals that like to eat parts of the cannabis plant when growing outdoors. Spider mites, aphids, caterpillars, fungus gnats, rats, mice, deer, cats, and rabbits enjoy the occasional nibble of weed. You can protect your plants from larger pests by keeping them enclosed in fences. Small statues of owls, eagles, or other birds of prey might deter mice and rabbits from your garden. Mint and lavender plants deter rodents and other insects. Certain companion plants like dill, yarrow, and chamomile can attract beneficial insects like ladybugs, beetles, and wasps. These bugs will kill cannabis-eating insects for you. As will spiders, an insect that needs no invitation to show up. The most important thing you can do to protect your cannabis plant is keep it properly watered and fed. A healthy cannabis plant can tolerate a few bug bites. Remember, cannabis has survived outdoors for thousands of years. Give your plant the best environment possible, and let nature do its thing.