An intro to outdoor cannabis cultivation
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- How to grow marijuana outdoors
- Choosing the best site for outdoor cannabis growth
- Planning your garden
- Greenhouse basics
- How to grow bigger buds outdoors: tips for success
Outdoor cultivators utilize the best mother nature has to offer in hopes of producing the best possible harvest. Many cannabis users agree that the best marijuana they’ve ever experienced has been grown outdoors under the full spectrum of natural sunlight. That unique spectrum creates a greater variance of cannabinoids and terpenes than artificial lighting, while indoor grows are often aimed at producing higher levels of THC, in particular.
Cannabis has been cultivated outdoors for thousands of years, but before you go putting a seedling into the soil, it’s best to know how the process works and under what conditions outdoor growth is most successful.
Growing outdoors is a great option for those new to cannabis cultivation and wanting to learn how to plant marijuana or people seeking a more natural environment for their plants. Outdoor gardens are cost-effective, do not need expensive environmental controls, and require few resources to get started.
When growing outdoors, the sun’s full spectrum of light makes a world of difference. Each part of the light spectrum contributes to the growth and development of the molecules that make up the resulting plant, including terpenes and cannabinoids. Plus, without the constraints of ceiling height and indoor square footage, plants can really spread their wings, so to speak. Outdoor growers often choose this cultivation method in order to maximize natural light exposure and their yearly harvest.
However, outdoors cultivators must also battle the natural elements, which can potentially diminish the overall yield or reduce the quality of the crop. The many factors that outdoor growers must take into consideration include diminishing light on a cloudy or rainy day, the potential to be invaded by a wide variety of pests, and the limitation to one growing season per year.
How to grow marijuana outdoors
To grow cannabis outdoors, the bare minimum required is basic gardening tools, soil, pots, a hose with access to water, and a spot in your backyard that receives ample sunlight.
Using mother nature to cultivate cannabis
Cannabis is a hardy plant that has adapted to climates all over the world. From the cool and arid mountains of Afghanistan to the humid regions of Colombia, the plant has been forced to adapt over time to build its defenses against a host of conditions. But cannabis is still susceptible to extreme weather conditions. Whether it is heavy winds breaking branches or excessive rain causing mold, the great outdoors presents challenges to growers that can be avoided with sufficient planning.
Becoming intimately familiar with your local climate and seasons is one of the most important steps in producing high-quality outdoor marijuana. Before you grow, you’ll need to know the ideal temperature your plant needs in order to thrive, the season’s photoperiod — the amount and intensity of light available through the duration of the growing season, the best site, and the optimal timing of your planting and harvesting.
Some cannabis genetics have adapted to specific climates and are capable of growing more easily in certain conditions than others, so cultivators pay very close attention to the cultivars, more commonly referred to as strains, that they choose. A little research will go a long way in ensuring you have a successful harvest. While cultivars may vary, there are some general rules of thumb that will be useful no matter which cultivar you choose.
Daytime temperatures between 75 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, or 23.9 to 25.4 degrees Celsius, are ideal for cannabis, while temperatures above 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31.1 degrees Celsius) or below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.6 degrees Celsius) can delay growth. Cannabis is considered heat-tolerant, but sustained highs and extreme lows will usually lead to complications that could eventually kill your plants.
In the Northern Hemisphere, cannabis can be planted in early to mid-spring and usually harvested in mid-fall, depending on the cultivar. In the Southern Hemisphere, the growing season will be reversed, planting in early to mid-fall and harvesting in the middle of spring.
During the first half of the season, the daytime period increases until the summer solstice, which occurs in the Northern Hemisphere on or around June 21 and in the Southern Hemisphere on or around December 21. While the daylight hours increase, the plant’s vegetative stage takes place. During vegetation, the plant will develop the roots and stems that will serve as the foundation for growth until flowering.
After the solstice, the available daylight hours decrease, allowing the plant to naturally transition into the flowering period. Cannabis is a short-day plant, meaning it will begin to flower as the nights get longer and the hours of sunlight decrease.
Most cultivars will begin to flower once they receive fewer than 15 hours of sunlight per day. The latitude of your garden has a direct impact on how many hours a day your plants receive light.
It is important to plan your planting schedule to ensure your plants are able to finish their flowering period before the cold, rainy fall weather is able to affect them.
Choosing the best site for outdoor cannabis growth
Choosing the best site for your garden is another important factor that can affect the yield and quality of your plants. Cultivators in the Northern Hemisphere should attempt to place their plants in an area with southern exposure to ensure their plants are getting the most available sunlight by facing the sun’s archway near the equator. The opposite is true for the Southern Hemisphere.
When possible, use natural structures and formations in your garden as windbreaks to prevent excessive stress on your plants that could lead to branches breaking.
If you live in a climate with exceptionally hot and sunny days, shade cloth can be used to prevent your plants from overheating. In cold areas, natural enclosures and cement or brick walls can be used to help retain any available heat to keep your plants warm.
Depending on your location, you may need to plan for rain. In most regions, the rainy season is typically aligned with the end of the flowering stage and the start of the harvesting period, but this may not always be the case. Rain can be detrimental to an outdoor flowering crop and being prepared to cover or move plants can help ensure a successful harvest. If it does rain on your plants, make sure to immediately shake off any excess water, as excessive moisture can lead to the formation of mold, which can ruin your harvest.
Planning your garden
Seeds vs. clones
Deciding whether to start with seeds or clones will change the timing and manner by which your plants are introduced to the outdoors.
Plants grown from seeds are typically heartier and more vigorous than clones, as they produce a sturdier taproot that clones are not able to replicate. The vigor that comes from deep roots can be an advantage when dealing with harsh environmental conditions and pest pressures. The disadvantages of growing seeds is the additional attention required to germinate the seedlings, the necessity to eliminate any males before they pollinate the females, and the high variability in growth characteristics that results from their genes.
Plants grown from seeds are typically heartier and more vigorous than clones, as they produce a sturdier taproot that clones are not able to replicate. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
If you decide to use seeds, make sure you start them about a month before you would typically start clones to give them time to germinate and adequately develop their taproot.
There are also many advantages and disadvantages of using clones. They can be found at your local dispensary, are from a proven genetic lineage, and typically do well outdoors, making them the perfect choice for inexperienced growers. On the other hand, clones develop a fibrous root system, as opposed to the deep taproots that are developed with seeds. Fibrous root systems can reduce their ability to deal with environmental stress and predatory insects.
Whether starting from seeds or clones, many cultivators start growing their plants indoors to ensure the plants are not exposed to excessive weather conditions as they develop their initial root system. The plants are transitioned outdoors when the weather and photoperiods, or the times in which a plant is exposed to light, are ideal. Extending the indoor vegetative growth period can help increase yields and allow growers time to select the best plants to be moved outdoors.
Media and containers
There are many options when it comes to types of soil and how you can plant your cannabis plants outdoors.
Quality soil should be dark, rich in nutrients, and have a light and fluffy texture. The structure of your soil should be capable of retaining water while also allowing for excess drainage. Organic potting soil blends from your local garden center will do just fine, but more advanced growers prefer to blend their own organic soil from scratch. The soil itself should be slightly acidic with a pH of around 6. This can be tested with a soil pH meter or test kit.
Container gardens can be convenient as they can be moved around the garden to maximize sunlight or protect them from harsh conditions Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Container gardens can be convenient as they can be moved around the garden to maximize sunlight or protect them from harsh conditions such as rain, heavy winds, or extreme temperatures.
Avoid clay pots as they can be costly, heavy, and retain heat that could dry out the plant’s soil and roots. Fabric pots are the least expensive and most effective solution, as they allow for ample drainage and plenty of oxygen to get to the roots. Plastic containers are also light and inexpensive, but tend to retain more heat than fabric pots. Flowering plants need a container that is at least 5 gallons, or 18.9 liters, or larger to prevent the plants from outgrowing their containers and becoming rootbound.
Planting directly into the ground or a raised bed requires a bit more preparation, but has its benefits as well. Without a container to restrict growth, roots can grow deep and thick to support a strong plant. The added surface area also allows the plant to access a greater quantity of nutrients and water in the soil, compared with a container garden. The major downside is that the plants cannot be moved and could require additional structures to protect them in the case of extreme weather.
Cannabis requires more nutrients than many of the common plants you may have in your garden. Quality soil contains enough organic nutrients to start the growth cycle, but as your cannabis plant grows and transitions into flowering, it may deplete the available nutrients and require additional fertilizers.
The three primary nutrients that are required for cultivating marijuana are: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
During the vegetative phase, the plants need more nitrogen in order to create the roots and leaves that serve as the base for flowering. During the start of the flowering cycle, the plants will require more phosphorus and potassium than nitrogen. Towards the end of the flowering cycles, once the majority of the nitrogen has been depleted, the plants will focus their attention on using the remaining nutrients. The lack of nitrogen is largely responsible for the vibrant purple and orange hues that can be seen on large fan leaves and throughout the plants’ colas.
Avoid all-in-one fertilizers as they can be too high in nitrogen for the flowering cycle and damage any beneficial micro-organisms that may be present in the soil. It is suggested to choose a line of nutrients that is created specifically for cannabis, and to use its suggested feeding charts to avoid overfeeding or underfeeding. Organic sources of nutrients are usually preferred, as they are a great source of beneficial microbes, but may take longer to break down and become available to the plant. Both types of nutrients can be found in dry, pre-blended powders or liquid emulsions, but can also be made from scratch with the right ingredients. Organic compost tea, which includes nutrient rich ingredients, like molasses and earthworm casting compost, is a popular brew for outdoor cannabis farmers.
Organic sources of nutrients include alfalfa meal, bone meal, kelp meal, bat guano, fish emulsion, dolomite, and earthworm castings. Each contains different ratios of nutrients that can be used for different phases of the plants’ growth cycle.
Watering and feeding plants
The amount of water a plant needs largely depends on its size, the size of its container, soil type, and general environmental conditions such as the weather and the intensity of the sun. Larger plants and warmer environments tend to use more water than smaller plants and cooler weather. The amount of water will change throughout a plant’s cycle.
During the vegetative stage, your plants should be watered thoroughly, while waiting to water again until the top 1 inch, or 2.54 centimeters, of soil has dried out. This can be every day or every four days, depending on conditions, but the time between waterings will become shorter as the plant grows its roots. Container gardens tend to dry out faster than soil beds, so they’ll need to be watered more frequently.
Wilting plants and dry soil are a direct sign that the plants need water. Droopy leaves along with wet soil are a sign of overwatering. Both are common mistakes and can be corrected with some practice.
For a small garden, hand-watering is the easiest, cheapest way to water plants. It also allows you to get familiar with each cultivar’s needs and gives each plant the exact amount of water it needs. Irrigation systems can be convenient for a large number of plants or for times when you cannot be in your garden.
Pest and weed control
Pests and wild plants are an inevitable occurrence when cultivating outdoors. Most issues can be avoided with proper planning. Clearing a buffer area around you plants can go a long way, but your first line of defense is a healthy plant that can defend itself naturally.
Pests come in many forms, from large deer and gophers to small slugs and spider mites. Larger animals and pets can be kept out of the garden with fencing, while gopher wire beneath your soil beds can keep rats and gophers from eating the plants’ roots. Weeds will not damage cannabis, but they will compete for the nutrients in the soil and reduce the quality and yield of your crops. A light layer of mulch on top of your soil can prevent additional weeds from sprouting in the middle of your cycle.
Avoid spraying synthetic insecticides on your cannabis plants as further research is needed to determine the health effects of smoking plants treated with synthetic chemicals. Organic pesticide and insecticide solutions can be effective if used properly. If you can avoid it, it is always best to not spray anything on your plants while they are flowering.
Beneficial insects, fungi, and bacteria can also be used to protect your plants from their parasitic or predatory counterparts. Jumping spiders, ladybugs, and other native, beneficial predatory insects can clear your crop of insects such as aphids and whiteflies. When sourcing beneficial insects, fungi, or bacteria, it’s important to research those which are native to your region.
Even if it is legal to grow your cannabis outdoors, you should still take some precautions to hide the plants from public view. You can grow your cannabis plants among other common plants in your garden and try to hide them in plain sight. Cannabis can easily grow taller than your average fence, though. Training techniques can help keep your plants shorter. The fewer people who know you are growing cannabis, the better, the ideal situation is to have your grow on a piece of tucked away land so plants can truly flourish.
Greenhouses can be a great middle ground between the complexities of an indoor setup and the uncertainty of growing outdoors. They provide ample protection from the elements and use far fewer resources than an indoor grow. Greenhouses can be more costly than an outdoor garden and require more planning, but they also allow you to extend the growing season considerably.
Greenhouses also offer growers the ability to harvest more than one cycle per year if they are equipped with a light deprivation system. These systems allow growers to control the hours of sunlight their plants receive, much like turning lights on and off in an indoor garden, by covering the greenhouse with a black tarp that deprives the plants of sunlight.
Greenhouse structures range from inexpensive polyvinyl chloride (PVC) tubes, often called “hoop houses,” to highly engineered, fully automated, and purpose-built steel greenhouses. Due to their efficiency, greenhouses are quickly becoming the preferred growing method for many large-scale cultivators.
How to grow bigger buds outdoors: tips for success
Here are a few marijuana growing tips to get the most out of your growing experience:
The smallest adjustments can make all the difference — planting a week earlier, a week later, watering less, watering more, etc.
Quality soil is crucial to the success of your crop and one of the few factors that you have control of when outdoors.
Timing is key. A short vegetative phase can cause cannabis plants to flower early, while a long vegetative phase can prevent your plants from finishing their flowering cycle if the weather takes a turn for the worse. The Farmer’s Almanac is a reliable source for planning around the seasons and preparing your crop for success.
Practice makes perfect, so always keep a grow journal and make sure to record any mistakes and wins along the way. Maintaining a record can help ensure you will have successful future harvests.An intro to outdoor cannabis cultivation Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents How to grow marijuana outdoors Choosing the best site for outdoor
Stealth Ideas for Growing Weed Outdoors
Always consider stealth when growing cannabis outdoors! Not only is law enforcement a consideration, it’s common for thieves to steal plants right before harvest time!
Outdoor growing has some incredible benefits, including the availability of free light. Light is like food for cannabis plants and in the flowering stage, the amount of bud produced is directly proportional to the amount of light received by the plant (especially at the bud sites). The plant is converting light energy into buds.
Sunlight provides free energy for growing cannabis plants. No need to spend money on electricity to power your grow lights!
Indoor growers have to provide all their own light, typically by using specialized grow lights. However, grow lights produce heat and use a lot of electricity (how much electricity does it take to grow weed indoors?), and indoor grow rooms need a space that’s easily hidden to visitors yet has easy access to water.
When it comes to outdoor growing, instead of setting up a grow room, your job is to pick the perfect place to grow weed. This is one of the most important things you can do not only for plant health, but also for stealth and security!
Not only is this extremely not stealthy, light from the window will likely prevent the plant from flowering (making buds). Light pollution is a common problem when growing outdoors on your own property. Plants need complete darkness at night to start making buds!
Outdoor Stealth – Growing on Your Property
Growing on your own property is much more convenient than hiking to a remote grow spot, but the stakes are much higher because if the plants are spotted it’s easy to determine that you are the owner. Make sure to take every precaution!
Hide Plants from View
Think about looking into your yard from outside the grow space. You want to go outside and make sure that plants are not visible from someone’s window, from the street, a neighbor’s yard, etc.
Camouflage your plants!
In addition to making sure no one can see your plants, it’s still a good idea to try to camouflage them so that if someone is on your property for some reason, the plants don’t obviously stick out.
This grower actually cuts the tips off all the leaves of their plant in order to make them look less like typical leaves. This is pretty effort-intensive, but there’s no doubt they look less like cannabis plants!
There are some interesting “stealth” strains that naturally don’t look like typical cannabis plants, which can also help increase the illusion.
This is a Frisian Duck plant in the vegetative stage. “Duck” or “Duckfoot” strains have 3-finger leaves which makes them look less like cannabis leaves. As a result, these strains can look like other types of plants at first glance.
Plant bright flowers nearby, so it looks like the cannabis plant is producing the flowers.
Consider planting your cannabis in a decorative planter or container that causes it to grow in non-typical growth patterns. Adding flowers to some of the empty pots would complete the illusion.
This marijuana plant has been placed in the middle of an area that naturally has lots of trees and other types of vegetation.
Even having a few plants nearby will make a big difference compared to growing the cannabis plant all by itself.
Some growers put plants in a greenhouse or other outdoor structure that lets light in but obscures the inside from view.
A greenhouse can not only help keep plants warm in cool climates, they help obscure the plants. Some greenhouses are built opposite this one, with opaque sides and a clear top so sunlight comes from above yet plants can’t be seen from the sides.
However, consider that a greenhouse might look suspicious if it’s all by itself in the middle of the yard, especially if you don’t typically do a lot of yard work or gardening
Keep plants shorter than your fence!
Change Natural Growth Patterns with Bending
Consider bending or otherwise altering the overall shape of the plant so it has less of a “Christmas Tree” shape, which is the most typical shape for cannabis plants grown naturally. This change of shape can cause the plant to look less like cannabis overall. You can also use bending to prevent plants from getting too tall.
Low stress training can be used to grow marijuana plants in any size or shape. This grower trained his outdoor cannabis plants to grow flat like hedges by training stems to grow along a ScrOG net.
Watch Out for Anyone Taking Interest of Your Plants
Be aware of anyone looking over the fence or otherwise spending time hanging around your property.
Even if it’s not someone who will report you to law enforcement, they may still be a problem. They might tell a friend who reports you. Or even worse they may be a thief. Nothing is more heartbreaking than growing plants all summer and then losing them to thievery…except jail.
Remember, even if a person doesn’t take your plants right away, many experienced thieves who understand the life cycle of cannabis plants will wait until just before harvest before they steal your plants.
This plant does not have any buds to steal now, but thieves may take note of your plant and come back in the fall when they know it’s getting close to harvest time. Stay vigilant!
Consider that people might be able to smell your plants. Some plants smell a little “weedy” in the vegetative stage, but by the time your plant is flowering and getting close to harvest, the smell can be overwhelming, especially with certain “high-smell” strains.
- Choose a low odor strain for outdoors that stays small if you’re looking for something very stealthy. Auto-flowering strains can be a good choice because they’re easy to grow, won’t get very big, have a quick time-to-harvest and there are several stealthy looking and low-smell varieties that are suitable for growing outdoors. Auto Duck is an example of an auto-flowering strain that is great for outdoor stealth growing due to its smell (or lack thereof), growth patterns and quick time-to-harvest. Some examples of photoperiod strains that stay small and low-odor include Northern Lights, Papaya (smells tropical), Jock Horror, Ice (smells like jet fuel), and Blue Mystic. Smells are usually more intense when things get hot and humid.
- Plant lots of other types of plants nearby, especially ones with bright and fragrant flowers. This will detract attention away from both the appearance and smell of a typical cannabis plant.
What if you can’t grow on your own property, and need to grow in a more remote spot? A good outdoor grow spot has a few important factors….
Outdoor Stealth – Choosing a Safe Place to Grow Outside Your Property
Scope Out the Spot
Check out any possible grow spot at least 3 different times, and on both weekdays/weekends to make sure you never see hikers or other people in the area.
Far from a Visible Path
Stay far away from any path, and make sure not to leave tracks or marks when visiting plants – if you make a visible path, other people might follow it to see where it goes.
Test the Spot for Potential Visitors
I‘ve heard a grower say to securely leave a twenty-dollar bill in a few places around the chosen area, where they can be easily seen by a human but won’t blow away. If they are still there when you get back after a week or two, it’s unlikely there are many people passing by because they would have picked up the money.
Even if you’re certain no one will be around except yourself, you should still try to camouflage your plants as best you can by using the tips given above.
Bonus: Outdoor Plant Health
These factors are important to making sure your outdoor plants grow as fast and healthy as possible. They don’t necessarily contribute to stealth, but you must make sure to consider these factors if you want your outdoor marijuana grow to be successful! Since this article is all about picking the right spot for your cannabis plants, I thought it was important to also touch on this.
Easy to Visit
You should be able to visit the spot at least once a week to tend to your plants.
Access to Water
Plants need to drink, but water is way too heavy to carry long distances. Therefore, you’re looking for a spot with easy access to fresh, clean water. If there’s no hose, you’re looking for a brook or stream with moving water. Some growers collect rainwater near the grow site. Don’t use water that looks or smells bad to you.
Lots of Sunlight
The spot gets 8+ hours of direct sunlight each day (the less direct the light, and the fewer hours a day, the smaller the plants and buds will be).
A gentle breeze provides airflow and cooling, which helps prevent heat stress, mildew, bud rot and bugs compared to the plant living in stagnant air. You’re looking for leaves that are rustling. There shouldn’t be enough wind that plants are waving around.
Consider the Heat
If it gets very extremely hot where you live, you want to consider making sure there’s a way to at least partially shade your plants on the hottest days. Learn how to care for heat-stressed outdoor marijuana plants.
Consider the Cold
Will your plants be ready to harvest before it starts getting cold and/or rainy where you live? High humidity, rain and temperatures under 60°F (15°C) are the leading causes of bud rot, which can take out an entire harvest in just a day or two! Frost and freezing temperatures will actually kill some plants (though some strains are more resistant than others). Make sure that you can protect your plants from cold or rainy conditions, or even better, make sure you get a strain that will be ready to harvest before your local bad weather begins!
Auto-flowering strains can be a good choice for growers with short summers because they are typically ready to harvest just 3 months from germination. However, there are also many ‘standard” (non-auto-flowering) strains with short flowering periods that only need 3-4 months before they’re ready to harvest.
Provide Your Own Soil
Even if the ground soil appears to be a good quality, you’ll often get the best results by providing your own soil which has been formulated for a plant like cannabis. This will contain the right ratio of nutrients so plants grow fast and buds get as big as possible. Many growers put their plants in containers with soil, which makes it so plants can be easily moved around. Some growers will dig a hole in the ground and fill it with good soil, though raised beds often perform better because the plant will use the “good” soil for longer, and it can be easier to water the plants.
Don’t Forget Nutrients
Cannabis plants should have an adequate amount of nutrients. Although high-quality soil will typically provide everything your cannabis plant needs for nutrients during the vegetative stage, it’s typically a good idea to provide the plants with extra plant food during the nutrient-intensive flowering/budding stage! Plants need a surprisingly high amount of nutrients to produce the biggest buds!Stealth Ideas for Growing Weed Outdoors Always consider stealth when growing cannabis outdoors! Not only is law enforcement a consideration, it’s common for thieves to steal plants right before ]]>