Growing cannabis is a fun and rewarding experience, but it is also challenging and takes a certain amount of time and money. For a first-time grower with limited resources, an indoor grow is probably too costly of an option.
The good news is that a small outdoor garden can yield plenty of quality cannabis without a large monetary investment. If you have access to a sunny spot in a private yard or even a balcony, terrace, or rooftop, you can successfully grow cannabis.
This guide to outdoor growing will go over all the different factors you need to consider in order to set up your first outdoor grow.
Step 1: Consider the climate
It’s crucial to have a good understanding of the climate in the area you’re going to grow. Cannabis is highly adaptable to various conditions, but it is susceptible to extreme weather.
Sustained temperatures above 86°F will cause your plants to stop growing, while continued temperatures below 55°F can cause damage and stunting to plants, even death.
Heavy rains and high winds can cause physical damage to plants and reduce yields, and excessive moisture can lead to mold and powdery mildew, especially during the flowering stage.
In addition to weather patterns, you need to understand how the length of day changes throughout the seasons in your area. For example, at 32° N latitude (San Diego), you will experience just over 14 hours of daylight on the summer solstice (the longest day of the year), while at 47° N (Seattle), you will have about 16 hours of daylight on the same day.
Understanding the amount of sunlight throughout the year is crucial to causing plants to “flip” from the vegetative to flowering stage, when they start to produce buds.
It’s good to utilize local resources, as experienced gardeners in your area will have a wealth of knowledge about growing flowers and vegetables, and that information can also be applied to growing cannabis. If you have some experience gardening and growing veggies, you will probably find that growing cannabis outdoors is a fairly easy endeavor.
Step 2: Pick a space for your garden
Choosing a space for your outdoor garden is one of the most important decision you’ll make, especially if you’re planting directly in the ground or in large immobile containers.
Your cannabis plants should receive as much direct sunlight as possible, ideally during midday, when the quality of light is best. As the season changes and fall approaches, your plants will get less and less sunlight throughout the day, which will trigger the flowering stage.
Having a constant breeze is good for your plants, and especially in hot climates. But if you live in an area with a lot of high winds, consider planting near a windbreak of some sort, like a wall, fence, or large shrubbery.
Finally, you will want to consider privacy and security. A lot of people want to conceal their gardens from judgmental neighbors and potential thieves. Tall fences and large shrubs or trees are your best bet, unless you live in a secluded area.
Some growers plant in containers on balconies or rooftops that are shielded from view, while some build heavy-gauge wire cages to keep thieves and animals at bay. Whatever you decide, think about how big you want your final plant to be—outdoor cannabis plants can grow to 15 feet tall or more, depending on how much you let them go.
Step 3: Decide on genetics
The success of your outdoor cannabis grow will also depend on choosing the right strain to grow for your particular climate and location. If you live in an area with a history of cannabis growing, chances are good that many strains will successfully grow there, and some may have even been bred specifically for your climate.
Seeds vs. clones
Plants grown from seed can be more hearty as young plants when compared to clones. You can plant seeds directly into the garden in early spring, even in cool, wet climates.
The main drawback to growing from seed is there is no guarantee as to what you’ll end up with. If your seeds don’t come feminized, you could end up with both males and females, in which case you’ll need to sex them out to get rid of the males (only females produce buds).
Even when you do have all female plants, each will be a different phenotype of the same strain. To get the best version of that strain, you’ll need to select the best phenotype, which can be a lengthy process. A lot of beginning growers start with feminized seeds.
Depending on the legality of cannabis in your state, you may be able to buy clones or seedlings from a local dispensary. Some growers stay away from these because they feel they aren’t as sturdy as growing plants from seed.
Autoflowering seeds are another popular choice for outdoor growing, as they start blooming as soon as they reach maturity regardless of the length of day. You can either have a quick-growing crop, or fit multiple harvests into a year with autoflowering cannabis.
The downside to autoflowering cannabis is that they tend to have a lot less potency.
Step 4: Acquire some soil
Soil is made up of three basic components in various ratios:
You can plant directly in the ground or buy soil and put it in pots. Cannabis plants thrive in soil rich with organic matter, and they need good drainage. If you decide to plant directly in the ground, you’ll need to understand your soil composition and amend it accordingly.
Heavy clay soils drain slowly and don’t hold oxygen well, so they will need to be heavily amended. At least a month before you plant, dig large holes where you’ll be placing your cannabis plants and mix in big amounts of compost, manure, worm castings, or other decomposed organic matter. This will provide aeration and drainage, as well as nutrients for the plants.
Sandy soil is easy to work, drains well, and warms quickly, but it doesn’t hold nutrients well, especially in rainy environments. Again, you will want to dig large holes for your plants and add compost, peat moss, or coco coir, which will help bind the soil together. In hot climates, sandy soil should be mulched to help with water retention and to keep roots from getting too hot.
Silty soil is the ideal growing medium. It’s easy to work, warms quickly, holds moisture, has good drainage, and contains a lot of nutrients. The best silty soil is dark crumbly loam—it’s fertile and probably won’t need any amending.
If you really want to ensure good results and minimize headaches, you can get your soil tested, which is easy and relatively inexpensive. A soil testing service will tell you the makeup and pH of your soil, notify you of any contaminants, and recommend materials and fertilizers to amend your soil.
Step 5: Get some fertilizer
Cannabis plants require a large amount of nutrients over their life cycle, mainly in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. How you choose to feed them will depend on the composition of the soil and your own methods.
Commercial fertilizers aimed at home gardeners can be used if you have a good understanding of how they work and what your plants need. But a first-time grower might want to avoid these, particularly long-release granular fertilizer.
You can purchase nutrient solutions designed specifically for cannabis from your local grow shop, but they are usually expensive and can damage soil bacteria—they are generally composed of synthetic mineral salts and intended for indoor growing.
Organic fertilization takes full advantage of microbial life in soil and minimizes harmful runoff. There are many different natural and organic fertilizers available at local home and garden stores, like blood meal, bone meal, fish meal, bat guano, and kelp meal.
Start off with fertilizers that are inexpensive and readily available. Some of these materials release nutrients quickly and are easily used by the plant, while others take weeks or months to release useable nutrients. If done correctly, you can mix in a few of these products with your soil amendments to provide enough nutrients for the entire life of your plants.
Again, getting your soil tested can be very useful and will tell you how to amend your soil and what types and amounts of fertilizer you should use. If you are unsure how much to use, be conservative—you can always top dress your plants if they start to show deficiencies.
Step 6: Choose your containers
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