Growing marijuana outdoors produces a higher yield, gives your buds a unique flavor, and it's far less energy-intensive than using indoor grow lights. Outdoor cannabis plants can grow up to tall and produce of quality weed per plant–and… Solely planting some cannabis seeds and waiting for them to grow just won't cut it (pun intended). Follow these 9 crucial tips for growing outdoors! Learn how to choose an outdoor grow site for cannabis and how to harden off, support, and protect the marijuana plants as they mature.
How to Grow Cannabis Outdoors
This article was co-authored by Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH. Dr. Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH is the founder and Medical Director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education. Dr. Corroon is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and clinical researcher. In addition to clinical practice, Dr. Corroon advises dietary supplement and cannabis companies regarding science, regulation, and product development. He is well published in the peer-review literature, with recent publications that investigate the clinical and public health implications of the broadening acceptance of cannabis in society. He earned a Masters in Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology from San Diego State University. He also earned a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Bastyr University, subsequently completed two years of residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, and is a former adjunct professor at Bastyr University California.
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Growing marijuana outdoors produces a higher yield, gives your buds a unique flavor, and it’s far less energy-intensive than using indoor grow lights. Outdoor cannabis plants can grow up to 14 feet (4.3 m) tall and produce 4–8 pounds (1.8–3.6 kg) of quality weed per plant–and it’s not rocket science to grow cannabis outdoors. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to tell you everything you need to know about picking a location, germinating marijuana seeds, and maintaining your crop to get the highest possible cannabis yield.
Top 9 Tips for Growing Cannabis Outdoors
Growing cannabis outdoors is not as simple as just throwing some seeds in the ground and hoping they grow. To ensure a good harvest, outdoor growers should do some research—analysing the local soil, preparing the site, and thinking about appropriate pest-control methods—and a great deal of maintenance.
Naturally, we all have our favourite strains, which we can’t wait to plant after the cold, tough and long winter months. Each situation is certainly unique, with the circumstances of someone living in Russia being different from those of someone living in Spain. Even so, there are enough varieties to be enjoyed in every corner of the globe.
Once you’ve chosen your favourite cannabis seeds, the first step is obviously to germinate them. It goes without saying that this must be done correctly, as otherwise the seeds will be useless. Be patient and bear in mind that some seeds may need a bit more time to sprout. For best results, follow this germination method.
The good thing about cultivating outdoors – and which makes us appreciate spring – is that, among other things, you can obtain considerable crops with a minimum of investment. And in times like these, who doesn’t want that?
Once we are clear on the conditions that we need – the right environment, the right growing spot, the outdoor growing method, and the variety that best suits our needs – we can get started.
1. Pick the right strain when growing cannabis outdoors!
It is important to choose the right strain of cannabis when growing outdoors. Depending on your location and climate, you may be limited in your choice of strain.
For example, if living in regions in the far north or south of the globe, where year-round temperatures are cool and summer growing seasons are short, you will need to choose strains that are acclimated to such conditions. Picking the right strain means curating your strain choice to suit the climate that you will be growing in.
Outdoor cannabis strains for cold temperate climates
Those who live in colder temperate climates, such as Northern and Eastern Europe, have to choose their strains accordingly. Summers are short and winter frosts are strong enough to destroy any cannabis crop. Therefore, timing and strain choice are essential.
Strains ideal for this kind of climate include Early Skunk Feminised and Jamaican Pearl. They are hardy strains with early flowering times.
Outdoor cannabis strains for warm temperate climates
Those who live in warmer temperate climates have a little bit more freedom when it comes to growing cannabis. In fact, the majority of commercial strains have been developed for growing specifically in warmer climates. Mild winters and long summers is the perfect growing condition for cannabis.
Those living in warmer climates can grow almost any strain. Both sativa dominant varieties and indica dominant varieties can be grown.
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2. Start your plants indoors if possible
It is advisable to germinate your seeds indoors, and allow your plants to grow in pots for at least a week or two under artificial lighting (which could be a simple household CFL light) or on a windowsill.
This will protect your seedlings from being eaten by birds or insects while they are young and tender, as well as giving them a head-start if outdoor conditions are still a little too cool.
When it’s time to expose your young plants to the outdoor world, it is advisable to go through a period of ‘hardening-off’ so that your plants gradually become accustomed to the change in environment.
At first, out your plants outside for a few hours at a time, and be sure to keep them sheltered from the elements.
After a week or so of increasing exposure to outdoor conditions, they will be hardy enough to be left outside full-time, either in pots, bags, or in holes dug into the soil.
3. Choose soil or pots for outdoor growing
Every grower gets to choose whether they will sow their seeds or seedlings directly into the ground or whether they will be cultivated in pots. Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages, so let’s focus on the pros of each growing method.
Advantages of growing in soil
- Unrestricted access to nutrients and moisture from the ground
- Plants can reach maximum height as there is no restriction on root growth
- Keeps costs low as there is no need to purchase pots
Advantages of growing in pots
- Flexibility to move plants around
- In the case of extreme weather, pots can be moved indoors
- Easier to conceal a growing operation
- Maximum control over the size and growth rate of plants
- Ensures no contamination of soil from surrounding environment
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4. Good soil is crucial when growing cannabis outdoors
Making sure your soil is prepared correctly is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of outdoor growing.
Soil should be checked to determine pH, and if it is too low or too high then additives such as lime (to increase pH/make more alkaline) or sulphur (to decrease pH/make more acidic) must be mixed in.
Consistency of soil is also important—too much clay, and soil will be sticky and will drain poorly; too much sand, and drainage may be too rapid.
Cannabis prefers loamy soil, or soil that consists mainly of sand and silt with a lower ratio of clay (around 40%-40%-20% silt-sand-clay is a good rule of thumb).
As well as this, soil fertility is important. Does the soil support a large amount and diversity of vegetation?
If not, adding mulch or manure is a good way to invigorate soil and increase the levels of available nutrients for your plants. If soil is poor, or if you just want to go the simple and hassle-free route, you can buy commercial soil, and even grow your plants in pots—or dig them into the ground, but keep them in bags so they are not exposed to surrounding soil.
5. Pick the right spot
The ideal spot for growing cannabis outdoors will be sunny, sheltered, well-irrigated, and will have good drainage. It will also be far enough off the beaten track that little human activity occurs in the vicinity—so no popular hiking trails or logging roads, for one thing!
A forest clearing that receives a good amount of sunlight and is sheltered from wind (as well as prying eyes!) is ideal; mixed broad-leafed forest is preferable to coniferous, as soil in the vicinity of coniferous woodland is often very acidic.
If you are growing in hilly terrain, aspect is an important and often-overlooked factor. Just as a south-facing balcony is preferable for apartment growers, a south-facing hillside is ideal for outdoor grows as it maximizes hours and intensity of sunlight.
The angle at which the sun’s rays strike the surface of the planet varies from the perpendicular according to latitude; in the northern hemisphere a south-facing spot will receive more sunlight, and in the southern hemisphere, a north-facing garden is preferable for the same reasons.
If you’re at all doubting your spot (for any reason), it is perhaps better to put your plants in pots. This way, you can move your plants around as necessary until you find the optimum spot to grow your cannabis plants. If you put them in the ground too soon, you won’t have the liberty of transporting them in the case of extreme weather or sub-optimal conditions.
6. Pick the best time to grow outdoors
In most climate zones, you should be aware of changes in seasonal temperature, rainfall and hours of daylight. If you live in the temperate zones, the change in daylight hours is considerable between seasons. This acts as a cue to photoperiod-dependent cannabis varieties to either perform vegetative growth (during the long days of late spring and early summer) or commence flowering (when the hours of daylight drop in the latter half of summer).
If you attempt vegetative growth in early spring, hours of daylight may still be short enough to induce flowering, so it is best to wait until at least mid-April (northern hemisphere) or mid-October (southern hemisphere) to put out your seedlings.
If you live in particularly warm climates, you may be able to achieve more than one harvest in a year; in locations near the equator, this should definitely be achievable by taking advantage of the year-round warm temperatures and intense sunlight.
If located in a tropical region that experiences seasonal monsoons, it is best to avoid this time of year due to the increased risk of mould.
How to Grow Marijuana Outdoors
Growing marijuana plants outdoors is generally easier than growing them indoors because Mother Nature chips in to do some of the work. Even so, you have to lay the groundwork for a successful grow to ensure that your plants receive the nutrients they need. Here, we lead you through the process of preparing a site for outdoor cultivation.
As long as you have a sunny location in an area where you get at least eight to ten weeks of relatively sunny weather and temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you can grow cannabis outdoors. If your growing season is short, you can get a jump on things by starting your plants indoors and then transplanting your seedlings (after a brief hardening period). If you live in a warmer climate, you can simply plant your seeds outside after the threat of frost passes.
How to choose a cannabis grow site
- Compliance: Your grow site must comply with all local rules and regulations. It must be private property owned by you. In most locations, your garden must be secure with a privacy fence and plants no taller than the fence. Any gates must be locked to prevent kids from getting to the plants and to discourage theft.
- Space: The amount of space you need depends on the number and types of plants you want to and are legally permitted to grow. Your plants will need to be spaced at least three to five feet apart, so they all get plenty of sun and breeze.
Think ahead. Will each plant have enough space when fully grown? Will plants shade other plants from the sun?
- Soil: Cannabis can grow in a wide variety of soil types, as long as the soil has sufficient drainage. If it doesn’t, you can amend the soil or plant in containers.
- Sunlight and darkness: Cannabis plants need at least five hours of direct sunlight plus at least five hours of indirect sun daily. They’ll reward you for more sun with a bountiful harvest. Also, don’t plant a photoperiod strain under or near a bright street lamp; otherwise, it may not flower properly.
Consider surrounding objects such as buildings and trees and how the angle of the sun changes over the course of the growing season. As a result, an area that gets full sun all day long during one part of the growing season may be shaded part or all of the day during another part of the growing season. Ideally, your grow site will get sun all day long throughout the growing season.
- Convenient access: You’ll be tending to your plants regularly and be eager to watch them grow, so pick a location with easy access. A backyard garden may be ideal.
- Access to water: Unless it rains every few days, you’ll need to water your plants regularly, so pick a site that has easy access to water.
Cannabis must be grown on private property, so you must own the land. Growing on public land, such as a national park or forest, is illegal.
Evaluate the soil
- Loamy: Loam soil is a combination of approximately equal parts of sand and silt along with relatively little clay. It retains moisture, but it also drains well, so plants aren’t sitting in saturated soil in which they’re susceptible to root rot and other diseases. Loam soil crumbles easily in your hands. If the soil is rock hard when dry, it contains too much clay. If it doesn’t hold together at all when you squeeze it into a ball, it may be too sandy.
- Fertile: Healthy soil also contains organic matter, such as decomposing wood and other plant matter. You can mix mulch and other amendments into the soil to increase its fertility, if necessary.
- Slightly acidic: You can use a pH meter to test the soil’s pH, which should be in a range of 5.5 to 6.5. Anything lower is too acidic, and anything higher is too alkaline.
- Alive: Good soil is home to many critters, including earthworms and beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms. If you don’t see anything crawling around in your soil, it’s probably lacking in organic matter.
Take a soup can of soil from several areas around your grow site to your local nursery or university extension office to have your soil tested. Test results show pH levels; levels of key nutrients, including potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen; concentrations of organic matter; and so on. You may also receive specific recommendations on amendments needed to improve soil quality.
For a more thorough guide to evaluating outdoor soil, check out the free Willamette Valley Soil Quality Card Guide published by Oregon State University.
Decide whether to grow in-ground or in containers
- Planting in-ground is generally easier and more forgiving. With quality soil, you don’t have to worry so much about plants becoming root bound or developing root rot, and you may not have to water as frequently.
- Containers add height which may make your plants taller than allowed by law or taller than the privacy fence you built.
- If containers are too small, plants can get root bound, preventing them from absorbing the water and nutrients they need. In containers, plants may also be more susceptible to root rot if the plants don’t drain properly.
- You can move containers around if the sunny locations in your space change over the course of the growing season.
- If you have poor quality soil, you need to amend the soil prior to planting, which adds to the cost and work involved.
- In a container, you can easily customize your soil mix to create the perfect grow medium for your plants.
Harden off your marijuana plants
If you start your plants inside (in a grow room or on a windowsill), harden them off before transplanting them to an outdoor location. Hardening off is a process in which plants gradually become acclimated to the outside environment over a period of seven to ten days.
Take your plants outside for 30 minutes or so on the first day and place them in a sheltered area where they receive indirect sunlight and perhaps a gentle breeze. Continue to increase this time by 30 minutes or so each day, gradually increasing their exposure to more direct sun. Watch your plants carefully for signs of heavy stress such as burning or wilting. Light stress is good, and it will accelerate the hardening off process, but heavy stress can kill a plant or severely impact its ability to flourish.
You should also harden off your plants against the cold. If frost is possible, keep the plants inside at night. Otherwise, gradually expose them to the cold nights. You may want to place them in a cold frame or under a box or bucket at first to provide some shelter from the cold without having to bring them inside, just be sure to uncover them the next day or they may overheat. Over the course of seven to ten days, they should be able to make it through a cool and frost-free night.
Support and protect your plants
When growing plants outside, you may need to provide them with support and protection from the elements, especially cold and frost as the summer growing season ends.
First, focus on providing your plant with structural support throughout its growth cycle especially in the flower stage. The idea is to provide your plant’s branches the support they need to grow big fat buds without becoming too heavy and breaking off from the main stalk. Bamboo stakes, along with twine or Velcro plant straps, are great and provide a variety of ways to stake your plants, such as the following:
- Place a stake alongside the stalk, and tie the stalk to the stake.
- Place three or four stakes around the periphery of the plant, and tie branches that need support to the stakes. You can also wrap twine around the stakes to create your own “cage.”
- Place a row of stakes in front of or behind several plants, and then tie stakes horizontally to the vertical stakes (or weave them together) to create a trellis. You can then tie branches to the trellis.
About This Article
This article is from the book:
About the book authors:
Kim Ronkin Casey has been a communications professional for more than 20 years and recently took a year-long leap into the world of cannabis as the communications manager for one of the leading dispensaries in North America. She now consults for companies in the industry on internal and external communications. Joe Kraynak is a professional writer who has contributed to numerous For Dummies books.