Finally, it looks like spring has sprung, and thoughts of growing cannabis outdoors come with it.
I’m lucky enough to grow a few plants each year in my garden successfully, so I thought I would share my successful outdoor cannabis garden grow guide with you.
Even if growing marijuana indoors entails a nice pack of advantages, it also significantly increases the initial investment. Many growers are strong advocators of indoor growing because they end up with aesthetically beautiful plants and minimize the risks of wasting their harvests. However, growing marijuana outdoors also comes with some major pros. In this guide, you’ll learn how to grow cannabis outdoors, the advantages of outdoor grow, and everything else you need to know to achieve successful high-yielder crops.
Advantages of Growing Marijuana Outdoors
Rookie growers always feel intimidated by outdoor growing because of the potential risks this may entail. However, don’t ever underestimate the pros of taking your marijuana seeds outdoors. And what are the pros of growing weed outdoors, you may ask?
When you grow weed outdoors, you can achieve insanely large yields. This is because there are no space limitations, so you can let them grow as big or tall as you want, as long as you can still manage them. Figure, you might get up to one pound of dried weed from a single plant. On top of that, some strains will grow massively in an outdoor setting simply because they prefer sunlight and natural conditions.
No matter how powerful the latest LED or HID grow light in the market is. When growing marijuana outdoors, you have free access to the best grow light of all: sunlight, which trumps all others. And guess what? You need neither fancy grow tents nor fans to keep the air flowing. Free lights, space, and ventilation. Nutrients? Sure, help yourself.
Now that we have finally become aware of the importance of protecting our planet, trying to go eco-friendly in most of our daily doings is a must. Growing marijuana outdoors saves a ton of electricity and reduces all the waste we could have when growing indoors. For example, disposable gloves, grow bags or boxes, tapes, and many other elements implied in indoor growing.
Even though cannabis growers are always concerned about losing their crops to plagues or harsh weather, we know cannabis strains can be remarkably resistant and have a great ability to adapt. Just think about autoflowers that don’t even need a light cycle change to flower. It doesn’t matter if your area is cold or hot. You can still research what strains grow better in that specific climate.
Easiness and Mobility
The whole process is a lot simpler than indoor cultivation. If you don’t feel like constantly monitoring temperature, relative humidity, and light periods, then growing marijuana outdoors might be what you’re looking for.
Also, not because you chose outdoor cultivation means you can’t move your plants. Instead of planting them directly on the soil, you can use pots and move them around according to their needs. Like I said, space is usually not a problem for outdoor growers.
A Great Hobby
Finally, don’t discard all the pleasure of growing marijuana outdoors as a hobby. If you haven’t tried it before, know that gardening is one of the most relaxing and fun things to do. The experience of bonding with your plants in the open is a lot more rewarding than doing it in a closed, artificially lit indoor space.
Setting up an Outdoor Marijuana Grow
Before launching your outdoor grow, you need to consider a few factors.
Understanding your Local Climate
This a critical first step before setting up your outdoor garden. Even if marijuana has a great ability to adapt to various conditions, harsh weather can negatively impact its growth and development. Too much heat can cause your plants to stop growing, while too much cold can damage and even kill them.
The same goes for heavy rains, excessive dryness, or high winds. All of this can physically damage your plants and produce mold and powdery mildew.
In a nutshell, cannabis plants need a balanced climate to thrive. If you’re in an area that gets too hot, you may want to give your plants less direct exposure to sunlight, move them to a shady spot or get some screens to level the temperature of pots (if you’re using them). Consider the optimal conditions your plants need to survive and find out how you can tip your local weather to your benefit.
You can check this article from Alchimia Web that provides a lot of useful info on the climate zones to grow marijuana.
Choosing the Grow Site
Now, once you have a deep knowledge of your local climate, you can choose your grow site. I have a dedicated garden for this, which is one of the most popular sites among outdoor growers. However, you could also set up your balcony or roof for growing purposes.
When choosing your grow site, consider these factors:
Your plants need full, direct sunlight exposure for at least 6 hours daily. So, if your balcony gets shady before your plants can enjoy these 6 hours of light, maybe it’s not the optimal site.
Growers that don’t have a lot of outdoor space choose to plant their seeds on the roof, which is a great choice if you’re looking to maximize the sunlight exposure. However, roofs can be really windy. If that’s the case in your area, maybe you should opt for a gardening plot (if you have one). If you don’t, be sure to have windbreakers like a fence or a living wall.
Pests and Predators
Without question, the gardening plot is an all-time favorite. One of the perks that make growers choose a gardening plot is that they can conceal their weed plants among other vegs and flowers, keeping them from peeping neighbors. Also, you’ll likely have much more space and room for maneuvering than on a balcony or rooftop.
Now, there’s a downside to growing marijuana outdoors in your garden. You need to be on the lookout for small predators and even thieves. Around early spring, there’s little available to eat, and a nice pair of cotyledons will be really tempting for deer, rabbits, ants, etc.
The Best Soil for Outdoor Cannabis Grow
Choosing the right soil is the second vital step to guaranteeing a successful crop. Growing marijuana outdoors doesn’t necessarily mean you have to plant your seedlings directly into the soil you have available in your garden. You could also use pots, which you’d probably do if growing on your balcony or rooftop. Many outdoor growers also prefer to dig a hole and add fresh and amended soil for their plants.
If you choose to go the old-fashioned way and plant your weed directly into the ground, I advise you to have this pre-existing soil tested so you can find out your soil’s pH and composition. That way, you get a clear notion of the fertilizers and amendments you will need.
Soils usually differ in their consistency:
They also differ in terms of:
Each type of soil holds pros and cons. For example, silty soils are packed with nutrients and retain water just fine but tend to have poor drainage. On the other hand, clay soils have good drainage but dry out really quickly, and the nutrients get washed away.
Let’s see what would be the perfect characteristics of the soil to grow cannabis plants.
Cannabis prefers light, loosely packed soil. This loose soil texture supports the development of the root system, ensuring the roots have access to more oxygen.
Your soil needs to have good drainage for marijuana to grow healthy. If water pools on top of the soil after watering, your plants can get sick and produce mediocre yields. In the worst-case scenario, they could even die.
The optimal soil should have a perfect balance between water retention and good drainage. If your soil fails to retain water, it will dry out quickly, affecting the root’s access to water and other nutrients.
The soil must maintain a careful balance in the acidity-alkaline range for the cannabis plants to grow and develop. You can achieve a great harvest by maintaining pH levels between 5.8 and 6.3. If the soil gets too acid or too alkaline, you’ll likely end up with a reduced yield or even dead plants.
Obviously, your weed plants will also need nutrients. On the bright side, when you buy soil mixtures from the stores, these always come packed with the proper nutrients. However, after 3-4 weeks, your plants will have used up all those nutrients, so you have to feed them more.
If you choose not to use additional fertilizers, then you must add organic matter such as compost, worm castings, or guano. The microorganisms living in the soil will break down this organic matter into nutrients for your plants to feed on them.
Best Soil Amendments for Outdoor Cannabis Grow
If you’re growing with natural soil, chances are this growing medium is not optimized to produce high-quality plants. However, once your soil has been tested to find its weak points, you can choose among various amendments to fill these gaps. These are some of the most popular soil amendments you can easily find in your local store.
These coco fibers made out of coconut husks are a perfect amendment to lighten compact soils. It also provides excellent water retention. Some growers even choose to grow their plants using only a pure coco coir substrate packed with nutrients. Mixing up to 30% of coco coir to improve your pre-existing soil should do the trick.
Perlite is the all-time favorite among growers. It consists of light, white little rocks that will significantly improve the drainage and airiness of your soil. In fact, many providers sell their high-quality soil mixtures with 10-15 % added perlite.
Just like the one above, vermiculite are little, heat-treated mineral rocks you can use to lighten your compact soil. However, their functions are opposed. Perlite will improve drainage, while vermiculite helps with water retention. Fortunately, you can put them both together and get amazing results. For this adding 10% would be enough.
Worm castings are the perfect way to kill two birds with one stone. Most growers think of worm castings as a nutritional amendment since it’s really populated with tons of useful microorganisms that contribute to the plants’ growth. However, you can also use worm castings to improve your soil’s texture, drainage, and water retention.
My Personal Walkthrough from Germination Stage
As long as you fulfill the main soil needs of your plants, you are free to choose whatever amendments or nutrients work best for you. Growing cannabis, and in general growing, is not an exact science, and results may vary from one strain to another, from one grower to another.
That said, here is my walkthrough to growing marijuana outdoors.
We all know weather can be fickle sometimes, and you may witness late snows when you’re already prepped for spring. So, borrow a tip from an old gardener here and warm up your soil before taking your seedlings outside. That’s the most delicate stage, and I like to be extra sure the soil temperature is warm enough for their little tender roots.
Just lay down a piece of heavy plastic for a week or so and let the late winter/early spring sun warm through the soil. Also, take the time to weed out anything that is likely to compete with your seedling for the nutrients, water, and light available. While you probably want cover plants nearby to disguise your outdoor marijuana, you don’t want other virulent weeds squishing its first weeks outside.
Vegetable growers worldwide know the importance of double digging, which is no different for marijuana plants. You must prepare your soil before letting your fragile seedlings make their way into mature plants.
Remember that your root ball should be about one-third of the mass of your fully-grown plant. So, I break and improve at least that amount of soil. I’ve heard people break spaces about 2×2 ft, but I strongly advise you to double that size whenever you can.
I use this extracted soil like a cake mix and add plenty of well-rotted manure to improve the soil texture and give it some base nutrients. I also add some cannabis-specific compost because this is at the right acidity for marijuana and helps with pH levels.
Germinating the Seeds
Even if you’re growing marijuana outdoors, always start your cannabis seeds off inside. I like to germinate my seeds on damp tissue paper, covered with another layer of tissue (or a paper coffee filter), wrapped in clingfilm and left in a warm dark place to sprout.
Why do I do this? Well, I’ve been through a lot of trial and error experimentation. Don’t ask me why, but if I put an individual seed in its own little pot, and line up the pots watching and waiting for little leaves, not all of the little gals make it that far.
Planting the Seeds
This way, 95% of cannabis seeds typically germinate within 24-48 hours.
Check them on the second day and if all have sprouted their first root, carefully lift off the tissue paper (use tweezers gently) and plant them into a 3″ pot.
Prep the pot first by filling it with a mix of special marijuana compost and perlite to give good drainage.
Flush the pot full with pH water 6.3, then allow it to drain off completely. When the soil is damp, not wet, it’s time to plant those precious sprouted seeds.
Using a finger or a pencil, make a 1″ depth hole in the middle of the pot. Using tweezers, gently lift the seed out from the paper and place root-first into the hole. Brush soil over the hole and tamp down firmly but gently to get rid of any air pockets in the soil.
The pots need to go into a seedling environment. This is best done by placing them in a propagator, but it’s not absolutely essential. What is important, though, is they get the right environment. Young plants like it humid and warm, and remember not to keep your light source too far away cos if you do, they’ll stretch.
A significant advantage to starting your outdoor plants indoors is that you are less vulnerable to the vagaries of late bad weather. No matter that we had snow here in March. My babies were pushing their way through the compost layer in their seedling bay’s humid, warm environment.
Planting the Seedlings Outside
While I’m waiting for the soil temps to rise and making sure that the spring has set in, I also acclimatize my seedlings to life in the great outdoors. “Hardening off” is simply a process of exposing the young plants to more and more of their outdoor life while not shocking them too much. So at first, I remove the propagator lid for a few hours. Then, after several days they are hardened enough to risk a few hours of morning sunshine on my balcony. And so on until I’m pretty confident they are ready to take whatever mother nature can throw at them.
Planting the Seedlings
Planting is easy.
Once I have nicely prepped my soil, I make a hole twice the size of the pot. I add a handful of cannabis compost to the bottom of the hole, then spread my fingers around the seedling’s stem, tip the pot slowly upside down (letting my fingers support the seedling at its base), and tap the bottom of the pot, and all should slowly ease out.
Next, I plant the seedling, fill any gaps around with more compost, firm in gently with the palm of my hand, and then water in. I like to use a good 2 cups full of water this first time. It will make sure there are no air pockets trapped in the soil.
Gardens in many parts of the world will benefit from a small temporary greenhouse placed over the plant during the transition from spring to summer. Even a cut-off water bottle placed over a young plant or plastic-wrapped frame will help amplify the sun’s rays in springtime.
On the other hand, summer can get really hot in some places and bring too much sunshine to your plants, so you may need to think of putting up temporary shading.
“I missed the beginning of spring season! Is it too late now to start an outdoor grow?”
No, it’s not. Remember, you can sow an autoflower crop outdoors until the beginning of September!
But you can also start a standard photoperiod cannabis seed off in April/May. Just keep in mind that the longer you leave sowing your seeds, the shorter growth period the plant will have. Once the summer solstice has passed and the days begin to shorten, the plant will start to flower.
I hope you can pick valuable tips from my own methodology and get your outdoor crops going.