How to grow marijuana outdoors: a beginner’s guide
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 marijuana grow.
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Benefits of growing weed outdoors
- Low costs: Relying on the power of the sun, you won’t need to spend a ton of money on an outdoor grow. You’ll need some soil, fertilizer, seeds or clones, and maybe a small greenhouse to get them started. You won’t need to pay for electricity for lights, AC units, or dehumidifiers, and you can even collect rainwater.
- Big yields: The sky’s the limit with outdoor plants—you can let them get as big and tall as you want, as long as they’re manageable. One plant can potentially yield up to a pound of weed! Growing a handful for yourself is plenty. With an indoor grow, your space is a lot more restricted.
- Environmentally friendly: Indoor grows can be wasteful, using a ton of electricity to power all those lights, fans, and other equipment. The sun and the wind are free!
- It’s fun and relaxing: Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of gardening. It’s relaxing to spend some time outside, roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dirty for a while. And there’s nothing better than smoking something you grew yourself.
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 outdoor grow
Choosing a space for your outdoor grow 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. Also, most state laws require that you keep cannabis plants concealed from the street.
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 12 feet tall or more, depending on how much you let them go.
Step 3: Decide on cannabis 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 they tend to be a lot less potent.
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 fertilizers.
Best nutrients for an outdoor grow
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
You may need to put all of your plants in containers if you don’t have great soil. Also, if you’re unable to perform the heavy labor needed to dig holes and amend soil, containers may be the only way for you to grow your own cannabis outdoors.
If you don’t have a suitable patch of earth to make a garden, containers can be placed on decks, patios, rooftops, and many other spots. If needed, you can move them around during the day to take advantage of the sun or to shield them from excessive heat or wind.
You can also use common cannabis nutrients designed for indoor growing because you will be using premixed soil. This will take much of the guesswork out of fertilizing your plants.
However, plants grown in pots, buckets, or barrels will likely be smaller than those planted in the ground because their root growth is restricted to the size of the container. In a broad sense, the size of the pot will determine the size of the plant, although it’s possible to grow large plants in small containers if proper techniques are used.
In general, 5-gallon pots are a good size for small to medium outdoor plants, and 10-gallon pots or larger are recommended for big plants. Regardless of size, you’ll want to protect the roots of your plants from overheating during warm weather, as pots can quickly get hot in direct sunlight. This will severely limit the growth of your plants, so be sure to shade your containers when the sun is high in the sky.
Step 7: Give your cannabis plants water
While outdoor cannabis gardens have the benefit of utilizing rain and groundwater, you will most likely need to water your plants frequently, especially in the hot summer months. Some giant cannabis plants can use up to 10 gallons of water every day in warm weather.
Growers who live in hot, arid places will often dig down and place clay soil or rocks below their planting holes to slow drainage, or plant in shallow depressions that act to funnel runoff toward other plants. Adding water-absorbing polymer crystals to the soil is another good way to improve water retention. Water your plants deeply in the morning so they have an adequate supply throughout the whole day.
If you live in a particularly rainy climate, you may need to take steps to improve drainage around your garden, as cannabis roots are susceptible to fungal diseases when they become waterlogged. These techniques include:
- Planting in raised beds or mounds
- Digging ditches that direct water away from the garden
- Adding gravel, clay pebbles, or perlite to the soil
If you’re using tap or well water, it’s a good idea to test it first. This water can contain high levels of dissolved minerals which can build up in soil and affect the pH level, or it can have high levels of chlorine which can kill beneficial microorganisms in soil. Many people filter their water.
Plants grown in hot or windy climates will need to be watered more frequently, as high temperatures and winds force plant to transpire at a quicker rate.
Remember that over-watering is a common mistake made by rookie growers—the rule of thumb is to water deeply, then wait until the top inch or two of soil is completely dry before watering again. An inexpensive soil moisture meter is a good tool for a beginner.
Step 8: Protect your cannabis plants
Without the ability to control the environment as easily as you can indoors, outdoor cannabis growers have to protect their plants from storms and other weather events that could damage or even kill plants.
Temperatures below 40°F can quickly damage most varieties of cannabis, so if you live in a climate where late spring or early fall frosts are a common occurrence, try using a greenhouse or other protective enclosure.
High winds can break branches and overly stress your plants. If your garden is located in a particularly windy spot or if you’re expecting a particularly heavy blow, set up a windbreak. This can be as simple as attaching plastic sheeting to garden stakes around your plants.
While helpful for watering your garden, rain is generally seen as a nuisance by cannabis growers. It can severely damage your crop and cause mold and mildew. You especially don’t want rain on your cannabis plants when they are flowering.
You can construct a DIY greenhouse or even just use plastic sheeting and stakes to build a temporary shelter over your plants when you know rain is on the way.
Protecting your cannabis garden from pests can be challenging. Depending on where you live, you might have to keep large animals like deer at bay by building a fence around your crop.
But the more difficult challenge is dealing with the vast array of crawling and flying insects that can attack your plants.
The best protection is to simply keep your plants healthy. Strong, vigorous cannabis plants have a natural resistance to pests that makes minor infestations easy to deal with. It’s also a good idea to keep your cannabis plants separate from other flowers, vegetables, and ornamentals, as pests can easily spread between them.
Examine your cannabis plants a few times a week with an eye out for pests. An infestation is far easier to deal with if caught early.
There are many organic pesticides designed for use specifically on cannabis, and beneficial insects are also a great option.
You should now have enough knowledge to successfully start your own outdoor cannabis garden. Cultivating and growing plants is an enjoyable and rewarding pastime, so remember, spend lots of time with your plants, and have fun!
Check out Leafly’s Growing section for more info on cannabis growing!
This post was originally published on June 21, 2016. It was most recently updated on April 2, 2020.
Growing marijuana outdoors can be less costly and challenging than an indoor grow. Check out our guide to learn more about the best outdoor grow setup.
Outdoor Cannabis Growing Basics by LuckyAcres
by LuckyAcres (Check out his Instagram and Youtube for more!)
Are you ready to start growing cannabis outdoors? If you’re a wannabe grower looking for a quick and basic tutorial on how to grow weed outside, this is it. Check out these plants and learn how to grow plants just like them yourself!
Plants grown outdoors can get huge if you care for them properly
Growing auto-flowering strains can help keep plants from getting so big. This is Night Queen Auto by Dutch Passion not long before harvest.
What you need to get started growing outdoors:
Here’s a complete list of supplies you need to grow plants outdoors.
Seeds (or clones)
- You need to get your plants somewhere. If you can’t get plants locally, here’s a list of online seed sources that deliver anywhere.
Root Riot Plugs
- Seedlings get germinated in RootRiot Plugs (the extra michoryzae is nice!)
Container(s) – Air pots or Nursery Pots
After 20 years of being around black “nursery pots”, airpots have become my number one choice. Better root growth, better access to air, massive root terminals…. day and night to what I was accustomed to. Grow bags can retain salts and pests if not dealt with properly between grows. My access to sun changes thru the season so I must be able to move my ladies as needed.
- Fox Farm Ocean Forest soil does the job. There are better ones out there but I’m happy with the results for the price.
Nutrient companies seem to have reached a status quo imo. They all seem to sell different variations and packagings of the same ingredients. Buy what you can afford. Keep it simple. The sun brings the food, nutes are the vitamins. When it comes to nutrients, you can use just the “base nutrients” or you can get the whole line (which also includes additional supplements that are nice but not necessary).
I’ve had similar results using at different times the full lines of nutes by Emerald Harvest (you can use just the base nutrients or the whole line), Roots Organics (base nutrients are Buddha Grow and Bloom, and they offer the whole line in a kit) and Fox Farm (soil base nutrients or whole line)…
I swear by Foliar Essence foliar spray weekly. Mammoth P is great to lubricate the nutes highways. I use Mad Farmer Detox right before harvest, which is a cleaning/flushing solution.
PH and PPM Tester
To test the pH, I use a Bluelab PH Pen. I also use a PPM meter to measure the strength of nutrient solutions.
I use old hydrogen peroxide bottles(quart size) that I cut at the top for a wider neck. 3 or 4 rounds of these will feed one auto.
How to Start Growing Cannabis Outdoors
Follow these steps and you will be harvesting your plants in a few months:
1.) Find a growing location
When growing cannabis outdoors, it’s important to find a private spot with easy access to water and 6+ hours of direct sun each day.
I built my backyard for privacy long before growing cannabis outdoors so it was canna-ready, but if fence height and privacy are an issue I’d recommend growing autos or scrogging photos. Have a dog to keep away cats and rodents as much as possible. Be nice to your neighbors, and a little sharing goes a long way! Sunlight availability is my number one challenge. 2-3 hrs in the morning and 3-4 hrs in the afternoon. The more the better!
A private, secluded area with plenty of sunlight is perfect for growing cannabis. Make sure you have access to water!
2.) Set up your containers with soil
Nursery pots are straight forward. Fill with loose soil to the rim, bang the pot lightly 2-3 times on the ground, add soil up to the rim again and that’s it.
In airpots the soil has to be pushed lightly into the holes on the sides as it’s poured in but same tapping and refilling method works great afterward.
3.) Germinate your seeds and place in containers
I germinate seeds in RootRiot plugs (the extra michoryzae is nice!) I drop the seed in water(shot glass in a dark spot for a day or two usually) until the tap root pops out and is about half an inch long.
I move autos in their final pot as soon as they’ve germinated (5-gallon container(= #7 Airpot USA), though 10 gallons is better for the longer cycle strains and super autos.)
Photoperiod plants go to a 1-gallon pot first then 5 or 7-gallon then to their final pot. I use 15 or 20-gallon nursery pots for photos.
4.) Water plants regularly
Cannabis plants like when the root environment is slightly acidic. The optimal ph is 6-7 for cannabis plants grown in soil. It’s important to check the pH of your water because plants get nutrient deficiencies if it’s too high or too low. The city water where I live has a 6.5 ph so on plain-water days it comes out straight out of the hose.
If it’s a day I give nutrients, I mix nutrients then take ppm readings. Once everything looks good I ph the water. Nutrients tend to lower the ph, so on feeding days I usually have to adjust the ph up before giving it to the plants. Your experience may vary depending on the ph of your water source. Here’s a tutorial on how to test the ph of your water.
How often do you water the plants?
- Every other day to every 3 days
How often do you water seedlings?
- I make sure they stay moist until I know the root growth is sufficient to allow for the top to dry out between watering.
How often do you water bigger plants?
- Bigger plants, especially later in the summer get watered every day in between feedings, not a full round of water but enough to sustain them thru the heat. And it helps them use up whatever nutes leftovers were there…
How much water do you give at a time?
- Full pressure on the hose wand, set on shower, and I count until 3 or 5 seconds while I release water.
5.) Plant care
Make sure photoperiod plants don’t get light at night. A privacy fence or a hedge will block street lights pollution enough. No direct bright light at night is the ticket!
A young outdoor marijuana plant
Watch for bugs or nutrient deficiencies and react quickly to problems
- Every day, twice a day I survey my plants, if something is spotted I make sure to treat it as soon as possible. Once a week I spray a pesticide and make sure to rotate between them, spinosad, neem oil, insecticidal soaps etc… to keep any kind of invasion from happening.
- Diagnose some common plant bugs and other plant problems with this cannabis plant doctor.
Do you do any plant training like LST, supercropping, topping, etc?
- All of it! Depending on the plant or my mood I might top one and not the other but supercropping is a constant for sure.
How to deal with caterpillars
Caterpillars are one of the most common cannabis pests for outdoor growers. They will eat leaves and may even tunnel through the middle of your buds.
There’s a worm in there, that’s what this leaf tells me… Now I must remove the whole bud.
“B.T.” is an organic and OMRI certified insecticide that kills caterpillars but won’t hurt people, bees, animals or plants. It is safe to use on your plant up until the week of harvest. Get Monterey B.T. Ready-to-Use Spray on Amazon.
Anything else major to keep an eye on?
- The tip of the leaves, if they remain green you’re good, but watch for that yellowing tip, every day! Too much food! When it happens, it’s time to flush!
6.) Harvest plants when ready
When to Harvest
Plants are getting close when most trichomes are cloudy(autos and photos). At that point, I start flushing with mad farmer detox. I chop when the first ambers show up at about 10% max. Learn more about trichomes and when to harvest.
Autoflowering plants are ready to harvest on their own schedule as determined by the breeder.
For photoperiod plants the exact timing depends on your local latitude, but are typically ready to harvest in mid to late fall. Harvest here runs from mid-September to early November for those late sativas.
How to Dry and Cure Buds
My methods remain the same for autos and photos. (Here’s an alternative guide)
- Hang for 10 days at 70F and 60% humidity
- Dry trim
- Store in brown paper bags for another 7-10 days
- Store in glass jars with a 62% humidity pack
That’s it! A quick and dirty tutorial that will get you all the way to your first outdoor cannabis harvest!
More from LuckyAcres
Check out more pictures and videos by LuckyAcres on Instagram and Youtube.
Are you ready to start growing cannabis outdoors? If you're a new grower looking for a quick and basic tutorial on how to grow weed outside, this is it!