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.
How to Grow Marijuana Outdoors
By Stan | July 1st, 2020
Let’s face it! Plants that are grown outdoors grow big and the harvest is plenty. Besides, growing weed outdoors is a less expensive option as little equipment is required.
Like other plants, marijuana can be grown outdoors or indoors. However, a lot that has to happen before one can successfully grow cannabis outdoors.
This article delves into the topic of how to grow marijuana outdoors. It provides reasons, steps, the right timing, location, and also outlines what you need to get started.
Why Grow Weed Outdoors?
Growing weed outdoors comes with many advantages, whether your intention is for medicinal or commercial purposes:
- High yield.
- Doesn’t need special expertise.
- High-quality weed.
Outdoor growing, if done well, often leads to more buds, which translates to more yield. With just a few plants, you’re assured of getting a considerable amount of high-quality weed for your needs.
When cannabis plants are grown outside, they accumulate more energy because they have free access to sunlight. Essentially, more sun, as well as more carbon dioxide, means more food for the plant. The result is greater growing heights that they wouldn’t attain if grown indoors.
Effortless and Doesn’t Require Much Expertise
You don’t need to be an expert to grow weed successfully outdoors. Provided you have the right seeds, the climate is suitable and there are sufficient rains, you’re good to go. This makes it a more effortless option when compared to growing it indoors — controlling growth conditions indoors requires greater expertise.
Once your seeds sprout, they need much less attention from you than if you grew them indoors. Your work will mainly consist of regular checks to see what’s happening. Otherwise, anything else that the plant needs is readily available.
If you ask outdoor growers, they’ll likely tell you that their weed has a unique flavor. There’s an element of truth to this since outdoor-grown cannabis has free access to quality nutrients.
The powerful combination of fresh air, sufficient sunshine and the natural soil provide a powerful nutritious combination for an attractive flavor. Therefore, it makes sense to grow weed outdoors.
Disadvantages of Growing Weed Outdoors
While growing marijuana outdoors has benefits, there are disadvantages worth noting before you make up your mind.
Knowing these before starting your weed-growing journey will help you to combat them if they arise:
- You cannot control the outdoor environment.
- Plants are vulnerable to pests and animals.
- Potential conflict with the public.
- Open to theft, especially if far from your home.
- Risk of damage from extreme weather conditions.
For the successful growth of your plants, you should find a way of minimizing the effect of these disadvantages. Most importantly, always ensure that your activities are legal.
Decisions to Make Before Growing Cannabis Outdoors
Growing weed outdoors can be fun, as well as a rewarding experience. The key here is to ensure you have the correct setup and follow our advice. While it might seem like an easy venture, there’s a lot to learn before embarking on it.
There are a few choices you need to make first. If you want a smooth process without leaving anything out, have a look at this checklist:
- Choose the right strains, preferably high-quality ones.
- Growing in the earth or in containers?
- Always buy the best soil, even if growing in the earth.
- Choose the right nutrients.
Once you’ve settled on the above choices, you’re good to move on. From there, consider the following factors:
- Where to grow weed outdoors.
- When to plant your cannabis outdoors.
- What’s your grow location?
Where to Grow Weed Outdoors
Marijuana grows in different parts of the world, but the quality of the final product depends on many things, including where it is grown. In the same way that other cash crops demand specific climatic conditions, different marijuana strains do well in specific climates.
As an illustration, regions along the equator are best for growing sativa strains. In such areas, the summers are long and winters are mild. These conditions are ideal for sativa as they have a longer flowering period.
Some strains are also good when grown outdoors. However, it’s worth noting that outdoor conditions vary from one region to another. Marijuana thrives outdoors when grown in regions that experience warm and hot climates with minimal rainfall. Such conditions are found in the Mediterranean.
If you still want to grow cannabis, but the climatic conditions in your place aren’t as good as the above, the next best alternative is to put them in a controlled environment. A greenhouse can do well, provided all the necessary conditions are assured. A greenhouse can help you overcome nature’s constraints.
When Should You Plant Cannabis Outdoors?
Growing weed outdoors can be very rewarding. Unfortunately, there’s no single period when it’s best to plant your strains outdoors. We can’t say that a particular month is the best as it depends on many factors.
If you want to get the best harvest, consider two things before planting your cannabis:
While other factors are important too, these two have the biggest influence on the performance of your plants after planting.
As a grower, you should avoid planting your cannabis too early or when the year has just started. What that means is that your plant might die due to extremely low temperatures at such times of the year.
Although the seasons vary from one state to another, look to grow your cannabis plants one or two months before June. In most regions of the U.S., temperatures, are good and your plant will likely perform well.
In a nutshell, the best time to grow your cannabis outdoors is when the conditions are right and can allow for easy growth. You have to be vigilant since you cannot control the outdoor environment as you would do if you were to grow your plants indoors where conditions are controllable.
What Is Your Grow Location?
Growing cannabis outdoors is not all about picking any location. Some places are appropriate, while others might give you a headache later on. For instance, you shouldn’t grow your marijuana along a fence that you share with a neighbor. Such a location is just asking for trouble, especially from the neighbor and if children are nearby.
Here are some of the most popular outdoor locations for growing marijuana outdoors:
- Roof terrace.
- Open field.
A roof terrace is secure, and also gives your plants unobstructed access to full-day sunlight. But while it’s a great option, strong winds can be a problem. Other than that, this can be a good site.
In A Cornfield
A cornfield is also another ideal location for your cannabis. In such a place, your plants enjoy privacy, and they have access to enough sunlight as well. As long as you plant in the middle of the cornfield at the right time, your plants will do well.
In The Forest
If you have access to a forest that has ample space and is secure, this can be an excellent option. It’s already a hub for growing vegetation, and so the access to sunlight and soil nutrients are already in existence.
Growing marijuana in an open field relies upon safety being paramount. Being in an open environment means it’s open to the elements, theft and wildlife. However, you’re also giving the plants the prime opportunity to absorb unrestricted sunlight, water and soil nutrients.
Other Less-Popular Growing Locations
Other growing locations that you can consider for medical marijuana include a small garden near home, near the riverbank — if it’s a legal option — and on a balcony. The idea here is to get a place that’s easy to access and is safe.
What You Need to Get Started Growing Outdoors
- Premium seeds: Decide on the genetics of the seed and which strain you’d like. We provide a wide range of different strains, each of which having various standout features. Check out some of the options for the best outdoor strain for a high yield.
- Seed starter kit: We believe that the very best way to get your seeds started is to germinate the seeds using the Spongepot. You can then prepare your soil using Mycorrhiza and water your plants with Rhyzobac. You can find more info on this process here.
- Soil: A safe bet is to get ready-made soil from the garden center. While this soil does not contain the correct nutritional values for a complete growth cycle, it will suffice to support a seedling through its first phase. We highly recommend adding Mycorrhiza fungi and Rhyzo bacteria to the soil for optimum quality, growth, and yield.
- Containers: Both for storage and transportation. Handle the plants as little as possible and use glass — more on this below!
- Watering can: One of the easiest ways to water the plants!
- Sticks for holding heavy buds: This will prevent the stems from breaking. These are essentials that many growers overlook!
Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Weed Outdoors
Once you’re well-prepared and feel ready to get growing, follow our steps below on how to grow bigger buds outdoors.
Step 1: Pick an Appropriate Space
The first and the most important decision when it comes to growing weed outdoors is choosing the right space. An appropriate space means that your plants are secure and can freely get sunlight without any obstruction. This is the case whether you’re planting directly into the ground or using containers.
Step 2: Gain a Good Understanding of Your Weather and Climate
Although cannabis can easily adapt to different environmental conditions, it’s good to choose the correct area in your chosen space to protect the plants from the elements. Heavy winds, rain, and snow not only affect growth levels but also impact the final quality of the product.
Excess moisture in cannabis plants can also develop mold. This greatly impacts the quality of the harvest, and moldy weed can lead to health concerns.
Step 3: Assess the Soil
If you’re growing directly in the ground, it’s vital to assess the quality of the soil. Weed does well in soil that’s rich in organic matter. If you have access to such soil, you’re on the right track a high yield and a high-quality harvest. Even if the natural soil in your chosen grow locations isn’t nutrient-dense, you can buy soil to mix in with the original.
On the other hand, if you intend to use containers, then make sure you acquire soil that’s rich in organic matter.
About a month from when it’s time to plant your chosen strain, dig the holes and enter the compost manure, organic matter, or worm castings. The essence of doing it early allows the soil to mix well with the added matter. The plant will then have the best start in its growth journey.
Step 4: Choose the Right Cannabis Strains
The success of outdoor growing also depends largely on the type of strains that you plant. Not every cannabis strain can be grown outdoors and produce high yields.
There are two options when it comes to growing weed:
- Seeds: Generally, seeds produce high yields, and your harvest will be bountiful if you nail the choice of seeds.
- Clones: On the other hand, clones are the best if you want to be sure that you grow females. These are the only strains that produce buds.
Step 5: Plant Your Weed and Nurture
Once you have the right seeds or clones, the next step is obviously to plant them in your garden or containers.
If you’re growing for own use, a few plants will be okay. Also, it’s a bit easier to manage a few compared to many, especially if this is your first time.
Ensure that you use the right spacing and that you can easily monitor germination as well as early growth for your plants. The first few weeks after planting are vital for your plant. They determine whether or not you’ll have healthy plants.
An excellent way to do this is to use Spongepot. You can check out this article on how to go about this.
Step 6: Provide the Needed Nutrients for Healthy Growth
Like any other plant, weed can only grow well if all the necessary nutrients are provided. If the composition of the soil isn’t ideal, consider adding what’s missing.
Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are the most important nutrients you should supply to your plants if you want to encourage healthy growth. Simply get the right fertilizer that has all these nutrients, and you’ll have healthy plants.
Step 7: Protect Your Plants
Growing your cannabis outdoors means you’re exposing them to weather conditions that might be a bit harsh. Although plants can be sturdy, they’re not immune to the elements and nature.
Extreme weather events such as storms and physical damage by animals are the leading threats to cannabis when you plant them outdoors. If necessary, you can consider using a protective enclosure to keep your plants safe.
Step 8: Control Pests and Diseases
Crawling and flying insects are the most common pests that can be a threat to your plants. In addition, large animals such as deer can also damage your plants. You should, therefore, have a plan of how you’ll manage them.
One way to reduce the chances of your cannabis plants being affected by pests is to grow them in an area far from flowers and vegetables. Insects and pests can easily spread between plants if you grow them together. It’s, therefore, good to separate them.
Step 9: Harvest at the Right Stage
Finally, after growing your plants and making sure that they have all they need for healthy growth, harvesting them at the right time. Harvesting too early or too late can compromise the quality of your product.
If all other factors are constant, your plant will be ready for harvest when they’re between the 3rd and the 5th month, depending on the strains you grew. The good thing is that you can tell when your plant is ready for harvest by simply looking at it. But, before you harvest, inspect them thoroughly to check if buds have mold.
Step 10: Store Under the Right Conditions
Your job isn’t over once the plants are harvested. You now need to store your crop to maintain its quality. The best thing to do for storage is:
- Avoid handling the weed as much as possible.
- Store in dark, glass jars.
Handling the weed can knock off the trichomes, which are vital in maintaining the strength and quality of the harvest.
Avoid exposing your weed to sunlight as much as possible. You can wrap them in brown paper bags and store them in glass jars, get dark-glass jars or paint the outside of a clear glass jar.
Take Care of Your Plants — Common Problems
While outdoor growing can be fun and is highly productive, a few challenges are bound to happen along the way. Since the outdoor environment created by you, it’s very hard to control it.
Apart from the obvious weather changes, attacks from spider mites, caterpillars and bud rot can plague the growing experience. If you’re not hands-on with the growth of your plants, consider hiring someone to look after it for you. Regular monitoring of the growing area and the plants is needed so you can combat problems as soon as they arise.
Other than these challenges, outdoor growing can be fun if you can find a way of overcoming them. Manage them well, and you can expect high yields from your outdoor cannabis farm.
Growing bigger buds outdoors isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s great fun and is an incredible experience, but has some challenges.
The most important thing is to ensure that you provide all the necessary conditions for optimal growth and performance. It’s pretty hard to stuff up the results once you’ve got the preparation nailed down. Just be careful not to handle the harvested buds too much to ensure their quality and store them out of sunlight.
If medical cannabis is already legal in your region, then why not get planting and use the results for your own uses or to help out others? No matter the reason for your venture, we wish you a great and fulfilling journey in becoming a successful marijuana grower.
Learn How to Grow Marijuana Outdoors the easy way: with this step-by-step guide, you can't go wrong!