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.
Growing Weed Outdoors – The Basics
Here are some basic steps to get an abundant, healthy, harvest, with some help from the sun and a few extra things. Growing weed outdoors can be a task; if you plant it with just soil, water and sun, you’ll get something similar to cannabis but it won’t be the real deal. In order to get an acceptable final result, you’ll need to follow some specific steps.
There are a lot of methods when it comes to outdoor growing, but here we’ll focus more on seasonal growing; plant your crop during March-April and harvest your precious bud during September-October.
Seeds and Flowerpots
First of all, you need to pick what kind of marijuana seed you want, and begin germinating it. Afterwards, you need to find an adequate type of soil for your crop area, because plants that are in hot or cold areas do not need the same kind of soil. You will also need a few plant pots. Whether you plant in the ground or in pots, you’ll need to make sure your seeds have grown a little bit before transplanting them to their home, just to make sure you give them the best chance at surviving a hostile environment, in which bugs may try and attack your plants (and don’t think that because you live in a city that there will be no bugs).
You’re going to need two types of pots; one in which you should germinate your seeds, and another in which they begin the growing process. To germinate your seeds, the best option is a pot sized 7x7x9, because you will need to wet the seeds and this size can help avoid soaking them. To germinate your seeds you can use the Tupperware system, and once you can see the root popping out, you can transplant the seed to a small pot, making sure to bury the seed very close to the surface, around 1cm. Then, you should move the pot near a window or somewhere similar where there is lots of sunlight but not much wind.
The first days of life
After about 10 days, the plant should have grown so much that it’s almost doubling over. This is when you should transplant the plant to a bigger pot, about 3,5L. In this new pot, bury the trunk of the plant about two thirds, 6 to 10cm, so that extra roots are released into the soil and the plant is much more stable, increaing production. Then, water around the edges until the water begins to be absorbed by the plant. Be careful, because if you water the trunk directly, the plant may begin to rot.
When growing weed outdoors you’ll need to keep our plant somewhere where it can get direct sunlight, and if possible, out of the way of the wind or the cold. Also, if it gets extremely cold or windy, you can consider bringing the plant inside. Once the plant is about a palm off the ground, after about a month, you can bring them outside without worrying about the trunk breaking, or a bird coming and flying off with it. Although your plant will do well against those types of attacks, you still need to protect it from another type: insects.
Growing Weed Outdoors | Preventive Products
There are three absolutely necessary products (apart from fertilizers) that you’ll need to protect our outdoor plants – Neem, Propolix, Bacilus Thuringiensis.
- Neem – This is used to repel insects like white flies or plant louse. You should use it as soon as spring starts, which means that the first spray you give your plants should be from this all natural product. Neem oil comes from a venomous plant, so when insects smell the Neem plant, they will obviously stay away or simply attack a different plant, which is optimal as long as it’s not yours. Sometimes it can even be used as an insecticide when your plants have been infected, although chemical products tend to fair better.
- Propolix – This product protects your plants from fungus like mildew or botrytis, which are absolutely devastating to marihuana crops. You should start using propolix as soon as possible, which means the next time we spray your plants, it will be with propolix. You should repeat this process every 20 days up until 30 days before harvesting, and you should be free of any kinds of fungus. Bees are responsible for making propolix so that nothing can get into their hive.
- Bacillus Thuringiensis – This product will put an end to those eggs that butterflies like to leave on your crops, just as they’re beginning to flower. If you don’t act against these plant-squatters, they’ll eat your crops from the inside out. Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to detect them because they camouflage themselves really well in between the buds, but if you look closely you can see where they eat and also their feces. At the beginning of June you should begin spraying your plant, and then once every 20 days up until there are 30 days left until the harvest.
Feeding Charts and pH levels
When spraying your plants you need to make sure that they’re big enough, because a plant with a very skinny trunk will end up doubling over under the weight of the liquid. We’ll need a strong plant, more or less like the one in the picture.
Every day you’ll be able to see how our plants grow. They don’t ask for much, just water and sun, but their lives are only just beginning. Little by little you should begin fertilizing your plant to ensure that they develop properly, and you should also control the pH levels in the water that you use. If you don’t check the pH levels you might not know why certain things are happening to your plants, like why they’re not absorbing what you give them, which is something that can happen with high or low pH levels.
During the growth phase, the pH levels must range between 5,5 and 5,8, including fertilizers. There are a wide variety of composts available for your plants. Both your plants and their flavor will be grateful to you for using organic composts. If you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of flavor, you can get more quantity and a nicer looking plant, but plants grown with organic compost will always taste better. During this phase, we’re going to need compost that is rich in nitrogen, the substance that your plant needs the most during this phase. You can give this to your plant in the form of worm humus, and you can add other bio composts like the Canna Bio Vega. If you stick with this and keep the pH under control, your plant will be perfect throughout its entire growth.
Growing Weed Outdoors | Necessary Transplants
Eventually, your plant will stop growing, you’ll go to check on it and it will be the same as the day before, and the next. The most likely explanation of this Is that your plant needs a transplant, so you’ll have to move it to a bigger pot, one more or less twice as big as the one it’s currently in. Then, you should continue tending to your plant until it stops growing again.
If you neglect to transplant your plants when they need it, they will surely stop growing. If you leave your plants in the same pot for too long, the leaves will start turning up with brown stains on them; eventually the leaves will fall off and you’ll end up with a weak plant without enough energy to flower. This means you’ll end up with an extremely low production rate and you won’t even be able to smoke it.
When summer is around the corner, around the 24 th of June, the days will start getting shorter and in a few weeks your plants should start flowering. This means that as we come into July, you’ll want to move your plant to its permanent home. Marijuana plants need to be transplanted just before they begin to flower, because they shoot up and begin releasing flowers. This will obviously be the last transplant you do, due to the fact that you should never move your plants when they’re flowering, nor should you cut anything off of the plant during this phase. You could transplant your crop to the ground, even before the plants begin flowering, but it’s most definitely better to use plant pots, because:
- Nobody has seen your plant until now, you’ve been able to grow it far away from prying eyes
- It’s easier to keep critters and plagues under control, as well as excess water.
- They come out more compact and discreet if you grow them in pots; you’ll end up with a large quantity for the size of the plant (about 1.5m)
If you do decide to plant them in the ground and you want bigger plants, you can check out the article we wrote on planting marijuana in general, which, combined with this one, is perfect for what you’re looking for.
Growing Weed Outdoors | Flowering Phase
Once you’ve done the last transplant, you can enrich your soil with guano in a big pot or in the ground. You should fill your pot or a hole in the ground with a decent sublayer that adapts nicely to the soil. Then mix it with guano, about a spoon full per 7L of soil. For a bag of 50L, 7 or 8 spoonfuls should be enough. Bat guano is a slow absorbing nutrient, with high levels of phosphorus and potassium,. This is exactly what your plants are going to need in about a month.
Before you move your plant to the pot or to the ground, you’ll need to make a groove around the trunk so you can apply the dosage, and then cover up the groove. When you water the plant, the nutrients will slowly filter to the bottom and your plant will have more than enough for the flowering phase with the help of Bio Flowers or a complete flowering compost.
With that said, we’re practically at the end of our outdoor harvest; your product should be amazing quality for the amount of work it required. About 15 days before harvesting your plant, you need to wash out the soil with a lot of water so that you get rid of the excess nutrients and the plant is as clean as possible for harvest.
Once you’ve washed it out, you need to make sure that the soil or earth is nice and dry, and then water your plant with just water until harvesting day. When growing weed outdoors, soil must be dry the day you harvest your plant to avoid ending up with a plant full of water, which could lead to a rotten plant. Many people make the mistake of harvesting their plants when they’re still to humid, which ends up in a ruined harvest.
Now, all you have to do is follow the steps in the article we wrote about drying and curing and you’ll have everything you need to enjoy your very own home-grown weed.
Author: Javier Chinesta
Translation: Ciara Murphy
If you're trying to find about growing weed outdoors, you've come to the right place. We give professional, quality advice from professional growers.