Some people tend to overcomplicate the process of growing weed. But fundamentally, plants are plants. And while cannabis cultivation is a little more difficult than growing tomatoes, the key part of that sentence is “a little.” If you arm yourself with a bit of horticultural know-how, you can start growing weed right in your backyard that rivals anything you can buy.
While outdoor marijuana sometimes gets a bad rap, the trash-talking often comes from indoor growers, who of course have a big financial stake in which you choose. Growing indoors costs a lot more than outdoor cultivation because of power and equipment costs. And there is no grow light on the market that can rival the sheer intensity of the sun.
Even if you invest in containers, soils, compost teas, soil amendments, plant foods for four plants, and a pair of decent trimming scissors for harvesting, you’ll still only be out about 100 bucks for an outdoor harvest. For comparison purposes, a respectable indoor setup, including lighting, can easily cost $1,000 or more, according to Neil Bernstein, owner of Roots Garden Supply in North Portland, Oregon.
A few words of caution: Growing weed is still illegal in much of the United States. Be aware of local laws and plant limits, and if you go outside those parameters, be aware of the risk of arrest.
Where To Plant Marijuana
Opt for pots for your cannabis so that if things get too rainy in late autumn, you can relocate the plants, bringing them inside if necessary. Once inside, Bernstein advises placing them in front of a South-facing window, if you don’t want to invest in a grow light. “If you leave them out in weeks of rain, you will just get rotten marijuana,” Bernstein said.
If you’re starting from a cutting, also known as a clone, you should ideally use a soil mix specifically for cannabis. Leave the cutting in the shade two to four days. You can then gradually introduce it to full sunlight over the course of a week or so; this process is called “hardening off.”
If you start from seeds (here’s a list of where to buy the best ones), it’s a good idea to soak them for 24 hours in water. Some folks use soaked paper towels; if you do this, make sure they don’t dry out. This softens the shell of the seed and encourages it to prepare for sprouting. Put the seeds about half an inch in the soil before covering, and soak the soil with water. If all goes well, a sprout should emerge within a few days. (I’ve personally seen seeds sprout in 24 hours, and I’ve also seen them take 4 to 5 days.)
How Often To Water Weed
The temptation is to become an overprotective parent to your beautiful babies. Cannabis plants seem to get more and more beautiful as they grow, and your impulse will be to make sure they have plenty of water and plant food.
Now, that’s a perfectly noble and understandable thing, but giving the plant too much water or too much fertilizer can harm or even kill your plants.
The soil should start to feel dry before you water. Expect to water more frequently during hot weather and as the plant gets larger. As for feeding, compost tea every 10 to 14 days is a good fertilizer schedule. Bernstein recommends adding a “top dressing” of nutrients and fertilizer about three to five weeks after planting, and every couple weeks after that.
When To Grow Pot
Once autumn approaches, the rains get heavier, especially in areas like the Pacific Northwest. Just a few rainy days in early fall can result in moldy flowers and crop loss. Be vigilant, and inform yourself about the appearance of powdery mildew and botrytis (bud rot). Check your plants every day, and relocate them if necessary.
If it’s an especially damp fall, consider harvesting early. It’s better to have undersized buds than none at all. While the flowers won’t be as potent and won’t taste as good, they will at least be usable.
When To Harvest Marijuana
Flowering in cannabis is triggered by photoperiod, that is, hours of daylight. Once sunlight drops below about 12 hours a day, the plants go into flower. If you’re growing weed from seeds, one-quarter to one-half of your plants will be males and must be discarded if you don’t want seeded flowers.
Male plants are easily identifiable by the distinctive pollen sacs they sprout instead of the familiar female flowers which we smoke. THC levels are quite low in males, making them essentially useless for smoking, but the cannabinoids found in them are still medicinal so they can be added to trim to be made into cannabis oil or used in edibles.
Which Marijuana Strain To Grow
If you know which strain you’re growing, research its flowering time. Flowering generally ranges from about 45 to 90 days. If you’re thinking that’s a mighty broad range, it’s because indicas typically mature significantly faster (6-8 weeks) than sativa strains (9-12 weeks). That’s because indicas originated in colder, higher altitude climates and sativas originated in more tropical, equatorial climes. (Here’s our guides on everything indica and everything sativa.)
Some master growers, rather than paying any attention to how many days the plants have been flowering, closely observe the subtle changes in the plant’s appearance to know the sweet spot for harvesting. Calyxes swell, pistils (the “hairs”) go from white to red and recede, and the trichomes (which contain THC and other cannabinoids) go from clear to cloudy to amber.
There’s a debate among experienced growers about exactly how milky or amber the trichomes should be before harvest. This debate, of course, will never be settled, because growers, may the ganja goddess bless them, are among the most opinionated and stubborn people you’ll ever meet. One widely used measure is that when at least half of the trichomes have gone from clear to cloudy, you’re near harvest time.
How To Trim Marijuana
When the buds have reached the desired stage of ripeness, it’s time to cut down the plant and hang it up for about a week. Once flowers can be easily snapped off the stems, you’re ready to trim them to your own preference. Some growers prefer a tight, California-style trim with none of the little “sugar leaves” that naturally occur on the flowers; others like to leave some or most sugar leaves on, as they are quite potent.
Stash your dried flowers in glass containers, ideally, for at least 10 days, opening and closing to “burp” the jars and let fresh air in every couple of days. Some growers, unsurprisingly, believe it’s necessary to cure their flowers for months in this fashion. In my experience, some of the more delicate terpenes are lost this way. (Terpenes are the deliciously aromatic compounds on the flower which help accentuate the high.)
Why Growing Weed Is The Best
Growing weed for your own use is, for many people, a spiritual and soul-enriching pursuit that makes one more aware and more human. There’s nothing quite like the fulfillment of putting a seed into the soil, watching it sprout, observing it reach maturity, and producing beautiful flowers.
Growing weed, properly approached, can profoundly alter your relationship with nature, life, and the world. Besides, the high is just so much better when you know you did it all yourself.