Growing cannabis outdoors is as much art as it is science. Many cannabis cultivators swear by indoor growing. You can control your indoor environment a lot more easily than an outdoor plot, and pests are less of a problem. Also, many states that allow growing require a person to grow in an enclosed area. Indoor grows are more practical.
Yet, outdoor grows have a number of advantages. The taste and effects that come from sungrown cannabis are often deemed superior. Some growers claim that natural sunlight develops the full range of cannabinoids and terpenes (sunlight has various wavelengths, whereas indoor grow lights are often tuned to a specific spectrum, which can limit which cannabinoids are expressed in the final product). Other advantages include potentially massive yields and the natural environment’s soil and water (although some cannabis gardeners use coco coir and nutrients or a preferred organic potted soil).
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The only downside is that, due to the elements, outdoor growing is fraught with the possibility of failure. Here’s how best to ensure a decent outdoor cannabis grow, barring any major environmental changes or acts of God!. If you want more precise details with regards to germination, growth cycles and nutrients, check out our post on growing cannabis for beginners. Our friends at Homegrown Cannabis Co. also have an excellent article on growing cannabis outdoors, which we highly recommend reading for an even greater understanding of growing outdoors, and the knowledge being passed on by Swami Select.
What’s Your Latitude – How Much Light Do You Get?
Latitude is key to growing cannabis outdoors successfully. Where you’re located geographically will determine what time of year you plant and how much light you get everyday. Choosing an ideal cannabis seed suited to growing in that environment is also crucial. Here’s a rough guide:
The Northern Hemisphere, 25°N – 50°N: Most cultivators start their grow by the end of March to the beginning of June, which is when the plant vegetates and forms preflowers that you can separate into males and females. The longest day in the year occurs between 20 and 23 June (summer solstice), which is when the plant starts flowering. The shortest day (winter solstice) is between 20 and 23 December. Most outdoor grows are harvested between September and November.
Mediterranean climates are ideal for growing in this region. It is often possible to grow two large crops per year in such environments when done right, including long-flowering sativas. Outdoor varietals like Taängie (California Orange x Skunk #1) or Chocolope x Kush do extremely well in such regions.
Further North, and you may want to go for more indica-leaning and autoflowering varieties like Hawaii x Purple Skunk, Critical x No Name or Early Skunk x Northern Lights may be better choices.
The Southern Hemisphere, 25°S – 50°S: The growing season starts between September and October, although some growers plant as late as December. Harvest time is between March and May. Outdoor growers can harvest up to two large yields per year in a good growing season. You can grow similar strains to the ones mentioned above, just mirror-flipped for the South.
If you go too far North or South, outdoor growing becomes extremely difficult if not outright impossible, as there’s not enough light and temperatures are too low. With that in mind, there are some hardy strains that may do well in climates that are a little further than the 50°N or 50°S borderline, like Hindu Kush, which can withstand harsh, windswept mountainside regions. Master Kush may also do well, but has a slightly longer vegetative period. Autoflowering varietals mixed with such Kush genetics could be ideal.
Intertropical Zones & Equator: Lies between Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, and receives an even 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark per day. These regions are perfect for large equatorial sativa varieties. Cannabis can be grown year-round.
Cannabis ruderalis (autoflowering cannabis strains): Native to Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, this type of cannabis is dependent upon age rather than the light cycle to mature and flower. Autoflowering varieties can be grown from seed from June in the Northern Hemisphere and January in the Southern Hemisphere. A long vegetative period is not needed. Yields are usually lower, but is an excellent introduction to outdoor growing for beginners. Even experienced cultivators grow autoflowering varieties alongside their Cannabis sativa counterparts, due to their reliability and high CBD content.
Best Soil for Growing Cannabis
The best type of soil is loamy soil, which is a combination of sand, silt and clay soils, with a slightly acidic pH of between 5.5 and 7.0. Loamy soil is ideal for water retention, drainage and nutrient content. Some growers add bat guano as a natural fertilizer, fungicide and compost activator, speeding up the decomposition process. Many states have pockets of loam soil, including Ohio, Illinois, California, Oregon and Wisconsin. Many cannabis gardeners tend to buy their loam soil.
If you are fortunate to have plenty of earthworms in your natural soil, then count your blessings and grow away – earthworms are a sign that your soil is healthy and nutrient-rich!
Growing Cannabis in Coco Coir
Coco coir is a natural fiber extracted from the outer husk of coconut, and is an alternative medium to growing in soil. Coco Coir is mixed with sand, compost and fertilizer to make good quality potting soil, and has an acidic pH of 5.5 – 6.5. Coco coir is also inert; it contains no nutrients. All needed fertilizer must be added.
Watering a Cannabis Grow
Too much water can drown plants. Too little can dehydrate them. Any rain will water outdoor cannabis plants naturally, but you may still need to water your plants. A good standard is one gallon of water per day for each pound of processed flower you expect to harvest from each plant. Water accordingly.
Best Temperature Range for Cannabis Grows
Ideally, temperatures shouldn’t fall below 12℃ or above 30℃. Some form of shelter from excessive heat or torrential downpour can be helpful; a temporary tarpaulin or a greenhouse is ideal.
Wind and your Cannabis Plants
Limited wind can provide a cannabis plant with beneficial stress, helping it grow stronger. Too much wind, however, can knock plants down. You may need to erect barriers or fences. If you plan on mulching, go for heavier substrates pinned down with rocks, as opposed to straw and sawdust. Mulch is a thick layer of material placed over the soil and around plants, used to suppress weeds and lock moisture into the soil, while acting as a physical barrier to drying winds and direct sun.
Consider Other Light Sources
Can you ensure that your cannabis plants will receive the appropriate 12 hours of dark time during the flowering period, and that there won’t be other light sources (e.g. street lights, light pollution from buildings and cars) that prevent your crop from flowering, or cause your female seeds to hermie (produce male parts and self-pollinate)? Appropriate dark time is essential for growing cannabis successfully and getting a bumper yield.
Cannabis Plant Genetics
Choosing the appropriate type of seed for the environment you are growing in is the best way to ensure you get the best out of your plant. Equatorial sativas are not ideal for growing in cooler climates, where indicas and autoflowering strains may be a better bet. A landrace variety of cannabis from, say, Brazil may not be ideal to grow outdoors in the middle of Massachusetts! There are many examples of great, vigorous outdoor cannabis varieties available here.
For most people wanting to grow something sturdy and reliable, a well-established hybrid like Skunk #1, Blue Dream or Gorilla Glue could be better choices. Leave the rarer and unique cannabis strains for the more advanced growers, who may end up making a seed stock that’s more reliable in a few years’ time! Check out our post on where to buy cannabis seeds if you want to find the genetics right for you.
In What Sort of Outdoor Spaces Can I Grow Cannabis?
There are many locations where you can grow cannabis outdoors (except perhaps the front lawn!). These include:
The Balcony: If south-facing, can receive plenty of sunlight. The fresh air and breeze can provide some stress training. However, growing on an extremely high balcony may prove too windy, and you cannot grow well on a north-facing balcony.
Rooftop or Terrace: Receive sunlight all day long, plenty of rainwater, and much easier to conceal than balcony grows. However, rooftop grows are exposed to lots of heat and wind, and plants can be susceptible to being blown away or drowned during storms. Rooftop cannabis cultivation is more exposed to the view of any police helicopter cameras (the “eye in the sky”); so using other plants and camouflage is important for open sky grows.
The Garden: Growing naturally outdoors in your own garden can provide one of the most satisfying feelings. If there’s plenty of space, you can grow many different plants together in a polyculture, which can improve the soil and control pests, weeds, and disease without major chemical inputs. However, garden grows are also more susceptible to pests and mold. You can grow in pots in the garden, or a garden bed with loamy soil.
Greenhouses: Greenhouses can provide the best aspects of both indoor and outdoor growing, with natural light provided by the sun and protection from some pests and the more extreme elements. However, greenhouses must be properly ventilated in order to prevent stale air and humidity buildup. Plants may also become stressed and overheated during heatwaves.
Guerilla Growing: This is growing outside of a person’s own property, ideally somewhere concealed and out-of-the-way. Guerilla Growing is one of the cheapest ways of cultivating cannabis. You are letting nature do most of the work. You also don’t have to worry about being caught with cannabis on your own property, which can be an issue. However, in states where it is legal to grow cannabis, it is probably more of a legal risk to grow in a place not your own. You also run the chance of someone else stumbling upon your crop and co-opting or destroying your efforts.
Why Grow Cannabis Outdoors?
Growing cannabis outdoors can be a bit of a challenge. We certainly advise most beginners to grow their first cannabis indoors in order to develop a greater understanding of the plant’s growth cycle. Still, few cannabis related activities are more satisfying than harvesting a large, sungrown crop that produces a yield large enough to ensure you will probably not need to grow again for another year, let alone go to a dispensary or other vendor.
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Well-planned outdoor cannabis grows may also reduce your carbon footprint, reduce or eliminate any non-organic pesticide or fertilizer use and save you cash, making it the better choice for cannabis consumers who are more environmentally conscious. And for anyone who is finding it difficult to get their outdoor setup running, enlisting some advisors and an outdoor grow kit will make your work simpler!