Cannabis is colloquially known as “weed” because, like weeds, it is a hardy plant that can grow almost anywhere. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t some difficulties when it comes to growing cannabis at home, especially for beginners. There is a learning curve. Here are 5 tips to get the best out of your cannabis plants, increase yields, and generally improve your luck & green thumb-ness.
Remember, in most states you’ll need a medical marijuana card to legally grow your own cannabis at home.
1. Get some clones from your dispensary
If you’re lucky enough to be living in a state that allows for patients to grow their own medical cannabis, then you may have noticed that dispensaries sometimes sell “cuttings” or “clones”. This is a piece of a plant that is used in horticulture for vegetative (asexual) propagation, where a piece of the stem or root of the source plant (“mother plant”) is placed in a suitable medium such as moist soil.
Why is this a good thing? Well, for one, it cuts out the need for a vegetative stage, speeding up the whole process of growing cannabis by 1 – 2 months. The other reason is that dispensaries will have usually chosen the best plant from a stock of hundreds or even thousands. This means good roots, less susceptibility to disease and, crucially, bigger yields! You can also ask for a strain that’s particularly suitable for indoor or outdoor growing, depending on your setup.
2. Choosing the right seed
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to cuttings, so they have to grow from seed. But with so many varieties available, what’s the best one to choose?
In general, we would recommend a strain that has been grown by many for a long time, is often used in the creation of other cannabis varietals, and is hybridised. This is because these seeds are more likely to be stable because breeders have been working on them for a long time, producing consistent results. Northern Lights, Skunk #1, Blue Dream, OG Kush and White Widow are some examples of strains that have been grown at home for a long time.
If possible, get your seeds from a reputable breeder as well. TGA Subcool, Serious Seeds, DJ Short, Mr. Nice, Resin Seeds, DNA Genetics, Soma Seeds, Cali Connection, Dutch Passion and Seedsman are some of the most well-known ones, but there are many with a great selection that will likely hold something that intrigues you.
3. Light intensity
Light is your plant’s food. Therefore, the more light, the greater the yield. If you’re getting, for example, 1 ounce per plant under a 400 W light, you may increase the yield by upping the light intensity and growing under a 600 W light.
However, keep an eye on the temperature of your grow room as well as the ambient temperature outside of the grow room. Greater light intensity can increase temperatures, and you want to keep your room at a temperature between 70–85°F (20–30°C) to ensure your plant doesn’t dehydrate. If it’s too hot, then either a greater number of fans (which can increase electricity bills but help create bigger yields) or a lower light intensity may actually be better overall.
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4. Low stress training (LST)
It is tempting to think that keeping your hands off the plant is best. In general, you’d be correct in thinking that. Less stress means happier plants, meaning bigger yields! However, as with people, putting the plant under some stress actually challenges them and helps them grow. Think of LST as a wrestling class for your plant – you put it under pressure in a controlled environment, allowing it to grow bigger and being able to stay calmer in situations that are even more stressful.
Examples of LST include:
- Bending and securing parts of the plant while causing little-to-no physical damage to the plant. Bend tall stems down and away from the middle of the plant as it grows so the plant takes on a more flat and wide shape. This should be started when the plant is still a seedling since its young stems will be flexible. This ensures that all the colas (a cola refers to a cluster of buds that grow tightly together)of your plant can get even light coverage. Most growers use plant ties to achieve this.
- Super cropping – more extreme bending is called “super cropping”, which is especially suitable for hardy, outdoor plants. However, not all plants respond well to super cropping, so be careful!
- Damaging or removing parts of the plant in a strategic way to get it to grow in a more desirable shape. Pruning damaged parts of the plant ensures more energy goes into growing the buds.
- Defoliation – removing large fan leaves in order to increase the plant’s focus on growing more bud. This is best done during the vegetative or early flowering stages of the growth cycle to avoid over-stressing your plant.
- “Topping” – this refers to the process of completely removing the top of the main plant’s stem when it’s a seedling, breaking the plant into two main stems rather than just the one stem it usually grows. As with super cropping, not all plants respond well to topping.
- Manipulating timelines to get faster or bigger yields. This can include the cloning method mentioned above, but some may put a cannabis seed straight into flowering light cycles (12 hours light, 12 hours dark) in order to force the plant to grow buds straight away. However, this may stunt your plant’s growth, and the yields are smaller. If you are going to use this method, it may be better to get an autoflowering seed that can tolerate this growth pattern from the start.
- The Screen of Green (ScrOG) method – manipulating the plant’s lower and upper branches so they are on an equal level, then lightly forcing them through a square screen. This ensures an even canopy and light distribution to all of your plant’s buds.
The main nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The secondary nutrients are calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulfur (S). Here’s some general information on feeding your plants appropriately:
Vegetative stage feeding recommendations:
- Early veg stage (N:P:K ratio): 2:1:2 – 4:2:3
- Mid-veg stage (N:P:K ratio): 10:5:7
- Late veg stage (N:P:K ratio): 7:7:7
Flowering feeding recommendations:
- Early bloom (N:P:K ratio): 5:7:10
- Mid-bloom (N:P:K ratio): 6:10:15
- Mid–late bloom (N:P:K ratio): 4:7:10
Late bloom – last week of flowering
Just use water in the last week of the flowering stage, to flush out all the nutrients and get a better quality end product.
Please note that some types of plant may need a slightly adjusted feeding ratio, as some varieties are quite sensitive to some nutrients (e.g. DJ Short’s Blueberry is very sensitive to nitrogen, and many would recommend to grow it indoors).
In general, when it comes to nutrients, the general motto is less is more. This is especially true if you’re growing in soil, where most of the nutrients are already there. As for secondary nutrients, most cannabis plants very rarely need these supplemented, but if they do, use in very small amounts. Again, less is more.
Deficiency of secondary nutrients is relatively rare, but can happen. If you do notice a secondary nutrient deficiency, once again less is more, so use very little.
Growing cannabis at home: overall
If you’ve been growing cannabis and haven’t been getting the yields you hoped for, the above methods should help you get a bumper harvest. However, it must also be remembered that growing cannabis literally is “pot luck” sometimes, and you’ll get bigger and better grows on some occasions, but lesser yields on others. Plant genetics, the environment your cannabis was grown in and the amount of stress your plant goes through all play a part, and sometimes you can’t completely control for all of these variables.