In a previous article we asked the question, To Grow or Not to Grow?,” and since you are here, it looks like you’ve answered “YES!” And it looks like you are interested in outdoor marijuana growing. Excellent choice, especially for a beginner.
This article is for those who have never really grown anything, not even vegetables or roses. In other words, absolute beginners.
It will take you through the basics of a one or two plant balcony or backyard container cannabis grow.
From strain selection to curing we’ll guide you through an organic, outdoor grow. So get ready to plant a seed, do a bit of watering, and harvest some “fresh nugs” of your very own!
If you already have an outdoor vegetable garden or a green thumb, just plant in the Spring after your last frost, take care of your plants like tomatoes, and harvest in October.
Outdoor marijuana growing is really not difficult. It’s called weed for a reason. It wants to grow.
With a little planning and a little help from Mother Nature, newbie cannabis growers can grow the good stuff too.
Marijuana needs just three things to grow:
Let's talk a little more about each of them, and a few other considerations you'll need to think about for outdoor marijuana growing.
Choosing the Right Location for Outdoor Marijuana Growing
In the restaurant business you’re always told location, location, location. The same is true with a cannabis garden.
Find a secure spot, not accessible to passers by on the street. It should have a minimum 8 hours of direct sunlight a day and not be in too windy location.
If you regularly see your summertime temperatures over 95 degrees, a little shade won’t hurt.
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Cannabis Garden Security Considerations
Also, and this is very important, make sure your plant(s) are not visible to your neighbors, passers by on the street, casual acquaintances or strangers in your home, or even meter readers.
You don’t want all your hard work to go away by getting ripped off. I have known cases in all of the above categories where plants have been stolen. Discretion with growing marijuana outdoors is always important.
Mixing your cannabis plants in with other plants or shrubs helps to hide them and make them less conspicuous.
Another note on security, the fewer the people that know what you’re up too, the better.
The first rule of cannabis gardening club is to not talk about cannabis gardening club. Everything should be on a need to know basis. So, zip it.
What Size Containers Do You Need for Outdoor Marijuana Growing?
Five gallon pots or grow bags are the minimum size potting container to yield a good sized cannabis plant.
Five gallons will allow healthy root growth yet not be too heavy to move if necessary.
If you have the space, 10-gallon containers are even better.
You can find used and new containers at local nurseries and big box stores that sell plants. Or, you can buy grow bags that are made of material that allow oxygen to transfer between the soil and the bag. These bags have many benefits for the roots and oxygen transfer.
How to Prepare the Soil for Outdoor Marijuana Growing
A lot of serious gardeners make their own soil from compost, earthworm castings (poop), bat guano (poop again), bone meal, sea weed, fish extracts, etc. etc. etc.
We don’t have the time or inclination to do this.
There are plenty of good packaged organic soils you can buy at your local big box store or nursery.
We like (and cannabis plants also like) 2 potting soils from Fox Farms called Happy Frog or Ocean Forest. These potting soils will have all the nutrients (food) your marijuana plants will need.
If you can’t find them, any good potting soil labeled organic will do, just make sure the label says it has the things described above to make organic soil.
Additionally, to help the soil hold air and water mix in about 1/3 perlite to your soil. For example, use 2/3rd soil and 1/3rd perlite.
Take the soil/perlite mix and fill your potting container(s).
After filling the container, water the soil and let it sit covered for at least a week or two before planting. This will give you time to find your plants.
Letting the soil sit or compost allows the microbes and other beneficial elements grow and become active.
Finding Seeds or Clones for Outdoor Marijuana Growing
This is an important step, because the quality of your finished product will depend on the quality of the seeds or clones you plant. Good genetics are important!
As a general rule plant genetics determine the quality of the marijuana, while growing conditions will determine the quantity of the harvest.
Indicas, or indica-dominant hybrids are good choices for beginner growers -- look for anything with a Kush name. There are plenty of good quality indica and indica-dominant genetics readily available.
I like indicas, especially for beginner growers, because indicas tend to be strong and bushy plants that can be trained to not outgrow their space.
Sativas, on the other hand, tend to be taller and skinnier. They also tend to be a bit more finicky.
I suggest growing an indica variety at least for your first time or two.
Cannabis Seeds Versus Clones
The next question is seed vs clone.
The care and feeding of marijuana seeds
With seeds you don’t know if you’re going to get a male or female. (Spoiler alert, we want females in order to grow buds.
You can buy feminized seeds and insure a female 99% of the time. Make your life easier and buy feminized seeds, at least the first time. This will all but guarantee you have a female flowering plant.
Seeds can be purchased online, usually from a European dealer. If you live in state that has them, a dispensary or a marijuana expo or show are good places to score seeds without having to mail order.
Google "marijuana seeds USA" to find seedbanks that ship to the USA.
Once you get your seeds you'll need to germinate them and then get your sprouts into soil. This process should start indoors in early spring as it takes about a month to germinate seeds and get them rooted and ready to grow. Learn more about germinating and transplanting cannabis seeds here.
(Legal disclaimer: buying marijuana seeds through the mail is not legal, although it is done all the time. We are not advising you to break the law. If you decide to mail order seeds, proceed at your own risk.)
Advantages of Cannabis Clones over Seeds
Clones (also called “cuts”) are far more preferable, if you can find them. Here's why:
- A clone is a cutting taken from a female plant and then rooted into soil or rockwool.
- With a clone you get an already rooted plant about 2 weeks to a month into growth.
- Because it’s a clone of a female, you are 100% guaranteed a female plant.
- If you bought your clone from a licensed dispensary or reputable farmer, you will also know what strain it is.
What to look for when buying cannabis clones
When getting a cannabis clone look closely for any signs of bugs or poor handling. This is best done at the dispensary in front of their staff.
A good dispensary will help you look and if any are found, they will replace the clone with a clean one.
You DO NOT want to take any little critters home with you!
Select an insect-free clone about 6 to 8 inches tall with at least 6 leaves that are held up by a solid main stem. Strong clones make for strong plants.
Planting and Growing Cannabis Plants Outdoors
Now that you have a rooted plant either in a rockwool cube or small soil container, it’s time to plant it into your soil mix that you prepared a week or two earlier.
In the center of your pot, dig out a small amount of soil the size of your plants root ball and place your plant into the space. Once planted, pack some soil around the base and firm your plant into the soil.
Water it, sit back, relax, and smoke a bowl. The hardest parts is done.
The Care and Feeding of Your Outdoor Marijuana Garden
OK, we've got our baby girl in a nice healthy organic soil mixture and a spot with plenty of sunlight. Now we just water and wait.
That's mostly it but there are a few things you can do to help her on journey from baby to adolescent.
With outdoor marijuana growing, your plant will grow in its vegetative state (AKA veg state) until the days start getting shorter in mid to late summer.
As the days shorten your cannabis plant will grow more vigorously (called stretching) and begin to form flowers (called budding).
As the buds grow the overall plant growth will slow due to most of the energy going to the buds.
Water for Growing Marijuana Outdoors
During these phases you will need to insure your plant has the right amount of water.
Many new gardeners make the mistake of over watering their plants.
It's really about the moisture, or lack of it, in your soil.
To tell if your soil has enough water, here's a little test - dig down an inch or two and if the soil is moist and will stick together or to your fingers, your soil is moist enough. If you dig down and the soil is dry or dusty, it's time to water.
Another thing to look for is droopy leaves, if the soil is drying out and her leaves are drooping, it's time to water.
In the early stages of growth you don't need to water much, maybe just a couple of times a week.
Your plant is just a little girl. As she grows through veg, you will notice she will need more and more water. This is a good thing.
Nutrients for Growing Marijuana Outdoors
Your organic soil mixture should have all the necessary nutrients to sustain your plant throughout its life.
However, if you remember something I said earlier about growing conditions helping to determine quantity, there are a few things you can do to improve your plants growing conditions and yields. One of them is adding organic fertilizers.
During your plants' early weeks of growth, the veg period, they need more nitrogen to promote vigorous leaf growth.
During the later part of the season, when growth slows down and buds begin to form, your plant will still need nitrogen, but to a much lesser degree. At this time you can switch to a bloom formula, higher in Phosphorus and Potassium.
There are literally hundreds of types of fertilizers on the market and a trip to your local nursery could make your head spin. What brand or whose nutrients you use is not really that much of an issue.
If you are using the Fox Farms soils, using the nutrients Grow Big and Tiger Bloom from Fox Farms seems obvious.
If these are not available or if you prefer another brand of nutrients, it’s not a big deal. Just follow the guidelines of using a Veg formula early and a Bloom formula while budding and you’ll be fine.
Whatever brand of fertilizer you buy, remember these rules.
- Follow the instructions prescribed by the manufacturer.
- Underfeeding is better then over feeding.
- Low dose regular uses of nutrients is better then a single dose in mass quantity.
Pruning and Cropping an Outdoor Cannabis Garden
For the most part, leave your cannabis plant alone and let it grow.
As the plant grows the lower leaves may yellow, it’s ok to remove these. But leave all green leaves until budding begins.
When that starts to happen, a little pruning out of a few shade leaves covering buds will help sunlight get to the plant's interior. This may not be necessary if your plant is not overly bushy.
Another technique that can be used for locations where height may be a problem is called “topping.”
Topping is the cutting off of the center main stem just above the point where two leaves attach. What this does is stop the upward growth and more energy is put to growing the lower branches and two new main stems growing out to the side. Likewise this helps keep the plant from getting too tall.
Outdoor Marijuana Growing: Pre-Harvest
It’s the first week of September and you’ve been feeding, watering, and caring for your plant for several months now.
You should have several branches off the main stem with plenty of buds forming there and on the top of the main stem.
The buds are probably green with white hairs, maybe some are turning red and there are little tiny crystals forming on the bud. These are the trichomes that hold most of the plant's THC-A (which will be converted to psychoactive THC later when it is smoked, vaped, or used in cooking).
As the cannabis plant matures over the next few weeks, the buds will get larger. All the white hairs will turn red, to rust color. The trichomes will start out clear, then go milky, followed by turning amber.
This is somewhat a matter of opinion, but I feel the best time to harvest is when you have about 90% clear to milky trichomes and 10% amber trichomes.
The best way to look at the trichomes is either with an inexpensive jewelers loupe or even some camera phones, with a special lens can get close enough.
About 2 weeks before harvest, when you have lots a milky trichomes, stop all nutrient feeding to your plants and use only fresh water. This helps flush the roots clear of any residual nutrients.
Outdoor Marijuana Growing: The Harvest
You’ve patiently waited and watched your buds and trichomes for signs they are ripe and ready to harvest.
When the day has come, what some people do is start by picking off a lot of large fan and shade leaves while the plant is still in the pot. Save all the leaves for later use.
We prescribe to the cut down and trim right away method. Cut the plant down from the base and set it on some newspaper.
From here you can cut off each branch one at a time and trim off all the rest of the leaves trying not to cut into the buds.
There are two types of trimming you can do at this point.
- For personal use simply cut most of the leaves surrounding the buds leaving a the little “sugar leaves” that protrude out of the buds, intact.
- For that dispensary bought look, trim of the sugar leaves shaping the bud smooth.
Remember, save all your trim for making concentrates or for cooking!
Except for the small “popcorn” buds, which can be cut off and added to your trim pile or saved and smoked later, all of the buds should still be attached to the stem. Now you can hang the branch on a string or coat hanger with clothes pins to dry.
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Outdoor Marijuana Growing: Drying and Curing
Let the trimmed branches hang in a cool, dark location where there’s some air circulation.
A closet or a dark cabinet works well, adding a fan can provide the necessary air circulation.
Alternately you can trim the buds from the stalk at this point and use a portable drying rack.
Check the buds daily for moisture content by giving them a squeeze. If they are still a bit spongy and the branches are bendy, they need more time.
If a bit crispy on the outside and the branch will snap instead of bend, they are ready.
Now is the time to cut the buds off the branch, if you have not already done so, and place in a plastic or glass container for safe keeping, and curing.
Be sure to regularly open this container to allow in some fresh air until all the buds are dry and to prevent mold formation.
That’s it, you should now have enough smoke for quite some time.
Hopefully you will soon experience the joy of having the following conversation when sharing with a friend:
Friend: This is really good weed! Where’d you get it?
You: I grew it
Friend: No way?
Friend: Right on!