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 Cannabis In The Woods: The Stealthiest Method Of Them All
Many growers do not have the opportunity to cultivate cannabis indoors or outdoors on their own property. The reasons can be different, from a lack of space or nosey neighbors, to the regulations and law enforcement in their jurisdiction or country. For cases like this, we have prepared a guide to growing cannabis in a safer, more discreet area – the woods.
Have You Ever Heard Of Guerilla Growing?
A lot of people wish to grow cannabis but are lacking in available locations or options. Often, growing therefore has to be done on public or private land or in wildlife sanctuaries. This way of production is often referred to as guerilla growing. It can be done in a variety of ways, but the main traits are doing it as discreetly as possible. Growing marijuana in the woods is one of the most common methods of guerilla growing, which comes with its own specific needs and considerations.
Pros Of Growing In The Woods
When we compare the history and examples of others who grow marijuana in the forest, we can see multiple benefits over other methods.
- Growing weed in the woods doesn’t require significant investments or as much capital as indoor or greenhouse growing, so there’s a far lower cost of entry for production.
- It’s hard to prove that a plantation belongs to a certain person in the case of legal defense (if ever needed).
- Growers can have many growing spots in different areas to increase yields as well as reduce risk of losing all of the harvest at once due to thieves or law enforcement.
- Growing in the woods can be done organically and is eco-friendly.
Now, To The Cons
The benefits of growing marijuana in the forest can often be outweighed by the risks and liabilities that come with guerrilla growing. It’s therefore very important to be mindful of all the factors that go into this style of growing.
- There’s always a risk of losing all your harvest. This can come from thieves, law enforcement, animals, lack of care or, most likely, the weather.
- It’s not convenient or safe to visit a hidden garden often. Pruning and watering can suffer because of this, which is important because poor plant care will affect overall quality and yields (unless you or someone you trust decides to live on-site).
- Nutrient runoff when growing weed in the woods may be dangerous for locals. If you use pesticides or inorganic nutrients, the downstream water could become contaminated for other people or animals.
How-To: Guerilla Growing In The Woods
There are a lot of decisions involved in growing marijuana in the forest. Below is a list of considerations and factors that should be taken into consideration while in your planning phase. Keep in mind that every location and situation is different – you must be ready and willing to adapt to the area you’re in.
Pick The Right Strain
It is important to choose proper cannabis strains for your region. Crucial features to pay attention to when considering guerilla growing in the woods are:
- Stable immunity to outdoor conditions
- Resistance to mold and moist conditions
- Pest resistance
- Irrigation and watering tolerance
- Flowering times (depends on your region)
- Terpene content (smell)
- Medical conditions or personal preferences
Low Odor Cannabis
When growing at home, your grow op can be maintained more often. However, when growing cannabis in the woods or less densely populated areas, you won’t be able to visit your farm as often as you should. For that reason, it’s better to focus on strains that can be planted and forgotten for a while if you’re unable to access your grow easily.
Growing Autoflowers In The Woods
Autoflowering strains are also good for a few reasons and have become more common for outdoor growers around the world. They have shorter flowering times and will flower regardless of the amount of light they receive. This removes the consideration of the number of hours of light needed for plants to start flowering. However, traditionally, these types of strains have lower yields and cannabinoid content, which is why commercial growers have tended to avoid them over the last few decades.
Pick Feminized For Guerilla Growing
For anyone growing in the woods, it’s better to choose feminized strains over regular seeds. Regular seeds need constant attention at the beginning of the flowering stage. You have to scrupulously watch for the appearance of pollen sacs on the male plants. These should be destroyed as soon as possible and with care so as not to spread pollen. This can be done by putting a plastic bag over the plant before cutting it down. Plan to then burn or bury the plants far away. When growing in the woods, there’s the risk of missing this important step, as the grower will not be able to inspect the bushes multiple times a day or week. If female flowers are pollinated, this will cause all the nutrients and energy to go toward producing seeds rather than THC and other cannabinoids.
Consider The Climate
The act of guerrilla growing outdoors is possible in most geographical locations. That said, there are places in the world that don’t get enough hours of sunlight to grow cannabis plants up to a large enough size during the vegetative stage. This lack of size will reduce your yields. Normally, the bigger you make your plants for flowering time, the more they will produce.
On the other hand, if there’s too much light (14+ hours), this won’t allow the plant to flower or start producing buds at all. Growers in these regions require autoflowering genes in the strain variety they plan to use.
Choose The Spot
The location for planting cannabis in the woods must be approached with caution and research. Mistakes at this stage could lead to a random passerby or law enforcement discovering the crop. Cannabis can also easily die if the place is not well-lit with enough direct sunlight, or if the soil has excess moisture, contaminants or improper nutrients.
How to find a place for cannabis in the woods? Here are some important rules:
- Make sure there is a water source nearby. If there are no streams close to the site, try to find groundwater. If you’re lucky and diligent, you can find this by digging the soil to a depth of 1 meter to see how moist the soil is.
- Keep the soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Soil in pine forest is usually acidic (low pH), so the best solution is to dig a large pit and then fill it with a balanced, high-nutrient soil mix. Often, this is not a requirement, but for a better yield, it’s recommended to create the best possible soil conditions.
- Choose places in the forest where there’s enough sunlight. Light is a necessary factor for the active vegetative growth and development of cannabinoids during flowering. Plants should be in direct sunlight for no less than 6-8 hours a day. A good option is somewhere on a southern slope on a forest hill, where old trees are felled and new ones have not yet had time to grow and cast shadows.
Think Of An Alibi
When planning a trip to your plants, make sure you have a suitable alibi (for example, hunting, rock climbing or fishing) and take the appropriate equipment with you.
Nothing looks more suspicious than a random human in places where humans don’t normally go without good reason. It also helps if you actually have an interest in whatever activity you’re pretending to be doing. In the case of unexpected interaction with other people, whether it be government or private citizens, having deep knowledge, equipment and a cover story will help prevent unwanted attention or additional questioning.
It’s also important that during flowering and harvest time, you have a clean pair of clothes sealed in a plastic bag for when you return home. The resin will stick to your body and clothes as you work, and the smell can be a dead giveaway to others as soon as you’re within a few meters of them. Packing hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol to help remove the resin or “finger hash” off your hands, body and equipment is essential to keeping your work hidden.
Keep Your Grow Secret
Your planting area should be located far from paths trampled by hunters, mushroom pickers or fishermen. This is where environmental or conservation enforcement (like rangers or game wardens) will often pass by as well. The best way to check whether people are walking near this place is to attach a couple of paper banknotes to the branches. If the money stays intact for a week or two, it means the place is far enough from random eyes to notice.
It’s a good idea to plant cannabis in thickets of similar plants like raspberries, nettles, sage or any prickly shrubs. The plants act as a form of concealment. This way, you can reduce the risk of your plants being detected.
Strains For Concentrates
Plant In Spring
It’s important to know when the proper times to plant are and when to harvest. This will be specific to your spot in the world. However, to ensure your plant has enough time for vegetative growth, it’s advisable to plant in spring, as soon as temperatures are warm enough (not colder than 10C or 50F at night). To solve the most common problems associated with traditional harvests that the fall weather brings, like cold temperatures, rains, winds and early snow, we recommend planting as early as possible or to choose strains with shorter flowering periods. This way, you’ll be able to harvest before the weather gets worse. In any case, to avoid unwanted complications, you need to know the strain you’re growing and follow the seed bank’s directions on when to plant and harvest.
Prepare The Soil
|Peat||Coconut fiber||Sawdust Polymer||Hydrogel|
Preparing the grow site in advance is easy and requires little more than digging holes and filling them with a mixture of purchased soil or local forest soil. Organic fertilizers and materials that will retain moisture for a long time can be added to the soil mixture. You can use peat (this is able to absorb twenty times more water than its own weight), coconut fiber, compost and sawdust as possible materials. An excellent modern option is polymer hydrogel, which has a high ability to retain moisture and gradually give it to the soil. The need for frequent watering will therefore be dealt with, even during a drought.
Plant Your Cannabis
There are many options regarding how to plant your seeds, but for most beginners, you can simply dig a small hole with your finger or use a stick to dig a few centimeters down into the soil. Place your seed inside and then lightly compact soil on top.
However, the optimal choice is to germinate your seeds before burying them, as this provides a higher rate of assurance that the seeds will “pop” or break open and start to root.
Maintain Your Plants
There are many different ways to maintain your plants throughout their growth, from pruning, feeding, watering, and pest and mold monitoring to different training methods that improve yields like low-stress training.
It’s important to follow the normal steps for cannabis maintenance during guerilla growing. While weed grows naturally and without much effort in nature, this lack of control can lead to smaller yields and loss in quality. The more effort you put into your grow, the better the results will be.
Watering And Watching For Excess Moisture
If your hidden garden is far from a lake, river or groundwater, it will be difficult to water and feed. The best option is to carry water for irrigation and your premixed fertilized liquid in backpacks, putting your premixed fertilized liquid in as well. You can also bury a rainwater container in the ground nearby. As we mentioned before, it’s a good idea to add water-retaining additives to the soil mix you’re growing in, this in case your hidden grow op is located in an area susceptible to drought. If you use hydrogel or nutrient-balanced soil, there’s no need to worry about watering for up to 10 days without rain. If no precipitation has occurred within 2 weeks, watering will then become necessary.
Another big issue with growing weed in the forest is that excessive moisture from the rainfall, especially in fall, can lead to mold. The infamous problem of bud rot becomes more common as the rains come toward the end of flowering or around harvest time. Bud rot is when the buds start to mold from the inside because of excessive moisture.
A good way to check for this is by lightly pinching the large and formed buds. They should feel dense and tight. If the nugs feel soft, open one up and look for signs of mold. If you do find bud rot in any areas of the grow, we recommend immediately harvesting or beginning flushing to harvest as soon as possible, as the mold will only continue to spread and get worse with time.
Checking For Pests
Every time you visit your hidden garden, check the stems and backs of the leaves to see if the bushes have been affected by pests. Take notes, record and monitor if there are spots on the leaves. If there are signs of infection, take steps to treat the plants or remove them. The sooner this is done, the better your chances of saving the crop.
To achieve a healthy crop, it’s important to have a proper feeding schedule. It is better to pre-dissolve the fertilizer in water in larger volumes and ratios to make feeding easier. In the vegetation stage, cannabis needs a lot of nitrogen, while during the flowering stage, it’s better to focus on potassium and phosphorus. Depending on the nutrients or soil mix you decide to use, there will be specific guidelines for mixing ratios at the different stages of growth. However, as long as you follow these steps or have great starting soil at your location, your harvest should go as planned.
It is important to keep a grow calendar to not only track your feeding and watering schedule but also to know the proper time for the marijuana to be harvested. It’s best to research and follow any recommendations from the seed company, the internet or other growers for each strain.
In rainy fall, it’s better to harvest a little earlier or have a strain with a shorter flowering time in order to prevent decay or mold. When finally harvesting, you can stack cut branches in containers that do not carry static shock, doing so very carefully so as not to injure or lose trichomes from the buds.
Manicuring, drying and curing can be done at home in a relaxed atmosphere – it’s important to keep your time at the grow site as short as possible. The longer you spend in the area, the higher your chances of getting caught.
Into The Wild
The option of growing marijuana in the woods has historically been the natural way the earth has produced this wonderful plant. It can provide a higher quality and a lower cost for an average grower. Just keep in mind all the risks and work that will be going into reaping the rewards of a bountiful harvest. It may not be for everyone.
Growing marijuana in the woods can provide a higher quality and a lower cost for an average grower. Just keep in mind all the risks and work that will be going into reaping the rewards of a bountiful harvest