Outdoor Cannabis Growing Basics by LuckyAcres
Are you ready to start growing cannabis outdoors? If you’re a wannabe grower looking for a quick and basic tutorial on how to grow weed outside, this is it. Check out these plants and learn how to grow plants just like them yourself!
Plants grown outdoors can get huge if you care for them properly
Growing auto-flowering strains can help keep plants from getting so big. This is Night Queen Auto by Dutch Passion not long before harvest.
What you need to get started growing outdoors:
Here’s a complete list of supplies you need to grow plants outdoors.
Seeds (or clones)
- You need to get your plants somewhere. If you can’t get plants locally, here’s a list of online seed sources that deliver anywhere.
Root Riot Plugs
- Seedlings get germinated in RootRiot Plugs (the extra michoryzae is nice!)
Container(s) – Air pots or Nursery Pots
After 20 years of being around black “nursery pots”, airpots have become my number one choice. Better root growth, better access to air, massive root terminals…. day and night to what I was accustomed to. Grow bags can retain salts and pests if not dealt with properly between grows. My access to sun changes thru the season so I must be able to move my ladies as needed.
does the job. There are better ones out there but I’m happy with the results for the price.
Nutrient companies seem to have reached a status quo imo. They all seem to sell different variations and packagings of the same ingredients. Buy what you can afford. Keep it simple. The sun brings the food, nutes are the vitamins. When it comes to nutrients, you can use just the “base nutrients” or you can get the whole line (which also includes additional supplements that are nice but not necessary).
I’ve had similar results using at different times the full lines of nutes by Emerald Harvest (you can use just the base nutrients or the whole line), Roots Organics (base nutrients are Buddha Grow and Bloom, and they offer the whole line in a kit) and Fox Farm (soil base nutrients or whole line)…
I swear by Foliar Essence foliar spray weekly. Mammoth P is great to lubricate the nutes highways. I use Mad Farmer Detox right before harvest, which is a cleaning/flushing solution.
PH and PPM Tester
To test the pH, I use a Bluelab PH Pen. I also use a PPM meter to measure the strength of nutrient solutions.
I use old hydrogen peroxide bottles(quart size) that I cut at the top for a wider neck. 3 or 4 rounds of these will feed one auto.
How to Start Growing Cannabis Outdoors
Follow these steps and you will be harvesting your plants in a few months:
1.) Find a growing location
When growing cannabis outdoors, it’s important to find a private spot with easy access to water and 6+ hours of direct sun each day.
I built my backyard for privacy long before growing cannabis outdoors so it was canna-ready, but if fence height and privacy are an issue I’d recommend growing autos or scrogging photos. Have a dog to keep away cats and rodents as much as possible. Be nice to your neighbors, and a little sharing goes a long way! Sunlight availability is my number one challenge. 2-3 hrs in the morning and 3-4 hrs in the afternoon. The more the better!
A private, secluded area with plenty of sunlight is perfect for growing cannabis. Make sure you have access to water!
2.) Set up your containers with soil
Nursery pots are straight forward. Fill with loose soil to the rim, bang the pot lightly 2-3 times on the ground, add soil up to the rim again and that’s it.
In airpots the soil has to be pushed lightly into the holes on the sides as it’s poured in but same tapping and refilling method works great afterward.
3.) Germinate your seeds and place in containers
I germinate seeds in RootRiot plugs (the extra michoryzae is nice!) I drop the seed in water(shot glass in a dark spot for a day or two usually) until the tap root pops out and is about half an inch long.
I move autos in their final pot as soon as they’ve germinated (5-gallon container(= #7 Airpot USA), though 10 gallons is better for the longer cycle strains and super autos.)
Photoperiod plants go to a 1-gallon pot first then 5 or 7-gallon then to their final pot. I use 15 or 20-gallon nursery pots for photos.
4.) Water plants regularly
Cannabis plants like when the root environment is slightly acidic. The optimal ph is 6-7 for cannabis plants grown in soil. It’s important to check the pH of your water because plants get nutrient deficiencies if it’s too high or too low. The city water where I live has a 6.5 ph so on plain-water days it comes out straight out of the hose.
If it’s a day I give nutrients, I mix nutrients then take ppm readings. Once everything looks good I ph the water. Nutrients tend to lower the ph, so on feeding days I usually have to adjust the ph up before giving it to the plants. Your experience may vary depending on the ph of your water source. Here’s a tutorial on how to test the ph of your water.
How often do you water the plants?
- Every other day to every 3 days
How often do you water seedlings?
- I make sure they stay moist until I know the root growth is sufficient to allow for the top to dry out between watering.
How often do you water bigger plants?
- Bigger plants, especially later in the summer get watered every day in between feedings, not a full round of water but enough to sustain them thru the heat. And it helps them use up whatever nutes leftovers were there…
How much water do you give at a time?
- Full pressure on the hose wand, set on shower, and I count until 3 or 5 seconds while I release water.
5.) Plant care
Make sure photoperiod plants don’t get light at night. A privacy fence or a hedge will block street lights pollution enough. No direct bright light at night is the ticket!
A young outdoor marijuana plant
Watch for bugs or nutrient deficiencies and react quickly to problems
- Every day, twice a day I survey my plants, if something is spotted I make sure to treat it as soon as possible. Once a week I spray a pesticide and make sure to rotate between them, spinosad, neem oil, insecticidal soaps etc… to keep any kind of invasion from happening.
- Diagnose some common plant bugs and other plant problems with this cannabis plant doctor.
Do you do any plant training like LST, supercropping, topping, etc?
- All of it! Depending on the plant or my mood I might top one and not the other but supercropping is a constant for sure.
How to deal with caterpillars
Caterpillars are one of the most common cannabis pests for outdoor growers. They will eat leaves and may even tunnel through the middle of your buds.
There’s a worm in there, that’s what this leaf tells me… Now I must remove the whole bud.
“B.T.” is an organic and OMRI certified insecticide that kills caterpillars but won’t hurt people, bees, animals or plants. It is safe to use on your plant up until the week of harvest. Get Monterey B.T. Ready-to-Use Spray on Amazon.
Anything else major to keep an eye on?
- The tip of the leaves, if they remain green you’re good, but watch for that yellowing tip, every day! Too much food! When it happens, it’s time to flush!
6.) Harvest plants when ready
When to Harvest
Plants are getting close when most trichomes are cloudy(autos and photos). At that point, I start flushing with mad farmer detox. I chop when the first ambers show up at about 10% max. Learn more about trichomes and when to harvest.
Autoflowering plants are ready to harvest on their own schedule as determined by the breeder.
For photoperiod plants the exact timing depends on your local latitude, but are typically ready to harvest in mid to late fall. Harvest here runs from mid-September to early November for those late sativas.
How to Dry and Cure Buds
My methods remain the same for autos and photos. (Here’s an alternative guide)
- Hang for 10 days at 70F and 60% humidity
- Dry trim
- Store in brown paper bags for another 7-10 days
- Store in glass jars with a 62% humidity pack
That’s it! A quick and dirty tutorial that will get you all the way to your first outdoor cannabis harvest!
More from LuckyAcres
Check out more pictures and videos by LuckyAcres on Instagram and Youtube.
How to grow marijuana outdoors
Growing marijuana outdoors is great because you won’t need to spend a ton of money on it and you can rely on the power of the sun. If you have access to a sunny spot in a private yard or even a balcony, terrace, or rooftop, you can grow weed outside. You will be tied to the sun and the seasons and local weather, but you won’t have to spend a bunch of money on equipment and utilities like indoor growers.
If you’re growing weed outdoors, it’s great to find a community of cannabis growers in your area to see how others are growing in your specific climate. Local climates vary, so it can be helpful to see what strains thrive where you are, and also when other growers are popping seeds, harvesting, and more. You can also join online forums or Social media groups, but a great place to start is your local grow shop.
Benefits of growing weed outdoors
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.
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 between a half-pound and full-pound of dried weed! Growing a handful of hands for yourself is more than enough. With an indoor grow, your space is a lot more restricted.
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.
How to set up your outdoor marijuana grow
Here are some important considerations before starting an outdoor marijuana grow.
Climate in your area
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 in extreme weather.
Sustained temperatures above 85°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.
Choosing the best outdoor cannabis grow site
Once you have an understanding of the climate in your area, you’ll need to consider a few things before planting your weed.
Weed plants will need full, direct sun for at least 6 hours a day. You may have a backyard, but it might not be great to grow there if it doesn’t get full sun every day.
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.
Privacy and security
You also 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.
Types of outdoor grow spaces
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 10 feet tall or even more, depending on how much you let them go.
Garden plot: Probably the most common outdoor growing spot, many will plant cannabis alongside other growing veggies.
Balcony: This can be a great spot if it gets good light—ideally, it faces south—and will usually get good wind. However, you may need to cover your balcony from peeping neighbors.
Roof: This can be great for sun but may have too much wind.
Soil and other media for outdoor cannabis growing
Soil, at a basic level, is defined as the topmost layer of earth in which plants grow—it’s a mixture of organic remains, clay, and rock particles. Cannabis plants thrive in soil rich with organic matter, and they need good drainage.
Most outdoor weed growers will either dig a hole and add fresh soil for the plant, or grow their weed in pots. This will allow you to better control the growing medium and the amount of nutrients your plants receive.
You can plant directly into the ground, using the preexisting soil, but you’ll need to understand your soil’s composition and amend it accordingly. If you go this route, we recommend getting your soil tested, which will minimize headaches, and it’s easy and relatively inexpensive. A soil test will tell you the makeup and pH of your soil, any contaminants present, and will recommend materials and fertilizers to amend your soil.
Soil has three basic consistencies, in various ratios:
Soil also varies in:
- pH level
- Water retention
- Nutrient makeup
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.
- Medium granular size
- Naturally fertile (contains nutrients)
- Retains water
- Stabilizes plants
- Poor drainage
- Easily compacted
Sandy soil is easy to work, drains well, and warms quickly, but it doesn’t hold nutrients well, especially in rainy environments. You’ll 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.
- Large granular size
- Low pH
- Good drainage
- Prevents compaction
- Easy to work with
- High oxygen levels
- Poor water retention
- Dries out quickly
- Nutrients get washed away
Heavy clay soils drain slowly and don’t hold oxygen well, so they will need to be heavily amended. A few weeks before you plant, dig large holes where you’ll be placing your weed 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.
- Small granular size
- High pH
- Provides minerals
- Retains water
- Stabilizes plants
- Poor drainage
- Heavy soil
- Hard to work
While some plants thrive in their native soils, which are usually one of the compositions listed above, cannabis plants are best grown in soil that includes a combination of the three consistencies above—this mixture is known as loam.
The best way to identify loamy soil is by touching it. How does it feel? Sandy soil should be difficult to compact while clay should compact into a tight ball that won’t crumble. When squeezed, loamy soils should form a loose ball that will hold its structure momentarily before breaking apart in large chunks.
- Mixture of sand, silt, and clay
- Near neutral pH
- Water retention
- Naturally fertile
- Easy to work
- Nutrient retention
- Supports microorganisms
- High oxygen levels
Most potting soils used in gardening are loam soils. If you’ve ever worked with potting soil, you’ll know that its composition is rich and diverse, and it looks dark and hearty. Beyond texture and color, the soil should smell rich and alive.
Buying the right soil for an outdoor cannabis grow
For most first-time gardeners, we recommend buying a quality potting soil that will provide your plants with enough nutrients to get them through most of their growth cycle without having to add many amendments. This pre-fertilized soil—often referred to as “super-soil”—that can grow cannabis plants from start to finish without any added nutrients if used correctly.
You can make this yourself by combining worm castings, bat guano, and other components with a good soil and letting it sit for a few weeks, or it can be purchased pre-made from a local nursery or grow shop.
While shopping for soil, you might be overwhelmed by the options available at your local garden store. The soil type is the basic structure of your soil. From there, look at nutrients, microorganisms, and other amendments that improve the soil. Your choices will be flooded with words like:
- Worm castings
- Bat guano
- Peat moss
- Fish meal
- Bone meal
- Glacier rock dust
- Plant food
These are just some examples of amendments commonly used in different types of soils. Heavily amended soils will have long lists that break down all organic nutrients they contain. Some companies create soils that offer a great structure with base nutrients, but allow you to fill in the gaps as you desire.
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.
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.
What size pot do I need?
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.
Fertilizers and nutrients for outdoor soil
Cannabis plants require a large amount of nutrients over their life cycle, mainly in the form of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. How much you need to add to your plants will depend on the composition of your soil.
Typically, outdoor growers will add amendments to soil when weed plants are transplanted outside. Outdoor amendments usually come in powder form that you mix in with soil.
Start off with fertilizers that are inexpensive and readily available. Some release nutrients quickly and are easily used by the plant, while others take weeks or months to release usable 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. Most of these items can be purchased cheaply at your local nursery.
We recommend these organic fertilizers:
- Blood meal or fish meal for nitrogen
- Bone meal or bat guano for phosphorus
- Wood ash or kelp meal for potassium
- Dolomite lime for calcium and magnesium
- Epsom salts for magnesium and sulfur
There are also commercially available soil blends that already contain the proper mix of these types of ingredients.
For first-time growers, we recommend avoiding commercial fertilizers like long-release granular fertilizers. These can be used, but you need to have a good understanding of how they work and what your plants need.
We also advise against using nutrients designed for indoor weed growing—they are generally composed of synthetic mineral salts and can damage soil bacteria.
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 to use. If you are unsure how much to use, be conservative, as you can always add nutrients to the top of soil—called “top dressing”—if plants start to show deficiencies.
How to Grow Marijuana Outdoors
Growing marijuana plants outdoors is generally easier than growing them indoors because Mother Nature chips in to do some of the work. Even so, you have to lay the groundwork for a successful grow to ensure that your plants receive the nutrients they need. Here, we lead you through the process of preparing a site for outdoor cultivation.
As long as you have a sunny location in an area where you get at least eight to ten weeks of relatively sunny weather and temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you can grow cannabis outdoors. If your growing season is short, you can get a jump on things by starting your plants indoors and then transplanting your seedlings (after a brief hardening period). If you live in a warmer climate, you can simply plant your seeds outside after the threat of frost passes.
How to choose a cannabis grow site
- Compliance: Your grow site must comply with all local rules and regulations. It must be private property owned by you. In most locations, your garden must be secure with a privacy fence and plants no taller than the fence. Any gates must be locked to prevent kids from getting to the plants and to discourage theft.
- Space: The amount of space you need depends on the number and types of plants you want to and are legally permitted to grow. Your plants will need to be spaced at least three to five feet apart, so they all get plenty of sun and breeze.
Think ahead. Will each plant have enough space when fully grown? Will plants shade other plants from the sun?
- Soil: Cannabis can grow in a wide variety of soil types, as long as the soil has sufficient drainage. If it doesn’t, you can amend the soil or plant in containers.
- Sunlight and darkness: Cannabis plants need at least five hours of direct sunlight plus at least five hours of indirect sun daily. They’ll reward you for more sun with a bountiful harvest. Also, don’t plant a photoperiod strain under or near a bright street lamp; otherwise, it may not flower properly.
Consider surrounding objects such as buildings and trees and how the angle of the sun changes over the course of the growing season. As a result, an area that gets full sun all day long during one part of the growing season may be shaded part or all of the day during another part of the growing season. Ideally, your grow site will get sun all day long throughout the growing season.
- Convenient access: You’ll be tending to your plants regularly and be eager to watch them grow, so pick a location with easy access. A backyard garden may be ideal.
- Access to water: Unless it rains every few days, you’ll need to water your plants regularly, so pick a site that has easy access to water.
Cannabis must be grown on private property, so you must own the land. Growing on public land, such as a national park or forest, is illegal.
Evaluate the soil
- Loamy: Loam soil is a combination of approximately equal parts of sand and silt along with relatively little clay. It retains moisture, but it also drains well, so plants aren’t sitting in saturated soil in which they’re susceptible to root rot and other diseases. Loam soil crumbles easily in your hands. If the soil is rock hard when dry, it contains too much clay. If it doesn’t hold together at all when you squeeze it into a ball, it may be too sandy.
- Fertile: Healthy soil also contains organic matter, such as decomposing wood and other plant matter. You can mix mulch and other amendments into the soil to increase its fertility, if necessary.
- Slightly acidic: You can use a pH meter to test the soil’s pH, which should be in a range of 5.5 to 6.5. Anything lower is too acidic, and anything higher is too alkaline.
- Alive: Good soil is home to many critters, including earthworms and beneficial bacteria and other microorganisms. If you don’t see anything crawling around in your soil, it’s probably lacking in organic matter.
Take a soup can of soil from several areas around your grow site to your local nursery or university extension office to have your soil tested. Test results show pH levels; levels of key nutrients, including potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen; concentrations of organic matter; and so on. You may also receive specific recommendations on amendments needed to improve soil quality.
For a more thorough guide to evaluating outdoor soil, check out the free Willamette Valley Soil Quality Card Guide published by Oregon State University.
Decide whether to grow in-ground or in containers
- Planting in-ground is generally easier and more forgiving. With quality soil, you don’t have to worry so much about plants becoming root bound or developing root rot, and you may not have to water as frequently.
- Containers add height which may make your plants taller than allowed by law or taller than the privacy fence you built.
- If containers are too small, plants can get root bound, preventing them from absorbing the water and nutrients they need. In containers, plants may also be more susceptible to root rot if the plants don’t drain properly.
- You can move containers around if the sunny locations in your space change over the course of the growing season.
- If you have poor quality soil, you need to amend the soil prior to planting, which adds to the cost and work involved.
- In a container, you can easily customize your soil mix to create the perfect grow medium for your plants.
Harden off your marijuana plants
If you start your plants inside (in a grow room or on a windowsill), harden them off before transplanting them to an outdoor location. Hardening off is a process in which plants gradually become acclimated to the outside environment over a period of seven to ten days.
Take your plants outside for 30 minutes or so on the first day and place them in a sheltered area where they receive indirect sunlight and perhaps a gentle breeze. Continue to increase this time by 30 minutes or so each day, gradually increasing their exposure to more direct sun. Watch your plants carefully for signs of heavy stress such as burning or wilting. Light stress is good, and it will accelerate the hardening off process, but heavy stress can kill a plant or severely impact its ability to flourish.
You should also harden off your plants against the cold. If frost is possible, keep the plants inside at night. Otherwise, gradually expose them to the cold nights. You may want to place them in a cold frame or under a box or bucket at first to provide some shelter from the cold without having to bring them inside, just be sure to uncover them the next day or they may overheat. Over the course of seven to ten days, they should be able to make it through a cool and frost-free night.
Support and protect your plants
When growing plants outside, you may need to provide them with support and protection from the elements, especially cold and frost as the summer growing season ends.
First, focus on providing your plant with structural support throughout its growth cycle especially in the flower stage. The idea is to provide your plant’s branches the support they need to grow big fat buds without becoming too heavy and breaking off from the main stalk. Bamboo stakes, along with twine or Velcro plant straps, are great and provide a variety of ways to stake your plants, such as the following:
- Place a stake alongside the stalk, and tie the stalk to the stake.
- Place three or four stakes around the periphery of the plant, and tie branches that need support to the stakes. You can also wrap twine around the stakes to create your own “cage.”
- Place a row of stakes in front of or behind several plants, and then tie stakes horizontally to the vertical stakes (or weave them together) to create a trellis. You can then tie branches to the trellis.
About This Article
This article is from the book:
About the book authors:
Kim Ronkin Casey has been a communications professional for more than 20 years and recently took a year-long leap into the world of cannabis as the communications manager for one of the leading dispensaries in North America. She now consults for companies in the industry on internal and external communications. Joe Kraynak is a professional writer who has contributed to numerous For Dummies books.