by Denne Goldstein
As more states legalize the use of marijuana, this might be a good time to consider growing cannabis. If you want to grow cannabis, you have a choice of whether you want an indoor grow or you choose to grow plants outdoors.
Before we go further, I would like to say that this article is written for the layperson, the one that wants to start growing. Whether it’s an indoor grow or an outdoor grow, I would suggest that you begin on a very small scale, maybe with just a couple of plants. By starting small, you have a very small investment; if things go wrong, you can’t lose a ton of money.
This article will pertain strictly to growing cannabis outdoors. We will address indoor grows in another article.
Many people think that you put a seed in the ground or a pot, put some water on it, fertilize it, boom here pops up the plant. Although growing outdoors is easiest, the move to indoor cultivation allows you to have more control of its growth.
Growing cannabis successfully is a little more complicated than growing an average vegetable. You should familiarize yourself with your local laws and get familiar with some of the terminology used in horticulture.
There are literally thousands of varieties to choose from; however, here are a few important tips you should remember. Make sure you purchase seeds that are best suited for outdoor conditions.
Check to see if these plants have a ‘short flowering period.’ Also, do you want to grow a plant that is low in THC? If you are growing in a climate where there is a lot of humidity, check and see if the seeds you will be planting will also be mold-resistant.
There are many mail-order firms that can offer you thousands of varieties. Probably the most important step is to make sure you make your purchases from a reliable source. Not only will you be getting a quality product, but you can also talk with knowledgeable people to help you in your selections of seed.
Understanding Male and Female Plants
Cannabis is one of many species in the plant world where separate plants produce male and female flowers. Females produce fat flower “buds” rich in psychoactive compounds, while male plants produce spindly little flowers that aren’t worth anything.
When cannabis seeds are planted and begin to germinate, you usually will end up with about half male plants and half female plants. It is extremely urgent that you get rid of the males before the plants begin to flower as the male pollen will result in female buds that are full of seeds, which is no good. It’s not that hard to determine the sex of cannabis seedlings – you can find instructions here – and cull the males.
But it can be even easier! How? Look for varieties labeled “feminized.” These are seeds that have been bred to produce only female plants and are highly recommended for novice cannabis gardeners.
Another option is to purchase “clones,” which are rooted cuttings of female plants. This is essentially like buying vegetable seedlings, rather than seeds, which saves you the time and effort required for germination, along with the trouble of weeding out the males.
Weed seeds require no special treatment, though they’ll germinate faster if you soak them in water for a few days before planting. As with tomatoes and other heat-loving vegetables, you’re better off starting the seed indoors in a sunny window in early spring, and then transplanting the seedlings outdoors once all danger of frost has passed.
To do well, cannabis plants require a minimum of six hours of direct sun each day and excellent drainage. They’ll do fine in a typical raised bed like you’d use for vegetables, though five-gallon pots filled with potting soil also work well for pot (hard to resist the punny wordplay!). Good air circulation is critical for preventing fungal diseases, so space the plants at least six feet apart (closer is ok for dwarf varieties) to ensure that they don’t resemble a dense hedge by the end of summer.
Cannabis plants love their nutrients, so plan to enrich the beds with composted manure, ideally at least one month prior to planting, if not the previous fall. Spread a minimum of 2 inches of compost over the planting area and work it into the soil. If planting in pots, you can rely on fertilizer, rather than compost.
Feeding and Watering
This crop is also a thirsty one, so be sure to irrigate whenever the surface of the soil becomes dry. Adding a layer of mulch once the plants are knee-high will cut back on the loss of soil moisture through evaporation and help to prevent other “weeds” from getting established in your weed planting.
If your beds are sufficiently rich, fertilizer is not required, though it will lead to better results (it’s a must for potted plants). Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer every three weeks until mid-summer, as this will stimulate abundant vegetative growth. Then switch to one higher in phosphorus to stimulate dense and abundant flowers (buds).
Depending on the variety, outdoor plants can grow 12 feet or more in height. Most growers prune them, which makes the plants easier to manage and results in far more buds. Professional growers have perfected pruning to a fine art for the sake of maximizing yield, but for the casual grower, it is sufficient to cut back the most vigorous shoots from time to time. Simply clip off the outer 30 percent of each major shoot every few weeks.
Pruning encourages a bushier form (rather than a tall, spindly plant) by stimulating the growth of numerous small side shoots, each of which will produce additional buds. Just be sure to stop pruning by mid-summer, so as not to interfere with flower production.
Buds will begin to form in late summer and should be ready for harvest during October. You’ll know they are ready when the flower pistils – those wispy hairs that emanate from the buds – turn from white to reddish-brown.
Cut the buds from the plants, leaving 6 or 8 inches of stem below each one, and trim off all the leaves. Hang them from their stems to dry in a warm, shaded place for about a week. The weed is now ready to use. Trim the buds from the stem and store in a glass jar.