Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Growing marijuana outdoors can be fun and rewarding. But it can also be difficult, especially if you’re a new cultivator.
If you’re attempting an outdoor grow for the first time, we’re here to help. Below, you’ll find expert tips on how to grow marijuana outdoors, including certain considerations you should make before getting started.
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Benefits of Outdoor Growing
While many cannabis cultivators swear by indoor growing because indoor growers can control their indoor environments much more easily, outdoor growing has several advantages.
The taste and effects of sun-grown cannabis are often deemed superior, with some growers claiming that natural sunlight develops the full range of cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant. (Sunlight has various wavelengths, whereas indoor grow lights are often tuned to a specific spectrum, which can limit which cannabinoids are expressed in the final product).
Other advantages to outdoor cultivation include potentially higher yields and the natural environment’s soil and water. However, some cannabis gardeners use coco coir and nutrients or a preferred organic potted soil.
The only downside is that, due to the elements, outdoor growing is fraught with the possibility of failure. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances that your plants will be negatively affected by Mother Nature (more on that later).
Factors to Consider Before You Begin
Two big factors worth considering before growing outside are whether your state allows outdoor growing and whether your location will give your cannabis plants the light, space, temperature, and nutrients they need to thrive.
Legal Status of Outdoor Growing
Check your local and state laws to ensure you’re legally allowed to grow marijuana on your property. Different states have different rules regarding how many plants you can grow. Some states only allow medical marijuana patients to grow at home. Others allow medical and recreational users to grow at home in an enclosed space but allow members of the state’s medical marijuana program to grow more plants than non-medical growers.
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Aside from checking the laws in your jurisdiction, if you live in an HOA (Homeowner Association), it’s a good idea to check the by-laws to ensure you’re allowed to grow marijuana in your neighborhood.
Where you live matters — and not just because of the legal implications mentioned above. Latitude is key to growing cannabis outdoors successfully. Where you’re located geographically will determine what time of year you plant and how much light you get daily.
Choosing an ideal cannabis seed for growing in that environment. Here’s a rough guide:
Northern Hemisphere, 25°N-50°N
Most cultivators start their grows from the end of March to the beginning of June when the plant vegetates and forms pre-flowers that you can separate into males and females. The longest day in the year (summer solstice) occurs between June 20-23, when the plant starts its flowering phase. The shortest day (winter solstice) is between December 20-23. Most outdoor grows are harvested between September and November.
Mediterranean climates are ideal for growing in this region. It is often possible to grow two large crops per year in such environments, including long-flowering sativas. Outdoor varietals like Taängie (California Orange x Skunk #1) or Chocolope x Kush do extremely well in such regions.
Further north, you may want more indica-leaning and auto-flowering varieties like Hawaii x Purple Skunk, Critical x No Name, or Early Skunk x Northern Lights.
Southern Hemisphere, 25°S-50°S
The growing season starts between September and October, although some growers plant as late as December. Harvest time is between March and May. Outdoor growers can harvest up to two large yields yearly in a good growing season. You can grow similar strains to the ones mentioned above.
If you go too far north or south, outdoor growing becomes extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, as there’s not enough light and temperatures are too low. With that in mind, some hardy strains may do well in climates a little further than the 50°N or 50°S borderline, like Hindu Kush, which can withstand harsh, windswept mountainside regions.
Master Kush may also do well but has a slightly longer vegetative period. Auto-flowering varietals mixed with such Kush genetics could be ideal, as auto-flowering cannabis varieties flower based on age rather than light cycle and are used to growing in colder regions like Russia and Eastern Europe.
Intertropical Zones and the Equator
This region lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn and receives an even 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark per day. These regions have warmer climates that are perfect for large equatorial sativa varieties. Cannabis can be grown year-round.
Growing Autoflowering Strains Outdoors
Cannabis ruderalis (auto-flowering cannabis strains) are native to Central and Eastern Europe and Russia. This type of cannabis is dependent upon age rather than the light cycle to mature and flower.
Auto-flowering varieties can be grown from seed from June in the Northern Hemisphere and January in the Southern Hemisphere. A long vegetative period is not needed. Yields are usually lower, but growing these strains provides an excellent introduction to outdoor growing for beginners. Even experienced cultivators grow auto-flowering varieties alongside their Cannabis sativa counterparts due to their reliability and high CBD content.
Choosing an Outdoor Grow Site
There are many locations where you can grow cannabis outdoors. These include:
- Balconies: If south-facing, balconies can receive plenty of sunlight. The fresh air and breeze can provide some stress training. However, growing on an extremely high balcony may prove too windy, and you cannot grow well on a north-facing balcony.
- Rooftops or Terraces: Cannabis growing on a roof or terrace receives sunlight all day long, plenty of rainwater, and is much easier to conceal than balcony-grown cannabis. However, rooftop grows are exposed to a lot of heat and wind, and plants can be susceptible to being blown away or drowned during storms.
- Gardens: Growing naturally outdoors in your own garden can be very satisfying. If there’s plenty of space, you can grow many different plants together in a polyculture, improving the soil and controlling pests, weeds, and diseases without major chemical inputs. However, garden grows are also more susceptible to pests and mold. You can grow in pots in the garden or a garden bed with loamy soil.
- Greenhouses: Greenhouses can provide the best aspects of indoor and outdoor growing, with natural light provided by the sun and protection from some pests and the more extreme elements. However, greenhouses must be properly ventilated to prevent stale air and humidity buildup. Plants may also become stressed and overheated during heat waves.
- “Guerilla Growing”: Growing outside of a person’s own property, ideally somewhere concealed and out of the way. Guerilla Growing is one of the cheapest ways of cultivating cannabis. You are letting nature do most of the work. You also don’t have to worry about being caught with cannabis on your own property, which can be an issue in states where home growing is not legal. However, in states where it is legal to grow cannabis, it is probably more of a legal risk to grow on a property you do not own. You also risk someone else stumbling upon your crop and co-opting or destroying your efforts. You will also want to be aware of environmental damage and prevent nutrients from leaking into the ecosystem, as it can damage soil and cause imbalances in the local ecosystem.
Whatever location you choose, it’s important to consider the space needed to grow each cannabis plant. To maximize your yield, try to plant cannabis six feet apart.
How to Grow Marijuana Outdoors
Aside from choosing a location for your plants, certain factors like choosing the appropriate seeds, warding off pests, and monitoring the elements can help you successfully grow an outdoor cannabis plant from seed to harvest.
Choosing Your Seeds
Choosing the appropriate type of seed for your growing environment is the best way to ensure you get the best out of your outdoor plants. For instance, equatorial sativas are not ideal for growing in cooler climates. Indicas and auto-flowering strains may be a better bet.
For most people wanting to grow something sturdy and reliable, well-established hybrids like Skunk #1, Blue Dream, or Gorilla Glue are good choices. Leave the rarer and unique cannabis strains for the more advanced growers.
And as for where to buy cannabis seeds, there are several seed banks to choose from, like Homegrown Cannabis Co., that have vigorous outdoor cannabis varieties suitable for beginners and veteran cultivators alike.
Pots vs. In-ground Growing
Growing in-ground or in a raised garden bed allows your plant to grow without restrictions, producing a bigger yield. It also allows your plant’s roots to grow deeper and thicker, making it more secure. And your plants can access more nutrients and water in the surrounding soil.
However, in-ground growing doesn’t come without cons. You can’t move your plants as you can if they’re grown in pots, and you may have to secure them with other objects during extreme weather.
When planting in pots, transplanting your plants throughout the growing process is necessary to allow for continuous growth. But some states cap how big your plants can be. Using pots, in this instance, is a positive because it allows you to grow within your state’s set parameters. For example, for small or medium grows, choose five-gallon pots. For a larger grow, choose 10-20-gallon pots.
Additionally, choose fabric containers over plastic containers. Not only do they allow your plant to access more oxygen, but they also allow you to control the soil. Growing in pots is a great option if you live in an area with bad soil. Pots are also preferred if you can’t secure an area with continuous sunlight. You can easily move your pots throughout the day if necessary.
Ideally, temperatures shouldn’t fall below 53°F or above 86°F. Some shelter from excessive heat or torrential downpours can be helpful; a temporary tarp or a greenhouse is ideal.
The best soil for outdoor grows is loamy soil, a combination of sand, silt, and clay soils with a slightly acidic pH of between 5.5 and 7.0. Loamy soil is ideal for water retention, drainage, and nutrient content.
Some growers add organic matter like bat guano as a natural fertilizer, fungicide, and compost activator, speeding up the decomposition process. Many states have loam soil pockets, including Ohio, Illinois, California, Oregon, and Wisconsin, but many cannabis gardeners tend to buy it.
And if you are fortunate to have plenty of earthworms in your natural soil, count your blessings and grow away — earthworms are a sign that your soil is healthy and nutrient-rich.
As for growing medium alternatives to soil, some outdoor cannabis growers use coco coir. Coco coir is a natural fiber extracted from the outer husk of a coconut. Coco coir is mixed with sand, compost, and fertilizer to make good-quality potting soil and has an acidic pH of 5.5-6.5. It is also inert, meaning it contains no nutrients, so a fertilizer must be added.
Supplying your plants with the right nutrients is crucial for successful grows. Good, quality soil will help you start the growth cycle, but as your plant grows, it may need additional nutrients.
The primary nutrients you will need when growing your own marijuana are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). During the vegetative growth phase, your plants will need more nitrogen. Then, your plants will need more potassium and phosphorus at the start of the flowering phase.
Fertilizer — either homemade or store-bought — can help you tweak your plants’ nutrient profiles as needed. It will likely let you know if your plant is deficient in certain nutrients. For example, there will be lightening and yellowing of the older, mature leaves of plants with nitrogen deficiencies, usually at the base of the plant. Their leaves will also sport brown spots in their margins and curl up and drop.
If your plant has a phosphorus deficiency, the leaf stems on its older leaves will become purple and eventually take on a dark, blue-green hue. The leaves will also feature dark, copper-colored spots. And, if your plant is deficient in potassium, its leaves will appear dull, overly green, and burnt and have rust-brown tips.
Too much water can drown plants. Too little can dehydrate them. Any rain will water outdoor cannabis plants naturally, but you may still need to water your plants. A good standard is one gallon of water per day for each pound of processed flower you expect to harvest from each plant.
Limited wind can provide a cannabis plant with beneficial stress, helping it grow stronger. Too much wind, however, can knock plants down. You may need to erect barriers or fences.
If you plan on mulching, go for heavier substrates pinned down with rocks instead of straw and sawdust. Mulch is a thick layer of material placed over the soil and around plants, used to suppress weeds and lock moisture into the soil while acting as a physical barrier to drying winds and direct sun.
Can you ensure that your cannabis plants will receive the appropriate 12 hours of dark time during the flowering period (as well as 12 hours of direct sunlight) and that there won’t be other light sources (e.g., street lights or light pollution from buildings and cars) that prevent your crop from flowering or cause your female plants to hermie (produce male parts and self-pollinate)?
Appropriate dark time is essential for growing cannabis successfully and getting a better yield, so if you can’t guarantee that your plants will get the light (and dark) they need to grow and flower effectively outdoors, it may be best to cultivate indoors or grow in a greenhouse setup.
Even in states where growing cannabis is legal, it is still wise to protect your plants from prying eyes. If you plan on growing your plants in your backyard, remember that cannabis has the potential to grow quite tall — sometimes, taller than a fence.
Adopting certain training techniques like topping can help you limit your plants’ vertical growth. Keeping your plants enclosed and camouflaged spaces is also wise, as this is often a legal requirement.
Pests and Weeds
When growing outdoors, pests and weeds are inevitable, but you can use insecticides or pesticides to keep critters at bay. Maintaining a clear buffer area around your cannabis plants can also help you reduce these nuisances. To keep larger animals like deer out of your garden, use fencing. And for animals like rats and gophers, deter them by installing gopher wire under your soil beds.
Additionally, adding mulch to your garden can help prevent weeds from sprouting and stealing valuable nutrients from the soil surrounding your plants.
The Bottom Line
Growing cannabis outdoors can be a bit of a challenge. Most beginners grow their first cannabis plant indoors to better understand its growth cycle. Still, few cannabis-related activities are more satisfying than harvesting a large, sun-grown crop that produces a yield large enough to ensure you will probably not need to grow again for another year, let alone go to a dispensary or other vendor.
Well-planned outdoor cannabis grows may also reduce your carbon footprint, reduce or eliminate any non-organic pesticide or fertilizer use, and save you money, making it the better choice for cannabis consumers who are more environmentally conscious.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can you grow cannabis from seeds outdoors?
Yes, it is possible to grow cannabis directly from seeds outdoors, especially if you live in a warm climate. However, if you live in a colder climate, germinating your seeds indoors can help you get a head start on growing.
Can you use clones instead of seeds?
Yes! However, clones are more delicate than seeds. They’ll need to be handled with care to thrive.
When is the best time to harvest marijuana plants?
The best time to harvest depends on when you planted your plants and whether you live in the Northern or Southern hemisphere.