How to Grow Marijuana: The Essential Guide for Beginners

Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi - Content Writer

Jan 11 2022 - 9 min read

Growing your own marijuana is possible, whether you’d like to cultivate an outdoor garden or choose an indoor grow medium. Learn how to grow marijuana indoors and outdoors in our step-by-step guide for beginner cultivators. 

Determine Legal Status

One key step to take before starting your marijuana garden is to determine the legal status of cannabis cultivation in your state, including how many plants you are allowed to grow. Some states place a limit on just two cannabis plants, while others may allow as many as 16. Stay informed of the ever-changing laws in your jurisdiction. 

How Much It Costs

The start-up costs for cannabis cultivation include materials like nutrition for the plant, grow lights (if indoors), basic gardening tools, and more. For some people, the start-up costs may range in the thousands, but if you’re on a budget, it’s possible to start growing marijuana at home for as little as $200

Choose a Location: Indoors vs. Outdoors

Many new growers choose to cultivate marijuana indoors, for practical reasons including discretion. However, there are benefits and drawbacks to indoor and outdoor set-ups.

Growing Marijuana Outdoors

Growing cannabis outdoors can be quite the challenge, even if nature’s doing a lot of the work (i.e. providing light, water, and soil, although you can use your own pots and soil as well). This is because you need to take many more variables into consideration, and you also have to be in the right geographic location to grow cannabis outdoors to its best. Those who do not live in equatorial, Mediterranean, or temperate climates with a well-defined spring and summer season may find it extremely difficult if not impossible to grow outdoors.

However, there are few things more satisfying than cannabis grown outdoors, and many people prefer the effects it can give. Also, if you live in the right environment, have an understanding of your local climate, and have the right space to do so, growing cannabis outdoors can become rather simple, on top of producing bumper yields due to the amount of space available. Assuming there are no drastic weather changes, you merely have to watch your cannabis grow and do nothing but give your plants a little TLC along the way (e.g. a little pruning).

See here for more information on how to grow cannabis outdoors.

Best Strains for Outdoor Growing

Some of the best strains for outdoor cannabis cultivation include:  

  • Early Queen / Early Skunk Feminized
  • Gorilla Glue #4 Autoflower
  • Kyle’s Skywalker OG
  • Skywalker Haze by Dutch Passion
  • Nikki and Swami’s Lemon OG Feminized
  • Steve’s Dream Queen Feminized
  • CBD Mango Feminized

Growing Marijuana Indoors

Indoor growing is usually best suited for beginners as you can control all the variables. Using soil or a mixture of coco coir and organic nutrients as the medium, a set of 400- to 600-watt lights, a grow tent and some pots, you can successfully grow cannabis indoors without too much hassle.

Learn more about growing cannabis indoors.

Best Strains for Indoor Growing

Here are some of the best strains for beginners interested in growing cannabis indoors:

  • Northern Lights (NL)
  • Skunk #1
  • Blue Dream
  • Cheese/Blue Cheese
  • Blueberry
  • OG Kush

In addition to these hybrid strains, autoflowering strains and ruderalis strains are recommended for novice indoor growers. 

Using a Greenhouse

The greenhouse can meld together the advantages of both indoor and outdoor cannabis growing. Greenhouses can be covered to produce true dark time, and the cannabis is kept in a protective environment which can reduce the chances of pests (though not as much as an indoor grow).

On top of this, greenhouses allow in natural light, allowing for the full development of the cannabis plant’s cannabinoids and terpenes. Greenhouse growing also uses far fewer resources compared to indoor grows, so less energy is spent on lights and fans. The enclosed environment can also make it easier to hide from prying eyes, and you can use other plants to camouflage the cannabis.

However, greenhouse grows are prone to the seasons, and a good amount of natural light is required. Temperatures and humidity levels are also harder to control. Still, those who want to step into the world of outdoor growing, and who are in a suitable environment, ought to consider a greenhouse.

Decide How You’ll Grow

You have a number of choices for a cannabis grow medium. Here are some of the most common ways to cultivate cannabis, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each.  

Soil

With outdoor grows, you can use natural soil and sunlight to do most of the work, and many people prefer the results of outdoor cannabis with regard to its smell, taste, and effect. However, growing outdoors can be legally risky, and there are many more variables to consider.

Indoor grows can also utilize soil, and many prefer to use soil as it is a natural source of nutrients and you do not need to add too many extra nutrients from other sources. Good soil is also quite readily available at many gardening stores.

Advantages

  • Cannabis has better taste, smell, and effects.

Drawbacks

  • Weather issues.
  • Legal issues.
  • Pests.
  • Thieves.
  • Wild animals.
  • Requires careful balance of water and sunlight.
  • Potentially only two yields per year (depending on your climate).
  • Overall challenging.

Coco Coir

Coco coir is a natural fiber extracted from the outer husk of the coconut. It’s a growing medium that combines elements of both soil and hydroponic growing. It can be combined with soil or used on its own and is an ideal growing medium for beginners.

Advantages

  • Excellent water retention.
  • Reliable drainage.
  • Lots of air.
  • Roots spend less time searching for food, as you are providing it via nutrient water.
  • Coco coir has a neutral pH range of 5.2-6.8 — ideal for growing cannabis.
  • Reduces the risk of pests, fungi, and other harmful pathogens attacking your plant.
  • Environmentally friendly, and can be reused if prepared properly for your next growth cycle.

Drawbacks

  • Coir bales are often treated with chemicals to ensure that they don’t get infected with harmful pathogens, so read the label or check the manufacturer’s website for information on the coir you’re using to ensure that the chemicals won’t interfere with your plant growth cycle
  • You’ll need coco coir-specific nutrients to boost calcium, magnesium, and iron levels in the plant
  • Some types of coco coir may have a high salt content due to being rinsed in saltwater – ensure the coir has been rinsed with fresh water if this is the case
  • You’ll need to feed the plant nutrients yourself

Hydroponics

Hydroponics is where you grow cannabis using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Basically, the plant will usually be in a pot surrounded by an inert growing medium (e.g. perlite, vermiculite, clay aggregate, gravel, or sand) and have a nutrient solution pumped through the inert material and into the plant (continuous-flow solution culture). In some methods, the plant is kept in a reservoir of nutrients (static solution culture).

Advantages

  • Large, powerful yields. 

Drawbacks

  • Precise nutrient requirements.
  • Knowledge of different strains is required for optimum growth.
  • Aerated water is necessary.
  • Better-suited to experienced growers.

Aeroponic

Aeroponics is similar to hydroponics in many ways, except the plant’s roots are kept in an aerated chamber saturated with fine drops of nutrient solution. The roots are periodically wetted with a fine mist of atomized nutrients.

Aeroponic grows require fewer nutrients and less water compared to hydroponic grows, and unlike hydroponically-grown plants can be transferred to soil mediums without shocking the plant. 

Advantages

  • High, efficient yields. 

Drawbacks

  • High initial cost.
  • Constant supervision is necessary.
  • Excessive time and stress.

Aquaponics

Aquaponics is a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture which is the growing of fish and other aquatic creatures in a tank. Aquaponics is a symbiotic environment where the aquatic animals’ discharge or waste feeds the plants growing on top, and the plants remove toxic levels of waste from accumulating in the water. Aquaponics systems have been in use for many years, but it is arguable that they weren’t perfected until relatively recently.

Advantages

  • Low water usage.
  • No plant feed needed.
  • Little to no chemical usage.
  • Less susceptibility to pests and diseases.
  • Cannabis plants grow quite well in aquaponic systems.

Drawbacks

  • Smaller area, so fewer plants.
  • High electricity outputs. 
  • High maintenance.
  • More complex, so a greater number of points of failure.
  • High costs.

Growing Marijuana From Seeds Step by Step

There are several steps to follow to grow marijuana from seeds. After you select your marijuana seeds, you will carry the cannabis plant through each stage of growth, from germination through to harvest. 

Germinate

Spray two to four sheets of paper towels (kitchen towels) with some water so it’s damp but not soaking, put a seed in between them and onto a plate, and wait for a taproot to emerge. Keep the room temperature somewhere between 70 and 90˚F.

Transplant

Transfer the germinated seed to a small pot of soil or whatever growth space you are using. During the seedling stage, it will produce two leaves that open outward from the stem to start receiving sunlight. 

This is when you start seeing a mini cannabis plant. Seedlings should be kept at 77˚F with a humidity of around 60%. Cannabis likes a light cycle of 18-hours of white light per day once the leaves have emerged. Use a nitrogen-rich fertilizer at this point.

Vegetative Stage

By this time, you will need to transfer your mature seedling to a larger pot. You can tell when the seedling is ready to be transferred, as the roots will outgrow the plant pot. Cannabis plants grow rapidly at this stage as they take on more nutrients and carbon dioxide.

You can also do some vital checks at this point. One is checking for the sex of the plant. Female plants will start developing two white pistils. Male plants grow pollen sacs. If you see these sacs, remove the plant from the vicinity before it pollinates the females and ruins your harvest.

Keep the temperature between 68 and 77˚F, and the humidity between 50% and 70%. 18 hours of light and 6 hours of dark. Light wattage of around and 125 Watts. Cannabis ruderalis skips this stage entirely and moves onto the next stage (flowering). More nitrogen (N) than phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

Flowering Stage

This is when the vegetative plant is fully mature and is ready to start growing buds/flowers, and you begin to see the trichomes (little white hairs that are the powerhouse of cannabinoid and terpene production).

Transfer the plant to a larger pot. The plant now needs 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. Indicas tend to finish flowering in about six to nine weeks and Sativas 10 to 14 weeks. Most growers tend to go for a maximum of 14 weeks’ flowering.

Prevent light leaks during dark times during the flowering stage. Light leaks can cause the plant to get stressed and produce both male and female organs (called “hermaphroditism”, “hermying”, “hermied” or “hermies”), even in feminized varieties.

Keep the temperature somewhere between 68 and 77˚ F, with the humidity at around 50 percent. Stop giving the plant nitrogen (N) now, but up the intake of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Once the plant is in the last week of flowering, flush the soil with distilled water and refrain from adding any more nutrients.

Harvesting

Once your plant is mature enough, it needs to be chopped and dried. But first, you need to know when to chop the plant. Some say you should harvest the plants when 70 to 90 percent of the pistils have browned.

Others look at the color of the trichomes, which start off white, then turn amber, and finally brown. Many say the ideal time to harvest is when around half (50 percent) of trichomes are amber. Too clear, and it can be too soon (but can produce a more energetic effect). Too brown, and the cannabinoids lose their potency (although some may prefer slightly less psychoactivity).

Drying

Dry your cannabis plants in a dry room away from sunlight for about seven to 14 days. Your cannabis plant will be ready for chopping into smaller buds for jarring once the plant stem snaps when you bend them. This is an extremely important stage, as a good drying process will prevent your cannabis from developing mold or mildew.

Curing

After you’ve chopped, pruned, and dried your cannabis, it is usable, but it is not at its best. You will want to put your cannabis into a mason jar (no more than 3/4 full) with an airtight seal. You will then leave it in there for two weeks to one month, opening the jar once a day to let the cannabis breathe. This will break down the sugars and chlorophyll in the bud/flower, and you will get a far more flavorsome product with a well-defined effect.

Growing Tips and Tricks

There are many helpful strategies you can employ to help your cannabis plant thrive. You can even save a dying cannabis plant.  Here are some basic tips for growing cannabis to help you get the most abundant yield possible:

  • Do your research and choose the right strain.
  • Monitor daily conditions, especially light and temperature.
  • Provide adequate water.
  • Understand the life cycle of the cannabis plant.
  • Harvest at the optimal time.

How to Store Homegrown Marijuana

Storing your homegrown cannabis properly is essential to keep the harvest fresh.

Airtight containers stored in dark, cool places are ideal. Be sure to avoid exposing your cannabis to excessive light, heat, or moisture, as these elements will degrade the freshness and potency of the plant.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to fully grow a marijuana plant?

From seedling stage to harvest, the approximate time to grow a marijuana plant is 16 weeks, but this timeframe will differ depending on the strain you are growing as well as your grow medium.

Is it legal to grow marijuana?

State laws vary widely, so investigate the legal status of growing marijuana in your area before you plant your first seeds. 

Is it better to grow marijuana inside or outside?

Growing cannabis indoors is easier for many beginner cultivators, as you are able to control the conditions. Growing cannabis outdoors poses more threats, including pest infestations and challenging weather conditions.

Explore the world of cannabis with a medical marijuana card. Leafwell’s doctors are here to meet with you online in our virtual clinic and get you started on the process. 

Written by
Tina Magrabi
Tina Magrabi

Tina Magrabi is a writer and editor specializing in holistic health. She has written hundreds of articles for Weedmaps where she spearheaded the Ailments series on cannabis medicine. In addition, she has written extensively for the women's health blog, SafeBirthProject, as well as print publications including Destinations Magazine and Vero's Voice. Tina is a Yale University alumna and certified yoga instructor with a passion for the outdoors.

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