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The Ultimate Guide to Growing Cannabis Outdoors

growing cannabis outdoors

The benefits of growing cannabis outdoors

In the modern era, and for the last four or so decades, growing cannabis indoors has become incredibly popular. The level of climatic and environmental control that growing indoors allows has been the main reason behind this shift, but in the past few years, we have seen a resurgence in the popularity of growing cannabis outdoors, especially in the home growing scene.

There are a couple of key factors that have contributed to this resurgence, including the emergence of high-quality autoflowering and fast flowering strains, along with the shift in legality not only here in a bunch of the USA states, but also abroad. However, one of the biggest draws for outdoor growing is the fact that it allows cultivators to take advantage of natural sunlight, which is an incredibly powerful growth catalyst.

So, why do we think that everyone should give outdoor gardening a go?

Let’s get those shovels out, have a dig around, and get to the bottom of what makes growing outdoors so special.

Growing weed outdoors vs. indoors

Apart from the hopeful end result (that is, a huge stash of premium sticky-icky), growing weed should be done for one main reason only – to have fun! If you’re asking me, growing your own ganga has got to be one of the most therapeutic, rewarding, and soul-soothing things you can do. And while that fun can definitely be had with indoor gardens, there is something magical about growing weed outdoors.

It probably has something to do with the ‘gamble’ you take as an outdoor grower, and the unique set of challenges you can (and inevitably will) face when growing weed outside. Your outdoor crop is at the mercy of Mother Nature – unless you decide to grow in a greenhouse, which negates many of these issues but doesn’t cut them out totally.

Pests can swarm, temperatures can swing, humidity levels can fluctuate wildly, and the sun can decide that it is going to MIA for the entire month of July, all of which can result in a crappy crop. But if you do just a little planning in advance, the unpredictability of growing outdoors can easily be managed – and that gamble will pay off big time.

Why growers are switching over to outdoor cultivation

Free energy. It’ll be a game changer for the worldwide economy when the little gray dudes above finally decide it’s the ape-man’s time to access it.

Cannabis growing outdoors

Until that happens, we’ll just have to make do with the fact that solar power is totally free and renewable – so why not grow outdoors and take advantage of the best free power source in the solar system?

That’s not to mention the extra space, the fresh air, and the living biome that’s most likely in the soil which holds and gives all of the nutrients a weed crop would ever want or need.

Full sun

With the advent and ever-growing popularity of LED lighting for indoor-grown weed, the light spectrum available to closet and tent growers has massively expanded. But that spectrum is still far from full or complete.

And while the human race can indeed synthesize artificial light and make pretty much any hue we like (within reason), there are a few things we simply cannot recreate. The sun pumps out the entire visible light spectrum at all times (along with wavelengths outside our ability to perceive without using special equipment), and it’s that full spectrum that gives natural sunlight the edge over even the best man-made lighting setups.

Oh, and did we mention that it is totally free? Yeah, no more power bill surprises for you (or your landlord).

Organic and natural

Can you grow weed organically indoors?

For sure, the only thing you really need to keep an indoor crop up to ‘organic’ standards is good quality, organic soil and you’re good to go.

But can you really call that a natural product?

Well, that’s definitely debatable. When you grow weed outdoors, the forces that drive your plants are natural – the soil is a living ecosystem that delivers everything they need to thrive, weather patterns and sunlight cycles dictate when it’s time to change from vegetative to flowering growth, and the end result is a product that could not be more natural if you tried.

Cost-effective

It should be obvious now that growing cannabis outdoors can be significantly cheaper than growing it indoors. We’re not just talking about the free light from the sun, the free natural growth medium, and rainwater.

We’re also talking about things like ventilation costs, grow tent or closet expenses, expensive hydroponic equipment, and the potential need to run multiple grow spaces simultaneously – whether it’s due to different strains needing different conditions, or simply because you’ve got too many seeds germinating at once.

Ask any indoor grower if they stayed anywhere near their original budget when setting up their first indoor grow space and the answer will almost always be ‘nope.’

Higher yields

Here’s where things get pretty interesting. Outdoor-grown weed plants have the space to grow taller and bigger than their indoor counterparts (even if you push the limits with topping/FIMming, hydroponic systems, mainlining, etc.).

The size of the root system is a direct reflection of the size and spread of your grow space, and a bigger root system equals faster and bigger overall growth. Access to natural sunlight and fresh air will boost growth rates exponentially, but the big kicker is the ability to allow your crop to grow directly in the ground, or in much bigger pots than what would be feasible indoors.

This allows for a massive root system, which in turn supports explosive vegetative growth and (in most cases) a more satisfying end result.

If you’re after high yields, check out Mazar x Blueberry Feminized seeds. She’s one of the best outdoor strains available and was bred specifically to offer new growers huge yields.

The freedom to experiment

This point loops back to the idea of growing being a fun and therapeutic experience. Indoors, you’re limited by the space you have available, the amount of light you can access or produce, how much power you can afford to use, and how much ventilation you’ve got – and that’s just scratching the surface.

But outdoors? Let your imagination run wild. Sure, there will probably be setbacks, failures, and possibly even disasters, but with the right planning and foresight, you really can try anything when you have the space to do so. Who knows, maybe you’ll stumble upon a strain that loves to grow in full shade (and gives off the most amazing terpene profile as a result), or maybe you’ll build an ingenious rainwater collection system and see how much difference it makes when watering your plants.

It’s so corny to say, ‘the possibilities are endless’, but depending on your outdoor setup, they kinda are. You can even experiment with more than a handful of strains at one time, and different types of growing medium, nutrients, and plant training techniques in the same grow space – not something you can’t easily achieve indoors unless you have the money to set up a dedicated grow space bigger than the master bedroom.

How to start growing weed outdoors

Now we have the benefits well and truly covered, it is time to really dig into the bases that you’ll need to cover if you’re looking at growing cannabis outdoors. The first, and most obvious, step is choosing where to grow.

Find a location

There are several factors to consider when choosing where to grow your weed outdoors:

  • Privacy: You will need a private and discreet place and well hidden from the public eye. Legal states usually have the requirement that plants be kept out of plain view.
  • Sunlight: As mentioned earlier, cannabis needs plenty of sunlight to thrive. Find a spot that gets full sun for at least 6-8 hours per day, if not more.
  • Access to water: If you’re planning on growing in the ground, make sure your chosen location is near a water source and has good drainage.
  • Soil quality: The soil needs to be well-draining and rich in plant nutritional value, while also being free of contaminants.
  • Shelter: What are you going to do if the heavens open? Make sure you have a way to provide shelter for your plants in case of a heavy storm or intense heat wave.
  • Ideal temps: Cannabis thrives in temperatures between 59 °F and 77 °F, so pick a location that can provide these optimal conditions. You need to make sure it doesn’t drop below about 53 °F and above 84 °F if you want to have any chance of successful grow.
  • Security: While privacy is important, so is security. Make sure the location you choose isn’t at risk of being easily accessed by animals or people who might want to steal your plants.

Growing cannabis in a polytunnel greenhouse

If you don’t have a private garden space at your disposal, there are other options to consider.

Balcony grows

With so many of us living in apartments nowadays, private gardens are becoming somewhat of a variety. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow weed outdoors. Balconies that receive a decent number of sunlight hours can be a great option, as they usually offer great privacy and security and are usually easily accessible.

One thing to consider is the wind’s strength, especially if you are more than 6 or 7 floors from street level. It’s easy enough to set up a windbreak in most situations, or you can try to select a growing spot that’s naturally shielded by your apartment building structure.

Rooftop

Not as private or secure as a balcony, but if you have access to a rooftop and you’re legally allowed to grow weed, this can be an option worth investigating. The one big advantage of a rooftop over a balcony setting is the number of daylight hours the plants will be exposed to, but again, wind may be a factor, and then there are storms and such to consider.

It might be an idea to look into working out some kind of semi-permanent shelter or greenhouse setup for your crop before you start planting.

Guerrilla grows

Guerrilla growing is where you plant your crop in an area that isn’t easily accessible by the public but isn’t your own property. The idea is to grow your plants out of sight and protect them as best you can, but be aware this method can bring with it a whole new set of complications, not least the risk of your crop being discovered by someone else who doesn’t appreciate what you’re doing.

Once you’ve found the perfect spot, it’s time to prepare the ground for planting. This includes clearing out any plants or rocks, tilling the soil, and adding nutrients or amendments if the soil needs them.

Next, it’s time to find the perfect strain or 10…

Choose your seeds

Indoor growers have the luxury of being the gods of their grow room. They have the power to control temperature, humidity, light intensity and quality, as well as airflow. This level of control means they can grow pretty much any strain they like.

Outdoor growers are at the mercy of Mother Nature, at least to a certain extent, so choosing strains suitable for your specific climate and outdoor setup is essential.

Consider the following when choosing your seeds:

  • Climate: Research which strains grow best in your specific climatic conditions.
  • Light needs: In this new age of autoflowering and fast-flowering photoperiod strains, even those living in areas with minimal sunlight hours can find a strain that should work well.
  • Pest and mold resistance: Outdoor grows are more susceptible to pest infestations and will be inevitably exposed to weather conditions that can cause mold. Choose strains known for their resistance to pests and mold, such as Tangie Feminized and Durban Poison Feminized.
  • Size: Consider the space you have available and find strains that will grow to a manageable height, and start looking into plant training methods like High Stress Training if you do need to control the size of your crop.
  • Local laws: Most legal states have limitations on the number of plants that can be grown at one time. This is one of the reasons many are turning to outdoor growing, as the option to grow true beasts that offer monstrous yields from each and every plant, maximizing harvest potential.

Germinating weed seeds outdoors

Can you just dump your ungerminated seeds in the ground, sprinkle a little water on top, and wait for the magic to happen?

For sure, but if you want the highest chance of 100% germination, you should germinate your seeds indoors first, then plant them outdoors once the tap root has emerged. If you have germinated a little early, when the weather is still a bit too cold or wet for planting, it’s best to keep the seedlings indoors under a light until the conditions improve.

This is actually super common, as it allows you to get the plants up and running before they hit the great outdoors, which can extend the vegetative period by a month or even more, allowing for massive plants.

To germinate your seeds, we usually recommend the ‘paper-towel’ method:

  1. Wet a paper towel or two with water and wring out any excess moisture.
  2. Place the seeds onto one of the damp paper towels and cover them with another damp paper towel.
  3. Fold up the paper towels and place them into an open zip-lock baggie to retain humidity.
  4. Put the baggie somewhere warm, preferably around 22 – 27 C, and check daily to make sure the paper towels haven’t dried out.
  5. Seeds should take anywhere between 12 hours to 4 or 5 days for the tap root to poke out.
  6. Once the tap root has emerged, carefully transfer the seed to wherever you’re choosing to grow your plants, keeping the tap root as intact as possible and planting the seed, so the root is facing down.
  7. Plant about 1/2 an inch below the soil surface and gently cover the seed with soil.
  8. Lightly water the soil, making sure it stays moist but not sopping wet.

Plant maintenance

Once your plants hit the vegetative stage of growth, which is when they have 2 nodes developed above the first set of teardrop-shaped leaves (cotyledons) and have started to grow those classic spikey-fingered leaves, it’s time to start thinking about plant maintenance.

If the sun is shining, the temps are in the right zone, and the soil isn’t too wet, it’s likely your plants will rocket in growth, stretching to the sky over the course of just a few weeks. However, there are still some things you need to be aware of and keep an eye on.

Plant stress training is super popular with indoor growers, but it’s also a good idea for those outdoor queens. Tying down branches, topping plants, and using plant cages are all great ways to boost the final yield weight once harvest comes around.

When the switch from vegetative growth to the flowering phase happens, your plants will start to stretch and flower. From this point on, no more stress training, apart from the occasional prune and careful plant management. The less you stress flowering plants, the better.

Watering and feeding outdoors

If you are growing outdoors in pots, then watering and feeding is pretty much the same as indoor growing.

However, for those planting straight into the ground, it’s a bit of a different ballgame.

  • Overwatering is probably the most common mistake that new growers make. Remember, you can always add more water, but you can’t take it away.
  • It’s best to water in the mornings before the heat of the day hits and avoid watering at night as this increases the risk of root rot.
  • Keep a close eye on your plants, and if they look thirsty (droopy leaves), it’s time to water. Droopy leaves can also be a sign of overwatering, though, so make sure to check the soil moisture level before watering.
  • If you wait until the top inch/inch and a half of the soil is dry before watering, you should avoid the possibility of overwatering and lower any chance of mold issues occurring underground. Soil-grown plants like a pH of 6.0 to 7.0, so make sure the water you are feeding is within this range for the best results.

Protect against the elements

Heavy winds and driving rain will most likely occur at some point during the growing season, so preparing your garden for these conditions is a must. Invest in some tomato cages to help support your plants as they grow taller, and use stakes or trellises to help guide and support the branches. Add some windbreaks, and look into how you might be able to cover the crop should a heavy downpour or hail storm be on the way.

A simple green PVC piping structure with a clear plastic sheet over the top does an excellent job at protecting plants from harsh conditions while still allowing them to soak up any sun that might peek through during the less-than-ideal weather days, and the plastic can just come straight down once the conditions improve.

Preventing pests

One of the issues that every single outdoor grower will face, as already touched on above, is pests! There will always be something trying to feast on your precious plants. There are a few steps you can take to help prevent any kind of onslaught.

  1. Introduce predatory insects like ladybugs and praying mantis to your garden – they can help control any and all of the smaller pests that may be lurking, waiting to strike.
  2. Keep a close eye on the garden – especially the underside of the fan leaves. Most pests lay their eggs on the underside of leaves, so if you catch them early and remove any infected leaves, it’s unlikely that they will have enough time to do significant damage.
  3. Adding companion plants can make a huge difference, as some plants are natural pest repellents. Marigolds, nasturtiums, lemon grass, basil, and lavender are just a few you can choose from, but have a chat at your local garden store for options that work well in your specific location.
  4. Add some beneficial fungi to your soil – beneficial fungi can help protect the root system against harmful pathogens and pests, as well as improve nutrient absorption. Products like mycorrhizal fungi can easily be added to the soil during planting.
  5. Try using natural pest repellents like neem oil or diatomaceous earth. These can be effective in controlling a wide range of pests without harming beneficial insects or your plants.
  6. Fence the grow area off to reduce the chance that larger pests such as rabbits, deer or rodents can get to your plants.

Protect your plants from pollination

This isn’t an issue that any grower should need to face in 2023, as there is simply no need to grow male plants – unless you are starting your own breeding program.

If not, buy feminized seeds and cut the chances of pollination down to zero.

Outdoor cannabis grow calendar

The following information is for growers in North America, specifically California, so if you live in a different region, make sure to adjust the timing accordingly based on your local climate. It’s also good to keep in mind that every strain will be a little different, so make sure to monitor your plants’ progress and adjust accordingly.

Tall cannabis plants outdoors
Tall cannabis plants outdoors.

We strongly recommend starting a grow diary at the very beginning of the season and keeping it updated throughout the entirety of the grow. This will become an invaluable tool for the next season, as well as for tracking your plants’ progress and identifying any potential issues.

March

If you are starting your seeds indoors, the 1st of March is a pretty good time to get it cracking. Germinate as explained above and let the seedlings grow for a few weeks indoors and strengthen up into little beasts before taking them outside in April.

In 2023, the spring equinox will take place on 20 March. This is when the sun crosses the celestial equator, meaning that the day and night are of equal length. After this date, the daylight hours will begin to increase, providing the plants with more hours of light to grow and thrive.

April

Start bringing your babies outside, but only if the climate is reasonably warm and not too harsh. This should be the case for those in California around mid-April, where the average temperature is between 59 °F and 77 °F. If it is still dropping below 53 °F at night, then it’s best to wait a little longer.

If you are germinating outdoors, early April is the time to get those beans in the ground.

May

As April ends and May begins, the plants should be ready for some stress training. Once they have 5 or so nodes, you can look at topping the entire crop to help promote lateral growth and boost the number of flowering sites. Plants can be topped as many times as you like, but keep in mind that each time you do, it will set the growth back by a few days while the plant recovers.

By now, your plants should be well established and growing rapidly with the increasing daylight hours. Keep an eye on the weather and be prepared for any potential wind, rain, or temperature fluctuations that may occur.

June

As temperatures start to rise and the daylight hours peak (the summer solstice is on the 21 June 2023) your plants should be in full veg mode. Make sure to keep an eye out for any pests that may try to take advantage of the hot weather and take necessary precautions to keep them at bay.

By mid-to-late June, the plants should start to really take off, and the growth rate will jump. This is when the plants will be at their healthiest and best able to handle any potential stressors.

At this stage, you may want to consider using some trellising or stakes for support as the plants grow taller and more robust. This will help prevent any breakage and ensure that your precious buds stay intact when they start to develop.

July

By the middle of July, the daytime sunlight hours will slowly begin to wane, and the plants should start focusing on flowering. This is when the fun really starts! Make sure to keep an eye out for any pre-flower issues, such as nutrient deficiencies or pests, and address them promptly.

July can be a bit of a wet month, so stay vigilant.

August

August is when the flowering stage fully kicks in, and the plants will start to produce buds. Keep an eye on the weather and be prepared for any temperature fluctuations or potential storms that may come through.

By now, you should have a good idea of how your plants are developing, and it’s important to continue monitoring their progress to ensure they reach their full potential.

September

As autumn approaches and the days start to get shorter, and those buds will really start to fatten up. Now, more than ever, it’s essential to make sure that the plants themselves stay dry while the roots are still receiving enough water.

Early to mid-September is when you can expect to start seeing trichome production. Keep an eye on them and continue to monitor their progress.

October

By checking the state of the trichomes through the weeks of October, you will be able to harvest at the correct time. Most growers like to wait until the trichomes are mostly cloudy, with just a few turning amber, before harvesting for maximum potency. Once you are happy with the trichs, grab those shears out and cut the plants down!

The end of October is when you can expect to start harvesting your outdoor crop. Make sure to dry and cure the buds properly for the best flavor and potency.

November

By the first of November, all your plants should be cut down and hanging to dry. An initial drying period of 7 to 10 days is ideal, and once they are dry to the touch, they can be trimmed and placed into jars for curing.

Now, curing is something that novice growers often overlook, but it can make a significant difference in the flavor and potency of your final product. Make sure to read up on proper curing techniques and take the time to do it right for the best possible results.

November is also a good time to start planning for your next grow season and making any necessary preparations. With proper care and attention, you can have a successful outdoor cannabis grow year after year.

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Sam North

Sam North is a content writer with a passion for everything cannabis. After working multiple seasons on weed farms absorbing the ins and outs of cannabis cultivation and culture, he decided to transition into a role that would allow him to work from anywhere, anytime. Sam now writes for multiple weed publications. He has extensive experience with a wide range of canna-agriculture styles, from smaller artisanal farms to large-scale commercial operations, and is here to share his knowledge to give you all the best chance of cultivation success. About this Author

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