Planting cannabis seeds in soil outdoors

Growing cannabis outdoors: pots or open soil?

There are various ways to approach outdoor cannabis growing. Some growers prefer to simply sow seeds or plant seedlings straight into the open ground, while others prefer containing their plants within planters or pots. Here, we take a brief look at the pros and cons of each method.

Growing Cannabis outdoors in pots

1 – One of the most obvious pros of growing outdoors in pots is the fact that your plants are therefore easily transportable. This provides a degree of flexibility to the grower that planting straight into the soil simply does not afford.

For example, if living in an area of occasional extreme weather, the ability to carry your plants to a sheltered spot can be a huge advantage. Leaving plants at the mercy of gale- or hurricane-force winds, driving rain or sleet, or golfball-sized hailstones can be disastrous, and months of hard work can be ruined in one night.

Similarly, if you are growing at a time of year where hours of daylight are not optimum, moving your plants to an artificially-lit room (or a dark room if days are too long to induce flowering) can mean the difference between a good harvest and a non-existent one.

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2 – Another advantage of growing outdoors in pots is the ability to control the growth rate and eventual size of your plants, which can be highly useful if concealment is an issue.

Some varieties of cannabis (particularly sativas and sativa-dominant hybrids) can easily exceed two metres in height, meaning that if nosy neighbours are taking an interest, your plants will be easy to spot and identify.

Containing your plants in pots ensures that once they have run out of space for the roots to occupy, they will cease vegetative growth.

3 – A third advantage of growing in pots is the ability to control the uniformity and quality of the growing medium, and to fix any problems that may arise by simply transferring to a new pot with new soil.

You can be certain that your pots contain only what you put in them, and that no mixing with native soil has occurred. This may also go some way towards controlling unwanted pests and bacteria, although in an outdoor environment total control of this aspect may be difficult.

1 – On the other hand, containing plants in pots may be undesirable for the very fact that it restricts growth, thereby reducing potential harvest and general overall health of the plant. Of course, there are some huge pots available for outdoor cultivation, but if you truly wish to maximize the potential of your large plants, restricting their access to soil is not the way to go.

2 – Another potential problem lies in the fact that plants are transportable in pots—it’s a definite advantage for many outdoor growers to be able to move plants indoors or into a greenhouse if necessary, but the fact that you can pick them up and carry them around also means that other, less well-intentioned people can do the same.

If your site is very remote and there is little chance of trespassers discovering your crop, this may not be an issue, but for many back-garden growers in villages and towns the world over, theft is a very real concern.

3 – Another possible disadvantage is the need for more regular and meticulous maintenance when plants are in pots. Hand-watering is typically essential, as even if your pots are in a position to receive water from precipitation, they will not have access to the groundwater or moisture held within the topsoil—which for plants grown in open soil, can potentially entirely negate the need to water by hand.

Growing cannabis outdoors in open soil

1 – The most obvious advantage of sowing seeds or planting seedlings in open soil is the fact that they have full, unrestricted access to nutrients and whatever moisture can be reached by the roots. As the roots are able to freely grow downwards, they may be able to fulfill their water requirements purely from the groundwater.

This ensures that your plants can achieve their full potential in terms of height, vigour and eventual yield, and also means that less maintenance is required. If conducting a ‘guerrilla grow’ in a site that is not easily accessed on a daily basis, open soil is often preferred for this reason.

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2 – Another potential advantage of growing in open soil is reduced set-up cost. While purchase of pots is not generally going to break the bank, keeping costs low is generally a good thing, from the smallest hobby-gardener to the biggest criminal outfit.

When factoring in the fact that growing in pots generally necessitates the need for several transplants throughout the plant’s life into incrementally bigger pots, cost of pots alone can run into the low hundreds for a small grower, and possibly even thousands for large-scale growers.

1 – Of course, growing cannabis outdoors in open soil means your plants are not transportable, which is an advantage if theft is an issue, but can also be a great disadvantage.

Non-transportable plants means that you are at the mercy of the weather and season—if thunderstorms, gales, or floods occur, your plants may well not survive them, unless you are able to construct screens or wire cages to protect your crop from the worst of the severe weather.

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2 – Furthermore, if your plants cannot be moved, they must be grown only at favourable times of year, as they cannot be moved into a well-lit or completely dark space if natural daylight is preventing them from flowering or from vigorous vegetative growth.

3 – Another big concern with growing cannabis outdoors in open soil is the quality and uniformity of soil. Most growers opting for this method will make great effort to ensure that the soil is appropriate in terms of drainage, consistency, and pH, and will often mix the soil with additives such as lime (to increase pH), sand (to improve drainage), or manure (to increase available nutrients).

However, without an impenetrable barrier between your plants’ soil zone and the native soil, these efforts can be negated—by agricultural runoff contaminating your soil zone with toxic chemicals, for example.

Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.

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

Low costs

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.

Big yields

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.

Environmentally friendly

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.

Sunlight

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.

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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
  • Texture
  • Nutrient makeup
  • Drainage

Silt soils

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 soils

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

Clay soils

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

Loam soils

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
  • Drainage
  • 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:

  • Perlite
  • Worm castings
  • Bat guano
  • Biochar
  • Peat moss
  • Compost
  • 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.

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Growing containers

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 Cannabis Outdoors

This article was co-authored by Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH. Dr. Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH is the founder and Medical Director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education. Dr. Corroon is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor and clinical researcher. In addition to clinical practice, Dr. Corroon advises dietary supplement and cannabis companies regarding science, regulation, and product development. He is well published in the peer-review literature, with recent publications that investigate the clinical and public health implications of the broadening acceptance of cannabis in society. He earned a Masters in Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology from San Diego State University. He also earned a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from Bastyr University, subsequently completed two years of residency at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, and is a former adjunct professor at Bastyr University California.

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Growing marijuana outdoors produces a higher yield, gives your buds a unique flavor, and it’s far less energy-intensive than using indoor grow lights. Outdoor cannabis plants can grow up to 14 feet (4.3 m) tall and produce 4–8 pounds (1.8–3.6 kg) of quality weed per plant–and it’s not rocket science to grow cannabis outdoors. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to tell you everything you need to know about picking a location, germinating marijuana seeds, and maintaining your crop to get the highest possible cannabis yield.