Growing cannabis is a fun and rewarding experience, but it is also challenging and takes a certain amount of time and money. While the laws, limitations, and regulations are different for each state, almost every state with some form of legalized marijuana does allow home cultivation to some extent.
If you decide to grow your own cannabis, you can go wild with different growing methods and training techniques. Of course, it will depend on how much money you want to invest. After all, different setups require different care and come with different associated costs.
You can also experiment with different parts of the plant itself. Growing an entire specimen, not just the buds, gives you a lot of extra plant material to use. The sugar leaves, in particular, are loaded with trichomes and can be rendered into some fine hash or edibles.
Even the less-cannabinoid-dense fan leaves can be used to make healthy green juices or as rolling papers for some authentic hemp roll-ups. In other words, growing and processing weed allows you to be creative throughout the entire process and opens you to its immense versatility. Who knows, if you find you have got a talent for it, you could even start up your own business and become a weed entrepreneur.
About the plant
There are two main strains of cannabis: sativa and indica.
Each of these has its own purported characteristics and effects, although science has yet to verify this. In terms of effects, indica’s are known to produce more of a “body buzz” or a stoned feeling, whereas sativa’s are generally more uplifting, energetic, and a creative high.
These two strains also grow differently. Sativa strains are easier to grow outdoors because they tend to like to have more room to spread out. Indica strains also produce a shorter, denser, quicker growing plant which is what makes it ideal for indoor growing.
Industrially grown hemp, cannabis ruderalis, is a strain of sativa. While great for rope and other fibers, industrial hemp is not meant for smoking. It is bred with a much higher ratio of CBD (cannabidiol). To be legally considered hemp, a cannabis plant must have less than 0.3 percent THC. This regulation is the only thing that determines what is hemp and what is weed, as they are both the same plant
Experienced growers will sometimes grow ruderalis to breed with other strains to create new hybrid varieties.
What the plant does to the consumer, and how effectively, depends on the quality (and variety) of cannabis, which in turn is dependent on the quality of the plant growth. In different regions due to different weather conditions, growing methods, and techniques, each type of plant can have its unique taste, aroma, and potency.
The basics for growing
The main factors to consider when you grow weed are:
- Medium for growing (soil, hydroponics, etc.)
Understanding, controlling, and balancing the above environmental factors is the key to a successful grow.
With the right techniques, it is arguably a lot easier to grow quality cannabis in indoor conditions. Mainly because, unlike outdoor growing, when you grow weed indoors you can control and manage all the key growing conditions much more closely.
The advantages of growing indoors include:
- High-quality weed: Although it is more resource-intensive than growing outdoors, you can control every aspect of your environment and what you put in your plant, so growing indoors will allow you to dial in your setup to grow some high-quality weed.
- Adaptability: Live in an apartment or a small house? You can grow weed practically anywhere, as long as you take proper steps to maximize the amount of space you have.
- Multiple harvests: Unlike outdoor growing, you are not tied to the sun and the seasons. You can let your plants get as big as you want, flip them into flower, harvest, and then start another batch right away. You can grow whenever you want, even straight through winter.
- Privacy and security: Even in legal states, you may want to conceal your crop from judgmental neighbors and definitely from potential thieves. Growing indoors allows you to grow discreetly behind a locked door.
A small outdoor garden can yield plenty of quality cannabis without a large monetary investment. If you have access to a sunny spot in a private yard or even a balcony, terrace, or rooftop, you can successfully grow cannabis outdoors.
Advantages of growing outdoors include:
- Low costs: Relying on the power of the sun, you will not need to spend a ton of money on an outdoor grow. You will need some soil, fertilizer, seeds or clones, and maybe a small greenhouse to get them started. You will not need to pay for electricity for lights, AC units, or dehumidifiers, and you can even collect rainwater.
- Big yields: The sky is the limit with outdoor plants. You can let them get as big and tall as you want, as long as they are manageable. One plant can potentially yield up to a pound of weed. 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.
- It is fun and relaxing: Do not underestimate the therapeutic value of gardening. It is relaxing to spend some time outside, roll up your sleeves, and get your hands dirty for a while. And there is nothing more satisfying than smoking something you grew yourself.
Starting with seeds vs. clones
There are all sorts of ways to grow your own cannabis plants. Some people prefer seeds for natural growth reasons, others prefer growing clones, which are a quicker, more effective way of growing genetically identical buds that were first produced from a mother plant. Investing in quality cannabis seeds from the start can potentially save you money and stress in the long-run.
When you buy seeds from a respected seed bank, you are paying for guaranteed quality. Established seed banks have teams of dedicated breeders and growers constantly working to improve their genetics. That means, after germinating your seeds, you can rest assured that your plants will grow strong and healthy and should reward you with good yields of high-quality bud.
Autoflowering cannabis plants start flowering on their own within 2-4 weeks of germination, regardless of whether there was a change in the ratio of light to dark hours.
Classic plant varieties, both indica and sativa dominant, are photoperiodic. Most growers trigger the flowering process in photoperiod marijuana plants by shortening their light cycles to an even 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark each day.
This can be difficult for outdoor grows, depending on the time of year it is or the location of your plants. This is an advantage to using autoflowering seeds especially for growing outdoors. Many dispensaries have caught on to this new way of growing. It is a great way to start your grow from a mother plant you enjoy.
If you are looking to recreate an existing strain, clones are the way to go. Clones are rooted cuttings that are identical to the plant they were taken from. Cloning your cannabis plants can be extremely cost-efficient and may give you a completely sustainable harvest.
Deciding on your grow medium
A growing medium is where your cannabis plants develop their root system. Many growers keep it simple with pots of soil, but you can also use coco coir, perlite, rockwool, or go for a fully-fledged hydroponic setup.
What is important to know is that there is no “best” way to grow. Each medium has its pros and cons, though you may prefer one over the other based on your preferences and resources. As long as the roots of your plants can access water, nutrients, and oxygen, they will grow.
Soil or compost
Soil or compost is one of the most popular growing mediums for cannabis plants because it is natural, easy to use, and available everywhere.
Good cannabis soil naturally contains at least some amount of nutrients, which means it will provide the nutrients your plants need for at least the first few weeks of life. If you decide to grow cannabis with soil, try using sterilized, loose, non-peat based potting compost. Often these are listed as an “organic potting mix.”
Soil mixes with at least 20-30 percent of a soil conditioner like perlite (little white rocks in the soil) will provide drainage and keep higher amounts of air/oxygen in the soil, which causes cannabis plants to grow faster.
Plants in soil grow a little slower than in coco or hydro, but soil-grown buds tend to have a stronger smell and taste. Although using a standard soil potting mix and giving nutrients in the water gets results similar to coco, using amended and composted living soil tends to produce buds with a powerful and complex scent and taste profile.
With living soil, a colony of microorganisms in the soil creates an ecosystem that mimics the best-of-the-best soil in nature. The nutrients are slowly broken down from organic sources and delivered directly to your plant roots. One thing that is great about living soil is you usually do not need to use any added nutrients.
The result is buds grown only with natural processes and all you have to do is just add water and let the soil do all the work. The biggest downside to living soil is that plants tend to grow a little slower than with other grow mediums, and some people do not like the smell of the composted soil, especially in the house.
Soilless potting mixtures that are composed of inert (non-soil) ingredients like coco coir, perlite, peat moss, Rockwool, and vermiculite can be a great choice for growing cannabis.
When growing in a soilless medium, you can treat your plants nearly the same as if growing in soil. The main difference is you feed all their nutrients in the water. As a result of your plants getting nutrients delivered directly to their roots, you will often get quicker growth and higher yields than growing in soil (where the roots have to seek out nutrition).
Another advantage of growing in a soilless mix over soil is that you are less likely to run into problems with overwatering or bugs. Although there are many different possible soilless ingredients, the most popular potting mixes for cannabis contain significant amounts of coco coir and perlite.
This combination seems to work especially well for growing cannabis. As a result of coco’s growing popularity, other types of soilless mixes (especially the peat-based ones) have become far less common in cannabis grow rooms over the years. Even when it comes to soil mixes, you still often see both coco and perlite in the ingredient list, because they help improve the overall properties of the soil.
Hydroponics is a soilless method of growing cannabis using water as the primary medium. Within a hydroponic setup, cannabis plants are grown in buckets or baskets filled with an inert growing medium and are suspended over a tank full of water. The water is filled with all of the nutrients plants need to survive and thrive, and air stones are used to aerate the tank.
This basic model manifests in many different forms and systems, with different growers preferring different setups.
Cannabis growers have been using different hydroponic methods for many years as a way to maximize yields and speed up growth, the two main advantages of soilless growing. With some hydroponic methods, you get to use small amounts of grow medium that can often be reused while also precisely controlling what nutrients the plants are receiving and pH levels.
With such levels of control, growers find that their buds are bigger, healthier, and more potent.
Whether you have grown cannabis before or have no experience growing whatsoever, hydroponics can be a great way to produce cannabis in any size space.
Finding the proper grow light
The sun is crucially important for plants. When growing indoors, it is essential to try and imitate the sun the best you can. Everything matters from color temperature, to output strength, to the duration of light. Lighting is not something to be taken for granted or to cheap out on. The following are different lights that can be used for your indoor grow setup.
HID (high-intensity discharge) lights
HID lights are the industry standard, widely used for their combination of output, efficiency, and value. They cost a bit more than incandescent or fluorescent fixtures but produce far more light per unit of electricity used. Conversely, they are not as efficient as LED lighting, but they cost as little as one-tenth as much for comparable units.
The two main types of HID lamp used for growing are:
- Metal halide (MH): which produces light that is blue-ish white and is generally used during vegetative growth.
- High-pressure sodium (HPS): which produces light that is more on the red-orange end of the spectrum and is used during the flowering stage.
In addition to bulbs, HID lighting setups require a ballast and hood/reflector for each light. Some ballasts are designed for use with either MH or HPS lamps, while many newer designs will run both.
If you cannot afford both MH and HPS bulbs, start with HPS as they deliver more light per watt. Magnetic ballasts are cheaper than digital ballasts, but run hotter, are less efficient, and harder on your bulbs. Digital ballasts are generally a better option but are more expensive.
Beware of cheap digital ballasts, as they are often not well shielded and can create electromagnetic interference that will affect radio and WiFi signals.
Unless you are growing in a large, open space with a lot of ventilation, you will need air-cooled reflector hoods to mount your lamps in, as HID bulbs produce a lot of heat. This requires ducting and exhaust fans, which will increase your initial cost but make controlling the temperature in your grow room much easier.
Fluorescent grow lights
Fluorescent light fixtures, particularly those using high-output (HO) T5 bulbs, are quite popular with small-scale hobby growers.
This is because they tend to be cheaper to set up, as a reflector, ballast, and bulbs are included in a single package. They also do not require a cooling system since they do not generate near the amount of heat that HID setups do
The main drawback is that fluorescent lights are less efficient, generating about 20-30 percent less light per watt of electricity used. Space is another concern, as it would require approximately 19 four-foot-long T5 HO bulbs to equal the output of a single 600-watt HPS bulb.
LED grow lights
Light-emitting diode (LED) technology has been around for a while, but only recently has it been adapted to create super-efficient light fixtures for indoor growing. The main drawback to LED grow lights is their cost; well-designed fixtures can cost 10 times what a comparable HID setup would.
The benefits are that LEDs last much longer, use far less electricity, create less heat, and the best designs generate a fuller spectrum of light, which can lead to bigger yields and better quality.
Unfortunately, there are many shoddy LED lights being produced and marketed towards growers, so do some research and read product reviews before laying down your hard-earned cash.
Induction grow lights
Induction lamps, otherwise known as electrodeless fluorescent lamps, are another old technology that has been recently adapted to suit the needs of indoor growers. The induction lamp is essentially a more efficient, longer-lasting version of the fluorescent bulb. The main drawback of these fixtures is their price and availability.
Select your nutrients
It can be easy to grow a cannabis plant, but nutrients can improve the end results. With cannabis, you want to use specific nutrients that help your plant thrive during the different stages of its growth. Those nutrients should be formulated for the particular medium that you have decided to use. Certain nutrients will only work in hydroponic systems, while others are designed for soil.
Hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon are considered non-mineral essential plant elements. They are taken up by the plants in either gas or vapor form. In ideal growing conditions, fresh air and water will provide ample hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon. These are, of course, the basic building blocks of life.
The macronutrients required for plant growth are:
Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) are the most crucial elements. If you purchase a bag of nutrients from a store, you should notice an N-P-K ratio listed on it.
The ideal ratio changes throughout the growth cycle of your marijuana plants. For instance, you need a higher proportion of N and K to P during the vegetative stage. A general rule of thumb is to remain close to a 3-1-3 (N-P-K) ratio for the first few weeks.
During flowering, it is best to reduce the proportion of N to P and K compared to the ratio used during the vegetative stage. It is essential to lower the portion of N at this point. It can reduce bud development and promote vegetative growth instead of generative (also known as flowering) growth.
Maintaining higher proportions of P and K is critical when flowering. This is because the plants are using larger amounts during the flowering stage than they did during the vegetative stage.
Do not confuse supplements for nutrients. If the NPK ratios printed on the front of the bottle are low (like 0.2-0.2-0.1) it means that this product is some type of supplement. Base nutrients provide all the necessary NPK and micronutrients for healthy growth, so supplements are not necessary for plants to thrive.
Some supplements are helpful, but going overboard may cause unwanted reactions to your plant.
Cannabis growing and maintenance techniques
Growers have recorded a plethora of weed growing techniques over the years to ensure you make the most of your crop. If you want to maximize yield and maximize the amount of light your cannabis plant receives, it is important to practice bending and securing parts of the plant, or removing parts of the plant altogether.
Bending and securing your plants
Screen of Green (ScrOG)
One technique for bending and securing your weed plants is ScrOG, or Screen of Green. ScrOG is perfect for an indoor grower who is only growing a small number of plants. In places like Colorado, for example, this method is ideal as the legal growing limit is three flowering plants at a time.
ScrOG is designed to optimize the energy from a light by creating an even canopy space where the bottom growth of the plant is forced upward to form a flat canopy. By spreading out the canopy and growing the plant horizontally until a few weeks into the flowering stage, more main cola budding sites will take place.
How to ScrOG:
- Top the plant (instructions below) when the plant is approximately 10 inches tall in the vegetative stage.
- Top again at the second set of new node growth after your first top. At this stage, for soil or soilless, a five-gallon pot will work.
- Repeat for each new growth. If you are growing your plant larger, you must switch to at least a seven-gallon pot for soil or soilless.
- Place a screen just above the topped height.
- Once the growth of the new tops is long enough to move to the next square, gently bend them down under the ScrOG trellis to the next square, tucking them under to the next square.
- Continue this process as the plant continues to grow, tucking the tops horizontally under each ScrOG trellis square to achieve your preferred size of the canopy for your grow space.
- About a week and a half into the flowering stage, stop forcing the plant horizontally.
Another bending and securing method is super cropping. This is more of a high-stress training, or HST, method. It can be used for any growing medium but is best to be done a week or two before starting the flowering stage. It involves slightly hurting the plant in a premeditated manner by bending the stem until the inside tissues break, being careful to not damage the outer skin of the stem. Super cropping can help increase yields and possibly create more potent buds.
Cannabis plants are very resilient and can pop right back up if super cropping is not done properly. Because of this, it is a favorable choice to tie down the branch after you have super cropped (a technique known as low-stress training).
Steps to super cropping:
- Grab the stem with your thumb and index finger and squeeze it, slightly wiggling the stem between your fingers – kind of like you are rolling it between your fingers. This will weaken the inner tissue to assist in making it bend.
- Continue the above step until the inside of the stem feels soft and pliable.
- Gently bend the stem over in the direction that you want it to be in. When you bend it over, it should be sitting at approximately a 90-degree angle.
LST, or low-stress training, is less harsh than super cropping, as you do not physically damage the plant. Gently bending and tying your plant’s stem to change the shape of the overall plant structure will allow bigger yields and will help your plant produce multiple colas instead of just one. Avoid LST during the later stages of the plant’s life, as it can become more difficult due to the plant’s thicker, woodier stems.
The LST process should be started in the early vegetative phase and can continue into week two of flowering. Keep an even canopy of growth to ensure your plants are getting proper lighting at all times.
With LST, the main goal is to bend taller stems down and away from the middle of the plant so that the plant starts taking a flat and wide shape. Eventually, your plant will begin to utilize its light source more effectively. LST can also be used to remedy cannabis plants that are growing taller than other ones in your grow by helping you maintain complete control over the height, shape, and size of the plants.
Removing parts of the plant
Removing parts of a cannabis plant can also help maximize yields when growing. Some of the most common techniques include topping, FIMing, and lollipopping/pruning.
Topping is the process of completely removing the plant’s main stem as a seedling by cutting off the newest node on your plant’s main cola, breaking its apical dominance, or tendency to grow one main cola, and immediately splitting the plant into two main stems. This causes the plant to transfer its energy to two new main colas, growing those while stimulating the rest of the plant to grow more wide and bushy.
By simply pruning the tops of your cannabis plant, you can grow a bushier plant with more buds. Topping will reduce the height instantly as well, which could be beneficial if you have let your plant get too tall while increasing the number of colas. If done correctly, effective topping will improve your final yield, meaning more bud for you at harvest.
It is best to start topping your plant when it is very young and only has a total of three to five nodes.
How to top your plant:
- Cut off the newest node on your cannabis plant’s main cola, directly above the leaves of the second node. Cut through the stem, right above its second set of leaves from the top.
- Use your thumb and index fingernails to squeeze and pluck away the new growth above, down to the first set of nodes. There should not be any more than a half-inch of new growth to pinch off.
Often, lower branches rise to become new main colas; this is especially true if you combine topping with LST to open the plant and allow the lower branches to receive more light.
FIMing is very similar to topping, but you are taking off about 20 percent less of the plant. FIMing is less stressful to your plant than topping, as it takes vegetative plants longer to recover from topping. FIMing also removes less of the plant’s stem than topping.
By shaving the top of your plant instead of removing it completely, it can have comparable effects as topping but with a quicker recovery time and reduced chance of stressing the plant. FIMing also stimulates the plant to grow up to four main nodes in one pinch (rather than two with topping), while hardly slowing down growth or reducing the height of the plant.
FIMing is an easy way for growers to increase their yields.
Begin pinching or cutting your plant when it has three to five nodes in total. From there, use discretion based on the plant’s health and desired shape to determine when to FIM again. It is important to never FIM during the flowering stage.
How to FIM:
- When pinching, pinch a small amount on the tips of the leaves of the newest growth on the main cola that has not elongated yet.
- The new leaves should look “crushed,” and your plant may look odd, but this is normal.
- You will know your plant is doing well when the stems begin to thicken at the base.
There are a couple of cons to FIMing, however, such as failing to break apical dominance or the creation of asymmetrical colas.
Lollipopping is a useful pruning technique. Pruning is the process of selectively trimming plants so that they produce the most flowers or buds. For weed growing, this means ensuring even the smallest amount of plants obtain the maximum yield. Pruning techniques are often used by professional growers seeking to maximize results in a limited indoor growing space.
With pruning, there is no reason to keep small branches that will produce tiny buds. Pruning helps the plant focus its energy on the more developed branches and main colas, as well as keeping air flowing through all portions of the plant. Pruning should be done during the vegetation period of the plant’s life cycle.
It is suggested that you prune during the last week of vegetation before beginning the flowering stage. While pruning has beneficial effects when growing weed plants, it can also cause high levels of stress.
Similar to humans, plants respond to stress with a hormonal release. In the case of cannabis plants, the response includes the release of jasmonic acid, a growth inhibitor. When jasmonic acid is released, plants stop growing and focus on healing. This is the reason why over-pruning can lead to stunted growth and should be conducted with great caution.
If you keep a mother plant, you can keep growing cannabis with the same genetics and cannabinoid profiles if you take advantage of its clones. A mother plant is a plant that you keep in the vegetative growing cycle. You will also have all-female plants (only female plants produce buds) when cloning from a female mother cannabis plant.
How to take a clone cutting
The process is simple. A clone is simply a stem, or cutting, from a mature and healthy cannabis plant that has been in the vegetative phase for at least two months. When cutting a clone, it is best to take the cut at a 4-5 inch height so you can start topping your plants when they are shorter. It is also important to apply a growth hormone to the bottom portion of the cutting to promote root growth.
Once you have taken your cut and dipped it into a growth hormone, take your cutting and place it in a medium, typically rockwool or rapid rooters. Then, place your cutting inside a dome that allows for high humidity levels and temperatures that do not fluctuate much outside of 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit. This process can take anywhere from 5-14 days.
Harvesting your plants
Whether you grew your plant indoors or outdoors, harvest time is both exciting and rewarding. Finally, all of your hard work and patience are about to pay off.
First, you need to check the plant’s buds to see if they are ready to harvest. To do this, you will have to check the color of the pistils on the flower. The pistils are wispy white hairs growing out of the buds. These wisps will change color gradually until they become amber at the peak of maturity.
Harvest the buds once approximately 40 percent of the pistils become darker in color. Wait until 50-70 percent of those hairs have darkened if you want buds with a high THC content. If you want buds that will make you relax, wait until more than 80 percent of the hairs are dark before you harvest. At this time, a significant portion of the THC in the buds will have converted to CBN (a cannabinoid that has a relaxing and calming effect).
To harvest, simply just take some scissors and clip the buds off the branches on which they are attached. Next, you will need to hang them to dry out for 4-5 days, after which you should perform a final close trimming of small leaves and stems.
Then put your harvested buds into a jar or other sealed container and keep them in a dark place. Briefly open the lid to allow in some air and then re-seal it. Perform this step once a day, every few days for about 2 weeks minimum.
This process is called curing and it allows for your buds to gradually lose some of their moisture content but without becoming too dry. Curing your weed also allows for most of the terpenes to stay intact which is what gives cannabis its fabulous aroma.