It’s the time of year for outdoor cannabis growers to start planning their next crop. Visions of towering plants that each yield a couple pounds or more of dried buds per plant fuel our desire to get the season started. And you can help ensure a rewarding outdoor season by growing strains best matched for your specific outdoor environment and agricultural goals. In this article, we’re providing a template for picking the right cannabis strains so your outdoor season is as easy and productive as possible.
Analyze Your Outdoor Cannabis Growing Goals
When you’re selecting cannabis strains for any growing situation, take the time to outline your goals for the season. This outline should include:
- The types of psychoactive and medical affects you want from your marijuana.
- Whether you plan to consume your crops as whole flower, concentrates or both.
- How much time you have available to invest in your crops.
- Whether you’re growing for personal use or as a cash crop.
- Preferred length of your total grow season, and when your crops will be ready for harvest under normal conditions.
Once you’ve established exactly the types of cannabis you want to grow and why, you can move on to identifying the strains that’ll best suit your needs.
Assessing Your Outdoor Cannabis Growing Situation
There are two basic types of outdoor cannabis growing: a natural outdoor grow in which the plants are outdoors and exposed to the elements; and more controlled grows in a greenhouse in which an indoor-outdoor regimen is utilized. The latter types of outdoor growing give you the ability to at least partially control garden environment, nutritional inputs, and the total hours of light your plants receive per day.
With properly configured greenhouse growing, you get the benefit of the cheapest grow light in the universe (the sun) and wind-driven air movement. In an indoor-outdoor grow (which is a lot of work if you have heavy, tall or otherwise unwieldy plants), the crops will be moved indoors during bad weather, when pests or diseases are present, or when it’s time to implement the 12-hour no-light cycle to trigger and maintain bloom phase for photoperiod strains. Basically, it means keeping the plants outside during sunlight hours and moving them inside during dark hours or for emergencies such as torrential rain.
If you’re not using a greenhouse or an indoor-outdoor approach, your plants will be exposed to whatever natural conditions occur. Some growers hastily set up tarps and temporary structures to shield their plants from rain, but that isn’t always practical or possible. Also, if your plants are outdoors, you can’t control the amount of light they get.
Another factor to consider is whether you’ll be doing a remote guerrilla-style grow or if you are able to grow on your own property. Obviously, growing at a remote location creates more of a challenge in taking care of your plants. The privacy, security and remoteness of your garden location are just some of the factors to consider as you select your strains. Other factors include:
- How often will the plants receive rainfall? If they won’t receive sufficient rainfall, how will you get enough water to them so they thrive?
- How often will you be able to tend to the plants — providing water and nutrients, trimming, erecting structural supports, performing male plant detection and foliar spraying?
- How fertile and aerated is the native soil at the grow site? Will you be able to do sufficient site prep if necessary?
- What security risks may exist at the grow site over the course of the grow season?
- What types of pests or diseases are known to exist in your gardening area?
- What environmental factors — weather, climate, fire danger, sunlight distribution, day length — can affect the health of your plants, and when are those factors likely to occur in your specific location?
Selecting Cannabis Strains To Match Your Goals And Gardening Conditions
It’s important to ask yourself questions like the ones posed above before you choose which strains you want to grow in your outdoor operation. The following is a case study of this process from my own outdoor growing planning.
A partner and I decided to do a remote guerrilla-style grow on a south-facing, partially wooded hillside in a relatively tropical part of the US. The site had rich, well-aerated soil that was low in clay, with lots of organic materials to feed the plants. We were glad to not have to carry in soil and soil amendments.
Based on weather charts from years past, we determined that average rainfall patterns would be sufficient to supply the plants and we wouldn’t have to manually water the plants or set up an irrigation system.
However, we also knew that tropical storms, high winds, torrential rains and high humidity are common in late summer and autumn. There were also local predators to consider — humans, deer, rabbits, aphids, spider mites, budworms and especially gray mold. Taking these factors into account, we decided that the best strains for this location would be resistant to gray mold, aphids and spider mites, could handle high humidity and waterlogged ground, and would be ready for harvest before the October hunting season.
The remote grow site we chose is difficult to access, so we weren’t going to be able to visit the plants often enough to detect early male flowers and prevent the pollination of female flowers. This eliminated the option of using non-feminized photoperiod strains, leaving us with two choices: feminized photoperiod or autoflowering strains.
As we searched Big Buds and other sources for information on the best outdoor cannabis strains, we couldn’t find reference to many photoperiod strains that would be ready for harvest early enough. Most would’ve been in peak bloom or late bloom when expected infestations of pests and mold would arrive, and the torrential rains and oppressive humidity that usually show up in September and October would rot buds and slow or stop growth.
These factors eliminated photoperiod plants altogether, so we settled on autoflowering strains, as they finish much earlier than photoperiod plants. We wanted the largest yields possible, which usually means indica-dominant genetics, but we — and the people we supply to — prefer sativa-dominant effects over indica effects, so we went in search of sativa-dominant strains.
This is the point in your selection process when you compile a list of possible strains by studying seed breeder websites, cultivation forums and other data sources. The next step is to contact seed breeders and explain your growing goals and outdoor environmental conditions so they can specify which of their strains are most likely to endure the conditions and be ready for harvest by the desired date.
Interacting with cannabis seed breeders can give you valuable insight into seed quality, ethics and professionalism. About 70 percent of the breeders I contact don’t respond to my questions, so I automatically disqualify their seeds or clones from consideration. Some of the breeders who do respond only provide strain names and the strain description on the website — a signal that they’re not interested enough in your success to give a full answer to your question. Unless you find a strain on their website that perfectly matches your needs, it’s best not to give your money to breeders who are unwilling to provide useful information in a friendly, professional manner.
Eventually, you’ll find breeders and clone sellers who treat you with respect and give you specific information for your gardening needs. From these breeders, you’ll not only get strain recommendations, but also information on how best to shape and support the physical structure of your plants, what problems to be on the lookout for, how to feed the plants, and how long bloom phase will be.
Based on our research, we chose two sativa autoflowering strains and installed them at the grow site the last week of May. The plants were supposed to take no more than 12 weeks from germination to harvest, so we anticipated they’d be finished before the torrential rain patterns and hunting season arrived. We also knew that the terpenoids and other natural defenses these strains carried — not to mention the relatively thin, long sativa buds — would do well against high humidity, gray mold and pests.
We were fortunate that year. The plants performed like champions and were ready for harvest within 12 weeks. The buds had minor pest debris but no gray mold, and the harvest weight was sufficient — averaging nearly 5 ounces per plant, with some plants yielding as high as 8 ounces.
Even better, the total cost of this outdoor cannabis grow season — including seeds, supplies and transport to and from the site — was 85 percent less than if we’d grown indoors using electricity and other costly inputs. Almost the entire value of this harvested crop was grown free, which equals pure profit.
If you’re connected with growers who are experienced in outdoor growing where you live, or have access to clone sellers or dispensaries, add them to your list of people to consult when preparing for the outdoor grow season. Performing due diligence in discovering and procuring the cannabis genetics most ideal for your outdoor garden will increase your chances of harvesting mountains of premium outdoor buds.