Cannabis Return on Investment

The Color Of Money: Where To Cut Costs And Flash The Cash In Your Cannabis Grow Op

For a long time, certain growers in our cannabis cultivation community have spent as little money as possible on grow supplies, grow rooms, marijuana seeds, and all the things necessary to grow weed.

Some of these folks are ingenious, independent-minded DIY enthusiasts. Instead of buying an aeroponics unit, light stand, SCROG screens, hydroponics nutrients or grow tents from manufacturers, they’d rather buy the materials and attempt to build everything themselves.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I admire growers who have the skills, tools and confidence necessary to build a high-quality grow-op item that works as well if not better than a ready-made version. But when a grower’s urge to save money results in unhealthy plants, unsafe grow rooms, garden pests and invaders, or plant losses, that’s when the apparent savings and other benefits of DIY or low-investment marijuana growing become illusory.

The simple fact is, when you’re a marijuana grower, you have to spend money to make money. I’m not talking about throwing your cash away on lavish hydroponics systems or bizarre devices (like the pulsing orb that costs more than a thousand dollars and is claimed to emit special soothing sounds that make plants grow better). Just because something is expensive or fancy, doesn’t mean it’ll improve your marijuana grow outcomes.

But when it comes to what you should spend your money on, there are definitive options in outfitting and running a grow op that will determine if your plants are healthy, strong, and giving you the heaviest harvests, with more cannabinoid and terpenoid production. Here are examples of situations where a low-cost alternative isn’t the best option.

This Is Where You Can’t Cut Corners In Your Cannabis Grow Op

Grow Lights

When looking at hydroponics grow lights, you see a broad price range when examining the cost of high intensity discharge (HID) metal halide versus high pressure sodium bulbs or similar products. Whereas a 1000-watt metal halide bulb could sell for $45, a 1000-watt metal halide from a different manufacturer could retail for $95.

If the more expensive bulb is made by a reputable manufacturer, it will be far superior to the cheaper bulb. You definitely get what you pay for when it comes to hydro equipment. Price is an indicator of performance and quality.

For example, the $95 grow bulb made by a reputable manufacturer puts out more light intensity in the right light wavelengths for a longer period of bulb longevity, compared to the less-expensive bulb.

Meanwhile, the costlier bulb’s superior light wavelengths, photosynthetically active radiation (PAR), and light intensity translate directly into more grams of bud, more cannabinoids, and more terpenoids per watt of grow-op electricity used.

And then there are the hidden costs of using cheaper bulbs, which are often poorly manufactured and incompatible with modern digital ballasts. When an HID bulb is mismatched with a digital ballast, it can harm both the ballast and the bulb. And it wastes electricity, because the ballast can’t drive the bulb at the proper intensity.

Worse yet, cheap bulbs are a safety risk for growers and plants because they often have low-quality glass on the bulb casing, which can lead to explosions in the grow room.

The ROI equation in the grow-lights sector is an easy calculation. The grower spends $50 less to purchase a crappy bulb that produces fewer grams per watt, less cannabinoids and terpenoids. It wears out faster and has safety issues. Or the grower purchases a quality, top-of-the-line bulb that pays for itself many times over and ensures a safer grow op. The right choice is obvious.

Carbon Dioxide

Indoor marijuana growers can rapidly and significantly increase marijuana photosynthesis by adding carbon dioxide (CO2) to their ambient grow-room atmosphere during the lights-on period.

There are various methods to do this. Some methods cost a lot more than others, while some are more effective. However, the only two effective, precision-controlled professional methods for adding exact amounts of CO2 to your grow room are to use tank CO2, or to burn fossil fuels in the grow op with CO2 generators or CO2 burners.

The hardware and support materials needed for either of those two options range from $150–$550 in startup costs, and usually less than $100 per grow season for fuel or a CO2 gas tank refill.

Some growers are unable to run sealed, unvented grow rooms, so adding CO2 is a waste because the gas can’t be kept in the grow room.

And there are growers who could create a sealed grow room and add CO2, but they want to spend as little money as possible on their grow op. They rationalize that their plants will grow adequately using ambient CO2 already present in our atmosphere.

What they don’t realize is that spending a few hundred dollars to raise ambient CO2 results will significantly increase photosynthesis, leading to much faster crop cycles, earlier and bigger harvests, healthier plants, and more harvests per year. As an added benefit, CO2-enriched grow rooms can be run hotter than non-enriched grow rooms, which saves on cooling costs.

Believe it or not, there are DIY growers who try to build their own CO2 burners/generators or adapt a device such as a propane-fired camp stove or lantern as a grow-room CO2 device. But this is dangerous folly. I’ve seen DIY growers start fires, create explosions, and generally wreak havoc on themselves and their grow ops because they were too cheap to buy a professionally manufactured CO2 generator or tank CO2.

Growers who want to save money might try a low-cost CO2 alternative, such as fermentation kits or dry ice. While these methods do add a little CO2 to the space, it’s not enough, and it’s impossible to precision control the amount they emit.

In a sealed grow room, whatever you spend, either for tanked CO2 or a CO2 generator to add CO2, will more than pay for itself.


Some marijuana growers buy fertilizer salts in bulk, recombining them using arcane formulas to make their own fertilizers. They think they’re saving money with their chemistry experiments. They’re certainly not saving time trying to source and combine all the nutrient elements plants need, figuring out ratios, amounts, and how to deliver those elements into plants’ roots.

It’s almost like trying to make a sumptuous meal using cheap ingredients and a sketchy recipe — while blindfolded. You take a spoonful of this, a pinch of that, throw it all together based on a recombination recipe you got from an internet chat room. Feed your plants; hope for the best. The results range from barely acceptable to grow-room disaster.

Another cheap fertilizer tactic is when growers buy the least costly, most generic fertilizers and nutrients they can find, like Scotts Miracle-Gro or JR Peters’ All Purpose 20-20-20 granules.

Growers using these harsh nutrients boast that they’re spending pennies on fertilizers per crop and getting great results. You might believe them — until you see their marijuana plants. In every grow op I’ve seen where growers were using homemade or ultra-cheap nutrients, their plants were suffering and they were losing significant yield, cannabinoid and terpenoid potential.

It has often happened that an excited grower tells me, “Man, you gotta see my grow op, I’m getting over big time because I don’t use all those expensive nutrients from the hydro store. I got fertilizer at Home Depot, and it’s rockin’. People who buy expensive nutes are suckers. They’re wasting their money!”

So, I go to their grow house, and what do I see? Tortured, twisted, struggling plants. Leaves that are twisted, burnt looking, pale and otherwise off-colored, dropping, falling off the plant. If those plants could scream out in pain, the grow room would be a deafening cacophony of lamentations.

If the plants are in bloom phase, then the buds tell the story: thin, lacking in resin formation, airy, no scent.

Bloom Boosters And Supplements

Another anti-ROI tactic is when growers invest in hydroponic base nutrients but not bloom boosters or other supplements. Yes, plants can survive just on base nutrients. But if you use a professional, integrated hydroponics feed, you can use products along with base nutrients that accomplish specific ROI goals. These goals include earlier maturation and harvesting, heavier harvests, and more cannabinoids and terpenoids per gram of bud.

When you make your own fertilizers or buy el cheapo products, you rob yourself of large yields of resinous buds. You’re harming your plants, making them more susceptible to spider mites, thrips, aphids, gray mold and powdery mildew. You’re slowing their growth rate and reducing harvest weight. You’re losing hundreds if not thousands of dollars per crop cycle, and all so you can scrimp and save a few pennies.

Some growers do understand what I’m saying and ask me what they should do. I tell them to invest in quality hydroponics nutrients such as Advanced Nutrients, because it’s the only hydroponics and organic nutrients brand created by a world-class professional grower, and the products work great.

If their plants aren’t damaged beyond salvation, the grower does a flush, starts using professional nutrients, and their plants begin to heal. If the plants weren’t too damaged by the homemade or cheap manufactured nutrients, they’ll recover for faster growth, buds that swell up with resins and scent, and heavier harvests.

So if you spend a couple hundred dollars upfront on professional nutrients, your harvest will be worth many hundreds if not thousands of dollars more than it would have been had you used the likes of Scotts Miracle-Gro.

That’s return on investment.

At almost every step of the marijuana grow-op planning and gardening process — from selecting seeds or buying clones to choosing grow lights and hydroponics nutrients — the grower has a range of decisions to make about how much of their cash to invest.

And while it’s true that spending more money doesn’t always guarantee better crop outcomes, if a grower does their research and chooses wisely, they’ll find that buying professionally manufactured hydroponics nutrients, grow lights and supplies is a smart choice that results in bigger, better yields and more profits.

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