Where I live, the cold winter is fading, the indoor grow-room season is ending, and my thoughts are increasingly turning to my next outdoor marijuana growing season.
With so many outdoor growing choices and tasks, I’m left wondering where to begin. That’s a question many growers ask themselves as the outdoor cannabis season approaches, so let’s take a look at how you can evaluate your outdoor cannabis cultivation options so you can create the best strategy and get your biggest yields ever.
Guerrilla Grow Or Backyard Grow?
This is the first thing to consider before anything else. Do you have a secure, private space that you can control, or do you need to grow off-site?
If you have a fenced-in backyard or a private acreage and you’re sure nobody will spy your marijuana plants there, and especially if you have plumbed water supplies to that land, it’s a far easier and safer option than remote guerrilla growing.
Growing in your own garden near your place of residence, you’ll have timely access to your plants to regularly monitor their health and their security more so than if you had to grow remotely.
Look for the full spectrum of security threats, including small planes and copters, not just land-based, organic threats.
Know the laws in your area before you choose where and how to grow. In some states where cannabis growing is somewhat legalized, the laws still won’t allow for outdoor cultivation, or they specify that you must grow in locked outdoor enclosures. Knowing in advance will save you legal headache later on.
Examine Grow-Site Options
Your outdoor cannabis is in a more rugged and unpredictable setting than if it were growing indoors. To that end, your plants need minimum conditions and inputs if they’re to thrive.
One of the most important necessities is direct sunlight for at least seven hours each day. But reading sunlight exposure can be difficult, because the sun changes its position relative to shading features such as trees and large shrubs, as spring turns to summer and summer to fall.
A spot of ground bathed in full sunlight when you look at it in springtime might be shaded in summer. This is why many outdoor cultivators observe a potential grow site for an entire growing season (usually April through October) before they commit plants to that location the following year.
Not only do prepared growers look for reliably adequate hours of sunlight, they also examine the condition of the soil. Many soils aren’t ideal for cannabis because of the presence of clay, rocks or mud.
If a grow site’s soil isn’t inherently well-drained and fertile (and most soil is not), the grower must use aboveground containers filled with appropriate root-zone media, or they must excavate large grow holes and fill them with appropriate media.
Site examination includes looking for animal scat and other signs of animals that could potentially eat your marijuana crop. The likes of rabbits, deer and rats have been known to eat cannabis plants, especially when they’re young. If you see signs of these animals, be prepared ahead of time to perform a nonlethal interdiction that won’t harm the native animals, or choose a different grow site altogether.
The grower also must look at existing vegetation at the potential grow site to determine if it’s infested with spider mites, aphids, thrips, mealybugs, caterpillars or organisms that eat cannabis.
If the grower sees evidence of any cannabis predators, they know it’s time to undertake prevention tasks (such as fencing), or remediation, such as feeding and spraying the plants with insect repellent.
A second site examination is for the purpose of identifying signs of human intrusion. Worn-out pedestrian pathways in trampled foliage, paved or unpaved roads or vehicle tracks, litter, campfire circles and bullet casings are just a handful of indicators that suggest your site has been compromised by people, and could be again.
When you reconnoiter a grow site for an entire season before putting it to use, you must be particularly mindful of hunting and fishing seasons. Those folks are among the biggest threats to outdoor grow sites, and have caused plenty of trouble for growers.
Also, look for utility lines, railroad tracks, pipelines, and similar infrastructure that indicate likely periodic human visitors, and the consequential spraying of herbicides. Not a good place for an outdoor marijuana garden.
It’s worthwhile to remind you that outdoor cannabis growing done wrong can be ecologically and environmentally destructive. In fact, many people who would otherwise support legalization and growing are appalled that some outdoor marijuana growers use the likes of poisons, traps, guns, bulldozers and stream diversions, which damage intact ecosystems as well as native flora and fauna. Outdoor marijuana growing should be done ethically, or not at all.
Outdoor Marijuana Gardening Fundamentals
Your cannabis plants grown outdoors need at least seven hours per day of direct sunlight. But that’s not all they need.
They also need water. How much and how often you have to bring in water depends on historic rainfall patterns, which you’ll want to understand intimately before you choose a grow site. If rainfall isn’t sufficient to get you through your season, you have to bring water to your plants. A nearby stream, spring or river is handy, but you’ll still need a way to get that water to your plants.
Some growers use pumps and irrigation systems. Others hand-carry water to their plants, which can be backbreaking labor, especially in the hotter months.
Plants need food. You can build the food into their root zone during site prep by bringing in heavy amounts of soil amendments, such as compost, greensand, bone meal, blood meal, soil porosity adjusters and dolomite.
This presupposes that you know how to mix fertile soil by using the right components and ratios — but most growers don’t know how to do that, and doing it wrong can damage or kill your plants. If you’re growing remotely and can’t get back to your grow site every week to feed your plants, you have no choice but to bring in rich soil before you transplant your plants to that site.
The most successful outdoor grow results I’ve seen came from a backyard garden in which growers used 200-gallon aboveground grow bags filled with aerated, mostly neutral soil, supplemented by hydroponics and organic fertilizers such as Iguana Juice Grow and Iguana Juice Bloom, and pH Perfect base nutrients.
That prepared soil was comprised of 70 percent soilless mix and 30 percent Espoma organic potting soil. This created a relatively neutral base so that hydroponics product feeding could be done with precision, similar to an indoor hydroponics grow op. It eliminated the guesswork and hassle of trying to mix rich soil, and provided a way to boost crop health and crop yields using hydroponics supplements, especially in bloom phase.
Foliar and/or root feeding of bloom boosters such as Bud Ignitor, Big Bud, Rhino Skin, Nirvana and Overdrive — along with crop protectors such as B-52, Bud Factor X and natural pest-repellent extracts — propel outdoor plants to deliver bigger buds with more cannabinoids including THC, and terpenoids.
Foliar feeding has the added benefits of washing dust and debris off leaves, and dressing your leaves with a protective armor so that they’re less tasty for spider mites, broad mites and all pests in general.
Take some time to watch the following video from our musically inclined grower friends up in Northern California, Mendo Dope, in which they demonstrate plant supports, bad weather, trimming, fat buds, and all the other realities of outdoor marijuana growing.
Growing Cannabis Outdoors On Time — And In Time
Getting ready for an outdoor grow season starts in early spring; the exact timing depends on your location’s climate patterns.
Ideally, your seedlings or clones should be ready for transplanting into their final outdoor location long after the dangers of frost and freezing temperatures have passed, and after the spring equinox. For most of us in North America, that time frame is mid-April to mid-May.
Your seedlings or clones at time of transplant should have at least 3–5 leaf sets, plus well-established roots. Only use feminized seeds or clones, because you don’t want to worry about males in an outdoor cannabis crop, especially a remote-site crop where it’s more difficult to detect and cull males in a timely manner, if at all.
Make sure you’re growing strains meant for outdoor growing. Most legit strain producers tell you in their website descriptions whether a cannabis strain is for indoors, outdoors, or both. More strains are increasingly being marketed for both grow situations, but some are exclusively for either indoor or outdoor growth.
Some growers harden indoor plants by allocating a few hours per day to put them outside before they place them in their permanent location under daylong sun. This is necessary with strains that are susceptible to shock if they’re being grown under indoor lighting and transplanted to the outdoor grow site before suddenly being blasted by the sun’s intense rays.
Before you transplant your seedlings outdoors, ensure you’re finished with all site prep, particularly root-zone preparation, security features, and water supply.
When you have your clones or seedlings in place outdoors by mid-May, they have at least five weeks to grow big and strong as the days get longer, peaking at summer solstice in June.
It’s around this time that you’ll top your outdoor plants to produce more flowering heads. From summer solstice to mid-August, your plants will strengthen their structure to support bloom phase, and in most outdoor marijuana gardens you’ll see early flowering by mid-August and will be harvesting by October.
The Mental Dexterity Required For Outdoor Cannabis Growing
In some ways, outdoor growing is easier than indoor growing, especially if you’re doing it in your own backyard. If you’re cultivating at a remote, guerrilla-style site, the ease of growing will depend on how accessible your remote site is.
I’ve made the mistake of running outdoor grow ops a quarter mile from any vehicle track, so I can assure you that lugging plants, water, root-zone media, nutrients, irrigation tubing and reservoirs, pumps and sprayers is an unpleasant chore.
It’s also time-consuming. Traveling to and from the site, hiking into it, tending the site, trekking back to your vehicle, driving home, unpacking your vehicle — it’s harsh. And you really should have an SUV or a pickup truck with a closed bed if you’re going to grow more than a handful of plants, so that you can carry grow supplies without people noticing.
Prepping the land and soil at just one outdoor site, and carrying in bales of Pro-Mix, made me feel like little more than a beast of burden. When I was finally done with the labor, I could barely walk, my back was blistered from all that hauling, and my legs felt like someone had poured lead into them.
One of my friends suggested I use an ATV or wheelbarrow, but he changed his tune when I showed him pictures of the access to the grow site, which was uneven, boulder-strewn land that would have flipped a motorized or manual contraption.
The worst thing is when you have to carry in water. You never realize how heavy H2O is until your outdoor grow suffers through a drought and you have to lug water every two days.
So, my bottom-line advice is, before you start your outdoor cannabis growing season, be sure you have the time, vehicular support, and physical strength to make a successful go of it.
I want to emphasize that the easiest outdoor marijuana location is right in back of your home, or on private land near your home that has total security protection and good access to water.
Remote guerrilla cannabis growing is much trickier and the risk of crop failure or theft is much greater. You have to decide whether to grow guerrilla or grow on your own land, depending on the laws where you live, your microclimate, how much time you have to tend your garden, and what risks outdoor growing entails for you specific to various grow-site locations.
Just know that when you achieve a successful outdoor marijuana season, you’ll pull in a kilo or more of dried buds per plant at a very low cost, and that mega-pound harvest makes it worth all the sweat equity!