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Growing marijuana is not difficult, but it is not a walk in the park, either. Like any other endeavor, it does require some preparation. That means doing your homework and research to attain the necessary knowledge to raise the plants successfully. And to make it easier for you, here are the things you need to know.
In a nutshell, you need to understand the laws governing your area and the nature of the cannabis species. You should also know the life cycle of the plants and the different growth stages. Strain and seed selection are also things to consider as these processes lay the foundation for successful growths. Lastly, you also should anticipate problems that may occur – pests, diseases, and security.
You should understand that even after spending significant time on research and planning, you can never be 100% prepared. Some things you only truly learn through experience. So, after grasping the basics and mapping out your journey, do not hesitate to jump right into the cultivation process.
In the United States, cannabis cultivation is legal in some 20 states – but to varying degrees. For instance, in places like Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and a dozen others, it is only allowed for medical purposes. Other states have legalized recreational use, and these are:
But, there is a limit on how many plants you could grow. Generally, it ranges from 4 to 12 plants, and the current growth stage may also play a role. For example, Maine permits up to three mature (flowering) plants, 12 immature (vegetating) plants, and an unlimited number of seedlings.
Keep in mind that the regulations vary from state to state, so check your local laws before starting. And since they are ever-changing, make sure you are up-to-date on changes. We do not recommend breaking the law. The penalties for getting caught – from hefty fines to imprisonment – are just not worth the risk.
2. Cannabis Basics
Before embarking on this exciting endeavor, the first step is to have a solid understanding of the cannabis plant. You only need to know the basics – such as the plant’s life cycle, growing patterns, nutrient and water requirements – to get started. As you dive deeper into the journey, you will gain more knowledge through experience and further learning.
Essential facts every marijuana grower should know:
- Cannabis plants can be male, female, or hermaphrodite (exhibits both male and female reproductive organs). Only the females form buds – the plant constituent mainly used for consumption. Males, on the other hand, are primarily used for breeding and producing seeds. Hermaphrodites are “sort of” an anomaly, emerging due to genetic predisposition or stressful conditions that threaten their survival.
- Ideally, you want to keep the females unpollinated. Since the plants are not making seeds, they could direct their energy on budding and producing resins instead, resulting in higher-quality flowers called “sensimilla.” In contrast, seeded buds are smaller in size, quantity, and quality. On top of that, they are also harsh when smoked.
- There are three main types of marijuana plants – Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis. Each varies in terms of genotype (genetic makeup), phenotype (observable physical traits), growth cycle and patterns, and effects.
- Indica and Sativa plants are photoperiod-reliant. Simply put, they start budding after receiving 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness (or a 12-12 light cycle) in a day. In contrast, Ruderalis flowers automatically upon reaching a certain age – regardless of the light schedule.
- You have four types of seeds to choose from – regular, feminized, auto-flowering, and fast version. All are naturally photoperiod – except for auto-flowers, which contain Ruderalis genetics.
- Aside from seeds, you can also start with stem cuttings and propagate clones.
- The life cycle of cannabis plants can be divided into four main stages – germination, seedling, vegetative, and flowering.
- In nature, marijuana plants grow annually. Their life cycle starts around spring to early summer, lasting anytime between 4 to 10 months.
3. Life Cycle
Grasping the fundamentals of cannabis plants is not enough. Make sure you have an idea about the cultivation process, too. Understanding the entire life cycle and the individual growth stages let you customize the environmental conditions.
Germination (1-14 days)
Cannabis plants start as dormant seeds. The pre-existing life inside them only awakens after receiving the right amounts of water, heat, and air. When this happens, the seed will crack open and start taking root. And once the seed has popped, the next step is to plant it into the medium carefully. That allows the primary root system to burrow deep, and the shoots to grow towards the direction of the light source.
There are several ways to germinate marijuana seeds, but the paper towel method is one the easiest and most reliable. If you follow this simple procedure, the seeds should sprout within 1 to 2 days.
Seedling Stage (2-3 weeks)
After sowing the germinated seeds, they will start growing and looking like small marijuana plants. From the first pair of embryonic leaves (also called the “cotyledon”), the plant will eventually produce its trademark multi-fingered leaves. The root system will also begin to develop.
Cannabis seedlings can be delicate and prone to diseases, mold, and pests. So, handle them with care, and provide them with the right growing conditions. Opt for a clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated environment that is neither too warm nor too cold. Also, be careful not to overwater or overfeed the young plants.
Vegetative Stage (3-16 weeks)
Before the vegetative stage sets in, you should have moved the plants to a bigger pot. That is because they will need as much space as possible to support their upcoming growth spurt – both vertical and lateral. Expect the foliage to grow bushier, the stems and branches to become sturdier, and the roots to develop more extensively. In response, the plants will need higher amounts of moisture and nutrients (especially nitrogen).
During this period, the physical attributes of your chosen strain will be more apparent. Indicas, for instance, tend to be short and compact, while Sativas generally grow tall and lanky. Now is also the time to begin topping and training the plants to manipulate their growth. In the late vegetative phase, they will display their gender through the so-called “pre-flowers” – the tiny version of the adult flowers.
Flowering Stage (6-16 weeks)
In this final growth stage, marijuana plants focus on budding and resin production. Eventually, you would start seeing the fruits of your labors – the trichome-coated buds. Indoors, you can trigger the flowering phase by switching to a 12-12 light cycle. If growing outside, on the other hand, it occurs naturally as the summer days shorten. Make sure that the dark period is uninterrupted. Otherwise, the plants may revert to vegging or get stressed out.
When flowering, the plants will need more phosphorus instead of nitrogen. Also, make sure to avoid any forms of stress at this point. Not only does it compromise the yields, but it may also set off hermaphroditism. If left ignored, the mixed-sex plants might self-pollinate – spreading pollen everywhere and ruining the rest of the crops. Finally, as harvest time looms close, you should begin flushing your cannabis plants or giving them only plain water instead of nutrients.
4. Outdoors or Indoors
There are different ways to grow marijuana, but it ultimately boils down to choosing between outdoor or indoor cultivation.
Growing the plants outside is the most natural and straightforward approach. It is pretty cheap as well – seeds, pots, and soil are all you need to get started. And since the sun already serves as the light source, fussing with grow lamps and light schedules is no longer an issue. The downside is that the crops will be at the complete mercy of nature – including pests, wild animals, and severe weather conditions. For this reason, it can be more challenging than growing indoors.
What are the benefits of growing cannabis indoors at home? Indoor cultivation offers you more control over the growing environment, such as light, temperature, humidity, and ventilation. Since you are not dependent on the annual growing season, you can go for multiple harvests, translating to higher yields annually. Besides soil, you can also try out soilless or hydroponic setups. On the flip side, growing indoors can be more expensive to start and maintain. Aside from the equipment and supplies, there is the monthly power consumption to think about, too.
Not everyone, though, is lucky enough to get to choose between the two. For example, some people might not have a suitable space where they could freely grow weed outdoors. In this case, indoor cultivation is the only viable option.
5. Choosing a Suitable Strain
The chosen strain can make or break your marijuana grow. First, opt only for high-quality seeds from a reputable seed bank. If the seeds have poor genetics, they will never produce your coveted top-shelf flowers. Likewise, no amount of training, expensive nutrients, and intense lights would be able to coax out high yields from subpar plants.
Quality does not even have to burn a hole in your wallet. For instance, Homegrown Cannabis Co. – one of the top sources of diverse, stabilized genetics in the U.S. – sells many popular strains at hugely discounted prices. Check out this collection of cheap weed seeds to find out more.
When deciding on which cultivar to grow, make sure to factor in your needs and circumstances. If you plan on growing outdoors, go for a strain that matches your local climate. In harsh, cold environments – Autoflowering weed seeds are the way to go because they are naturally hardy due to their Ruderalis genes. Meanwhile, Indica strains thrive in arid continental climates with hot summers and cold winters. As for Sativa strains, they are well-suited for temperature regions with long growing seasons.
If indoors, consider the available growing space and how much time, effort, and energy you are willing to invest. If you have limited vertical space, Indicas, being short and stocky, are your best bet. Autos are another option – just keep in mind that they are incompatible with many training methods but reach full maturity weeks ahead of photoperiod plants. Fast version strains are also another option. These plants are light-dependent but flower quicker by around two weeks.
6. Telltale Signs of Common Plant Problems
Cannabis plants may be resilient, but they are not immune to pests, diseases, and other damaging elements. But fear not, there are ways to keep pests away from your marijuana plants.
On top of this, they have particular moisture, nutrient, and light requirements, which vary tremendously across the different growth stages. If you fail to meet them, the growth and overall well-being of the plants may suffer. That, in turn, could compromise the quality and quantity of the yields.
Fortunately, if you act fast, you can minimize the damage to your plants. Essentially, you need to know how to identify the early warning signs of common plant problems. After troubleshooting, it is just a matter of applying the appropriate treatment – immediately.
Signs of Overwatering
Overwatering means watering the plants too frequently – or providing them too much water. Having poor drainage and using a compacted substrate are also common culprits. Unfortunately, this mistake could kill the plants. That is because you are essentially drowning and starving the roots, preventing them from absorbing and delivering the nutrients to the rest of the plant.
- Drooping leaves
- Firm, swollen leaves curling inward
- Yellowing of leaves
- Brown spots on leaves
- Presence of mold and mildew
- Pest attacks (especially fungus gnats and root aphids)
- Damp and muddy soil
- Stunted growth
Common Signs of Nutrient Deficiencies
Marijuana plants need a wide range of nutrients to grow and thrive. Three of the essential minerals are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) – expressed as NPK ratios. Note that the pH level plays a critical role in nutrient availability and intake. If the pH is outside the ideal range of pH 5.5 to 6.5, then the roots would not be able to absorb some of the minerals available in the medium. Eventually, the plants manifest symptoms of nutrient deficiencies which makes them more vulnerable to diseases, pay attention to these symptoms, and try to maintain the correct pH and avoid nutrient deficiencies.
- Pale leaves
- Yellowing of old or new leaves
- Yellowing between the veins
- Brown or dark spots on leaves
- Leaves with brown or burnt-looking edges
- Curling leaves
- Reddish stems
- Stunted growth
Common Signs of Pest and Pathogen Attacks
Several types of pest and disease-causing microorganisms could infect marijuana plants – both indoors and outdoors. If allowed to proliferate, they can overwhelm your plants, possibly causing irreversible damage. Often, pest and pathogen infestations arise when the growing area is messy and unsanitary. Or, the environmental conditions, including temperature and humidity, might not be optimal.
- Pale leaves
- Yellowing of new leaves
- Brown or dark spots on leaves
- Black or gray patches on leaves
- White powder on leaves
- Mottling pattern on leaves
- Brown or black buds
7. Security and Safety
Growing marijuana legally is not as painless as you might think. You cannot just plant anywhere you want. There are also stringent rules you have to adhere to – or you risk incurring penalties. Just to give you an idea, here is a rundown of the cannabis cultivation laws in California:
- You need to be at least 21 years of age.
- You can possess no more than 6 plants at any given time.
- The grow site needs to be at your private residence, and it should not be visible from the outside.
- The garden has to be locked up and inaccessible to minors.
- In certain cities, outdoor growing may also be prohibited, but indoor growing is mostly allowed.
Once again, the regulations differ from one state to another. Generally, the gist is that you need to be an adult, and should be able to keep the grow site secured and locked up in your home.
Aside from security, think about your safety, too, especially when growing indoors. Ideally, you should hire a professional to set up the grow room and the electrical system. Remember, you will be dealing with water, heat, and electricity. One faulty wire or piece of defective equipment, and you might start a fire. You do not only lose your precious plants but also endanger yourself. Better safe than sorry.
Finally, keep your new hobby a secret. Do not even hint at it, especially to neighbors. You never know if they are going to spill the beans – the last thing you want is to have cops on your property.
Jumpstart Your Marijuana Growing Journey
Growing your coveted cannabis plants does not have to be hard. If you are prepared and armed with the right information, you can prevent costly or even irreversible mistakes – while making the most out of the harvest. Just remember, do not overdo the research phase. Most likely, you would be overwhelmed with the endless information available and become too frustrated. Ultimately, the best way to learn about cannabis cultivation is to experience it first-hand.