Growing weed outdoors: A beginners guide

Growing weed outdoors

Welcome to the Skunkology beginners guide to growing weed outdoors! This step by step guide will teach you everything you need to know to start your first grow. Many folks believe that growing marijuana outdoors is the most natural way to grow and gives the weed a more natural flavor. After all, the cannabis plant has been growing wild outdoors for hundreds and thousands of years! 

How long does growing weed outdoors take?

Growing weed outdoors generally takes more time than growing indoors.  Exactly how long depends on a number of factors:

  • The genetics of your seeds or clones
  • Temperature & humidity
  • Soil nutrients
  • The ratio of daylight to darkness
  • How large you want your plants to grow!

There are 3  main stages of plant growth, the seedling stage, the vegetative stage and the flowering (buds!) stage. After harvest, you also have to dry and cure your buds.

Seedling stage length

The seedling stage lasts between 1 and 5 weeks, and depends on whether you start with seeds or clones.

Vegetative stage length

The length of the vegetative stage has the highest variability and can last from 8.5 to 25 weeks (2 to 6 months). During the vegetative stage your plants will take as much sunlight as they can get to grow bigger. The vegetative stage occurs during the summer months when there are more hours of sunlight. 

Flowering stage length

The flowering stage is triggered when your plants receive an equal amount of darkness and light each day. This occurs during fall as the days and nights become equal in length. 

The flowering stage can last between 6 to 21 weeks (1.5 to 5 months) depending on the strain of weed you’re growing. Most strains flower for around 8 to 14 weeks.

Drying and curing length

When flowering is complete you can harvest your plants and dry and cure your buds. The drying process generally takes between 3 and 7 days and curing process takes a minimum of 1 month.

What time of year should marijuana seeds be planted?

When you're growing weed outdoors, spring is the time to plant your seeds. This allows your plants to be in the vegetative stage during the summer months. The longer hours of sunlight in summer helps your plants grow bigger. The flowering stage is triggered when summer moves to fall and the days and nights become close to equal length.  Your buds will be ready to harvest in the fall. 

If you’re lucky enough to live near the equator you can plant your seeds whenever you feel like it!

Best planting time for cannabis in the Northern Hemisphere

  • Plant seeds in spring (April, May, June)
  • Harvest buds in fall (September, October, November)

Best planting time for cannabis in the Southern Hemisphere

  • Plant seeds in spring (September, October, November)
  • Harvest buds in autumn (April, May, early June)

When to plant weed seeds

Choosing the right location for growing weed outdoors

Picking the right location for weed growing outdoors is critical for success. It's important to consider how much garden area you have, how much sunlight and rain you get and whether you'll need to easily move your plants around.

Should I grow weed in pots or in the ground?

If you want to start growing weed outdoors, pots have many advantages.

  • Your can move your plants around to ensure they get enough sunlight.
  • They're easy to hide from nosy neighbors or judgmental friends and family.
  • Pots are perfect if you don’t have a large garden area and can be positioned on a balcony or porch.
  • If your plants suffer from disease it’s easier to move them into a new pot and change the soil.
  • If you have poor soil in your garden, growing in pots with potting mix removes this issue.

When growing weed outdoors in pots, your plants won’t grow as big. Pots also make an easier target for thieves because they're easy to move.

Growing weed outdoors in the ground is also a great option if you have enough space.

  • You might not need to hand water at all if your garden gets enough rainfall
  • Your plants can dig deep roots and grow bigger giving you more buds!
  • No one will ever know if your growing one weed plant outdoors hidden in the garden 🙂

How much sunlight do my weed plants need?

Your plants need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight each day. The more sunlight they get during the vegetative stage, the bigger and faster they'll grow!

If you live in a hot climate, choose a location that catches some breeze. If you live in a cooler climate, planting near a heat retaining structure like a house wall can help. 

How often do I water my weed plants?

Your plants need regular water to survive. If they aren’t getting enough water from rainfall then you’ll need to hand water them. It’s also possible to over-water your plants so use the following guidelines to help:

  • If you get a least an inch of rainfall per week you probably won’t need to water
  • Water your plants if the soil is fully dry and has no moisture
  • The bigger your plants are, the more water they’ll need!
  • Your plants might suffer from heat stress and look a little wilted during hot months but this is normal.

What soil, fertilizer and nutrients do weed plants need to grow?

What soil should I use for growing weed?

If you’re growing in pots, use a high quality potting soil. Check out our article where we review all the best soils for growing weed. Our favorite is Fox Farms ocean forest organic soil.

FoxFarm Ocean Forest Organic Soil

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If you’re growing in the ground and you have good quality soil, potting soil isn't needed. You can recognize quality soil by its dark color. It should have a crumbly texture and look full of worms and other organic looking stuff.

If your soil is poor (or you’re not sure), use potting soil to be safe. Dig an area about 2 foot wide and 2 foot deep and fill with the potting mix.

You could also consider getting a soil testing kit to ensure the composition of your soil is correct. The kit will tell you exactly what you need to add if any minerals or nutrients are missing. We recommend these two options:
Luster Leaf 1601 Rapitest Soil Test Kit

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Buy on Amazon

 What nutrients do weed plants need?

There are 3 key nutrients that your weed plants need to support healthy growth and bud production.

Nitrogen (N)

  • Nitrogen helps your plants grow lots of leaves during the vegetative stage

Phosphorous (P)

  • Your plants need phosphorus to grow lots of buds during the flowering stage

Potassium (K)

  • You plants need potassium to grow bigger, fatter buds during the flowering stage

Wikipedia has a great article on plant nutrition if you'd like to learn more.

All plant fertilizers show the ratio of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium on the bottle. This is depicted as the N-P-K scale. (Note that P is for phosphorous and K is for potassium which is a bit confusing!)

Any nutrient kit you buy for your plants will contain detailed instructions on when and how to use it. Never use more than the recommended amount or add the wrong mix at the wrong time. This can severely damage or kill your plants.

We recommend the Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio Soil Formula for a complete nutrient solution when growing in soil.

Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio Soil Formula

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If you have high quality soil in your growing area or you're using potting mix, don’t add nutrients to your plants for the first 4 weeks. Your plants get all they need from the soil at this stage and too much fertilizer can damage them.

Picking the right weed for your climate

Read our article to understand more about the different types of weed strains.

Breeders have created hundreds of varieties of hybrid weed that mix traits of the sativa, indica and ruderalis strains. Hybrids have been developed that are good for growing weed outdoors in different climates as well different tastes and types of high. When selecting seeds (or clones) to grow outdoors, make your choice based on where you live and what kind of high you want.

Cold climates

Indica strains have a shorter growth cycle and are the best choice for growing weed outdoors in cold or frosty climates.

Popular strains of weed for cold climates

  • Super Skunk - indica dominant strain with a full body stone, clean smoke and distinctive skunk taste.
  • OG Kush - 50-50 indica and sativa strain with a spicy smoke and serious potency.

Warm climates

If you live in a tropical climate free of frost and with plenty of sunshine, any strain should grow well. 

Popular strains of weed for warm climates

  • Blueberry kush - 100% Indica with strong sedative effects. Great for anxiety relief
  • White widow - Sativa dominant strain with classic sativa ‘head high’ effects that will energize you
  • Amnesia haze - Sativa dominant strain that exhibits both the energizing qualities of sativa and the relaxing vibe of indica

Buying weed seeds online

There are many online seed banks where you can buy quality seeds. Pick a strain based on your climate, whether you want to grow in pots or in the ground and what kind of high you’re looking for. The seed banks we trust for quality and discretion are:

Germinating your weed seeds

Read our article to learn more about how to germinate weed seeds.

Germinate your seeds using your preferred method. They should germinate in around 2 - 5 days but some strains can take as long as 2 weeks. Be careful when transporting seeds for planting as they are easily damaged. Using a pair of tweezers is a good tip.

Planting your weed seeds

Only use good quality potting mix (or quality natural soil) and don’t add any extra nutrients. Strong nutrients can kill your tiny plants at this early stage. Once your plant reaches the vegetative stage it can handle more nutrients.

To plant your germinated seed, make a small hole in the soil around 2 to 3 times as deep as the seed. Drop the seed in and gently cover it over.

Moisten your seeds with water as soon as they’re planted but be gentle as they can easily get washed away.

 

Planting in the ground

When planting in the ground, leave at least a 10 foot gap between each plant. This only gives each plant a 5 foot area to grow into and marijuana plants can easily reach 15 foot high!

Planting in containers or pots

The size of the pot you plant into determines the final size of your fully grown weed plant. In general:

  • A 2-3 gallon container will grow a 12” plant
  • A 5-8 gallon container will grow a 35” plant
  • A 12 gallon container will grow a 60” plant.

Planting your germinated seed in a tiny pot (like a solo cup) will give the fastest grow time. Make sure you poke a hole in the bottom of the cup so the excess water can drain. Carefully transfer your plant to the larger pot once the first few leaves have grown.

You can plant your seeds into the final pot from the beginning but your plant will grow much more slowly for the first several weeks.

There are a few options when choosing which pots to grow in.

  • Terracotta pots and plastic pots are cheap and will do the job well.
  • Fabric pots and air pots breathe well and deliver more oxygen to the roots of your plants. You'll need to water your plants more often if you use these because they dry out more quickly.

Watering your weed plants

If the soil feels really dry when you put your finger into it then your plants need watering.

As your plants grow bigger they’ll need more frequent watering because they will absorb more water through their root system.

Watering your plants in pots

If you’re growing in pots, every time you water keep going until about 25% of the water you’re adding is draining out of the bottom.

Smaller pots need more frequent watering because bigger pots hold the water for longer.

Watering your plants in the ground

It's difficult to define a consistent watering schedule when growing in the ground because the climate and rainfall is different depending on where you live. In general, water your plants every day when they are small seedlings and every 3 to 5 days when they become more established.

Signs of over-watering and under watering

The most common sign of both over watering and under watering is drooping leaves on your plants during normal temperatures. Too much water can also cause fungus to grow on the leaves and they can start to bend or turn yellow. If this happens stop watering until the soil has dried out.

Lex Blazer has a nice video with more information on how to tell if your plants are getting too much water.

 

Protecting your weed plants from insects and animals

When you're growing weed outdoors, insects and pests will constantly attack your crop. The most common offenders are slugs, snails, leaf eating insects, beetles and caterpillars. Pesticides are an option, but we don’t like them. There effectiveness decreases over time and the idea of smoking weed covered in dangerous pesticides is not appealing. There are lots of safer and more natural solutions to deal with insects. 

Companion plants

  • Basil and mint have a strong smell that has been shown to repel insects such as beetles and aphids
  • Garlic protects against mold as well as insects. You can also use diluted garlic in a spray bottle as a treatment for leaf mold
  • Chili plants can make your nearby weed plants much less appealing to rabbits and other small animals
  • Marigolds can provide replacement therapy for your weed plants. Weed eating creatures will prefer the marigold and leave your crop alone

Wikipedia has a good article about companion plants if you'd like to know more.

Fencing

If you suffer from larger weed eating animals in your area growing weed outdoors is even harder. The best way to deal with this issue is to build a fence around your crop to keep them out.

Organic pesticides

Pyrethrin is a naturally occurring compound already present in plants that kills a wide range of insects. It works by attacking the nervous system of the insect. It doesn't last long in the environment and isn't dangerous to people.

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Some expert growers introduce 'good' insects that prey on other creatures eating their plants. Keep in mind that the pyrethrin will kill all the insects around - even the good ones.

Natural remedies

One simple homemade remedy for controlling snails and slugs is a dilution of soapy water in a spray bottle.

Diluted garlic in a spray bottle can also be used to treat mold and can repel beetles.

The growth stages of outdoor weed plants

As your weed plant grows, it passes through several stages of growth on the way to producing buds. 

  • The seedling stage
  • The vegetative stage
  • The flowering stage

The seedling stage

weed seedling with two round leaves
Seedling with two round leaves

The seedling stage lasts from 1 week to 1 month. When growing weed outdoors your plants are most prone to damage from frost, over watering, fertilizers and heat during this time.

Your plants have a tiny root system and will sprout round ‘seedling leaves’ that look very different to the leaves of the mature plant (called ‘true leaves’).

When your plants have 7 sets of true leaves they have officially moved into the vegetative stage.

The vegetative stage

vegetative stage of growth
The vegetative stage

The vegetative stage lasts from spring until fall. 

During the vegetative phase your plants use the energy they gain from sunlight and nutrients from the soil to grow stems, leaves and roots. The more sunlight they get the faster they'll grow. This is why they should be in the vegetative stage during the longer summer days. Indoor growers often give their plants constant light during the vegetative stage so that they'll grow as fast as possible.

Your plants crave nutrients during the vegetative stage so adding nutrients with high levels of potassium and nitrogen will help them grow faster and bigger.

The sex of your plants will be revealed towards the end of the vegetative stage. They should all be female if you’ve bought good quality seeds or grown from a female clone.

Learn more by reading our articles about the difference between male and female weed plants and about growing cloned weed.

At this stage you should remove all the male plants to prevent pollination, unless you are intentionally trying to pollinate your female plants so they produce seed. Pollinated female plants direct most of their energy into producing seeds instead of growing bigger buds!

Pruning your plants

When growing weed outdoors you don't have the height restrictions of a grow room or grow tent and left unchecked, your plants have the potential to become massive! If you need to control their height and size to keep them stealthy, pruning is a good idea. Pruning can also give you a greater yield of buds. Removing dry, yellow or damaged leaves will ensure the plant's energy goes into growing healthy stems and leaves. Cutting the main stem (by cutting off the top of the plant) will force the lower branches to become thicker and stronger.

You can safely prune your plants from a few weeks into the vegetative stage all the way through to the start of the flowering stage.

The dudeGrows has made a nice video demonstrating how it's done.

The flowering stage

The flowering stage is where your female plants direct their energy into growing big buds. As the seasons move towards winter, the days get shorter and the nights longer. Your weed plants have evolved over thousands of years to detect this change and enter the flowering phase when the amount of darkness and sunlight they receive is roughly equal.

The flowering stage
The flowering stage

The length of the flowering stage differs based on the strain of weed you are growing and the amount of darkness your plants receive but is generally between 2 and 3 months. Indica strains have a shorter flowering period than sativa strains. The flowering stage will be shorter if your plants receive less daylight and the yield of buds will also be lower.

Indoor growers can trigger the flowering phase by using grow lights to give your plants 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of light. 

After around 6 weeks of flowering, you’ll be able to smell your delicious buds. The ones on the outside of the plant will get bigger and more ripe first because the are receiving more sunlight. You can remove these and start the drying process but leave the less mature buds to continue to ripen.

Harvesting your weed plants

Buds ready for harvest
Buds ready for harvest

Seeds purchased online will generally have instructions on how long to wait through the flowering stage before harvesting. However, you can also look at your plants and easily tell when it’s time to harvest.

  • Crystals will be visible around the buds and they’ll be sticky to the touch
  • The pistils on the flowers (the tiny hairs on your buds) will turn from white into a brown or red color
  • The leaves on the plant might start to look wilted or yellow. This is because all of the plants energy has been diverted from leaf production into flower production.

To harvest, simply cut each branch separately using secateurs in preparation for drying.

Drying your weed

Dry your buds by hanging the cut branches by their stems in a dark cupboard. The environment should be:

  • Between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 21 degrees Celsius)
  • Around 50% humidity

If you live in very humid area it’s a good idea to trim all the buds away from the branches and dry on a rack. If you live in an area with very low humidity, leaving some leaves on the stems along with your buds as they hang will slow down the drying process and ensure your buds don’t dry too quickly.

You can use a humidifier or a dehumidifier to make your drying environment perfect. You can easily measure the humidity in the air with a hygrometer.

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Your buds should dry in around 3 to 7 days. You can tell they’re dry enough when they outside of the buds feel dry and the stems snap cleanly in half when you break them.

drying buds
Drying buds

If your buds dry to quickly, you’ll end up with weed that is very harsh to smoke and won’t taste as good.

If your buds take too long to dry, you run the risk of mold developing.

During the drying phase your buds will seriously stink! If you’re growing in an area where you need to be stealthy keep this in mind. Remember that you can quickly become used to the smell because you smell it so often.

Trimming your buds

Trimming your buds is an important step because it gives your weed more flavor, makes your buds look nicer and increases it's strength because you're removing leaf matter that contains less THC and CBD.

Read our article to learn more about trimming your buds as well as what is the best bud trimming machine for weed.

Curing your weed

Once your buds are dry, cure them by placing them sealed jars for 1 month. Curing will massively improve the taste of your weed. Curing will also allow you to keep your weed for longer without any loss in strength. You can keep properly cured weed in sealed containers in a dark place for 2 years or more.

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It’s important that your buds are dry when the curing process starts because mold or bacteria can easily form inside the jars if they are too moist. While you weed is curing, open the jars every couple of days to replenish and replace the oxygen.

If you want to remove all the guesswork, you can use a hygrometer to accurately measure the relative humidity inside your curing jars. Aim to keep the buds at between 60% - 65% relative humidity.

Another awesome option is to use humidity control pouches. Just place one in each jar and they will ensure your weed stays at the correct humidity level.

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There is much debate around the curing process and some growers choose not to cure their weed at all. We believe that curing your weed will turn good weed into awesome weed with just a little more patience.

Congratulations, you've made it to the end! We hope you’ve found this step by step guide to growing weed outdoors useful and it helps you get started growing some big buds!



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