August 4, 2017 9:20 am

How to Grow Cannabis Outdoors

With many states legalizing recreational marijuana use, backyard gardeners are starting to cultivate plants outdoors

Cannabis was grown as any other kitchen garden plant when Humboldt farmers first started to cultivate it as part of the back-to-the-land movement of the ‘70s. California’s progression toward legalization over the last decade has made it easier for cannabis farmers to share their knowledge with you today.

Growing cannabis is “a short-term commitment with a very big promise at the end,” Scott Davies, owner of Winterbourne Farms, says. “It requires some nurturing and attentiveness, but it’s a pretty resilient and eventually rewarding plant. I know that if I grow it well, I can use the plant to alter my state, to use it to relax at the end of the day.”

Davies is a second-generation cannabis farmer, currently based in Humboldt County. He’s a co-founder of Humboldt Legends, a benefit corporation of about 30 farms in Humboldt County who have pioneered organic methods for growing cannabis outdoors.

Below, Davies shares his best practices for incorporating cannabis plants in your garden.

What to Know Before You Grow

  • Find out your local laws governing growing at home. There could be regulations down to the block you live on. Local ordinances may ban cultivation outdoors. Currently, California and Colorado residents can grow up to six plants per household whether for recreational or medicinal use.
  • Cannabis is the only annual plant with distinct genders: male, female, and hermaphrodite. You only use the female plant for its flower, but you still use male plants for pollinating / reproducing. Separate select males and keep them far away from the female plants. If you keep male and hermaphrodite plants near your females, your yield will still be fully flowered, yet rife with seeds. (While a seed-filled yield is useful for breeding future harvests, seedy bud isn’t a desired outcome for consumption; users pick the seeds out before smoking or processing the flower for edibles or concentrates.)
  • Each plant can yield one to ten pounds of flower and trim. The plant can grow up to 15 feet tall depending on the strain and the maintenance of the plant.
  • It’s better not to start the plant’s life at the beginning of the year. Most of the farms working with Humboldt Legends plant in March and harvest by mid-October.
  • Research each strain to understand its unique growing needs as well as how to yield its greatest potential and understand its effects. Indica, sativa, hybrids, and strong-CBD strains have different growing considerations depending on climate, elevation, and other natural factors.

Choosing whether to plant seeds or clones is a big decision for the course of your plant’s life.

Seeds can be shipped to you, are discreet, and are easy to store. Your emerging plant comes pesticide- and microbe-free. You can also hybridize seeds to create new cross-strains to tailor the plant’s effects on you.

One drawback of seeds is that you won’t know the plant’s gender until its pistils come out; to stack the deck in your favor, seek out feminized seeds. If you do wind up with male or hermaphrodite plants, you can compost them and put them back into the soil eventually.

Clones are usually taken from adult female plants, so you know exactly what you’re getting. They’re relatively easy to procure; as of now, can be purchased commercially with a medical marijuana card.

However, if your clone comes with mildew or mites, it won’t be immediately obvious. Even in its early stages, mildew presents itself with telltale white fuzz growing on the fan leaves. Mites come in a variety of species (spider, broad, etc.) and they are harder to spot than mildew. More readily noticeable are the signs of damage they wreak: yellowing or spotted leaves or drooping, lackluster structure. In more advanced stages, spider mites will leave webs all over the flowers.


Plant in full sun at the north edge of your garden. Chose a spot with well-drained soil. Make sure the plant has plenty of room to grow as plants can grow an inch to an inch-and-a-half a day.


All of the plant’s energy goes into growing bigger. Start fertilizing at the vegetative stage of the plant (i.e. when stems and leaves are growing, but before the plant begins to flower) with nitrogen-rich fertilizer, which enables stems to be strong enough to hold the weight of heavy buds. Switch to phosphorous-heavy fertilizer when the plant starts flowering, usually six to eight weeks into the growth of your plant.

A warning about the use of pesticides, fungicides or harmful chemicals: Whatever you feed the cannabis plant, you wind up ingesting once the plant is harvested. Refrain from using any harmful chemicals that would be toxic upon igniting or baking.

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