Under the canopy: cannabis cultivation basics

cannabis cultivation basics

There are many ways to grow a cannabis plant. Over the centuries, as civilization moved from landrace strains to exotic weed, cultivation methods have evolved alongside the plants. What was once a natural process of a plant growing and reseeding itself in the wild has moved into a space where every cubic centimeter of the plant’s environment can be controlled.

Such a wide swath of cannabis cultivation methods makes getting started on a first-time growing journey feel extensive. Considering what type of grow medium to use or how to care for flowering plants to optimize buds isn’t something someone decides overnight. Master cultivators have spent decades fine-tuning how they grow weed. Some even use wisdom passed down by older generations.

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This article should help beginners who don’t have a pot-growing grandma for guidance. Let’s break down some cannabis cultivation basics. The space, genetics, and more must be considered before setting up a grow room.

Sea of Green Technique

The Sea of Green (SOG) technique helps make the most of a smaller grow space. SOG is the practice of using lots of small containers and packing plants in. Whether starting from clone or seed, plants don’t spend much time in their vegetative state (veg) but are forced to flower. Because of this, feminized seeds are better than autoflower.

SOG emphasizes care on the main bud (cola), sacrificing buds growing lower down on the plant or off the sides. Many will trim these growing buds and stems off to prioritize the plant’s energy on the top buds. Since plants are so close together, some believe that it’s essential to pick off fan leaves under the canopy througout flowering. Otherwise, the leaves will block lower branches.
The technique is said to grow four times as many plants per square yard than other methods. The smaller containers do more than just provide space for mass production. They inhibit how tall a plant grows.

Square containers are recommended because they fit well together. Anywhere from four to six-liter pots will do. Stunted growth upwards triggers the plant to send energy to the top buds. Placing netting for the top-heavy plants to grow into helps hold their heads up.

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An updated canopy requires updated lighting. For starters, weak lighting won’t be enough for this quantity of colas. Hot lights could burn foliage and stop trichome production. LED lighting is recommended for those growing with the SOG technique.

SOG is ideal for a corporate cannabis company that wants to harvest top-shelf buds quickly and regularly. It will probably require a second room for plants in veg so that things can be turned over and flowering again in one day’s work. Home growers and craft growers who enjoy pouring love into the plant day after day may find joy in other cannabis cultivation methods, but SOG serves its purpose.

Screen of Green (SCROG) Method

Similar but opposite from SOG, Screen of Green (SCROG) maximizes colas and minimizes plants. This is often used indoor, but outdoor growers sometimes train plants this way. Those living with nosy neighbors or in places where plants must be kept out of sight might make scrogging ideal.

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Cultivators applying the SCROG method will keep plants in veg longer due to the topping and training involved. Because of this, many believe that feminized seeds are best for scrogging since they allow the cultivator to control when a plant goes to flower. Bushier plants do well for “scrogging,” so many growers choose to top plants in the third to fifth week of veg. This creates a Y-shaped growth that is naturally more bushy.

Netting is used in SCROG rooms as a screen to stop the plants from growing too tall. Growers will bend the main stalk at a ninety degree angle using a high stress training method. Zip ties or reusable plant wire work to adhere the plant to the net.

The nugs then grow directly up from the stem toward the light. Stems and growth nodes that produce beneath the canopy are pulled to emphasize the nugs on the screen. As the plant grows, cultivators will continue tucking branches under the screen until it’s impossible to do so.

This could be a game changer for someone with minimal vertical space like a grow tent, closet, or cupboard. The plants will be bunched together though, so be mindful of air flow. Without airflow, scrogging plants are susceptible to mold and bud rot. Not to mention more air inspires plants to respire CO2 and grow faster.

As for lights, many SCROG enthusiasts opt for LED due to the low heat and end to end coverage. Those who use hotter lights will create more of a stadium seating style SCROG referred to as a half-pipe SCROG. This method trains the plants at an angle around the light. The goal is to get the most light possible with out letting the heat burn the colas.

Most SCROG grows only grow a few plants, making this a suitable method for home growers or craft runs.


This cannabis growing method gives the best of both worlds. Greenhouses provide some shelter while also feeding the plants the natural spectrum of sunshine. Some greenhouse operations are set up with lights to support the natural sunlight and keep plants thriving during stretches of overcast weather.

Because the sun takes breaks, autoflower seeds are recommended for greenhouse growth. This seed option will flower no matter what, while feminized seeds require a steady light source to trigger flowering. Both seed options will perform best if planted in March or April after all danger of frost has left. Give plants a leg up by planting the seeds indoors, letting them germinate in a safe space before the last frost.

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Lots of greenhouses utilize light deprivation (light dep) to encourage their plants to flower. Shutters or blackout covers are used to force flowering by controlling the light cycle. Still, choosing the right grow window is required to find success in growing greenhouse cannabis.

The greenhouse provides more room to control airflow, temperature, and light, but elements of nature can still find their way in. A Greek cannabis cultivation lost their greenhouse crop to a combination of flood and goats this summer. Keeping the greenhouse clean can keep pests at bay, but consider every natural element while planning the location and build.

Greenhouse grows are ideal for commercial growers who want to use regenerative methods but need some control over the climate. It can also be a good choice for a home grower with ample yard space.

Traditional: growing weed outdoors

Outdoor cannabis is best planted in late March or April and harvested in October. Those in an ideal climate like Northern California may have luck on their first seasonal outdoor cannabis grow, but even the weather-blessed deal with the elements. Growing cannabis outside can create the most flavorful, pungent flowers. Beginners beware: many lessons are learned on the quest for the perfect outdoor harvest.

Outdoor growers will often implement techniques from traditional agriculture. Growers with ample space and outdoor lighting often use a fimming method. This entails trimming the very top off of a cannabis plant, not from the stem like with topping, only the growth nod is removed. The chop inspires the plant to grow two to four more stems for a bushier plant.

No-till farming is also popular among outdoor growers. This technique is also called zero tillage or direct drilling, and it involves growing cannabis in the ground without disturbing the soil.

Tilled soil is more likely to erode, but soil left to its devices acts more like a structured sponge, according to Regeneration International. No-till soil is believed to have more beneficial microbes, retain more carbon, and better absorb rainwater. The lack of erosion also means less runoff from the cultivation into local waterways.

Outdoor farmers focused on sustainable methods may also use the term closed loop. This means that the farm doesn’t accept outside products for their operation. Instead of fertilizer, for example, a farm may opt to have cows on the property whose dung becomes a soil additive.

Growing cannabis outside can be fulfilling, with many methods and techniques available to suit various climates and cannabis genetics. It can also leave much more room for error as the plants are subject to the natural elements.

Choosing cannabis cultivation techniques

The various techniques for growing cannabis didn’t sprout up overnight. They evolved based on necessity. Cultivating cannabis inside, maximizing weight,and enticing luscious terpene content has inspired gardeners to alter and shift their growing methods. To determine which cultivation method is best for you, consider a few things:

Look at where the plant(s) will spend their flowering days first. Approaches can be made for a smaller space to get a large harvest from a tiny room. The genetics will also play a role. Certain strains are prone to mold or stretch over six feet tall. Those in smaller spaces should opt for genetics that grow squattier, or prepare to apply specialized training to get the most out of the space.

Anyone sowing seeds outdoors would also benefit from minding the genetics. There are some strains that thrive in the elements and others that prefer a highly monitored environment. Finding the right cannabis genetics for the circumstances sets a foundation for success in growing the plant.

Cultivation methods aren’t one-size-fits-all

This list touches on some of the common cannabis cultivation techniques, but there’s a cornucopia of side quests still uncovered. From hydroponic to aeroponic to aquaponic, soil to rockwool to coco—the space is ripe for customization.

Choosing the right methods depends on each individual’s grow. Though these methods can be ideal for a particular space, it’s probably that small tweaks and changes will be made to fit the genetics, climate, and more. Beginners don’t need to fret, though. The best way to get started is to put a seed in some soil and see what happens.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.