Want to grow your own cannabis? These experts can help

Grow your own: Illustration of person sitting on rug with cannabis plants around them.

Whether it’s for personal use or the legal market, growing cannabis can be a beloved hobby. Even so, getting ready to grow a plant for the first time can feel daunting.

Buying the right supplies, choosing the best seeds, solidifying a plan, and managing the garden can seem overwhelming for someone starting from scratch. But don’t worry, preparation and some shared knowledge can have even beginners harvesting sparkling, fat nugs.

This guide to growing features advice from professional cultivators and should equip you with the skills you need to succeed.

Making a garden plan

Before putting a seed or clone in the soil, even experienced cultivators should have a plan. Horticulturist Ed Rosenthal has authored a library of cannabis cultivation books, and his number one piece of advice: make a plan and start small.

“Plan out the entire season. Planting and crop caretaking are easy. Plan for harvesting, processing, and storing,” Rosenthal shared over email. “Don’t try and do too much on your initial grows. Start small and get some experience before expanding into a large garden.”

What you need when buying supplies will depend on how and where you plan to grow. For example, most outdoor growers won’t need a tent or lights, but both are essential for indoor cultivation. Soil and nutrients are crucial whether a plant is growing indoors or outside.

“Even if you’re outdoors, you’ll likely need to purchase top soil packed with nutrients rather than relying on the dirt in your garden,” said Brittany Carbone, founder of TONIC and co-founder of Tricolla Farms.

“You’ll also want to make sure the pH of the water you’re utilizing is appropriate so a pH meter to test water, soil and nutrient mixtures is a super helpful tool. Basic nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are good for the plant’s initial feeding when you first plant.”

Hemp farmer and founder of Roman Empire Farms Oksana Pidhoreckyj shared a list of supplies ideal for first-time growers with GreenState via email that included quality organic soil, seeds or clones, starter trays for germination, gardening gloves, and gardening tools.

For indoor growers, Pidhoreckyj also recommends having a grow tent, 3-5 gallon pots, nutrients, a carbon filter exhaust fan, and a method for monitoring temperature and humidity.

Nutrients are essential to growing sticky, stinky weed, but there are many products on the market. Salts and synthetic nutrients have been shown to bulk up buds, but Carbone believes in natural, organic plant supplements.

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“Natural and organic inputs are much better, in my opinion. Adding sugars like molasses at the end of your grow can help boost resin production,” Carbone said.

“Introducing a robust microbial environment to your soil allows your plants to naturally be able to take up more nutrients from the soil and therefore improve the vitality of your plant.”

Indoor or outdoor?

There are benefits and downfalls for both indoor and outdoor growing methods. The best way to choose is to weigh the pros and cons, including the climate and environmental factors. Carbone suggests a first-time grower sow their seeds outdoors but understands that indoor growing is the only option in some circumstances.

“Growing outdoors, of course, constrains you in terms of the amount of sunlight and temperature,” Carbone explained.

“Indoors allows you to control and manipulate the plant’s environment, but I think it is important to get your foundational knowledge utilizing a natural environment, learning how the plant responds, and then being able to use that knowledge to better maintain a controlled environment.”

At a glance, growing outdoors can be cheaper and provide a clear view of the plant in its natural environment. Indoor would be more accessible in terms of privacy and timing. Not to mention environmental conditions can be controlled.

“It’s easier to control the environment indoors but can become expensive with a lighting system to manage the lighting cycle for growth while keeping temperature and humidity optimal,” Pidhoreckyj echoed. “If you have access to outdoor space, a pot on a fire escape, or in your backyard cultivation, relying on Mother Nature is an easier and less expensive process.”

Choosing cannabis seeds

Feminized, autoflower, and regular cannabis seeds are available. Female seeds grow consumable buds, while male seeds produce pollen ideal for breeding and genetics. Regular cannabis seeds have a 50% chance of being male.

Since beginners are often most interested in growing nugs rather than breeding new strains, the experts recommend starting with feminized seeds.

Do note, however, that some feminized seeds can be hermaphroditic. If a hermaphrodite infiltrates the garden, remove the plant immediately to avoid spreading pollen.

“This is good news for growers who want to follow the strict plant guidelines of their state because all the plants will likely be female,” Rosenthal added.

Autoflower seeds have a chronological growth cycle rather than being dependent on light cycles. These seeds are typically ready for harvest in as little as seven weeks from the planting. plants tend to grow smaller, which is ideal for cultivators short on space.

“Auto flower seeds are great for beginners, as they produce flower faster than standard seed strains,” Pidhoreckyj recommended.

Things to watch out for

Once the seed or clone is rooted and growing, observe the plant. Key indicators like changes in color or drooping leaves will alert a nutrient imbalance or environmental challenge that could impact the trichome development, density, and overall bud quality.

“Watch your plants and look to make sure they are healthy,” Rosenthal advised. “Look for clues that they may not be getting enough light, or attracting insects, or reacting to a nutrient deficiency. Books and friends can only help you so much. Trust your eyes and act quickly to keep the garden healthy. Plants don’t wait.”

Carbone added that the fan leaves of a plant have a lot to say.

“Nutrient deficiencies, over or under-watering, and disease can all be monitored through the fan leaves. There are helpful charts online that allow you to diagnose what the issue is according to the appearance of the leaves,” Carbone shared.

Additionally, a plant that’s slow to flower often indicates an issue with the light cycle. But if an investigation shows no problem with the light cycle, and the flower still fails to develop, there may be an issue with the root structure. To avoid rootbound plants, transfer cannabis to larger vessels regularly throughout its lifecycle.

Rosenthal recommends getting a magnifying glass or photography loop ready when it comes time to harvest. These tools will help identify trichome growth which indicates the best time to pluck buds.

“Look for the mushroom-shaped trichomes,” Rosenthal explained. “The more they stand upright and glisten, the more potent the high.”

Go forth and grow, friend

It may feel like a lot to start, but growing cannabis can be rewarding. After making it through that first plant’s life cycle, the cultivation process becomes fun, and the learning process never ends.

“With each grow, you will learn something new. Also, new tools and equipment are always coming to market that will make the growing season easier and more reliable,” Rosenthal said.

“Do it for the love, and don’t be afraid to fail a few times. Appreciate the process and the time with the plant. There’s a lot you can learn from it!” Carbone concluded.

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.