The Absolute Most Basic Guide to Growing Cannabis When you read guides on growing cannabis, they often expect you have a certain level of horticultural knowledge. Not all of us grew up with First time marijuana grower? Who can grow their own? With passage of Proposition 64, anyone in California over 21 years old can have up to six plants. If you’re a medical marijuana patient
The Absolute Most Basic Guide to Growing Cannabis
When you read guides on growing cannabis, they often expect you have a certain level of horticultural knowledge. Not all of us grew up with gardens, though. As we approach legalization in Canada, we thought it was a good time to produce a truly basic guide to growing. One that makes no assumptions about your prior knowledge. If you have a basic understanding of how a plant grows (put a seed in the ground, water it, and a plant pops up) you can learn the basics of cannabis growing here.
Cannabis plants take up space. That’s a simple fact. You can grow small plants in small spaces, and big ones in big places, but you’ll need a bare minimum of a couple square feet per plant. For your first grow, we recommend growing one or two plants. You’ll probably make mistakes and do some experimenting as you get started, so don’t risk ruining a big crop for your first ever attempt. To accommodate outward growth for each plant and give yourself some leeway, try for 3-4 square feet per plant. Plus, several feet of growing room above the plant. An unused closet, spare room, or grow tent is ideal.
Our guide is going to focus on indoor growing, as it offers you the greatest control and yields the highest quality cannabis. Outdoor growing has many more variables to consider: the weather, change of seasons, security issues, and higher risk of pest infestation. We don’t recommend it for the best results, or for inexperienced growers.
Get the Gear
Before you start growing cannabis, you need to get some gear. While you could throw a seed in some dirt, water it, and hope it works out, that’s not going to produce very good bud — if the plant even survives. Instead, it’s well worth investing in the proper gear. Not only will this result in higher quality bud, it will also make the process more straightforward. Just follow the instructions to a ‘T’, and you’ll be growing bud in no time!
Just the Essentials
Here’s a list of the absolute bare-bones essentials to get started growing:
- Cannabis seeds or clones[This guide is only intended for those with medical licenses to grow cannabis. You cannot otherwise legally purchase seeds or clones.]
- Grow tent (optional but strongly recommended). Grow tents are closed, box shaped frames covered in canvas — a tent. The insides are made of reflective fabric, to maximize efficiency from your growth lights. They come in a range of sizes, from 2’x2’x4’ to more than double that size. For your first grow, a simple 2’x2’x4’ tent should be sufficient, unless you’re fairly confident you’ll use more space in the future.
- Soils and fertilizers for each growth stage. We recommend our Craft Cannabis Kit as a one-purchase solution for organic growing! There are lot of considerations in choosing a growing medium. There’s also a lot to learn about growth stages and the differing needs of mature and immature cannabis plants. The Craft Cannabis Kit contains all the soil, fertilizers, and growing instructions you need to get started. If you choose other soils and adjuncts, you’ll face the challenge of trying to understand some fairly complex growing science. Finally, you may want to read up on some of our growing guides to learn about some growing concepts in a straightforward way.
- Potting containers. 5-gallon buckets work very well for this, but any similar-sized container will do. Be sure you’ve drilled holes for drainage every few inches around the base of the container.
Trays to catch drainage from your potting containers. Otherwise, you’ll get muddy water all over your floor. Not ideal. You don’t want your plants to sit in standing water. If too much drains into the tray, you may need to drain the excess water.
- A light. There are so many options for what kind of light to choose, from LEDs to CFLs and specialized HID lights. Some of these options produce a lot of heat or use a ton of power, like HIDs. While others are relatively cool and energy efficient. For first time growers, LEDs are a good choice. They are simple to set up and use little power while generating small amounts of heat. Suspend them about 18 inches above your plants, adjusting height as they grow. A light is generally the biggest up-front and ongoing cost for indoor growing. Expect to pay a minimum of $75 for a grow light, and anywhere from $20-$75/month in electricity bills, on top of what you’re paying now.
Once you’ve got all your gear in order, you’ll need to assemble everything. As each grower likely has a different setup, it’s hard to provide catch-all advice for your particular setup. However, there are some basics to keep in mind.
Germination and Watering
First, if you’re working with seeds, you’ll need to germinate them. Germinating cannabis seeds is very straightforward. All you’re doing is ‘waking up’ the seeds with warmth and moisture. You can get seeds started by simply burying them a half inch to an inch into your growing container’s soil, and watering them into the soil. However, you may find water management difficult in a large container. Planting in a small container, like a disposable cup with holes punched in it, can help you ensure you don’t flood your plant, damaging or killing it.
You should water whenever the top half inch to inch of soil feels dry. Water until you saturate the soil, and about a fifth of your water has filtered through the soil and into the drainage tray. This will wash out salt buildup that can cause nutrient deficiencies over time.
Some prefer to germinate their seeds in seedling plugs. Then they’ll transplant the plug into their main growing container once the seedling is established. Seedling plugs offer perfectly ideal germination conditions for cannabis seeds. You can purchase them at most hardware stores and garden centres.
Entire books could be written on pruning cannabis. There are dozens of ways to train a cannabis plant with the intention of producing higher yields, and this guide simply can’t cover the full details. The basic principle is to improve airflow and ensure leaves and buds get exposure to proper amounts of light. Pruning the lower branches of your plant that receive little to no direct light is a good start. Removing small branches tangled in the canopy of the plant will increase airflow and exposure to light. You can also trim individual leaves that are shrunken or dying off due to lack of light.
You can (and certainly should!) learn a lot more about cannabis pruning than this guide covers. Don’t expect your first few grows to have perfect pruning jobs. It’s a skill that takes a lot of practice.
Feeding and Light Schedules
Once your plant is germinated (or your clone is transplanted) you’ll need to set up a watering, feeding, and light schedule based on the growth stage of your plants. Before the plants enter flowering stage, they should get exposure to light for 18-20 hours a day. This helps them grow foliage and roots without triggering the flowering stage, which is when they’ll begin developing buds. Keep them in the vegetative state until they’ve filled out your growing area.
Once your plants are an appropriate size, it’s time to enter the flowering stage. You’ll do this by changing the light cycle to 12 hours light, 12 hours dark. If you’re using our products, you can use our growing calendar tool to establish feeding, watering, and light requirements throughout the flowering duration. Otherwise, you’ll need to do some research into the nutrients and adjuncts you’ve chosen to use. Proper nutrition will ensure high yields of great bud.
Harvesting and Curing
After you’re done the flowering phase, you’re ready to harvest. There are a variety of ways you can harvest buds. The simplest way is to simply trim off each branch containing the bud, and hang the branches from the ceiling in a dark, cool room, with a fan on low speed to circulate air. Once the buds are dry to the touch and the branches are brittle, it’s time to thoroughly trim the buds, removing stems and leaves. Place the buds in sealed containers to cure, opening the jars a few times a day for several days to allow moisture to escape. Store them this way for several weeks to allow the bud to cure fully. This ensures you’ll have great tasting, potent bud.
That’s pretty much all there is to basic cannabis cultivation. Like many subjects, it doesn’t take long to grasp the basics, but takes years of research and practice to become truly proficient. You’re going to learn from your mistakes and keep improving with each successful grow. We’ve written some growing guides to help you understand some of the more complex growing concepts. Keep at it, and you’ll be a pro in no time!
First time marijuana grower?
Who can grow their own?
With passage of Proposition 64, anyone in California over 21 years old can have up to six plants. If you’re a medical marijuana patient with a doctor’s recommendation, you can have as many as you and your doctor decide you need.
That said, all non-commercial cultivation for recreational use (called “adult use” in California) and medical use is subject to local regulations. Many cities and counties require permits even for personal use and many ban outdoor growing entirely, requiring you to grow indoors under lights. Check your locality’s rules.
While we can sell plants to you and you can legally drive them home, you may be subject to restrictions on how and where you grow them.
Where can I grow my plants?
The best place is outdoors in sunshine and fresh air, where plants are happiest. Plant them in the spring or summer and harvest in the fall. However, if you don’t have access to garden space or your local jurisdiction doesn’t allow outdoor cannabis growing, you can grow them indoors under high-powered “grow” lights. Check with your local city or county officials to see if there are specific limits on where you can grow.
Growing any plants indoors under artificial lighting, but especially cannabis, requires some research, skill and practice. There are many books and websites dedicated to it.
We recommend outdoor growing in the normal gardening season, so most of what follows is somewhat specific to outdoor cannabis gardening.
First, some basics about cannabis plants.
Cannabis is a “genus”, a taxonomic unit used by biologists to classify living organisms, that contains several species: Cannabis indica, Cannabis sativa and Cannabis ruderalis. These interbreed freely, resulting in “hybrid” species that contain features of both parent species. (Note that Cannabis nomenclature is changing. Stay tuned.)
Cannabis has been the subject of such intensive breeding that there are virtually no “pure” sativa or indica strains. Virtually all are hybridized.
Boys and girls
Cannabis is also “dioecious”, which means male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. This may seem weird, but it is quite common in the plant world. Pistachios, date palms, stinging nettles and Gingko trees all have male and female flowers on separate plants. Just as only female pistachio trees produce nuts, only female cannabis plants produce the useful flower clusters commonly called “buds”. Male flowers are tiny and fall off once they’ve bloomed and shed their pollen.
The process of identifying which plants are male and which are female is known as “sexing”. It is an important part of cannabis cultivation that takes an experienced eye. At the nursery, we take the guesswork out of it and guarantee that our plants are all female.
While you can grow both male and female plants together, you will end up with low-quality “bud” that is packed full of seeds. By excluding the males, the female flowers will never be pollinated, allowing the clusters to grow bigger and more potent. Male plants, once identified at the nursery, are composted.
Seed-grown or clone?
Plant Humboldt is one of the very few cannabis nurseries to offer female plants grown from seed. This is the original Humboldt grow-your-own tradition. Many cannabis farmers—old-timers and first-timers, medical users and commercial growers—still prefer seed-grown starts.
Others prefer starting from rooted cuttings, known in the industry as “clones”. Clone plants start as small branches cut from a “mother plant” and rooted in trays indoors in a controlled climate under artificial lights.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both seed-grown and clone-grown starts. Seed-grown plants tend to be more vigorous, but can sometimes show variation in their production, and they need to be sexed properly to exclude males (something we take care of at the nursery). Clones, being genetically identical to the mother plant, will produce bud with consistent look, smell and potency, but are often less vigorous plants and have specific light requirements that can be tricky for beginning growers (see below). Clones are only cut from known female plants, so all clones are female from the start.
Along with seed-grown plants, we sell clones in 4” pots that are well-rooted and acclimated to natural light and air, so they are ready to plant in your garden straight from the nursery.
Night and Day
Cannabis is an annual plant and has two seasonal growth phases: vegetative and flowering. During spring and summer (“veg” phase), the plant puts on extensive leaf and stem growth, often in massive amounts.
As the days get shorter and nights get longer in late summer (August in the Northern Hemisphere), the plants are triggered into flowering phase (“budding”). If you’re an outdoor grower, you will typically plant in the spring and harvest in the fall, whether you’re starting your plants from seed or clone.
But, with clones there’s a catch. Clones are cut off of a mother plant that is kept indoors under artificial light for 18 hours or more per day, so the mother plant and the little cutting “think” they’re living in an endless summer of long days and therefore remain in vegetative phase. If you put that rooted cutting outside in the spring under natural daylight, when the days are short, it thinks it’s fall and time to flower. A seedling, on the other hand, will wait till the light naturally fades again in the fall to go into flower.
At the nursery, we add a few hours of supplemental light with low-wattage LEDs in order to trick the clones into thinking it’s endless summer and therefore keep them in vegetative phase. After about June 1st, you can plant a clone in your garden and it will grow normally, with no extra light needed. Before June 1st, you will need to add supplemental lighting for a few hours each evening (or early morning) or the plant will go immediately into flower and you’ll end up with a tiny plant with one little bud on it. Supplemental lighting can be as little as a single low-wattage bulb on a timer next to the plant. You don’t need expensive horticultural grow lights because all you’re doing is tricking the plant a little.
Cannabis is as easy to grow in your garden as a tomato plant, but there are some rules of thumb that will dramatically improve your yield and quality.
We recommend all first time growers use commercial potting soil, not native garden soil. Master gardeners can grow cannabis successfully in natural dirt, but beginners will have much better results with bagged soil.
The bigger the roots, the bigger the plant. You can dig a large hole and fill it with commercial potting soil or use a plastic pot or fabric grow-bag above ground. The bigger, the better. Many Humboldt commercial cannabis farmers use 200 gallon (or bigger) fabric grow bags, but these are expensive and require a lot of expensive soil to fill. For a personal-use amount of finished marijuana, a 20-gallon pot will be manageable and can be put on a patio or deck. In the ground, dig a hole at least 30” across and 18” deep and fill it with commercial potting soil.
You can spend $100 on a bottle of plant fertilizer with a fancy label, but there’s no need to. Any organic fertilizer will do. Some commercial potting mixes, especially those formulated for cannabis, have significant amounts of plant nutrients included. In vegetative phase, cannabis likes more nitrogen (marketed as “grow” formula fertilizers). Once your plants switch to flowering phase they need lower nitrogen but more phosphorus and potassium (“bloom” formula).
When provided proper care and large root space, outdoor, seed-grown plants can easily grow to be eight feet tall and equally broad. In some cases they can grow twice that size, all in one short season. Even for a beginning gardener, a well-cared for cannabis plant in a 20-gallon pot can still get four feet tall by equally wide, so plan your space accordingly.
Modern cannabis strains have been bred for heavy flower (“bud”) production, often to the point where the branches will break under the weight if not supported. As the branches grow out, gently tying them to thin bamboo stakes with plant tie wire (available at garden stores) will keep them from breaking off later during flowering phase.
Cannabis is relatively pest-free, but there are a few that can ruin your entire crop, particularly mites and molds. Detailed pest control descriptions are available online, in books and through cannabis-centered grow shops. Below is a quick overview of what to look for. We recommend getting a 100x pocket microscope and checking your plants regularly, especially the undersides of the leaves where mites live. These are available at most grow shops for about $20.
Spider mites and russet mites can destroy your plants and buds. Spider mites leave white “stippling” spots where they suck the juice from the leaves. Large infestations will build up webs on the plants. (Learn to distinguish from the webs of actual spiders, which are beneficial!) Spider mites are barely visible to the naked eye, but easy to identify with a pocket microscope. There are many available organic treatments.
Russet mites are microscopic, but visible with a 100x pocket microscope. The reason they are so feared among growers is that by the time damage becomes visible, the crop is often irrecoverable. That is why it’s important to do preventative pest control and maintain constant vigilance. Don’t wait till your plants look sick! Russet mites look like tiny milky colored maggots with four legs in front. They are much harder to spot at first and, unlike spider mites, are literally microscopic and can only be seen with a 100x pocket microscope. Growers are still struggling with organic control methods. Natural insecticides based on essential oils, neem and yeast enzymes all seem to work to varying degrees. Check with your local grow shop. We recommend doing routine preventative control even if you don’t see russet mites with your microscope. The good news is that anything you do to control russets will also control spider mites, thrips, fungus gnats and most other cannabis pests.
Detailed pest control is beyond the scope of this page, but you’ll need a small hand-pump sprayer and some organic pesticide. Any good grow shop can advise you. You don’t need to spend a ton of money to do basic preventative control. At the nursery, we use various organic pest control sprays preventatively about twice/week, but most home growers won’t need near that often of a spray schedule. If you are diligent with your microscope inspections, you may not need to do much at all if you don’t see any mites.
Powdery mildew, also known as “powder mold” or “PM”, is a fungus that grows as a white powdery coating on the leaves and buds. In small amounts it will not hurt the plant, but you don’t want to be smoking it if it gets on the flowers near harvest. It is easy to control with dilute hydrogen peroxide, potassium bicarbonate, bacterial anti-fungal solutions (e.g. Actinovate, Serenade) and many other off-the-shelf and DIY concoctions. Look online, in books or ask at a grow shop for detailed information.
Brown/gray mold, also called “bud mold” or “stem mold” is a systemic fungus that rots buds from the inside out. The best way to prevent it is to keep the plants from getting rained on during flowering phase and to provide extensive dry airflow. Once mold is identified in a bud, remove and discard the infested part and harvest the adjacent bud to limit the spread.
Harvest and storage
The rule of thumb is that when most of the pistils (commonly known as “hairs” for their appearance) on the flower clusters (“buds”) have turned from white to brown, it is time to harvest. If possible, have an experienced friend take a look and give you harvest advice, or check online.
To harvest, cut the branches, remove all the large leaves by hand or with a scissors and hang the branches in a cool, dry place with plenty of airflow but minimal heat. There is an art to proper curing and it takes some experience to get it right. The main mistakes are drying too fast with too much heat, which causes the buds to crumble, and drying too slowly, which can cause mold. A cool, dry (not damp and moldy!) basement with a small fan blowing on a string full of branches is ideal unless you want to invest in specialized climate control equipment like commercial growers do.
The proper dryness is when the buds are dry, but not crispy to the touch. A good rule of thumb is to bend the stems below the flowers. If the stems snap but don’t break clean through, the flowers are probably about the right dryness. If the stems merely bend, let the cannabis dry some more. If the stems snap clean through into separate pieces, the flowers are probably too dry. If needed, they can be placed in a slightly more humid environment briefly to rehydrate so they don’t crumble when handled.
Once the proper dryness is reached, clip the buds off the stems and store in a cool, dry place. Glass jars in a closet are perfect. Be sure to check the moisture levels regularly to avoid mold.
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Note: we would like to add links to competent online how-to resources for first-time growers (there is A LOT of BS out there!). If you have suggestions, please let us know via email to [email protected]
2022 COVID-19 update. We take the pandemic seriously and ask that you take precautions while visiting and traveling. All nursery staff are vaccinated and the nursery is open-air, so there is a very low risk of transmission. To be on the safe side, we ask that you maintain a minimum of 6′ or greater distance from employees and other customers and be aware that many of our customers use cannabis for medical reasons and may be more vulnerable to infection from any virus. If you want to wear a mask but don’t have one, we have paper ones we can give you. If you’re more comfortable around nursery staff with masks, we can put one on when serving you.
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