Growing cannabis outdoors is easy. All you need is a nice open space that gets lots of light, a water supply, good soil, and a way to cover the plants when the weather turns.
One of the most important things to know is that cannabis is dependent on a photoperiod, meaning that it changes from the vegetative to flowering stage when days start to shorten and nights get longer. You want to time things right so your plants can maximize their exposure to light during the summer before fall sets in.
Growing and harvest times here reflect ranges of time in the Northern Hemisphere. For more growing tips on specific regions, check out this guide on different climates.
On the West Coast of North America, cannabis farmers in Northern California have a long season: They can put plants outside early and harvest later into the season because of the region’s relatively warm weather.
Washington state, on the other hand, will have a shorter time frame, as plants can’t be put outside until later in the season because there’s not enough sunlight yet. Harvest needs to be completed earlier, before cold weather descends on buds and makes them wet and moldy.
The Spring Equinox is a good reminder that it’s time to kick off the outdoor growing process and start germinating your seeds.
As the sun reaches up high in the sky, your cannabis will want to as well. Make sure all of your plants are outside by the Summer Solstice.
The weather will start to turn and the sun will begin descending in the sky as your plants fatten up with sweet, sticky buds. It might be tempting, but wait until around the Fall Equinox to start harvesting.
Everything should be cleaned up, dried, and curing well before the Winter Solstice. Now’s a good time to make your own cannabutter, topicals, or tinctures with all that trim from the harvest. Kick your feet up, relax, and hunker down for the cold, it’s been a long growing season!
I can’t stress enough that the time frames on this graphic are ranges of time for the Northern Hemisphere. You’ll need to adjust them based on your specific region and local weather and climate.
Be sure to keep a grow journal to track the progress of your plants. Looking back on your notes will help you learn from mistakes and maximize the quality and quantity of your buds.
Take meticulous notes on when and how you perform each step, as well as what the weather is like. Other notes can include how much water you give plants, at what intervals, and how much nutrients you give them. Pictures will also give you a better sense of how your plants look along the way.
Figuring out which strains you want to grow, where to purchase them, where on your property you want to grow, and your local climate and weather can take some time and work. And once you order seeds, it can take a few weeks for them to arrive. Be sure to do your research early and get a head start so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute and miss the ideal time to grow.
It takes about 3-7 days to germinate a seed. A lot of growers will do this indoors because seeds are delicate and it’s easier to control the temperature and climate inside. But if you live in a warmer climate, by all means, start growing them from seed outside. You can also use a small greenhouse outside to keep them warm.
When you start growing your seeds depends partly on how big you want your plants to be for harvest. If you’re going for high yields, the earlier you grow your plants, the bigger they’ll be. But keep in mind that smaller plants are more manageable and easier to top and prune.
Move outdoors/Put in the ground
If germinating seeds and growing them indoors first, this is the time frame that you’d move your plants outside so they can get some serious sunlight. You want them to get at least 6 inches – 1 foot in height before putting them outside, so they’re big and strong enough to handle the weather.
Some old school gardeners will tell you to wait until after Mother’s Day to take them outside, and generally speaking, you want them in the ground by the Summer Solstice at the latest.
Most growers top their plants a few times (two or three) throughout the season to encourage outward development and make plants bush out. It’s a good idea to give them an initial top after the plant develops five or so nodes.
Once your plants start flowering and producing buds—generally, sometime in August—you want to stop topping your plants.
Pruning and cleaning up plants is done as-needed. You want to get rid of dead leaves and lower branches that won’t get light so the plant can use that energy for producing buds in healthier branches.
Growers can clean up their plants anywhere from 1-4 times during the season, depending on how big the crop is and how much labor is needed.
What kind of strain you have and what climate you live in will determine when to harvest your strains. Indicas typically grow stouter and bushier and there is more of a concern that their dense buds will get moldy, so they’re usually harvested on the early side of the season. Sativas are generally taller and less dense, so they usually get harvested later.
Growers in colder climates will need to finish their harvests earlier, sometimes as early as September, for fear of wet, cold weather setting in and molding out buds. Warmer climates can sometimes harvest well into November.
This post was originally published on January 15 31, 2019. It was most recently updated on May 1, 2020.
A few years ago, I cultivated a CBD-rich medicinal cannabis garden in Sonoma County, California, on a parcel that was once part of an experimental farm owned and operated by the famed horticulturalist Luther Burbank. Known as a “plant wizard” and a creator of novel botanicals, Burbank purchased the property in 1885 to expand his plant-breeding work.
More than 130 years later, I became an unlikely beneficiary of Burbank’s wise decision to plant on this terrain. The land was blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate and well-drained, loamy soil — “the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned,” as Burbank described it — and perfect, it turns out, for growing ganja.
Burbank knew this firsthand. He was a big fan of cannabis sativa, breeding it and promoting its many uses. Yet, this aspect of Burbank’s legendary career as a pioneer horticulturist has largely been ignored by historians and is not well known. It should be. Many people have eaten Luther Burbank’s Russet Potato or his Bartlett Pear, but few know much about the man himself or his connection to cannabis.
Burbank’s life spanned America’s first golden age of medicinal cannabis. When he was in his prime, cannabis was listed in The U.S. Pharmacopeia and The National Formulary as a remedy for numerous ailments. From the mid-1800’s until the late 1930’s cannabis tinctures and poultices were popular over-the-counter remedies for treating pain, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, colds and flu, seizures, and lack of sexual desire, to name just a few indications. Apothecaries sold cannabis cigarettes for asthma, and “hasheesh” candies were retailed by the likes of Sears, Roebuck and Company.
Burbank was particularly interested in the industrial applications of cannabis. He developed a cultivar for superior fiber content, envisioning it as an alternative to the dwindling supply of wood pulp for paper. “The experimental work is only at its beginnings, but it seems to be of considerable promise,” Burbank wrote. He also encouraged the use of hempseed oil for a variety of products, noting its widespread applications in other countries, while bemoaning the waste of agricultural resources he had observed in the United States.
Apples and Ganja
My cannabis garden was set amongst some of Burbank’s still-producing apple trees, with south-facing terraces that made full use of the sun. It also benefited from the afternoon sea breezes, which modulated and circulated the warmed summer air, a natural convection action that also helped to stave off mold infestation so devastating to ripening marijuana plants.
The growing season would begin in the early spring. As the buds on Burbank’s centenarian apple trees were swelling nearby, I’d clean and organize the greenhouse, root clones, germinate seeds. When the apples were in full flower, it was time for me to turn and replenish the soil.
In early June, I planted my foot-high cannabis starts, and for the next several months I would nurture them as they grew into humungous powerhouses bursting with potent, resin-heavy flowers. I cultivated cannabis as if I was caring for my own body. I emphasized the building of robust health as the best strategy to help my plants fend off pests and disease and reach their full potential.
I pinched and “super-cropped” them to encourage branching. I fed them side-dressings of compost and misted them with home-brewed “tea” rich with micronutrients and beneficial bacteria. I released thousands of ladybugs and praying mantises into the garden to beat back insect invaders. And I played music in between the rows while I worked — Mississippi Delta blues, Afro-Cuban rhythms, and favorite indie bands like Built to Spill and Califone.
The landowner of the property was a friend, affectionally nicknamed “The Naked Jew” for his nocturnal tromps out to the garden in nothing but a pair of rubber boots (an occurrence triggered by a sudden bump-in-the-night that had him imagining a pack of errant teenagers sneaking into my ganja grove to score some fresh schwag). On breezy late afternoons, he would wander over to “the field” as he called it, modestly clad in a sarong, to see how “the girls” were doing and bring me a cold mug of kombucha. We’d chat about our children and the current state of the apples, the world, and the weed. The ever-changing garden was our meeting place, the plants our silent witnesses.
Wonder, Beauty & Delight
My days were long and physically exhausting, but I never tired of the labor. Working in my cannabis garden refilled me in countless way and taught me lessons that I still carry with me. “Nature is the most logical school of learning,” Burbank once wrote. “The truth is that life is not material and that the life-stream is not a substance. Life is a force — electrical, magnetic, a quality, not a quantity; and if we start there we can understand a lot of things about man and his works and orders and processes.”
Gate to Burbank’s farm
A lithe, boyish man with placid blue eyes, Burbank was known for his rumpled yet elegant sartorialism, due to his habit of wearing a suit, hat and gloves to work in the garden. This made him “more picturesque than ordinary” with an “indubitable air of gallantry and personableness,” according to his friend and biographer William Hall.
“Merry, humorous, whimsical, loving life and loving laughter, he radiated a personality that drew him toward everyone he encountered,” Hall wrote in the long out-of-print biography, Harvest of the Years. Burbank’s belief that “life overflowed with wonder, beauty and delight” reflected his curiosity about science and the natural world. He held little interest in religious dogma or ideas of Heaven and Hell. Instead, Burbank felt that “good work well done, sincere motives, and loyalty to high ideals formed the whole duty of man; to these Burbank added, for the creation of heaven on earth, the single essential, Love,” Hall recounts.
Near summer’s end, my cannabis flowers would start to thicken just as Burbank’s apples were filling out. After a day’s work, I’d often take a walk, passing by the senior housing complex next door, also on land formerly part of Burbank’s farm. I’d see the residents gathered in their community garden — planting, watering, weeding or just resting on benches, enjoying the greenery.
A bit further on I would arrive at Burbank’s old caretaker cottage and the beds filled with his amazing cultivars. I had long admired his inventions: his sweet-tart Santa Rosa Plum, Spineless Cactus, and the White Blackberry, bred to keep ladies’ gloves from staining. My favorites of his floral hybrids are the variations on his Shasta Daisy. Like white-haired ladies, each wore a different hairstyle: some petals curled, others tidy, another a wild and exuberant mane. “Flowers,” Burbank once wrote, “always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.”
The Last Harvest
My cannabis flowers would be close to harvest by late September, and putting on an extravagant show, their beauty a heady mix of mystery and hidden potential. The ripening colas were so dense and heavy they needed constant tying and staking; their provocative fragrance floated on the breeze all the way down the road. When you spend so many hours doing a certain kind of work, it can infuse your dreams, and mine were populated with mischievous green witches and voluptuous Viking queens wearing crowns of serrated leaves.
Burbank considered humans and plants as “part of the same onward-moving procession, each helping the other to do better things.” In Burbank’s mind, we were meant not only to cultivate plants, but to form actual relationships with them. Those of us who’ve spent a significant amount of time growing cannabis understand this intimately, as the work offers something uniquely its own. Being a “grower” is an act of affirmation, a yes to the mystery and exploration of the body, mind and beyond, with cannabis as our willing ally.
By mid-October, the harvest would be under way. Before sunrise I’d be out in the garden, cutting branches laden with sticky clusters of ripe buds. The apples would be ripe as well, and I’d fill baskets of them for the trimmers to munch on. I was fortunate to hire a crew of Tibetans to manicure my weed, which they did with unshakable calmness, chanting Buddhist sutras as they worked to trim, dry, and cure the flowers. Once a week they’d make homemade momos — a type of Tibetan dumpling served with a tongue-lashing chili sauce — and I’d pitch in, practicing the thumb twist they taught me to seal the edges of this delicacy.
My final, deeply satisfying task of the season was to deliver my CBD-rich medicine to state-licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in California, where patients with conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer to neuropathic pain would gratefully purchase amounts to treat themselves.
This was the last time I would grow cannabis alongside Burbank’s apple trees. On January 1, 2017, cannabis became legal for adult use in California. But under the new zoning regulations, the rural residential parcel where I had cultivated my crop was now off-limits for growing more than six plants for personal use. I was forced to close down my medicinal garden, which I did with a heavy heart. (Sadly, many other skilled cannabis cultivators and small-is-beautiful farmers in Sonoma County were also regulated out of existence.) It was the end of an era, and I would miss it.
A Radical Freethinker
Who knows what Luther Burbank would have thought about the current cannabis revolution, the commercially driven green rush, the resurgence of interest in the plant’s medical uses? He died not long before cannabis was maligned by reefer madness and the devil weed’s became the mascot for eight decades of federal prohibition.
A radical free thinker, Burbank was interested in “the wonders of the mind of man and the subjects that we now consider mystical.” He counted among his friends Paramahansa Yogananda, the Hindu spiritual teacher, who called Burbank “an American saint.” In his book Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda describes how Burbank once told him he “sometimes felt close to the Infinite Power,” and often talked to his plants “to create a vibration of love.”
Burbank’s final year was overshadowed by the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which high school teacher John Scopes was found guilty of heresy by the State of Tennessee, for the crime of teaching Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Burbank was appalled. “I am an infidel,” he asserted. “A doubter, a questioner, a skeptic. The scientist is a lover of truth for the very love of truth itself, wherever it may lead.” In his memorable address in a San Francisco church, Burbank argued for “righteous behaviour and the highest spiritual development,” while expressing his “utter disbelief in the mockery of dogma.”
Burbank’s outspoken views stood out at a time when religious fundamentalism and xenophobia were on the upswing. His radical honesty triggered a global backlash steeped in ignorance and bigotry. Once loved the world over, Burbank had become a pariah. Undaunted, he strove to answer the thousands of hateful letters he received, responding to each with reason and compassion. But it was too much. Those close to him believed that the heavy stress and heartbreak led to his illness and ultimately to his death from a stomach virus. Burbank, age 77, died at home in Santa Rosa on April 11, 1926. He was buried in an unmarked grave under a Cedar of Lebanon tree he had planted near his greenhouse.
And yet, nearly a century after his death, Burbank’s words are still as fresh and novel as a new peach cultivar, as relevant a balm to the current burdens of modern society as they were on the day he wrote them: “What is civilization?” he asked. “What is idealism? Which way does our future lie?” If we look at textbooks or history for the answers, he argued, we will be baffled, “but if we go to Nature and inquire into her processes we discern more than a glimmer of light.”
“In every man,” Burbank maintained, “no matter how ignorant or how hurried or how driven or how successful in other lines, there is a dormant love of Nature and natural things; it would take very little of the time you crowd so full of everything else for you to breathe some of the incense of gardens, to feast your eyes on the calm and changeless beauty of the hills, to rest your bodies on the quiet beauty of the earth, and to heal your souls in the perfect serenity of some unbroken wilderness.”
Melinda Misuraca is a Project CBD contributing writer with a past life as an old-school cannabis farmer specializing in CBD-rich cultivars.
Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.
Burbank, Luther and Hall, William. The Harvest of the Years. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1927.
Luther Burbank on cannabis/hemp breeding: https://www.hempbasics.com/hhusb/hh4bot.htm (reference #29, from an article in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences).
Welcome to Leafly’s cannabis homegrow! Watch as our writer Johanna Silver grows a set of marijuana plants from seed to harvest in her backyard in Northern California. Check back every week for a new post, and be sure to follow #Leaflyhomegrow on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Also, check out her book, Growing Weed in the Garden: A No-Fuss, Seed-to-Stash Guide to Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation.
There’s not a ton to do as we wait for all of our seeds to sprout. So, let’s talk for a minute about watering. Seedbeds need to be kept evenly moist through germination. “Evenly moist” is a term we throw around in gardening. It means wet but not soggy. It also means all the way through the bed. When the little babies do germinate, they have root systems about as long as the sprout is on top, which is to say, quite short. And that area needs to stay nice and moist to keep the plant alive. Here I’ve thrown in some of my radishes and other veggies with the weed seedlings.
The very best way to water is to use a shower setting—either on the end of a watering can or as the setting on a hose nozzle. I’m sorry if this is painfully obvious for you, but trust me, for others—it’s not. For example, I see a lot of misting of seeds. No dice. Won’t get the job done. You need that whole mass of seed bed to be moist. Shower setting. Nothing harder. Irrigate until you see water coming out of the bottom of the containers.
A wise farm manager once taught me that the trick when watering small plants is to keep moving; keep moving the hand that’s doing the watering and keep moving your body up and down the length of the bed. This might be overkill if you’ve just started a few seeds, but it’s good info to keep in mind if and when you start a whole bun of seeds or even plant a whole bunch of small transplants.
The babies are sprouting! So far, I’ve got 5 out of 6 showing their green. I’m certain the others will bring up the rear quickly.
Emerging first are the cotyledon leaves—small round ones that don’t look like weed leaves—because they’re not! Cotyledon leaves are embryonic. They’re actually part of the seed. They help the plant access stored nutrients as the plant gets up and running with photosynthesis.
Any flowering plant has cotyledon leaves. Basically, any plant except those that come from spores (think: ferns) and evergreens (which produce cones) start with cotyledons, so they might look wildly familiar if you’ve ever started anything else from seed in your garden. The radish seeds I’ve got right next door to these are also sporting their cotyledons—similarly round, succulent-ish leaves.
What’s cool about cotyledon leaves is that they’re the only part of a cannabis plant that doesn’t have THC in them. It’s possible to take the leaves and mail them off to a lab for genetic testing to find out the sex of the plants long before waiting the many weeks it otherwise takes for them to start flowering to tell the difference. And since there’s no THC, you’ve not broken any laws by mailing a part of the plant.
I’ve done that in the past, using Phylos. Steep Hill is another great option. The process is fun: You mash the cotyledon onto special paper and mail it. You feel like a scientist. A few days later, you get results on who among your babies is female, and who is male. It can be especially helpful if you’ve not got the room to grow out all of your seedlings until they start flowering and reveal their sex.
I’m forgoing it this year. I’ve got time. I’ve got space (sort of). Mostly, I didn’t start a crazy amount of plants and I’m just going to give them all some time to show me who’s who and what’s what.
It’s been raining like cats and dogs around here. I’m all for it. The seedlings are in the little plastic greenhouse, so I still have to pop out there every day or two to make sure the seedbed stays moist. Who’re we kidding? I check on them like 8 times a day. I love baby seedlings. Of any kind.
Hello fellow weed growers!
I grow weed in my Berkeley, California, backyard, along with veggies, fruits, herbs, and cut flowers. While info resources abound for the other crops I grow, sensible, accessible, outdoor only, garden-scale, weed-growing info is hard to come by.
So, I’m here to help. My goal is to give you regular updates (weekly at first because so much happens early on!) on how to grow weed outside, in your garden, with as little extra fuss as possible. I’ll tell you exactly how I do it.
Today I started my seeds. Could have been anytime between late March and late April. I chose today because I had a spare moment, the sun was shining, and the toddler was sleeping.
I’m growing three cultivars this year:
Genetics by The Humboldt Seed Company.
Chosen because it has crazy looking leaves that don’t resemble that classic cannabis leaf.
Genetics by The Humboldt Seed Company.
Chosen because it also has beautiful leaves, albeit more classically cannabis. I met this plant in person a few years back at a pheno-hunt and it looked so unique. Much more ornamental. It’s also 1:1 THC:CBD and mama could use something calming.
Cherry Pie x Chem Lemon
Seeds given to me by a friend and expert East Bay grower who has a seed collective.
Chosen because he told me it is beautiful and smells great.
If it isn’t glaringly obvious: I choose plants based on smell and looks. After all, I’m a gardener more than a weed connoisseur. Oh, but weed connoisseurs tell me my weed is legit. So, you’re good learning from me. Promise.
I’m only growing three plants total this year—two in the ground and one in a pot. The legal limit for homegrowing cannabis in California is six plants, but I want to keep some room for my veggies. I’m only starting four seeds of each cultivar. I trust that at least one of four seeds of each kind will turn out to be a female (we’ll get to sexing plants in a few weeks, but you always want to start off with 3-4 times the number of plants you’ll end up with).
I grow entirely outside. No lights, no mats. I’ll tuck them in a small plastic greenhouse to keep them safe and just a little warmer and cozier.
I start my seeds in fresh potting soil, scooped into 4-inch nursery containers I’ve amassed over the years. Seeds needn’t be planted deep—twice as deep as the seed is wide, is the rule of thumb with most seeds.
Absolutely crucial: labels. Don’t make the mistake of swearing you’ll remember. You won’t. Pro tip: Get a Sharpie Extreme. They’re the only ones that are actually permanent in outdoor conditions.
I’ll keep the soil moist through germination, which likely means a daily splash of water from a gentle setting (not “mist,” but like, “shower”) on the hose nozzle. Strong enough to drench it, but not so hard as to blast the seeds away.
In past years, I’ve pre-sprouted seeds in wet paper towel—a great thing to do if you have old seeds and want to test their viability before using unnecessary soil. I’ve also soaked them in water for 24 hours, something that can speed up germination. But, my seeds are good. I am in no rush, so straight into the soil they went.
Check back next week to see these seeds start to pop out of the soil!