The seasons are changing here in Colorado. The days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer, and mother earth is beginning to come back to life. Now is the time that growers across the state of Colorado are preparing their gardens for the upcoming season. Many folks are germinating new genetics, building their soils and constructing their cultivation spaces. Spring is here, and that means it’s time to grow cannabis. In Colorado, each resident over the age of 21 is allowed to grow 6 cannabis plants. Households with more than two 21-year-old residents top out at 12 plants total. The state of Colorado has given us the freedom to cultivating this incredible plant, so why not try it out for yourself? You have probably heard in the past that growing cannabis is very difficult. While cultivating top-shelf cannabis is truly an art form, growing cannabis for your own personal use can be a much easier experience and a really fun hobby. In this article, I will give you basic instructions on how to set up your garden and have a successful outdoor crop. The growing season is upon us, so let’s get started!
Where Should I Grow?
What a great question, and a great place to start! When growing cannabis outside there are a few things to consider, the most important being how much sunlight your grow space receives. Cannabis plants love sunlight. These beauties stretch and bend with the shifting of the sun across the sky each day. When choosing your grow space, choose a spot with plenty of direct sunlight. If possible, all day sunlight is best. With that in mind, choosing a secluded space away from other people is important too. The last thing you want is to have your crop disappear because someone saw it and decided to steal it. Growing in a fenced back yard, or a greenhouse are both solid options for keeping your crop out of sight of others. Another thing to consider is how close you are to your water source. This shouldn’t be an issue if you are growing in your back yard or by your house, but if you have elected to grow somewhere else please consider how heavy water is and how difficult it can be to move. When growing in Colorado it is best to put your plants outside in mid to late May. With our weather being so unpredictable, it’s best to wait until there is very little chance of snow before moving them to their outside home.
What Should I Grow?
Choosing your cannabis varietals is one of the most fun parts of the process. There are so many great breeders in the game these days that there is no shortage of killer strains to grow. That being said, when choosing what to grow there are a few things you should take into consideration. First, you must decide whether you are going to grow from seed or clone. If you are going to grow from seed you must decide what type of seed you are going to start with. There are three types of cannabis seeds, auto-flowering, feminized and regular seeds. For those of you that are growing for a personal stash and want to change it up and have it be different every time, auto-flowering seeds may be the choice for you. Normally cannabis plants veg and flower in different light cycles that simulate the seasons. 18/6 for spring/early summer and 12/12 for late summer/early fall. Auto-flowering plants do not have this growth trait, but instead flower when they reach a certain size. Auto-flowering plants have a shorter growth cycle and require less maintenance than regular plants, but they cannot be cloned so the genetics cannot be propagated. If you’re looking to find your own unique phenotypes of strains, either feminized seeds or regular seeds are for you. Both have the same growth cycle and growth patterns, but feminized seeds have undergone a process that genetically modifies the seed to be a female plant around 90% of the time. Feminized seeds are a great choice for the grower that is looking to find their own solid genetics and not wanting to deal with potentially popping some male plants. Regular seeds will give you male plants so you will have to keep a close eye on them and remove them when they show their sex. If you are looking to breed your own strains, you will need to use regular seeds to find the males. Breeding with regular seeds is also more ideal as their genetics are more stable than both the auto-flowering and feminized plants.
If you are wanting an easier start to the season, picking up pre-rooted clones from a dispensary is the best route to go down. There are many different stores in Denver you can get clones from, but our favorite is The Clinic who features genetics from The Bank. Growing from clone allows you to skip the germination step in the process as well as selecting the strongest phenotypes. When you buy clones the genetics have already been vetted so you know you’ll be growing strong plants. Also, having a root system that is well developed will add to the ease of use when starting from a clone.
Growing Containers and Mediums
Now that you have your cultivation space all picked out, its time now to decide what you’ll grow your plants in. There are a few different options for you to choose from, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. For containers, you have a choice between plastic, or cloth pots as well as an array of choices in the different sizes of pots. In the choice between cloth vs plastic, it mainly comes down to personal preference. Cloth pots are a bit better for the root systems of the plant as they create an environment where the roots prune themselves, thus creating a stronger, denser root ball. Plastic pots create root systems that circle the inside of the pot which some growers find to be problematic, but unless you are well versed in cultivating cannabis you probably won’t notice the difference. When growing at home, you’ll mainly be concerned with the size of your growing container. When growing cannabis, keep in mind that the bigger the pot you have the bigger your plant’s root system will be thus creating a larger plant. If you are limited on space, choose a smaller pot around a 3-gallon size. Your plants will still get plenty big, but won’t become unruly monsters. If you’re looking to grow some trees, grab yourself a 7 or 10-gallon pot. These sizes will allow a root system to form that can support a plant upwards of 8 feet tall.
Once you have your pots selected, it’s time to decide what grow medium to use. For outdoor growing, I have always enjoyed using 707 Blend soil from Roots Organic, but I have also gotten great results using Royal Gold Tupur Coco Coir and Perlite mix as well. As mediums, both soil and coco work pretty much the same, but there are a couple of subtle differences that you should take into consideration. First, coco is a completely inert medium. This means it has no nutrients or additives in it that can aid in plant growth. If you use coco for growing, you will need to add your own nutrients to the coco, or when you water so that your plant will have what it needs to grow big and strong. Many soils are sold as inert mediums, but there are many soils that have a pre-mixed blend of plant nutrients in them. If you decide to go the pre-blended route, make sure you know the concentrations of the nutrients that are in your soil. It is important to know what you are giving your plants so that you do not overfeed them. Soil will also hold water much better than coco. Coco has a tendency to dry quicker than soil, so growing in coco will require you to water and feed your plants more often.
Regardless of the medium you choose, there is a soil additive that I suggest adding to the mix. When transplanting your rooted clones or mature sprouts into their larger pots, I suggest adding Mykos to the mix. Mykos is a mycorrhizal root inoculant which will greatly help with root growth and the uptake of nutrients by your root system into your plants. You will see increased growth and stronger plant structure when using this product. Just follow the application instructions of the back of the packaging for the best results!
What Do I Feed These Ladies?
Cannabis is a hungry plant, and it requires a good amount of nutrients to reach its full potential. When cultivating, you have a couple of different options on how to deliver nutrients to your plants. One of the fun parts of growing cannabis is that you get to decide your own level of involvement for your nutrient regimens. There are easy ways to do it and more labor intensive ways, but both can produce a great product. The easiest and least labor-intensive way to feed your plants is to mix in a nutrient blend with your soil. I have always had great results with Down to Earth’s Bio Live and Azomite products. These two products will give you a great base of nutrients for your plants to feed on. Bio Live will deliver the Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) that your plants will need to thrive and grow, while the Azomite will provide the other trace minerals that plants need to thrive. Keep in mind that you will eventually need to add more nutrients to your soil as your plant grows and uses up what you have provided for it. You can top dress your pots with both Bio Live and Azomite, or you can supplement with nutrients added to your water.
Mixing a feed solution each time you water is another way to give your plants the nutrients that they need, but it is a much more labor-intensive process. If you’re willing to put in the work, mixing your own feed will give you greater control over what your plants are eating, and you can dial it in for each stage of your plant’s life. There are dozens of different fertilizer brands on the market that range from 2 part to 12 part lines. If you’re new to growing, I would suggest finding a two-part line (grow and bloom) and then supplementing in a micronutrient blend as well. The more parts you have in a line of fertilizers, the more complex your process is going to be, so keep that in mind when selecting your fertilizer line. Dialing in your nutrients is one of the harder parts of growing cannabis, and can take a lot of trial and error to figure out. My suggestion is to start simple and build from there. I grew cannabis with only Peak Harvest’s Grow and Bloom formulas for a long time before adding more additives and supplements to the mix. Once you are familiar with your plants and how they uptake their food, you can then begin to experiment with what you are giving them. Always keep in mind that it’s totally possible to overfeed your plants. If you are seeing burnt leaves or major discoloration of your leaves, pull back on the amount of nutrients you are giving your plants. When dealing with nutrients often times, less is more. Start small and build your way up.
Other Nutrients to Look Into for More Advanced Gardening
How do I Know When My Ladies are Ready for Harvest?
The cannabis plant has two stages of its life. The first stage is the vegetative stage where the plant grows big and strong in preparation for flowering. The second stage is the flowering stage where the cannabis plant begins to grow its large buds. When growing outside in Colorado, your plants will begin to flower somewhere in between the middle of August to the beginning of September. Most cannabis plants will fully mature in their flower cycle in 8 to 9 weeks. When the plant begins to flower, it will shoot little pre-flower hairs out of the nodes, or growth sights of the plant. You can identify nodes as the spots of the plant where new growth happens. You can see this where the new leaf and branch growth start and branch out from the main stalks. As the plant matures you will begin to see little flowers form. When you see these, begin counting the weeks until maturity and when you reach week 8 or 9, your plants will be ready for harvest. If you are unaware of how long your plants have been flowering you can also look at the buds to determine ripeness. The trichomes that cover the flowers of the cannabis plant hold the key to ripeness. Throughout the flowering cycle of the cannabis plant, the trichomes will change in color from clear, to cloudy to amber. When 75% – 80% of your trichomes are cloudy and about 20% – 25% of them are amber, your plant is at peak ripeness and is ready to harvest.
How do I Harvest Cannabis Plants?
Once you have grown your plants to maturity, it’s time to harvest them! When growing outside in Colorado, generally you will reach full maturity around the middle of October. You will want to keep an eye on the weather, as cannabis plants left outside for the first frost will die. When harvesting the cannabis plant start by shucking all of the fan leaves off of your plant. Fan leaves are any of the large leaves that you can see a stem coming off of the stalk. Once they are all removed, cut down the whole plant and hang it upside down to dry. To preserve and develop the flavor of cannabis, you want your cannabis flowers to dry slowly over the course of 10 to 14 days. I like to dry in a closet or small room where I can control the humidity and temperature. You want a relative humidity of around 55% and a temperature around 68 – 72 degrees. You will know your cannabis plants are dried when the outside of the buds feel a little crisp, but the inside of the bud still has moisture. You can test this by bending the stalks of the plant. If the inside of the stalk snaps, but the outside just bends, you have reached the perfect moisture level.
Trimming and curing is the next step of the process. Remove the buds from the stalks and using small scissors delicately trim off the excess leaves around the buds. Once you have manicured the buds to your liking it’s time to place them in your curing vessels. I prefer glass ball jars and I would suggest that you use them, as they work the best. Place your trimmed buds in the jars and seal them up. Each day open your jars and let them sit for 15 minutes. This process is called burping and it is of crucial importance when developing the flavor of the final product. When curing, the leftover moisture is redistributed to the flowers, thus rehydrating the plant resins that contain the terpenes. Over the course of two to three weeks of burping, you will notice the flavor of the buds begin to develop. Once your flavor is fully developed, you can keep your jars sealed and your buds are ready to smoke!
What Else Do I Need To Know about Growing Cannabis?
There are many different intricacies to growing cannabis that you will learn as you go. This plant is a constant teacher and will tell you what it needs. As a grower, you need to learn how to understand what the plant is telling you and then how to correct the issues you are facing. One important thing to know is that the cannabis plant will express its needs through its leaves. Learning how to identify nutrient deficiencies or toxicity is of crucial importance. The link below is a guide that shows how possible nutrient issues express themselves in your plants. It’s a great guide to use when first learning how to read your plants.
Cannabis plants also require a certain level of pH in their root system to grow to their fullest potential. When watering and feeding your plants, your nutrient solution should have a pH range between 5.8 and 6.5 for optimal growth. You can buy an inexpensive pH reader or you can use a litmus test paper to measure pH. pH Up and pH Down are additives you can use to achieve the correct pH level for your feeding solution. Having an incorrect pH level in your plants can create nutrient lock where your plants are unable to effectively intake nutrients through their root system. This can create lots of problems with growth and bud development. If you feel like your plants aren’t growing well, or have reached a plateau, collect the runoff from your watering and test the pH level. If it’s outside of the desired range you will need to make adjustments to fix the issues.
The last thing that I want you to know about growing cannabis it to remember to show your plants love and affection. Cannabis plants are living and growing organisms and they will respond positively to being properly cared for. Making sure your plants are happy and taking the extra time to prune them and give them the extra attention they are asking for will only work to ensure a more bountiful harvest for you at the end. Growing cannabis can be an incredibly therapeutic experience. Spending time in your garden is good for the mind, and the act of taking care and nurturing these plants through their lives is very rewarding. Cannabis is an incredible plant that can heal and nurture humanity. If you take care of your cannabis, and your cannabis will take care of you.
Clayton “The Specialist” Skulski