Cannabis plants can be either male or female. Female plants yield the plump flowers, a.k.a., “buds,” that we know and love, brimming with psychoactive compounds like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, which gets you high), Modern Farmer explains. Male plants yield much smaller flowers, which people typically don’t consume. In other words, if you want to actually indulge in your crop, you’ll want female plants.
There are different harvesting methods, but Johnson cuts the whole plant at the base and hangs it upside down with some twine in a dark room at a temperature of around 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Add a fan for airflow — you definitely don’t want the room to be humid, which will cause mold to grow, rendering your crop unusable. It’ll probably take around a week to dry.
If you buy seeds from a seed bank, look for those labeled “feminized” to ensure they give rise to female plants, Johnson says. But if you’re a total newbie, he suggests buying clones, which are cuttings from a “mother” female plant, available at some dispensaries, as well as at nurseries. Not only are they easier to obtain, “they’re easier to grow. You get a clone, and you transplant it to some soil.”
Before you get started.
Whatever you do, don’t plant your clones in the ground. They’ll run rampant, and “you’ll have pounds of weed in your house,” Johnson says, recalling the trays of weed atop his kitchen table when his crop grew wild. “You don’t need the stress of plants getting out of control, growing over your fence.” If your neighbors can see them, they might complain about them, and having too many plants could get you arrested.
Since clones come from plants that have been grown indoors, let yours chill in a shaded area for a week before exposing them to full sun, Johnson says. “The clone hasn’t tasted sun like that, and the transplant itself will be stressful.”
If you use organic soil, all you’ll really need to do is add water, Johnson says — but don’t overdo it. The number one mistake he sees new growers make is watering their plants too often. In general, “watering every day is too much. The rule is, if you pick up your plant, and the pot is heavy, then it has a enough water. If it’s light, it’s dry, then you need to water.” You could also stick your finger knuckle-deep into the soil; if it feels dry, add water.
To check if your cannabis is ready for trimming, perform a break test on each branch. If it bends so much it nearly breaks, then it’s ready, and if it breaks right away, it might be overly dry, but still totally usable. Trim off the buds and seal them inside a mason jar for curing, opening it periodically over the course of about four weeks to let moisture escape. Johnson outlines a detailed schedule on his website, including instructions on how to look for mold.
Don’t go overboard, though, he warns. Start with growing three plants in five-gallon pots. This way, if one dies, you’ll still have two plants, and the pots will limit their growth. A general rule of thumb is that they’ll grow one foot for every gallon of soil. He recommends mixing your own organic soil, which he explains how to do on his website and will save you the headache of adding nutrients or pH testing. “The soil is what we call alive,” he says. “It’s always breaking things down to replenish nutrients that are missing.” But if you can’t mix your own soil, or don’t feel like it, you could buy organic Pro-Mix soil, which Johnson says many outdoor growers use.
That said, when your plants are fully flowering, you might find yourself watering them daily, based on these indicators. When you do water them, keep going until you see water running off the soil, to ensure the water reaches all of the soil in the pot.
Johnson notes that the outdoor grow season lasts from around April to October, meaning if you plant seeds now, they’d still yield flower, but not much. Since it’s late in the season, he suggests buying a large clone, which will have more branches and therefore yield more flower.
While you can absolutely grow cannabis indoors, outdoor cultivation is much simpler and cheaper, says Ron Johnson, author of How to Grow Organic Cannabis: A Step-by-Step Guide for Growing Marijuana Outdoors , who also runs the website The Cannabis Gardener. “The sun is free,” he tells Mic. “You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars a month in electrical bills.” An outdoor garden probably won’t allow you to turn over product fast enough, but it’ll suffice if you just want to grow weed for yourself. Plus, it’s gentler on the planet.
When the pandemic hit, many of us turned to quaint pastimes to soothe our existential dread, whether it was baking sourdough, knitting, or doing jigsaw puzzles. If you want to expand your repertoire of distraction methods with an activity that still has that quiet, homey vibe, but with a bit more of an edge, consider growing your own weed.
Do your homework and read up on the laws in your state. Some states prohibit growing cannabis, while others, like my home state of California, permits anyone over age 21 to grow cannabis, but only up to a certain number of plants. NORML has a pretty in-depth guide to the laws in each state. Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, Vermont, and Maine also allow cultivation, but again, the specifics depend on the state. Definitely clarify what your rights are before you start the glorious path to at-home bud gardening.
Cannabis cultivation laws vary widely state-by-state. Also, we can’t stress this enough: Growing cannabis is illegal in a lot of places, and the penalties — which include steep fines and prison time — can be much worse than possession, since growing can imply an intent to distribute. Black and brown folx need to be especially scrupulous about heeding these rules, since law enforcement targets us way more than white people for weed-related charges, even if we consume it at similar rates.
Your cannabis will be ready to harvest at around October. You’ll know they’re ready when the buds “start to get really, really swollen and packed pretty tight,” Johnson says. But it can be hard to tell if you’re a beginner. Many growers say that if you think your plant is ready to harvest, wait two weeks, since many newbies tend to harvest too early. Or, you could share a photo of your crop on a forum and ask more experienced growers to weigh in.
Once you’ve cured your cannabis, sprinkle some bud in a bowl, or whatever your preferred method of imbibing might be, and savor your hard-earned crop.
“Growing cannabis in tight spaces is not my usual recommendation,” said Stephen Lipton, the cultivation manager at The Farm Recreational Marijuana Dispensary, an award-winning recreational facility in Boulder, Colorado, specializing in what it calls “craft cannabis.” At any given time, Lipton oversees close to 15,000 plants across seven different facilities in Boulder County. “If you have a really tight space and it gets too hot or too humid, you’re going to have big trouble.”
Even in our most progressive states, however, the law is far from simple. “In Colorado, it’s now county-specific,” Lipton said. “When the amendment first passed, they said you could grow six plants per person. But now, certain counties and municipalities have come out and said it’s just six per house — there’s no combining plant counts. That means you can have three vegetating and three flowering at any given time.”
To understand the flowering cycle, it’s important to remember that cannabis is a plant. And, like most plants, it follows the seasons. To trigger flowering — which will take 55 to 60 days to complete — growers reduce the time plants spend exposed to the light source from 18 hours to 12. “You’re basically telling your plant it’s mid-September,” Lipton said.
Know the law.
Space: 3 x 3 x 5 feet, minimum. “The bigger the space, the better. With all the lights, closets get hot,” Lipton said. That said, closets help growers control light pollution when the plant is in its flowering cycle — one of the main reasons home growers favor them over larger spaces, such as living rooms. “If you have a spare bedroom, or a basement even, you can just use that and close the door,” Lipton said.
While most, if not all, medical and recreational farms cultivate cannabis from seeds, guaranteeing that their plants are free from viruses, most home growers, even those with experience, typically begin with clones — essentially trimmed pieces of female cannabis plants that have been rooted in separate pots. “When most people think of cannabis — you know, what you smoke — they’re thinking about the flowers of female plants,” Lipton said. “When you grow from seeds, half of them will be males. If you’re only going to do one or two plants, you don’t want to waste your time with that stuff.” A clone sourced from a dispensary or a knowledgeable friend guarantees that the plant is female and will eventually produce bud pending proper care. “You can get up to four ounces off the right plant — if you know what you’re doing.”
Both medical and recreational dispensaries now sell female cannabis clones, which retail for about $15. Alternatively, it’s commonplace for home growers to gift clones to their friends. “When you get a clone, someone will likely give it to you in a four-inch pot. You’re skipping that whole step of having to germinate seeds. You’re already 10, 14 days ahead of the game and basically ready to plant.”
Another layer to consider is that cannabis cultivation must happen “out of plain sight.” “You can’t have any odor. If it’s offending people in the neighborhood, then it’s an issue.”
Though the 12-hour interval is fairly universal, knowing exactly when to induce flowering is less clear. For the home grower, it usually comes down to space; the longer one waits to trigger the flowering cycle, the taller their plant will be. A good rule of thumb: cannabis will only continue to grow 30 to 50 percent once the light source is reduced. If the plant is growing in a closet, growers should trigger the flowering cycle, understanding that there must be more than two feet of space between the canopy of the plant throughout the entirety of its life.
Sticking to that schedule is key, he added. “Say you’re at day 30 of the flowering cycle and you come into that closet when it’s supposed to be dark and turn a bunch of lights on. You’re going to throw the whole cycle off and that’s the end of that. It only takes 10 seconds.”
Find a healthy clone.
pH of Water: 6.3 to 6.7. “You’ll need a meter that you can stick into your water and tell you the pH,” Lipton said. “You want something between 6.3 to 6.7 pH for watering your plants. That sounds like pretty sophisticated stuff but it’s really not. A lot of times your tap water will be 7.8. You can use what they call pH down. That’s a crucial step.”
To harvest, many growers begin by removing the leaves of the cannabis plant with trim scissors, followed by the buds (using pruners). “We call this bucking,” Lipton said. “Gloves are also extremely important for sanitation reasons as well as to keep your hands from becoming sticky with the resin from the plant.”
Despite the hurdles, many first-time growers still choose to cultivate cannabis indoors (which is legal in Alaska, Colorado, Washington D.C. and Oregon), and there are steps to maximize a plant’s chances of succeeding. It all starts with a plant’s genetics. “For your typical closet setup, you’re going to want a plant that stays short,” Lipton said. “A lot of time that means an indica. Sativas are really tall and lanky.” (More on the difference between those two families here.)
Temperature: 68 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. “A tool you should always have is a little temperature gauge,” Lipton said. “They call them hygrometers. They’re cheap and tell you both the temperature and the humidity.”
Trigger the flowering cycle.
Presented by Florida Man DIPA.
It’s important to remember that cultivating even one cannabis plant for personal consumption is felony on the federal level and punishable by up to five years in prison. Meanwhile, four US states — Alaska, Colorado, Washington D.C. and Oregon — have passed local amendments, allowing citizens who are 21 years old and over to grow a limited number of plants without fear of persecution.
For some people, cannabis cultivation is a hobby. Others a life-long passion. But it’s unique in its vast demographic appeal. “Everyone I know grows,” Lipton said. “There are people in their 20s doing it. I know people in their 60s. It’s a fun thing for people. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.” Here are Lipton’s tips on growing your first plant.
Relative humidity: 30 to 45 percent. “If you live somewhere humid, you’re probably going to want to buy a dehumidifier,” said Lipton. “In Boulder, we sometimes have to add humidity.” At home, that can be done with a reliable humidifier.
After 55 to 60 days, growers begin paying close attention to their plants’ trichomes — the small, bulbous fibers that develop around the flower of the female plant. “Those trichomes will turn from clear to amber,” Lipton said. “They kind of look like red hairs. You know it’s time to harvest when about 10 to 15 percent of the trichomes turn that color.” On average, cannabis plants have a five- to seven-day window of peak harvest time.
You can make this yourself by combining worm castings, bat guano, and other components with a good soil and letting it sit for a few weeks, or it can be purchased pre-made from a local nursery or grow shop.
Even in legal states, you may want to conceal your crop from judgmental neighbors and definitely from potential thieves. Growing indoors allows you to grow discreetly behind a locked door.
There are many different media to choose from, including good ol’ fashioned pots full of soil, rockwool cubes, a hydroponic tray, and more.
You will definitely want to invest in a timer for your lights. Because the amount of light a plant receives dictates its vegetative or flowering stage, it’s important to give it a consistent amount of light every day, and that’s done with a timer. It’s a good idea to check your timer at least once a week to make sure it’s working properly.
But the benefits are great: LEDs last much longer, use far less electricity, create less heat, and the best designs generate a fuller spectrum of light, which can get bigger yields and better quality.
These are quickly becoming the standard. Roots in fabric pots grow to the outer edges and attempt to bypass the porous fabric wall but are cut back, allowing new growth to occur. This process, called “air pruning,” results in a denser root composition which promotes healthy growth and development.
Plants need fresh air to thrive and carbon dioxide (CO2) is essential to the process of photosynthesis. This means you will need a steady stream of air flowing through your grow room, which will allow you to move hot air out of the space and bring cool air in.
The main drawback is fluorescent lights are less efficient, generating about 20-30% less light per watt of electricity used; space is another concern, as it would require approximately 19 four-foot long T5 bulbs to equal the output of a single 600 watt HPS bulb.
Soil is the most traditional medium for growing marijuana indoors, as well as the most forgiving, making it a good choice for first-time growers. Any high-quality potting soil will work, as long as it doesn’t contain artificial extended release fertilizer—like Miracle Gro—which is unsuitable for growing good cannabis.
You’ll likely yield about the same amount of weed in both cases, but more harvests mean you’ll have fresh weed to smoke more often and have more opportunities to grow different strains. But more harvests also means more work in cleaning up the space between harvests, trimming, etc.
You can connect a controller to fans, dehumidifiers, humidifiers, heaters, or air conditioners, and set thresholds whereby each device will power on and off based on your ideal environmental settings. Some units run autonomously, making changes based on set parameters, while others allow you to control each element via an app on a phone, tablet, or computer.
Remember, a common mistake newbie growers make is to overwater plants.
As your indoor weed plants grow, they’ll need less attention, but you’ll still need to check up on them every 2-3 days.
You can also use a timer for your fans, but a thermostat is better—you can set it to a specific temperature, and the fans will turn on when it’s too hot and turn off when it’s too cold.
Weed plants need different amounts of light during their vegetative and flowering stages. You don’t have to worry about this in an outdoor setting—the sun and the season dictate this—but when growing indoors, you will be controlling it.
Equip yourself with these cheap and easy-to-use tools to take measurements in your indoor cannabis setup:
You’ll need a dedicated space for your marijuana plants—you won’t be able to move them around. Ideally, the space is next to a window so you can vent air from the grow space outside. Growing weed plants smell! Especially when flowering kicks in, you’ll want to redirect air so your house doesn’t reek of weed.
As much fun as growing marijuana indoors is, having a home that perpetually smells like fresh weed can be a serious inconvenience, if not to you than possibly your neighbors. Although weed odor from a small indoor grow in a closet is much easier to manage than a large grow with several flowering plants, both can produce pesky odors that will permeate an entire home if left unattended.
Proper air circulation will help maintain temperature and humidity, and also bring down odor. Ideally, air needs to move through a garden every few minutes, and you should create a vent to the outside. Oscillating fans, and intake and exhaust fans can move air through your garden quickly, taking odors out with them.
The biggest variability in how long a marijuana plant takes to grow will happen in the vegetative stage—after the seedling phase and before flower.
Soil and other media for growing weed indoors.
Examine the tops and undersides of leaves for pests or discoloration—spider mites live on the underside of leaves—as well as stalks and branches. Also, check the soil for pests.
That’s a big variance, but it really depends on how big you want your plants and how often you want to harvest—you can have multiple harvests of smaller plants, or less harvests of bigger plants.
These come in different shapes and sizes and are a great way to get rid of odor in an indoor weed grow. Also known as “carbon scrubbers” for their ability to get contaminants out of the air, these employ activated and highly ionized carbon to attract particulates responsible for carrying odor, such as dust, hair, mold spores, and volatile organic compounds, and traps them in a filter.
Think of all the equipment in your grow space as organs in the body—if one fails, the others will have to work a lot harder for a bit, and then will fail in a matter of time.
Fans should be positioned to provide direct, even airflow throughout the garden. This typically involves using multiple fans that work together or fans that have oscillation capabilities.
Make sure all equipment is on, no breakers have flipped, and everything is running smoothly. Check lights, timers, fans, dehueys, ACs, and anything else that plugs into the wall or has a battery.
It’s a good idea to start small—the smaller the grow, the less expensive it is to set up. Newbie mistakes will be less costly if you only have a handful of plants. Additionally, most state laws only allow for growing six plants, but some allow up to 12.