I’ve had the privilege of visiting many cannabis farms in the Emerald Triangle. For the people who live here, it’s easy to forget that we are part of a magical community that is so unique it’s almost as if it’s its own universe. It’s something I never take for granted.
The opportunity to see many different gardens allows me to observe a lot of different approaches to growing cannabis. I see many innovative and successful ideas and set ups, and also some that could use some improvement in efficiency and technique.
In the springtime, as you begin to plant seeds and cut clones for the grow season, the effort you put in produces the results you get come harvest time. It’s a process to care for and tend to your plants in the spring to prepare them for permanent planting. Having the healthiest starts is a necessity for growing the best medical cannabis possible.
Below are some of the principles I think are important to growing and having the best starts with the most potential for quality and production.
Timing is everything. Planning and knowing the right time for seed propagation and cutting clones based on your soil space, type of pots, holes, beds, etc., is a must for attempting to realistically reach your goals for yield per plant in your garden.
For instance, if you are trying to maximize your yield in a 400-gallon pot, you have no chance of growing a 10–12 pound plant from seed if you start seeds in April. With that much soil and space for roots, the best time to plant seeds is likely between the last week of February through the first two weeks of March if you really want to grow a monster.
As an opposite example, if you are planting in a 100-gallon pot with clones, you don’t want to cut your clones too early. You can cut clones April 15–21 and grow a 3–4 pound plant in 100 gallons of soil. If you cut your clones too early, say early March, your plants will use up all the root space before mid-summer and become very root bound. That will lead to issues like needing more water and nutrients to keep your plant healthy and potentially making your plants more susceptible to diseases, viruses, and pests.
By starting too early, you may get your 3–4 pounds, but it will require more time and energy. You’ll have to care for your plants an extra 5–6 weeks to get the same results, and you’ll risk them getting sick. Base your goals on your soil space and genetics, and plan your timing accordingly for the best chance of hitting your goals.
Space & Spacing
Space for and spacing of starts in a greenhouse or spring nursery is incredibly important for your success, but it’s often overlooked until it’s too late. Again it all comes down to planning.
Know how many plants you will have in advance. Always have plenty of extras to replace any plants with issues and so you can choose the strongest, healthiest plants for your garden.
Know how much space you will need for every plant until it is planted for the season in its final home. If you don’t have a greenhouse or enough space in your greenhouse, build a simple and cost effective hoop out of PVC, rebar, and some poly/greenhouse plastic to ensure you have the space you need.
If you’re an outdoor farmer, you want to take advantage of the different angles of light as the sun tracks across the sky each day. To do that most efficiently and maximize your yield, you want your plants to be a round bush with flowers developing in all the possible surface space available. Strong healthy cannabis plants grow heavy branches and thick leaves. The heavy branches and leaves will naturally weigh themselves down as your plants grow in the spring, and if given enough space most strains will become a nice round bush with minimal training, and only topping/pinching once.
When grown too close together, any experienced grower knows your plants will stretch up to the light when they are not getting enough light to their sides and have no room to grow in any direction but up. This leads to tall lanky starts with a long base of their stalk in between where the branches and flowers develop. It is a waste of space that could have grown branches and buds. You may grow a 12-foot plant that yields five or six pounds this way, but I’d rather grow a 7–8 pounder in the same space and time that’s easier to work on with a sphere-like shape, efficiently taking advantage of what the sun has to offer and maximizing surface space for flower production.
Give your starts space and have enough of it for them.
I top one time when a plant is 16–18 inches tall. Topping multiple times can achieve a lot of bud sites, but these plants get big and have a long grow season under the California sun. Too many bud sites too close together can lead to mold and small buds that are harder to trim.
Proper spacing of starts and one topping can give you the same results you’re looking for from topping multiple times. Once your plants are in the ground for the season you can top or train them to suit your grow style accordingly. I recommend only topping starts one time in the spring.
Nutrients & Feeding
This is the time to take advantage of your plants being young and small. Later in the season when they are huge it will require more nutrients and more cost to really feed them a diverse regiment of nutrients and additives. While they’re small, it’s the time to splurge on a diverse array of nutrients and additives to get them as healthy as possible while it’s affordable.
I try to grow organically 100% and I always recommend doing so for producing the cleanest, safest products for ingestion.
I use a base vegetative formula, kelp, seaweed, and algae extracts, calcium/magnesium, humic acids, enzymes, vitamin B, beneficial fungi and bacteria, silica, carbohydrates and sugars, and amino acids to name a few.
They are not all used at the same time, just when there is a reason to use each product. A few examples:
I use silica once every three weeks or so to develop a thicker cell wall of the leaves and grow stronger sturdier branches and stalks.
I use cal/mag every three feedings or so based on when the plants start really using lots of nitrogen and pulling lots of nutrients from the soil.
The vitamin B is only used after transplanting as plants are easing into their new root space.
It takes experience to know what plants need and when. That is why it is important to start with a light dosage. Watch how your plants respond to different things and gradually increase strength of feeding as they get bigger, stronger, and healthier. When using many different products, with application rates, less is more. Start slow and work your way up. Your plants will be healthier and you will learn more about what they need. Please don’t over-fertilize!
I also like to give my starts top dressings heavy with worm castings, aerated compost teas, and foliar and pest preventative sprays.
Don’t overwater! It is the most common mistake I see growers make from beginners to experts. It prevents oxygen from getting to your roots, slows down growth, messes up nutrient intake, and leads to a soil environment that is ideal for many pests and plant diseases to thrive.
If you underwater, just notice before you have a problem and add more water. Just please don’t overwater. The slowed growth rates will have a costly effect on your harvest come fall.
Selecting the Best Seeds & Clones
The goal is to choose your best plants with the most potential for yield and quality. With clones it’s as easy as choosing the healthiest looking plants for your crop. With seed plants, there is a little more to it. Of course you’re looking for the most vigorous healthiest standouts, but each seed plant will be an individual—even those from the same strain. Quality, potency, and yield will likely vary from plant to plant.
Having some knowledge of your strains will give you ideas of what to look for. The stinkier the plant, the better the chance it will grow pungent, tasty flowers. Notice the subtle differences in your seed plants and try to only grow the best ones in your garden; you can’t afford to grow mediocre cannabis.
Enjoy This Special Season
Spring is a special time up on the hill. The farmer who gave me my first opportunity here once told me, “All your hard work in the spring comes back to you in the fall. What you put in is what you get.”
Since then, I’ve experienced and learned more than I could have ever imagined, and there is always more to learn on a lifelong journey of growing cannabis. Along with your spring prep work, it all starts with your plants and how you grow them. Keep them healthy and any visitor to your garden will smile when they see your plants looking as healthy and lush as can be.
All the best from our garden to yours.