Beginning in 1996 with California’s Proposition 215, the opportunity for patients to grow their own medical marijuana became a reality in America. Nowadays, the act of growing cannabis at home has become a hobby amongst many enthusiasts. However, even a veteran gardener may not be prepared for the unique challenges that growing cannabis at home might present. Plus, with so much information out there, it can be easy to get bogged down. However, this guide should give you the proper basics you need to start growing your very own plants.
Where to Start
The first thing to consider when deciding to grow cannabis is, of course, the legality of it. As this is written, only nine states, plus D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana. Before starting your new hobby, we first suggest you thoroughly research the legality of doing so in whatever state you may reside.
Now that you’re sure that you’re allowed to grow cannabis, it is time to decide where to set up your operation. Since you’re just starting out, it’s not a bad idea to start small with the potential to expand. You may want to start out with only two or three plants. They will be easier to monitor and, as a newcomer, any mistakes you make will be less costly. Luckily, there are likely many places around your house where you can set up. You can choose a closet, a corner of your basement or garage, a tent, cabinet, or a spare room. Just keep in mind that you will have to cater the area to fit your plants, lights, and other equipment. It’s also important to remember that marijuana plants can double or even triple in size during their early stages of flowering so an area with plenty of headspace is necessary.
Besides space, there are a few other things to consider. For example, you’re going to want to find a dry, cool place to start. It must be clean with limited to no light. These characteristics will give you full control over the environment, giving your plants a more consistent climate. And, of course, since you’re going to be checking on your plants consistently, you’ll want to ensure they are in a convenient spot.
What You’ll Need
When it comes to equipment, the quality of light will be your number one environmental factor for growing healthy plants. Your best option is likely HID (high intensity discharge) lights, which have become the industry standard due to their output, efficiency, and value. They may cost more than fluorescent fixtures, but can produce far more light. Alternatively, they may not be as efficient as LED lights, but they are often a fraction of the cost. HIDs use two different types of lamps: Metal halide (MH) for vegetative growth and high pressure sodium (HPS) for the flowering stage. If you can’t afford both, it’s best to start with HPS since they deliver more light per watt. In addition to the lights, you’ll also need a ballast (to help regulate the current) and a hood/reflector for each lamp. Magnetic ballasts are cheaper, but generally run hotter and less efficiently. Alternatively, digital ballasts are generally better, but are more expensive. Finally, unless you’re growing in a large, open area, you’ll need air-cooled reflector hoods in which to mount your lamps in as HID bulbs produce a lot of heat.
The final light accessory you’ll need is a reliable timer. Generally, you will have your lights on for 16-20 hours a day while the plants are in vegetative growth, then only 12 hours a day when they are to bloom. Since the lights need to turn on and off at the same times every day, a timer is essential.
Other than lights, you’ll also need to create a steady stream of airflow. This can easily be achieved by means of an exhaust fan placed near the top of the room. Ideally, you want your temperature to range from 70 to 85 degrees fahrenheit when lights are on and between 58 and 70 degrees fahrenheit when they are off. We advise that you set up your lights, turn them on for awhile, and then decide how much airflow you’ll need to maintain comfortable temperatures for your plants.
Soil vs. Hydroponics
Now you have all the equipment you need and can finally get to planting your cannabis. There are two mediums you can use for growing your plants: soil or hydroponics. Soil, naturally, is the most traditional option for growing. It’s also the most forgiving, making it a good option for first-timers. Any high-quality potting soil (without artificial extended release fertilizer) will work. However, the best option is organic pre-fertilized soil – often referred to as “super soil” – which will allow you to grow cannabis plants from start to finish without any added nutrients.
On the other hand, a rising trend in indoor growing is hydroponics. This method requires the use of concentrated solutions of mineral salt nutrients that are absorbed directly by the roots through osmosis. Due to the direct absorption, hydroponics also requires higher precision as plants are quicker to react to over- or underfeeding. Commercial soilless mixes are widely available, but it might be easier for novices to stick with standard soil.
Feeding and Watering
Finally, you have your plants potted, your lights set up, and your fans ready. If you aren’t using pre-fertilized soil, you’ll have to feed your plants at least once a week. For a healthy plant, you’ll require macronutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) and micronutrients (Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper). These nutrients are sold in either liquid or powder form and are meant to be mixed with water. It’ll be best to start at half-strength when feeding as it is easier to overfeed than underfeed a cannabis plant.
The most important thing to remember during the early phases is to not overwater. Cannabis plants are very susceptible to “root rot,” or fungal root diseases, when conditions are too wet. How often you water your plants will depend on size and ambient temperatures. Remember that this is a learning process, which is why it’s important to start small. As you grow, you’ll learn how to best read your plants to know when they are thirsty or hungry. At the end of the day, like any gardening activity, growing cannabis takes diligence, but will be worth the wait when all of that patience pays off.