There are many perks to growing marijuana outdoors. One very obvious advantage is that your plants will get the best kind of light for free. Most cannabis enthusiasts will agree that outdoor-grown, organic weed will smell and taste better since sunlight encompasses a wider spectrum which helps create a greater variety of cannabinoids and terpenes.
In fact, all the resources that Mother Nature provides will immediately put outdoor growers way ahead of indoor growers in terms of recouping their investment. However, she is not an all-giving benefactor, you’ll also have to deal with the changes in her moods; if you put your seeds in the ground at the wrong time of the year, you may end up having nothing to harvest at all.
To get a good idea when you should plant your cannabis seedlings outdoors, let’s take a brief look at how the 3 different subspecies and which kind of climate they are best suited for.
- The origins of Sativa and Indica
- Outdoor growing of cannabis in the US
- When to plant marijuana in your state
- Frequently Asked Question on Planting Cannabis Outdoors
The origins of Sativa and Indica
In Understanding and Applying Light Cycles for Growing Cannabis we briefly discussed where the 3 main marijuana subspecies originated from. There we mentioned that Sativas thrived mostly in the tropics, Indicas, in temperate zones, and Ruderalis in regions with inhospitable environments like countries that get harsh winters. There’s a big difference in climate and seasonal changes per region and this can easily be seen in the unique physical characteristics of each subspecies.
However, a great number of strains nowadays are likely to possess the genetics of any of the three . Breeders and seed websites will usually indicate which subspecies is dominant in the particular strain. This is especially helpful to outdoor growers looking for a strain that’s best suited to the climate in their area.
Sativa and the tropics
Countries located on or near the equator only have two seasons: wet and dry. Even though it rains almost half of the year in the tropics, plants will still get a good amount of sun. While it can get very hot during the peak of the dry season, the range of temperature isn’t as wide, it won’t ever get too cold that plants will freeze up. However, it is almost always humid in this region even during the dry season.
Because the tropics have an abundance of sunlight practically all year round, the Sativa could afford to grow long, slender leaves and a taller stature. It also allowed this subspecies to flower for much longer, around 60 to 90 days. These plants grow well in warm and humid weather.
Indica and the temperate climate
The temperate zone is in between the tropical belt and the polar regions. Countries here will have 4 seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Plants may receive little to no sun and even experience freezing during the colder half of the year.
Because of this, the Indica subspecies have evolved to have wider leaves and a shorter but bushier stature, perhaps to receive more sunlight in a shorter period to prepare for the colder seasons. It also has a faster flowering time, around 45 to 60 days. These plants can also tolerate low temperatures and some strains can even endure winters.
Ruderalis and extreme environments
Ruderalis is a feral kind of cannabis that is able to grow just about anywhere, hence its nickname “ditch weed”. It even grew in countries like Siberia where winters are harsh and there are months where the sun practically disappears. Because of this, the Ruderalis evolved a small stature, hardy genetics, and the ability to enter the flowering phase without needing changes in light cycles. While this subspecies contains negligible amounts of THC, it is high in CBD and its genetics has been used to create autoflowering breeds of Sativa and Indica.
Outdoor growing of cannabis in the US
The US is pretty big so there are a handful of states that don’t get snow and around a third don’t get overly cold winters. But it’s entirely possible to grow weed outdoors everywhere in the country (with exception of the desert, of course), even in Alaska, you just have to pick the right strain and the right season to plant.
Always keep in mind that Sativa-dominant strains will go through a shorter vegetative phase but a longer flowering phase. Indicas, on the other hand, are the opposite. However, the duration of the vegetative phases of photoperiod cannabis plants are heavily dependent on how much light they get.
Cannabis and the cold
From seed to harvest, photoperiod cannabis plants will live around 8 to 14 weeks while autoflowers, around 7 to 11 weeks. If you’re going to plant outdoors, you want your plants to go through their vegetative phases during months when the sun is out the longest, and their flowering phases when there’s only 12 hours or less of daylight. Things are a bit easier with autoflowers; you can grow anytime as long as you can harvest before the temperatures drop.
Marijuana can grow well in temperatures between 20 to 30°C (70–85°F) during the day and 17 to 20°C (62-68°F) at night. These plants can withstand extreme heat better than the cold, so don’t let them go through winters where temperature can drop down to 15ºC and below. Extreme cold will stress out your plant and this can cause all sorts of problems from hermaphroditism to tissue damage. If you’re growing an outdoor plant that has to go through winter, just put up a makeshift greenhouse around it to prevent it from freezing.
Cannabis, drought and rain
States that don’t get much snow also have their own set of problems. Most in the Midwest and the South often experience droughts and while this is always bad news for farmers, some cannabis growers may be able to weather the storm. There is a method called controlled drought stress that actually increases your marijuana plant’s cannabinoid and terpene concentration.
Rain can also be a problem. In fact, excessive moisture can actually be much worse since it can leach nutrients off the soil and also it can also invite pests and diseases such as the dreaded bud rot.
Outdoor growers will always have the threat of extreme weather hanging over their heads. However, such conditions typically occur only at certain times in a year, so it is important that you take advantage of the window time when the temperature and humidity is within the ideal range for growing marijuana.
When to plant marijuana in your state
Weather in the US can vary per city but for convenience, we can lump states into two categories based on their general climate: Northern and Southern states.
When to plant marijuana for Northern States
Temperatures drop significantly during wintertime in Northern states, making it unsuitable to grow outdoors. Here, growers need to wait for the ground to thaw before putting their seedlings in the ground.
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
- New York
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
Northwestern states typically deal with a lot of rain which makes mold a big concern. The best time to put your seedlings in the ground would be around March to May, depending on how cold the winter was. If you’re planting autoflowers, you can afford to wait a bit more for temperatures to get warmer. Do some research on the strain that you want to plant and see how long it takes from seed to harvest on the average so you’ll know if you have enough time before the rainy months towards fall and winter. Growers in the northern half of the country typically go with Indica-dominant strains that do well in cold climates like Zkittlez Autoflower, Passion #1, and Somango.
When to plant marijuana for Southern States
Most cities in Southern states get little to no snow at all. However, drought, wildfires, and pests that thrive in hot and humid environments like mites can be a significant threat.
- New Mexico
- South Carolina
- North Carolina
- West Virginia
There’s plenty of sun and warmth in the Southern part of the country where the climate is more tropical and even desert-like in some parts. Here, Sativa-dominant strains can thrive, but you need to give them enough water if you happen to be in a dry state.
You can plant your seedlings as early as March and if you’re planting autoflowers, you may even have enough time for two rounds of planting. Some of the most popular strains for warm climates are Amnesia Haze, OG Kush, and White Widow.
Below is a quick reference guide on which months certain growing tasks should approximately fall for most cities in Northern States. Those in the Southern states where temperatures don’t drop too low can afford to grow all year round.
Frequently Asked Question on Planting Cannabis Outdoors
The climate in most of the US will allow growing of marijuana outdoors, even in Alaska where there are months that get no sun. Indica-dominant strains typically do well in Northern states where the temperatures are lower, and Sativa-dominant strains in Southern states where the climate is tropical to hot and dry.
Ideally, you should put your seedlings in the ground around March when the ground thaws, but this will still depend on how cold the winter was. If you’re planting autoflowers which have a shorter lifecycle, you can afford until it becomes warmer towards April to May.
The USA is a great place to grow outdoors as long as you know what strain to plant and when to plant it. One great way to take advantage of the free resources available outdoors while eliminating the disadvantages would be to plant in pots so that you can easily relocate your plants if the weather becomes unfavorable. Autoflowers would be a good choice for this since they are smaller and need no training. On the other hand, photoperiod plants may grow too large for your indoor space and would be better planted directly into the ground. In any case, whichever type of plant you choose, the important thing is to not let your plants live through months where they can catch frost or excessive moisture.