Thinking about developing your green thumb? With cannabis now legalized in many states, more and more people are curious about growing their own plants. One of the many perks of the decriminalization of marijuana is that growing your own products is no longer a taboo or secretive subject. There’s a wealth of knowledge on the internet for those interested in goal-oriented and research-informed growing. That said, it can be overwhelming to navigate for even the savviest weed connoisseur.
Whether you’re a seasoned home gardener looking to expand your crops by growing marijuana outdoors, or an aspiring cannabis scientist interested in growing marijuana indoors, there are many pros and cons to consider.
Differences between indoor and outdoor cannabis
Even rookie users of marijuana know that not all strains are created equal. Have you ever wondered why one variety smelled a certain way, had a unique effect, or was a vibrant color? Like all plants, fruits, or vegetables, hemp and cannabis plants are formed by their environments. This concept is known as terroir (French for land). Similar to how wines from different regions have unique scent and flavor profiles, cannabis grown outdoors will retain some of the characteristics of its surroundings. The intensity and complexity of flavor and scent present in a plant is due to its terpenes. Terpenes are organic hydrocarbons found in many plants and are responsible for why plants and their fruits or flowers smell and taste the way they do. While both indoor and outdoor grown plants have terpenes, plants grown outside tend to have higher terpene content because they are exposed to a greater level of sunlight. Cannabis and hemp plants grown outside also tend to have higher THC and CBD levels than those grown indoors, due to more natural light and richer and more complex soil. Simply put, mother nature has a way with plants!
That doesn’t mean that indoor plants are always of lesser quality. Since indoor growing allows a higher level of control over every variable, indoor plants can be tailored to meet a very high quality. Indoor plants tend to smell more like “weed,” whereas outdoor plants absorb the scents of their surroundings and are usually less fragrant.
A quick way to tell the difference between indoor and outdoor plants is by their appearance, size, and the “tightness” of the buds. Cannabis grown in outdoor conditions is typically a darker color, more weathered, with loosely packed buds. Indoor cannabis is lighter in color but can also be very vibrant, ranging from bright green to purple, orange, and even red. The flowers on indoor-grown plants tend to be more densely packed and have more trichome development than outdoor plants. When it comes to the question of whether indoor or outdoor grown marijuana is of better quality, it all comes down to your personal tastes: both methods of growing can yield excellent products. Now that we’ve identified some key differences between the final product, let’s cover how to grow marijuana.
Main differences between indoor and outdoor grows
There are many factors to consider when you’re learning how to grow marijuana. Let’s talk logistics. Whether you choose to grow indoors or outdoors, be prepared to pay upfront expenses. Overall, growing marijuana indoors is more expensive because you have to purchase equipment in order to create and maintain a complete growing environment. When growing marijuana outdoors, sunlight, soil, ventilation, and even most of the watering is taken care of by Mother Nature. Indoor growing boasts the benefit of perpetual harvests and easy re-starts if you fail, whereas most climates only have one outdoor harvest season per year. However, since outdoor grows have unlimited sun and space, they can produce much larger yields than indoor growing.
Choosing which option is right for you really depends on your specific circumstances, budget, location, and of course on what kind of cannabis you hope to produce. Let’s get even more specific and break down the pros and cons of indoor vs. outdoor growing.
Outdoor growing pros and cons
Lower cost. Growing marijuana outdoors has a much lower upfront cost. At the very least, you simply need land and some seeds! Of course, you want to make sure you have a private area of land that you own or are allowed to grow on, in a climate that has a decent growing season. Since your plants are outdoors, the sun takes care of lighting, ventilation, and soil for you.
Less maintenance. Depending on the climate, you may only need to water and visit your crop biweekly. It’s smart to choose a location that has a water source nearby, to avoid lugging supplies back and forth.
Yield. Outdoor growing can produce larger yields than indoor growing, and the plants enjoy all of nature’s benefits which in turn often produce higher terpene content and higher amounts of THC and CBD.
Great for concentrates. If you are producing a concentrate with your plants, or simply want a larger yield, then outdoor growing has a lower cost than indoor growing.
Less control of variables. The downside of outdoor growing is that many factors are beyond your control. Factors such as storms, frost, drought, animal or insect interference, and even thieves can completely wipe out your crop.
Shorter growing season. Since most climates only have one harvest season a year, with outdoor growing you only get one shot at a yield.
Longer, more difficult harvest. It takes longer to harvest large crops, and since stalks tend to grow more outdoors, trimming the plants down takes more effort.
Appearance. Being exposed to the elements produces a weathered looking plant and rougher looking bud.
Secrecy. It is also more difficult to keep outdoor spaces private or discreet, and security can be costly. If you live in a city, it can be difficult to find a green space.
Indoor growing pros and cons
Year-round growing. With indoor growing, you can grow and harvest year round regardless of climate, as you have complete control over the environment and the grow time is quicker than outdoors.
Control of variables. Since you control the growing variables, you can tailor the growth of plants as it happens.
Consistency. A huge bonus for indoor growing is consistency, meaning you can produce high quality buds every time.
Appearance. Since the flowers are indoors, the integrity of the flower is better preserved than those outdoors.
Access. Since indoor growing often happens in your home you can tend to the plants daily with ease.
Secrecy. It is also much easier to be discreet and private about growing indoors.
Cost of equipment. There are more costs associated with growing marijuana indoors because you need to purchase equipment in order to create and maintain the entire growing environment. From lights to soil, nutrients, containers, and even more advanced equipment that controls humidity, temperature, CO2 levels, pH balance, and ever-important ventilation, there are many variables you need to consider when growing indoors.
More difficult. Because all variables are in your hands with indoor growing, there are more opportunities for rookie growers to make mistakes.
Smaller yield. Indoor growing usually produces a smaller yield, unless you have space to scale up.
Legality. If someone finds your set-up, it’s difficult to disprove that it’s yours, since it’s usually located in your home.
Which is better: indoor or outdoor?
If you’re still wondering if growing marijuana outdoors or growing marijuana indoors is better for you, it’s important to take a step back and consider all the factors that go into growing. While we covered topics like cost, quality, and the logistics of growing indoors vs. outdoors, that’s only the tip of the iceberg. It’s imperative to learn about whether it is legal to grow in your state, including what amount you can grow, what amount you can possess, and whether or not you’re allowed to sell or share your crop with family, friends, and others. There’s even the ethical question of energy consumption and environmental impact to consider, as indoor growing costs a pretty penny on your electricity bill.
With indoor growing, there are many variables at play that you are 100% in control of. Whether that’s a pro or a con is ultimately up to you. If you have a flexible budget and are looking to produce a very specific outcome, to experiment with strains, or if you simply want to control the growth of your plants and get consistent results, then indoor is an excellent choice.
With outdoor growing, you get to take a back seat to Mother Nature’s impressive nurturing skills, and be rewarded with large harvests of strong, complex, and natural crops. The downside is that you’re at the mercy of the elements, and other factors beyond your control. If you can afford to weather some risk, then this is the choice for you.
As always, research-informed growing is the best policy, and you should consider both options carefully before choosing. Other alternatives are hybrid growing, or greenhouse growing. Either way, happy gardening!