Ready to start your first grow, but not sure where to start? You’re in the right place. Read our comprehensive guide on how to grow marijuana to learn how to take your plants from seed to weed.
When it comes to growing weed, the name of the game is control of variables. Think of it like a science experiment – there are a whole bunch of different factors that can affect the outcome of your grow, and to get the best product you need to dial in as many of them as possible.
That means controlling things like:
…and anything else that could affect how your plants grow.
Of course, growing indoors means that you can control more of these variables. When you’re growing outdoors, you obviously can’t control the amount or quality of lighting your plants receive, nor can you really do anything about humidity or temperature. That doesn’t mean you can’t get good results from growing weed outdoors; there is tons of top-quality outdoor marijuana on the market today. In fact, “sun-grown” is quickly becoming a trendy quality for premium cannabis to have.
But for a first-timer, chances are you’ll get closer to the premium bud you’re looking for with an indoor grow. That’s because you’re not subject to the whims of Mother Nature, and you can make sure your plants are getting exactly what they need – from to-the-minute light cycles, to the exact humidity percentage they need, to degree-specific temperature control.
While there are a ton of different ways to grow weed, we’ll be looking primarily at soil grows for this guide. Stay tuned for information on hydroponic growing, and other methods.
Either way you choose to grow, you’ll need a few things before you get started. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to start growing weed at home.
Every good grow starts with the right equipment. Whether it’s lighting, fans, humidity sensors, or even just the seeds you start with, good equipment and materials will help you achieve a better result.
If you’re starting from scratch, and don’t own any growing equipment at all, here are the basics you’ll need to start growing your own marijuana:
A very healthy indoor grow! This one is using a tent.
Growing indoors carries a larger startup cost than outdoors, because you need to provide everything the plant needs yourself – no relying on the sun for light, or the wind for airflow.
Here’s a shopping list to get started:
- A tent or grow box. While not strictly necessary (you could use a closet, or build a grow chamber from a garbage can or Rubbermaid bin, for example), a grow tent or grow box will help you get the finest degree of control over your plant’s growth. These are designed specifically for growing plants, and come with a ton of helpful features to give you more control over your grow. If you’re on a budget, and don’t mind doing things yourself, go for a grow tent (we reviewed the best ones for you). If you’ve got a bit of cash to splash around, and you want a system that automates some things for you, grow boxes are the way to go.
- Lighting. Light is life for your plants. As anyone who’s got houseplants knows, plants need good lighting to grow properly. These days, LED lighting is the way to go. There are a ton of options out there, and it can be a little intimidating to choose the right one for your needs. Find the best LED grow lights for your home grow – you’ll want to think about the size of your grow (how big is your tent and how many plants are you growing?) power consumption, and light spectrum – just like with CBD, full spectrum is better – among other things.
- Genetics. Great weed starts with great seeds. There are a bunch of options out there, but for beginners you might want to grab a feminized autoflower genetic, since they’re almost guaranteed to come out female, and timing your lighting cycles is way easier. There are tons of seedbanks out there where you can get top-quality genetics shipped right to your door.
- Pots and soil. Your “pot” can just be a 5-gallon plastic bucket, and your soil can be from the garden center at your local hardware store. A few considerations for soil: “loam soil” is considered by many to be the best option for growing cannabis, but you can also look into perlite or coco soil. Fox Farms comes highly recommended by a lot of growers. Living soil is super-trendy at the moment, and is considered to produce higher quality results than some alternatives – “living” means that it’s got live organisms in the soil that help recycle waste into nutrients and keep your soil healthy in general. It’s recommended to source this locally, as it might not travel well through the mail, but you can check out brands like SoHum.
- Fans and controllers. One of the best ways to control humidity, airflow and temperature in your grow area is with a fan. Your grow tent or box might have one already, but if it doesn’t, grab something like this duct fan and this fan controller.
- Testers, readers, and monitors. We know that control of variables is the most important aspect of a home grow. That means you need a way to check those variables to see if they need to be adjusted. You’ll need humidity gauges (bonus: these are useful for the drying and curing process as well), pH testers, thermometers, and TDS meters. These are not strictly necessary, as you can always go by eye and feel, but for a new grower who wants the best results, you should seriously consider getting these monitors.
- Nutrients. Your cannabis babies need nutrients like all growing things. While they’ll get energy from your lighting set up, they need good-quality nutrients to reach their full potential. You’ll need one set of nutrients for the vegetative stage, and a different one for the flowering stage. Some recommended brands include DynaGro and Botanicare.
Outdoor grows require a lot less equipment than indoor grows. That’s because you don’t need to supply lighting, airflow, or many of the other variables required for growing, since they’re coming directly from Mother Nature!
For an outdoor grow, all you really need is a location, some soil, and seeds.
Choose your grow location
When choosing where to grow, there’s a few options to consider. Growing indoors vs. outdoors is your first big decision. If you’re looking to keep your grow relatively discrete, you’ll probably want to opt for an indoor grow – it’s a lot harder to hide your giant cannabis plants when they’re outdoors for all to see.
While preferences vary from person to person, indoor cannabis is generally considered to be of (much) higher quality than outdoor cannabis.
If you’re going to use your cannabis for making concentrates or edibles, you may prefer an outdoor grow, since they produce cheaper-by-weight cannabis and sometimes have higher yields. Since you won’t care about how smokable the buds are in their raw form, the “lower quality” of an outdoor grow won’t matter.
When growing indoors, you have a few basic options – tents, boxes, or a DIY option like a space bucket or closet. This decision ultimately comes down to your budget, and how much automation or fancy features you’d like to have.
Germination is a fairly easy process – the object of this stage of your grow is to get your seeds to start sprouting, then you can transplant them to your growing medium.
There are a few methods for germinating your seeds:
In water: Simply drop your seeds in a glass of filtered water, changing the water every second day, until they start to sprout.
In paper towels: Soak paper towels in water and nestle your seeds in between folded layers of wet paper towel. Remoisten when necessary, and check on ‘em once a day – once you see sprouts, you’re ready to roll.
In soil: Certainly the simplest method – drop your seeds in some soil, moisten, and wait for ‘em to sprout.
For more detail, read our comprehensive guide on how to germinate marijuana seeds.
Once you see a root sprouting from the seed, it’s time to plant your seeds:
Transplant to growing medium
A fully sprouted cannabis seedling - ready for transplanting.
Once your seeds have sprouted, post-germination, it’s time to move them into your soil. This part is relatively easy – you want to make sure the root is facing downwards, and bury the seed under a small amount of soil. It should be covered, but not too deep under the surface – you don’t want to make it too difficult for your seedlings to sprout from the soil.
Some growers swear by Rapid Rooters, especially for hydroponic grows, but they are not strictly necessary. You can definitely just plant your seeds directly in the soil they’ll grow in.
Plants in Rapid Rooters, ready to be transplanted
Keep an eye on your soil for signs of life. If your seed has not breached the soil within 10 days, chances are it has unfortunately died. That’s ok – it happens from time to time, even if you did anything right. You should always start with a couple more seeds than you need, just in case some of them don’t make it.
Once your seeds are in the soil, it’s time to put them under the grow light. The light provides essential energy, and also keeps ‘em nice and warm.
It’s worth noting that transplanting can be very stressful for young plants – you’ll want to minimize the amount of moving around that your babies do. You run the risk of killing your plants if you transplant them too often, or too early.
At this stage of growing, make sure to use soil with no added nutrients. Your young plants are sensitive! They will do just fine in standard soil.
At this stage, they are also sensitive to light. A good rule of thumb is to hold your hand under the lights at the same height as your plants – if, after 10 seconds, it’s too hot to keep your hand there, then it’s also too hot for your seedlings. Try reducing the amount of light, or move your lights higher up. As your seedlings grow, they will stretch towards the lights – this means you need to make sure they don’t get too close to the lights and burn themselves. You’ll need to be regularly adjusting your lighting during this stage.
Seedlings are also susceptible to overwatering – you want your soil damp, but don’t soak it through.
Once you’ve made it through this delicate stage of growth, we’re on to the vegetative stage.
The vegetative stage of growing cannabis is where your plant builds its main plant mass. We’re laying the foundation for the massive colas we hope to achieve in the flowering stage. At this stage, you can expect to see the stems and trunks getting thicker, and tons of leaves starting to form all over your plant.
In a nutshell, here’s what you want to do with your plant during vegetation:
- Provide strong light for 18-24hrs per day.
- Provide water when soil is dry to the touch, or when the bucket or pot feels lighter than usual.
- Provide vegetation nutrients.
You’ll continue this process until your plant has reached about half of the desired final size.
During the vegetative stage, you’ll also be able to tell if your plants are male or female. If they’re male, get ‘em out of the growing area ASAP – only females produce buds, and your males can pollinate your female plants, which causes seeds to form and lowers the potency of your end product. Nobody likes seeds in their smoke!
While that covers the absolute basics, there are a few techniques you can perform during vegetation to increase your final yield. Let’s run through some of the most popular ones:
Topping is the simplest form of “training” your cannabis plants, which is a process used to affect the shape and form of your plant. Training is done to increase the number of main colas (or buds) that your plant produces, thereby increasing the yield. When done well, training your plant gives truly incredible results – a well-trained plant can produce 6x the final product of an untrained plant, or even more.
Topping consists of simply snipping off the main stem of your plant during the vegetative state. You’ll want to wait until your plant has 6 nodes to top it. A “node” is the part of your plant where new leaves or branches start to form. Once you see 6 nodes on the main stem of your plant, you’ll just want to snip off the top of the stem, above the 6th node. Opinions vary on whether you should top to the 4th, 5th, 6th, or even 7th node, but the 6th is a safe bet. This process is dead-simple: you really just cut the stem off above the node you’re targeting. It’s recommended to leave a bit of stem above the node and not top directly above it.
Nodes on a young cannabis plant, circled in red.
This process will cause your plant to grow additional main stems – and additional main colas! While it might seem counterintuitive, trimming your plant in this way actually speeds up growth during the vegetative stage.
A plant in the vegetative stage being LST'd.
Low-stress training, or LST, is a process that increases the surface area of your plant that gets exposed to light. This means more of your plant is absorbing energy, resulting in lots of strong stems that will produce tons of big buds.
LST essentially consists of bending over your plant and tying it down, so that the leaf nodes on the side of the main stem are now pointing upwards. Each of these nodes now has a chance to become a main stem, producing bigger buds. This is best done early in the vegetative stage while your main stem is still flexible. You’ll want to tie the stems down to the side of your bucket or pot, rather than the floor or tent – that way, if you need to move your plants, you don’t need to untie anything. Be very careful not to snap your stems while doing low-stress training.
There are LST clips that can be used to bend your plants, or you can just use twine or twist-ties. Be careful not to tie them too tightly to your plants – you don’t want the cord to cut into the stem.
LST needs to be maintained regularly – as the plant grows, more sections will grow upwards. LST them down and away from the main stem so that as much of the plant as possible is exposed to light!
Once your plant has grown to half of its final size – usually about 60 days from sprout – it’s time to move into the flowering stage.
If you’re using photoperiod seeds, which you most likely are, you’ll need to adjust the lighting schedule to send your plants into flowering mode. Flowering, like the name implies, is the stage where your cannabis plants start to produce flowers – and that’s what we’re all here for, aren’t we! If you’re using autoflower seeds, no change in lighting is required – they’ll switch into the flowering stage on their own.
You’ll want to start feeding your plants with the flowering nutrients you bought, and change the lighting schedule from 18-24hrs/day to 12hrs/day. This mimics the light cycle found in the natural world as seasons transition into autumn, and it’s what tells your plants that it’s time to make flowers – a.k.a. Buds. Note that the period where your lighting is turned off must be continuous – your plant needs 12 straight hours of darkness to know it’s time to begin flowering.
The first three weeks or so are a transition period, as your plants adjust to the new light cycle and start to move into flowering. You’ll notice your plant starting to make huge gains in size – this is a very good thing! We want it to stretch as much as possible. During this period, you can continue to LST your plant if any branches are getting too close to the light.
Pistils starting to form into buds during the flowering stage.
In weeks three and four, you’ll see little buds start to form – they’ll begin as a mass of pistils. We’re on the right track! After this, your buds will fatten out and take shape.
Once the buds are fully formed, it’s time to start watching for cues to begin your harvest. Expect the total flowering stage to take roughly 12 weeks, but it can take a little longer or shorter depending on genetics and environmental factors.
When should you harvest your cannabis? Let’s take a look at the tell-tale signs that it’s time to harvest your weed:
After the flowering stage is complete, it’s time to harvest your cannabis! The moment of truth.
The main thing you should be looking for here is trichome coloration. While there are other signs, this is the surest way to know that your plants are ready for harvest. Trichomes are small resin glands that grow all over your buds and even some leaves, and they’re one of the main sources of cannabinoids in your plants. In order to check them for coloration, you’ll need a jeweler’s loupe or magnifying glass. Look closely and carefully at your trichomes – you’ll see that they start out clear, then with age turn milky-white and finally amber. Not all of the trichomes will transition at the same time, and many experts say that the best time to harvest is when roughly 30-50% of the trichomes have turned amber.
Macro view of some trichomes. Only one or two have turned amber so far - not ready yet!
However, this can also be a matter of personal preference – the more amber-colored trichomes, the higher your plant will be in CBN, which causes a sleepy feeling when smoked. That means if you like an uplifting and energizing high, you should harvest when only 30% or so of trichomes are amber. If you want a heavy-hitting couchlock effect, you can wait until as much as 70% of the trichomes have turned amber in color.
Read our guide to harvesting cannabis for more detail.
Dry and Cure
A big ol' cannabis plant hanging to dry. We'd trim it more than this before hanging it up, though.
Once you’ve cut down your plants, that means you’re ready to start enjoying them, right? Not quite: for optimal enjoyment, you still need to dry and cure your plants.
Drying is just what it sounds like – after you’ve cut down your stems, you’ll want to hang them in an area with low-to-no light and relatively dry humidity. It’s recommended, but not absolutely necessary, to trim off excess leaves before drying – this makes the trimming process a lot easier, and also makes your buds dry faster.
Once the branches snap cleanly, usually after somewhere between 7-14 days, you’re ready to start curing your cannabis.
A jar of cannabis curing with a humidity gauge.
This process just takes a little patience and routine maintenance: you’ll want to trim your buds off of their stems, and remove all the leaves, until they look how you want your final product to look.
Then, put your buds into airtight glass jars. Pack these jars about ¾ of the way full to allow for airflow and reduce risk of mold. Some growers like to crush or break one or two buds, allowing resin and terpenes to flow out and be soaked up by the remaining buds.
Store these jars away from sunlight, and “burp” them twice per day – this just means removing the lid for about 15 minutes to an hour to let them get some air and release humidity. The ideal resting humidity during the curing stage is between 60-65% – this is where your humidity gauges come into play. After a few days, you can switch to once-a-day burping, and after a couple of weeks, every other day is fine.
How long should you cure your cannabis? It’s ultimately a matter of preference, but the absolute minimum should be about 2 weeks. It’s generally understood that the longer your buds cure, the better they will taste and smoke – some growers leave their buds to cure for up to 6 months.
Read our full guide on drying and curing cannabis for more detail.
Ready to smoke!
Congratulations – it’s been a long hard road, but you have just completed your cannabis grow, and you’re ready to enjoy the fruits of your labor! Your fully-cured buds are now ready to smoke. Sit back, relax, and light up a fat one – you’ve earned it.
The first grow is always the hardest, and chances are you’ve picked up a ton of tips and tricks along the way. Your second grow will be sure to succeed with all you’ve learned.