Soil

Late winter to early spring is when outdoor gardeners and growers get ready for spring planting. A good spring start is the first step in a good fall harvest. Here are ten things to consider when getting ready for spring planting.

1) Find an area not likely to be disturbed by the pest that walks on two legs. 

Unfortunately, being legal to grow in a particular area or not, the greatest threat to a cannabis garden is usually other humans. Avoid advertising the location of an outdoor grow on social media or to local friends as this may attract unwelcome human pests to your area. While it may be legal to grow cannabis in a particular area, keep in mind it may also be legal to leave a 65-inch, flat screen TV unattended on the front walk, but it generally isn’t considered very smart to do so.

2) Select an appropriately lit garden area.

If possible, select a southern exposure with full sun (six or more hours of direct sunlight) with rows that run east to west. If that isn’t practical, then select a space that gets at least full sun. Check the number of hours of direct sunlight a potential area has by observing throughout a day and noting the directly lit hours. If using a greenhouse, supplemental lighting can be used to prevent flowering, or tarps can block light to initiate flowering out of season. Cannabis can also be grown under less than ideal lighting, but the amount harvested will be diminished.  

3)  Make practical choices about the size of the garden.

It is very easy to get excited in the spring and over plant, but keep in mind that a small garden tended to all season will generally outproduce a large garden that is neglected or abandoned halfway through summer. Growing cannabis takes both time and effort, and is more suitable for a “marathon” mentality than a “sprint” one. 

One factor to keep in mind is how far apart the plants will be, which in part is determined by the length of the growing season and the expected final size of the plants at harvest. Cannabis plants with sufficient “elbow room” tend to do better than those packed tightly enough together to shade each other. While 6-foot centers (measured center of plant to center of plant) may be sufficient for small plants in a short growing season, 10- or 12-foot (or more) centers are more appropriate for larger plants. 

One indication of how large the plants can be expected to grow is how large they have grown in the same location in previous years. If there was too much room in between the plants last year, plant them closer together this year, if not enough room, then plant them further apart. Rows should be spaced according to how tall the cannabis is expected to get, to avoid too much shading of the rows behind it. 

Digging the soil before planting.

5) Prepare the location.

Hopefully the majority of last year’s growing debris was cleaned up and removed or taken to the compost pile as part of last season’s harvest, but if not, clean the area before planting. One reason to start composting the leftover material in the fall is to allow it time to break down and be ready for use the following spring. This was a common procedure in Roman and Greek farming, and a common practice in early American farming. In dry areas, to prevent unwanted weed growth, the ground can be watered enough to sprout the offending seeds and then allowed to dry out enough to kill weed sprouts, or covered with tarp or mulch in advance to retard weed growth. 

6) Choose between planting directly in the ground, in containers, or in raised beds.

Planting in the ground is suitable for gardeners who intend on improving the plot over a period of years (regenerative, no-till, permaculture, and other deeply organic growing methods). 

Containers and raised beds are two other options that allow for better drainage, reduce the size of the area that needs to be taken care of, and require less bending over to reach the base of the plants. Container and raised bed gardens also allow for growing on less than ideal terrain, rocky ground, or on damaged soil.

6) Improve the soil if needed.

For container planting, use a quality potting mix. If purchasing a potting soil, check the ingredients, and inspect the product before purchasing. Coir, peat, compost, and perlite are common ingredients.

While there are quality bagged composts on the market, be forewarned that in many places in the US, “green waste” made of lawn and garden trimmings is picked up from homeowners for a fee, where is it taken to a facility, converted into compost, and sold back to the American consumer as compost for another fee. This process is profitable for the garbage men and compost facility, but not very carbon efficient or budget conscious. 

Garden debris is a resource that can be made into valuable compost without incurring shipping costs or middleman markups. Homemade compost also has the benefit of the grower knowing what went into the compost pile and what contaminates have been left out. Keep a compost pile moist but not soggy, and eventually, it will turn into usable compost.

For a simple, homemade potting soil base use 1-to-2 parts compost, 1 part coir or peat, and 1 part perlite. Add to this base amendments such as mineral, bone, blood, or kelp meals.

For in-ground planting, soil tests can give information about possible deficiencies. Nitrogen is often boosted with compost or herbivore manure and then supplemented throughout the season with fertilizer. Rock phosphate is a common long acting phosphorus source, and potassium levels can be improved with potash. Home test kits are available, or samples can be sent out for analysis (many college agricultural extension programs will do it for a reasonable price, and the results usually include a recommendation of amendments to correct any deficiencies). 

Watering and irrigation is key.

7) Decide on a watering method.

Cannabis needs water to grow, and there are several options available. In some regions, there is enough summertime rain to not require additional waterings, but for many areas, supplemental watering is required. While a watering can is suitable for a small container garden, it is often too labor-intensive for larger gardens. A simple drip irrigation system can be connected to an existing sprinkler system or supplied by a garden hose. Since drip systems disperse water at a low rate over a longer period of time, the soil has time to absorb a higher percentage of the moisture, reducing runoff waste. Layout the watering in accordance with where the plants will be planted.

8) Select suitable seeds/clones.

Clones and feminized seeds have the advantage of being known female plants even before they start to show sex. With standard seeds, about half of them will wind up male plants, so plan accordingly by taking cuttings of marked plants to sex under flowering lighting, or culling the males as they show their sex. When using standard seeds, start at least twice the number of plants desired at harvest.   

For personal-use cannabis, select varieties that are either known favorites, or from those similar to known favorites. If space is available, consider also trying a new variety or two as well to try out as contenders for new favorites.

For commercial-use cannabis, consult market trends and plant accordingly.

9) Find out the planting date for your area and plan accordingly.

The earliest planting date will be at some point after the spring equinox (March 20), although latitude will determine how long after (late April to May dates are common in the US). To get a head start on the growing season, seeds or clones can be started indoors before planting outside. This can be particularly important when trying to get the most out of short natural growing seasons.

10) Harden plants before moving outdoors full time.

Plants started indoors should be “hardened” by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions. This is done by moving them to a less sheltered location in steps, or by introducing them to the new location for first a few, and then several hours a day over a period of a week or so. Plants immediately moved from a sheltered indoor environment to the harsher conditions outdoors may suffer from shock, which may stall or kill the plant, so a more gentle introduction to the new environment makes the transition easier and less stressful.

Growing cannabis outdoors is a cheaper and more ecologically responsible method of growing cannabis than growing indoors under lights, and the harvest per plant can be substantially greater. A saying among older growers is that “indoor harvests are measured in ounces, outdoor harvests are measured in pounds.”

Imagine you are going to go outside to do some gardening, stain some deck chairs, and put up a birdfeeder. Since this will be hard, hot, dirty work, you’ll want to take a beverage with you. Now you wouldn’t take a fine crystal goblet, or one from the good matched set of dinner glasses. You’d take the oddball, beat up glass from the corner that you don’t have to worry about damaging and go get things done. That glass is a grubby cup.

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