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The Ins and Outs of Growing Cannabis Outdoors

Updated: Apr 18, 2023

We all know how indoor cannabis growth options look – there are usually large overhead lights and steel shelves overflowing with green cannabis leaves. If it is a smaller operation, there may be some Bob Marley playing in the background; if it is a larger one, the growers may adorn white lab coats and goggles. Regardless of their appearance, indoor grow operations allow for controlled environments (Gorman, 2020), but they are also costly and have large carbon footprints (Zheng, Fiddes, and Yang, 2021).


A budding plant absorbing the sunlight to represent growing cannabis outdoors
Photo courtesy of Nature_Design

On the other hand, growing cannabis outdoors can look like rolling acres of leafy green potted plants laid out in a grid pattern. Compared to indoor cultivation, outdoor grow operations are typically less costly but are subject to uncontrollable factors. That is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to note.


Here is our discussion of growing cannabis outdoors – its benefits, ideal and non-ideal conditions for growth, how climate change affects it, and more.


Benefits of Growing Cannabis Outdoors


Outdoor cannabis operations operate at low costs because the sun replaces the need for robust artificial lighting (Hennings, 2022). Similarly, growing outside allows for bigger yields – Leafly reports that “one plant can potentially yield between a half-pound and full-pound of dried weed!” (Hennings, 2022). It can also be environmentally friendly, especially when compared to the impacts of indoor growth, like electricity, water, fans, and other equipment (Hennings, 2022).


Ideal Conditions for Growing Outdoor Cannabis


As a general rule for the best cannabis growth, warm daytime conditions and cooler nighttime conditions allow for proper growth and recovery (LeafWell, 2022). LeafWell reports that the specific temperatures vary based on the cannabis’ growth stage (2022):

  • Seedlings prefer a daytime temperature of 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit and a nighttime temperature of 59-68 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • The vegetative stage grows best at 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

  • Moreover, the flowering stage enjoys 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit at night.

Even in conditions not “ideal” for growth, outdoor plants tend to be resilient enough to survive, especially if those conditions only last a few days (LeafWell, 2022). If the temperature drops, there are also ways to create heat for the cannabis plants to survive – things like compost piles, warm water, and frost cloth all help to maintain ideal internal temperatures (LeafWell, 2022). This is similar to when the temperature becomes too hot – shade from tents, cold water, and fans can help create ideal conditions for your plants (Leafwell, 2022).


Outdoor Cannabis Growth in Non-Ideal Conditions


So – in places that do not consistently have ideal growth conditions, or even where unpredictable things happen, what happens to outdoor cannabis plants?


In a study on how controlled droughts affect cannabis growth, researchers Deron Caplan, Mike Dixon, and Youbin Zheng found that


“Upon harvest, drought-stressed plants had increased concentrations of major cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol acid (THCA) and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) by 12% and 13%, respectively, compared with the control. Further, yield per unit growing area of THCA was 43% higher than the control, CBDA yield was 47% higher, Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) yield was 50% higher, and cannabidiol (CBD) yield was 67% higher” (2019).


Essentially, controlled droughts can potentially increase inflorescence dry weight and the yield of cannabinoids (Caplan, Dixon, and Zheng, 2019). While outdoor conditions do not necessarily allow for controlled droughts, this could be a good thing to know when cultivating outdoor cannabis.


Conversely, one study found that consistently cold temperatures may cause a decrease in CBD% and total THC% in hemp (Galic et al., 2022). High humidity levels may likewise cause things like bud/mold rot, fungal growth, nutrient problems, and slowed growth (SensoScientific, 2022).


Climate Change and How it is Affecting Outdoor Cannabis Growth Operations


As the climate changes around us, so do the environmental conditions and types of growth that can occur. For example, the Colorado River Basin has been experiencing changes in stream flows and will soon start to look less like Colorado and more like Arizona (Schaneman, 2022). Climate Central also reports that changing temperatures could change where grapes for wine are grown (n.d.); this could be (and has been) the same issue for cannabis growth.


For the past few years, growers have reported millions of dollars in losses from unexpected early freezing and early snowstorms (Schaneman, 2022). This is prompting growers to explore new genetic options for their cannabis so that their strains can better survive the changing weather (Schaneman, 2022). It is also forcing them to think outside the box – growers have looked into crop insurance, trellis systems, and more to try and prevent future losses (Schaneman, 2021).


Growing Cannabis Outdoors in Illinois


For Illinois specifically, it is legal to grow cannabis inside your privately owned home if you are over 21 years old and have a Medical Cannabis Card (410 ILCS 705/10-5, n.d.). However, home growing cannabis outside is illegal, as “Cannabis plants shall not be stored or placed in a location where they are subject to ordinary public view,” per 410 ILCS 705/10-5 (n.d.). Because growing cannabis outdoors has so many pros and the potential for so many cons, it’s going to be interesting to see how Illinois growers begin tackling the high demand for cannabis.


Steep Hill Illinois is Here to Help


Whether your cannabis is grown indoors or out, Steep Hill Illinois is here to help with all your cannabis testing needs. We offer potency and terpene testing, pesticide analysis, microbial analysis, and much more! Contact us today to get started.



References:


410 ILCS 705/10-5. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2023, from https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/documents/041007050K10-5.htm


Caplan, D., Dixon, M., & Zheng, Y. (2019, May 1). Increasing inflorescence dry weight and cannabinoid content in medical cannabis using controlled drought stress. hortsci. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://journals.ashs.org/hortsci/view/journals/hortsci/54/5/article-p964.xml


Climate Change & Wine. Climate Change & Wine | Climate Central. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.climatecentral.org/climate-matters/climate-change-wine


Galic, A., Grab, H., Kaczmar, N., Maser, K., Miller, W. B., & Smart, L. B. (2022, June 15). Effects of cold temperature and acclimation on cold tolerance and cannabinoid profiles of Cannabis Sativa L. (hemp). MDPI. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.mdpi.com/2311-7524/8/6/531


Gorman, C. (2020, July 28). Where's a better environment to grow weed: Indoors or outdoors? Leafly. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://www.leafly.com/news/growing/indoor-vs-outdoor-marijuana-growing


Hennings, T. (2022, September 30). How to grow marijuana outdoors. Leafly. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.leafly.com/learn/growing/how-to-grow-marijuana-outdoors


Leafwell. (2022, December 19). What's the ideal temperature for growing cannabis? Leafwell. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://leafwell.com/blog/ideal-temperature-for-growing-weed/


Schaneman, B. (2021, December 18). How cannabis growers can prepare for early season Cold Weather. MJBizDaily. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://mjbizdaily.com/how-cannabis-growers-can-prepare-for-early-season-cold-weather/


Schaneman, B. (2022, June 9). Climate change will affect where and how cannabis is grown. MJBizDaily. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://mjbizdaily.com/climate-change-will-affect-where-and-how-cannabis-is-grown/


SensoScientific. (2022, March 4). Temperatures and medical cannabis growing: From seedling to harvest. SensoScientific. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.sensoscientific.com/blog-temperatures-and-medical-cannabis/


Zheng, Z., Fiddes, K., & Yang, L. (2021, August 6). A narrative review on environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation - journal of cannabis research. BioMed Central. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from https://jcannabisresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42238-021-00090-0



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