How to get the Best Soil for Outdoor Marijuana Plants
In the last decade of rapid cannabis legalization throughout the United States, there has been a noticeable boom in the craft cannabis growing market. Fueling these farmer’s primary interest is the conviction that it won’t be long before marijuana is legal in all 50 states. They’ve seen how people have made other profitable hobbies from craft beer cultivation to winemaking. When skilled in these areas you can really create successful income for yourself.
Basic outdoor marijuana cultivation is a skill set obtainable by anyone with the desire to learn. Aside from basic farming and gardening knowledge, it requires only the curiosity to learn about the specific nutritional requirements of the cannabis plant itself. When your soil contains the right micronutrients to match with your plant, that’s when you really start to see your increased knowledge grow and flourish.
What Plants Need
Contrary to what the fictional people of future earth told Luke Wilson’s character in the movie Idiocracy, energy drinks do not have “what plants need.” Plants aren’t human, and they don’t need taurine or electrolytes to grow. They need soil, air and water. The last two supply important starting products for the chemical reactions of photosynthesis. The first one, soil, has a complex role that depends on important and specific criteria: drainage, pH balance and nutrients.
The other missing ingredient that has not yet been discussed is sunlight. Photons of light from the sun’s rays drive the processes that allow plants to create their own energy. But unless you are a committed naturalist who wants to grow as low-tech as possible, most growers incorporate artificial grow lights during at least a portion of their grow cycle to supplement.
Marijuana, like most plants, requires soil that is porous enough to drain properly. You can easily increase soil drainage by adding perlite to your soil. Perlite is that porous, crumbly white stuff in potting soil mixes that looks like tiny Styrofoam pellets, and is available in the garden section of nearly every store that has one. The basic rule of thumb for increasing soil drainage is to make your soil mix contain 20-30% perlite.
Another fascinating option for growing mediums is coco coir, which is essentially the shredded husks from the protective layer of coconuts. Coco is cheap, chemically inert, and holds the perfect balance of water and oxygen for healthy cannabis roots. Overly damp roots, that aren’t allowed to “dry up” between watering can lead to root rot, so you want a medium that holds enough water, but allows any excess drain out quickly.
Plants thrive when planted in soil with just the right amount of acidity. The “pH scale” is a logarithmic scale used to measure the amount of acidity or alkalinity in a substance or solution. 0 to 6.9 on the scale represents “acid”, while 7.1 to 14 represents the “alkaline” (or basic) side of the scale. Right in the middle (7.0) is what we call “neutral” – or pH-balanced water.
Although exact recommendations vary, the consensus among marijuana cultivation experts is that marijuana plants are happiest in soil with a pH balance between 5.5 to 7. Without a properly adjusted pH balance, the plant cannot absorb the important nutrients properly even if they are abundant in the soil itself. You can have a soil sample sent away to a private lab for reliable results, or opt to purchase pH test strips or a digital pH pen to have a way to test yourself.
Most outdoor soil in North America runs on the acidic side and will require amendments. Garden Lime can be used to raise the pH (make more alkaline), as can oyster shells or wood ashes added slowly over time. If find yourself in the rare case of having soil with 7.5 pH or above, you can add common sulfur to your soil to lower your pH, as well as add natural compost and/or manure throughout your grow. For a more precise solution (albeit less natural) is to purchase chemical additives known as pH UP and pH DOWN which you will have to water down as per the manufacturer’s instructions and add to your soil mixture.
When the soil drains properly and has the correct pH balance, the next step is to make sure that the soil has the ingredients that marijuana plants need to grow and flourish. Plant fertilizers have a three-part scale that details how much Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium the product contains by weight, in that order (N-P-K). This ratio of nutrients will be printed clearly right on the front of whatever feeding product you are purchasing. A fertilizer with a grade of 34-0-0 is Ammonium Nitrate, whereas a fertilizer with a grade of 13-0-44 is Potassium Nitrate. In comparison, Ammonium Phosphate has an NPK value of roughly 11-50-0.
The opinions on the ideal NPK ratio for cannabis will vary greatly, but most can agree that the plants like a different blend of nutrients throughout the different life-cycle stages (vegetating vs and budding). The most organic way to balance your soil is to add things like Fish meal or blood meal (for Nitrogen), bone meal or bat guano (for Phosphorus), and wood ash or kelp meal (for Potassium).
Most professional marijuana experts recommend that first time marijuana growers use marijuana-specific fertilizers. They are available online and in states where marijuana prohibition no longer exists. Using a cannabis-specific fertilizer is the best way to get maximum yields, as well as supplying the proper soil conditions detailed above. Keep in mind that newly transplanted seedlings grown from seed won’t require nutrient feeds right away. The seed pod itself contains the nutritional energy the plant needs for its first three to four weeks of growth.
Potting Soil vs Natural Soil
When answering the question of “What is the best soil for marijuana?”, it’s nearly impossible to say that any naturally occurring outdoor soil is better than the pre-packaged soils designed by horticultural experts. These soils include popular brands such as Miracle-Gro, available online and in stores. Natural outdoor soil can become nearly as good as a potting soil with a lot of work and preparation.
Getting natural outdoor soil up to a competitive level with bagged soil requires ordering a soil test from a specialized lab and then performing their recommended adjustments. This process can take quite a long time and sometimes even involves several seasons to get right. Marijuana experts recommended that first time growers amend the soil before their first planting with products designed to promote blooming. The supplements needed by any given area depend upon the result of one’s soil analysis. Many excellent products for amending the soil are commercially available.
Planters vs. Planting in the Ground
The biggest question that first time marijuana growers should answer is this: do I use planters or plant directly in the ground? There are pros and cons to each option. The major advantage of planting directly in the ground is that it saves the grower the startup cost of having the purchase planters. Cannabis grown in planters can be moved from one place to another readily with a wagon or dolly, offering advantages we will discuss shortly. By filling planters with prepared soil you will be sure to have an isolated sterile environment that will also be repeatable for maximal success.
Having mobile plants is helpful to first time growers for two reasons: sunlight and discretion. Getting the sun to hit just right—especially for plants that most growers wish to remain hidden—is a difficult art that takes a fair amount of trial and error. Mobility is also an advantage if you have very unpredictable weather that could threaten the health of your outdoor plants (i.e. heavy rains or very strong winds).
Vegetable gardening is not the same thing as growing outdoor cannabis plants. Even those with relevant experience in growing plants indoors or in regular gardens may not have attempted to calculate sunlight angles in the middle of a wooden thicket before. In some cases, creative growers may also set up mirrors around their garden to maximize the amount of sun reaching the different parts of the plant.
If the grower discovers that an in-ground cannabis plant is not receiving enough sunlight, he or she has only two choices: dig up the plant or cut back the foliage. Digging up the plant could easily kill it. Cutting back the foliage could leave the plant dangerously exposed to discovery by drones and helicopters.
For growers specifically concerned with protecting their outdoor marijuana plants from discovery, planters can be strategically beneficial. Instead of having an entire crop hidden in one location, growers move potted plants from one hiding place to the next, rotating them as needed without risk of harm to the plant. If thieves discover and steal one plant, the rest may still have a chance.
Another benefit of planters is that they enable the grower to control the water level in their soil. Normally the challenge of controlling water levels only involves making sure the plant gets enough water, but a major consideration of all outdoor marijuana growers is what to do in the event of the plants getting too much water. Harsh weather circumstances such as abnormally high rainfall or flash flooding can mean the death of an entire outdoor marijuana crop if the plants are directly in-ground. Using planters enables prudent growers to insulate themselves against these and other unforeseeable circumstances.
Getting the best soil for outdoor marijuana growing is both a science and an art. Preparing the perfect soil for outdoor marijuana to flourish, takes a significant amount of investigation, testing, and planning. There is no greater teacher than experience with trial and error, so you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and expect to make a few mistakes near the beginning.
The best advice for those that are inexperienced with horticultural pursuits is to use purchased soils and mobile planters, at least for their first season. This allows new growers to have the greatest amount of control and the least amount of risk while pulling off a successful crop of potent marijuana buds.
Purchased soil means properly balanced acidity, ideal drainage abilities, and adequate nutrition for the plant. Planters mean adjustability, privacy and insurance against weather-related plant disasters. Experiment with other options along the way, but use these growing tips while you get started in order to protect your investment. Start with high-quality cannabis seeds from i49 USA.
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