On this blog I have covered various aspects of growing autoflowering cannabis plants indoors but now is the time to take a look at what autoflowers can do outside. Because cannabis laws have been improving in various places around the world the underground cannabis growing community has started to migrate from indoor grow operations to outdoor growing because outdoors you don’t need to supply any light and ventilation to your plants and so growing plants is much more economical. And usually, the buds that are grown outside taste better and have a better visual appearance (bud appeal) than the ones that are grown indoors and that is because as much as we can try to emulate the sunlight by using various light sources they still will not come close to the full spectrum light that our nearest star produces. Outside autoflowers will get better light (including UV radiation, that is beneficial for trichome production), as well as they will get a lot more CO2 that allows these plants to have a higher metabolism and faster growth. Of curse there are also some drawbacks to outdoor growing as you have much less control about all the variables and a nasty storm can ruin your crop but if you take precautions then you can create a great harvest even in places where the summers are just 3 months long.
When you are thinking about growing autoflowers outdoors the timing is maybe the most crucial part because you need to time your grow perfectly to get the most amount of sunlight. If you live in a place where the summer is 6 to 8 month long you can have 3 to 4 perpetual harvests in the same year but even if you are in a place where the summer lasts only 4 to 5 months you can manage to get multiple harvests with these autoflowering strains. Autoflowers allow growers to get early buds early in the season when the regular strains have not even started to flower yet and if you plant your garden in the right way you can even have a harvest every week starting from mid-summer. To get the timing right you need to know the approximate flowering and growing time of the strain that you will be growing so that you can start the next seeds right before the harvest of the first crop. But you will also need to know your climate so you can start your growing season as fast as possible but don’t do it too early, damaging your plants from the cold weather.
Nutrients & Soil
When growing cannabis outside, contrary to popular belief you still need to get great nutrients and a decent soil to get great buds because planting a seed in an infertile soil will not result in anything remotely close to a great harvest. Of course, you can simply plant your seeds in the dirt if you have a yard with a great soil where you regularly plant vegetables or spices. But for the rest of us, we need to use other methods in order to get great yield from our autoflowers.
- Plant directly into the soil – The easiest method is to simply plant your seeds inside the soil and hope there are enough nutrients for your plant to survive and the conditions will be just right for that seed germination. Autoflowers usually are very tough plants but every challenge and obstacle that those plants will need to overcome will result in a lower yield. There are many cases where you can simply put a seed into the ground and watch it grow but this obviously is not the best way to grow cannabis outdoors.
- Grow outdoors in a pot – The second easiest method that you can use is to just grow you autoflower plant in a regular pot or growing container but put that plant outdoors. With this method, you will definitely get much better yields because the growing medium in most cases will be better and more nutrient-rich. If you do this then it is best to get a larger pot because outdoors your plants will get bigger and that means more root mass that cat easily get potbound in a smaller growing container. The bigger growing container will also mean fewer waterings and less maintenance!
- Transplanting from pot to soil – The third method that growers also like to use is to transplant a plant from the starting pot inside a hole that is filled with the same growing medium. Usually, you should dig a hole and line it with a wire mesh to protect your plant from moles and other critters and then fill it with the same growing medium that you started your seed inside. This method can be very effective but be careful with transplanting because autoflowers do not like this process.
- Bury a pot – To avoid the transplanting shock that can diminish your autoflower yield you can start your plant in a plastic container and when the time comes carefully cut off the bottom from the pot and put it inside the same soil outdoors. This method will allow you to start your plant indoors but will also allow it to thrive outdoors by giving the tap root more space to expand and to absorb more nutrients.
If we talk about outdoor growing and nutrients then usually growers swear by using only organic nutrients like compost, cow and chicken manure, bat guano, wood ash, blood meal, earthworm castings, perlite, Epsom salts and many many more. These organic substances usually are considered safer and better for the cannabis plant as well as for humans because we use these plants by smoking or ingesting them. But as far as I am aware there are no exact scientific case studies where people have grown plants side by side with organic and inorganic nutrients and tested the results. Of course, there are many grow journals doing the same exact thing and usually, the results are mixed at best and there is no way of telling which one is “tastier” or “smoother”. Growing organically will usually result in lower yields than growing with chemical fertilizers and I doubt that there is any difference between the two because most of our food crops from corn to potatoes are grown with chemical fertilizers.
Growing cannabis outdoors usually means growing it in the most natural way and that is why people usually use organic fertilizers and nutrients. Usually, it is enough to just supply your autoflower plants with great soil that is pre-mixed with various organic substances. And because autoflowers usually live only 60 to 90 days, this pre-mixed medium will be more than enough to supply the needed nutrients throughout the entire lifespan of your plant. But if you see some leaf yellowing or other signs of nutrient deficiencies then you can always add more organic substances to your growing medium.
Watering your plants outdoors is much more hands-off job than with indoor growing because indoors you will usually need to water your plants every couple of days but outdoors the rain will most likely help you and you will need to water your plants only a couple of times throughout their lifetime. Of course, it is a whole different approach if you grow outdoors but still in closed growing containers because then you will still need to constantly check the growing medium and water it as there is not enough growing medium around the plant to soak up all that rainwater and then slowly release it to those roots. Outdoors you don’t need to worry about overwatering your plants because the soil will act as a buffer and will not flood those roots with too much water and only in some extreme cases where there is a rainfall every single day for a week then your plant could start to show some signs of overwatering.
Cannabis is still illegal to cultivate in most of the world and that means people need to grow their plants stealthy without any unwanted eyes watching over them. And for this purpose autoflowering plants have many advantages as they usually stay small (except super autoflower strains) and they can be ready from seed to harvest in 70 to 90 days. These smaller plants can flower much earlier than the regular photo-sensitive strains and you will be able to harvest your crops even before other strains will start their flowering process. Autoflowers are great plants to have if secrecy is one of your main concerns and you can easily hide them between some large tomato plants or even some high growing weeds but because of this small size don’t expect the yield to be the same as it is for photosensitive strains. Smaller autoflower strains will usually yield you somewhere between 20 to 40 grams but if you grow more plants you will be able to get more yield!
Plant and forget?
The thing that attracts most growers to the outdoor growing is the “plant and forget” method that basically means that you can find a spot where to grow your plants, put a seed right into the soil or transplant a small seedling and after a couple of months harvest a great crop without any maintenance. Of course with this growing method you will not get the best yields and probably your plants will have bigger chances of dying from many different sources but the beauty of this method is in numbers as you can plant dozens or even hundreds of plants and even if half of them will not survive you will still have a very meaningful yield without any maintenance work whatsoever. And with autoflowers this method is even more spectacular because you can harvest all your same strain plants at the same time and approximately know the time when they should be ready for harvest so you can just go and cut down the ones that survived on their own. Of course, there are many levels or “plant and forget” starting from complete autonomy to visiting your plants several times in their lifetime to trim the surrounding weeds and water them. But in general, this method is used in very stealthy grow operations where you don’t want to be caught growing and because of that plant your seeds in remote areas that you visit only a couple of times. If you do this then you should definitely use feminized seeds because regular seeds will produce 50:50 males and females and all your females will have useless buds full of seeds!
Rogue pollen and seed production
Growing cannabis outdoors poses a risk that rogue pollen from nearby cannabis male plants can pollinate your seedless females and ruin your crop. But this is the risk that outdoor growers are willing to take and usually a couple of seeds will not be the end of your harvest and can even be beneficial in creating your next crop. It is said that in strong winds cannabis pollen can travel several miles and that means even if you live in a remote part of the world there can be some wild cannabis males in your surrounding area that can pollinate your females. Usually, there is little you can do to prevent this but creating a high fence that will not allow wind to travel freely can help a bit but in general, you just have to hope for the best and understand that there is nothing you can do to prevent or decrease this risk.
Outdoor yield & harvest
Outdoor autoflower yield and harvest time is very heavily dependent of the growing conditions the time of the year and the strain that you are growing. If you want to grow multiple harvests every year then usually the best yield will be from the plants that get the most amount of sunlight and the most favourable conditions. Because autoflowers have a pre-set life cycle you need to create a comprehensive grow plan before you start growing to get the most out of your growing conditions. You should plant your grow operation so that the summer solstice falls right in the middle of your plant’s life cycle as that will ensure that your autoflower will get the most sunlight and that in turn will increase the growth and the end yield of those dried flowers. Usually, outdoors growers get smaller yields than indoors but that heavily depends on the growing conditions as there are places where in the summer the sun shines almost 24 hours a day and that will be the same light cycle as you would grow your plants indoors on a 20/4 or 18/6 light cycle. But in general, you should expect smaller yield from a single plant but because outdoors you can grow your autos in an unlimited amount of space you can create a horizontal field full with autoflowers and get a yield that an indoor grower can’t even dream about.
Critters / Molds / bugs
And the last thing that we need to look at is the risk insects, mold and different critters that can damage or completely ruin your grow. There’re some preventive measures you can take starting from creating a wire mesh beneath your root mass to enclosing your plant in a chicken wire so critters can’t get close to it but there is little you can do to prevent mold and smaller bugs to infest your crops. But the good part is that usually outdoors the weather is harsher with heavy winds and rainfalls and that means all the insects like spider mites and aphids will not be able to start a colony on your plant.