Welcome to Leafly’s cannabis homegrow! Watch as our writer Johanna Silver grows a set of marijuana plants from seed to harvest in her backyard in Northern California. Check back every week for a new post, and be sure to follow #Leaflyhomegrow on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Also, check out her book, Growing Weed in the Garden: A No-Fuss, Seed-to-Stash Guide to Outdoor Cannabis Cultivation.
Seeds vs. clones, April 28
The weather is finally springy in Berkeley. Highs in the upper sixties or low seventies. Sunshine. It feels great. The seedlings are growing happily in their merry little greenhouse. Honestly, beyond checking on them to make sure the soil stays moist and ogling their adorable little leaves, there isn’t much to do, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to tell you a bit more about why I prefer starting from seed.
As I talked about in my first post, seed-starting can be daunting for a lot of folks. They assume they’ll just grab a clone and have better luck. But this is actually super misleading. When you start a seed, it’s a juvenile plant. It’s raring to go. It forms a thick taproot that shoots straight down into the soil, anchoring the plant. It’s juvenile state actually makes it quite agile, able to roll with the punches, be it some temperature swings or imperfect light conditions. It’s likely to hang out and grow for a while without snapping into its flowering stage—which you don’t want to happen too early or you’ll be left with a measly harvest.
The other way to go with weed is to get a clone. My first beef with clones has to do with nomenclature. In no other part of gardening is something called a clone. Normally, we’d call this a vegetative cutting. But anyway, nomenclature aside, a clone is not a seedling (meaning a seed that someone’s started to get a jump start on it for you). It’s a cutting of a “mother” plant that’s been selected because it’s been deemed desirable. Shoots are cut off the mother and rooted into soil. And voila—cutting/clone. Clones never form taproots. Instead, they form fibrous root systems—thin, stringy roots that have the same diameter. They’re a lot weaker when it comes to anchoring the plant into the ground and being able to dig deep for nutrients.
Beyond the root system, clones aren’t babies. Although small, they’re mature plants and they’re not half as forgiving when it comes any mishaps with light or temperature. Clones are much more likely to snap into flowering if you plant them outside too early, before they have a full day’s worth of sunshine.
Lastly, you have to be a lot more careful acclimating a clone to your garden over the course of about a week in a process known as hardening off. Basically, they’re going through a massive transition having been grown indoors in artificial light, and you have to go nice and slow in getting them used to the garden. Shade the first few days, followed by increasing amounts of sunlight until those ladies can handle full sun. All that moving back and forth is too much work for me.
People choose clones because they’re a guarantee replica of the mother plant. It’s a female. You know what it is. Bam. With weed seeds, there’s always some element of mystery. This is because prohibition has made the industry less reliable in terms of proper breeding and stable genetics. When I first started growing, this SHOCKED me. But you know what? Now I see it as part of the fun. It’s all part of the wild experiment that is growing weed.
How to water seedlings, April 21
There’s not a ton to do as we wait for all of our seeds to sprout. So, let’s talk for a minute about watering. Seedbeds need to be kept evenly moist through germination. “Evenly moist” is a term we throw around in gardening. It means wet but not soggy. It also means all the way through the bed. When the little babies do germinate, they have root systems about as long as the sprout is on top, which is to say, quite short. And that area needs to stay nice and moist to keep the plant alive. Here I’ve thrown in some of my radishes and other veggies with the weed seedlings.
The very best way to water is to use a shower setting—either on the end of a watering can or as the setting on a hose nozzle. I’m sorry if this is painfully obvious for you, but trust me, for others—it’s not. For example, I see a lot of misting of seeds. No dice. Won’t get the job done. You need that whole mass of seed bed to be moist. Shower setting. Nothing harder. Irrigate until you see water coming out of the bottom of the containers.
A wise farm manager once taught me that the trick when watering small plants is to keep moving; keep moving the hand that’s doing the watering and keep moving your body up and down the length of the bed. This might be overkill if you’ve just started a few seeds, but it’s good info to keep in mind if and when you start a whole bun of seeds or even plant a whole bunch of small transplants.
Sprouting seedlings, April 14
The babies are sprouting! So far, I’ve got 5 out of 6 showing their green. I’m certain the others will bring up the rear quickly.
Emerging first are the cotyledon leaves—small round ones that don’t look like weed leaves—because they’re not! Cotyledon leaves are embryonic. They’re actually part of the seed. They help the plant access stored nutrients as the plant gets up and running with photosynthesis.
Any flowering plant has cotyledon leaves. Basically, any plant except those that come from spores (think: ferns) and evergreens (which produce cones) start with cotyledons, so they might look wildly familiar if you’ve ever started anything else from seed in your garden. The radish seeds I’ve got right next door to these are also sporting their cotyledons—similarly round, succulent-ish leaves.
What’s cool about cotyledon leaves is that they’re the only part of a cannabis plant that doesn’t have THC in them. It’s possible to take the leaves and mail them off to a lab for genetic testing to find out the sex of the plants long before waiting the many weeks it otherwise takes for them to start flowering to tell the difference. And since there’s no THC, you’ve not broken any laws by mailing a part of the plant.
I’ve done that in the past, using Phylos. Steep Hill is another great option. The process is fun: You mash the cotyledon onto special paper and mail it. You feel like a scientist. A few days later, you get results on who among your babies is female, and who is male. It can be especially helpful if you’ve not got the room to grow out all of your seedlings until they start flowering and reveal their sex.
I’m forgoing it this year. I’ve got time. I’ve got space (sort of). Mostly, I didn’t start a crazy amount of plants and I’m just going to give them all some time to show me who’s who and what’s what.
It’s been raining like cats and dogs around here. I’m all for it. The seedlings are in the little plastic greenhouse, so I still have to pop out there every day or two to make sure the seedbed stays moist. Who’re we kidding? I check on them like 8 times a day. I love baby seedlings. Of any kind.
Putting seeds in the ground, April 7
Hello fellow weed growers!
I grow weed in my Berkeley, California, backyard, along with veggies, fruits, herbs, and cut flowers. While info resources abound for the other crops I grow, sensible, accessible, outdoor only, garden-scale, weed-growing info is hard to come by.
So, I’m here to help. My goal is to give you regular updates (weekly at first because so much happens early on!) on how to grow weed outside, in your garden, with as little extra fuss as possible. I’ll tell you exactly how I do it.
Today I started my seeds. Could have been anytime between late March and late April. I chose today because I had a spare moment, the sun was shining, and the toddler was sleeping.
I’m growing three cultivars this year:
Genetics by The Humboldt Seed Company.
Chosen because it has crazy looking leaves that don’t resemble that classic cannabis leaf.
Genetics by The Humboldt Seed Company.
Chosen because it also has beautiful leaves, albeit more classically cannabis. I met this plant in person a few years back at a pheno-hunt and it looked so unique. Much more ornamental. It’s also 1:1 THC:CBD and mama could use something calming.
Cherry Pie x Chem Lemon
Seeds given to me by a friend and expert East Bay grower who has a seed collective.
Chosen because he told me it is beautiful and smells great.
If it isn’t glaringly obvious: I choose plants based on smell and looks. After all, I’m a gardener more than a weed connoisseur. Oh, but weed connoisseurs tell me my weed is legit. So, you’re good learning from me. Promise.
I’m only growing three plants total this year—two in the ground and one in a pot. The legal limit for homegrowing cannabis in California is six plants, but I want to keep some room for my veggies. I’m only starting four seeds of each cultivar. I trust that at least one of four seeds of each kind will turn out to be a female (we’ll get to sexing plants in a few weeks, but you always want to start off with 3-4 times the number of plants you’ll end up with).
I grow entirely outside. No lights, no mats. I’ll tuck them in a small plastic greenhouse to keep them safe and just a little warmer and cozier.
I start my seeds in fresh potting soil, scooped into 4-inch nursery containers I’ve amassed over the years. Seeds needn’t be planted deep—twice as deep as the seed is wide, is the rule of thumb with most seeds.
Absolutely crucial: labels. Don’t make the mistake of swearing you’ll remember. You won’t. Pro tip: Get a Sharpie Extreme. They’re the only ones that are actually permanent in outdoor conditions.
I’ll keep the soil moist through germination, which likely means a daily splash of water from a gentle setting (not “mist,” but like, “shower”) on the hose nozzle. Strong enough to drench it, but not so hard as to blast the seeds away.
In past years, I’ve pre-sprouted seeds in wet paper towel—a great thing to do if you have old seeds and want to test their viability before using unnecessary soil. I’ve also soaked them in water for 24 hours, something that can speed up germination. But, my seeds are good. I am in no rush, so straight into the soil they went.
Check back next week to see these seeds start to pop out of the soil!