Autoflower vs Feminised outdoor cannabis growing
The outdoor grower’s guide part 1
As the new year starts, outdoor cannabis growers start looking at their calendar and planning the year ahead. The winter is a good time to prepare existing grow locations, dig over and improve the soil and perhaps look out for some new grow locations.
For most outdoor weed growers, planning will focus on a blend of autoflowering cannabis seeds complemented by some feminised outdoor cannabis seeds. Autoflower seeds grow from seed to harvest in around half the time of the feminised outdoor seeds, but may not have quite the same yields.
Exactly how your planning, timing and grow preparation is organised will depend on your latitude and outdoor conditions. Many outdoor cannabis growers will harvest an entire years worth of cannabis from just a few well grown outdoor weed seeds. If you select your cannabis seeds wisely and plan your grow carefully you too can plan to successfully harvest a years worth of cannabis from just a few plants.
Your plans will need to be adjusted according to the climate you are growing in and the length of your growing season. Growing cannabis outdoors isn’t difficult. Even if you are growing at harsh northern European latitudes, it’s still easy to grow cannabis outdoors with a little bit of upfront planning. Read on this first part of our outdoor grower’s guide to learn how to pick the right seeds and plan your grow accordingly.
Choosing the best outdoor cannabis seeds
The two main seed choices are autoflowering seeds and feminised outdoor cannabis seeds. In general, you can expect photoperiod feminised strains to grow outdoors over a 5-6 month time period.
With such a long growth cycle you can expect heavy harvests. Grow proven outdoor cannabis cup winning strains such as Frisian Dew and you can expect harvests of over a Kg per plant in good conditions. Dutch Passion have several cup winning outdoor strains in their collection. The full Dutch Outdoor seed collection is shown below. All the seeds will grow well outdoors in climates similar to that of The Netherlands.
One downside of growing feminised photoperiod outdoor strains is that you could lose the entire crop if the plants don’t finish before the bad winter weather arrives. That’s why many outdoor growers like to grow a few autoflower seeds as well. It’s extra insurance in case you get unlucky with bad end-of-season weather which can reduce photoperiod harvest quantities.
Autoflower seeds tend to grow from seed to harvest outdoors in around 100-110 days. That’s much faster than feminised photoperiod seeds. Many people that grow in the shortest of summers, e.g. Scandinavia strongly prefer the fast-growth characteristics of autoflower seeds. For some growers with tough climates, autoflower seeds are simply the only realistic way of getting an outdoor cannabis crop to finish in time. For many growers, autoflower seeds are a great way to complement feminised seeds.
Autoflower vs feminised seeds outdoor pros and cons
Autoflower seeds will often produce somewhat smaller harvests, yields of around 50-75 grams per plant are not unusual for the auto grower. In good conditions, harvesting a couple of hundred grams of dried bud from an auto is quite possible. Whereas a large feminised photoperiod outdoor strain could easily yield a Kg or more of dry bud in optimised conditions.
Autoflower plants will often remain around a metre in height and are convenient/easy to grow and hide outdoors. Strong growing outdoor strains such as Passion #1 can reach several metres tall. This may be perfect for a large private back garden but not suitable for those in more urban locations. There are times when the outdoor cannabis grower will want to grow an auto and other times when they have the time and space for a large photoperiod feminised plant.
The experienced outdoor grower will understand the occasionally contrasting benefits/features of autoflower seeds vs feminised seeds and will often use both cannabis seed types to maximise their chances of success. Remember quality levels from the best autoflower seeds are now definitely on the same level as those from the best feminised strains. This review about the THC levels of 25.9% seen on Dutch Passion, Auto Cinderella Jack may inspire you to try growing autoflower seeds!
The skilled outdoor grower has a good understanding of the challenges faced at that particular latitude. For some growers at mediterranean latitudes, many feminised strains are likely to finish before the winter weather arrives.
However, for growers at non-tropical, temperate latitudes, only selected fast feminised strains such as Frisian Dew or Think Fast will finish in time. For those growers at extreme latitudes, only autoflower seeds are likely to finish before the end of season bad weather arrives. Having a realistic expectation of what can be achieved at your particular grow location/latitude is one of the most important skills for any outdoor cannabis grower.
First time outdoor growing with autoflower seeds
If you have never grown cannabis outdoors before it can seem like a challenge. However, growing cannabis outdoors really is easy. It has been happening in nature for thousands of years without human intervention.
If it is your first outdoor cannabis grow then it may make sense to keep things as simple as possible and start with a few autoflower seeds. Not only will the plants be ready faster than with photoperiod feminised seeds, the plants will remain smaller. This makes them easier to hide, simplifying your first outdoor grow.
How to plan your outdoor cannabis grow the right way
Preparing your ground / soil carefully
Many serious outdoor growers start their planning well in advance. Often, the grow locations will have been used for several years and the grower has fully grasped the importance of preparing the ground/soil professionally.
A few months before the grow begins the grower may well choose to dig over the ground. This may be hard work, but it breaks up the soil and allows it to be oxygenated. This makes it easier for the plants to establish healthy root networks. If the soil quality is poor, manure/fertiliser can be added well in advance of the seedlings being planted.
Any unwanted bushes/wild plants can be removed from the area. So can any plants which would obstruct light to your grow location. Some pro-growers will plant brambles and other plants which will act as deep perimeter protection for the cannabis plants. Often, large outdoor rural cannabis grows are surrounded on all 4 sides by deliberately planted/managed ‘protection’ plants which keep away unwanted wild animals, dog walkers and people.
Some people grow on waste urban land. Other prefer the rural seclusion of the countryside, forests, river banks or field corners for their guerrilla growing activities. Dutch Passion also have a High Altitude seed collection. These strains were selectively bred at high altitudes in the Swiss Alps and are perfect for anyone facing the combined challenge of outdoor growing in high altitude mountainous regions.
Know your climate and frost risks well
Knowing when the last Spring frost is likely is an important date for any outdoor cannabis grower. Likewise, knowing when the first frost of fall/autumn is expected at your grow location is another important date for the outdoor grower. Many outdoor cannabis growers will germinate their seeds indoors.
This allows them to grow their seeds under optimised indoor conditions before the outdoor weather is good enough to use. By initially germinating and growing their ‘outdoor seeds’ indoors, the plants are protected from the worst of the early-season weather. Plants can be gradually acclimatised to outdoor conditions for a few hours each day until the plants are strong enough to be permanently placed outdoors. By starting your seeds/plants early indoors you increase the chances of producing a larger plant with subsequently heavier harvests.
The challenges of growing cannabis in borderline climates
Anyone that has grown cannabis at northern European Latitudes will understand the difficulties involved in trying to grow cannabis outdoors in marginal conditions.
Often, growers will germinate their cannabis seeds around mid-May and keep their cannabis seeds indoors until the weather has warmed up sufficiently. Seedlings are often planted outdoors in June. Autos are often ready to harvest in August. Photoperiod outdoor feminised strains will often be ready to harvest around October.
If the growing season is just a little bit too short/unpredictable to grow feminised strains then autoflower seeds are the best option.
Germinate seeds indoors in plenty of time
Many successful outdoor weed growers plan the grow season well in advance. Often, they are fully prepared with their preferred autoflower seeds and feminised outdoor seeds that were bought ahead of time. Some of the best prepared outdoor growers will have several years worth of seeds safely stored in their fridge/freezer so they are always prepared. Very often, the best prepared outdoor growers will spread their favourite seeds across several grow locations. This maximises the chances of a successful harvest if one of the grow locations is compromised/discovered.
Autoflower seeds may not have quite the same yield potential as a feminised outdoor strain – which may have twice the amount of time to grow in. But auto seeds do offer a rapid life cycle which is ideally suited to growers with short growing seasons. For some outdoor cannabis growers with short seasons, autoflowering cannabis seeds are simply the only realistic option when it comes to outdoor growing.
By the time the last Spring frost has gone, the well prepared outdoor cannabis growers already have their seedlings growing strongly indoors, ready to be eventually planted out. This gives them a good head start and maximises the chances of an optimised grow season.
When pre-growing autoflowers indoors it is important to know that is not recommended to keep them longer than 2-2.5 weeks in small containers, between 0.25-1L of soil. With photoperiod plants this can be closer to 4 weeks, but bear in mind that these plants can get root-bound too. Autoflowers need to be transplanted to their eventual pot or the outdoor soil before they get root-bound. Staying too long in a small container will cause autoflowers to stay small and yield much less.
Growing autoflower seeds outdoors, several crops per season
With their fast growth cycle, many outdoor growers enjoy growing two or even three successive outdoor auto crops per year. Growers in sunny mediterranean climates should find it is possible to grow 3 successive outdoor autoflower seed crops. But even growers in northern Europe may be able to produce two successive outdoor auto crops each year. This Scandinavian outdoor grower from Denmark managed to get two outdoor auto crops in one season. Maybe you could do the same?
If you do decide to grow autoflower seeds outdoors then you are spoilt for choice. There have never been as many high quality auto strains available to choose from. If you are having difficulty deciding then check out this review may give you some inspiration.
Top 5 autoflower strains
Planting your outdoor cannabis plants in containers or the ground?
If you grow your cannabis seeds in containers you benefit from the fact that your plants can be moved if required. This could be useful for e.g. security purposes or if bad weather forces you to change plans. But growing your cannabis plants in containers means that they will need regular watering/feeding.
This could become inconvenient, for that reason many outdoor weed growers like to root their plants directly into the ground. If the ground contains good quality, moist and nutritious soil then you won’t need to worry too much about plant maintenance – mother nature will take care of much of the work. All you will need to do is water in the event of a drought and perhaps add some general purpose bloom nutrients as bloom progresses.
One other possibility is to use a completely organic nutrient line like Biotabs. These are slow release organic nutrients which contain all the helpful nutrients. These can be placed in the soil before the grow starts. This way your outdoor plants are sure to have the right nutritional value and minerals during their entire growth cycle.
Greenhouses, poly tunnels and black-out blinds
Using a polytunnel or greenhouse allows the outdoor cannabis grower to protect their plants from the worst of the early season and late season weather. For those lucky enough to have the chance to grow in greenhouses or poly tunnels that can mean larger harvests. Sharp frosts won’t damage your plants, especially if you have a greenhouse heater. Your plants will also be protected from heavy wind and rain storms.
Some greenhouses can be equipped with specialist blacks-out blinds. These allow the greenhouse grower to artificially introduce 12/12 light conditions earlier than would be possible with the natural sun cycle. This in turn can offer advantages, for example the chance to harvest the greenhouse cannabis crop much earlier than normal.
Think about protecting your outdoor cannabis plants
Protecting your precious cannabis plants is always a priority for the outdoor cannabis grower. Often, the outdoor grower may deliberately plant thorny brambles around their outdoor plot. This protects your cannabis plants from grazing predators e.g. deer, goats, rabbits. But it may also deter and prevent accidental human discovery of your plants by dog walkers, hikers etc.
Outdoor growers will often use generous quantities of slug/snail pellets to protect their plants. Some will also use ‘chicken wire’ metal fencing around their plants to provide added protection.
Many experienced outdoor cannabis growers have realised the importance of continually looking for new grow locations, just in case one of their grow locations is accidentally compromised.
Have a plan to dry and cure your outdoor cannabis harvest
Even though you are planning to grow outdoor cannabis, you may be forced to create a safe indoor drying area. This is something you need to consider as part of your plans. In it’s simplest form, you can buy a small ‘drying’ tent. You would need an extraction fan and a carbon filter in order to dry your crop safely. The process would take around 7-10 days, after which you can think about transferring the dried buds to glass jars for curing.
Many outdoor growers forget about plans to dry/cure their harvested buds until it’s too late. When you plan your outdoor cannabis grow, think carefully about the process from start to finish. This means carefully planning everything from buying your cannabis seeds to planning the harvest/drying.
Outdoor cannabis grow checklist
For many experienced outdoor cannabis growers, planning and preparing for a successful grow comes naturally. For the rest of us, it helps to have a checklist of the most important aspects of the grow. Timings will vary from one grower to another. An outdoor grower in Spain will be busier early in the season than an outdoor grower in Scandinavia.
- Choose the right mix of autoflowering seeds and feminised seeds for your needs and climate.
- Find out the likely early/late season danger times for frost and ensure that your plants avoid it.
- Start seedlings indoors if necessary. This allows larger final plant sizes and heavier harvests.
- Plan and prepare several grow locations just in case one gets compromised.
- Optimise soil quality levels and dig in plenty of manure well before your seedlings arrive
- Consider how you will protect your plants from pests and predators at your grow locations.
- Avoid too many trips to your outdoor grow locations to prevent unwanted attention.
- Plant sufficient numbers of seeds for your needs as not all your plants will reach maturity.
- Have a safe plan for drying your outdoor cannabis harvest.
Enjoy outdoor cannabis growing!
Once you have mastered the art of planning a successful outdoor grow you will truly enjoy it!
Be patient, it can take a year or two to fully understand the type of climate you have and how best to exploit it with autoflower seeds and feminised outdoor seeds. But once you have established yourself with a few good outdoor grow locations you will love the process of growing your own outdoor weed.
You will have very few costs to worry about and will enjoy the chance to get outdoors and enjoy growing your plants. Many outdoor growers feel that outdoor grown weed has an extra ‘kick’ and flavour which is hard to match from indoor grown cannabis. One thing which is indisputable are the low costs required to grow outdoor cannabis. Your main expense will be the cost of a couple of packs of good quality outdoor cannabis seeds.
Growing cannabis outdoors easily
Remember there are no special secrets to growing cannabis successfully outdoors. You just need to know about your growing season and which cannabis types will be able to grow successfully outdoors.
Choosing the right cannabis seeds is the most important first decision. Most climates allow a sunny/warm 3-month period which would allow autoflower seeds to be grown.
If you are lucky you will also be able to grow some feminised outdoor cannabis seeds which have a slightly longer life cycle. Choose your cannabis seeds wisely from a proven supplier and enjoy outdoor cannabis cultivation!