Ever been disheartened because your marijuana plant didn’t grow quite as big as the breeder promised? Follow these 10 simple steps and learn how to increase yields when you are growing cannabis.
Breeders and seed banks often state how much a marijuana plant can yield under ideal conditions, when grown by an expert. So to get the most out of your cannabis plant it’s time to start growing like one. It really isn’t that difficult, there are many ways to increase yield and this article will talk you through the most effective ways of doing this.
Whether you’re a seasoned grower or a complete newbie, follow these steps and you will have a monster cannabis plant in no time.
Increasing yields is a big subject to cover in just one article, so to make this easy to follow we have divided the article into short chapters. Each chapter will give you a brief explanation on the subject with a link to a more comprehensive article that will give a detailed understanding on that particular topic.
Step 1: Pick a growing space that is suitable for high yield strains
Once you have settled on the perfect strain, you need to make sure you have enough room for your grow. There is no point ordering the best seeds in the world and only having a small tent to grow them in, so plan your grow first by knowing how much space you have available. As a rule of thumb, if you are growing indoors and you want to increase yields on a large plant such as Big Bud, then having around four square feet of grow space per plant should be plenty. So, for example if you are growing Big Bud and lets say you have roughly 16 square feet of space, then I would recommend a 4×4 foot (48 inches) tent that is 6.5 feet (78 inches) tall which should comfortably fit four large plants.
The height of the plant is also another aspect to consider, if you are growing your cannabis plants outdoors where space is unlimited then this isn’t going to be an issue, but if you are growing them indoors then you are limited by the height of your ceiling or grow tent and it can become difficult to give proper light coverage to very tall plants. For example, if you are growing in a tent that is only 6 feet tall and your plant reaches a similar height, unless you use techniques such as LST (Low Stress Training), the top of your plant will end up so close to the lights they will get burned, whereas the bottom of the plant will be so shaded that it only gets a fraction of the light that it needs. Therefore if you are limited on space you may be best off choosing a strain that stays shorter such as an autoflower or indica dominant variety.
You can still get big yields, but you need to be realistic and work with what space you have, choosing an autoflowering strain such as Purple Skunk Auto will allow you to grow bigger yields in a relatively small space.
Outdoor growing = bigger yields
If you are fortunate enough to live in a country where the weather is good, growing outdoors is always preferable. You wont have to buy a tent, lighting rig or pots, and if your soil is good then you don’t even need to worry about nutrients or growing mediums, you just let mother nature do its work. So if you do have an outdoor space this is definitely something to consider.
However, the downsides to growing outdoors are that your crop is not protected from the elements, you don’t have control over the climate, or potential pests in the environment and there is also the risk of theft. You do also need to think about your neighbours, not everyone is as accepting of cannabis growing as you are. Outdoor growing may be best suited to those who have big enough gardens that the plants can be kept hidden away from prying eyes.
Step 2: Use big pots
If you have made the decision to grow your cannabis plants indoors, aside from the actual growing space itself, another very important aspect that should not be overlooked is pot size. When you are growing indoors it is vital that you choose the correct pot size for the plants that they will hold, plants can grow in any pot, but if you want big yields then you need equally large pots. If you were to grow a large yielding cannabis strain such as Big Bud or Critical Mass in a small pot that is only 1-2 gallons in size, it will still grow perfectly fine for the first couple of months, but will soon be root bound and its growth will come to a halt.
I always use the rule of 1 month = 1 gallon. So, if you have a plant that is going to be growing for 4 months, you need a 4 gallon pot. This is just a rough guide and you should also take into consideration the strain that you have and how big its average yields are.
1 Month = 1 Gallon
There are plenty of different types of plant pots to choose from, all with their pro’s and con’s.
Basic plastic or terracotta plant pots that you would normally use in your garden, these are perfectly fine to use, they are cheap and available from any garden centre. However make sure they have drainage holes in the bottom, because some of them don’t and this can lead to root rot.
Smart pots (image right)
These are made of a breathable sack-like fabric that allows air to circulate the roots and water to drain out. They are excellent for first time growers who could be more prone to under or over watering.
These are similar in principle to smart pots, but are made from plastic that contains small air holes covering the sides and bottom of the pot. The holes allow for air to circulate the roots and any excess water to drain out, because of this they do require watering more frequently. They are another great option for new growers because they are relatively low maintenance and prevent a lot of problems such as root rot, over watering or under watering ever occurring in the first place.
These are similar to standard plastic pots, however the difference is that instead of having drainage holes at the bottom of the pot they have holes on the side, usually an inch or two above the bottom. The purpose of this is so that when you water your plants the excess water will drain out of the side holes. The benefit of this is because the drainage holes are positioned a few inches above the ground, a small reservoir of water stays in the pot below the holes creating a moist environment for the roots, which prevents them from drying out. The downside to this is that it can sometimes lead to a build up of stagnant water & nutrients at the bottom of the bucket.
There are lots of different methods of hydroponic growing and this alone requires a separate subject to explain them all. However put simply hydroponics is growing without soil and usually using either clay pebbles, rockwool or coco coir. With hydroponics the plant grows into the soilless medium and there is usually a reservoir of water under the pot that the runoff water drains into, this is then pumped around in a continuous cycle.
The benefits to using hydroponics growing systems is that you can often get faster growth and increase cannabis yields, with less chance of pests. However, negatives are that the setup cost is greater and the system itself is complicated and requires more maintenance. For new growers before trying hydroponics, I would recommend first trying a standard soil grow to get you fully used to growing cannabis. Check our article on how to grow hydroponics for beginners.
Step 3: Choose high yielding strains
First and foremost, you need to choose the right strains. Without the right cannabis strains you will never get big yields from your grow. To give you an idea, cannabis strains that are specifically bred to be high yielding such as Big Bud and Critical Mass can yield upwards of 700g per square meter. Whereas if you grow the average autoflower strain, or even a low yielding photoperiod you are looking at somewhere between 200-400g per square meter. So, by simply choosing the right strains to grow with you are giving yourself every chance of increasing yields and growing bigger buds.
Secondly, you need to consider germination rates, if you buy ten seeds it is quite likely that when you try to germinate them one or two will be unsuccessful. Therefore as a rule of thumb I would advise purchasing 10-20% extra to account for this so that your overall yield is not compromised.
Regular or feminised cannabis seeds
You should also consider whether or not you are going to purchase regular or feminised seeds. Although much cheaper, regular seeds are as nature intended them and as such will grow into either a male or female plant. On average the male and female ratio is 50:50. Obviously, if you are purchasing regular seeds and plan to grow ten cannabis plants then I would advise purchasing twenty seeds to account for the loss of male plants.
You also need to make sure you pull out any male plants before they start to pollinate the rest of your crop, otherwise this could be disastrous for your entire grow. Read more about how to spot early signs of male plants if you are unsure how.
Because of this, particularly for beginners I would advise using feminised seeds. Many people prefer to use feminised seeds because you can guarantee that you will get female plants and therefore do not have the risk of your other plants being pollinated. Remember to account for any unexpected issues, if you purchase a few more seeds than you need, then you can simply store any that are leftover in a refrigerator until your next grow.
Indica, Sativa or Autoflower
The size of the strain is also something to consider, as mentioned previously if you are limited on grow space then choosing either an indica dominant strain or an autoflower will help you keep to the height of the plant under control. Strains such as Big Bud Auto will still give you big yields but with a more manageable sized plant.
If you are growing outdoors, then the type of strain is even more important. You should take into consideration the season that you will be growing in and what the weather is going to be like. Sativas prefer much hotter, humid climates and tend to grow very tall, whereas if you are growing in winter then indicas can handle slightly cooler climates, and autoflowers colder still.
Step 4: Cannabis growing mediums can increase yield
A Growing medium is what you use to grow your cannabis in, such as soil, pebbles, coco coir, water, rockwool, or anything else that you use to house your growing cannabis roots. There are three main types of cannabis growing mediums, soil or compost, soilless mixes, or hydroponics.
It is vital that you use a suitable growing medium because this directly impacts the health of your plant’s roots. Different growing mediums sometimes require different set-ups, for example, a basic soil medium will just require a pot and to be fed a couple of times per day, whereas hydroponics requires a more frequent supply of water and nutrients.
Cannabis plants can thrive in any of these growing mediums, providing your chosen medium consistently supplies the plants roots with access to water, oxygen, and nutrients.
Step 5: Without good grow lights you won’t increase yields
Cannabis plants like all other plants use photosynthesis to turn light into food, so without sufficient light, they will not grow big. Not enough light, or not enough of the right type of light, is the most common reason why many growers are not happy with their yields.
Lights can be quite complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. If your aim is to grow bigger buds, the most important thing is to make sure, as soon as the seed becomes a seedling it is getting enough light.
A tell-tale sign that a plant is not getting enough light is that it starts to grow tall and thin or lean at strange angles. This usually happens because the plant is stretching towards the closest light source, that is either too far away or not intense enough. Eventually this can lead to the main stalk snapping under the plants own weight. To prevent this from happening, you need to ensure that the plant is getting sufficient light intensity from seedling age, and that the light source is covering all of your plants evenly.
There are lots of different types of cannabis grow lights, it is important that you are using the right type for your plants, LED, CFL, HPS or HID’s are all good lights to grow cannabis under.
LED Lights (Light Emitting Diode)
LED lights are relatively new on the cannabis growing scene, however the technology behind them has improved massively in recent years and they are becoming ever more popular because they are energy efficient and stay much cooler, they also have a wider light spectrum than a standard light.
HPS (High Pressure Sodium)
The most common light that you see people growing with is a 600w HPS, these are high intensity lights that give off lots of heat so you will also need a ballast, reflector and a fan to keep the tent cool. It is really worth doing some research into types of lights before you begin your grow because they play a key role in how big your yields will be.
CFL (Compact Florescent Light)
The most common grow lights for first timers to use are CFL’s (image right), this is because they cheap and available from most hardware stores. Many full spectrum CFL bulbs from amazon cost just $10, so getting a few of these is great if you want to start out small with just one or two autoflowers.
For most indoor grows the most common way to increase yield is to simply get more high-quality intense light to the plant when it is in the flowering stage. There are a number or ways that you can do this such as training the plant, trimming the plant, adding more lights, using different light spectrums, using reflective materials inside the tent and even simply moving the light closer to the plants.
We could talk about lighting a lot more but to keep this article concise we have written a separate section dedicated to helping you choose what type of grow lights to use.
Step 6: Train your cannabis plants to grow bigger buds
Training involves manipulating the shape of the plant in a variety of ways, usually by either tying the branches down, bending them or trimming and cutting them in certain ways. In nature cannabis plants grow into a Christmas tree-like shape. The aim of training your plants is to encourage them to grow into a different shape that is more efficient at absorbing light.
In the wild, growing into a Christmas-tree like shape suits the plant perfectly, because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and the light covers the whole plant. However, when you are growing indoors with a fixed light source directly above the plant, the lower leaves and buds receive minimal light if the plant is left to grow into its natural shape. Therefore, it is important that you train your plants to adjust to their new environment if you want to increase yields.
There are three main ways to train your cannabis plant.
LST (Low Stress Training)
This involves manipulating the shape of the plant – This includes LST, ScrOG, Super Cropping & mainlining.
HST (High Stress Training)
HST is trimming or removing parts of the plant – This includes Topping, FIMing, Manifolding & Defoliation.
Manipulating the growth schedule
The aim of this method is to either speed up the grow so that a plant finishes faster or lengthening it to get bigger yields – This includes 12/12 light cycles from seed & Sea of Green.
Trellising is not normally thought of as a part of training but it can be necessary because training your plants increases the weight of the buds, and it is the branches that bear the brunt of the weight.
To help support the increased weight of the plant as it grows, a common gardening practise is to support the structure with something such as a bamboo stick. You can do this at any point during the plants life. Whenever you see that the plant is starting to bend under its weight, add a support in that should help the plant continue to grow.
It is sometimes necessary to do this when the plant is very young and its stem is still thin and frail. I normally use a bamboo stick and then tie the branches to the stick with string or cable ties.
Step 7: Water your cannabis plants correctly
Along with lighting, watering your plants is the most important aspect to growing healthy cannabis plants. It isn’t difficult to water your plants, however give them too much or too little and the results will affect their health. It is very important that you know how to both water your plants correctly and how to spot the signs of underwatering or overwatering. Spotting these signs early could save your grow.
If you are worried about over watering your plants, try growing them in smart pots. Smart pots are made of a sack like permeable material that allows water to drain through making it almost impossible to overwater.
Step 8: Use cannabis nutrients to improve yields
Growing cannabis can seem like a daunting task at the first glance. Everyone talks about light cycles, pH and nutrients, making it sound like a nightmare for newbie growers. However, growing cannabis is very similar to any other household plant and doesn’t have to be complicated.
Ensuring your plants have the right types of nutrients and in the right ratios is vital to increasing your yields. There are some growers that instead of using cannabis nutrients will prefer to grow organically, however either way the plant needs to get the right key nutrients to survive.
All plants have three major nutrients that they require for growth. A deficiency in them could result in stunted growth and a whole lot more problems as time progresses. NPK or Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium are the three main nutrients you need to look out for so we will discuss these first.
The most important nutrient when growing marijuana. Cannabis plants love nitrogen and they absorb nitrates from the soil insanely fast.
If you are growing organically, a good way to get nitrogen into the soil is by planting companion plants alongside your cannabis. Legume plants (beans & peas) naturally deposit nitrates into the soil by absorbing nitrogen from air. Nitrogen aids the creation of proteins and that helps the plant to grow. If you want bigger buds and high yields, having stable amounts of nitrates are important.
Phosphorus is what enables the plants to create energy for themselves. It plays a major factor in photosynthesis. It is also needed for growth and other metabolic purposes. Without phosphorus you are essentially starving your plant.
Potassium hardens the plant and gives it resistance by strengthening the roots of the plant. This makes it able to survive those rough cold and dry seasons. Lack of potassium can cause your plant to wilt and collapse. Other than its role in increasing a plant’s resistance to disease, it is also known to improve the quality of the buds.
Step 9: Control your grow room climate
Most growers that are just starting out don’t usually understand the importance of grow room climate. Investing some time into studying how to optimize your grow room climate will help you to achieve bigger yields and better quality weed.
If neglected, a sub-standard grow room climate can lead to issues such as bud rot, which quite quickly can result in your entire crop turning bad. There are two key elements to controlling your grow room climate that if followed will result in a much more fruitful cannabis grow.
Cannabis needs to be kept an an optimal temperature of 20 – 30°C (70 – 85°F), however grow rooms often require a lot of energy intensive equipment that give off a lot of heat, If you are using HID lighting for example, they will increase the temperature of your grow room considerably.
There are a three main ways that you can combat increasing temperatures in your grow room:
- Choosing cannabis grow lights that do not get as hot such as LED or LEC’s, these lights are much less energy intensive and will keep the grow room much cooler. Although these lights are usually a little more expensive, long-term savings on electricity costs usually make them worthwhile.
- The other way is to decrease the temperature of the grow area by venting hot air out of the room and bringing cooler air in or using an AC unit to cool the room and some fans to circulate air. Bare in mind that fans alone will not decrease the temperature of a room, fans will help to circulate air but will not change the temperature.
- Change your light cycle – If you are growing indoors during the summer, rather than having your lights on during the daytime when the temperature is hottest outside, why not turn your lights on at night instead when the temperature is naturally cooler. Sometimes this alone may be enough to keep the plants between 20-30°C.
Cannabis grow rooms not only get very hot but also very humid, the combination of heat and water can be a dangerous combination for your plants if it is not monitored properly. Keeping the air flowing around your cannabis plants prevents moisture settling on them which in turn helps to prevent mold and bud rot. To monitor humidity levels in your grow room you should purchase a thermometer that has a humidity gage built into it. To reduce humidity most household dehumidifiers will work just fine, however for larger grows you will need a more powerful commercial dehumidifier to really have an impact.
Types of strains
If you are growing somewhere that is hot and humid it can be difficult to get your grow room to the perfect climate. It is important to choose the right weed strains for your environment, especially if you are growing outdoors.
Hot weather strains
If you are growing in a country where you have hot humid summers try growing a sativa dominant strain such as G13 Haze or Trainwreck Sativas originate from countries such as Thailand & Brazil so they naturally grow well in warm humid environments and are less susceptible to heat stress and mold.
Cold Weather Strains
If on the other hand you are growing in cold weather then consider growing an autoflowering strain. Autoflowers contain the ruderalis genetics which are native to Siberia which means they are naturally better at growing in colder climates with shorter days.
Step 10: Time your harvest to perfection
Learn how to time your harvest to perfection
Harvesting your cannabis plants at the right time is critical to producing good quality bud that is both potent and tastes good. Harvest too early and your cannabis plants will not have developed enough THC or CBD; too late and the plant will be past its peak of potency and the flavours could begin to go sour. There is a 7-14 day window where your plants will be in their prime and contain the most THC & CBD. If you want to get the best quality bud from your grow you need to know the signs to look out for when your cannabis plant is coming towards this window.
How do you know when your cannabis plants are ready to harvest?
There are a few tell-tale signs to look out for that signify that your cannabis plant is ready or almost ready for harvest. The obvious signs are drying and yellowing of the leaves or pistols turning orange/brown. However the most accurate way is to get up close with the buds and use a magnifying glass or a jewellers loupe to asses the trichome development. It sounds complicated and sciency, but don’t worry its not difficult once you know what you’re looking for.
What are trichomes?
Trichomes are those tiny sticky white hairs that cover the bud of a cannabis plant. It is the trichomes that contain the majority of the compounds, such as CBD and THC, that give that particular strain its effect on the body and mind. As a cannabis plant matures it begins to produce more and more trichomes that eventually cover the buds and leaves of the plant giving it a sticky white glossy sheen. It is this white appearance created by the trichome covered buds that gave the well known strain ‘White Widow‘ its name. By looking through a magnifying glass or jewellers loupe you can assess whether or not the plant is ready for harvest based on the colour of the trichomes.
What do the different colours mean?
When the trichome heads are glassy this means that the plant is still developing and the buds are not yet ready. Glassy trichomes will not contain as much THC or CBD and so the bud will be much less potent at this point.
Trichome heads appear to be cloudy or milky in colour, at this point the bud will most potent because it will contain the highest level of CBD and THC.
Trichome heads begin to turn amber coloured. This indicates that the buds will contain slightly less THC, however the effect will be more of a relaxing and less intense high.
When you harvest your plants is partly down to personal preference, but it also depends on the type of strain you are growing. For example, many growers prefer to harvest sativa dominant strains such as G13 Haze a little earlier so that the trichomes haven’t started to turn amber. By doing this the plant is at its most potent and will give you more of an uplifting, lively high. Whereas if you prefer a more relaxed high you may want to leave the plant a few more days when the trichomes begin to turned amber.
Although assessing the harvest based on the colour of the trichomes is the most accurate way to tell if a cannabis plant is ready to be harvested, it is not the only way. So if you don’t have a jewellers loupe or a magnifying glass there’s no need to worry. Harvesting cannabis plants is a very important step to get right if you want to be smoking good weed, so read our full article on this to get a more in-depth guide to timing your harvests to perfection.