How to Grow Cannabis Plants Outdoors in Toronto

Growing Cannabis Outdoors In Toronto, Canada

     So, you have decided to try your hand at growing Cannabis, and you believe outdoor cultivation is right for you. There are some tricks, tips, and general guidelines that will help ensure a bountiful, quality crop at the end of the year. One of the most crucial factors when choosing a strain is to make sure it will mature in time before harsh weather sets in as frost and cold nights can slow down flowering. This, combined with heavy morning dew, can produce several types of molds, or rot, so it is best to work within the weather parameters in your area. Once you have figured out what type of Cannabis you wish to grow, (whether it will finish in time) size may come into play as well, especially if you have height restrictions (neighbors), or are growing on an apartment balcony.

     All pure Indica’s, most Hybrids, and some pure Sativa’s will finish by mid-October as this seems to be a safe zone for harvesting in Toronto and the surrounding areas. Indica strains (in general) carry a heavy, evening-type buzz that can be felt through your entire body. Used for relaxation, headaches, pains, insomnia, and general discomfort, Indica’s tend to finish earlier than hybrids or Sativa’s, and will generally grow a smaller, compact plant, with flowers that are quite dense. Of course, direct hours of sunlight, and environmental conditions will play a large factor in the size, shape, potency, and most importantly…the density of the buds.

     Sativa’s (in general) will tend to stretch, grow taller, and produce longer, light to medium density buds. Effects from Sativa Cannabis will be mostly in the eyes or head as opposed to the body. Used mainly for morning or daytime use, you will feel energized, uplifted, and creative, which will help get you through the day’s challenges with positive momentum. A downside (sometimes) with Sativa’s is that overuse can lead to paranoia, dry mouth, or a general state of uneasiness…almost similar to when you have had too much caffeine. Not everyone feels these effects, however, so it is always wise to test lightly with any new strain until you are comfortable.

     Hybrids are what most growers choose nowadays because you can get the best of both worlds while still leaning toward your primary choice of Sativa or Indica. These strains have been blended to include the best aspects of both, such as flavor, scent, size, flower structure, and most importantly, when you will harvest. There are not many 50/50 strains on the market (such as Jack Herer), as most will be a 60/40, or an 80/20 split, and they are referred to as Sativa or Indica Dominant. You will have to do a little more research while choosing Hybrids, as they can be all over the spectrum in overall size and strength.

     Now that you have informed yourself, and have selected a strain, we can get started on how to grow these majestic beauties! The number one factor when growing Cannabis plants is direct hours of sunlight, similar to most vegetables or fruit trees. Plants that are in smaller pots, or grow bags can be moved around the yard, or to different sides of the house to maximize your hours. With fewer hours of direct sunlight in the vegetative or “growing” stage, the plant will tend to stretch or look tall and spindly. This is even more so with Sativa’s, or Sativa Dominant strains. In flower or the “budding” cycle, you will get more of a sparse, loose, leafy flower, which is more difficult come harvest time and also not the buds you will “show off” to your friends or peers.

     If you decide to cultivate in the ground, flowerbed, or garden, make sure to use a rototiller to turn the earth quite vigorously. If you do not have a machine, make sure and shovel with your legs more than your back for comfort and safety. The earth compacts over time, and although roots will grow through almost anything, the more you can loosen up whatever medium you are growing in the roots will establish themselves considerably quicker and easier. It is wise to use Pro-Mix or Mix-4 (which are blends of soil, peat, vermiculite, etc.), at a rate of at least 50% of your hole. For the other 50%, it should be a garden mix, or a soil mix containing one or more composts. We have always chosen Pro-mix simply because it is neutral and contains no fertilizer…up until the last couple of years. With so many pre-blended soils on the market now, almost every company has switched to having fertilizer in the mix to keep up with competitors. Make sure to read the bag carefully, as a few years ago my friend purchased some soil, and when I fertilized as I normally would, they showed signs of nutrient burn due to overfertilization.

     Neutral soil is also strongly recommended when starting seedlings, as the seeds have everything they need inside them to grow the first couple of weeks. By week 2-3 they will lighten up, or yellow a little to show that they need nitrogen, which is in “Veg or Grows” fertilizer. Read the directions for how much to apply, but always start a little lighter, and then slowly increase levels as you go. If you are planting in the garden, keep in mind that most varieties of vegetables (or fruit) will not grow as well with this kind of mix. Vegetables tend to prefer more of a garden mix with compost. During the growth stage, you will water lightly and only when they truly need it. Roots must search for water to produce a strong, healthy system, which can deliver vital nutrients and water to a thriving plant. In the “Flowering or Budding” stage, you will keep the soil wet, to very wet, once the buds appear.

     If you decide to grow in pots or containers, make sure to have plenty of aeration. Today Air-Pots or Grow Bags are available to get maximum oxygen to your root system, but if you do use old school pots or 5-gallon buckets, make sure to drill or cut extra holes on the bottom and the lowest 1/4 of the pail to allow air to get to the roots. Most traditional old pots only have 2-4 holes, mostly on the bottom and slightly up the side. Air-Pots or Nylon Grow Bags work very well, and a lot of the grow bags come with handles, so with a friend it is easy to move around the yard if you need more sun, or if you need to move them for any reason. In 3 to 5-gallon pots, you can grow a smaller 3-foot 5-foot plant (on average) to maturity, but it will most likely be root bound in the pot and you would find yourself watering very frequently, especially if it bushed outwards and is a strain with sizeable colas. 7 to 15-gallon pots are recommended for those who are looking for a 1/2 pound to a pound per plant. Similar to when a child outgrows their clothes, you will visibly see when a plant has outgrown its container and needs a larger one. If you believe it may be, and you are gentle, you may lean the plant a little and slide the plant out to see if the roots are bound. This works great if you are in pots or buckets, although grow bags are a little different scenario.

     In traditional pots or pails, one main taproot will shoot down to search for water and then start circling the pot over and over because there is nowhere for it to go. This will make it simple to tell if it is root bound or not, as you will visibly see the root has circled many times. With the Grow Bags, the roots grow in a unique style altogether. With the amount of air access to the roots (because cloth breathes where plastic does not) the plant will produce a seemingly infinite number of tiny feeder roots as opposed to one large one. You can transplant from a small bag to a larger one, however, it is more difficult as tiny root ends will slightly poke through the fabric to get to fresh oxygen. It is possible, but if you plan to finish your plants in a larger grow bag, it might make your transplant easier if you start in a plastic pot, because it will slide out with minimal damage to the roots. Always be as gentle as possible, and do not plant into dry earth, or soil, as roots like to grow into a moist medium as they search.

     If you like to grow plants larger than a pound in dry weight, simply change the size of your pot, or dig a larger hole in the ground. The larger the hole, or pot, the roots will grow faster and establish themselves. The bigger and healthier the roots get, so will your plant. In the ground, the more you turn the soil and add aerated soil like Pro-mix the roots will search faster. There are many sizes of pot, or bags to choose from, so you must decide which is right for you. Smaller plants (half a pound or less) are grown typically in 5-to-15-gallon pots or bags. If you wish to grow more than a pound, 30 to 100-gallon will help you achieve this. Plastic pots will only have so many sizes, although we have found 200, 300, and 400-gallon Grow bags are now available. Many smaller sizes will have handles, but keep in mind they will have to be dry to move around. Once they have buds, you will keep them wet to very wet, so moving them will be near impossible. We have grown in 400-gallon bags, and when they are saturated with water, they will weigh more than the average car!

     There are many fertilizers on the market to use, and everyone has their preference. Some tend to give the plant as much as they can, and some will fertilize using more of a natural mix. Using too much fertilizer can cause a salt build-up, make your product taste, or burn improperly, or simply run off, damage your local ecosystem, and waste your money in general. Some plants naturally use a variety of composts, organic living soils, and even seaweed. Fishponds have also been used from the initial stages (seedling) right through the flower, as it tends to have a perfect PH and natural nutrients. Not all of us have the luxury of a fishpond, however, there are systems available to grow plants even out of the top of your home aquarium whether it is Cannabis, spices, or even some vegetables.

     I grow as naturally as possible using a few shots of fertilizer when needed. If you mix your soil 2/3 Pro-mix and 1/3 compost, it will make it most of the way through the vegetative stage feeding off of your mix. I also leave a few handfuls of compost on top of the soil, so the nutrients will trickle down each time it is watered. Some growers fertilize right up until harvest, and some will start flushing 1-3 weeks before harvest. Flushing consists of running water through the pot to take any salts, fertilizer, or harsh taste out of your Cannabis. You can also start reducing the fertilizer starting 3 weeks before harvest so in the last week you are almost using straight water. Your local grow shop will also carry some flavored “flushes” if you are looking for a different taste and smell.

     Harvesting at peak time is quite important. Your Cannabis plants will gain their most weight, and potency in the last 2 weeks, so harvesting a pre-mature product is always disappointing. A 50-100x magnifying glass is your best option, however, apps for your cell phone are also available for you to zoom in and look closely. A general guide to harvest is when 80% of the hairs on your bud have turned from white, to orange or brown. If you wish to go a little further…take your magnifying glass and zoom in on the Trichomes or crystal. It will resemble an upside-down icicle with a little ball on top. You will be able to see through (clear like a window) before it is ready. Approaching the end of the plant's cycle, the Trichomes will become cloudy like most shower glass. When they start turning amber or brown, and the little balls start to fall off the icicles, you can begin to harvest. In this stage, it will be a little more up feeling when consumed no matter whether it is a Sativa or an Indica. If you wait until all of the Trichomes are amber and all of the balls have fallen off, you will have more of a heavy, lethargic effect when it is consumed.

     Drying and curing, is just as, if not more important than harvest itself. If you take your time with this stage, it can make an enormous difference in flavor, texture, and smoothness when consuming. In the years past, we would cut and hang entire plants to dry. Nowadays, we would only recommend hanging the whole plant if it is 3 feet tall or less. On larger plants, the tops or “colas” get more sun in general and will therefore finish quicker. It is still possible to hang these, although drying racks or multi-leveled screens are available for purchase. Old window or patio door screens will also work…anything that will allow air movement above and below your drying flowers. It is much easier to remove the large fan leaves outside, as well as any close leaf that has no resin. If you look closely, you will find the leaf close to the flowers has a crystal on it. Some strains will have a little, some will have a lot a go out almost to the edge of the leaf. Any leaf that has crystals (or resin) on it can be used for oil, hash, shatter, rosin, edibles, or extracts in general. Again, if you are going to save the close trim (with resin), it is much easier to trim while the flower is fresh. If you wait until it dries, the leaves will curl in and this makes for a more finicky trim, usually with finer pointed scissors.

     After harvesting the tops, you should let the rest of the plant finish anywhere from 5-15 more days (depending on the size) if possible and of course, weather permitting. We have seen some massive plants harvested in 3 stages over a two-week period however most casual growers will not have to worry about this. Fresh buds should be dried in the dark at approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a dehumidifier during this process; however, fans with good air movement will be the best option for you. Do not point the fans directly at the plants or drying buds, just make sure there is sufficient flow throughout the room.

     Depending on your drying environment, and more importantly the size of your buds, they should start to feel crispy or dry within 2-7 days. They should have lost 60-70% of their water content by this point and the stalk will still bend, but not snap. At this point, you should place everything into a container to sweat or re-moisten your drying flowers. Ideally, you should use glass for this process, but if you had a large harvest, we find that the heavy plastic storage totes work marvelously as well. Usually the next day, all your buds will feel soft, squishy, and damp again…so you will take the lid off and gently rotate everything so it will dry evenly. In a few hours, or overnight, they will start to feel crispy again and then you will repeat this process. They will dry and feel crispy a little quicker each time, so keep a vigilant eye as not to dry too quickly.

     After 7-10 days of this “slow drying process” continually select the odd bud to test. You should still need scissors, or a grinder, as opposed to powdering the flower with your fingers. Dried Cannabis should retain 8-10% of its moisture even after you have finished. When it is close to your personal preference of consuming it, mason jars are ideal, or large Ziploc bags will work also. You will still “air” or “burp” the jars or bags, but not as often, and certainly not as long as you did in the first stages. Drying and curing properly can allow you to store much longer than if you did not, and you will find the flavors appear 30-90 days after harvest.

     Thank you for reading, and we hope you have enjoyed this tutorial. These are general guidelines that will help you through, although you will find what works best for you after a little trial and error. If you have any questions…feel free to contact us at: [email protected]