Growing Autoflowering Cannabis Outdoors
Published : Dec 23, 2019
In this guide to growing autoflowering cannabis outdoors, we’ll cover the benefits and particulars, as well as how to do it successfully. Finally, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of choosing autoflowering seeds vs feminized seeds for outdoor grows.
With each new generation of seeds, autoflowering cannabis becomes more potent, higher-yielding and better-tasting, without compromising speed. Today, most of these hybrids are just as good as photoperiod strains. This makes them extremely popular among indoor growers, and most people—including us—recommend cultivating them indoors.
However, growing autoflowering cannabis outdoors is totally doable. Use this helpful guide to learn why, how, and when to use automatic genetics outside, as well as what advantages they have over photoperiod seeds and clones.
WHY SHOULD YOU GROW AUTOFLOWERING CANNABIS OUTDOORS?
Growing autoflowering cannabis indoors gives you total control over the environmental conditions your plants are exposed to, including the total amount of light they receive each day. This is the key to consistent harvests and potency. However, there are several reasons some growers choose to cultivate automatic strains outside.
Indoor growers maximise yields by packing as many plants as they can fit into their available space, as well as by increasing the amount of artificial light in their tent or grow room. Alternatively, some growers use high-stress training techniques to coax out greater harvests.
However, growing autoflowering cannabis under the sun will usually give you higher yields per individual plant. If you’ve purchased expensive automatic seeds and want to get the most out of each one, you may want to try an outdoor grow.
If you don’t have the space or the money to invest in a fully equipped grow room, growing autoflowering cannabis outside is a good idea. You’ll still have to buy good soil and nutrients, but you won’t have to factor in the cost of lighting, ventilation, or filtration.
Photoperiod strains can get massive outdoors. It’s not unusual for them to exceed 3m in height if the weather is warm and sunny for most of the summer. That’s fine if you don’t have to hide your grow, but it’s a major concern if you do.
Autoflowering cannabis, on the other hand, finishes so fast that it rarely has time to get taller than 1m before harvest. You can easily shield an autoflowering plant from view by placing it behind a fence or hedge. The smell might still reveal your secret garden, but you won’t have to worry as much about prying eyes.
PERFORMS WELL IN ANY CLIMATE
From the northernmost latitudes to tropical regions, growing autoflowering cannabis plants outdoors has certain advantages.
In cooler regions with short, damp summers, automatic strains ripen quickly, meaning mature buds can be harvested before an early freeze or a wet autumn. This protects your herb from loss due to rot, mildew, and mould.
In more temperate regions, you can easily reap multiple harvests per growing season when cultivating autoflowering cannabis outdoors. This practice allows you to enjoy cured herb well before any photoperiod plants begin to flower, and autumn harvests let you stock up for winter.
Of course, if you live in an area where the winters are particularly mild, or non-existent, you may be able to grow autoflowering plants outside all year long for a steady supply.
LESS RISK OF DAMAGE DUE TO MOULD OR PESTS
Because autoflowering plants have such a short lifespan, they’re less exposed to the conditions that support mould, pests, diseases, etc. This is true whether you grow inside or outside, but you have much less control in the great outdoors. If you’ve had a problem with mites, aphids, mould, powdery mildew, or bud rot when growing more traditional strains outside, give autoflowering cannabis a try.
PERFECT FOR GUERRILLA GROWS
Autoflowering strains are extremely hardy and require very little care. They don’t need to be trained, and they mature in just two months after germination, on average. That makes them perfect for guerrilla grows.
Find a remote spot that sees little traffic with good access to water, prepare the soil, and plant your autoflowering seeds. If the local wildlife likes to munch on young cannabis shoots, take precautions to shield them from damage using chicken wire or the like. After 8–9 weeks, your plants will be ready for the chop.
WHEN TO START AN OUTDOOR AUTOFLOWERING GROW
Autoflowering cannabis plants, like their photoperiod cousins, prefer strong sunlight when grown outside. They will flower even when exposed to 18–24 hours of light per day, but they need at least 10–12 hours of strong sunlight to produce good yields. Autoflowers can tolerate cold temperatures, but they’re not freeze-proof. That’s why the best time to start your outdoor autoflowering grow depends on where you live.
You can grow cannabis anywhere south of the North Pole, but the further north you go, the shorter the growing season will be. If you live in the far north, plant your seeds outdoors as soon as all danger of frost is over, somewhere between April and June.
If you plant your autoflowering seeds in June, you should be able to harvest in August. This timing avoids the worst of the cold, damp weather that develops as autumn approaches. By keeping the flowers as dry as possible, you minimise the risk of failure due to mould, mildew, and rot.
In the extreme north, you’ll only be able to fit one outdoor grow per season, even with autoflowering strains.
If you grow weed a little further south, you can fit in two outdoor autoflowering grows per summer with proper planning. Start the first between late April and early May for a late July harvest. Immediately reseed, and the second crop should be ready before the end of October.
Keep an eye out for heavy fall rains and early frosts. It may be necessary to cover your second run with a tarp, buckets, or other protective material to protect the fragile flowers from harm in the last week or two.
If you live in a tropical region between the equator and the Mediterranean, you shouldn’t have any frost to worry about. That means you can grow autoflowering cannabis outdoors all year long. If you grow back-to-back, that translates to four or more harvests annually.
Of course, as you get closer to the equator, the total hours of sunlight each day will also get closer to 12 year-round. Although they will produce flowers with as few as 10 hours of strong sunlight per day, autoflowering strains prefer at least 16 hours for the best yield and potency. Grow sites very close to the equator may not be optimal for all breeds of automatic cannabis.
HOW TO GROW AUTOFLOWERING CANNABIS OUTSIDE
Growing autoflowering cannabis outdoors is very similar to growing from photoperiod seeds, but there are some slight differences. In short: growing autos is usually easier, and eliminates some of the more stressful factors associated with cultivation.
GATHER THE NECESSARY SUPPLIES
This list details the basic supplies you’ll need for an outdoor autoflowering cannabis grow:
– Autoflowering seeds
– Pots or grow bags, unless you’re planting in the ground
– pH test kit
– Bucket or watering can
CHOOSE A SITE
Pick a spot for your garden. If you’re planting in the ground, make sure your autoflowering cannabis will get as much sunlight as possible. View the site from all sides to ensure your plants aren’t easy to see. Even if discretion isn’t a concern due to legal reasons, you should take the possibility of theft into consideration. Plant close to a water source so you don’t have to tote heavy buckets of fluid frequently.
If you’re planting in containers, the site isn’t as much of a concern because you can move your plants as needed. Invest in a wheeled plant dolly to make it easier to move the pots as the plants get larger.
PREPARE THE SOIL
Purchase a high-quality organic soil mix, unless you prefer to make your own. This can be used to either fill containers or refill holes if you grow in the ground. In either case, good soil is key to growing any type of cannabis successfully.
GERMINATE YOUR AUTOFLOWERING SEEDS
You can germinate your autoflowering seeds in the same way you germinate photoperiod seeds: the paper towel method, root cubes, or sowing seeds directly in soil. As long as they’re fresh, most autoflowering seeds will germinate within a few days. Even older seeds rarely take more than a week.
Once germinated, carefully place your seeds in the ground or in their final pot. Unlike photoperiod plants, autoflowers prefer not to be up-potted (transplanted into progressively bigger pots).
WATER AND FEED AS NEEDED
As the young autoflowering plants grow, water and feed as necessary. Because this type of cannabis develops much faster than photoperiod strains, they may become thirsty or hungry faster than more light-sensitive breeds. On the other hand, you definitely don’t want to overwater or overfeed. Oftentimes, autos can be fed half-strength nutrients and will still produce impressive harvests in good conditions.
Unless you’re trying a guerrilla grow, check your young plants daily for signs that they require fluids or nourishment. As a rule of thumb, use plain water at least once between feedings. As autoflowering plants get larger, they may need to be watered daily, especially if they’re planted in pots or the weather has been particularly dry.
When feeding or watering, always check the pH level of the solution. Adjust as necessary to keep the value between 6.0 and 7.0 pH.
WATCH FOR MOULD & PESTS
Autoflowering strains mature so quickly that they largely mitigate the threat of mould and pests—but you can’t eliminate these problems entirely.
When you check to see if your autoflowering plants need to be watered or fed, give them a quick once-over for other problems. At the first sign of mould, remove the infected bud or foliage and relocate your plants to a drier area.
Visible pests like mites and worms can be plucked off by hand if the problem is minimal. Otherwise, try a safe pesticide like neem oil or insecticidal soap. These sprays can also be used weekly to prevent infestations. Just make sure not to spray directly on the buds.
HARVEST WHEN RIPE
Each breeder will provide an expected harvest time from germination for their autoflowering seeds. This time may be the same whether the seed is grown indoors or out, or it may be slightly longer for outdoor grows.
Don’t go strictly by the suggested time. Instead, watch for the trichomes to turn cloudy, for the pistils to change colour and shrink into the buds, and for the leaves to fade from green to yellow or purple.
When all the signs point to full maturity, it’s time to cut, dry, and cure as you would for any other type of cannabis.
AUTOFLOWERING SEEDS VS FEMINIZED SEEDS FOR OUTDOOR CANNABIS GROWS
Autoflowering seeds and feminized (photoperiod) seeds each have their pros and cons when grown outside.
On the positive side, autoflowering seeds grow quickly and need minimal care. On average, they reach full maturity in half the time it takes a photoperiod strain.
Autoflowering seeds have their drawbacks too. You can clone them, but there’s really no point. They will be at the same point of maturity as their mother, so by the time they recover and start to grow again, they’ll be at or close to their pre-programmed end of life, producing only a few small, fluffy flowers.
Speaking of recovery time, autoflowering cannabis plants don’t have much time to bounce back if they do encounter a problem. Let them dry out too much, overfeed them, or allow them to become infested with pests, and they’ll stall for weeks. However, their maturity point won’t be extended. This can greatly impact both their potency and yield. With autoflowering seeds, much more than with feminized seeds, you need to get it right the first time.
When it comes to yield and potency, there’s less of a gap between autos and traditional strains than there used to be. Breeders have discovered how to minimise the amount of ruderalis required, allowing them to preserve the final weight and THC of the other parent(s), while still keeping the autoflowering trait.
Growing autoflowering cannabis outdoors can be a rewarding project when done right. Plan well in advance by choosing the best time to start your seeds and a good site with optimal light and water access. Monitor their progress so you can give them the right amount of water and nutrients, and so you can correct any problems immediately.
For your work and attention, you’ll be rewarded with a generous amount of aromatic herb that’s just as potent and tasty as weed grown from a similar photoperiod strain.
Learn how to grow autoflowering cannabis outdoors, including the reasons why you should try it. Follow our complete guide!
Tips For Growing Autoflowering Cannabis Outdoors
Growing autoflowering cannabis strains outdoors can be very rewarding. Here is everything you need to know about the process, so you can look forward to monster yields from compact plants!
Autoflowering cannabis strains are awesome. They grow fast and easy, and they fit pretty much everywhere because of their compact size. Although autoflowers are great for growing indoors, you can make the most of them with some love from Mother Nature outdoors.
Just a few years ago, many cultivators didn’t take autoflowers seriously. They saw them as something suited for beginners, as the first autoflowering varieties couldn’t really match the yield, aroma, and potency of photoperiod strains. But this has changed significantly in recent years. Modern autoflowers have great yields, and their buds are of a quality that rivals photoperiod strains. As such, it only makes sense that cultivators are growing these strains outdoors to make the most of their key features. Here are some benefits of outdoor-grown autos:
• Sunlight means better yields and fatter buds
• You can achieve several harvests in a single growing season
• You can grow them outdoors at any time of year (weather depending)
• They are less susceptible to pests due to faster growth
• They fit in tiny spaces on your balcony, terrace, or garden
• They are ideal for stealthy outdoor grows/guerrilla grows due to their small size
BEFORE YOU START — PLANNING YOUR OUTDOOR AUTO GROW
One of the advantages of autos is their fast growth. Some autoflowering strains can deliver their goods in an amazingly short 50–55 days from the moment you plant your seed. Although their very fast growth is normally an advantage, it also means that autos are less forgiving when it comes to certain mistakes, as you simply don’t have the time to correct things as you would with photoperiods. Likewise, if any major issues happen over their short lifetime, from diseases and overwatering to pests and whatnot, this will also greatly diminish your yield.
To avoid this, you want to carefully plan your autoflowering outdoor grow so your girls can reach their full potential in the short time they have. Before anything else, consider the viability of your location. What’s the climate like? Are you planning to plant your seeds directly in a garden bed or in containers? What type of nutrients will you use? Will your plants get enough sunlight? Will you be able to attend to your plants, or are you growing in a remote location where you can’t visit often?
For instance, if you happen to live in a colder, rainier climate, you may want to choose an autoflowering strain that doesn’t mind cooler temperatures and is also resistant to mould. Even these simple considerations can be enough to help you optimise your grow and avoid disaster.
WHEN TO PLANT YOUR AUTOFLOWERS OUTDOORS
Photoperiodic cannabis relies on natural daylight hours for its vegetative and flowering stages. You normally plant seeds in late spring where they will veg until late summer when the shorter daylight hours force them into flowering. By the end of summer/early fall, they will be ready for harvest.
The beauty of autoflowers is that they don’t rely on daylight cycles, which means you can plant and harvest autoflowers any time you want. If you live in a climate where there is no frost, such as in the Mediterranean, you can, in principle, grow autoflowers all year round.
Then again, cannabis, including autoflowers, grows best when it can get at least 10–12 hours of sufficient sunlight. As such, it is still best to plant seeds in spring, sometime from late April to early May in Europe, as the days are already longer, which will benefit your plants’ growth. You can then harvest in late July and start another crop in early August, which will be ready in October. If you happen to live in a warm climate with no frost, you can reap up to four harvests in one single year!
If you live further north, you may want to avoid the coldest and rainiest months of the year. In these climates, you can plant your autoflowers sometime in late spring when you know there is no danger of frost. The exact time depends on where you live, and could range from April to early June. The shorter summer in a colder climate is also a factor you need to think about. You shouldn’t sow too late either, as you want to avoid flowering your weed into the rainy season. If you live somewhere with a rainy fall, it can be good to plant in early June, so you can harvest late in August. This way, you can beat the bad weather and your buds won’t fall victim to mould.
Bottom line: The best time to plant will depend on the climate where you are growing. Ensure your plants can get plenty of sunlight, and make sure to avoid frost and extensive rain.
HOW TO GROW YOUR OUTDOOR AUTOFLOWERS
These days, you can find many great varieties of autoflowering cannabis seeds. Check out Royal AK Automatic, Amnesia Haze Automatic, Northern Light Automatic and the many other great autoflowers at Royal Queen Seeds. Once you find a strain you like—one that will grow well in your climate—you can get started with your outdoor grow.
1. GERMINATE YOUR AUTOFLOWERING SEEDS
You can germinate your autoflowering cannabis seeds just like you would photoperiod seeds. Some cultivators like to germinate using the “paper towel method” or by putting seeds into a glass of water. But you can also plant your seeds right into their final container. Know that re-potting autoflowering cannabis is not recommended, as the transfer from a smaller to a larger pot can slow its growth. Since the growing time of autos is already limited, you want to avoid this as it can lead to a decreased yield.
For best results germinating your autoflowering seeds, we recommend the Starter Kit Autoflowering. This kit comes with everything you need to give your cannabis plants the best possible start in life.
2. PREPARE YOUR PLANTING CONTAINER OR GROWING SPOT
If you are growing your autoflower in a container, make sure that you choose a big-enough pot. Although autoflowers can normally do well with smaller pots compared to some of the larger photoperiod ladies, you still don’t want to restrict their growth. A pot that holds 7–15 litres will do. Again, keep in mind that your chosen pot will also be your final pot.
If you don’t use a container and want to plant directly in soil instead, know that the outdoor soil at your chosen location may not be optimal. The natural soil will likely not have sufficient nutrients, and it may drain poorly and/or contain harmful microorganisms that adversely affect the growth of your plant. For these reasons, outdoor growers often first dig holes for their outdoor plants, which they fill with a suitable substrate before planting their seed.
3. WATERING AND NUTRIENTS FOR YOUR OUTDOOR AUTOFLOWERS
As autoflowers normally grow to a smaller size, they will not need as much water as a vigorous photoperiod sativa, but you still want to make sure that your outdoor auto has enough to drink. How much and how often you need to water will once again depend on your climate and the needs of your individual plant. Just like with any other type of cannabis grow, you want to avoid overwatering in particular, although underwatering isn’t ideal either.
As for nutrients, here too you will want to be careful with how much you administer. You can always start with ½ or ¾ doses of nutes to make sure you’re not overloading your plants. You can also consider slow-release nutrients. These can be ideal when you grow outdoors in a location that you can’t always visit. When you amend your substrate with slow-release nutrients, your plant will get everything it needs, and you won’t need to bother feeding it. All you need to do is water.
4. HARVESTING YOUR CROP
Some autoflowers can be ready in a short 50–60 days, but there are also those that take longer, up to 80 days. Just like with photoperiod strains, you’ll know that harvest time is close when the initially white pistils on the buds start turning brown. To really see when it’s time to harvest, you should examine the trichomes of your cannabis plant. Trichomes are tiny, mushroom-shaped outgrows on the buds and sugar leaves of your plant. During growth, trichomes are crystal-clear at first. Later in flowering, the trichomes turn a milky white colour, then around harvest time, they turn from white to amber. You can’t really see the trichomes with the unaided eye, so use a jeweller’s loupe to get a close look at them. Cultivators often harvest when a certain percentage of the tiny “bubble heads” of the trichomes turn amber. At this point, the leaves of your plant will normally have started to turn yellow.
When you’re ready to harvest, swiftly cut the branches with the buds off of your plant, and don’t waste a lot of time drawing unwanted attention. Once you’ve safely brought home your harvest, you can trim the buds further. Alternatively, you can hang the branches with buds still attached for drying.
COMMON PROBLEMS WHEN GROWING AUTOS OUTDOORS
Growing outdoors can come with its own potential problems. Unwanted discovery of your weed out in the wild is one of them, but there is also the risk of animals and insects taking a liking to your crops. Here’s what you can do about it.
Fortunately, autoflowering cannabis varieties are somewhat less prone to pests and insect infestations. In fact, some autoflowering varieties are bred to have a particularly strong resistance against mould and pests. Likewise, due to the short life cycle of autoflowers, insects often don’t have the time they need to become a serious problem. Otherwise, if you notice an insect infestation such as aphids or whiteflies, no need to go all synthetic about it: insecticidal soap and neem oil can deal with most common cannabis pests in a safe and natural way.
ANIMALS TAKING A LIKING TO YOUR CROP
If you grow outdoors, chances are your crops may also attract the attention of animals such as birds, cats, or deer. If you grow somewhere where cannabis-loving critters are roaming about, you may want to protect your plants with cages made from chicken wire or bamboo stakes.
DISCOVERY OF YOUR CROP BY OTHER PEOPLE
Your precious plantation may also be at risk if someone discovers it. Someone may snatch your plants or you may get in trouble for growing. The smaller size of autoflowers already helps reduce the risk of accidental discovery. To further reduce the risk, choose a remote growing spot some distance away from paths and other public places, where it’s unlikely that someone would come around. With autoflowering varieties that are low in odour, you can further mitigate the risk for discovery. When you plant your weed together with companion plants such as herbs, flowers, or vegetables, you not only camouflage your grow and keep it hidden, but also prevent pests from taking hold while improving the surrounding soil.
With these tips, you can look forward to a bountiful harvest from your autoflowering cannabis outdoors.
Growing autoflowering cannabis outdoors has many advantages. Click here to check out this guide, which tells you everything you need to know about the process!