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Growing Cannabis Indoors vs. Outdoors: 3 Key Differences

May 29, 2016

Cannabis has long been cultivated outdoors and is one of the oldest agricultural crops in existence. Growing cannabis indoors, however, has been around for less than a century and came about as a result of prohibition. Most advancements in cannabis production have occurred during the era of indoor cultivation; staying out of sight was initially a way to protect the grower from the laws against cannabis.

As technology advanced, the industry was able to expand its knowledge of the plant by leaps and bounds, and this was also true for areas where outdoor farming managed to succeed, like Southern Oregon and Northern California. The differences are not only important to aspiring cannabis farmers, but to the consumer comparing outdoor and indoor grown products at the dispensary counter.

How does the environment affect the outcome of a strain, and what considerations must a grower make when choosing between the two?

Controlled vs. Natural Climates

growing weed indoors vs outdoors: controlled and natural climates

There are many reasons to grow indoors over outdoors, such as being free to choose your location with minimal constraints and the ability to completely control your grow environment. Controlling temperature, light source, CO2 production, and humidity creates a stable habitat to optimize your plants’ growth without having to risk outdoor elements.

The indoor grower typically finds cosmetically pristine flowers with higher THC percentages. On the other hand, no bulb can produce the same spectrum of light unique to the sun which, in turn, limits indoor gardens with smaller yields and less vigorous plants. Outdoor farming, however, requires a climate suitable for cannabis production—good sun exposure, hot days, warm nights, and low humidity.

Nevertheless, growing indoors has complications as well. When the grower tries to create a natural environment indoors, there are factors in the natural process that cannot be replicated. For example, plants grown outside have substantial help against mites from natural predators who share the habitat. Wasps, ants, and ladybugs are some of “nature’s helpers” that keep mite populations at bay.

Indoors, the grower cannot hope to completely mimic the incredibly complicated natural environment. If mites appear in an indoor grow space, they can be a challenge to control. With the ever-increasing consumer concerns about the overuse of pesticides and insecticides, some cultivators might find the trade-offs of growing outdoors worth investigating.

Related

Pesticides 101: questions and answers for cannabis patients and consumers

Price of Growing Cannabis Indoors vs. Outdoors

price of growing weed indoors vs outdoors

Both indoor and outdoor grows demand substantial up-front costs, but the difference becomes apparent long-term. Indoor climate control systems can cost a small fortune to operate, whereas a majority of the costs associated with outdoor grows are in the startup of the operation.

Labor costs for indoor and outdoor gardens also vary drastically. With continual turnover in an indoor garden, there’s always work to be done. Pruning, trellising, watering, feeding, and harvest work are ongoing and more demanding for smaller yields. Outdoors, the grower is working one crop throughout the season. Many outdoor farms with large outputs can operate with up to four employees full-time until harvest, when additional workers need to be brought in.

Related

Why Buy at the Dispensary When You Can Grow Cannabis at Home for Cheaper?

The high costs of indoor farming may be recouped through breeding projects, year-round harvests, and potent products that have higher selling points. Furthermore, manufactured indoor environments allow growers to cultivate strains that would otherwise be unsuitable for their local outdoor environment and climate. However, with the rising cost of energy and an increasing demand for more flower in the marketplace, outdoor farming may be able supply the market with quality products at a more reasonable price.

Quality of Cannabis Grown Indoors vs. Outdoors

quality of weed grown indoors vs outdoors

Indoor flower has long been recognized as the top-of-the-line product. Being able to control your environment and expedite breeding has resulted in aesthetically beautiful strains with magnificent flavor profiles. Introducing higher CO2 levels than in the natural environment increases bud growth and produces THC levels that are difficult to obtain outdoors.

Additionally, indoor cannabis does not have to deal with rain, wind, or any of the other natural elements that can damage an outdoor crop. The buds remain in pristine condition and only start to degrade once handling begins. The scale of most indoor operations generally allows for crops to be harvested in peak conditions and for the product to be cured in a controlled climate.

Cannabis plants under LED lights in GroBox

A cannabis plant under LED lights. (Courtesy of GroBox)

Outdoor flower is, of course, subject to the whims of the natural environment. Though the end product may not look as perfect, the taste, effects, and aroma should still be there. Some consumers find sun-grown organic cannabis to be preferable to the cosmetically pristine indoor alternative.

Many stereotypes about outdoor cannabis exist for one key reason: legality. A large majority of outdoor cannabis seen by consumers has gone through a gauntlet of post-harvest abuse. Partly due to conflicts between state and federal law, many outdoor cannabis farms have to take risks to cultivate their product. As a result, oftentimes the harvest is rapid, curing is nearly non-existent, and aggressive handling is necessary to get it to market. As the laws change and outdoor facilities are able to take their time in processing, the market should see an increase in quality from outdoor grows.

Recently there has been an emergence of commercial greenhouse farming that strikes a balance between the two methods. This style of farming is producing quality results, which is exciting to see in this emerging industry. As we have seen, all styles of farming offer positives and negatives, and as a consumer or a producer, it’s always important to continually educate yourself. Step outside of your routine to try something new, and keep an open mind.

  • Derrick Soo

    I’ve always grown my plants outdoors. The key is to start with high quality plants (clones). My cost per plant is $12 plus the growing supplies runs about $25 per plant throughout the growing cycle. I usually yield 1/2 lb of high grade medical weed. The strain that I grow is very hard to find and I get top dollar at the dispensary that I provide product to. I have friends that grow indoors, but that’s more work and expense than what I’m doing.

    • Rishicash

      Hey Derrick – What strain are you growing and in what part of the country? How many plants for 1/2 lb. yield? How big do you grow your plants for dispensaries? I want to grow on a large private patio and would prefer to do it outdoors. It would get sun almost all day although mostly indirect but not shady. Thanks!

      • Derrick Soo

        Sorry it took me a bit to get back to you. I’m growing White Fire Alien, Tahoe, Blue Cookies and Harlequin. I’m in the SF Bay Area. Our temps here avg between high 60’s to mid 70’s during the summer. I always finish out with 1/2 lb per plant except Blue Cookies which can finish out with as little as 1/4 lb per plant. Blue Cookies needs lots of heat which I don’t have since I’m near the Bay’s cooler temps. I’m supplying up to 2 lbs of each (except Blue Cookies) per month. I have a large open growing space and all my plants get full sun all day. In the evenings, I move all of my plants into secured shelter from thieves. These strains need full sun. While the plants will grow with indirect sun, your yields will widely vary.
        I’ve changed the way that I’m cloning my plants to nearly double my yields recently. So my final crops of the year are going to finish out at a full 1+ lbs per plant. I keep things very simple with my growing and feeding. One of the most important things that affect my plants is the pruning and trimming during the budding phase.

        • Rishicash

          Great and thanks so much for this. I’d like to discuss this further. Do you know how to PM from here?

      • potmaster

        Is it legal where you live? The thing to remember is that the plant can draw attention. Couple of ways to lower the risk. First see if the new low odor strains will for you and not draw attention to itself. The second is the light cycle. By timing your planting time you can regulate the plant’s height. The shorter the grow cycle the shorter is the plant. I have planted in April and had plants over ten feet tall. Planting on the first day of summer the plant will only get about seven feet. Remember when you are container growing that the root area should be the same as the upper part. Think of a barbell where each side is equal. If you maintain this balance you will have a better harvest.

        • Rishicash

          It is legal under certain circumstances. My interest is in growing medical cannabis only. I live in the LA area near the beach on the 3rd floor with a private balcony that receives mostly indirect light. The plants could grow up to 4′ without being seen. I will have no more than 30 plants that I will grow for a dispensary so everything will be legal.

          My friend is a cop who plans on growing during her retirement. She told me that she has “clients” who grow for dispensaries here who don’t grow over 18″ which would suit me perfectly. I would love to be able grow on the balcony uncovered without the expense of an indoor grow, but I’m concerned about not having direct sun. My plan is to grow medical cannabis for dispensaries only and no more than the 30 plants. Thoughts?

    • jimhilsenteger

      Hi Derrick,
      Are supplies equal to $13 per plant or $25 per plant?

      Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Devon Furr

      Why only half a pound? Is it not a high yielding strain? Do you grow organically? Im also curious about what method of cloning you prefer

    • Jim

      What strain do you grow???>

  • latinstud

    Derrik Soo: Is that your yearly production per plant, or monhtly production? Sorry, i am new to this.

    • Mike Jager

      That would be a season total per plant

  • vietnamvetwife

    I have been growing outside since it became legal in Oregon in 2015. This year I have been inundated with leafhoppers. Using pyrethrum, but still can’t get a handle on it. Have one that looks like I’ve lollipopped it—no, it’s leafhopper damage. Sucks, too, because it’s my 10ft. plant! Any other suggestions for me.

    • L Lohrenz

      My chickens eat the bugs, provide great fertilizer for the garden and make me breakfast.

    • E.L. Bl/Du

      yes vietnamvetwife. Try using a product called SoluNeem, its a product you can get up to 6% concentrations without damaging the plant. (even when its above 90* which cannot even use pyrethum or neem) reg neem or azatrol /azamax only get to 1-2% concentration. This product has the oil removed so it doesnt block the stomata of the plant (like regular neem or pyrethrum) and you can soon purchase it at ladybug gardens in Phoenix shopping ctr, give the guy Nathan a call about it, he was going to order some. If not, I can give you the link to buy it online. (prob cheaper) It works on worms and mites too. Your leafhoppers might be a type of grasshopper, they are abundant here and quite damaging to any crop. (they demolished my squash) Not to be confused with beneficial crickets. Most of the time a plant can recover from a stripping like that (Ive had to do it when a plant went into re-veg that was put out too early) but it depends on where it is in the lifecycle too. I would like to PM you about this issue if there is a way to do that, we have issues here that others do not, and would love to share some more with you so you are successful. If there is an issue to be had, I have had it! We keep learning each year what NOT to do, but less time consuming to do things right the first time and get good info. get the book “outdoor performance Cannabis” (avail here on Leafly or on Amazon) its geared for the Emerald Triangle but his techniques work here too. (mine were 5-7lbs this yr with his techniques) I can say enough good about the info in this book. Just came out in June, so its brand new with tons of good info and ways to address problems.

  • Michelle Stickle Telly

    I have a question I just started growing and I have 5 sprouts I’m getting ready to eat yet them do I water them they way I do my reg plants from the bottom or do I water them from the top?

  • Guido Rollard

    I grow plants in my greenhouse. Same potent or better as indoors. Only downside is i have to deal with pests more
    then indoor. But for taste and yields, nothing tops sunlight power. Only for fun, i grow in the 5 winter months we have indoors.
    I live in northern hemisphere 50°, where we often have cloudy days, cooler unstable climate, so it depends on a good year
    with more sun hours.

  • samantha evans

    I am a Indoor Grower last 2 years ago. Until I’ve occured a problem because I can’t manage the odor and the expenses is more high than I grow outdoor. Until I read an article about growing http://kylekushman.com/growing/. and I’ve got some ideas but still I want some tips and live testimony to guide me what to use. is it indoor or outdoor? any personal thoughts or experience? thanks in advance.

  • Jaime Gerber Baitsell

    Can’t grow outdoors…not legal in this state…inside is the only way. Have been able to produce large buds and lots of med to small buds too. Had to take off 9 yrs…started again. We breed our own strains. Whites and p
    Purples.