If you are looking for how to transfer your cannabis growing skills to growing other plants, becoming the ultimate green thumb I know you can be, you are in the right place.
As a sole cannabis grower turned general gardener, two of the most frequent questions I get are, “What do I need to know about growing plants other than cannabis?” and “How can I become a better cannabis grower?”. At first, these questions might not appear to have the same answer, but I’m here to tell you they resoundingly do. Let me regale me with a quick story about my past.
How Growing Other Plants Made Me A Better Cannabis Grower
Growing up on a farm with both a house garden and numerous fields of crops, I can safely say cannabis was not something on the menu. But many of the things I learned about gardening then carried with me when I was solely growing cannabis. Now, this led to me having a more traditional approach to cannabis. To me, cannabis was never a unique plant that needed vastly different horticulture methods that are speculative with just anecdotal evidence. You know which ones I’m talking about.
To wrap this up, I was able to get fairly good at growing cannabis, but I was still experiencing issues every grow — mostly nutrient related. It wasn’t until I started growing other plants — both indoors and outdoors — that I discovered that I didn’t feed them anywhere near as much. And I certainly wasn’t giving them anywhere near the same amount of attention or care, but they were the healthiest plants I had ever grown.
My next cannabis grow, I laid back, trusted my instincts, and honed in the ability to read my plants. Not only did I grow healthier plants, I spent less time in my garden. But when I was in my garden, I wasn’t stressed over issues like all the time before. I could simply enjoy it!
Let’s learn how you can grow plants other than cannabis.
The Basics: Nine Cardinal Parameters
If you have some cannabis grows under your belt, you’re already familiar with the basics. So I’m not going to make this a basic “how to garden” post. Mostly, we’ll be focusing on the differences between growing cannabis vs. fruits and veggies, along with things to watch out for.
Like with cannabis, you have your nine basic environmental factors you need to attend to if you want healthy plants. Above the surface, there is light, temperature, humidity, wind, and carbon dioxide (CO2). Below the surface, we have root-zone temperature, water, nutrients, and oxygen (O2).
Remember, these all directly affect each one, and when you change one, you cause a chain reaction changing the others. For example, giving your plants more light raises the temperature, which lowers the humidity, forcing plants to drink more water and take in more CO2, releasing more oxygen you need to exchange out of the grow room. By mastering and understanding each of the nine principles, growing any plant becomes much easier.
Photosynthesis: Let There Be Light
While many cannabis growers are fertilizing their plants too much, causing lockouts that they mistake for nutrient-starved plants, there is a reason this happens. Cannabis thrives off intense direct sunlight even when compared to other direct sunlight-loving crops. For example, flowering cannabis plants can potentially handle a Daily Light Integral (total amount of PAR light in a 24hr day) that surpasses 40 moles of DLI, where plants like tomatoes and strawberries can handle only about 30 moles of DLI at the most. As such, cannabis needs more nutrients than most of your typical vegetables and fruits found in the garden.
First, when growing indoors, if you plan to grow different plants under the same light fixture, I highly advise you to look into how much light each plant species requires. Lettuce needs less light than tomatoes and significantly less light than cannabis. But they can all be grown under the same light thanks to the inverse-square law.
In general, I use the following advice:
|Plant Type||Target PPFD (μmol/m²/s)||Hours Per Day||Avg. DLI (μmol/day)|
When growing outdoors, check to see whether the plants you plan to grow are shade tolerant or intolerant. For example, strawberries are shade intolerant and love direct sunlight. Lettuce, on the other hand, loves shade and all the far-red photons it helps provide.
Photoperiodism: Let There Be No Light
Notice in the chart above that for most cannabis plants to flower, they need their lights-on time reduced to 12 hours. Many common crops (potatoes, lettuce, and spinach) aren’t like this and can stay on an 18hr lights-on schedule the entire growing cycle. As well, while cannabis will always need less than 18hrs of light to flower, there is emerging thought that it can do it with more than 12hrs.
But to keep it all simple, be careful mixing long-day and short-day plants when growing indoors — It can certainly be done, though.
Day-neutral or indeterminate plants like cucumbers, roses, and cannabis ruderalis will bloom on their own regardless of the hours of light they get.
Pollination: Becoming The Bee
With cannabis, we usually don’t want the flowers or buds as we would naturally find them in the wild, and that’s fertilized. This makes cannabis great for growing indoors, where we can better control that issue. But for common crops like strawberries, watermelon, and cucumbers, you’re going to have to take time and pollinate these plants yourself unless you want to introduce bees into your grow room. Probably not the best idea, but you do you.
Pollinating is a pretty simple process. With monoecious plants like tomatoes and eggplants, you can brush the plant to release the pollen. Sometimes your fans will even do the job for you. Others, like the ones in the squash family, are commonly pollinated by plucking off a male flower and rubbing it against the stigma of a female flower to release the pollen.
Last, there are plants similar to cannabis that you don’t want to be pollinated (onions, lettuce, and catnip). But unlike cannabis, you snip off these plants’ blots (seeds and flowers), leaving the rest of the plant to continue growing.
Pruning: Sometimes A Whole Lot Of Work
Pruning cannabis is extremely popular, but it’s far from the only plant that benefits from it. Always make sure you look up the pruning recommendations for the specific plants you’re growing. Some plants you’ll prune for the same reason you do cannabis, but others, like you saw above, you prune to remove their flowers.
One warning, you’ll want to be careful with invasive plants like catnip, which have high pruning demands. The flowers will quickly overtake the plant when left unpruned, leading the seeds to quickly overtake your garden. Totally worth it if you have a cat though, trust me!
Irrigation: Plant Nutrition
There isn’t much difference between feeding and watering cannabis plants vs. other common garden crops. But this is why this section is my favorite.
First, the big difference, which we touched upon under lighting. Cannabis is a big “eater”, consuming a lot of water and nutrients, particularly, nitrogen. That’s about it — though, after growing other crops, you’ll see it’s not as much as you may have thought — especially if you’re not pushing their lighting limit.
You can still use separate vegetative and flowering nutrient formulas if you want, but many people stick to using a single balanced NPK ratio throughout for their garden vegetables. I like mixing an even mix of Grow and Bloom nutrients as a base, then increase in either direction depending on how my crops are looking.
Learning To Trust Yourself
So, the big reason I love this topic is that cannabis growers get caught up in “feeding” too much of everything. Their base nutrient formula is often too high, and they love throwing every additive under the sun at it. This goes especially for synthetic nutrient users, which I’m one. Goodness, goodness, all those dumb bottles sitting on my shelf collecting dust.
When you first start growing multiple plants, you’re forced to simplify things. It’s kinda hard to have five different NPK ratios for five plants, so you find a happy medium and work from there. For example, If one plants a little too dark, simply lighten the nutrients or maybe take down the nitrogen down a bit. For me, this is how I finally learned to trust my ability to read my plants and give them what they wanted. Another thing was I didn’t react to every little blemish that appeared — an important skill to learn and why it’s nice to grow multiple plants at a time. Now, gone are my days of feeding schedules, constantly testing runoff EC & pH, and grow journals that list every feeding and environmental readings.
When choosing a grow media for non-cannabis plants, pick whichever you prefer. Personally, after years of hydroponics, I went back to soil in containers and enjoyed going back to the basics after having so much experience under my belt.
Companion Plants: A Bud’s Best Friends
When growing cannabis outside, a great way to expand your monoculture garden to a permaculture one is by adding companion plants. These plants can help keep certain pests and diseases away. When planted in the same soil, some companion plants can even help with soil integrity and nutrient refinement.
Great companion plants for cannabis include:
One of the most important things a cannabis grower can do to advance their skills is to learn to grow other plants. It’s a great way to revisit the basics with a learned hand, experience the feeling of consuming something you grew for the first time again, and for many, it’s ultimately humbling. Cannabis plants can take a beating, but if we aren’t careful, this makes our gardening skills sloppy, leaving us stressed and wondering why our plants are frequently sick.
If you can already grow cannabis, you should have little to no issue transferring your skills when expanding your garden. Remember to keep things simple, don’t push your garden crops as you would the sticky stuff, and trust your instincts. Do this, and you’ll be surprised how great of a gardener you already are!
I wish you the best of luck! As well, we have an entire team here at ChilLED, from lighting experts to agronomists, who are always here and ready to help you with your garden.