The days are getting warmer, the ground is drying out, and the sun is shining once again. You know what that means – we’re about to launch ourselves headlong into another growing season.
This time of year, those of us tending to an outdoor garden get to choose between growing cannabis in pots or soil. Some prefer grow bags. While all three methods are viable and can bring outstanding results, each comes with its own perks and setbacks. Below, we’ll take a closer look at each of them.
Spoiler alert: There is no best or worst method. In the end, everything boils down to your growing conditions, personal preferences, and lifestyle. We’re just here to help you decide which route to take.
Growing Cannabis in Pots: Pros
Control the soil and nutrition
One of the most obvious advantages of growing cannabis in pots over soil is the degree of control over your grow. Why worry about the quality of soil in your garden? Simply fill up your pots with your substrate of choice. Plus, you get to choose the watering schedule and nutrient levels. If any problems arise, you can fix them by simply moving the plant to a new pot with new soil.
Restrict the plants’ size
The size of your plants depends on the size of your containers. The larger your pots, the larger your plants will grow. If you’re looking to grow tall and proud plants, put them in the largest pots possible. If you’re after discretion, an 11-liter pot will suffice. Once the roots run out of space to occupy, the plant’s growth will grind to a halt.
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Another benefit of using pots is that you can move them around. Whether you need to do so to provide better lighting or to protect your plants from a hailstorm or heatwave, pots make it simple and easy.
Easier pest prevention
Dealing with pests can be a pain, but when you're growing cannabis in pots, it's easier to spot and treat infestations early on. Since each plant is in its own container, it’s less likely that insects like aphids or ants will have also invaded nearby cultivars.
Growing Cannabis in Pots: Cons
The very pros of growing in pots can turn into cons. For example, increased control over your grow requires more care and attention. Since you have to manage the plant's environment closely, it can consume more time and effort than growing in the ground. This could be a problem for growers who are just learning the ropes or those with limited time or resources.
A plant that’s growing in a pot relies on you for its water supply, so you need to be extra careful to avoid over or underwatering. This can affect oxygen intake, which could cause major issues with the crop altogether. Overwatering is a common mistake resulting from poor drainage in pots.
Limited root space
Although you have more control over the size of pot-grown plants, they may become root-bound if the container is too small. When the roots hit the edge of the pot, they crowd and curl up into each other in search of water, locking out nutrients and blocking airflow. This slowly chokes the plant’s roots until it dies unless you transplant it to a bigger pot. However, if you want to unlock the full potential of large strains like Sativas, pots just won’t cut it.
When it comes to mobility, the flip side of the coin is that you’re not the only one who can transport plants in pots. Unlike mites or root aphids, there’s no ideal solution against sneaky humans. Some growers use chains for extra protection. If your pots don’t have handles, try drilling a couple of holes near the bottom and running the chain through – just make sure the holes are small enough so they don’t leak dirt or water.
Growing Cannabis in Soil: Pros
Growing cannabis in pots or soil both have their merits, but when you’re sowing seeds or planting seedlings in open soil, the plants can easily get their food organic matter and minerals from the ground. Of course, you should have good farming land for that. Since the roots can grow freely, they often get enough water from the groundwater alone. Healthy soil is also full of beneficial bacteria and nutrients, which help your plants grow taller, stronger, and more productive…
…while needing less care. When plants are growing in a good spot, maintenance is minimal because the roots are free to expand as much as they want and benefit from natural microbes. For this reason, open soil is a popular choice for “guerilla grows” (somewhere well-hidden in the great outdoors like a field) that are hard to reach every day.
Lastly, growing cannabis in soil is often more cost-effective. While pots aren’t going to cost a fortune, cutting your expenses is generally a good thing, and planting directly into the soil will help you save more money in the long run. Since a pot-grown plant usually requires several transplants into bigger pots throughout its life, the cost of pots alone can potentially run into the low hundreds for a hobby gardener, let alone a commercial operation.
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Growing Cannabis in Soil: Cons
Although soil-grown plants need less care, the downside is less control over the environment. Factors like soil type, pH, and nutrient levels are harder to manage, which can make it more difficult to provide optimal growing conditions for your plants. You’ll also need to check the quality and uniformity of the soil. Growers often mix the soil with additives to improve drainage and increase pH or available nutrients.
In open soil, the roots of your plants grow unrestricted, meaning they will take full advantage of the space available. Although vigor and rapid growth are mostly considered good things, sometimes plants can grow out of control, which can be a problem for those who want to keep their garden away from prying eyes. Make sure to train your plants to encourage horizontal growth and control their size.
Lastly, plants that are rooted directly in the ground are vulnerable to weather and seasonal changes because they can't be moved. If heavy storms, strong winds, or floods occur, your crops might not make it through unless you build screens or wire cages to shield plants outdoors. Plus, plants can only be grown at favorable times of year since you can’t bring them indoors if natural daylight is stopping them from flowering or undergoing vegetative growth.
Growing Cannabis in Grow Bags: Pros
Grow bags are a popular alternative to plant containers. First off, they offer excellent aeration. The porous fabric material allows air to reach the root zone, preventing the plants from getting root-bound. This process is known as “air pruning.” When the roots come into contact with fresh air near the walls of the bag, the tips stop growing, basically pruning themselves and causing the plant to produce new, healthier roots.
Another advantage of grow bags is that they can help prevent overwatering. Unlike pots, grow bags allow any extra water to drain out through holes in the fabric material, reducing the risk of root rot, mold, and fungus.
One of the main complaints about plastic, which is a common material for pots, is that it can get very hot in the sun. Grow bags are made of breathable material, allowing excess heat to escape and providing healthy airflow around the roots.
Although pots are more durable and can be reused a bunch of times, most of them are made of plastic, which is neither sustainable nor eco-friendly. On the other hand, some (but not all) grow bags are made from oxo-biodegradable plastics or natural materials like hemp. You can even plant some grow bags in the ground so that they decompose naturally over time.
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Growing Cannabis in Grow Bags: Cons
One downfall of using grow bags is that you have to water the plants more often. Because grow bags are so well aerated, the soil in them dries out faster than in pots. This means you’ll need to monitor the humidity more closely and water your plants more often. If you tend to care less about watering, you might want to pass on grow bags.
A pot may last from several years up to a lifetime. Unfortunately, grow bags aren’t as durable because the fabric can wear out over time, especially when exposed to the elements or when moved frequently. You’ll have to replace them every 2-3 growing seasons. Many grow bags are cheaper than pots, so they may be practical if you only grow occasionally, but the costs will add up in the long term.
Less protection from cold
Grow bags don't provide as much protection from chilly nights as pots. They let air in more easily, but this also means that they don’t keep the warmth in as well. The soil inside grow bags cools down quickly on cold nights, which can harm plants during late spring or early fall frosts. Make sure to keep an eye on the weather forecast!
Lastly, grow bags most often focus on utility over aesthetics. They tend to come in black, brown, or gray and may look less pleasing than traditional hard-sided pots. While this may not be a concern for all growers, some people prefer the look of classic pots over fabric bags, especially when growing in a visible location.
When choosing between growing cannabis in pots, soil, or grow bags, factor in your specific needs and priorities. Pots offer greater control and portability but may require more maintenance. Soil provides a natural and forgiving environment but is harder to manage and move. Grow bags excel in aeration and drainage but are less durable and need to be watered more often. Whatever you choose, with proper care and attention, you can successfully grow healthy and productive plants.
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