How to grow cannabis on your balcony

Here are a few tips for cultivating stellar weed in your outdoor space

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The first thing to know about growing cannabis on your balcony is that it really smells.

By midsummer, a flowering cannabis plant will produce an exceptionally pungent, skunk-like odour that not too many neighbours will appreciate. In fact, some cities are looking at bylaws to deal with the funk factor associated with personal pot gardens.

While some home growers claim high-fragrance herbs and flowers can do wonders to reduce the smell, Curtis Wallace says good luck.

“There is no masking the smell of cannabis,” the director of cultivation at WeedMD tells CannCentral. Wallace has over a decade of experience studying and growing both small-batch and commercial cannabis, so he’s immensely familiar with what works and what doesn’t.

Fortunately, for back-yard and balcony growers in most Canadian provinces and some American states, there is currently no legal reason to try and hide the smell of cannabis.

In 2018, Canada legalized cannabis, including the practice of growing it at home. The Cannabis Act specifies that each household can cultivate up to four plants – either indoors or out. Manitoba and Quebec have opted to prohibit homegrown cannabis.

While the musky odour can be a bit unbearable, if only for a few weeks, there is a significant cost advantage to growing your own cannabis. Think 50 cents per gram or less compared to $10 per gram at a retail cannabis store.

Here are a few tips for cultivating stellar weed on your balcony this summer.

Sunshine girls

With urban gardening gaining in popularity in recent years, many condo owners and apartment dwellers are transforming their balconies from private outdoor sanctuaries into thriving veggie gardens.

As with lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes, growing weed on a balcony is actually pretty easy. With plenty of sunshine, especially on a south- or east-facing balcony, your cannabis can easily produce a significant yield and pretty decent bud, too.

“It’s best when they get full sunlight,” says Wallace. “If they could get sun the entire day, your plants will love it.”

Cannabis seeds and plants for your personal pot garden must be purchased from a licensed producer, or authorized provincial and territorial retailers. Be sure to look for autoflowering or “feminized” seeds, which, unlike male plants, are guaranteed to flower. 

When it comes to choosing soil for your cannabis, Wallace says, “What may be good for one strain is not good for another.”

But generally, autoflowering cannabis will do well in a lightly fertilized to nonfertilized soil mix with a pH of between 6.0 and 7.0. Go easy on the fertilizer during the seedling stage.

Size matters

Indica-dominant hybrids can grow to a height of two or three feet from the top of a pot that is 12-to-18 inches in diameter, while a sativa can reach 20 feet or more.

“Cannabis grows very fast, so it can sometimes be very hard to maintain,” says Wallace.

For balcony growers whodon’t want their plants to get too high, a good trick is to scale down on the size of the container. 

Another is to plant later in the year than usual. “If you want to grow a sativa plant, you can start mid-July,” he says.

Most outdoor-grown cannabis will begin to flower and stop growingwhen the days get shorter. A mid-July start gives the plant only a few weeks to grow, as opposed to months.

All strains should be started in small pots and then transplanted into larger containers after a couple of weeks.

Nature at home

Regardless of what you plant or where, all growers should be on the lookout for garden pests like aphids, caterpillars, and fungal diseases. These guys threaten to not only reduce your yield but destroy the fruits of your labour entirely.

Even cannabis plants growing way up on a 32nd-floor balcony are susceptible to pests and pathogens. Cultivating cannabis outdoors involves regular inspection, says Wallace.

“When you grow outside, you’re really at the hands of Mother Nature,” he says.

Bug-repellent companion plants like basil, garlic, marigolds, and petuniasalong with regular doses/applications of neem oil, can help keep your crop free from infestation.

Balcony growers, especially those who live on the higher floors of buildings, should also be beware of strong winds, which can break stems or topple pots.

Finally, cannabis plants love to drink. In fact, when they’re at the flowering stage, they’ll guzzle up to four litres of water a day, depending on their size. If you plan to go away, have a system in place to ensure your cannabis plants don’t suffer from drought. On the opposite end of the spectrum, long periods of rain can saturate the soil and stunt plant growth, so make sure you have some kind of cover on your balcony.

Whether you start with seeds or plants, growing your own weed can demand a time investment, but the payoff is highly worthwhile, especially for consumers.

And hey, don’t worry too much about the smell, Wallace says. “Just tell your neighbours you got a pet skunk.”

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