Choosing The Best Soil For Cannabis: A Home Grower’s Guide
Growing cannabis in soil is a great way to crop fat, flavoursome buds. Moreover, soil is one of the most forgiving substrates. What are the best soils for growing cannabis? What do you need to know if you want to make your own soil? Our guide answers these questions and more!
Home grower’s guide to the best soil for cannabis.
When growing cannabis, using the right soil is crucial. Unfortunately, sourcing the best soil isn’t always straightforward. From cannabis-specific soils to bargain universal substrates and pre-fertilised types, the sheer amount of options can be overwhelming to novices. And what if you want to make your own soil from scratch?
Let’s talk about the best soil for growing cannabis.
WHAT’S THE BEST SOIL FOR GROWING WEED?
Not every soil is suitable for growing cannabis, and not all cannabis requires the same type of soil. Picking the optimal soil depends on the type of cannabis you’re growing, your climate, whether you’re growing at home or in the wild, etc.
Aside from these factors, there are some common traits among all cannabis soils. Let’s take a look at them:
Cannabis prefers a light and loose soil texture. A light texture promotes root development, and it ensures more oxygen reaches the roots for optimal growth and health.
• Drainage ability
Cannabis soil needs to have excellent drainage. When you water your plants, it shouldn’t pool on top of the soil. If the soil has poor drainage, your plants will get sick and turn out subpar yields, or die.
• Water retention
Just as important as good drainage is water retention, which is the soil’s ability to hold water. Good cannabis soil has an optimal balance of water retention and drainage.
• pH value
pH is a chemical scale that indicates how acidic or alkaline something is. This is important, as cannabis only does well within a small pH range. A good soil for weed has a pH of about 6.0. A pH of 5.8–6.3 will be fine, but if it fluctuates too far outside of this range, you will get diminished yields. If the pH is seriously off, your plants will die.
Cannabis soil needs to contain nutrients so your plants can grow. Fortunately, almost all soils you can buy already feature them. Know, however, that these nutrients will often last only 3–4 weeks. Around the time your plants start to flower, the nutrients in commercial soils will likely be depleted. This is when you should begin to add nutrients.
If you’re growing without additional nutrients, your soil needs to contain organic substances such as humus, compost, worm castings, guano, etc. Microorganisms in the soil will turn these substances into nutrients for your plants to access on demand.
TRAITS OF QUALITY CANNABIS SOIL
If you’re using store-bought potting mixes, these are already optimally “tuned” for growing. Different story if you’re growing organically, though. Natural soil comes in four varieties: sandy, silty, loamy, and clay. But know that most soils consist of varying ratios of these soil types.
For example, a soil may be clay and loamy, or sandy and silty.
Sandy soil is coarse with good drainage, but has poor water retention. When watered, nutrients such as nitrogen will also quickly get washed away. Sandy soil is easy to work with and is a viable choice for cannabis growers.
• Coarse structure
• Low pH
• Pros: Good drainage, keeps soil airy, high oxygen levels, easy to work with
• Cons: Poor water retention, needs frequent watering
Silty soil is a medium-coarse soil type that’s rich in minerals and organic particles. Its water retention is good, yet it has adequate drainage. Silty soils are very easy to work with. The minerals and organic substances within make it one of the most fertile soil types.
• Pros: Contains minerals and nutrients, retains water well
• Cons: Fair drainage
Loamy soil is a combination of sand, silt, and clay soils with added organic compounds. It is one of the best soil types for growing cannabis as it offers optimal water retention and drainage, and it’s rich in nutrients and oxygen. Downside: This type of soil can be expensive.
• Mixture of sand, silt, and clay
• Pros: Excellent water retention and drainage, contains nutrients, high oxygen levels
• Cons: Expensive
Clay soils consist of fine mineral particles. This type of soil is heavy and not easy to work with. It is very rich in nutrients and minerals, which makes it a good option to include in organic grows. Clay soil retains water well, but has poor drainage.
• Fine particle size
• High pH
• Pros: Rich in nutrients, retains water
• Cons: Poor drainage, heavy and compact, hard to work with
AMENDMENTS TO IMPROVE SOIL QUALITY
If you’re working with natural soil, chances are it won’t be perfect for growing cannabis—not from the start, at least. The texture may not be optimal or it may have poor drainage, for example. But you can improve any type of soil by adding amendments, most of which can be found in your local grow shop.
Coco coir (coco fibre) is made from coconut husks. These light fibres provide excellent water retention and can lighten compact soils. Some use a pure coco substrate with special nutrients to cultivate their weed. But to amend existing soil, it’s a good idea to add anywhere up to 30% coco coir, depending on the composition of your base soil.
Perlite is the most widely used soil amendment. Perlite consists of very light, bright-white rocks that greatly improve the drainage and airiness of the soil. Perlite also has decent water retention. To amend your soil with it, add 10–15% of perlite. You can add more, but then your soil may become too light and nutrients may leach out. Good-quality commercial soils often come with added perlite.
Most cannabis growers are familiar with using clay pebbles as part of a hydroponic setup. But did you know they can also be used to enhance soil structure? Adding clay pebbles to the bottom of your raised beds and containers will assist with drainage and prevent water from pooling at the base—a large risk factor when it comes to root rot.
Growers can also add clay pebbles to the top of containers and beds to serve as a mulch. Here, they help to trap moisture in the growing medium by preventing excess evaporation. Clay pebble mulch also casts shade over the top layer of soil, suppressing weeds and keeping beneficial microbes sheltered from the hot rays of the sun.
Vermiculite, just like perlite, is a heat-treated mineral you can use to make your soil lighter.It is also excellent at retaining water. Although vermiculite shares some characteristics with perlite, the two have opposite uses: Use perlite to increase drainage and airiness, and use vermiculite to increase water retention. Luckily, you can use both, as perlite and vermiculite work well together. Around 10% vermiculite is beneficial.
Worm castings are normally seen more as a nutritional soil amendment as they contain a plethora of useful microorganisms that benefit growth. But worm castings will also improve the texture, drainage, and water retention of your soil. When amending your soil with worm castings, use about 25–30%.
If your DIY cannabis soil is rich in organic material, you will likely not need to add nutrients to it. As a matter of fact, some growers make the mistake of adding manure and vegetable scraps to their soil to “fertilise” it. This results in soil getting “too hot” for the plants, hurting their development in turn. If you want to put your vegetable scraps to good use in your garden, you first need to compost them.
If you think you need to amend your cannabis soil with nutrients, you can easily purchase bottled solutions tailored to a plant’s phase of growth.
PHOTOPERIOD VS AUTOFLOWERING
One factor to consider when choosing the right soil for your weed is whether you’re growing photoperiod or autoflowering plants. Autoflowers prefer a light mix with fewer added nutrients. A great substrate for your autoflowering ladies is a 50:50 mix of coco coir and a light, peat-based soil with some added perlite for drainage.
When growing autoflowers, stay away from heavily fertilised soils and certain amendments like bat guano, as these will be too hot and overload your plants with nutrients. The same is true for cannabis seedlings, which do not like high levels of nutrients.
Plant autoflowers in their final growing container in a cup-sized hole in the centre of the soil. Fill the hole with seedling/starter soil with no nutrients and place your seed in it. This way, your seedling can grow without being surrounded by the hot soil, which would otherwise burn it.
For photoperiod plants, start them out in small seedling pots/cups with soil that has little to no nutrients. Replant after a few weeks. More mature plants will tolerate higher nutrient levels much better than seedlings.
STORE-BOUGHT VS HOMEMADE
If you’ve just started growing cannabis, it may be best to simply get ready-made soil from the grow store. The reason for this is that good-quality cannabis soil normally contains everything your plants need for healthy growth, in the optimal ratios. If you want, you can further improve your store-bought soil with a handful of perlite for increased drainage, but otherwise you should be good.
BASIC CANNABIS SOIL RECIPE
On the other hand, there may come a time when you want to make your own soil. After all, why spend good money on soil if your homemade version is even better? Here is a recipe for a basic homemade cannabis soil.
• 1 part vermiculite
• 1 part coco coir peat
• 2 parts compost
• ½–1 cup worm castings (or humus)
1. Sieve the compost to remove larger chunks.
2. Soak the coco coir peat in warm water. Check the directions of the product to see what kind of volume you will be getting.
3. Use a bucket and mix the coco coir peat with the vermiculite.
4. Add the compost.
Done! Double-check the pH value of your homemade soil. It should be in the range of 5.8–6.3.
The above is a basic soil recipe that will serve you well for most grows, indoors and outdoors. But you can further enhance your soil mix by adding organic fertilisers.
Bat guano is an excellent and inexpensive organic fertiliser for flowering marijuana. You can add it to a soil mix or spread it on the topsoil and water in later. You can also look into time-release nutrients such as Easy Boost Organic Nutrition pellets. Add a cup of these to your soil to feed your plants for their whole life cycle—100g is enough for 2–3 cannabis plants. All that’s left to do is water!
No-till cultivation is a gardening method that allows the soil to remain undisturbed (no digging, stirring, overturning, etc.). This way, microorganisms in the soil can create a thriving ecosystem that replenishes the soil with good bacteria, helpful fungi, and other living organisms. No-till cultivation promotes organic matter retention and water absorption because nutrients are constantly being recycled throughout the soil.
To learn about no-till cultivation and its benefits, check out this article!
AMENDMENTS FOR ARID/DROUGHT CONDITIONS
If you’re growing outdoors in a hot climate such as Southern Spain or a similar location, you don’t want to “cook” the root zone of your plants. If you’re using pots, choose white plastic containers, as these help to keep the soil temperature at a reasonable level under the beating sun. You can also look to air pots or smart pots to keep the roots of your cannabis plants cool. As an additional measure to protect the soil from fluctuating temperatures, you can add layers of dry straw onto the topsoil.
If you’re growing in drought conditions where your plants may at times go weeks without rain, or if you can’t make daily trips to your guerrilla grow location, use water-absorbent polymers to keep them hydrated! You can get these from hydroponic grow stores or can cut them out of diapers.
For a guerrilla grow in dry conditions, dig a hole about 60cm deep and 30cm in diameter. Add a few cups of polymer crystals to the bottom of the soil mix and fill up with the remaining soil. Place your plant into the soil and water liberally. As your plant grows, the roots will soon reach the polymers so it can drink even during drought. Tip: Soak the polymers in a light nutrient solution for a double benefit!Soil is the medium of choice for most cannabis cultivators. Here is what you need to know to get the most out of your soil grow!
Dirt Weed (in name only)
Lacking the capital for expensive growing mediums, Uncle Buds took a low-tech approach and found success by using the fertile native soil of Eastern Washington
Story by Greg James
Photos by Ken Pedevilla, Byron Miller and Greg James
“Dirt weed” is not ordinarily a name associated with high-quality marijuana. In fact, if you asked most people familiar with the term, they’d say it was mostly used in the past to describe the least desirable grade of Mexican pot that was widely available in the 1970s.
Sold at $10 a lid (roughly an ounce), dirt weed was low potency, poorly cured, often moldy mixed-field cannabis from Central Mexico.
Dirt weed as used in this article is actually the opposite — a well-tended crop of good quality marijuana grown in the native soil of the Okanogan Valley a few miles north of Omak, Washington.
Byron Miller, the owner of Uncle Buds, had two major challenges when he planted this past spring. He had limited capital and lacked the resources to plant in expensive pre-mixed potting soil. And, like so many others, he got a relatively late start to the spring planting season. After some serious soul-searching, Byron decided he’d scale back his original plans and see what he could do using mostly native soil, limited cash and a smaller crop.
In early June 2015, Byron and several friends spent a week tilling and digging, tilling and digging, and tilling and digging some more. In the end, they managed to do a good job of turning and aerating close to an acre of native soil in an area on the west side of the Okanogan River. While the soil didn’t look ideal and had a much higher sand content than most cannabis growers would prefer, Byron knew surrounding farmers managed to produce some great orchard fruit and corn in the same area. Besides, he thought, the native bunchgrass, bitterbrush and sage already grew well on his plot of land. The trick, he reckoned, was to make sure the existing soil was properly prepared. Byron planted 800 female starts of various sizes on June 6, with the vast majority either planted straight into the existing soil, or in fabric pots that were mostly native soil with some higher quality potting soil on the bottom to act as a stabilizer and moisture retention agent.
Byron’s choice of strains included many of the usual suspects: Girl Scout Cookies, Blueberry Kush, Dutch Treat, Pineapple Kush, Blue Dream, Juicy Fruit and Purps, to name a few. When the initial planting was done, Byron installed a drip system for irrigation and nutrient delivery. He used a relatively simple design that utilized a standard stock tank with gravity-fed hoses and drip lines. The drip lines were manually controlled, but effective. Since money was tight, and ingenuity had to be substituted for capital, most of the equipment was bought at Home Depot and the local ranch supply store.
Byron, who was originally from the Seattle area, sees his situation as typical among some business owners in the cannabis space: “I initially figured this would be a relatively simple process, but many of my original ideas and plans had to be modified, altered and scaled back along the way,” he said. “A lot of the problems I encountered would not have happened if the licensing process moved along faster.
“Like a lot of people, I thought we’d get things going last summer, but what turned out to be the most vexing issue was not the actual process of getting the grow license, but finding the right place to set up shop, and a land owner who was friendly and open-minded when it came to the new cannabis industry.”
It wasn’t easy. One promising location was nixed because of an infestation of mites among some local hop growers (hops are notorious mite nurseries). Another was passed over because of community opposition.
“In the end, I settled on a plot just north of Omak that had proven itself as a successful medical grow site,” Byron said. He connected with Lynette Key, who — along with Richard “Bud” Vest — was eager to get a state-licensed facility up and operational on Bud’s land. Bud and Lynette grew several strains of medical cannabis at the location, and many of those test plants produced more than four pounds of flower in 2014. Some of their biggest producers were planted in the local native soil.
Lynette has her own ideas why.
“Ideally all growers would love to plant in a specially mixed, high-quality potting soil,” she said. “Sometimes, though, if you don’t have the cash, you go with what you have, and make do. I knew that this area had soil that would work because of all the orchards around us. They use native soil and produce lots of fruit. We decided to test it and see what would happen.
“We also knew we were not going to have the money of the big, well-financed growers and decided to embark on a different path that substituted hard work and sweat for capital expenditures.”
Meanwhile, Byron is a pragmatist: “Without a lot of money and big financial backers, I knew I wasn’t going to produce a lot of AAA, top-shelf bud, so my goal and business model morphed into something a bit more realistic; I decided that I’d mostly produce for the oil and hash market, and sell off the crop to a processor who could then create other value-add products with a good supply of flower and relatively high-THC, sun-grown cannabis.”
When the first early maturing strains were harvested in mid-September, Byron and Lynette were pleasantly surprised.
“I was blown away,” Byron said. “Our Juicy Fruit came in at 27% THC, and turned out to be quite good. It wasn’t the stuff of legends, but I’ll take 27% THC any day, and for the cost per gram that I produced it for, I consider it to be a big success.”
Later harvests also proved to be overachievers and consistently came in at 22-27% THC.
Byron and Lynette are justifiably proud of the farm they named Uncle Buds in honor of Bud, who passed away in the spring of 2015 at the ripe old age of 89. Lynette is certain Bud would be proud of their crop.
”Bud never used marijuana, but he was always an open-minded guy, and thought that pot was probably no worse than the whiskey so many of his friends consumed,” she said. “Back in 2013, when word spread that he was going to allow a marijuana farm on his property, lots of his old friends shunned him. But he shrugged it off, and said they probably weren’t real friends anyway.”
Lynette’s words speak volumes about a wonderful, friendly man who lived a full life and loved visitors to his little ranch just off Highway 97 near Omak.
Together, Byron and Lynette have defied the odds. On a shoestring budget, they managed to grow a big field of cannabis that turned out to be much better than the naysayers predicted. And, in the process, they kept alive a promise made to Bud.Dirt Weed (in name only) Lacking the capital for expensive growing mediums, Uncle Buds took a low-tech approach and found success by using the fertile native soil of Eastern Washington Story ]]>