It takes patience, the right setup and some cash upfront to grow primo pot

The thing about marijuana is that there are female and male plants. Male plants are bad and just want to fertilize the female plants, which have all the good stuff in their unfertilized flower buds. – Yarygin , Getty Images/iStockphoto


Growing your own marijuana — a legal practice in Canada as of this week — is not for the dabbler.

Yes, you can stick a pot plant on your windowsill for the amusement of visitors and passersby and it will grow and look interesting. The resilient plant isn’t known as “weed” for nothing.

But if you want to grow cannabis for its psychoactive (i.e. mind-expanding) properties, it requires preparation, commitment and a lot of attention to detail. You can’t just stick it in a pot and expect quality “product” from it.

This is a column I did not expect, as recently as a couple of years ago, to write. But marijuana cultivation — to a limit of four plants per household — is now legal. You can grow pot for your own use without fear. For the open-minded, and to the courts, it is little different than growing a spider plant or starting geraniums.

“You can grow it, and it looks fine, but to take it through to the end (product) takes a lot of practice. It is a very finicky plant and it is not easy to grow properly.”  Gardener X


My experience with marijuana is extremely limited, so I turned to the partner of a friend for advice. He has been growing marijuana in their home for a few years. But that’s not been legal, so we agreed to anonymity. I’ll call him “X.”

X has grown marijuana, in the house he shares with partner “Y” and in large pots in the back garden, for their use pretty much since the last of her children moved out. They’re regular users of pot (as opposed to occasional), consuming a couple of ounces each a month. They figure they save at least $12,000 a year by growing their own.

“You can grow it, and it looks fine, but to take it through to the end (product) takes a lot of practice,” X says. “It is a very finicky plant and it is not easy to grow properly.”

In this part of the world, growing pot outdoors is not an option for at least the next eight months, and there seems to be a lack of clarity on whether it will be allowed when the warm weather does come back. Quebec and Manitoba do not allow home cultivation. Alberta does not allow outdoor cultivation. So, for the short term, anyway, let’s talk about growing pot in your home.

You will need a “grow room” of some kind. That can be a closet, a spare room or even a collapsible “grow tent” that you could purchase online. But you will need to keep the plant in near-total darkness for up to 12 hours a day, so the kitchen counter won’t work. “And, besides,” says Y, “it stinks.”

You will need grow lights. You can get strong, commercial-grade lights (which can also generate a lot of heat) or, most recently, you can get LED grow lights. But you will need something to make up for reduced light levels inside a house and those short, cloudy winter days. You also need good ventilation. X grows all his marijuana in soil-less mix in pots, not hydroponically, so he says moisture/humidity is not a problem. But X’s neighbour lost his plants to powdery mildew; adequate ventilation and not growing plants too close together are the best ways of avoiding that.

“There’s a bit of an expense to setting up,” Y says.

She also notes you need room: a mature, healthy plant can be close to two metres tall, and more than a metre wide. (One plant can produce between one and two kilograms of buds.)

To start, you need seeds. The Ontario Cannabis Store (, the government’s website that is now the only legal source for cannabis products) is not currently selling seed and only says that it will “when available.” Further clarification on that was not forthcoming. So, you can wait for marijuana seed to become available. However, cannabis seeds were openly sold by two garden centres at area garden shows this year, so it is possible to start plants without the government’s blessing. X says five or six seeds can cost anywhere from $60 to $100 on the non-government market. It’s not known what the government will charge.

(X, for one, says he will never buy anything from the government cannabis store. As far as he’s concerned, it is there to collect data on who buys what and that information can be used against you sometime in the future. “I didn’t need the government’s permission to grow pot back then and I don’t need the government’s permission to do it now.”)

Anyway. Back to growing pot.

Seeds go into a container of the best quality potting mix (no pun intended) you can buy.

“Marijuana plants will suck up all the nutrients really fast.”

Seeds show in around 20 days (that can vary).

The thing about marijuana is that there are female and male plants. Male plants are bad and just want to fertilize the female plants, which have all the good stuff in their unfertilized flower buds. So, when a plant is four to six leaf nodes high, you have to check the little pre-flower buds that form where the branch meets the stem. Male plants have little balls at the nodes; female plants have little hairy stigma. X says he tosses the male plants in the compost. Female plants, once identified, get moved into a large five-gallon pot. Leaving room for root growth is essential, he says. Once the female plants are identified, they go onto a cycle of 12 hours of light, 12 hours of darkness, X says.

There are three stages to the life cycle of a marijuana plant, X says: the seedling stage, the vegetative stage that begins with identifying the sex of the plant, and the flowering stage. That flowering stage ends with the harvest period that only lasts a week or two. Experience is the best teacher, but there are two ways of knowing when to collect the seedless buds: when the white pistils start to darken and curl in, or (much more accurately for maximum THC content) when the tiny trichomes or resin glands on the buds start to turn from clear to milky white. You would need a magnifying glass or jeweller’s loupe to see the trichomes.

Marijuana plants, like many others, do not like wet feet. Constant wet soil will kill the plant. So, pots MUST have drainage holes. Y says one or both of them spend at least an hour a day checking on the plants, adjusting the timing of the lights, watering, feeding and checking for spider mites or other pests.

“Cleanliness is really important,” she says.

Feeding the nutrient-devouring plants is crucial, X says. Fertilizers are measured by three numbers: the percentages of nitrogen (for vegetative growth), phosphorus (for root growth) and potassium (plant health and flower formation).

“You need to know your numbers,” X says.

Again, experience is the best teacher of what a marijuana plant needs.

“It’s a lot of work,” Y says. “But it does save us a lot of money.”

Rob Howard is a garden writer, speaker and garden coach who lives and gardens in Hamilton. Find him on Facebook at Rob Howard: Garden Writer, or email him at


BY Rob Howard