For the more enthusiastic cannabis lover, their attention often turns from rolling joints to another facet of the plant—cultivation. Around this time every year we get flooded with questions from the home hobbyist asking about growing “just one little pot plant” in their own home.
How to Begin
First, let’s remove any fear you may have that this is going to be difficult. It is not.
We call it “weed” for a reason—because it grows easily and anywhere, like a weed. That being said, there is one central aspect to growing a pot plant that everyone needs to understand, and that is that cannabis is a flowering plant, meaning that in nature it bears its fruits only once a year, during the fall season when the daylight hours grow shorter.
This is important for the home indoor grower because the light period, or photoperiod, of the plant must be controlled. What this simply means is that a pot plant must be placed in 12+ hours of light every day in order to keep the plant from flowering.
You might ask, “Why not just let the plant flower immediately and harvest some nice buds and get to the smoking?”
Well, in truth, you could do that. But if an immature plant flowers too early, there won’t be much harvest to be had. Ideally, a pot plant need to grow, or “vegetate,” for at least a few weeks before flowering. Otherwise, the harvesting of it’s fruit will be extremely disappointing.
In order to keep a plant in vegetation and to garner a healthy, well-developed specimen, a young seedling should be grown for four to six weeks before flowering is induced. During this time, the plant should get a minimum of 16 hours of light, but 18-20 hours is a safer bet. To do this indoors—even near a window with good sunlight—a lamp will be needed to ensure the proper length of its photoperiod.
Your lamp is going to be the most expensive part of the process, but there are relatively inexpensive lamps available that will do the job. Serious growers use more specialized and expensive lamps, but to grow just one plant at home, many lights will work. A 250-watt HID (high-intensity discharge) bulb—either an HPS (high-pressure sodium) or MH (metal halide)—can be found in hardware stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot for as little as $25. However, these bulbs do require a specialized HID fixture and/or ballast, as they do not screw into any standard home fixture safely. (These fixtures may run as much as $200.)
Alternatively, if you do have a window with very good light and the power of the sun for a good portion of the day, you can also use fluorescent bulbs to supplement the sunlight after sunset. Fluorescent bulbs such as T5’s, T8’s or even CFL’s can provide enough light to keep your plant in a vegetative state.
However, remember that the less intense the light, the less the plant will develop. The option of fluorescent bulbs should only be used as supplemental light for plants that receive strong sunlight during the day. If the light provided during the day is too weak, a plant will stretch wildly and not develop well enough for a harvest. If this is the case, consider using the 250-watt HID option for the full 12-hour photoperiod during flowering, away from a window in it’s own enclosed location.
Triggering the Flowering Cycle
Once your plant has developed enough and reached a point that she can produce enough flowers for a decent harvest, it is time to bring her light cycle to an even 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark each day. This does not mean that you will no longer need your lamp though. During the 12-hour photoperiod of flowering, the plant will need the strongest light possible to help her produce energy for her fruit.
If your plant could be in direct sunlight for these 12 hours, you would not need strong supplemental lighting. However, even outdoors this is usually not possible. Your best option for flowering is to move your plant into an enclosed location such as a closet or cabinet where you can hang your lamp overhead and control the light cycle exactly as needed. To do this, use a standard outlet timer and set it to a 12-hour cycle.
During the dark cycle, it is extremely important that no light enters the plant space. Any light leaks can disrupt the plant’s flowering and cause stress or confuse the plant, forcing her to hermaphrodite (creating seeded flowers) or severely weaken yield and quality.