Wednesday January 12, 2022
By Trevor Ross
Growing cannabis in a hot, dry climate or desert region is challenging, but not impossible. In fact, some of the most original strains we have, regional landrace strains unadulterated for a thousand years, flourished in arid regions like Afghanistan, or the equatorial heat of Africa. The long, sunny days help the plants grow large, but cannabis plants are thirsty girls, and will require a lot of water.
In this article, we explore how to grow cannabis in dry climates, the challenges you can expect, and tips to overcome them.
Tips for Watering Cannabis in Dry Climates
When growing cannabis in the high and dry, the steepest challenge is water, especially because many arid regions enact watering limits to preserve resources. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the fact that your cannabis plants will guzzle water, and you won’t want to deny them any. However, there are some steps to make your watering more efficient and effective.
Cannabis plants require about one gallon of water per day for every pound of flower you expect to harvest. So assuming your plant does well and you harvest about a pound (16 oz) from a plant that takes five months to grow (1g x 1lb x 150 days), expect to feed each plant about 150 gallons of water.
Less, accounting for the seedling stage; more, if you push for maximum yield, then multiplied by how many plants you have. Those numbers rise quickly, so the best thing to do is to make sure the water you pour is actually getting to your plant.
When growing outside in dry climates, always mulch the soil. It’s an inch shy of necessary because your plant can technically survive without it, but you will go through much more water if you don’t cover the soil. Mulching with straw or bark will shade the ground around your plant, preventing water from evaporating, while also keeping the root ball cool. Deeper soil is comfortable for plants, shallow roots can suffer heat stress, stunting the plant’s growth. All of this can be solved with a thick layer of mulch about as wide as the branches stretch.
In addition to covering the soil, consider mixing in a substrate that will retain moisture. Coconut coir is a common option, and peat moss works just as well, though carries a larger environmental footprint. Water-retaining polymers, or “water crystals,” may also be added to dry soil to increase the amount of time between watering. These dry crystals look like salt, but swell up several times their size when they absorb water. The resulting gelatinous cubes then remain in the soil for the roots to drink from until more water arrives.
Finally, water plants early in the day, before it gets too warm. Similar to mulching, this is done to help you race against evaporation. Watering plants in the morning gives them time to consume it before the temperature rises.
To further save on watering costs, consider harvesting free water in a rain barrel.
While many of these concerns apply to outdoor growers, even those using a tent or greenhouse will need to account for the dry air.
Harvesting Cannabis in Dry Climates
Harvested cannabis needs to dry for about a week before it can be cured to completion, but precisely how to dry depends on how arid or temperate your climate is. There are two options at this stage: wet trimming (trimming then drying), and dry trimming (drying then trimming).
As a general rule, wet trimming is recommended for wetter climates, and dry trimming for dry climates. Dry trimming means cutting and hanging whole branches up to dry, as opposed to trimming the buds free of wet, living plant material before drying them. If the buds are stripped naked in desert air, they may dry too quickly, or too severely, leaving them brittle, bitter, and less potent.
The advantage of keeping the buds intact and attached to the branches is that it allows the buds to draw from that remaining moisture so they dry out more gradually. This better prepares them for the curing process, which is ultimately a further controlled drying process.
The recommended humidity for both growing and drying cannabis is 40-50% relative humidity (RH). The inside of a curing container should be 60-65% RH.
Best Strains for Desert Climates
The best chance you can give yourself for a successful grow op in a dry climate is to cultivate strains that are comfortable in the heat, or strains that can grow quickly to minimize water consumption.
Ancient sativas like Thai and Durban Poison adapted over thousands of years to the heat of Thailand and South Africa, respectively. Other strains cultivated near the equator include Acapulco Gold from Mexico, and Lamb’s Bread from Jamaica.
Any of these are well-adapted to heat and will endure it well. Sour Diesel is a modern hybrid with decent heat resistance, but a flowering time just over four months may be challenging to sustain.
Another strategy to manage the heat is to get your plants grown and harvested as fast as possible to minimize elemental damage and watering costs. With a flowering time as short as eight weeks, Jack Herer can produce a lot of flower in a little amount of time. OG Kush is another popular fast-flowering strain that is forgiving to novice growers.
Growing in dry conditions is a challenge, but growing anywhere, even in a greenhouse, brings unique challenges. The growing environment is always a factor in the process. The flipside is that every environment has its benefits as well. If you’re growing outside in desert conditions, the long hours of sunlight will help your plants grow large, and even indoor growers in arid regions will face less threat from mold. So while you might be struggling to find enough water, some poor grower in the rain is scrapping rotten branches.
Do you grow in a high, dry climate? Share some tips with us in the comments below!
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