Outdoor Weed vs Indoor Weed: Which Growing Environment is Superior?

“Outdoor weed” has become quite the buzzword in the cannabis community recently, and of course, you have to know what it’s all about.

Are you wondering exactly what makes outdoor weed so unique and special, and why you should definitely give it a try before blindly believing the unfounded rumors that outdoor weed is always inferior to cannabis grown indoors in a controlled environment? We’re thrilled to take you on a ride through this brave new landscape!

A Brief History of Outdoor Weed

Weed has, as any cannabis enthusiast knows all too well, been popular for millennia — originating in Central Asia, weed inevitably found its way across the globe, and the most diverse of cultures have turned to marijuana for medicinal, recreational, and even religious reasons.

Let there be no doubt. “Outdoor weed”, as it’s commonly called today, might be seen as an oddity now, but it is the one and only OG way to cultivate cannabis. The history of outdoor weed is, therefore, the majority of the history of weed — period.

Growing weed outdoors can be as simple as allowing nature to take its course, or as complex as the producer makes it to give the plants all the love they need to reach their full potential. Growing outdoors is also synonymous with all-natural organic-grown cannabis, which is always reassuring involving any plant material being consumed, whether it be the produce at your local grocery store or the nugs you pick up from your local dispensary.

Cannabis was vilified in the United States as early as 1929, when newspapers used images of Mexican farmers growing weed outdoors to paint a racist picture of foreign mobster gangs luring vulnerable American workers, youths, and even “girls” into heavy “narcotic” use to rile up support for a ban. 

Nixon on cannabis meme

It wasn’t until Reagan and his War on Drugs rolled around in the 1980s that American cannabis growers were largely forced to move their growth operations indoors, though. Perhaps it is partly thanks to these basement home-growers and greenhouse growers that federal efforts to kill the plant off entirely failed.

In the process, growers made a bunch of new discoveries that evolved the industry for the better including complex indoor lighting systems and air circulation practices to increase their yields, techniques still paying dividends today.

With the use of novel, and rather sophisticated, growing equipment like integrated climate control systems or even wifi-connected “smart grow boxes“, humankind took complete control of a plant that had been leading the way almost since the dawn of civilization. Indoor growers could, and can still, control all aspects of cannabis growth. Temperature. Humidity and water. Wind. Light. You name it, today experienced cultivation experts are playing god and doing a pretty damn good job at it.

When you look at the grand picture, it’s a bit surprising, really, that indoor weed has become the norm in many markets as little as four decades, consisting over 40% of all cannabis grown in 2020. The actual history of outdoor weed is long and strong. It’s actually indoor cannabis that’s the new kid on the block, and for some reason we tend to forget that now, perhaps because there are more and more younger consumers with different preferences.

With the increasing legalization of marijuana, though, outdoor weed is also slowly making a comeback. It’s got a bit of a bad reputation for some, usually those who bought ditch weed in the 60’s, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried some quality sun-grown cannabis because while different than some indoor LED-grown exotics, they are not inferior in any way and actually bring some unique qualities of their own to the table.

commercial grow solutions

Outdoor vs Indoor Weed: Pros & Cons Explained

The default assumption that all indoor-grown cannabis is superior to outdoor grown is actually demonstrably false. There are a whole host of reasons where outdoor-grown weed shines next to it’s indoor-grown sisters.

Outdoor Weed: The Pros

The benefits of outdoor weed can be sorted into roughly three categories — practical considerations for growers, benefits that relate to user experience, and environmental concerns.

Outdoor weed can grow tall and proud (depending on whether you HST or LST), not being saddled with the same spacial restrictions indoor weed has, sometimes leading to stunted growth. This makes outdoor growing particularly attractive for farmers cultivating strains that naturally grow tall and need more time to flourish, namely the very Cannabis Sativa strains that are so famous for producing the most mind-expanding highs. 

Weed that’s grown outdoors is firmly rooted in natural soil, which many companies and growers spend considerable efforts to try to recreate or mimic with various soil blends utilizing organic matter found already existing in nature.

Being exposed to fresh clean air constantly circulated via natural wind, and able to reap the benefits that only natural sunlight offers generally means bigger and stronger buds, which are also natural, just the way. nature intended. Mother nature is generous.

Although growing weed indoors originally evolved by necessity, the process has been perfected to such a stage that it’s now often seen as superior. Don’t let that fool you, though, as not even the most advanced setup can quite replicate the natural world in all its marvel.

For farmers, outdoor growth doesn’t just lead to bigger yields and taller plants that together create a literal sea of green, but also a much more inexpensive setup, and a less time-consuming endeavor.

Outdoor weed growers may investigate pesticide use or organic pest control, irrigation, and mulch, for instance, but they definitely won’t need to invest in grow lights, grow tents, timers, circulation fans, carbon filters, and other equipment indoor weed growers depend on by necessity. They’ll also be guaranteed to have much lower electricity bills, so the benefits continue even once you take this initial investment out of the equation.

Consumers who are committed to “going green” in more ways than one should also consider this shocking fact as they decide whether to buy outdoor or indoor weed. Research has established that lettuce grown indoors comes with up to 20 times the carbon footprint when compared to lettuce grown outside — a figure that remains true even when the energy it takes to transport this salad green over larger distances is taken into account.

benefits of outdoor grown cannabis

Although no similar data exists to pinpoint precisely how much more ecologically-friendly outdoor weed is vs indoor weed, we do know that outdoor weed is better for the planet simply in how it leverages existing “green energy” like the sun (solar) and wind, and well, earth itself in terms of growing mediums.

The message? Do your bit to fight climate change. Smoke outdoor weed if you can.

Still not convinced? Let’s put it this way. Some outdoor weed might produce a less potent high, that’s true, but expertly grown outdoor weed can, at the very least, offer an experience that’s a bit different, but just as good, as most strains commercially grown indoors.

How? Because the unique combo of the sun (and its entire, glorious, spectrum of light) and a pro grower can lead to higher levels of cannabinoids and more unique terpene profiles than you’d get from most indoor cannabis with single-source light types.

The sensation experienced when smoking cannabis isn’t dictated entirely by THC alone, it’s the famous entourage effect of terpenes that separate one unique sensation from another, and organic, outdoor-grown weed brings it’s own unique set of terpene profiles and flavors to the table. Enjoyable? You bet!

So, What About the Cons of Outdoor Weed?

The art — nope, the science, actually — of growing cannabis indoors has been perfected over the last 40 or so years, skilled indoor growers know exactly what sort of product they’ll end up with by the end of the process. They know this because they make it happen with the help of advanced technology that completely controls the plants’ entire environment, down to the smallest details and with great precision.

It’s not that human involvement is completely taken out of the picture with outdoor weed, of course. Farmers still have decide where, when, and how to plant, what strains to grow, whether to use pesticides, and if they need to take steps to improve the soil quality.

Factors such as precipitation, humidity, clouds, and temperature are, on the other hand, impossible to influence. Pests can be a true challenge for outdoor weed growers, as well, even with the use of pesticides. 

Unexpected natural surprises, like extreme weather events or overzealous pests, can ruin outdoor weed in… well, sometimes, literally a matter of seconds. In those worst-case scenarios, all your work goes to pot, and you have to start over again, which can be a huge blow both to the human spirit and that spirit’s associated bank account.

These cons are largely risks large-scale farmers take on. They definitely won’t get in your way if you’re simply enjoying a batch of top-quality Sativa grown au naturel. They also won’t bother you too much if you live in a place where you’re legally allowed to grow small quantities of weed outdoors for your own use — if your plants fail to thrive, after all, you’ll still simply be able to head for the nearest legal weed market and get your hands on some great indoor weed.

Outdoor Weed vs Indoor Weed: Which Growing Environment is Superior?

How Is Outdoor Weed Grown?

Has your curiosity been peaked? Do you live someplace where it’s legal to grow your own outdoor weed in small quantities? Well, there’s little to stop you from giving it a try, then! You might not succeed right away, and the amounts you’ll end up with are probably going to be negligible, but here’s a quick look at the basic steps:

  • Cannabis plants need a lot of sunlight to thrive. If you’re anywhere in the United States or the northern hemisphere, that means you’ll want to pick a south-facing spot for your weed plants. 
  • You’ll ideally have your soil quality professionally tested. If you’re just experimenting, at least check whether the soil has a loose quality and drains well. What else have you grown in your garden, and how have your other plants performed? This will shed some light on your weed growth potential.
  • Next, you’ll need to research what strains grow best in your area. You can obtain feminized seeds or clones online, start them off in a pot, and transplant them to your garden once they’re strong enough. In the earliest of stages, your plants will be especially vulnerable to weather changes and pests. 
  • Depending on the level of precipitation you get in your region, you may have to water your plants. 
  • Keep a close eye on your cannabis plants the entire time, and head online for some troubleshooting if you notice any problems. Plenty of home growers will be happy to help you out!

It can get much more complex if you want it to, to be sure, and you’ll want to consider ways to offer shade as well as fertilizer options if you are more serious about growing your own weed outdoors. In addition to the above outline we have a guide where we list all the best places to learn the ins-and-outs of growing plus some of the best educational books to get you started.

indoor vs outdoor differences

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Outdoor vs Indoor Weed?

When we’re considering what makes outdoor weed unique, one obvious question is whether you can tell which weed was grown indoors vs outdoors — without road-testing it. Though not a fool-proof, here are some helpful clues. 

  • Outdoor weed isn’t constricted, and has the chance to grow wide and tall. You’ll often be able to tell that weed was grown outdoors because the stems will be thicker and sturdier, and the buds significantly larger. 
  • Weed grown outdoors will often but not always, have a lower trichome density for the same reason, offering another strong hint.
  • Outdoor weed generally has a stronger, deeper color. There’s more variation as well, as the bottom of the plant’s usually going to have a brownish tint. Indoor weed will have a lighter, more faded, as well as a more uniform color.
  • You can tell by the smell, too. Outdoor weed tends to have a more earthy, herbal odor with a good dose of resin in the mix.

What Cannabis Strains Grow Best Outdoors?

The best cannabis strains to grow outside will depend, to some extent, on your region. Some of the strains most successfully grown naturally outdoors, however, include these beauties. 

White Widow is a potent hybrid, a cross of Brazilian sativa landrace and South Indian Indica. That makes it wonderful for pleasure as well as pain relief. This plant is uniquely resistant to pests, thanks to its resin, and each plant’s going to give you around 300 grams.

OG Kush is one of the easiest strains to grow outside without much intervention on your part, especially if you live in a warmer climate. This special hybrid has a wonderfully fresh taste and a high THC content.

Honey Cream is a great choice for folks who want to see results fast, because this hybrid buds in about six weeks! A plant can yield as much as 500 grams. 

LSD, so called because of its strong cerebral effects, is another prime choice for beginning outdoor growers for the simple reason that it’s resistant to fungi and insect pests. This one is hard to mess up if you’re in a particularly hot climate.

Having said that, experienced and skilled growers can nurture any strain, Indica, Sativa, or hybrid, to maturity beautifully outdoors. The quality of the final product ultimately depends on the farmer, and the good news is that any weed aficionado can now experience outdoor weed for themselves — even if you don’t have a green thumb and will never grow your own. Simply ask your legal weed dispensary what they have on offer!

As legal weed markets expand and environmental sustainability becomes increasingly important, you can bet that weed’s going back to its all-natural roots. This trend is here to stay. 

HerbCEO Final Thoughts

Herb CEO Summary

We’ve personally come full circle on the whole indoor vs indoor, soil vs hydro debate. Early on we preferred the simplicity and affordability of naturally grown outdoor cannabis because that was more readily available. After moving to Portland we got heavy into the hydro-grown gloriously resinous strains that only high amounts of cannabis fertilizer and complex LEDs can produce.

After trying a few outdoor grown sativas though from our local dispensary we were turned back on to the wonders that mother nature and only mother nature can seemingly distill in a specific plant. Also as time goes on, and as world leaders continue to fail to address climate change in any meaningful way we feel more and more motivated to make responsible purchasing decisions in terms of environmental impact.

So now we use glass Re-stash jars for buying larger amounts of flower, and we like to support local growers who incorporate sustainability into their growing and/or eco-packaging solutions. We’ve only got one earth, and despite the exotic intrigue that the notion of Mars-grown hydro presents we’re not ready to leave this pretty blue and green marble just yet.

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