how to grow top shelf weed

Going pro: Anyone can grow top-shelf bud — if they put in the time.

Q: I love the top-shelf cannabis at the dispensary, but I’m tired of paying $60 an eighth. How long will it take me to grow pot like that?
— T.K., Petaluma

Anyone can grow world-class weed. But just like any other skill, cultivating cannabis like a pro takes time. You have to make a lot of mistakes, learn how to recognize problems early on, and how to correct those problems as quickly as possible. This takes experience, and there is no substitute for experience.

Flowering plants develop very rapidly and can change in appearance every single day of their 8-10 week cycle. This requires daily vigilance — and the margin for error is tiny. One wrong move on the part of the gardener can damage the final product’s potential, even if the mistake is corrected within a day or two.

Over the past 19 years that I’ve spent growing, seeing other operations, and talking to countless other cultivators, the most common problematic theme I’ve encountered has been growers using overly complex, inconsistent methods. Good growers need both a logical and an intuitive approach to gardening. A professional grower can quickly sense something slowly going out of balance (an intuitive skill), take an educated guess at what it could be, and then systematically correct it in a way that either “rules in” or rules out the accuracy of their diagnosis (a logical skill).

For example: Let’s say your plants looked good yesterday, but today they don’t look quite as good. Be worried. Get to work right away, but don’t change too many things at once.

Without expensive scientific instruments analyzing the leaf tissue, root zone, and nutrient mix, we often cannot know exactly what is making the plants suffer. What we can do is rely on experts’ insights and review what we did during the time leading up to the problem.

Here’s a basic troubleshooting checklist.

• Is the water drainage from the plants within the desired range of 5.7-6.3 pH and 700-1800 parts per million? Outside of the range of 5.7-6.3 pH, plants cannot get the nutrients they need. Outside the range of 700-1800 ppm, they are getting either too little or too much food.

• Did the lighting change?

• Were the plants recently sprayed or treated with a new substance of any kind?

• Are there any new insects flying or crawling around?

• Have there been any recent changes in ambient temperature, humidity, or ventilation?


Hardly any growers get the same quality of harvest every time, but the best growers come very close. This is done by finding a system that works and sticking with it.

You can spend an entire lifetime trying new products to make your harvest even better, but if you change things too much too frequently, you’ll remain lost in a sea of confusion for the lifetime of your operation.

If you stay consistent and make small changes, your skills will improve and you’ll zero in on a system that works for you with each flowering cycle you complete.

Here’s a basic list of requirements for growing great ganja.

• Use at least 750 watts of HPS light (or the equivalent) per 25 square feet of grow space. If plants seem unhealthy, reduce the light intensity until they bounce back.

• Use a pot that is no less than one-third the size of the full-grown plant. In other words, if your pot is 5 gallons in size, the plant can grow to triple that size in its dimensions. Any bigger for that same pot size, and bud development will be limited.

• Check the pH and ppm of your water run off every time you water and immediately correct anything that has gone out of range with a counterbalancing water mixture. This is how you manage your medium. You’ll need a good nutrient/pH meter for this, which is a must-have for any grower. I like the Bluelab Guardian.

• Maintain the pH of the medium in the range of 5.8-6.2.

• Maintain the ppm of the medium between 900-1500.

• Use a fertilizer made for cannabis plants, such as any fertilizer sold at a hydroponics store.

• Leach your plants every three weeks simply to reset the nutrients, which often get out of proportion with each other. This is done by running clean 6.0 pH water through the plants in a quantity that is three times the total volume of the pot.

• Maintain lots of ventilation and air movement.

• Don’t overwater. Full-grown plants that are healthy and well proportioned in size to their pots should need water every three to four days. If they are drying out more quickly, they need bigger pots. If they are drying out more slowly, they are either too small for their pots, or one of the problems listed above is out of balance, which is keeping them from growing normally.

Keep a notebook of all the changes you’ve made and the results those changes have had, and try to make only one change at a time. Most changes, whether in the ambient environment or inside the root zone, show their effects in one to three days. By day four, if the plants look the same, you can most likely consider your change to be inconsequential.

With all these factors in mind, if you are committed, you can be growing great quality herb within a year or so.

Q: I love the top-shelf cannabis at the dispensary, but I’m tired of paying $60 an eighth. How long will it take me to grow…