Outdoor vs Greenhouse vs Indoor Weed Guide

Indoor vs. Outdoor Weed: A Visual Guide

This guide was created to help sift through the endless varieties of cannabis we now have available to us at dispensaries. Now, this doesn’t apply to all strains, because every strain has different characteristics and grows different with every farmer’s care. However, these tools can be used to help analyze the often subtle differences between cannabis cultivated outdoor or indoor. At the end of the day, cannabis is a diverse and incommensurable plant — not all distinguishing factors will apply to every situation because every strain is unique.

It’s important to note that buds can be grown properly or improperly regardless of whether they were grown inside or outside, so improperly grown indoor can visually look like outdoor, while properly grown outdoor can easily look like indoor. But there are some standard tell-tale signs that cannabis has been grown inside or outside, so sit back and enjoy our visual guide to indoor vs. outdoor marijuana.

First let’s get a base calibration to see where you are starting.

Can you differentiate which one was cultivated indoors and which was cultivated outdoors?

If you guessed A was outdoor and B was indoor you are correct! Now let’s find out how you can easily differentiate how cannabis was grown through some strategic visual clues.

Size

The sizes of the buds are, in many ways, the first visual cues to tell whether buds were grown indoor or outdoor. But it is a general rule of thumb that everything is bigger with outdoor-cultivated buds. The buds themselves are bigger and chunkier, but one of the most foolproof ways to differentiate the two is by looking at the stem. Outdoor grown buds will have a significantly thicker stem than indoor cultivated nugs. Indoor buds will typically be smaller and more dense than outdoor’s big, clunky nugs.

Trichome Density

Trichome density is a key visual cue when attempting to differentiate between indoor cultivation and outdoor cultivation. Because indoor buds are smaller, closer to their light source, and in a perfectly controlled environment, they typically rank very high on the trichome density scale. So when examining an impeccably grown indoor nug all that can be seen is glimmering crystals with very little plant material visible. Outdoor nugs on the other hand are generally larger, so those trichomes would have to work much harder to cover the entire surface of an outdoor bud. Additionally, outdoor plants are subjected to the elements which can damage trichome development. So the trichome density is typically more sparse on outdoor-cultivated nugs than ones grown indoors.

Example of high trichome density on indoor cultivated buds.

Color

One of the most significant visual characteristics that can be used to differentiate sun-grown cannabis versus indoor-grown cannabis is the color. Outdoor cannabis tends to have a darker hue in general. If the cultivar produces green flowers, outdoor nugs will appear a darker green, possibly leaning towards brown if not cured correctly, while indoor buds will be a brighter, more vivid green. If the cultivar produces purple flowers, outdoor buds will turn a deep, striking purple while indoor nugs will stay lighter shades of purple (unless the strain’s genetics produce dark purple buds in any condition).

Another visual cue is the color on the bottom of the flowers. Buds cultivated outdoors almost always have a light brown color surrounding the stalk at the base of the bud (don’t worry it’s not mold). Usually, the tiny bracts at the bottom of the stalk will be a light brown as well. Indoor buds, on the other hand, are bright green (or purple) throughout.

Example of a darker hue on outdoor grown Lemon Kush.

Cannabinoids

There is a widespread myth that outdoor cultivated cannabis is less potent than indoor-cultivated cannabis. Simply put, that’s just not true. The dedicated farmers at Sunna Ra Acres have busted this myth once and for all. For the last few years, they have been conducting side-by-side tests of two clones taken from the same mother plant, one grown outdoors and one grown indoors. They’ve executed this experiment with a variety of strains and each time, the plant that is cultivated outside under the sun results in a higher overall cannabinoid profile. That means higher in THC, higher in CBD, higher in THCv, etc. Their experiment has shown that the sun unleashes the plant’s true potential and heightens its medicinal power.

Terpenes

In this case, terpenes are very similar to cannabinoids in that their profiles are intensified by the sun. In Sunna Ra Acre’s many years of experimentation they have found that if two identical plants are grown “side-by-side” — one grown outside, one grown inside — the plant that is grown outside will have a higher percentage of terpenes. And in some cases, the plants even reveal terpenes no one knew were there. When these two plants are smoked, the difference is very distinguishable with the outdoor being much more flavorful and aromatic. With that said, terpenes are volatile, meaning they will evaporate without proper drying and curing processes. Many indoor growers take greater care in their final stages of drying and curing because they yield far less and their product moves from one indoor room to another, providing more control through the process. New outdoor growers versus seasoned outdoor growers may overlook the step of proper drying and lose their high-terpene profile as a result.

Trim Job

While this category is very subjective and does not always apply, historically, outdoor growers spend less time trimming their final product than indoor growers. This typically has to do with the amount of bud harvested, outdoor growers are pulling down 5, 10, or 20 lbs per plant while indoor growers are pulling down 0.5, 1, or 2 lbs per plant. Trimming mass amounts of weed per plant would not only take weeks, but a big full-time crew would be needed. So the end result is usually a looser, leafier trim job — especially because outdoor plants are leafier in general. So while not always applicable, you can typically spot the difference between outdoor and indoor pretty immediately by scoping out the trim job.

Running through all these characteristics, with some give and take, while analyzing the hundreds of buds available for purchase at your local dispensary will help you to differentiate the outdoor grown from the indoor grown. If you are lucky enough to have access to the same flower cultivated both indoors and outdoors, it is amazing to smoke them side-by-side and compare the flavor profiles versus bag appeal. Indoor typically has better bag appeal while outdoor has the better flavor profile — it’s all about what you’re looking for in your daily smoke.

Before we go, there is a huge elephant in the room that we have not discussed today and that is greenhouse cultivated cannabis. Greenhouses are can be categorized as indoor cultivation using the power of the sun. It is the perfect marriage of indoor and outdoor because you have the environmental control of indoor but the incredible power of the sun. The result is typically buds that have the bag appeal of indoor with the elevated terpene and cannabinoid profiles of outdoor.

Can You Smoke Brown Weed?

Yes, you can, but it’s not going to be as potent or flavorful. The three things that degrade cannabis are heat, light, and time. When brown in color, weed has lost some of its potency and therapeutic value as the cannabinoids, such as THC, have been degraded. In addition, it’s lost a lot of its smell and flavor as the terpenes have potentially oxidized or evaporated. Smoking brown weed will not severely injure you or make you sick, but it is not suggested for use.

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun do break down your cannabis over time. An oft-referred to study from 1976 at the University of London said light is the No. 1 reason for cannabinoid breakdown. If it’s burnt or overexposed to the sun during the growing process, weed will appear brown in hue. The color is due to sun damage on the colas of the plant, and it’s been shown cannabidiolic acid (CBDA) can transform into cannabidiol (CBD) with enough exposure, and THCV will degrade into CBV . In that case, some THC could still be intact, but the cannabinoids were at least partially transformed, or decarboxylated out of the plant by the sun.

How Much of a Difference in Quality is Outdoor vs. Indoor Weed?

There is high-quality weed both grown indoors and outdoors, but there are certain factors that determine the quality of the end product.

Between indoor and outdoor cultivation, the distinguishing factor in quality is the control of its environment. Factors such as temperature, light, water, humidity, carbon dioxide (CO2) exposure and care are going to be easier to control during indoor cultivation. While some strains may appear to grow a bit wilder outdoors, they are capable of developing the same amount of cannabinoids and terpenes as indoor-grown cannabis. Because of the unpredictability of nature, outdoor growing often requires a tepid climate.

The biggest case for growing weed outdoors is energy efficiency. Using all sunlight, or even just partial use of sunlight, to grow cannabis can save home growers and large-scale producers a lot of money in energy consumption. To take advantage of daylight and to take into account its variation during the year, many facilities have adopted a supplemental light grow in states where regulations permit it. Supplement light means the growers are using the sun when they can and then use lights when sunlight is unavailable, if the weed needs it.

The quality is mainly dependent on the seeds, the grower’s experience, and the care, not whether it was grown indoors or outdoors. Outdoor cultivation has a long history in Northern California ; the Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties got its name because of its ideal climate for outdoor cultivation. In a handful of legal cannabis states, regulations may require grows to be indoors and hidden from public view.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Weed: A Visual Guide This guide was created to help sift through the endless varieties of cannabis we now have available to us at dispensaries. Now, this doesn’t apply to all

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Outdoor vs Indoor Yield

Indoor growers usually estimate their yields in grams per square meter. This is the figure that you see when you look at the features of a particular strain in a seed shop. Let’s say they promise 500-550 g/m².

These numbers are what you can hope to achieve under most favorable conditions and using powerful enough lights. Most of the time, this means a 600W HPS per each square meter. However, there’s no universal convention here. So, when you see numbers like 800 g/m², it probably means that you have to use a 1000W HPS per square meter to achieve such results.

When comparing their achievements, growers often use another metrics — gram per watt. With an old-fashioned HPS, 1.0 g/W is probably the highest that you can get. And only you work hard enough and know what you’re doing. Modern LED quantum boards can be much more energy efficient and let you overshoot the 1 g/W mark easily. Nevertheless, there’s only so much watts that you can cram into your grow room without burning your plant tops or making them foxtail. So take the grams-per-square-meter numbers seriously: it’s probably the very best you can hope for.

What are the Yileds Outdoors?

As for outdoor weed plants, their yields are expressed as grams per plant. For some smaller, Indica-dominant varieties, the indoor and outdoor figures are very close, say 550-600 g/m² and 700 g/plant. For other genetics, the difference is huge, and some strains are supposed to bring in as much as 10 pounds from each of the tree-like monsters.

You’ve probably seen photos of those massive outdoor marijuana plants: they are started inside at the end of winter, undergo several toppings, acquire a lot of girth, and become so tall that you need a stepladder to reach their uppermost tops. Big plants like these require chicken-wire cages for support, but let you harvest much more than their indoor counterparts. Though they can easily cover 3 m² of surface area each, their per-square-meter production would still be greater than indoors.

Prices of Growing Cannabis Indoors Versus Outdoors

There is no question that it is far more expensive to grow marijuana indoors. First-time growers are routinely shocked by the list of equipment they need. An indoor climate control system can cost thousands of dollars to operate.

If you grow indoors, you also have to go through a

If you grow indoors, you also have to go through almost continual turnover. Things like pruning, watering, feeding, trellising, and harvesting are just some of the tasks.

Cost of Growing Marijuana Indoors

Although you can benefit from several harvests per annum, it means constant work. Lighting alone can be a total bank breaker. We’ve heard stories of home growers who face monthly energy bills of over $4,000!

Also, if you choose a non-soil growing medium, you have to pay for nutrients. Then there is the cost of the growing equipment, such as:

  • A hygrometer for measuring humidity
  • A thermometer for ensuring your plants are growing in the ideal temperatures
  • Humidifiers and dehumidifiers
  • Lighting equipment
  • Ventilation systems

On the plus side, you can hopefully recoup some of the costs because you can produce 3-4 harvests a year. Let’s say the strain you grow is $250 an ounce, and you grow 20 ounces per operation four times a year. You’ll end up with $20,000 worth of cannabis per annum. As you are growing indoors, you can cultivate strains that are not suitable for the climate where you live.

However, many states don’t allow home growers to sell weed for profit. Bear that in mind before you set out to become the world’s first billionaire pot grower.

Cost of Growing Marijuana Outdoors

Most of your outdoor growing costs will occur during the operation’s start-up. Assuming you live in an ideal climate, you don’t have to concern yourself with the cost of lighting or ventilation systems. If you have access to fertile soil, you don’t even need to pay for nutrients! However, you will need access to a reasonably large plot of land hidden from the public eye.

Most of your outdoor growing costs will occur during the operation’s start-up.

If you own land already, that’s excellent news. Otherwise, you’ll have to pay to rent AND ensure the owner doesn’t mind having marijuana grown on their property. Also, if you have a large operation, you’ll have to hire a few employees. And, of course, it is necessary to invest in security measures to protect your crop from things like pests, bad weather, and thieves.

Outdoor Growing – Pros

Cannabis has been grown outside for tens of thousands of years and has perfectly adapted to its preferred climate. Although cannabis plants are susceptible to pests and disease outdoors, they get help from natural sources. Ants, ladybugs, and wasps all prey on mites and other pests that can ruin an outdoor crop.

Certain marijuana strains grow to enormous sizes and are entirely unsuitable for indoor growers due to the space required. You can’t grow a 15-foot plant indoors unless you have access to a warehouse!

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The Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Strains Growing 101…

Another pro of growing marijuana outdoors is that there is the potential for a much higher yield. Generally speaking, outdoor farms produce significantly higher yields than their indoor equivalents. Certain strains also produce much higher yields outdoors than indoors, simply because they prefer an outdoor environment.

All plants require carbon dioxide (CO2) to thrive. You can replicate or even enhance CO2 levels inside using equipment like CO2 canisters, but it can be expensive. Naturally, this is one expense associated with growing cannabis plants that outdoor growers don’t have to incur.

Another pro of growing marijuana outdoors is that once you put marijuana plants in soil, they feed off the nutrients. Therefore, feeding cannabis plants outdoors is less costly due to the number of natural nutrients available to them in the soil.

From an environmentally friendly perspective, there is no comparison between growing marijuana outdoors vs. indoors. Outdoor crops leave a much smaller carbon footprint than indoor grows. The sheer energy consumption (not to mention the cost) required to power indoor equipment is staggering. Think about how much electricity is used to power the lighting, dehumidifiers, exhaust fans, etc., for several grow cycles per year.

Final Thoughts

When it comes down to it, the end result from either outdoor or indoor weed is directly attributed to the skill of the grower and the cultivars selected. With time, you can learn how to best prepare for the possible adverse outcomes and get ahead of them to the best of your ability.

As you work with the plants more and more, you become more attuned to their needs and can spot potential issues ahead of time. Both indoor and outdoor cannabis are gorgeous examples of the fine art of growing and deserve to be celebrated equally. 

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