Effective plant support is crucial in an outdoor cannabis garden. All of the comfortable reliability that is inherent to growing indoors goes out the window and is replaced with uncertainty. Mother Nature has a tendency to throw unexpected and often harsh conditions into the mix. Heavy rains, winds, and even hail are all possibilities when growing in the great outdoors. If your plants fall over at any time during the season they may not survive. If they do, the stress put on them has the potential to ruin the crop or substantially decrease yields. All of your hard work and money will be wasted. To combat unexpected weather tendencies the best offense is a good defense. A proper plant support system is like an insurance plan. Take the time and effort to make the supports strong enough to withstand harsh conditions and you will be rewarded with a bountiful harvest.
By following good plant caging, trellising and support guidelines you can be rest assured that each plant will be equipped with an adequate defense system against the most severe outdoor weather conditions. The plants will be able to grow continuously without major issues and achieve their optimal yields. This article is geared towards maximum production and many of the descriptions are for the largest container size; however, it is important to remember that this method is entirely scalable. The methods described can be adjusted to any container size and will help you grow an outdoor cannabis plant to its full potential.
A reliable plant support system starts with internal caging, which acts as the baseline support for the entire plant. Its job is to provide stability to the main stem and the internal branches that will grow out and eventually develop flowers. This is why the internal support system must be as strong and resilient as possible. Heavy-duty tomato cages, such as the Texas tomato cage, have large circular rungs, are extremely durable, and come in taller sizes. Depending on the size of the container the internal caging should be anywhere from four to six feet tall. This will allow for complete stabilization of the entire trunk of the plant. I say trunk instead of stem because in a high performance outdoor cannabis garden the plants can end up being more like trees. This fact is the reason why proper caging and support is so important.
The internal caging can also be constructed manually with only a few materials needed. Simply place four heavy-duty bamboo stakes around the plant in a pattern that creates a square shape when straight lines are drawn from stake to stake. Then wrap a durable wire cage with six-inch-square holes around the outside of the four stakes and secure it with heavy-duty gardener’s twine or bailing wire in several places. Vinyl coated wire caging works well since it is flexible, strong, and the coating is much gentler on the stems/branches compared to non-coated. Metal concrete rebar grids also work well for the internal caging. They are extremely strong and come pre-set with six-inch square holes. But they can be somewhat difficult to work with. The rebar grid will have to be rolled into a circular shape and the ends will need to be secured properly. If it is an option, welding the ends together is the best way to go, but twisting a thick gage wire around the connecting ends will work as well. If you choose either of these methods of internal caging, make sure that the structure is between four to six feet tall to give the plants the best support.
The diameter size of the internal caging and its distance from the plant base will vary depending on the size of the container used. For container sizes from 600 to 1,000 gallons the diameter of the cage should be around 24 inches. With the plant in the center of the caging this will allow for 10 to 12 inches of space from the plant stem to the caging on all sides. When growing in smaller containers ranging from 500 to 200 gallons, the distance from the plant in the center should be somewhere between 6 to 10 inches on all sides. Allow for no less than six inches of space between the plant stem and the caging for the smaller containers.
Installation of the internal caging should take place immediately after transplanting the plants into the final outdoor container. This ensures that there will be minimal or no damage to the plant’s root system when the caging is erected. Waiting for even just a few days will allow the roots to start growing in exploration of their new home, and when the cage or stakes are put into the ground the risk of severing them is higher. So, just after transplanting, assemble the internal cage making sure the base or stakes are buried deep enough in the soil to provide a secure anchor. Installing the internal caging to a depth of around six inches should provide enough baseline support to give the plant stability throughout the season.
The main purpose of the external caging is to provide support to the outer branches that will eventually develop flower buds, but it will also help stabilize the internal caging as well. A strong external system will ensure the branches do not bend or break from their size and the weight of the flower buds. By using the combination of internal and external caging you can be sure that the entire plant is properly supported. The technique described here is relatively easy to assemble and can be scaled down to work with any size container.
First, pound four, 8-10 foot tall heavy-duty metal T-posts into the ground just outside the outer walls of each container. Hammer the T-posts down at least one foot into the ground so they are securely anchored and cannot easily be removed. Arrange the T-posts in such a pattern that if a line was drawn to connect all four posts the shape of the line would be square. The end result will be a circular container with a square-shaped cage rising above it. After the T-posts are in their respective places, the internal caging should be secured to the outer posts with heavy-duty gardener’s twine or bailing wire. Each side of the internal caging will need to be connected to the outer T-post nearest to it in at least three points. Doing this provides more stability to the internal caging and creates one solid structure that can withstand the harshest of weather conditions. Once the internal caging is secured to the external posts, the posts will need to be wrapped vertically in either heavy-duty vinyl coated caging or wire fencing that has six-inch square holes throughout. As stated earlier, vinyl coated wire caging is ideal because of its strength, flexibility, and the fact that the vinyl coating will be gentler on the branches themselves.
The external caging should be started about 1-2 feet above the top of the container to allow easy access for
feeding/watering, inspection of rooting medium, irrigation repairs and any other maintenance that may need to be done. When completed the external caging should reach the top of the T-posts so there are no gaps in the support system and there are enough six-inch holes to accommodate every outer branch. Regardless of the type of material being used for the external caging–be it vinyl coated wire caging or wire fencing–it will need to be tightly secured with heavy-duty gardener’s twine or bailing wire to each T-post in at least four points on each individual post. After everything is properly secured the external caging will be complete and ready to support the growing plant.
The external caging does not have to be assembled right away after transplanting the plants outdoors like the internal caging does. Depending on the container size, it will take some time for the plant to grow to the point where the outer branches begin to approach the side walls of the container. However, it is imperative that the external caging be in place before the branches reach the point where the caging will reside. Waiting too long creates a considerable amount of hassle when assembling the external caging as you need to carefully maneuver each branch into its respective six-inch hole. Putting the caging in place before the outer branch growth reaches that point makes things go more smoothly. It also puts less stress on you and the plant.
The final trellising will support the top portion of the plant canopy. For this portion of the plant support system you should use either the vinyl-coated wire caging or plastic horticultural netting with six-inch square holes. The final trellising with be layered horizontally and properly secured at each corner to the four outer T-post used for the external caging. The first layer of horizontal trellising should be placed just above the top of the internal caging. Additional layers should be put into place every 1-2 feet until the tops of the T-posts are reached. The layering of the horizontal trellising will provide much needed support to the top branches and complete the plant support system.
As was the case with the external caging, the individual layers of the final trellising will need to be in place before the growing plant reaches that point. However, assembling the final trellising will be extremely difficult when the external caging is completely in place so the two steps should be completed at about the same time.
Following the techniques and steps will ensure that each plant has a strong, reliable support system. It will also give you some peace of mind in knowing that even during the most intense wind gusts or storms, the plants will be safe and remain upright. Avoiding the complications that come with improperly or under-supported plants is a substantial step in creating a high-performance outdoor cannabis garden that yields impressive results.
This article is an excerpt from Outdoor Performance Cannabis written by Dustin Fraser and published by High County Publishing. For more information visit HighCountyPublishing.com.