Even if you feel comfortable using traditional growing techniques, they also have their limitations. You may think that applying training methods or growing in a SOG is the only thing you can change, but then you are not familiar with vertical cannabis growing. Here the whole growing process is different and you literally build your grow from the ground up. We’ll show you what vertical cultivation is, how it compares to the standard method and how to make a vertical grow setup yourself.
What is vertical cultivation?
To get a better idea of what vertical cultivation entails, we must first define horizontal cultivation. The latter is what most cannabis growers do. In this, they have cannabis plants at the same height, with light coming only from above. Vertical cultivation, on the other hand, makes use of the space at the top by growing plants here as well. This allows vertical growers to double their usual yields or even more!
How does vertical cannabis cultivation work?
You may be wondering how on earth one plant can grow above another. Well, there are a number of ways this can be done. One method is a modification of horizontal cultivation, while the other is considered a more difficult, but “true” vertical cultivation method. These methods are better known as the rack and tower setup. Below we explain why they are called that.
In the rack setup, you simply use shelves to create multiple, horizontal levels one above the other. Because in this setup you have one plant directly above another and light from above is therefore not possible, you cannot use this setup outside. It is therefore important to think carefully about your indoor lighting system. Instead of hanging a light source above the plants you should put the cannabis plants next to a long light tube that illuminates them all. If you have multiple shelves, set them up around the tube to allow the cannabis plants to get the same amount of light. Since you simply have horizontal shelves in this, you can use soil as your growing medium just fine. Another popular choice is a hydroponic system called the nutrient film technique, also known as NFT.
While rack setups make good use of vertical, unused space, a tower setup takes it a step further. Instead of standing in an individual pot, your plants grow out of openings on the side of a hollow, cylindrical tower. If your tower is large enough, you can easily grow more than a dozen plants with this setup. And that’s in a space where you can normally fit only one or two! Just as with the rack setup, you have lights set up next to your tower to ensure even illumination of your plants. At least, if you’re growing indoors. With a tower setup, unlike racks, you also have the option of growing outside. With a tower set-up you also use a different growing system. Instead of growing in soil or water, the roots hang in the air, which is known as an aeroponic system. You feed them by misting water and nutrients into the tower. This is the most efficient way of taking care of your plants.
Vertical cannabis cultivation versus standard growing
We have already mentioned some of the interesting advantages of vertical cultivation. But do they really make it better than the tried-and-true horizontal approach? It depends on what kind of grower you are. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Growing standard weed
As mentioned earlier, weed is often grown in a horizontal system, where plants are side by side and not above or below each other. This is how most cannabis plants have always been grown and there is nothing wrong with this. Benefits:
- Simplicity: this is the simplest method of growing cannabis and therefore the best growing method for beginners.
- Cheap: since you also need less equipment with this method, the financial burden will not be nearly as great.
- Less work: you only need the materials to prepare your grow room or outdoor location. This method is therefore also suitable for people who want to spend as little time on this as possible.
- Inefficient: given the amount of land area it requires, regular cannabis cultivation is inefficient compared to vertical alternatives. As we have explained, you can only put one or two plants in an area that also has vertical space for more than a dozen cannabis plants. In addition, with the traditional method, you waste a lot of water and nutrients.
- Limited: Since you can have fewer plants, you will also be left with a smaller yield. Although this may not be a problem in the beginning, it can be when you want to expand.
Growing weed vertically
Maybe you were already aware of all these aspects. But how does the horizontal method compare to a vertical cannabis grow? Advantages:
- Efficient: with a vertical grow you can take advantage of the space above a cannabis plant. Instead of one or two plants in your growing space, there can be six, eight or more than twelve! A tower setup is also more efficient than the standard method, as you simply mist nutrients and water onto the roots.
- Larger harvest weight: since you can accommodate many more plants, you also get higher yields per square meter.
- Possibility for an extra growing cycle: since the vegetative phase is often shorter, you have the chance to set up a vertical growing cycle in the same year.
- Cost: plants obviously do not grow vertically by themselves, so you need to invest a little before you start. The costs will be lower if you use the rack method, but for a good tower system and the necessary lighting you often have to spend € 1000 or more.
- Maintenance: because you are growing more plants in the same space you will need more and stronger equipment. Think of ventilators, air filters, dehumidifiers, etc. You also need more temperature sensors to measure the difference at the top and bottom of the grow room.
- Potential risk: to access the top plants, you may need to use a ladder. Using this again carries risks.
Creating a vertical grow setup
Now that you have a clear idea of the process, you’re ready to set up your own vertical grow! We will focus on the rack setup in this walkthrough. After all, building a grow tower is only interesting if you have a lot of workspace, equipment and tools available. A rack may not be as efficient as a tower, but you will save almost as much time, money and effort during the growing process.
Step 1: Setting up your grow rack
Instead of simply buying a standard rack from a garden center, look for a rack that is specifically made for growing cannabis plants or plants that need similar care. In these special racks you can easily hang grow lights. In addition, they are sturdy enough to carry all the cannabis plants at the same time. They come in all sorts of sizes, so make sure you choose one that fits into your growing space with plenty of room around it. Rolling racks are ideal for making the most of the space, but fixed racks work too.
Step 2: Choose a suitable strain
Bear in mind that some cannabis plants can grow very large. So not every strain is suitable for a vertical setup. Make sure that the maximum height of a plant does not exceed or approach the available space. Autoflowering strains are perfect for this, but you can also take photoperiod strains that stay small or respond well to pruning.
Step 3: Choose grow lights
Although you normally hang a hefty grow light from the ceiling, vertical growing requires a more complex lighting network. In addition, the lights are much closer to the plants than normal. Therefore LED lights are more of a requirement than a suggestion. You have the choice of white (broad spectrum) or purple light (focused spectrum). In any case, make sure that your lamps can guarantee optimal growth.
Step 4: Create a suitable climate
Because you are putting in far more plants than usual in your grow space you will also have to regulate the climate properly. To begin with, it is best to automate all systems. You have more plants to care for so you will save a lot of effort if you get automatic notifications about their condition. In addition, you will need to be able to cool down your setup when the room heats up too much. As for air circulation, make sure there is air flow from the open spaces downstairs and exhaust at the other end.
Step 5: Decide how your plants will grow
Once you have that sorted the next question remains: what specific growing method are you going to use? Are you going to train your plants so that they don’t grow taller than the ideal height of one meter at the most, or do you want to grow them in a SOG? That is up to you! Keep in mind, however, that given their size, they go through a shorter vegetative phase than regular cannabis plants. However, this also makes it possible to grow a second time in one year.
What else you need to know about growing weed vertically
The steps above describe all the basics of setting up a rack system. But that’s not all you need to consider when growing weed vertically. Here are some additional tips.
Keep everything clean
It’s important to keep your new rack thoroughly clean. Your plants are directly on the shelves, so whether it’s soil, dust or anything else that gets on your rack or in the room, clean it up quickly. Because many plants are growing in the same room, the chances of any damage from disease or mold are a lot higher.
Adjust your lighting schedule earlier
In addition, you need to stay on top of things and remember to adjust the lighting schedule for all your lights at the right time. Since small plants require less time in the vegetative phase, this will be necessary much sooner than with marijuana plants that grow normally. So for maximum yield, it’s essential to use light adjustment to get your cannabis plants from growth to flowering quickly.
Consider your budget
Before you decide to use this method, it is important to consider your budget again. Even if you can easily afford the racks, lights and plants, you also need to consider the larger amount of water and nutrients. Not to mention the energy bill. The expenses you incur with a vertical grow can easily be twice as high as normal. This will eventually be compensated for by getting more buds than normal, but not everyone can afford to wait for that delayed “payback”. So don’t take too much risk and be financially realistic before you start growing more cannabis.
Is vertical cannabis cultivation the growing method of the future?
Is vertical cannabis cultivation the future, given the space it saves and the fact that you can grow more plants? Not necessarily: in fact, not every cannabis grower can afford it or wants to go through the trouble of moving away from the proven traditional method. But as the technology continues to develop and become cheaper, we will see vertical growing methods become more common.