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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Growing Marijuana Indoors vs. Outdoors
There are two major ways to grow marijuana, indoors and outdoors.
Some people will use a mixture of the two and grow their plants indoors during the vegetative stage when they need constant light, then transport them outdoors when they are ready to start flowering and only need 12 hours of light a day.
Growing Marijuana Outdoors
Growing Marijuana Indoors
How I Got Started
As someone who lives in the middle of a big city, when I first started growing marijuana, my garden was indoors because that’s really the only choice I had at the time. At first I felt like a mad scientist, but after a while my indoor grows became easy and routine. Now that I’ve grown indoors several times, I’ve realized I truly enjoy being the total master of my garden and consistently harvesting ultra-dank buds every 3-4 months.
Growing outdoors is more like farming and less like a science experiment. Though outdoor growing can seem complicated and hard to set up at first, growing outdoors will often save you time and money compared to growing indoors. Especially once you get a feel for the lay of the land and a few different strains, sowing and harvesting your buds can become an easy routine with very little maintenance needed during the grow.
There’s something powerful about the sun mixed with good soil, and outdoor buds can be some of the best smelling weed you’ll encounter. Outdoor growers often can’t imagine growing any other way.
What do you need to consider when choosing whether to
grow marijuana indoors or outdoors?
Indoor takes more work from you on a regular basis because there are more variables you must control, and more that you must personally provide to give your plants a good growing environment.
On the other hand, there are fewer unexpected influences that can affect your plants indoors, especially compared to Mother Nature, so growing indoors is often more predictable.
Indoor growing is often difficult for new growers as they learn the ropes, but seasoned growers are often able to grow plants in a breezy 20 minutes/week or less because they already know exactly what to do.
Outdoors you may have to take more time initially to research and learn about your environment through trial and error. It’s important to make sure you choose a compatible marijuana strain for your local weather while also picking the right place to plant your garden.
For people in cold climates or who live in highly urban environments, growing outdoors would take much more effort than it’s worth.
For those who have easy access to a great grow spot, growing outdoors can be the perfect option that takes very little work to grow a whole lot of buds.
Cost / Price
Indoor is much more expensive, especially when you’re first getting started. It costs $500+ initially for most setups for 4-6 plants. Learn more about different indoor growing setups. When growing indoors, at the very least you will need to pay for grow lights and containers to grow your plants in. Most serious indoor growers also invest in a grow tent or convert a closet/wardrobe/cupboard into a suitable growing environment.
Outdoor can be as cheap as getting seeds or clones and sticking them in the ground. In most cases, it will cost at least a bit more than that, especially for those who want to get high yields and dense buds, because you will also be paying for nutrients, soil, fencing and/or other supplies. Still, even serious outdoor growers get to skip on paying for grow lights or grow tents.
Quality of Buds
Indoor gives you control over all the variables, which means a dedicated and serious grower can consistently produce a superior product. When you’re growing indoors, great crops with frosty pristine buds and big yields are pretty much guaranteed once you control the important variables, no matter where you live. If you’re only interested in growing the highest caliber marijuana, where you get to control every aspect of everything, you likely want to grow indoors.
Outdoor can produce incredible buds, especially for those who happen to live in the right climate, who choose the perfect strain for their environment and who take good care of their plants. Yet when growing outdoors, Mother Nature is the real master over your garden. Outdoor buds often vary in dankitude as there are so many variables outside your control. Sometimes buds end up looking a bit “rough around the edges” and may contain pine needles, thistle prickles, dust, bugs, etc. Outdoor buds sometimes have to be harvested early for weather or security concerns, lowering the quality and potency of buds. That is why even an experienced and knowledgeable outdoor grower can occasionally lose a crop or grow an inferior product. Even if they do everything right, environmental factors outside their control such as deer/bears/birds/racoons, too much/not enough rain, thieves, bugs, cold spells, early winter, etc can lower the quality of outdoor buds.
Stealth / Security
Indoor gives you the ability to be very stealthy. An indoor garden can be almost 100% secure with a light-tight grow area with a carbon filter to neutralize any smells. Yet if you don’t take the time to properly hide/secure your garden and take care of odor, you may run into problems when friends or family come over. If you are worried about stealth and do get caught with plants indoors, there’s not much you can do to deny that they belong to you since they’re located in your home.
Outdoor can also be stealthy, especially if your garden is out in the middle of nowhere or completely hidden from view. The least stealthy parts of outdoor growing will be going back and forth to your garden, and during harvest time when you will need to move several hefty bags of marijuana buds back to where you can trim, dry, and cure them.
No matter which way you grow, remember the old adage for never getting discovered: “Don’t tell, Don’t smell, Don’t sell.”
Indoor you have to personally control almost everything about the environment at all times. This means you’re in charge of temperature, root pH, light, etc. When growing indoors, you also tend to need to do more plant training due to space restrictions. All these factors can be overwhelming for the first time grower. However, for most indoor growers, as they get the hang of growing, the time and effort needed for maintenance tends to drop dramatically. Indoor growers are often closer to their gardens, so there is often less travel time to and from the plants. When growing indoors, you usually have faster grow times because you don’t need to rely on natural light to tell your plants when to start flowering, and can opt for faster grow methods such as hydroponics (which can produce faster harvests than growing in soil).
Outdoor would almost always need less maintenance because once you’ve found a good site to plant, you really only need to visit the site a few times a month to check on plants, possibly water or trim/train, and harvest. You may have to fend off bugs or animals. If you’re growing outdoors in your back yard, you don’t have to consider travel time, but for those who grow outdoors away from their homes, your maintenance will also include traveling to and from your plants.
Indoor can product big yields in the right conditions, but is somewhat limited by the size of your grow lights. If you only need a few ounces of bud each month (or less), indoor growing will be able to yield enough for you. When growing indoors, you can start a grow basically any time, which gives you the ability to harvest several times per year.
Outdoor will often give you a lot more yield per harvest because you can grow huge “trees” of marijuana. The sun is a powerful grow light that allows plants to really build up in size. Outdoor plants can sometimes produce several pounds of buds per plant. However, when growing outdoors, you must almost always start your grow in the spring and usually only get one harvest per year unless you live somewhere tropical.
Conclusion: Which Is Better?
There really isn’t a “best” way to grow. It really depends on your personal situation and what you’re looking for in your growing experiences.
In a perfect world, if I had my choice, I’d grow my marijuana in a custom-built sealed greenhouse that’s located in my back yard, and get the best of both indoors and outdoors.
Still not sure or need more info?
What are the pros and cons of each growing method?