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How to Grow Cannabis Vertically?

Added 11 August 2022

Plants are usually grown horizontally, but if you’re wondering how to grow cannabis vertically, this article’s for you. 

The traditional approach to growing cannabis is to keep the plants next to each other on a horizontal platform, under grow lights. But did you know that there is a way you can grow twice as many plants in the same space?

Vertical growing makes it possible. This is a method where you grow cannabis plants stacked on top of each other, maximizing your grow room space while drastically increasing your yield. 

More and more cannabis growers are adapting vertical growing to maximize each square foot of their grow rooms and increase profits and yields. No doubt, vertical growing is a game changer. But what is it and how can you start with it? Learn about it in this article.

What is Vertical Growing?

vertical-farming

Image Credit - Leafly

A vertical growing system allows you to more than double the available space in your grow room so that you can grow more plants per square foot. In vertical growing, you place multiple shelves stacked on top of each other, with a grow light in the center and grow cannabis at multiple levels of the shelves.

Vertical growing can also be done using trellis frames and strings, but most growers still prefer using shelves for ease of use and maintenance.

So, vertical growing allows you to grow more plants while letting your plants grow bigger and give better yields at the end of the season. 

Light is essential for growing cannabis, but when growing vertically, you need to pay extra attention to grow lights. Since the light source is located between the shelves, it has to stay relatively cool. The best way to ensure the light stays cool is by using LED lights — they are super energy efficient and do not heat up too much.

A good vertical grow system should also contain a cooling fan under the light source to push the heat upwards and away from the plants. 

When Should I Grow Cannabis Vertically?

If you are growing cannabis for personal use, vertical growing may not make sense. The system requires a lot of effort to set up. However, there are various cases where you should consider vertically growing your cannabis. Here are some of such instances:

  • Your local region has limited sunlight, cheap electricity, and a high price per gram. Here, it makes sense to invest in vertical growing compared to a greenhouse.
  • You already grow indoors with HPS lights. Here, vertical growing with LED lights can help you maximize your yield and plant growth.
  • You already have successful indoor growth. Again, investing in vertical growth can help you make the best bang for your buck.

What are the Pros of Vertical Growing?

Vertical growing has various benefits for cannabis growers, especially those who want to grow more plants in a smaller space, such as the following.

  • Improved Efficiency

As mentioned above, vertical growing allows you to grow more plants per square foot of your grow room — improving your cultivation efficiency. Plus, since it uses one light source for multiple plants, it can also help you minimize your grow room’s energy consumption. 

Some growers have reported that their energy consumption has dropped by over 50% by switching to vertical growing.

  • Additional Harvests

Often, vertical growing systems can allow you to squeeze in an extra crop cycle by keeping the veggie phase of the plant short. However, you may have to choose a lower per plant yield for the extra harvest each season. But don’t worry, since you will be growing more plants in your grow room, your yield will still be higher despite the lower per plant yield. 

  • Ease of Setting Up

Vertical growing systems are relatively straightforward to set up for most growers. Plus, you don’t have to break your head and hands in setting them up — you can purchase any of the pre-built systems that are available on the market. 

What are the Cons of Vertical Growing?

Like any other way of growing cannabis, even vertical growing has its own downsides, too. Of course, these are not significant enough to not consider vertical growth, but something you should keep in mind when considering vertical growth.

  • Bigger Initial Investment

Despite the benefit of long-term efficiency, vertical growing can still be an expensive affair to set up. You need to purchase high-quality equipment for optimal reliability, along with advanced climate control devices, racks, ladders, sensors, etc. — all of which significantly drive up the costs.

  • Requirement for Skilled Labor

A traditional garden can get away by hiring hobby growers that know gardening. That’s not the case with vertical growing. This method requires a lot of technical work like monitoring, climbing ladders and scaffolds, etc., which most gardeners are not skilled in. 

Depending on your garden size, you may have to hire skilled laborers to maintain, monitor, and control your plants. Of course, you can also train your employees to work with vertical growth, too, but you would have to put in a lot of time to do so. 

  • Intricate Climate Control

Considering the complexity of a vertical setup, you have to design the climate control system accordingly. Climate control is a crucial element of cannabis cultivation, and it needs to be maintained well so it can sustain multiple plants in a smaller space. 

You will have to invest in advanced devices and systems that can sustain many plants in a vertical setup. And no, using a regular climate control setup won’t suffice — it will lead to subpar quality of yield, which is something you want to avoid. 

  • Expensive Products

If you are growing cannabis commercially, you will have to rethink your pricing model. With a vertical setup, your cost of growing cannabis increases significantly. To maintain the margins and sustain your business, you will have to markup the prices of your cannabis products.

While this may work in favor of some businesses, other businesses may face problems that come with price hikes. 

What are the Two Types of Vertical Growing?

There are two types of vertical growing that you can choose from, depending on your preferences. Here are the two types.

  • Stacked Vertical Growth

Stacked vertical

Stacked vertical growth is the by-default type that most growers go for. This method uses square or hexagonal shelves stacked on top of each other around an LED light source. The circular stacking of the shelves makes it a 360-degree setup.

The benefit of this method is that it allows you to use the entirety of your grow room’s ceiling height — from the floor to the roof, you can grow multiple plants — which would be impossible with a traditional grow system. 

Generally, stacked vertical growth can grow two to three rows of plants at a time, leading to better yield. But if your ceiling height is higher, you can fit a row or two more into the stacks.

Plus, the system allows you to deliver water and nutrients to your plant more efficiently and rapidly, leading to a more optimized growth. 

If you choose stacked vertical growth, you must ensure your plants grow short yet full of buds. So, you can choose strains that grow short and use either soil or hydroponics to grow them. You also need to regularly top and defoliate your plants to keep their canopy in shape, so that they don’t outgrow the shelf space. 

  • True Vertical Growth

True vertical

Many growers have improved the traditional stacked model into a better system, which is known as true vertical growth. 

Think of stacked vertical growth as placing multiple horizontal plants on top of each other. On the other hand, true vertical growth involves growing plants on the sides of the columns, with water and nutrients fed to the plant via drip irrigation from the top.

This system allows you to better improve your yield while growing more plants compared to stacked vertical growing. However, for the best results, the use of aeroponics with nutrient film technique (NFT) is recommended. 

How to Start Farming Cannabis Vertically?

Starting a vertical growth can be somewhat confusing. To help ease your effort, here is a short guide on how you can get started. Remember, this is not the only way to set up a vertical farm, this is only a guideline to help get your foot in the door.

Follow these steps.

Step 1: Decide on Your Vertical Grow System Type

Assemble the shelves

The first step is to decide what kind of setup you want — stacked or true vertical setup. For a beginner, we recommend using simple vertical racks. They are accessible and easy to set up.

You can find a variety of racks for vertical farming in multiple sizes, but the best size to start with is a 4 x 8 foot palletized rack.

If you don’t mind digging a little deeper, you can choose a true vertical growing system. Even these systems offer a variety of choices, so choose the one that suits your preferences, goals, and budget. 

When choosing your setup, factor in things like drainage, electricals, and irrigation pressure. Otherwise, your setup may not handle the various climate control and irrigation factors.

Lastly, you can either choose a stationary setup or a rolling one. For ease of use, rolling setups are the best. But if you do choose a stationary setup, ensure there is enough room around the system for your employees to work on.

Step 2: Choose the Best LED Grow Lights

Choose good LED lights

LED lights are the ideal choice for vertical farming — other types of light sources just don’t work. But while choosing LED, get the best your money can buy. The grow lights will be placed in a confined space, so they need to have bulletproof reliability. 

You also have to consider the spectrum of LED lights for optimal plant growth. You can go with a broad spectrum light if you are a generalist — you will meet the industry standards and get a high-quality yield with it.

However, if you are aiming for a more specialized growth, you should choose targeted pink spectrum LED lights. Pink lights give you more control over your buds’ quality.

And if you want to take your cultivation to the next level, choose lights with spectrum control. You can fine-tune the spectrum depending on your plant’s growth phase — this will speed up its growth during the veggie phase and encourage your plant to grow bigger, bushier buds during the flowering stage. 

Step 3: Tune the Climate Control

Tune the climate

Next comes climate control, and there are many options for either heating or cooling your grow room, depending on your local environment. The first thing you need to do is understand your local climate and figure out what kind of climate setup you need for your cannabis plants. 

You should also consider investing in sensors. A vertical garden is already a dense space, so the automation of various elements cannot be understated. Automation sensors can take care of various functions like humidity and temperature control, light control, irrigation, etc., taking the load off your employees.

You would also need to add fans to the floor and the ceiling to circulate the air and keep the canopy aerated and fresh. 

Step 4: Choose a Production Technique

Choose production technique

Once your setup is up and running, and you plant your cannabis, you need to ensure your plants stay short due to the limited vertical space in each row. You can use various methods, but the most ideal method is ponds of green.

Ponds of green are similar to the sea of green (SOG), where your plants will not grow over 4 feet while staying in the veggie phase for a shorter time. 

You should aim to produce your cannabis buds quickly — speed is of the essence — since you will be nearly doubling your yield now. This way, you can also benefit from multiple harvests in a single growing season, which is always a win. 

What are Some Tips for Growing Cannabis Vertically?

The above steps explain how you can grow cannabis vertically, but to really dial the entire process in, you need to know the nuances of vertical growing. To help you with that, here are a few tips.

  • Learn as Much as You Can

Like any other cannabis cultivation method, the pool of knowledge is endless. And the more you learn, the better your plants will grow. So, learn as much as you can about vertical growth and keep building up your skills.

The best places to learn about vertical growing are community forums, YouTube videos, podcasts, and talking to other growers.

  • Choose the Right Strain

Since you are growing cannabis while maximizing your space, you need to aim for an even canopy. So, the choice of strains matters a lot here. 

Choose strains that are suited for such a setup — shorter strains that don’t stretch too much so the plants don’t outgrow the rack space. 

You should also choose strains that are resistant to diseases. Diseases pose a common threat, thanks to the close proximity of the plants, so it’s best to avoid diseases in the first place. 

  • Hire Skilled Employees

Instead of hiring people who enjoy growing cannabis, look for skilled labor that knows how to handle a complex setup like your vertical farm. Yes, they may be expensive, but their skills can help you grow cannabis efficiently and easily.

You also won’t have to constantly keep an eye on them or spend hours training them on using the setup. Training, scaling, and taking care of other aspects of the business do not usually go hand in hand — they only give you a headache, if not compromise your operation. 

  • Plan Your Growing Space Smartly

When you plan your garden space, ensure has enough room for your employees to move around, so they can work on the plants easily. You should also factor in spaces for plumbing and movement of air. 

Another thing you need to ensure is that you can remove racks easily for cleaning and replacing tasks. Otherwise, your employees would be fighting the setup to do these regular tasks.

Your setup also needs to grow as many plants as possible, so make the setup function while ensuring you can fit many plants. 

  • Choose the Best LED Lights

Choose LED lights that can penetrate the canopy efficiently without burning the plants. And they should also not emit a lot of heat. In some cases, LED lights may still pose a risk of being too hot for the plant. In that case, choose LED lights with heat sinks — they will run drastically cooler than air-cooled lights. 

Yes, LED lights will burn a hole in your pocket, especially the high-quality ones that offer spectrum control, heat dissipation, and reliability. But they are totally worth it. In the long run, the returns will more than make up for the initial cost of the lights. 

  • Maintain and Clean the Irrigation System Regularly

You need to pay extra attention to the irrigation system, especially the reservoirs and pipes. They must always be clean to avoid bacteria and salt buildup — which can hamper your plant’s growth. 

You should also consider replacing spigots, pipes, and reservoirs after a few growth cycles — think of them as consumables — to keep your irrigation system clean and efficient. 

Your setup may also require holding tanks and pumps for the drains if the floor drains do not suffice for the runoff water. Yes, this can also be a costly affair, but you should not overlook it. 

Your best bet is to work with an experienced grower or a plumber to set up the irrigation system. DIY works but may not get you the best results if you are not well-versed with plumbing and irrigation.

  • Don’t Bite More Than You Can Chew

In other words, start simple. Vertical growing is complex, so you should start slow and work your way up. You can always scale your garden later once you have built up enough skills for it. 

For starters, you should start with two rows — this will give you an idea of how the setup works, allow enough room for error, and help you harness your skills. 

And even if you are experienced, you will make a few mistakes in the beginning. The system is complex and it is easy to get confused in it. A simpler setup will be more forgiving, allowing you to fix the problem before it gets out of hand. 

The more rows you add, the more complex the system will go, and it may lead to accidents and errors that may compromise your entire operation. 

  • Know Your Local Laws

In some regions, the local laws only allow you to grow a specific amount of cannabis. So, if you accidentally grow more than the legal limit, you can get into a lot of trouble, considering that your yield will almost double with a vertical setup.

With the large amount of cannabis you grow, the punishments for breaking the law can also get harsher. And in some cases, you may not be able to get away with a slap on the wrist or a small fine. So, it is best to avoid any kind of legal hassle when growing so much cannabis. 

Summary: How to Grow Cannabis Vertically?

Let’s be honest, growing cannabis vertically is not for everyone — it is a niche growing method in the cannabis community. You need commitment, skill, and some initial investment. 

But fortunately, there are enough resources on the internet to help you along the way. The grower’s community is also helpful and welcoming — they would not mind helping you out in any way they can. 

And let’s not forget the endless technological aids available that you can use — from automation sensors, AI-backed devices, high-quality equipment, and much more. These systems have become more accessible than ever, and they are more like plug-and-play.

Understand and follow the steps mentioned above, keep the tips in mind, and learn as much as you can — and you will be on a path to success with your vertical cannabis growth. 

Growing cannabis vertically is highly rewarding. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to take your cannabis cultivation to the next level and grow twice as many buds than ever before!









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