Growing Marijuana in a Polyculture Environment

Plants like marijuana thrive in communities that ensure a stable garden.

| October 2017

In What's Wrong with My Marijuana Plant?: A Cannabis Grower's Visual Guide to Easy Diagnosis and Organic Remedies (Ten Speed Press, 2017) authors David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth guide cannabis growers through questions and concerns they may have about growing healthy plants. Readers can use the images, graphs, and diagnoses in this guide to understand their marijuana plants better. Here, Deardorff and Wadsworth encourage gardeners to grow a polyculture environment, comprised of companion plants, to create a stronger and more diverse plant community for marijuana to thrive within.

Marijuana is an annual weed. In a single growing season, a seed-grown plant can grow to 12 feet (4 meters) tall before flowering, setting seeds, and dying. It’s a tough plant that grows in many parts of the world as feral hemp, where no humans provide it with sprays, fertilizers, supplemental water, or extra light. The specially bred modern strains with maximum THC and/or CBD may be somewhat more finicky than their wild cousins, but even these new varieties are hardy plants.

That said, if your plants are beset with problems and failing to thrive, a poor growing environment could be to blame. By giving plants the best growing conditions, you minimize stress and maximize yield. It’s good for cannabis, good for your pocketbook, and good for the planet.

Plant Polycultures

Wild marijuana does so well on its own because of its inherent strength and its natural community. These communities are polycultures that feature high species diversity, structural complexity, and healthy, biologically active soil. These characteristics provide food, shelter, and reproductive sites for countless beneficial critters that help control pests and pathogens that may harm your plants. Mimicking healthy plant communities creates the best growing conditions and proves to be the best preventative measure and the most cost-effective way to keep plants healthy.

In a polyculture, lots of different kinds of plants grow adjacent to each other; in a monoculture, plants are all the same. In this case, that monoculture would consist of cannabis and nothing else, like a typical field of corn. By planting polycultures, you immediately create two important characteristics of natural plant communities: species diversity and complex structure. Choose plants from different families to establish species diversity. Choose plants that differ in height, width, rooting depth, flower color, and season of bloom to build complex structure.

Flowers and herbs are more than pretty faces and tasty treats. This diverse community, with varying structure, provides food and habitat for beneficial organisms. In addition, this community of plants lures useful predators, such as lady beetles, green lacewings, minute pirate bugs, and trichogramma wasps, to your crop. These predators seek out and destroy threatening pests. The habitat you create also offers a safe haven for beneficial fungi and bacteria, such as Trichoderma harzianum, Bacillus subtilis, and Pseudomonas fluorescens, that help protect your crop from pathogenic fungi and bacteria that cause diseases.

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