10 Reasons why your marijuana plant might not be growing very well

Published Jul 29, 2020 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Tinnakorn Jorruang

Growing marijuana is often touted as a complex art form that requires years of experimentation and dedication to perfect, and while on some level that may be true, as you’ll need the knowledge and experience to get the absolute most out of your plants, the fact of the matter is that it’s not that hard to grow a marijuana plant. The problem comes from those who believe that a growing cannabis plant needs no more than the average house plant, as they are a tropical species that requires a special touch, and extra attention if you want it to thrive.

Unfortunately, there are so many places where you can go wrong with cannabis cultivation that it is nearly impossible to determine what you’ve done wrong when things don’t turn out as you had hoped without some idea of where to look for the problem. However, there are some very common mistakes that are made by inexperienced growers, so if you’re experiencing a problem with a marijuana plant, this checklist is an excellent place to start when seeking a solution.

1. Not enough water

We all make this mistake from time to time. We get a plant that we’re all excited about, and then before you know it, hours have turned into days, and even weeks before we remember that the living thing, we brought home needs regular watering. Even outdoor cultivation requires supplementing whatever water nature throws your way unless you happen to reside in a wet climate, and this is one of the biggest mistakes that cannabis growers come across when they’re starting out on their journey.

A good way to test this is with your fingertips. Grab a small amount of the surrounding soil and pinch it between your fingers. If it crumbles away and seems dry and dusty, then chances are pretty good that your marijuana plant needs a bit more water to do better. Though you don’t want the soil to be so moist that it harbors bacteria, water is an essential part of life, and it is a necessary part of keeping a cannabis plant healthy.

2. Lack of light exposure

The huge world of grow lights can be confusing at first. All of the fancy names and terms are essentially meaningless to someone with no prior knowledge on the subject, but all cannabis plants need a fair amount of light to help with being nutrient-rich and in order to flourish. Now, if your cannabis plant is outdoors, then this is much less likely to be your problem, but for indoor growers, buying lights that are too weak, planting too many plants underneath a grow light, or placing growing plants too far from the helpful rays are all common mistakes that are made.

If you’re growing a marijuana plant indoors, then it is absolutely essential that you pay attention to the reach and range of the grow lights that you invest in. Some are only suitable for certain stages of life, and many are not intended to support an excessive number of plants, so be sure to check the manual that came with it to find out if a lack of light is your issue. Outdoor cultivators may also experience this if they select a plot that doesn’t get enough natural light exposure through the day, as all it takes is too much shade to create a stunt in growth.

3. The wrong nutrients

Nutrients are essential for all living things, human beings included, and your marijuana plant isn’t much different. It’s going to need very specific vitamins and nutrients to support a healthy level and rate of growth, and if you give it the wrong ones or none at all, it could result in disastrous effects that are hard to come back from. If your marijuana plant is wilting or burned, this is a good indication that there is a nutrient imbalance in the problem, and it will need to be rectified to see improvements.

During the very early stages of a cannabis plant’s growth, it needs very little to get going, and at this time, it can actually be quite risky to expose brand new young root systems to a shock of chemical vitamins or nutrients that are intended to help. To avoid this, you may need the assistance of a specialist, but you should be able to correct it yourself with a little bit of research. Most cannabis nutrients are designed for specific stages of life, so if you ensure that you have the proper tools for the job from start to finish by reading labels or seeking advice, this shouldn’t be a problem for you.

4. Transplanting

If you’ve noticed a significant decline in your cannabis plant’s health and you’ve transplanted it recently, then that action alone may be the source of your problem. Disturbing the soil surrounding our homegrown plants, whether they are normal house plants, early started veggies, or pot plants is a common thing that we need to do. As the root system and the plant matures, it will need a larger, more suitable long term home, but while you’re trying to do something right for your marijuana plant, you might have caused damage without even knowing it.

When it comes to transplanting, it doesn’t matter if you’re moving a nearly matured and flowering female, or a tiny, more fragile seedling, the root system is nearly always distributed at least a little bit. This is nearly impossible to avoid, and something that only time and nutrients will heal, but it is easily avoidable if you know what you’re doing in the future. The first part of transplanting cannabis should be loosening the pot so that the soil and roots can slide right out without getting crushed, which makes it easy to slide the whole thing into a pre-dug hole and results in the least amount of damage.

5. Pests

You may have noticed that your marijuana plant gives off a distinct smell as it begins to mature and secrete oils that are intended to ward off natural predators. This is a fantastic feature that few beginners know about, but it’s not an impenetrable force that works to keep everything out. It may work to keep most of the predators that would have existed in its original environment, but you’ll still find that these foreign invaders move in quietly and swiftly when you least expect it, especially when your cultivation is taking place indoors.

Some pests are easily noticed with a quick visual inspection. Gnats, aphids, and spider mites being some of the most common that create enough of a mess that they’re easy to spot and tackle with a light solution of treatment. However, there are microscopic cannabis pests that are challenging to see or get rid of, and in that case, a more natural treatment option might include housing some extra guests for a little while. Ladybugs, though annoying, can do a great job of keeping annoying critters at bay, and it’s great for the environment.


6. Too cold

Cannabis might be hardy, but if you find that your marijuana plant is wilting, or its growth has been stunted, then you might want to check the temperature of the environment. Growing marijuana doesn’t require insane levels of sweltering heat to succeed, but it is a tropical species that prefer warmer temperatures and higher humidity levels. If it doesn’t get those two things, then it won’t take long to notice a difference in your plants, but it’s an easy fix depending on your situation.

If you’re growing a marijuana plant outdoors, then you might want to try to bring it indoors for a little while, especially if it’s early in the year, and your region is seeing temperatures that regularly drop below 18° Celsius. However, if you have this kind of problem indoors, then the solution could be as simple as relocating your marijuana plant to a warmer room or turning up the thermostat to a more suitable level.

7. Too much light

Yes, we know, we just told you that too little light could be a major problem, so being told that too much light can also cause issues is a little bit disheartening to hear, but this is one of the most common mistakes that first-time growers make when they try to grow a marijuana plant, and it can plague both indoor and outdoor crops, so it isn’t just about the distance. It’s the strength that truly matters when it comes right down to it.

If you notice that your marijuana plant has leaves that are starting to turn yellow or brown long before it should be displaying any signs of dying, then you’ve got a problem on your hands, and it could be an easy, or a rather significant fix depending on the situation before you. To avoid this, make sure that all grow lights are placed at least 2 feet away from any reaching greenery, and if it’s a problem with outdoor plants, then you might need to pick a spot that has a bit less for direct sunlight.

8. Pest control

Most people who are new to growing marijuana believe that getting rid of a pesky invader is the only goal to keep in mind once they’ve been spotted, but doing so safely is just as important, especially when your plant is in such a fragile state after an attack. Natural treatments tend to avoid this unfortunate side effect, but chemical-filled store-bought solutions can cause more damage than the pests they are designed to treat. So if your marijuana plant keeps going downhill after a more abrasive treatment, then you might have to take fast action to save it.

To avoid this problem entirely, it is always best to steer clear of chemical and toxic pest treatments, as they are known to burn different parts of the plant, from the tips of the leaves, all the way down to the roots. If you’re in a position where you need to fix this mistake, then you can do two things. You can perform a rinse by upping water intake for a week or two, or you can re-plant in fresh, new soil that is free of the harmful additive. However, both of these solutions come with risks, so stick to homemade, more natural treatments instead.

9. Lack of draining

If you buy plant pots that are specifically designed for a marijuana plant, then you aren’t going to run into this issue at all, but many people try to make their own containers, only to find that they are designed to hold up to the rigorous watering and draining that this species really needs. All plants can be damaged by the presence of too much water, as it will slowly eat at the roots, causing rot, and eventually death, and you can usually spot this problem by feeling the soil or noticing a bad droop in your marijuana plant.

Sometimes this problem can be corrected by using less water than you normally would, but in most cases, for your marijuana plant to make a good comeback, you’ll need additional drain holes and water significantly less for a little while. Unfortunately, root rot often goes unnoticed until it's too late to save, which is why it is so important to stay ahead of the game and ensure that your container sufficiently drains before planting anything in it.

10. Bad genetics

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you aren’t going to get the results that you had hoped for, as the genetics and seed quality play a significant role in how everything turns out. You might have a marijuana plant that’s an especially sensitive strain, or you could have an unhealthy combination of genetics that simply aren’t designed to survive.

It’s nearly impossible to say, without knowing the whole story behind where your plant came from, but this is often a side effect of investing in low-quality cannabis seeds that can doom you before you even get a chance to really start. Luckily, this can be avoided by going through trusted, skilled, and reliable seed producers rather than pulling a few out of a bag of weed that you bought last week. It might cost a few dollars, but the results are nearly always more worthwhile in the end.

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