Managing Nutrients in Commercial Cultivation
Nutrient usage and application can be done in dozens of ways, depending on the medium used for the marijuana plants, the watering system, and the philosophy of the cultivators and business owners. The trend for high-end cannabis flowers is towards organic cultivation methods, which uses insoluble substances, usually added as soil amendments, that require microbial activity to become available to plants. The reason this is the trend is because, generally speaking, organically grown cannabis tastes and smokes better. There are open debates about why this is, but it's a pretty universally accepted truth at this point.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are hydroponic water culture gardeners who use mineral-based synthetic nutrients, which are immediately available to marijuana plants, but this method can be less forgiving when protocols are not well balanced and followed to the tee. In the middle of the spectrum are media like rockwool and coco fiber, which have some of the quality buffer that soil affords (when things sometimes go wrong) and can also result in excellent quality cannabis.
Either organics or synthetics are best handled in conjunction with lab testing of the input water and runoff, as well as periodic testing of the soil elements in cases where soil and soil-like mixes are used. This creates a real-time picture of what the plants are using and in what proportion, such that the regimen can be continuously dialed in to match the exact strain being grown.
Inexperienced growers often make the mistake of allowing the pH of the root zone to drift out of range, which results in some essential minerals becoming toxic (overly available to the plants) and others becoming deficient. It's also a common newbie error to just use too much Nitrogen during the veg stage of growth and too much Phosphorus during the flowering stage of growth because these minerals are hyped as being the main drivers of fast plant and flower development. This is only the case in the context of a balanced overall nutrient profile. In cannabis nutrient management, too much of something is as harmful as too little. The trick is to find the sweet spot, which is where I spend most of my experimental time these days, because nothing is more interesting and worth shooting for than getting cannabis plants to harvest day with no glitches occurring along the way. I want to see marijuana plants meet their absolute genetic potential, and I find the key to doing so rests mostly in the realm of good nutrient management.
With lab testing and some good handheld meters, custom marijuana nutrient regimens can be created to maintain plants in an optimal state of health by continuously balancing the ratio of the 13 macro- and micronutrients such that very little flushing is necessary throughout the growth cycle and the highest possible boutique-level yields can be obtained. Even when a name brand nutrient formula is being used, the chances of the marijuana plants up-taking elements in the exact ratio in which they are supplied is near zero. I recommend twice monthly lab testing of the leaf tissue, and for the results to be compared to the input nutrient mix and the runoff. There's no substitute for good data.
A hybrid regimen of synthetic and organic nutrients can be used for a balanced treatment of cannabis plants, which often yields the best possible results between growth rate and flavor. But before a slew of plant growth enhancers is added to a basic nutrient formula, it's important to just balance the essential minerals with no unnecessary complications. Having the right formula applied in the right way with the right quantity and frequency of water is what all cultivators should aim to master before muddying the waters (sometimes literally) with additives.