Indoor Cultivation Setup

Choosing the Right Setup for Indoor Cannabis Cultivation

Even the most skilled growers accept the trial and error that comes with cultivation. Thatโ€™s what makes growing indoors so appealing: being able to control variables is one of its greatest benefits.

But well before the first seed or clone is planted, cultivators are making a lot of decisions that will ultimately have an impact on their outcomes. In this article, we discuss key considerations growers should keep in mind when choosing the right setup for their indoor cannabis cultivation.

3 Types of Indoor Cannabis Grow Systems

The mere prospect of cultivating this amazing plant is enough to lead a grower down the rabbit hole of exploring lighting, nutrients, and genetics when first getting started. But before everything else, growers need to figure out which system makes the most sense for their cultivation. Growers typically have three types of indoor cannabis grow systems to choose from โ€“ Human/Manual Systems, Retrofit/Discrete Systems, and Holistic Control Systems:

Human/Manual Systems

Human, or manual grow systems rely upon one or more people manually controlling all aspects of the cultivation and managing every detail of the overall environment all the way into the root zone. That means when plants need water and a room gets too hot, the job doesnโ€™t get done until someone grabs a watering can and turns on the A/C. Cultivators typically break into the craft using this approach, but itโ€™s also not unusual for large-scale licensed operations to have some human/manual systems in place. Of all the grow system options, this is the most labor-intensive and least reliable largely due to the potential for human error.

Retrofit/Discrete Systems

When a cultivator uses a device to control a piece of equipment in their indoor grow โ€“ a sprinkler irrigation system, for example โ€“ theyโ€™re moving from a manual to a retrofit/discrete grow system. A retrofit/discrete system setup incorporates thermostats, humidistats, CO2 alarms, and other devices expressly designed to manage the way a specific type of equipment functions. Growers who choose this kind of system must be prepared to program and monitor each device individually, as they are usually not connected to other systems or one other.

Holistic Control Systems

Most commercial indoor cultivation setups are based off of a building management or greenhouse control module known as a holistic control system. Holistic control systems not only allow for different types of equipment to be programmed with a fair degree of complexity, but they also facilitate each deviceโ€™s ability to operate relative to each other. So when a grower reduces a roomโ€™s temperature for example, their holistic control system automatically adjusts the dehumidifier based on those new parameters. Holistic control systems are typically the most expensive and require the most time and energy to set up.

Indoor Grow Facility Design Considerations

After deciding on a grow system, cultivators can move onto the next phase: figuring out how to approach the design of their cultivation. 

When designing a manual grow system, logistics will mainly center on what it takes for the human(s) onsite to be able to work as quickly and efficiently as possible. The amount of time and investment to put into a manual grow system ultimately comes down to what the cultivator needs to get the job done.


Designing a discrete grow system means bringing in timers and other devices to control irrigation, fertigation, lighting, HVAC, CO2, and other functions. Depending on the needs of the cultivation, discrete grow system are commonly more robust and effective than manual systems; theyโ€™re also simpler to set up and less expensive than holistic grow systems. Before set up, growers must decide which equipment to manage via controller, and dedicate time and effort to initial set up and ongoing maintenance. 

A holistic control system is optimal for greenhouses and large-scale indoor operations due to the large volume of dynamics inherent to those facilities. Growers have more variables to juggle when combatting changes in the environment, many of which are related. For example: with different amounts of light a grower will need to adjust their irrigations โ€“ but the amount of DLI and how much energy the plants are harvesting must also factor in. Many commercial facilities find it easier to manage everything with holistic systems, most of which have a remote interface for offsite management.

A few more things to consider with facility design:

  • Whatโ€™s your environment? A facility located in a warm, inland climate will have different heating and cooling needs than a facility located near the ocean.


  • Will the facility be using natural light, natural and supplemental lighting, or supplemental lighting only? Which light bulbs make the best sense for the different stages of production?


  • What size is the grow space? How high are the ceilings? Bigger rooms experience slower changes in air temperature and relative humidity; air temps change much faster in smaller rooms โ€“ this one variable can impact everything from how to approach ventilation for optimal air exchange, to which cultivars will perform best under those room conditions.

Building an indoor grow setup list

Before breaking ground on any new grow space or facility, having a clear picture of what is needed for the operation really comes back to the indoor grow system behind the cultivation.

The indoor grow setup list for a manual system should center on the absolute basics: what the plants need to be able to grow, and what the grower needs to be able to manage that. For irrigation that could mean a hose or watering can. For managing ventilation, that could mean an opening and closing doors or windows, or bringing in fans. Take the time and effort to decise what the human in that environment needs to grow successfully.

With retrofit/discrete systems, the indoor grow setup list should define which controllers or custom solutions make the most sense for the operation. These systems rely on the use of multiple controllers away from a central location, giving the cultivation team multiple interfaces and data points to manage and factor into their everyday decisions. 

Holistic control systems take the most time, energy, and funds to configure properly. Understanding how all the variables are related is the number one item on the indoor grow setup list, as it can help inform which type of equipment can operate in unison to deliver the most effective decision possible. While a holistic system requires more infrastructure and experience to set up properly, plants and humans alike benefit from the time-saving and operational advantages offered by such systems.

In Summary:

  • Setting up an indoor grow begins with deciding which grow system to use: Human/Manual, Retrofit/Discrete, or Holistic Control.
  • Human/manual systems rely upon one or more people controlling all aspects of the grow; set up should focus on the basics of what they need to work quickly and efficiently.
  • A retrofit/discrete system uses devices like thermostats and CO2 alarms to manage a specific piece of equipment; set up starts with deciding which equipment needs a controller, and ongoing maintenance is required.
  • Holistic control systems are the most expensive and time consuming to set up, but not only do they manage multiple pieces of equipment from a central location; they also make it easier to manage the variables in a large-scale dynamic indoor environment

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