The Future of Cannabis is Growing Vertical

As the cannabis industry matures, cannabis growers must stay informed on new vertical farming technology and improved cultivation practices. Here at Pipp Horticulture, we are continuously developing and optimizing vertical farming systems for cannabis and other high-value crops. These cultivation systems and methods will take your operation to another level, literally, by utilizing the vertical dimension (height) to maximize your production capacity.

Vertical growing can significantly increase your facility’s output by improving on antiquated single-level and static canopy layouts by utilizing the unused horizontal and vertical space above and between your canopy to increase your production capabilities. Vertical growing methods have taken a foothold in an industry that is scaling and becoming more efficient. Whether you’re new to vertical growing or need a refresher, in this article, we will examine the following and much more:

● What is vertical growing, and what are its advantages
● How vertical growing can improve growing capacity, efficiency, and ROI
● What equipment is needed to set up a vertical growing operation
● A case study about how Leafline Labs reclaimed wasted grow space

Vertical Growing Vs. Other Methods

For something that can have such an exponential impact on your operation, vertical growing is pretty straightforward. It involves using the previously unused space above and between your plants to increase your total yield capacity. Constructing additional layers of cultivation space above your typical single-level operation allows more cannabis to grow in the same square footage. Similar to the way an apartment building stacks identical levels atop the lobby, allowing more people to live.

While there is often some additional planning and capital expenditures upfront, vertical growing is an exponential boost to your growing capacity without the need to acquire or build additional cultivation space. Vertical growing offers clear advantages over other cultivation methods including:

● Outdoor: While a classic cannabis cultivation method, setting up your grow operation outdoors means sacrificing control over your environment, and dealing with the inevitable invasion of pests, and unpredictable weather.

● Greenhouse: Greenhouse growing helps combat some of the problems of outdoor growing but can be costly and restrictive in maximizing space when designed to accommodate single-level growing benches.

● Single Level Indoor: Improved environmental control, reduced issues with the ambient environment, and consistent lighting, indoor growing is the cannabis growing method of choice for many commercial cultivators. However, like greenhouse growing, single-level indoor growing creates production limitations. Whereas vertical growing stacks plants in the same space to double, triple (or more!) your total plant capacity and increase your yields accordingly.

Top 7 Advantages of Vertical Cannabis Growing

No matter what form of vertical cannabis growing you choose, vertical farming offers a wide range of advantages. The use of vertical space and accompanying concentration of plants offers efficiencies of both scale and workflow to help you get the most out of your cannabis grow operation. These include:

● Maximization of production capacity within a fixed space.
● Increased horizontal canopy space by the elimination of stationery aisles, by creating a more dynamic grow space.
● More efficient use of utilities, through LED lighting, and closed-loop irrigation systems that capture and reuse water.
● Providing a consistent cultivation platform for multi-state operations (MSOs) to standardize, streamline, and expand outputs within and beyond the current cultivation footprint.
● Reducing the necessity of relocating or acquiring additional production capacity as demand grows, by optimizing the total production capabilities of your existing space.
● Improved employee safety and ergonomics by utilizing platforms and lifts that adjust to optimal work height.
● Ability to increase production with limited downtime. Eliminate construction, permitting, and buildout by creating a production phasing plan that incorporates Pipp Racking that can expand quickly by simply adding additional levels as additional production is required.

Pipp Rolling Aisle System
Double Level Grow Room under Fluence Vyprx

Why Choose A Vertical Grow System

The primary way that vertical grow systems boost your production capacity is by designing your grow space in a way that maximizes the cubic cultivation capacity while providing a consistent optimal environment for your plants.

In this highly competitive industry where margins are continually tightening, every detail, or every cubic foot or meter matters to produce higher-quality cannabis for less. A huge component of this is designing the grow space to be as effective and efficient as possible. If you’re interested in learning more about cultivation facility design, you can check out this in-depth video with tips from industry experts!

One of the unique aspects of vertical growing is that your operation’s design shapes your growing process, workflow, and vice versa. By combining the advantages of vertical growing with the design and process thinking outlined above, you can address limitations and expansion goals.

How Vertical Cannabis Farming Can Improve Efficiency & ROI

Along with the production capacity advantages vertical cannabis farming provides, it also helps reduce costs and leads to a more efficient operation.

Beyond optimizing your grow space in the ways we’ve discussed above, which will lower your overall COGS, vertical cannabis growing reduces your canopy costs in the long term too. Perhaps the most significant investment for an expanding cannabis company is purchasing or building a new cultivation space or adding on to an existing facility to accommodate increasing demand.

Vertical growing disrupts this potential endeavor. The thought of building out multiple levels of lights and racks in all your rooms might make your head spin. However, through a phased approach, you can begin to install racks and infrastructure to the first level and go vertical as demand, time, and investment permit.

In this way, growing capacity is easily increased without permitting, construction, or significant downtime, giving your operation greater flexibility and a higher ROI.

The Future of Growing is Vertical

Another reason to pursue vertical growing in your cannabis operation is because of several looming issues with traditional farming and agriculture that will affect the cannabis industry.

First off, land constraints and population increase will drive the need to rethink how we farm, and lead many cultivators to pursue more economical urban grow operations. In the near future, indoor vertical farming will likely enable you to buy tropical fruit from within 100 miles of where you live, and the same goes for cannabis. A move towards indoor, vertical farming will reduce the strain that our current agricultural and cannabis industry puts on the environment.

Another relevant movement is the imposition of LED light regulations on indoor cultivators. Motivated by LED bulbs’ superior energy efficiency over other less efficient bulbs, states like California are proposing legislation that will require all indoor cultivators to use only LED lights by 2023. This would cost millions to most growers, leading to significant advantages for those that have already or currently implementing vertical grow systems throughout their cultivation facilities. Vertical farming is a solution to the impending agricultural constraints, both physical and governmental. It’s time to explore and benefit from the possibilities.

Understanding Essential Vertical Growing Equipment

To benefit from all of the advantages of vertical growing we’ve outlined so far requires an understanding of what equipment you need, and why. While rethinking your grow operation can reap huge rewards, it can also backfire if you don’t put in the proper forethought into your facility design and cannabis production plan.

There are many different aspects to consider when choosing your vertical grow equipment, including:

● How the grow racks fit in your grow facility, to maximize utilization of the space, accommodate the necessary working space around the racks, and ensure perpetual production with limited downtime.
● Proper light spacing and distance from canopy, to maximize the effectiveness of lighting coverage.
● Your HVAC and airflow needs, to keep fresh, clean air in your grow space
● An understanding of microclimates within your grow space, so you can better control them.
Shelf strength and capacity to provide all your plants a safe and sturdy home
● Proper surface material and sanitization routines, to prevent contaminants.
● Safe and ergonomic approach to plant maintenance across all levels and grow phases.

A Case Study: Leafline Labs

Leafline Labs is one of our customers who we helped to capitalize on wasted vertical space. They were forecasting an increase in demand for their high-quality medical cannabis but worried about the significant vertical space they were wasting.

Leafline also wanted to increase its current facility’s cultivation capacity, through mobile, multi-level vertical growing systems. This meant we had to consider the impact on current production and harvest cycles, with thoughtful planning to minimize disruption.

We helped them convert from a traditional HPS, single-level canopy design to a mobile multi-level LED setup. We installed our double tier, high-density vertical grow rack system, and our patent-pending Drip-to-Drain Trays and HDPE Inserts.
We worked closely with LeafLine Labs’ construction and electrician teams to ensure a smooth, speedy, and successful installation. The implementation of our mobile cultivation systems resulted in an impressive 140% increase in canopy space, a decrease in radiant heat, minimized evaporation, and a reduction in the amount of water required for growing.

“Besides the great sales & support team at Pipp, the expertise in cannabis and horticulture that Pipp can provide to the growers using their systems has been amazing,” said Emily Kowalski, Vice President of Cultivation for LeafLine Labs.

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Sanitizing and Cleaning the Cannabis Grow Room Part III: HVAC & Air Systems

In Part I of our Sanitization Series, we outlined the importance of keeping to a regular inspection and cleaning schedule, and the difference between sanitizing, disinfecting, and sterilizing your grow room.

In Part II, we discussed how to sanitize your plants and substrate, and how cultivators can prevent damage and loss to crops from bacteria, fungi, pests, and plant diseases.  

To conclude our Sanitization series, Part III delves into the importance of sanitizing your grow room HVAC system and the air in your grow room. We’ll dive into proactive and reactive measures to achieve clean HVAC and air systems to prevent pathogens and pests and improve crop yields and quality.

Why HVAC/Air Sanitization is Vital

The air in your grow room is as important to successful and healthy crops as the surfaces and plant substrates. Keeping the air in your cannabis cultivation grow space sanitized and free of microbes, pests, and pollutants saves you time, energy, and money while improving plant health, reducing crop loss, and avoiding expensive and labor-intensive battles with microscopic invaders.

First, let’s take a look at the difference between sanitization and sterilization. Sanitization involves regular, surface-level cleaning, such as wiping up a spill, or cleaning tools. Sanitization is an integral part of the growing process and vital to regularly producing quality crop yields. Sterilization takes this approach to clean down to a microscopic scale, to rid a grow space of bacteria and microbes. Think of sanitization as wiping down a counter with a regular wet cloth, and sterilization as wiping the counter down with an antimicrobial wipe.

Now, to apply the sanitization/sterilization distinction to our subject of HVAC and air. You always want to keep your grow space as clean as possible, aiming for sterilization wherever viable. In reality, microbes exist in the fresh air, and the air we breathe out with every breath, so totally sterilizing your air is beyond the capacities of most growers. Focus on sterilizing the surfaces of your HVAC system, along with your surfaces and tools. Sanitization is a more achievable goal when it comes to your grow space air.

As with the other areas of sanitization we’ve examined in this series, failing to sanitize your grow space air or HVAC system can lead to adverse outcomes, such as:

  • Total crop loss
  • Reduced crop yield and quality
  • Increased spending on bactericides, fungicides or biologicals
  • Time/energy wasted on preventable issues
  • Bad publicity from products failing lab tests
  • Negative impact on the company and its brands’ reputation

The cannabis industry has become increasingly competitive, and this will only continue. It’s important to recognize that small investments in sanitization upfront can significantly minimize the risk of these costly events. If you’re part of a vertically integrated operation, these adverse outcomes can affect your entire supply chain, leading to further repercussions.

Trulieve/Harvest - Pipp Horticulture Mobile Vertical Grow Racks

How To Approach HVAC and Air Sanitization

To evaluate several critical things cannabis grow can do to maintain clean air and airways, we’ll look at both proactive and reactive measures. Proactive measures are routine cleaning activities, and investment in tools made to prevent any incidents. On the other hand, reactive measures are actions made in direct response to a sanitary problem after it has occurred.

Proactive Measures: Equipment

  • Regular Fresh Air Exchange: The ‘V’ in HVAC stands for ‘ventilation,’ which is crucial for your cannabis grow operation. Ensure that your ventilation system is sized correctly to exchange and circulate fresh air throughout your grow room and doesn’t miss any stagnant spots that can result in mold and mildew.
  • HEPA Filters: Cannabis growing conditions are often a breeding ground for unwanted contaminants. Using a high-quality HEPA filter helps your commercial grow operation thrive by ensuring air quality in the space is as clean of contaminants as can be.
  • Photo Catalytic Oxidation (PCO): PCO is an organic protection method against common crop pathogens. It allows growers to produce high-quality yields that align with regulations.
  • Multi-Cluster Ionization (MCI): MCI, kills molds, mildews, bacteria, and more using a Dielectric Barrier Ionizer (DBI). The ions that a DBI creates are more stable and powerful than those of competing technologies.
  • Probiotic Air Treatments: Another great way to keep your air sanitized is through probiotic air treatments. Probiotics are ‘good bacteria’ that promote healthy ecosystems and restore the natural balance that is difficult to maintain in indoor grow spaces.

Strategic Conditioned Air Supply: This air supply is used to ensure consistent environmental conditions throughout the grow cycle. Without it, short cycling can occur, and this leads to stagnant air and microclimate issues. Sterilization and purification are important, but the first line of defense is creating an environment un-conducive to pathogens in the first place. The air supplied from your HVAC system needs to be supplied and returned strategically, with the specific racking and plant layout considered.

Proactive Measures: Routine

Along with proactive measures, it’s important to develop a rigorous sanitization routine to catch issues before they spiral out of control. Your HVAC/air sanitization routine should include:

  • Regular Equipment Checks and Maintenance to ensure that your grow room ventilation system is working properly. If you find something out of order and can’t figure out a fix, call an HVAC maintenance professional, as things can turn for the worse quickly.
  • HVAC/Air Circulation System Maintenance on both a monthly and yearly basis. Monthly tasks include removing/replacing the filter, inspecting the finger guards and fan blades for debris, and wiping down the air mixing chamber with acetone. Annual tasks include cleaning out the entire duct runs, which is generally a two-person job.
  • Humidity Monitoring is important because mold and mildew thrive in humid conditions. Humidity is also a vital factor in the f quality and yield of a crop. Keeping humidity and temperature at optimal levels, relative to each other, will make a huge difference in your output. Investing in a quality hygrometer or other environmental sensors and alarms can keep tabs on your grow room’s humidity levels.
  • Surface Sampling informs you when your grow space air is contaminating the surfaces in your grow area. Companies like 3M offer kits that enable you to collect samples, prepare them for testing, and process the tests, to give you a quality snapshot of the microbial state on grow room surfaces.
  • Consistent Air Circulation: Without consistent circulation throughout your entire grow space, powdery mildew and botrytis will establish where there isn’t adequate air circulation. Providing consistent, laminar airflow will ensure a healthy canopy and prevent the spread of pathogens.
  • Pruning and Canopy Maintenance: All of these environmental strategies are only beneficial when paired with proper plant work. Pruning and canopy maintenance ensures that airflow and light can penetrate the canopy and eliminate stagnant air pockets, which is huge for pathogen control. Removing excessive plant material provides space in the canopy, and makes it easier to control humidity levels, as there is less leaf surface transpiring in the room.

Reactive Measures

Pest infestations or contaminant outbreaks are a near inevitability when it comes to growing cannabis, no matter how well you follow the above steps. That’s why it’s important to understand what to do when one occurs. If your grow room ventilation has been overrun by pathogens or pests, you should:

  • Isolate infected plants to slow the spread
  • Detect the source of the outbreak
  • Treat the issue using the proper remedies


If your grow space ventilation has failed, leading to a pathogen or microbe outbreak, many of the above proactive treatments will cleanse the infection source, such as PCO, MCI, and probiotic air treatments. Foliar treatments like ZeroTol, a ‘biosafe’ algaecide, bactericide, and fungicide, kill pathogens while preventing crop damage, but should be applied cautiously, especially late in flower.  In severe situations, it may be necessary to harvest early to avoid a total crop loss.


An excellent way to detect a pest outbreak is by laying fly strips around your grow space to indicate increased insect activity. Many other pests will be hard to spot without a trained eye. Identify the particular outbreak visually and then create a specific treatment plan. Several actions can help stop the spread of an outbreak, including:

● Removing excess soil moisture to prevent larvae from hatching
● Regular leaf checks to understand the outbreak scope
● Spraying your plant with hard water to dislodge insects
● Vacuuming your plants (with a weaker, handheld vacuum, to remove pests

The Sanitization Battle Continues

We hope this exploration into the fundamentals of sanitization and sterilization, from your grow room surfaces, plants and substrates, to your HVAC system and grow room ventilation system, has shown that your fight against contaminants is complex but winnable.


Whether you’re looking to begin a vertical grow operation, or just have a general question, contact Pipp Horticulture today. We’re always happy to help enthusiastic cannabis growers!

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