Online course teaches horticulture of cannabis

Hemp plants in one of the College's research greenhouses.
Hemp plants in one of the College’s research greenhouses.

An updated version of a course on growing cannabis that debuted this past spring semester will be offered online during UConn’s second summer session, starting July 15.

The three-credit course, entitled Horticulture of Cannabis: From Seed to Harvest (SPSS 3995), provides an overview of the complete growing cycle of cannabis. Registration is open to all, but enrollment is limited to forty and the class is expected to fill up quickly. While there are no prerequisites, it is scientifically rigorous, and course instructor Matt DeBacco says that students will benefit greatly from having taken introductory classes in biology, chemistry and horticulture.

When the on-campus course was announced in the fall of 2018, it received a great deal of media attention. As more and more U.S. states move to legalize the production of hemp and medical and recreational marijuana, journalists from national and international print, broadcast and digital media have kept the new course and UConn’s cannabis-related research programs in the news.

Demand for the course has been such that it was decided to adapt it for online delivery during the summer. Gerald Berkowitz is a professor in the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture (PSLA) involved in the development of the UConn’s cannabis teaching and research program.  He says, “This is the first online cannabis horticulture course offered by any U.S. academic institution. While there are many online cannabis courses focusing on horticulture, they all are associated with for-profit, non-accredited companies. The ability to offer academic courses in the area of cannabis provides students with knowledge, experience and skills that are sought-after by the fast-developing cannabis industry.”

Horticulture of Cannabis: from Seed to Harvest is grounded in rigorous scholarship such as published peer-reviewed journal articles as well as research being conducted in UConn’s Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture by the Berkowitz laboratory and those of Yi Li and Jessica Lubell.

Lectures focus on growing cannabis both in the field and in a controlled environment and cover production techniques specific to cannabis, including seed production, propagation of clones from cuttings, pruning and plant training, crop management techniques to maximize cannabinoid levels, post-harvest handling and THC extraction.

To enhance student engagement, DeBacco uses a flipped classroom model to teach the course. Students watch lecture videos and study materials online before each class. Debacco estimates that each class requires about an hour’s preparation. During the first half of each class meeting, students break into teams, working together online to develop a PowerPoint that answers a question based on the class preparation. For the class’s second half, DeBacco lectures from the students’ PowerPoints, making corrections as necessary.

Says DeBacco, “Students who take this course learn that there are numerous complexities when growing a crop. It’s a lot more than simply planting a seed and watching a plant grow. There are many different options for plant production, and gaining an understanding of the techniques and equipment available will give students the ability to choose the most appropriate option for a given situation. This requires them to apply the course content to be able to solve problems.”

Students from a range of majors, including plant science, engineering, allied health sciences and marketing, took the course during the spring semester. Teaching evaluations indicate that they found it challenging, and those who had not previously studied general horticulture learned a great deal about it. Six guest lectures were given by industry professionals working in financial investment, cannabidiol (CBD) business development, medical marijuana production, clinical medicine and cannabinoid use in pain management, cannabis production on a California farm, and cannabis product testing ate state-certified laboratories. Students had the opportunity to meet with these professionals regarding internships and jobs, and many commented in their evaluations on the importance of this exposure to the “real world” of cannabis production.

Horticulture-related undergraduate programs in PSLA typically involve experiential learning; much education takes place outside the classroom.  Berkowitz has set up for-credit internships for more than a dozen students with cannabis-related companies, including the state medical marijuana grow facilities, flower testing labs and cannabinoid extraction factories. Some of these internships provide opportunities to work on improving the process for CBD extraction and improving analytical procedures. Dozens of students have also participated in independent studies in the Berkowitz and Lubell labs.

Says DeBacco, “UConn has taken the first step to providing the rapidly expanding industry with an educated workforce that understands the production of cannabis in a scalable and sustainable manner.”

Course information and registration are available on the course’s page on the UConn Summer Session website.

Questions regarding the course can be sent to or