Ganja in the Garden With Denver Author Johanna Silver

Caring more about nature than the law comes with a certain streak of rebelliousness.
Caring more about nature than the law comes with a certain streak of rebelliousness. Jake Holschuh
Many of us are weeks into cultivating our gardens, hovering over flowers and tomato plants as they blossom and bear fruit. Coloradans have the rare distinction of being able to add cannabis to their growing arsenal, but thanks to years of federal and state laws prohibiting grows, cultivating pot is hardly thought of as gardening by the general public. Growing weed in the open in your yard is still forbidden, even in states that have legalized marijuana, such as Colorado.

As a result, caring more about respecting Mother Nature than the law comes with a certain streak of rebelliousness, a streak that Johanna Silver, the former garden editor of Sunset magazine, normalizes in her new book, Growing Weed in the Garden.

Silver's guide, an introduction to cannabis growing and the plant in general, aims to direct new pot growers toward the sunlight instead of the basement as she interviews home growers across the country, including in Colorado, about their trials and tribulations with hail, local laws and gardening strategies. We chatted with Silver via email about her cannabis gardening journey; she'll talk more about the book during a virtual appearance on June 22 with the Tattered Cover.

Westword: How well does cannabis play with other plants in the garden? Can it grow next to squash or tomatoes?

Johanna Silver: Weed likes friends. All plants like friends. Polyculture (planting multiple types of things) reduces pest pressure, creates a robust ecosystem and totally looks prettier. Weed is a warm-season annual, so next to the squash or tomatoes is great! I plant a bunch of herbs, like basil and parsley, and flowers, like marigolds and cosmos, at the base of mine. The weed can grow tall and have pretty little things down below.
click to enlarge Growing Weed in the Garden author and Denver native Johanna Silver. - COURTESY OF ABRAMS BOOKS
Growing Weed in the Garden author and Denver native Johanna Silver.
Courtesy of Abrams Books

Compared to other plants you've grown and written about, how difficult is maintaining cannabis?

It’s called weed. It’s fuss-free. The labor comes in the post-processing. You need to have a cool, dark spot to dry your weed for a few weeks. Other than that, it’s simple.

Does Colorado have a climate conducive to backyard cannabis growing? What climates does the plant like the most?

That’s the thing about weed: Humans have literally taken it everywhere in the world. It grows — and has adapted to grow — anywhere in the world. There’s no one winning climate. What Colorado has going for it (and I discuss this in a profile with a Denver grower in the book) is the aridity. Weed can have problems with mold and mildew, and that’s basically a non-issue in Colorado.

Can experienced backyard gardeners grow cannabis without much instruction, or does it require more care than that?

They need my book — that’s basically it. No, but real talk, all the instruction out there is about indoors. Anything outdoor-related is about hiding footprints and what breed of dog is scariest.

It’s hard to find info that’s garden-oriented. There are a few things that are cannabis-specific where help is needed. Cannabis is dioecious, meaning there are male and female plants. In order to get a seed-free crop, you need unpollinated female flowers ONLY. So you have to be trained in how to tell the difference between males and females. It’s fun — not common in the garden world.

Do pests bother cannabis as much as they do vegetables or flowers, or do those trichomes provide a layer of defense?

I don’t find my veggies and flowers have much trouble with pests in general, and weed is much the same. So long as they’re grown in the right environmental conditions (say, full sun and regular water) and given great, rich, well-draining soil, pests should be a non-issue.

It's illegal for Colorado residents to grow cannabis in the open outdoors (grows have to be locked and out of the sight of neighbors and the public). Is that the case in other states?

Obviously, people need to check the laws in their area. It’s very similar in Berkeley: out of public sight. I don’t think anyone in their right mind is going to grow weed in their front yards. [It's] too tempting to steal.

Can Coloradans (and other home growers largely confined indoors) still achieve a true cannabis garden indoors or inside of a greenhouse?

Depends on how you define garden. Indoors never feels like a garden to me. Those tents? Ventilation systems? I mean, people get it done, but I’m not the one to ask. I’m a true dirt gardener. I know nothing about indoor weed cultivation. Greenhouses? 100 percent. A lot of people grow in them.
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Thomas Mitchell has written about all things cannabis for Westword since 2014, covering sports, real estate and general news along the way for publications such as the Arizona Republic, Inman and Fox Sports. He's currently the cannabis editor for
Contact: Thomas Mitchell