Is cannabis the new tomato?

Departments - Retail Revival | Store improvement tips from the Garden Lady

Garden centers need to be increasingly informed about this crop that some say everyone wants to grow.

August 20, 2019

As additional states legalize or decriminalize the use of cannabis, more customers will want the information and products needed to grow it.

At my garden center we’ve been answering questions about cannabis cultivation for years, although often the customers were reticent to admit what they were growing. It was always amusing to hear how many 20-somethings who came in for rockwool cubes were “Helping my mom with her petunias.”

But in 2018 it became legal for individuals in Massachusetts to grow a limited number of cannabis plants, so now we can openly help customers of all ages and levels of experience. In fact, in early February I ran cannabis propagation and growing seminars at Hyannis Country Garden. We charged $20 per person for admission and capped attendance at 80 people. The first talk sold out, so we added a second class the following week. I recall how Jeff Lowenfels, author of the forthcoming book “DIY Autoflowering Cannabis: An Easy Way to Grow Your Own,” frequently says, “Cannabis is the new tomato. It’s the plant that everyone wants to grow.”

Whether cannabis is the new tomato or not, it is a plant that garden centers increasingly need to be informed about. As additional states legalize or decriminalize the use of this plant, more customers will want the information and products needed to grow it.

It was interesting to see the audience that attended the cannabis classes at Hyannis Country Garden. Although I’d expected a younger audience, about 75% of those in attendance were baby boomers. I remember speaking with David Deardorff, co-author of “What’s Wrong With My Marijuana Plant?” about this a year ago. David and his co-author, Kathryn Wadsworth, present classes on cannabis cultivation in the Seattle area, and he said that the majority of people attending are women age 55 and older.

“That population of women usually have experience growing plants, and the idea of raising herbs for medicinal reasons is familiar to them,” David told me. It was clear that the baby boomers in my audiences are interested in using cannabis for treating insomnia, arthritis or other physical problems, and they are interested in growing their own.

The younger members of my audience weren’t as familiar with plants, so they needed the most basic information; subjects such as fertilizing or pinching tips to create bushier growth are totally new to them. This makes me hopeful that cannabis does indeed prove to be the “gateway” that the public was told it was 40 years ago, although I’m thinking that it’s the gateway drug that will get them hooked on Rhododendron, Plectranthus and culinary herbs.

Whether your cannabis-growing customer is 22 or 82, they’ll appreciate information that is factual and local. There is so much misinformation online, and much of it is geared toward indoor or hydroponic growing. Your business will also need to be aware of your state’s particular regulations and remind people to be responsible in how and where the plant is grown; this isn’t a plant that children should have access to.

Garden centers will also need to be prepared for pushback from other customers. Cannabis is still a hot-button issue, and some aren’t pleased when an IGC passes out information about growing this plant. At Hyannis Country Garden we drafted a letter that was sent out when a couple of people complained about our propagation classes. All employees were given a copy so that they knew how to respond if a customer objected in person.

Most garden centers frequently receive questions about certain plants. On Cape Cod, where Hyannis Country Garden is located, people ask about pruning their blue hydrangeas, the lichen on their trees, and how to grow tomatoes. We have informational handouts on these and other topics on our website; the newest document posted there is about growing “the new tomato,” cannabis.

C.L. Fornari is a speaker, writer and radio/podcast host who has worked at Hyannis Country Garden, an IGC on Cape Cod, for more than 20 years. She has her audiences convinced that C.L. stands for “Compost Lover.” Learn more at