Risky Business: A Guide to Guerilla Growing

20 November 2020

Is guerilla growing a sound idea? Suppose one day your friend appeared on your doorstep in hiking gear and with a spade on his shoulder and told you that he was going to make himself a vegetable garden somewhere on the public land and, by fall, grow the best vegetables anyone has ever seen. You’d probably tell him that he was wasting his time and that the result would be pure crap.

In contrast, guerilla growing weed may seem like a smart business move (there’s even a book called ‘Guerilla Growing Trade Secrets’), but only because marijuana is illegal. In fact, a clandestine operation like this requires much work and involves even more risk — the risk of losing your crop in perhaps dozens of different scenarios.

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As an amateur grower, I have three seasons worth of guerilla growing under my belt. The first one was meticulously planned and expertly executed. It was very uphill work, but the results were amazing. The second time around, I was sure to do even better, but with much less effort. It was a total disaster. The third time was a last minute decision—I had some extra seeds and a good spot to plant them—and the results were surprisingly good, mostly because of the favorable weather. It all comes down to luck really.

So, if you are set on guerilla growing weed, at least don’t plan anything large-scale and don’t depend on the results financially, or else you may be severely disappointed.

purple #1 grown guerilla-style
A very disappointing-looking Purple #1 in late September. Luckily, an unusual spell of good weather (all the way to early November) allowed her to put on some serious weight. But in a worse year, she would have to be harvested like this. Pathetic!

Choosing the Right Spot for Your Guerilla Growing

They say that you need three things for a successful retail business: location, location, and location. The same is true of best guerilla grow spots: they are what sets apart success from failure. So, long before the planned grow, go location scouting and be very serious about it. The best time to do it is in fall.

Let’s list all the requirements a good guerilla grow spot should meet:

  • Deserted. The place should be as far from usual haunts of people as possible, be it hikers, hunters, birdwatchers, or whatever. If you find what you think is a great spot and inspect it more closely and then realize that someone is rubbernecking you from afar, don’t say to yourself: “Well, it’s perfect, except for this one guy doing God knows what in the middle of nowhere. But when I come back in spring with the tools and the plants, he won’t be here to get on my nerve. So it’s all good”. No, it’s not, and you’ll either have to come work here at night, or you’ll be bumping into someone every time. A good spot should have that desolate feel when it doesn’t even occur to you to look over your shoulder.
  • Dense shrub. It’s best to surround your secret garden with some thick and tall vegetation. Or, at least, plant your cannabis on the edge of it so that other plants can serve as a backdrop and make your patch less conspicuous. Nettles are your best bet because they are tall enough to hide weed plants, and people usually stay away from nettles. Any kind of brambles will do just fine, too.
  • Fertile soil. Odds are that you won’t be able to bring enough store-bought soil mix to make a difference, so you’ll depend on the quality of the local soil. In forests (even in a clearing), the topsoil is usually very thin and poor. On wastelands, a good indicator is the height of grass. If it’s just knee-deep or lower, the soil’s not very good, and your marijuana will grow small and sickly. If the weeds are tall, the soil here can probably support quite big and high-yielding bushes.
  • Nearby stream/lake. If your climate is dry, you’ll have to water your plants regularly. Hauling enough water from the city is not an option. The only thing that’s feasible is having a natural source of water and a bucket stashed near your patch. Or you can make your garden near the edge of a stream or lake where the roots can reach groundwater. Spots like this also often have good soil and are overgrown with impenetrable vegetation to hide your plants in.
  • Sunlight. Cannabis needs plenty of sun, especially in flower. So, make sure your chosen spot is exposed to sunlight, meaning that nothing is blocking it from the south. From the north, it may well be sheltered by trees or a hill. The ideal scenario is to plant your seedlings in the bottom portion of a south-facing slope, with a stream of water running at the foot of it.

Guerilla Growing in the City

If it’s not some form of political activism and your goal is to grow marijuana for yields, doing it within city limits is very tricky. But is it possible? Yes, it is.

I personally know people living in a populated residential area of a major city who managed to find a vacant lot for a small hidden garden of a few plants. The drawback is that you’ll probably have to visit your plants only at night. In my first (and very successful) guerilla grow, I did all my work at night. It’s inconvenient and risky, but it can be done.

A much more serious disadvantage of growing weed in the city guerilla-style are street lights which will disrupt the flowering of any photoperiod variety. Of course, autoflowers don’t have this problem.

Guerilla Growing in Trees

This issue is related to the question of what works best for an outdoor marijuana grow: pots or ground. Obviously, if you have this brilliant idea of hiding your weed plants almost in plain sight in the canopy of a tree, they will have to be in some sort of containers. I strongly advise you against planting marijuana in pots in any guerilla-style operation. Pots require a much more frequent irrigation which can be very time-consuming even in a normal garden. Imagine yourself climbing a tree with a watering can every morning before work!

This can make for a very entertaining story, but I’d prefer to entertain my friends with a well-packed bowl instead. And growing in trees is not the most direct path to this goal.

Guerrilla Growing in Swamps

In my scouting trips, I have often come across a very attractive and promising spot that is very low and swampy and overgrown with rushes that are tall enough to hide my plants. I had this idea to use big plastic containers that would stand in shallow water the way they sometimes stay in trays (indoors) and are watered and fed through the drainage holes in the bottom. I’ve always managed to find a better spot in the end, so I don’t know if this idea would work, but I think that for a medium-sized plant in a very big pot it can be done.

Let’s Get Our Hands Dirty!

Okay, you’ve found the ideal spot for your guerilla grow. It’s where no one will see your comings and goings, or find your hidden patch, and where your plants will be provided with good soil, enough water, and plenty of sunshine. What to do next?

Brace yourself for several trips, even before the day (or night) when you’ll plant your seedlings.

Preparation of Guerilla Growing Garden

Get right in the center of a thicket and start digging. Your goal is to remove all weeds along with their roots. Make the shape of the patch irregular. A square/circle/triangle etc. would be conspicuous from a helicopter. You’ll need at least a 3ft (1m) distance from plant to plant and to the edge of the scrub. You’ll probably want to top the closest surrounding bushes so that they don’t block sunlight. Don’t try to take all this plant material anywhere else. Leave it right there on the ground as mulch and a source of organics. You may manage to do the digging and the planting in one go. Or not. It all depends on the number of plants.


Even larger autoflowers may need some kind of support to prevent their side branches from breaking under the weight of buds. And it’s an absolute must for photoperiod varieties, especially in case of an extended vegetative period. As a bare minimum, you’ll need to connect individual branches with pieces of string, so that they lend support to each other, or to tie up each of them to the main stalk. But it’s not really effective and wouldn’t prevent the whole plant from toppling over (for example, during a thunderstorm).

Better find or make some long and sturdy stakes and drive them into the ground during the initial preparation of your patch. Then you can plant your seedlings each near its stake and later tie up the main stalk to it.

Of course, you can also build chicken-wire cages around your plants, but this may prove too difficult to do far into the wilderness.


It’s always best to start your seedlings inside and then take them to the great outdoors at the age of 2-3 weeks from seeds at least. Slide them (together with their containers) inside tubes made of cardboard or plastic bottles for safe and discreet transportation. Don’t forget to take some bottles of water with you because it’s best to water your seedlings right after the transplant.

Make sure that the weather is warm enough and there are no ground frosts in the morning anymore. In the UK, for example, it could be the end of May or early June. We recommend planting in the evening if the weather is hot and sunny, and in the morning if the nights are cold and the days overcast. This way, the plants will get more time to adapt to harsh conditions.

Useful tip: Never leave your freshly planted seedlings on the weeded bare ground. This attracts birds who are very curious to check out these new bright green spots. You can lose every single seedling this way. Been there. So pluck a lot of weeds and cover your whole patch with them for the seedlings not to stick out.

guerilla weed grow seedling
A lot of grass clippings on the ground make this seedling invisible for curious birds.

Weeding Your Guerilla Growing Spot

I prefer to weed my patch every other week, or once a month. In the beginning, this will prevent other plants from successfully competing with cannabis, and later it will combat stale air and mold near the ground. Leave the grass where you’ve plucked it because it will serve as mulch and organic fertilizer.

weeding your outdor patch


In guerilla setups, no special growing techniques are necessary. Except maybe topping — to give your plants less height and more girth.

However, it’s always advisable to cut one or two pairs of branches at the very bottom of the plant because they seldom amount to anything, can droop and actually touch the dirt with their buds. If the canopy is too dense, it’s probably a good idea to also remove some secondary side branches in the deep shadow inside the bush. Do all this pruning when the flowering begins.

And when the buds start to fatten, you can remove larger and older fan leaves, especially those that block the sun and hinder air movement.


If your climate is dry and the plants have only you to rely on for their irrigation, it can be very uphill work. So guerilla farming is much more practical in an area with regular rains. However, even in this case, there may be dry spells when cannabis will be severely stunted or killed if you don’t help it with an emergency watering at least once or twice.

Watering is a good occasion to mix in some liquid nutrients: with a lot of nitrogen (N) in veg, and with raised levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in flower. Another way to feed your guerilla garden is to mix some slow release fertilizer into the soil or simply scatter some granules on the surface. During rains, these ferts will slowly dissolve and seep into the earth.

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Checking for Males/Hermies

Even if you choose feminized seeds (we recommend that you do), some stray male is possible. And male flowers sometimes appear in female buds because of stress. So, whenever you visit your flowering plants, perform a quick check. It wouldn’t hurt.


Photoperiod marijuana strains are ready for harvest sometime in late September or early October, at least in higher latitude countries like the UK. Farther south, some faster flowering genetics can be harvested even earlier.

UK outdoor growers know that you don’t chop your plants based solely on the calendar. Sometimes, you’ll have to harvest your buds before their peak maturity simply because there’s a cold spell coming, or a long period of rains with no chance of sunshine later. This is another thing that makes guerilla growing so unreliable. So watch forecasts closely and if you expect the cold and humid weather till the end of the growing season, harvest your buds before that and not during or after. Bud rot and mold are more than real and no fun at all.

outdoor guerilla grow bud rot
A dead yellow leaf sticking out of a bud signals that there’s bud rot inside.

Please remember that harvest time is probably the only moment when a guerilla grower can get in trouble with the law. The rest of the activities associated with tending your secret garden never lead to repercussions*. So be extra careful during the harvest.

For safety reasons, never transport your buds home after dark, even if you’ve harvested them after dark. A lonely vehicle in the middle of the night causes suspicions. Better be on the road during morning rush hours when there’s less chance of a traffic stop. I once did just that: spent a night outdoors, cutting and trimming buds, put them into a big garbage bag, and hid it in a roadside ditch. Then I went home for a nap, a shower, and a breakfast, and then returned for a quick pick up. It’s much safer this way.

Okay, it was an unexpectedly long list of jobs. You may skip all of them except two: the planting and the harvesting, but then don’t be surprised by very mediocre or non-existing rewards. And if you decide to visit your plants frequently, take some precautions:

  • always have some innocent and plausible explanation of what you’re doing there,
  • dress like a hiker, not like a rastafarian,
  • never leave a beaten path to your patch, come and go in circles, smooth over your traces,
  • don’t leave your vehicle in plain sight, or at least don’t park it in the same spot many times over,
  • in case you’re caught tending your plants, they’re not yours, you’ve just followed a smell and found them.

Even More Risks (Sorry to be a Buzzkill)

There’s good news ahead, but for now I feel obliged to warn you of more dangers. Like there’s a number of animals that might think you planted cannabis for them to feast upon.

Rabbits. Can be dangerous for young weed plants. Build cages from chicken wire or some metal mesh and don’t forget that rabbits like to burrow.

Deer. Can hurt even bigger plants, including those in flower. Hide your garden in thick shrubs and surround it with a fishing line to discourage the deer from going inside.

You can also scare away intruders by using predator urine or even feces (they are sometimes sold in garden centers).

In contrast, bugs are never such a big problem in guerilla gardens. They are dangerous in the earlier stages, but when the plants get big, no pest will do them any irreparable damage. So, if you’re not raising your plants for a beauty contest, just ignore an eaten leaf or two, or even a dozen.

mole crickets
These two mole crickets pretend like they are not interested, but they can destroy a seedling in a matter of minutes.

And Finally the Good News (Called Autoflowers)

The existence of autos allows us to end our guerilla grow guide on a more optimistic note. Autos are really a blessing.

First of all, they are of a discrete height and can be concealed even behind some low vegetation. Second, the longer your weed grows unsupervised, the bigger the risks of losing it, and autoflowers are very fast. Third, you can eliminate every danger associated with bad weather in fall. Simply time your planting in such a way that your autos are mature by the end of summer.

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guerilla growing autoflower mature in the middle of summer
It’s only early July, but the buds on this autoflower are already quite resinous and mature.

Moreover, you can have two or more consecutive grows in one season (depends on your climate), or plant your autoflowers in small batches and have a continuous harvest for a couple of months. Guerilla growing autoflower plants can be less like a lottery and more like a solid business plan.

We hope you enjoyed the reading. Maybe you have some tips and interesting stories for other wannabe guerilla growers? Please share them in the comments!


* Weed, Need and Greed: Domestic Marijuana Production and the UK Cannabis Market, Gary Richard Potter, University of Sheffield, Department of Law, September 2006