Pruning Marijuana Plants

For many growers, the topic of pruning can be controversial at best. Is it worth it to prune marijuana plants? It can increase yield, so I absolutely say yes, but there are risks involved.

The thing is, pruning has many benefits, but it’s not the only way to increase yield. There are other plant training methods that you can try. The trick is finding the right one for your comfort level and doing it correctly.  

This article will discuss the various pruning methods and teach other ways to train your marijuana plants. I’ve also included a list of best practices at the bottom. Keep reading to learn if pruning is right for you.

What do you want to know about pruning?

Increase your yield with pruning techniques

Want to know one of the easiest ways to increase your yield?

It’s pruning.

Gardeners of every type prune their plants to keep them trim and tidy. For many of them, it’s simply because the plants can grow out of hand and become too difficult to deal with any other way. Plus, it has little risk since pruning is relatively harmless to the rest of the plant.

But there are more benefits to pruning:

For some plants, such as marijuana and tomatoes, pruning can also cause higher yields.

What cannabis grower wouldn’t want tidy plants with higher yields?

Pruning helps keep plants small while also optimizing it so that the bud sites receive the best light. This is especially useful for places where the laws limit the number of plants you can have. Pruning helps a grower have fewer plants while enjoying the same yields as before.

If you do it right, your valuable marijuana plants can become even more valuable.

Pruning is one step beyond the basics of giving plants life and keeping them happy and healthy. It’s not, however, for beginners.

Here’s why:

You need to give the process some thought and planning beforehand. The process of pruning marijuana plants is delicate, and you could damage your plants. If you don’t fully know what you’re doing, don’t prune at all.

Keep in mind, you don’t have to prune.

Some experienced growers never prune their plants. They prefer to let nature do its thing. This is not that bad of an idea since pruning has its risks. However, pruning in a controlled, moderate way can be extremely useful. When done correctly, you can produce the healthiest, best-growing plants with the most THC.

The basics of pruning

By definition, pruning marijuana is merely the process of clipping pieces of a plant off. If the grower can remove these pieces in small and specific amounts, the result is a stronger plant.

In a way, pruning is similar to grooming.

A certain amount of leaves will die during a marijuana plant’s life cycle. Their swift removal could keep your plant from wasting valuable resources on dying limbs. These leaves don’t die quickly, so by clipping them early, you might be saving your plant weeks of extra effort.

Removing parts of the plant that are already dead (such as discolored leaves), is like removing dead tissue from a human’s wound. It also provides more sunlight to the smaller leaves closer to the base of the plant.

The best part?

You may be helping your plant. When you prune, a plant can focus on more important things, like the still-healthy leaves, or growing brand new leaves. Your plant can grow faster and produce more chlorophyll. Because of a more efficient use of resources, the end result will be a larger, healthier plant.

Pruning is really hard if you don’t have a plant growing. Pruning also encourages new branches to grow on your plants. Once your plant begins having a pair of leaves sprouting from the very top on a daily basis, the topmost leaf will develop some new branches. As long as you wait for the plant to be mature enough before you start pruning, it will continue producing new nodes and leaves. That’s good news because more branches mean a higher yield.

How do you prune? It’s easy:

Step 1 – Select a new shoot
Step 2 – cut it off

Step 3 – pruning successful

“Sanitize clippers and blades between cuts by dipping in rubbing alcohol.”  ~ Jorge Cervantes

WHEN you prune is as important as HOW you prune

You can start thinking about pruning in the second week of the growing phase. At that time, your plant will have several internodes, and you’ll be able to see a bit how it’s growing. If you are growing an Indica plant, wait another week – they grow a bit slower than Sativas.

Since growing continues until the third week of flowering, you can prune up to the second week of flowering. This gives your plants some time to recover. They’ll always need a couple of days to recover after a pruning session.

When should you prune?

  • Day 8 veg – Not ready yet
    Day 8 veg – Not ready yet
  • Day 10 veg – Ready for pruning
    Day 10 veg – Ready for pruning
  • Day 12 – Result after fimming
    Day 12 – Result after fimming

It’s even possible that they stop growing during this period because all their energy is focused on recovery. Since you want as much energy as possible to go to the buds, do not prune after the first two weeks of the flowering period.

Do not prune after the 2nd week of the flowering period.

Until then, remove about a quarter of the new side shoots every week. Be sure to leave the older leaves and twigs, because they produce a lot of sugars. You also should ensure you keep enough fully-grown leaf surface. They produce sugar and prevent light from being lost by falling to the ground.

The proper way to prune

You do not want to prune incorrectly.

When pruning, don’t tear a leaf away with your hands; instead, cut them with scissors or a knife (make sure your tool of choice is quite sharp before use).

People who prune successfully do these two things:

  • Water your plant immediately after pruning. This reduces the amount of shock to your plant while also stimulating growth.
  • Include plant food when watering

These two tips can make your pruning more productive and less likely to harm your plant or slow down its growth.

If you want to be extremely cautious, you should only prune the leaves that already look unhealthy. If they are turning yellow or have brown tips if their lobes are partially eaten, and if they are withered at all, you can (and should) safely remove those leaves.

You can also try removing the original shade leaves from branches that you have already pruned. It’s safe to do this after the branches begin sprouting new leaves. The old leaves will yellow and die eventually anyway, so by removing them earlier, you can allow your plant to focus its valuable resources on other things.

Removing these leaves also provides more sunlight to the smaller leaves closer to the base of the plant, which gets them to grow faster and produces more chlorophyll.

What about the leaves that you prune?

Unfortunately, any leaves that you prune when your plants are less than 3 months old will not be very smokable. This may feel like a waste but remember that the point of pruning is not to have an early stock of weed, but rather to improve your overall yield in the end.

This may seem like a cruel joke, but nature actually intended this.

THC is beneficial to your plant. Responsible, strategic pruning helps your plant to enhance its ability to produce THC and repel insects. Your plants don’t have much THC until they are three months old because leaf-eating bugs typically start becoming active (and hungry) roughly three months into the growing season. THC repels insects, so it is no accident that marijuana plants develop lots of THC around this time. They need it to keep those hungry bugs away.

If you are curious and impatient, you can go ahead and try smoking some of those leaves, but don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t end with a successful high. Burning is a good option since it won’t leave any evidence of your marijuana possession, but you’re better off making butter or oil out of them.

Train your plants to produce more with pruning

Simple pruning can improve your plant’s yield, but intentional, creative forms of pruning can do even more.  As a grower, you can train your plant to grow in a certain manner using pruning. This can lead to even larger yields, more efficient use of lights, lower costs and a better harvest.

Plant training by pruning proves that pruning can be much more than looks.

Here’s how it works:

  • Prune during the earlier stages of growth
  • Remove parts of the plant that are not dead
  • Force the plant to recover; it grows back stronger

“The effects of pruning are much stronger than the more subdued consequences of bending.” ~ Jorge Cervantes

There are many types of pruning techniques that will also train a marijuana plant. The most basic form, defoliation, removes some of the leaves of a plant; typically, the largest fan leaves. When this process is completed during the beginning of the flowering stage, it allows buds to grow fatter and denser. Defoliation is only appropriate for healthy plants and should only be used indoors (where the growing cycle can be controlled). This technique is simple, but still only recommended for the most advanced growers.

Other pruning training techniques include topping, fimming, and lollipopping. Topping and fimming involve the deliberate removal of the top of the plant’s stem. This will cause the plant to almost grow into two, creating multiple colas instead of one. Whereas lollipopping, on the other hand, is a more deliberate form of defoliation, removing the lower bushier growth of a plant so that it is shaped like a lollipop.

Training your plants by pruning can lead to a larger harvest with less effort.

Because training techniques like these can cause significant damage to a plant, they should only be used on healthy plants. They are also best used indoors.

Pruning can increase your yield by 25%

Training can produce amazing results, but you don’t have to train your plants to increase your yield. There are some benefits to pruning on its own. When done correctly, it can improve sugar distribution and increase your yield.

Here’s my advice:

Prune the young leaves or side shoots. The tiny buds at the bottom of the plant are a great thing to let go as they do not yield anything worthwhile and won’t grow to the size of other buds. They will use energy, however, which a waste since you won’t use them.

Beginners should not try pruning the large fan leaves. They need those leaves.

Plants produce sugar so they can grow, and a marijuana plant needs to produce a lot of it. It creates sugar by converting water, light, and CO2. This process also creates oxygen. This sugar is sent to the buds, side shoots, and young leaves because they grow quickly and use a lot of sugar. The larger, fully-developed leaves produce their sugar.

https://www.ilovegrowingmarijuana.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/big-bud-seeds-300x300.jpg

Getting high-yielding genetics obviously helps when you want a heavy yield. You can prune without harming your plants.

Pruning does not have to be high stress. Many growers believe that extra stress will force a plant to grow faster as a way of compensating for time lost. However, there’s really not a lot of evidence to back this up and cutting up the plant too much will leave you with considerably less than you might have wanted. You don’t want to cut off more than you need to produce the desired results.

Pruning can be harmful to your plant and lower your yield if you don’t know what you are doing, so don’t if you are new to growing.

If you are new to growing (less than three times), now is not the time to start. Take some time to learn what a fully-grown plant looks like first. Look for the buds at the bottom of the plant.

If you’ve already grown a few times, try pruning a couple of plants. Don’t prune them all – that way you can compare your pruned plants to the plants you haven’t pruned.

Most importantly, don’t expect to master this technique the first time you do it. Pruning is something you do intuitively.

3 of the best pruning techniques

If you decide to train your plants by pruning, there are a lot of different methods to choose from. If you’ve already grown a few harvests, select the method that works best for you.

Each method comes with its own set of challenges and benefits, so choose carefully. You can also sometimes use more than one method together to form a combined plan of sorts. Keep reading to learn the advantages of using certain pruning techniques.

Yield up to 5 ounces per plant with topping

Topping is typically misunderstood by most growers. However, it is a training technique worth considering.

Here’s why:

Topping helps maximize your plant’s access to sunlight. This is especially important if you have a grow room indoors since your light is limited (and expensive) compared to natural sunlight.

Topping marijuana plants involves cutting off the main shoot at the top, which stimulates the growth of more shoots and branches. Over time, it will turn the plant’s overall shape into a downward-facing cone.

Whereas a single growing shoot might produce a larger individual cola, topping the plant gives you 4 colas that can soak up the best light intensity. When you top a marijuana plant, the entire plant has access to more light.

The benefits of topping include:

  • Bigger buds
  • Bushier plants with more branches
  • More leaves

Which basically adds up to……  a higher yield.

Some growers do not like topping because it slows down growth to a certain extent or may produce smaller colas. Although individual colas might not be as large, the cumulative yield is much greater than an un-topped plant.

Seedlings and clones respond to topping differently

Topping should be done early for the least negative impact on the plant – when it is around 10 inches tall and has a few internodes is a good idea. To be honest, however, you can start topping as soon as your plant seems strong enough. Check for the secondary growth that is located near the low nodes – this is a reliable sign that your plant can withstand topping.

For clones, the earlier, the better. In fact, as soon as clones take root properly and start to grow out, you can cut out the meristem. This will cause the plant to divide into two growing shoots. The growth will slow initially, but the plant will eventually become stronger and yield more. If you top low enough, the marijuana plant will create 4 growing shoots.

Seedlings are slightly different. It’s important to let the seedling develop and grow at least 4 to 5 internodes before topping. Topping a seedling too early will shock a plant, slow down the growth process, and waste a ton of time. A seeded plant should be given enough time to take root properly and produce a few sets of fan leaves. Waiting until you see roots coming out of the drain holes is a good rule of thumb.

Although most strains take well to topping, some don’t. Really short, slowly-growing indicas like Urkle take an even longer time when topped, but the process can still yield up to 5 ounces per plant with this method. To put it plainly, all plants improve with topping, but certain slow-growing strains may take a while to mature properly. That is why you start early.

How do you top?

  • Step 1 – Select top shoot
    Step 1 – Select top shoot
  • Step 2 – Use scissors or knife
    Step 2 – Use scissors or knife
  • Step 3 – Cut it off
    Step 3 – Cut it off

Here is why topping works:

A shoot grows into 2 new petioles with leaves on them. The middle of the shoot contains a new shoot, and new shoots will be formed in the axils. A shoot, therefore, consists of 2×2 leaves, crosswise against each other. By removing this, the two shoots in the axils will grow to become the main buds.

Note: After your plant’s fifth leaf pair has popped up, you can safely cut off the main shoot

Topping is especially useful if your growing room isn’t very tall. By topping your plants, they will stop growing up and start growing out. Sativas can grow very quickly and can become very tall, so it is especially useful for them. Since they don’t get very wide, you have to place many plants close to each other, to prevent wasted light. The light that doesn’t hit the leaves and falls on the ground is considered lost energy. With topping, you can leave more room between plants and still have a beautiful green blanket.

The results are often fast:

  • Topping day 3
    Topping day 3
  • Topping day 5
    Topping day 5
  • Topping day 7
    Topping day 7

Another advantage of topping is that the plant can absorb more light. This is because it becomes wider and develops more leaves that can absorb the light. This can significantly increase yield – especially outdoors. It also applies to indoor plants, but it’s easier to use more plants to prevent light loss, rather than topping.

Topping also spreads the risk of disease. Since the process produces more main buds that are not as big, they’re not as sensitive to bud rot and/or other nasty diseases. This is mostly an advantage for outdoor plants, where growers can’t control the climate.

Some tips on topping:

When you are topping, make sure you only cut the latest shoot, so you only inflict minimal damage to the plant. It’s important to remember that your plant is damaged, so it will use its energy to heal the wound and won’t grow much for a couple of days.

You can top multiple times if you want to, but remember to leave some time in between sessions, so the plant can recover. Topping is always done during the growing phase, and possibly in the first week of flowering at the very latest. Otherwise, the plant has no time to grow wider, making the practice a waste of your time and your plant’s energy.

Topping result after 3 weeks

  • Week 1 after topping
    Week 1 after topping
  • Week 2 after topping
    Week 2 after topping
  • Week 3 after topping
    Week 3 after topping

Again, be careful with the big, heavy plants, because there’s a chance that the plant will split in half under its own weight. It’s best to strengthen the plant with some tape, just under the topping, to prevent splitting. This is more of a concern for outdoor plants.

Fimming makes four buds out of one

Fimming is the partial removal of the latest shoot of a plant. When done, it creates four main buds instead of one.

A fimmed plant is wider than and not as tall as a typical plant. It also has more leaves exposed to light, causing more light to be absorbed. While the process damages the plant a bit, most recover quite well, making it a useful method of increasing yield.

The benefits of fimming include:

  • More leaves
  • Wider plants
  • Better light absorption

Which again, means……  a higher yield

Plants that have more leaves that can absorb light will produce a greater yield, and the fimming process increases light exposure to leaves. The light that doesn’t hit the leaves and falls on the ground is considered lost energy. Fimming ensures more leaves receive light

This technique is especially useful outdoors and is the secret behind those gigantic outdoor plants featured in pictures. It also works for indoor plants, but it is easier to use additional plants to make sure no light is lost.

If your grow room isn’t very tall, fimming is very useful. In the case of Sativas, they grow very quickly and can become very tall instead of wide. Fimming helps them grow wider instead of taller since the plants temporarily stop growing lengthwise and mainly grow in width. Now, you can then leave some more room between plants while maintaining a nice green blanket of leaves.

How to Fim

  • Step 1 – Select the latest shoot
    Step 1 – Select the latest shoot
  • Step 2 – Cut two-thirds off
    Step 2 – Cut two-thirds off
  • Step 3 – Just like this
    Step 3 – Just like this

After it is cut, the shoot grows into 2 new petioles, each with their own leaf. The middle of the shoot contains a new shoot, and new shoots will be formed in the axils. A shoot, therefore, consists of 2×2 leaves, crosswise against each other.

By removing two-thirds of it, you’re only cutting off the leaves, while leaving the stems. These will, along with the shoots in the axils, grow to become main buds. So, you end up with four main buds. Make sure you don’t cut off too much, or you’ll only end up with two main buds.

Note: I never fim Indicas; they grow too slow, and the vegetative stage would last too long

Fimming damages the plant, and it will use its energy to heal the wound, so this can slow down the growth a bit. You may also notice that the newest pair of leaves are damaged when it starts to grow, but this is normal.

FimmingLeaf damage after fimming

Fimming can damage some leaves, but that’s no problem

Fimming also spreads the risk of disease. Instead of a few big buds getting ruined, the process produces more main buds, and because they’re not as big, they’re not as sensitive to bud rot and/or other nasty diseases.

This is huge for outdoor plants because:

These plants have fewer defenses since you can’t control the climate and the moist fall air is perfect for bud rot. Indoor growers can simply place more plants without fimming them to spread the risks.

Some tips on fimming:

You can fim multiple times but leave some time in between fimming sessions for recovery.

Fim during the growing phase and possibly the first week of flowering at the very latest. Otherwise, the plant has no time to grow wider, completely defeating the purpose.

Fimming results after 5 days

  • Fimming day 1
    Fimming day 1
  • Fimming day 3 – 2 new shoots
    Fimming day 3 – 2 new shoots
  • Fimming day 5 – fast growing shoots
    Fimming day 5 – fast growing shoots

Be careful with fimming if you have a gigantic, heavy plant because there’s a chance that the plant will split in half under its own weight. It’s best to start strengthening the plant with some tape, just under the fimming, to prevent splitting. This only applies to outdoor plants, because they get much bigger and heavier than indoor plants.

Lollipop your plants for bigger colas

Lollipopping is a pruning technique that removes the lower growth of your plants to promote better bud development on the top. By eliminating the competing growth, energy is directed to the main kola sites. This technique is especially useful in setups that have no side lighting to reach the lower regions of the plant.

The main idea behind lollipopping is simple:

  • Remove the overly shaded parts of the plant. They probably won’t do much.
  • Force the plant to focus on producing larger colas

Lollipopping
Lollipopping – No bottom leaves or small buds – Picture by howtogrowmarijuana.com

It’s called ‘lollipop’ because of the shape of the plant once you have finished with it. When the lower growth is removed, all that remains is a plant with a long bare stem and one or more large colas on top. (However, this may vary a bit, depending on if you used other techniques.)

Removing the lower bushier growth can also improve air circulation around the bottom parts of the plant where humidity often builds up, especially after watering. For bushy plants that are susceptible to mold or other fungal infections, it lowers their risk, making it useful when growing outdoors in damp climates.

Most growers agree that lollipopping should take place during the veg phase. Do it as a continuous process or all in one go but do so around a couple of weeks before you begin the 12 hours of light/12 hours of darkness. This way, your plants have time to recover from the shock you just put them through before beginning their flowering mode.

The benefits of lollipopping include:

  • Energy conservation
  • Improved circulation
  • Larger colas

And the best part ….  A higher yield.

Some people believe you should never lollipop once the plant has started flowering. However, if the main work is done during the vegetative stage, you can do some light maintenance during the flowering period. You may want to prune those branches that haven’t quite made it to the canopy or remove the tiny popcorn buds that begin to form on the bare lower branches.

When to Lollipop

How to Lollipop

There are basically two ways to lollipop your plants; choose yours based on your desired results.

Technique #1 – Top Down Lollipopping
While
many growers consider this technique to be extreme, it is a quite simple process. Choose a point that’s about 4 nodes down from the growing tip of the plant, (or wherever you want the canopy growth to begin), then remove the growth from the main stem below that point. 

Technique #1 – Top Down Lollipopping

To remove the growth, simply grasp the main stem between thumb and forefinger and slide downwards, taking the side shoots with you as you go. It’s a simple step but be careful not to damage the main stem. It’s best to use a clean, sharp blade or scissors.

Technique #2 – Bottom Up Lollipopping

This is a not as severe a form of lollipopping – perhaps even, a “lollipopping lite.” It is also the most common way to lollipop marijuana plants. Check out these pictures by thenug.com

  • Remove these leaves and shoots
    Remove these leaves and shoots
  • To get this result
    To get this result

To do the bottom-up method, start at the bottom and work upwards. Remove short main lateral branches and any leaves on the lateral branches. If they are too short to make the top of the canopy, they should go. In the end, the bottom third of the plant should be bare of any growth. This type of lollipopping often requires some maintenance trimming while the plant grows. You’d use this kind of technique when SCROG growing.

Over-pruning will ruin your plants

Plenty of new, excited growers make the mistake of overpruning their cannabis plants. Many times, it is because new growers want to sample as many THC-filled leaves as possible, even before harvest time.

Look:

It’s true that these first leaves are more exciting than anything you can buy, but you must proceed with caution. The best weed won’t come until it’s actually harvest time. You shouldn’t do anything that could slow down growth and reduce the productivity of the flowering stage.

Here’s two things you absolutely should not do:

  • If no branches are growing out of a leaf’s basal stem, don’t cut that leaf off
  • do not strip all the leaves off of one branch or stalk

If you do these things, you risk overpruning your plant – which could possibly lead to plant death. 

3 High-yielding, non-pruning training techniques

If improving the yield is your goal, there are other ways to train your plant. Below are some plant training techniques that do not involve pruning.

Super cropping

This training technique can produce similar results to pruning with cutting the plant. With super cropping, the grower crushes the stem’s soft interior When done correctly, super cropping should stimulate health, bring a higher yield, and increase potency.

Here’s how it works:

Just like with any injury, animal or plant, breaking the tissue down will cause it to be rebuilt more strongly. When you crush the inside of the stem (which is where nutrients and water are transported), it will be rebuilt thicker and stronger, allowing for even more efficient transport for these key elements.

How do you super crop?

  • Step 1 – Select long branch
    Step 1 – Select long branch
  • Step 2 – Gently squeeze and bend
    Step 2 – Gently squeeze and bend
  • Step 3 – Let branch support on plant

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