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Why, when, and how to prune cannabis

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  1. Why do you prune cannabis?
  2. When do you prune cannabis?
  3. How do you prune cannabis?

Pruning is one of the most effective ways to manipulate and direct the growth of a cannabis plant. If you’re looking to limit the size of your plant, promote lateral branching, delay the onset of flowering, or increase yield, pruning checks all the boxes. It may feel counterintuitive to snip parts of your plant as it grows. But by pruning unproductive growth, you can redirect the plant’s energy and resources into developing quality flowers.

While pruning is reasonably straightforward, it’s also a skill that becomes refined and easier with practice. These pruning tips and tricks should help demystify the process.

Why do you prune cannabis?

Pruning refers to the process whereby small, specific sections of the plant are cut to encourage healthy growth. At its most fundamental level, pruning removes growth that is damaged, unproductive, or blocking sunlight from reaching budding flowers.

Pruning refers to the process whereby small, specific sections of the plant are cut to encourage healthy growth. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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The elimination of this growth enables the plant to focus its energy on nourishing and strengthening the remaining leaves, shoots, and buds. Successful pruning also promotes greater airflow and light exposure, fostering a more vibrant plant, and forming denser, more cannabinoid-rich buds.

While the principle of pruning sounds simple in theory, in practice it can be challenging. Excessive pruning can be detrimental to the health and development of the plant. It’s vital to always err on the side of caution when pruning cannabis plants. Vigorous pruning can weaken the plant through stress and subsequently reduce the yield. Pruning at the wrong time of the growing cycle or mistakenly pruning vital stems and shoots can inflict damage. For this reason, some new growers avoid pruning altogether, or others pare back their pruning to its most fundamental level, the removal of dead or yellowing leaves.

When do you prune cannabis?

Pruning is almost exclusively carried out during the vegetative growth stage before the cannabis plant is mature and ready to flower. The plant should be well-established in the vegetative phase, measuring approximately 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall with several sets of leaves before pruning is performed. If you’re looking to grow bushy, squat plants, keep the pruning to a minimum.

Judicious pruning during the early phase of vegetative growth will have little effect on flowering. Pruning more mature plants that are approaching the flowering stage is not recommended. At this later phase, heavy pruning can delay the onset of flowering, or prevent flowering altogether. In some cases, however, growers may wish to delay flowering intentionally, so strategic pruning can be a useful tool.

Pruning during flowering should be extremely light and limited. One example of appropriate pruning would be the removal of fan leaves that are shading healthy bud sites. The pruning of damaged, diseased, or dead plant tissue can be carried out throughout both the vegetative and flowering cycles. Yellow (chlorotic) or brown tissue allows invasive microorganisms and pests to thrive. Remove these leaves to make sure they don’t fall and become absorbed into the growing medium.

How do you prune cannabis?

The process of pruning requires only one tool: a sharpened, clean pair of pruning shears. Expert growers may have several pairs of shears of different sizes designed to prune different levels of growth.

It’s vital to sterilize the shears before pruning to prevent pathogens from hitching a ride directly to your plant. The place where the plant has been pruned can be vulnerable to diseases or infections until it heals. Sharp shears are critical to making clean, swift snips that can heal quickly and don’t cause undue damage to the plant.

Once your pruning shears are sanitized and sharpened, you’re ready to begin.

1. Topping or primary stalk pruning

According to Robert Connell Clarke, a cannabis cultivation expert, trimming the central stalk represents one of the most common pruning techniques. The tip of the central stalk is removed when the plant has reached its desired length. This removal encourages a bushy, laterally spreading plant, rather than a tall, stringy specimen.

Beneath the point where the central stalk has been removed, axial branches will form and grow two new limbs that ultimately spread outwards. This practice, also known as topping , is transformative because it alters the plant’s growth trajectory.

2. Removing big branches and leaves

Pruning the larger branches and leaves promotes instant airflow by creating space. It also allows light to reach more of the plant. Make the cuts as clean and as close to the stem as possible, and at a 45-degree angle. Once the larger branches have been pruned, it’s easier to shift attention to the smaller details.

3. Clearing space around the middle of the plant

Branches growing in the middle of the plant are not as resilient as those at the top. Spend some time pruning to create space around the middle.

Branches growing in the middle of the plant are not as resilient as those at the top. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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4. Lollipopping

Very small limbs or branches grow around the lower parts of the plant, and tend to be atrophied. The removal of entire limbs allows the plant to channel nutrition into the upper stems, leaves, and buds. More air circulates in the lower reaches of the plant, minimizing the risk of mold when growing indoors. Most importantly, energy and growth hormones are directed upwards towards the buds most likely to thrive. This method is colloquially referred to as the lollipop technique or lollipopping. The plant takes on a lollipop appearance: bushy at the top with skinny and sparse foliage toward the bottom.

5. Pruning the leaves and bud sites

Remove any yellow, brown, or diseased-looking tissue. Also prune any leaves that have branches shooting from their base. Snip any buds heavily shaded by the canopy branches. The unfavorable location of these buds means they will not have access to adequate light and may have nutrient deficiencies.

6. Allowing time for recovery

Pruning inflicts stress on the plant, so allowing time for recovery is vital. Make sure you provide adequate water, light, and nourishment in the days after pruning to facilitate recovery from the shock. Within a week the growth of new shoots and leaves should be apparent. You can prune again once the plant has had the opportunity to recover. Always remember, however, that the excessive removal of shoots and leaves is a significant stressor and can inhibit growth and bud development.

Why, when, and how to prune cannabis Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents Why do you prune cannabis? When do you prune cannabis? How do you

Trimming Your Cannabis Buds: Wet Trimming Vs Dry Trimming

While many cannabis growers treat harvest like the final stage of cultivation, it is far from the end. Along with improving their looks, trimming cannabis flowers makes for smoother smoking, greater potency, and reduces mould formation too! We’ll cover each step of the trimming process, compare and contrast methods, and show you how to do it right.

The what, when, and how of trimming cannabis.

  • 1. Why should you trim cannabis buds?
  • 2. When to trim cannabis
  • 3. Trimming: the best tools for the job
  • 4. Types of trimming
  • 5. Pros and cons of each cannabis trimming method
  • 6. What to do with the leftover trim
  • 7. Dry and curing cannabis: the next step
  • 1. Why should you trim cannabis buds?
  • 2. When to trim cannabis
  • 3. Trimming: the best tools for the job
  • 4. Types of trimming
  • 5. Pros and cons of each cannabis trimming method
  • 6. What to do with the leftover trim
  • 7. Dry and curing cannabis: the next step

Most growers agree that harvest time is the most rewarding part of the growing cycle. After months of raising your seedlings into mature, bud-laden plants, you’re finally able to sample the fruits of your labour!

However, you still have work to do; you’ll need to properly prepare your flowers for drying, curing, and storage. Do it correctly, and you’ll have buds that look, taste, and smoke better. Trust us; it’s worth your time and effort.

A key step, of course, is trimming the sugar leaves off your buds after clipping branches off the plant. Remember those pristine and nugget-like buds at your local dispensary or coffeeshop? Those are the result of manicuring—another word for trimming. Moving past aesthetics, these buds will also smell better, smoke better, and stay fresher after a good trim.

Let’s dive deeper into why you should trim your harvest, and consider different techniques used to get the job done.

WHY SHOULD YOU TRIM CANNABIS BUDS?

Trimming those sugar leaves off will help ensure your flowers are free of mould and excess plant material. If you need more convincing, let’s break down the main reasons to trim.

AESTHETICS

Taste, aroma, and effects are the most important aspects of cannabis. However, looks don’t fall far behind. After all, nothing feels as good as pulling pristine, manicured buds out of a stash jar. Trimming your flowers will transform them from rugged nugs into those worthy of a spot on the top shelf.

AROMA

Every strain offers a unique blend of terpenes that underpin its aroma. With the sugar leaves out of the way, terpenes will be that much more front and centre. Trim at the right time so you can avoid dislodging too many trichomes—the glands that produce these aromatic molecules.

SMOOTH SMOKE

Lingering sugar leaves are harsh on the lungs when smoked, and they have far less THC, so it’s best to toss them aside. Once you trim your buds, they’ll hit as smooth as the best you’ll find in the dispensary.

CANNABINOID CONTENT

Most of the trichomes that produce cannabinoids and terpenes reside on the buds. Sugar leaves do produce trichomes, but in much fewer numbers. After trimming your buds down, the ratio of plant material to cannabinoids will be more in your favour.

WHEN TO TRIM CANNABIS

Now that you know why you need to do it, you need to know how to do it right. As we mentioned earlier, timing is key when it comes to trimming cannabis flowers. For those keeping track, it’s your next port of call after harvest.

Before you even harvest, however, there are steps you can take to maximise the benefits of trimming. These steps include flushing, which, for those unfamiliar, involves cutting out nutrients and administering pure water to your plant’s growing medium before harvest. This practice encourages plants to utilise stored nutrients before harvest time, resulting in smoother and more flavourful flowers.

Most growers opt to flush their crop for around two weeks during the tail-end of the flowering stage. Proceeding to properly trim, dry, and cure your flowers will further blunt the harsh edge and enhance their aromatic properties.

Some growers prefer to trim immediately after harvesting their flowers, whereas others like to dry out their buds beforehand. Both of these techniques feature their own benefits and downfalls.

TRIMMING: THE BEST TOOLS FOR THE JOB

As it goes with any cannabis growing-related job, you’ll need the right tools to get it done. While they may seem simple, and in many ways are, they’re important nonetheless.

CURVED TRIMMING SCISSORS

To start, any grower will tell you that curved trimming scissors make both harvesting and trimming so much easier. The rounded blades fit perfectly around the base of buds, allowing you to safely snip them off the branches.

They also cut flush against the natural curve of cannabis buds, allowing growers to remove sugar leaves without damaging flowers. Trimming plants can wear down your hands, though, and calluses are common. Thankfully, these scissors feature a comfortable PVC grip and spring resistance to help counter those issues.

Curved Trimming Scissors

ROLLING TRAY / COLLECTION TRAY

You’ll also want to trim your flowers over a collection tray so you can save the sugar leaves for later. If you don’t know where to start looking, our line of rolling trays feature vivid designs and raised edges that will prevent spillages and mess. You also have the option of selecting your favourite colours and sizes.

SUITABLE STASH JAR

Where do you plan on putting all of that processed bud? You can’t leave it lying around on your coffee table! You’ll need something airtight, spacious, and convenient. Our in-house brand, as it happens, has the perfect solution in the form of the RQS Re:stash Jar.

These airtight jars feature a branded silicone sleeve that keeps the internal mason jar insulated. The lid—BPA-free and crafted from renewable hemp fibre—helps to maintain freshness and optimises terpene content.

TYPES OF TRIMMING

There are two ways to trim cannabis by hand: wet and dry. Alternatively, buds can be processed en masse via machine. Different growers have their own preferences, but they all end up at the same end result (if all goes well). Let’s cover the procedure and pros/cons of each method below so you can see which you prefer.

WET TRIMMING

Wet trimming refers to cutting away sugar leaves immediately after harvesting your flowers. Because they still hold a lot of water, the flowers remain wet and ultra-sticky.

1. Harvest your buds

Cut each branch near the node using your curved trimming scissors. Each branch will hold several buds. Keep them attached to the branch during trimming to make your life easier. Place your bud-laden branches into a large jar or bucket until you strip the entire plant.

2. Collect your tools and prepare your hands

Gather your scissors and tray, turn on a podcast, and drink some coffee to help you plough through the task ahead. Wash your hands and dry them well. Then, put on a pair of latex gloves to prevent your hands from getting caked in resin.

3. Trim

Pick up each branch, one by one, and use your curved scissors to carefully cut away all of the small sugar leaves on each bud. Many growers like to start at the base and work their way upwards in a circular fashion to ensure even, rounded edges. Some of the sugar leaves will be almost entirely concealed by the body of the bud. Remove as much as possible without damaging the flower. There will always be traces of sugar leaves left behind—don’t worry!

4. Drying and curing

Of course, you’ll need to dry and cure your manicured buds before you blaze them up. Place them on a drying rack in a lightly heated room with a fan. Once dry, remove individual buds from their branches before placing them into jars for curing.

DRY TRIMMING

Dry trimming, in contrast, takes place between drying and curing. Dry buds are much less sticky, but a little more tricky to trim. Here’s how to do it.

1. Harvesting and drying

Cut your plant at the base, and hang it upside down in a warm room with a fan.

2. Processing

Once completely dry, cut off each individual branch and set them aside for trimming.

3. Collect your tools

Get comfy, put on a podcast, and grab your scissors. Wash your hands and put on a pair of gloves here too.

4. Trim

Once you’re settled, cut away all of the sugar leaves from each bud. Use your scissors to cut each bud away from the branch, one at a time. This will make them easier to cure and store.

5. Start the curing process

Load your buds into their curing jars for smoother hits and better flavour.

MACHINE TRIMMING

Trimming by hand allows growers great attention to detail when processing their flowers. However, home growers don’t have to worry about massive volumes of flower. Commercial growers, though, view hand trimming as somewhat archaic, instead using machines to get the job done.

Trimming machines are available in many different sizes and shapes, and at different price points. Commercial-grade machines, while out of reach for average folk, can trim warehouse yields in no time. Smaller devices also exist to remove the task from the to-do list of smaller growers.

It sounds like a great hack, but there’s still a downside. Machines, unfortunately, have a reputation for damaging otherwise pristine cannabis flowers. They can save time, but you need to decide if you can tolerate the tradeoff.

PROS AND CONS OF EACH CANNABIS TRIMMING METHOD

As we’ve gone over, each of the methods above offers its own advantages and disadvantages. carla

WET TRIMMING ADVANTAGES WET TRIMMING DISADVANTAGES
It’s useful for preventing mould in climates with high humidity It’s a stickier process, making it feel more tedious
It’s more of a linear process following harvest (with nothing between drying and curing) The buds might dry too fast, leading to less nuance in flavour
The flowers dry faster without sugar leaves The buds will be less dense and compact, which some growers don’t like
Growers are able to dry more buds on their drying rack
WET TRIMMING ADVANTAGES WET TRIMMING DISADVANTAGES
It’s useful for preventing mould in climates with high humidity It’s a stickier process, making it feel more tedious
It’s more of a linear process following harvest (with nothing between drying and curing) The buds might dry too fast, leading to less nuance in flavour
The flowers dry faster without sugar leaves The buds will be less dense and compact, which some growers don’t like
Growers are able to dry more buds on their drying rack
DRY TRIMMING ADVANTAGES DRY TRIMMING DISADVANTAGES
It’s ideal in places with low humidity levels Sugar leaves can store pockets of moisture, leading to mould
The buds become nice, compact, and nugget-like Dry-trimmed flowers lose their initial colour quite quickly
The flowers dry at a slower rate and maintain their full flavour The dried sugar leaves become even smaller and harder to cut in a clean fashion
DRY TRIMMING ADVANTAGES DRY TRIMMING DISADVANTAGES
It’s ideal in places with low humidity levels Sugar leaves can store pockets of moisture, leading to mould
The buds become nice, compact, and nugget-like Dry-trimmed flowers lose their initial colour quite quickly
The flowers dry at a slower rate and maintain their full flavour The dried sugar leaves become even smaller and harder to cut in a clean fashion
MACHINE TRIMMING ADVANTAGES MACHINE TRIMMING DISADVANTAGES
It saves time compared to either hand-trimming method There’s a risk of the machine damaging flowers
Smaller machines help home growers process larger yields All that noise and gear is not ideal for stealthy growers
They remove one of many tasks growers are faced with
MACHINE TRIMMING ADVANTAGES MACHINE TRIMMING DISADVANTAGES
It saves time compared to either hand-trimming method There’s a risk of the machine damaging flowers
Smaller machines help home growers process larger yields All that noise and gear is not ideal for stealthy growers
They remove one of many tasks growers are faced with

WHAT TO DO WITH THE LEFTOVER TRIM

After trimming your entire harvest, your collection tray will be filled—or overflowing—with stems, stalks, fan leaves, and sugar leaves. Although these components might seem like waste material, you can actually put this trim to good use.

No, you won’t want to smoke them, but all of these parts contain cannabinoid and terpene stores. You can use them to make all sorts of homemade products that’ll have you feeling those good herbal vibes.

Growers can get especially experimental with sugar leaves. They aren’t the best to smoke, but you can use them to make some quality cannabutter, some sugar leaf tea, or even some tasty kief to add to your bud.

Likewise, you can use the stems to make an assortment of extracts and concentrates. We believe the best uses for cannabis stems include:

DRYING AND CURING CANNABIS: THE NEXT STEP

With trimming over, you’ll need to dry (unless you dry trimmed) and cure your flowers. Drying removes any excess moisture from your flowers, minimises mould formation, and makes them viable for long-term storage.

Curing your buds will greatly enhance their flavour and contribute to buttery smooth hits. The process forces buds to maintain just the right amount of moisture to make them pleasant to smoke and ideal for storing.

Check out our article on how to correctly dry and cure your harvest for more information!

Between harvesting and curing your cannabis buds, we suggest you trim them. Find out why, when, and how to do it right, along with helpful tools for the job.