Growing Cannabis: Topped Plant vs Non Topped

7 min read
Growing Cannabis: Topped Plant vs Non Topped
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With new methods, tricks, and equipment continuously being introduced, cannabis cultivators are constantly kept on their toes, but it may just be a basic gardening technique that can unleash your plant’s full potential. Most novice cannabis growers don’t bother to top or prune their plants, but there are actually visible differences in the health and yield of a topped plant vs non topped. Luckily, the process of topping marijuana is quick and easy, has few risks, and doesn’t require much equipment at all. Both experienced and beginner cultivators should be topping their crop if they want the healthiest plants possible, which leads to a higher return on investment and larger, better tasting nugs. Here’s the differences between a topped plant vs non topped plant and how to master this basic growing technique for a fruitful harvest.

What is cannabis plant topping?

What is cannabis plant topping?

Everyone has heard of pruning, but topping is a little bit different, though sometimes the line differentiating between the two can be blurred. Topping marijuana is essentially cutting off the top portion of the plant at the main stalk so that it grows bushier and more horizontal instead of taller. This leads to a healthier plant and higher yield. This may seem counterintuitive to novice growers since healthy leaves and stems will be chopped off and discarded, but a non topped plant will put all of its energy and resources into growing the main stem vertically towards the light if left to grow naturally. You’ll end up with a lanky looking plant with one large cola (cluster of buds) at the top and smaller, poor quality buds spread out lower on the main stem. These plants are typically much smaller than a topped one and will produce nugs of lower quality and much less yield. Topping allows more light to reach the lower buds and leaves, which results in significantly more buds that are denser and of higher quality (potency, flavor, and aroma).

Topping vs fimming vs pruning

All three of these gardening skills are similar and will keep plants healthy and thriving, but aren’t quite exactly the same. Topping, fimming, and pruning are all great practices to understand and try when first starting out so the cannabis plants remain healthy and are able to put their energy into producing flavorful, potent flowers. Here’s a quick breakdown of these three essential gardening practices so you can decide which are right for your grow setup:


By now, you should have a general understanding of what topping marijuana is. Topping involves cutting off the upper portion of the plant at the central stalk so it begins to grow horizontally instead of vertically. This allows more light to get to the plant, especially to the central and lower areas.


If you are using a very small grow space and want to maximize the yield, try the fimming method. Fimming was done by accident and is very similar to topping, but differs due to where the cut is made. Cultivators will chop off roughly half of the new growth at the very top of the plant, but not as low as the central stalk. This encourages the plant to create anywhere from four to eight new branches, while the main stalk will split into two when topping is done. Fimming does however require the plants to already be healthy and they will need to be well monitored afterwards since the main stem holding up the weight of the plant won’t be as strong. Like topping, this practice is also done to increase yield, since it produces more leaves, branches, and buds.


You’ve definitely heard of pruning. This is when gardeners cut off any dead leaves, branches, or stems so the plant stops trying to heal or grow there and instead focuses on the rest of the plant. Leaves or branches that are hidden at the bottom of the plant or are covered up by other leaves are sometimes also pruned so no buds develop where it won’t receive adequate light.

Why is topping marijuana necessary?

Why is topping marijuana necessary?

Cannabis plants grow fine when left alone to do their own thing and some hobby growers are perfectly fine with this, but if getting the highest yield possible is the most important thing to you, topping is necessary. It’s one of the easiest ways to get enough light to the entire plant, which ensures the central and lower buds will be just as flavorful and dense as the ones at the top near the light source. Once growers learn about this technique and the dramatic difference it makes when harvest time comes around, topping vs not topping isn’t even a question.

How does a marijuana plant get light?

It’s not just the leaves that need light to help the plant flourish, the buds need to absorb light throughout its growth cycle to form as well. Topping is all about allowing more light to reach the lower buds so they can fully develop and put on as much mass as possible. The ultimate goal is to give all of the buds the same amount of light so they can reach their potential prior to harvest. When growing naturally, the top cola will get the majority of the light since the plant is growing vertically. This tall main stem and branch will shade the lower portion of the plant and any buds growing there.

Topped plant vs non topped plant differences

As noted earlier, topping marijuana creates a healthier plant, but there are several other differences between a topped plant vs non topped plant. These are mainly visual, but there are also differences in terms of the quality of the final product as well. Some differences you’ll see topping vs not topping include:

  • Topped plants are bushier and shorter with lots of leaves and branches, while non topped plants look lanky and tall.
  • Non topped plants will have one large cola at the top of the main stalk and poor quality buds below, while a plant that has been topped will have lots of large, dense nugs throughout the plant.
  • The main stem of a topped plant will begin to grow into two, creating an overall sturdier plant. Non topped plants just have one central stem.
  • Topped plants are healthier overall and will have an increased yield compared to plants that grow naturally. Each bud is tastier and more potent too!

When should a cannabis plant be topped?

All cannabis plants go through a four phase life cycle and take anywhere from three to eight months to grow depending on the strain and type (autoflower seed, clone, regular seed, etc.). Seeds first need to be germinated, before they move to the seedling phase. Stage three, the vegetative stage is usually the longest and is when the plant has the most growth, putting on height and additional leaves and branches. The final phase is the flowering stage when the buds develop and the plant is finally harvested. Topping marijuana plants should only be done during the vegetative phase of the life cycle to redistribute growth. The first top at the fifth node should only be done once the plant has grown at least six or seven nodes. This will ensure that the plant will be strong enough to survive the shock associated with cutting part of the main stalk. Nothing happens if you accidentally wait too long and the plant has more than seven nodes, however energy is wasted by the plant that could have gone into vertical growth.

How to top a cannabis plant

How to top a cannabis plant

Topping marijuana is very simple, beginners can do it. The technique only requires something sharp to give a nice clean cut. Just be sure that the plant is healthy and strong, in the vegetative stage, and has grown six or seven nodes before attempting to top the plant. This will ensure that the shock won’t be too much for the plant. Sanitizing the pruning shears prior to use and wearing gloves when touching the plant will help to minimize infections and cross contamination, though it’s very rare for this to happen when topping.

Equipment list:

  • Pruning shears, razor blade, or sharp knife
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Gardening gloves

How to top a cannabis plant step-by-step

  1. Prepare the area and tools - When dealing with cannabis plants, whether it’s repotting or topping, it’s important to keep your workspace and tools sanitized. Do this by wearing gloves or washing your hands when touching the plant or soil and by disinfecting your tools with rubbing alcohol. Topping can be done right in your grow space. There’s no need to move the pots.
  2. Make the cut - Now that the shears are sanitized, figure out where the cut should be made. If this is the first time you’re topping the plant, this should be done right above the plant’s fifth node. Find this by counting the nodes on the central stalk and make the cut as clean as possible to cause the least amount of damage to the plant. A cut at this location will allow the plant to grow enough side branches and become bushy. Most cultivators top another one or two times per plant after this initial topping at the fifth node. For these later tops, make a clean cut above the second or third node on each of the side branches. You can choose to cut as few or as many branches as you want, based on how large and bushy you want the plant to be.
  3. Monitor the plant - Since the plant will be under stress after topping is done, be sure to keep an eye on it more than usual for the next few days. Keep the plant well watered with lots of light during this time so it can heal and start to grow again. Allow the plant to grow again for at least a few weeks before doing a secondary topping of the side branches.

Are you ready to start a new crop now that you know the differences between a topped plant vs non topped plant and how to do it yourself? Visit our online headshop for some of the best autoflower seeds, feminized seeds, grow equipment, and smoking accessories like bongs, vaporizers, and dab rigs for your next grow.

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