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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
How to top a cannabis plant step-by-step
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