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Pruning Marijuana Plants for a Healthy Grow with Bigger Buds

Knowing how to trim and prune the cannabis leaf is essential for grow room success. The practice leads to higher yields, better flavor, and a smoother toke; it also helps keep pests and diseases at bay, and ensures your plants live a long and healthy life from seed to sale. 

There are a few easy techniques to tuck in your back pocket when it comes to ensuring your plants are pruned and primed for consumption. Just keep in mind that these tips and tricks vary slightly depending on what stage of growth your plants are in.

Understanding marijuana leaves

Trimming leaves sounds straightforward enough, until you realize the cannabis plant has a few different types of leaves and layers of anatomy to be aware of. But don’t worry—we’ve broken it down for you.

Cannabis plant anatomy

  • Cola: A cluster of buds growing together.
  • Pistil: The reproductive house of the plant, where pollen is collected from males.
  • Calyx: Found on the female cannabis plant; protects the ovule. 
  • Trichomes: Small, crystal-like hairs that protect the plant from external forces and secrete terpenes.
  • Node: The place where a branch grows from the stem of a plant
  • Fan leaves: The cannabis plant’s leaves that capture light; contain very low levels of terpenes and cannabinoids.
  • Sugar leaves: Smaller leaves where buds form, covered in trichomes and containing all of the wonderful terpenes and cannabinoids.
  • Stem: The base of the plant that gives it structure and stability.
how to prune weed
pruning cannabis

Cannabis leaf anatomy

  • Apex: The outermost part of the leaf blade, located furthest from the stem.
  • Margin: The outer edge or border of the leaf blade.
  • Ventral surface: The front of the leaf that’s able to absorb light.
  • Dorsal surface: The bottom of the leaf where some water can be stored.
  • Veins: Vascular bundles made of xylem and phloem that transport nutrients.
  • Midrib: The central, main vein that runs along the center of the leaf blade.
  • Base: The part of the leaf attached to the stem or branch.
  • Petiole: The thin stalk that connects the leaf blade to the plant’s stem.

Cannabis sativa vs indica leaves

While sativa strains’ leaves tend to be lighter and thinner, indica leaves are thick, dark, fat, and tend to have fewer blades. This directly reflects how they were grown: i.e., sativa genetics originate closer to the equator, in regions that have higher levels of humidity, high temperatures, and lots of sunshine.

Fan leaves vs sugar leaves

Fan leaves tend to be the largest part of the cannabis plant, and they’re also the most visually recognizable. However, don’t be fooled: although fan leaves look like the poster child for marijuana, they contain very little cannabinoids and terpenes, nor are they covered in trichomes like sugar leaves.

While fan leaves handle the photosynthesizing, sugar leaves have all the trichome glands. They also contain a high concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes, and are generally the bread and butter of cannabis leaves when it comes to experiencing effects. They’re also thinner and tend to have fewer blades.

how to prune marijuana

When to begin pruning cannabis plants

Knowing how to prune cannabis means knowing that it depends on the conditions they’re grown in—and that’s why it’s so important to study your crop closely. However, you can generally utilize this checklist for success:

The Plant Pruning Checklist: How to Clip a Weed Plant

  1. Prune and defoliate your cannabis plant a little bit at a time, ensuring a clean cut. This will help you avoid over-stressing your plants. 
  2. Make sure to trim off the highest priority leaves and bud sites first. Then, wait a week or two before you continue pruning. 
  3. You can repeat this step around three or four times, stopping there to avoid over-stress or potential damage down the line.
pruning weed plants

Pruning During The Vegetative Stage

Pruning weed plants is often required during the second week of the vegetative stage, when the seedlings are growing quicker than cultivators can keep track of. 

This phase can produce a lot of growth very quickly, which can limit a cannabis plant’s access to light. Strategically removing large fan leaves from the plant allows ample light to reach each bud site on the stalk. 

When the plant is exposed to more light, it will more quickly enter the final flowering phase. This stage is often compromised if the grower fails to prune beforehand, so it’s essential to start taking a close look during vegetation.

Pruning During The Flowering Stage

When a plant has entered the flowering stage, it will likely require another round of defoliation if part of the plant is not receiving the light it needs, as bud sites will not develop as effectively. 

When plants begin to bud, making sure to prune your plants becomes more of a maintenance task. It is important to remove damaged or dying leaves and buds from the plant so the healthy leaves can do their job. Many cultivators choose to trim the leaves from the plants for only the first two weeks of the flowering stage to allow for appropriate bud maturation.

how to trim weed

Pruning marijuana for outdoor growers

With uncontrolled airflow and sunlight, outdoor grow conditions are often unpredictable. That’s why pruning the lower branches of the plant can make a world of difference in the health of an outdoor crop. 

These plants rely on the natural breeze and the different light angles provided by the sun as it moves across the sky each day. It is important for growers to optimize a crop’s exposure to the elements without stripping it of its ability to photosynthesize.  

Dealing with death

Knowing how to prune cannabis plants at the first sign of a pest or sickness can save cultivators from massive crop loss.

Just like any plant, singular leaves can die or become ill during the growth process, and it is important to remove those leaves and allow the plant to focus its limited energy on healthy growth. This is very important for outdoor growing, but the same conditions can sometimes occur in indoor crops. 

If your leaves wilt or turn yellow and brown, their health is declining. Remove them as soon as possible because damaged leaves suck energy from other parts of the plant, diverting nutrients from the bud sites.

How to prune your fan leaves

Pruning cannabis plants requires simple tools and observant cultivators. Here’s how it’s done.

Tools

  • Sharp scissors or pruning shears
  • Gloves

Steps

  1. Whether you’re beginning during the vegetative stage or approaching mature plants, start by checking for branches that are going in the wrong direction or obstructing airflow. You should also locate any plants with yellow leaves, which indicate distress.
  2. Once you’ve identified these plants, use your scissors or shears to lop off the thick branches and stems, making sure not to damage the main stem in the process.
  3. Done!

Yup, it really is as simple as that—with a few nuances to keep in mind and pay attention to while you work.

When pruning, remember:

Whether you are removing the fan leaves of cannabis during the vegetative or flowering stages, make sure not to remove too many leaves at one time. Defoliating is a sensitive process, and if it is not done properly, the removal of the leaves can shock the plant, trigger early flowering, and produce a less impressive yield. Most cultivators prioritize the removal of yellowing or wilting leaves first to optimize the health of a plant.

The process should be done in stages and each big removal session should be conducted at least one week apart. Prior to the flowering stage, growers often remove around half of a plant’s fan leaves to encourage bud production. Right before it is time to harvest the buds, you can remove most of the fan leaves from the plant. However, it is important to allow a few days for the plant to recover before harvesting.

Types of cannabis pruning techniques

There are three types of popular trimming techniques in cannabis cultivation: topping, fimming, and lollipop. 

Topping removes a growing point by pruning directly above a node. 

Fimming is carried out to increase yield by cutting through the small leaves at a growing point, leaving about 30 percent of the growing point intact.

Finally, lollipop refers to the shape the plants grow after applying the lollipop technique, with all the growth focused at the top of the plant and bare stalks at the bottom.

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