Topping Cannabis Guide: How to Top Your Plants
Cutting Cannabis For Better Structure: “Topping”
Topping is a cannabis plant training techniques that involves cutting off the top of a main stem. The technique is designed to give you a free way to create more colas as well as spread out the plant so you can take advantage of all your light. As a result, topping can help you achieve bigger marijuana yields!
Most plants naturally only have one main stem. The idea of “topping” is to cut off the top of a main stem to split it into two.
The two growth tips that remain will each develop into their own stem. Each stem can turn into a bud/cola in the flowering stage, so by topping the plant once or a few times, you increase the total number of buds sites under the grow light, and it also helps you keep the plant flat and wide.
It you let a marijuana plant grow naturally, it will usually grow one main stem
But if you top the plant when it’s young, you can cause it to grow multiple colas in basically the same amount of time! This often lets you grow more bud in the same amount of space with the same grow light.
…In the same amount of vertical space as a plant like this
All plant training techniques are designed to help growers get a more desirable plant shape and bigger yields without changing other aspects of their grow. For example, cannabis plants don’t naturally grow in a way that takes full advantage of indoor grow lights – a lot of light is wasted when cannabis plants are allowed to grow naturally without training.
Because of this, cannabis plant training techniques like topping are especially effective at increasing yields in indoor grow setups by creating a bushier plant with extra colas.
Notice how these plants have many colas instead of just one – this is due to using plant training techniques like topping.
Learn about FIMing, a very similar plant training technique that removes slightly “less off the top” but still results in multiple colas.
In the above example, the plant on the left was allowed to grow naturally, which resulted in the classic “Christmas tree” shape that’s not very efficient under indoor grow lights. The plant on the right was topped as a seedling. This broke the dominance of the main cola, and the plant started putting out multiple colas.
With topping, the growth tips that become new colas are already present. They just get bigger and become colas because topping breaks the symmetry of the plant and exposes these growth tips to light and air. Instead of focusing on just one cola, the plant starts focusing on many growth tips until they become colas.
Topping Involves Removing or Damaging Top Growth – This Reveals Hidden Growth Tips and Signals Plants to Start Putting Energy Into Them
By damaging the main stem, topping encourages the plant to spend energy growing many colas instead of focusing on just one.
Lower growth nodes will become new colas once they’re exposed to light and air, but they develop much faster when the main cola’s dominance is broken by topping.
Notice how these growth tips have started developing and rising up after plant is topped (the fan leaves have been removed so you can see the new colas more easily)
Here’s an example of a plant that was topped at a late age, after it had already grown 8 nodes. Although you might not get quite as good results as if you had topped it earlier, it still definitely increased the total number of colas and improved the yields!
Topping Quick Summary
- Cut off top of plant at stem in between nodes
- Creates 2 main colas at the top of the plant, and LST can be used to create more
- New colas are evenly spaced (attached to the stem in the same place)
- Can be used to reduce the height of plant in vegetative page
- Can slow down growth for a day or two
This video shows the whole cannabis topping process, in timelapse format. The lower growth tips begin to rise up, and each of these can produce even more main colas.
Here’s a video showing what a plant looks like after being topped (time-lapse of about 2 weeks)
You will end up with a wider, bushier plant that doesn’t grow just one main cola in a Christmas tree shape.
Some growers will use several phases of topping to produce cannabis plants with dozens of colas. Some techniques take this to the extreme, for example manifolding (also sometimes called “main-lining”) is a technique that uses topping several times to make a cannabis “manifold.”
Important: Don’t Top Too Early!
With both topping, you remove some of the growth on the end of a cola of a young marijuana plant, which causes the plant to stop focusing on one cola (like a Christmas tree) and instead to create many bud-laden colas (grow more bushy).
If you top the plant too early, it will have a hard time recovering. It may seem like a good idea, but you will get the best results and fastest recover if you wait until the plant has 4-5 nodes.
Wait Until Plant Has At Least 4-5+ Nodes – Topping a Too-Young Seedling Can Slow Down Growth. Waiting a Few More Days to Cut Can Result in a Much Faster Recovery.
Growers use the plant’s natural response to topping to produce short bushy plants with many colas. After the plant has been switched to the flowering stage, the widespread of colas allows the plant to efficiently use indoor grow lights to produce the biggest yields possible.
If you choose to use either of these methods, you will get the best results by doing it when the plant is young, usually when it has around 4-5 total nodes formed.
These young cannabis plants are almost ready to be topped
You get great results by breaking the tendency of the plant to grow one main cola while the plant is still short, because you can arrange your multiple colas however you want as the plant develops, instead of dealing with a Christmas tree shaped plant.
You can also top your plant later in the vegetative stage, but you will have a longer main stalk, giving you less ability to arrange the colas the way you want.
After being topped, your plant will need some time spent recovering in the vegetative stage, though generally this just causes the plant to ‘fill out’ more instead of growing taller, which is often desirable for indoor growers.
This plant was trained for
2 dozen colas in the vegetative stage
Important: Don’t Top in the Flowering Stage; It’s Too Late!
Topping should only be used in the vegetative stage! In fact, any training technique that involves cutting or damaging your plant should only be done in the vegetative stage of cannabis growth, and never during the flowering/budding stage.
In the flowering stage, only gentle training techniques such as LST or bending should ever be used to change the shape of the plant.
A plant with many colas can only be achieved by training a plant from early in the vegetative stage
Cannabis plants are much less tough in the flowering stage, and they no longer are growing vegetatively (producing new stems or colas).
If you watch a plant in the flowering stage, you’ll see that it doesn’t get taller or develop growth nodes. It only “focuses” on making buds. Topping at this point won’t do any good. Damaging your plant during the budding stage will usually cause a reduction in your final yields.
By the time your plants are in the flowering stage, much of the growth structure has already been created, and you generally need to try to manage as best you can if your plant has grown into a shape you don’t like.
What if my plant is already too tall in the flowering stage?
If your plant is already too tall in the flowering stage for your grow setup, you’ve got to take immediate action to prevent the plant from getting any taller.
My suggestion is to use bending (LST) your plant to control the height of further growth.
Once flowering is fully underway (after the initial flowering stretch), the plant will not grow much taller, so you can just try to hang on until harvest.
How Can You Tell That Your Plant is Diverting Energy to New Colas?
Almost immediately after topping, the connections to each node become enlarged at the base.
These thickened connections shows thatshow cannabis plant is spreading energy more evenly across the whole plant.
When you see your plant thicken connections like this, it means that the plant is strengthening the “internal system” of the stem, so it’s easeir to deliver nutrients and other building blocks. This results in faster growth, bigger colas, and increased yields for each of the affected stems.
The thickening that happens at the base of stems is one sign that the plant is diverting energy to the new colas (where before it was putting the majority of its energy into just the one main cola).
As time goes on, the most used stems can become so thick they’re almost like tree trunks.
How to Top Your Cannabis Plant
When topping your cannabis, you cut off a growing node of the plant, reducing the height instantly. This can be especially beneficial if you’ve let your plant get too tall. Topping also increases the number of colas, which can give you more bud at harvest,
When topping your marijuana plant, it’s best to top the plant when it is young, and has 4-5 nodes (sets of leaves) in total. Although you could do it a little earlier, you’re more likely to accidentally stunt your plant the younger it is.
“Topping” the plant means cutting off the newest node on your marijuana plant’s main cola in order to split it into two. However the word topping can also refer to cutting of the tip of any stem.
A good place to top is directly above the leaves of the next node.In other words, cut through the stem right above its next set of leaves from the top.
This will cause your plant to transfer its energy to two new main colas, as indicated by the two yellow dots in the diagram above.
14-day Timelapse Video of a Cannabis Plant’s Recover After Being Topped
These 2 new colas for a V which can easily be bent to spread wide. You can top these two new colas a few weeks later and have 4 total colas. This can even be doubled to produce 8 colas that all come from a single “manifold.” Learn more about manifolding cannabis.
Another benefit of topping is how the plant tends to grow bushier afterwards, spreading its energy much more evenly around to the whole plant.
Often lower branches rise up to become new main colas. This is especially true if you combine Topping with LST to open up the plant so the lower branches get more light.
If you’ve grown a very tall plant, it’s also possible to top your (vegetative) plant down to the node you want to reduce the height, but remember that all the time the plant spent getting tall will be lost. In order to get the most flexible colas, without losing vegetative time, try to top early in the plant’s life
If you’re still in the vegetative (non-budding) stage and plants are growing way too tall, you can top the plant immediately to remove height as needed. The time spent growing the extra growth will be lost, so this may add time to the veg stage.
If you want to top the plant multiple times, you may be interested in learning about main-lining (creating a manifold – a plant training technique).
Topping Cannabis Guide: How to Top Your Plants Cutting Cannabis For Better Structure: “Topping” Topping is a cannabis plant training techniques that involves cutting off the top of a main
Parts of the cannabis plant
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- Types of weed plants
- How to tell male from female marijuana plants
- How to propagate cannabis plants
Cannabis grows in a variety of climates around the world and can be used in many applications: rope, biofuel, paper, and many medical and recreational uses. The plant is part of the Cannabaceae family, which also includes hops. It is further classified as Cannabis sativa L . Each part of the plant serves a purpose and while the whole of a cannabis plant is certainly greater than the sum of its parts, knowing its parts can inform your experience and appreciation of it. Below are descriptions of each of the plant’s parts and the functions they perform.
Each part of the cannabis plant serves a purpose.
The flowers of the female marijuana plant can be identified by their small teardrop structures, which consist of pistils attached to bracts. Cannabis flowers are usually covered with a frosty-looking coating of trichomes, with a heavier density of trichomes making for a more desirable flower.
The main part of the flower, at the end of a female plant’s stem is composed of many small floral clusters. In general, the bigger, heavier, and more densely covered in trichomes a cola is, the better quality it will be, although some cultivars will naturally grow flowers that are more loosely structured and airy.
The small leaves that surround the reproductive cells of a female weed plant. When a female plant is exposed to pollen from a male marijuana plant, the bracts surround and shield the seed pod.
Marijuana trichomes are hairlike appendages found on the surface of the cannabis plant. Trichomes protect the plant from external stressors and contain resinous glands that create flavonoids, cannabinoids and terpenes — the chemical compounds that give the marijuana plant its unique features and effects. Trichomes give cannabis buds a crystal-like sheen and make them sticky feeling.
Within the glandular trichomes, there are three main types: bulbous, capitate-sessile and capitate-stalked.
Non-glandular trichomes are called cystoliths. Bulbous trichomes are tiny bulbs that are sparsely located throughout the entire plant, but are so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye. Capitate-sessile trichomes are more abundant than bulbous trichomes, found on the underside of the sugar leaves and fan leaves, but are usually only visible through a microscope. Capitate-stalked trichomes are shaped like mushrooms and contain a large trichome head at the top of the stalk. These are the trichomes that can be easily seen on the cannabis flower surface.
The point at which the stem and leaf intersect. Nodes can hold one or more leaves or offshoots. As explained below, nodes are important to be familiar with, as they are where cannabis plants begin to grow either pollen sacs (male cannabis plants) or pistils (female cannabis plants). Understanding the sex of a marijuana plant is crucial to the final product, since only female plants produce flowers and since non-pollinated flowers are far superior than pollinated buds when it comes to consumption.
Leaves are important components of a weed plant, and there are actually a couple types of marijuana leaves. The large, protruding leaves that appear along the length of the plant are called fan leaves. Theses leaves are essential to the living plant’s photosynthesis, but are always removed from the finished, harvested product.
As opposed to fan leaves, sugar leaves are small leaves found throughout cannabis colas’ cupping buds that are typically trimmed off the flower after harvest. They are called “sugar leaves” because of the high volume of trichomes found on them, which makes it look like the leaves are covered in sugar. Sugar leaf trim can be used to make edibles or concentrates.
The main support structure of the marijuana plant, the stem transports fluids, nutrients, and information from the roots to the rest of the weed plant. The stem provides a foundation to give fan leaves access to the light they need to facilitate growth and carries the weight of heavy colas.
Pistils vs. stigmas
There is often a lot of confusion surrounding pistils and stigmas, with many people confusing one of the other. Here’s a quick breakdown on the difference between the two important cannabis plant components.
What is a pistil?
The pistil is the primary piece of the female flower’s reproductive system, comprising a single ovule with two protruding stigmas.
What are stigmas?
The thin hairs that extend from a female’s bract to catch male pollen. They are commonly confused with pistils. Knowing how to identify stigmas is an important part of growing weed, as these are the telltale signs that a plant is female and will therefore produce the cannabinoid-rich flowers you’re trying to harvest.
Cannabis grows in a variety of climates around the world and can be used in many applications: rope, biofuel, paper, and many medical and recreational uses. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Types of weed plants
If you want to stay in touch with the origins of your favorite cannabis products, knowing the ins and outs of the plant at the industry’s core is a good place to start. And that includes knowing not only the specific parts of a cannabis plant, but also the different types and strains of weed that exist.
Along with understanding the various parts of a marijuana plant, you should also know about the different types of cannabis. While there are long-held claims about the effects that sativas, indicas, and hybrids offer, current research suggests that the effects of cannabis are determined by a person’s endocannabinoid system and the plant-specific cannabinoid profile.
Despite that, cannabis is typically classified in the following four categories:
- Indica: Indica-leaning weed plants tend to produce dense, fat, heavy buds during the flowering stage. These strains are typically believed to give consumers a “body high” instead of a more cerebral high.
- Sativa: Sativa plants tend to produce buds that are airy and more formed than indica plants. Sativa strains of the weed plant are often said to offer users a more cerebral, energetic, “buzzy” highs.
- Hybrid: As a blend of sativa and indica, hybrid strains are generally believed to give you a more balanced high.
- Hemp: Hemp plants are part of the cannabis family, but they differ from a regular weed plant in that they produce only trace amounts of THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating effects of the marijuana plant. In the U.S., the 2018 Farm Bill specified hemp as a cannabis plant containing up to 0.3% THC. However, hemp plants produce a number of other important cannabinoids, most notably cannabidiol (CBD), and their fibers are used to produce a range of textiles.
To break it down even further, there are numerous strains within each of the more general categories indica, sativa, and hybrid. Understanding and becoming familiar with these various strains is what will really enable you to target — on a specific level — the type of experience you have when consuming weed.
How to tell male from female marijuana plants
Typically, you will be able to distinguish between male and female cannabis plants when the plant is about six weeks old. To figure out the sex of a marijuana plant , look at the plant’s nodes, where the leaves and branches connect to the main stem.
Male plants will produce pollen sacs that at first look like little tiny balls and then grow into larger clusters of oblong-shaped sacs. Conversely, a female weed plant will produce pistils, which in their early stages look like thin hairs and then eventually start growing into more structured ovules and stigmas.
To figure out the sex of a marijuana plant, look at the plant’s nodes, where the leaves and branches connect to the main stem. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
There is one very important reason why it’s crucial to be able to distinguish male from female plants: Only female plants produce flowers. Because male plants produce pollen sacs, they do not generate any of the buds that people actually harvest and consume. From the perspective of growing weed for human consumption, male plants are really only good for propagating brand new baby plants from seed.
With the exception of consciously choosing to reproduce plants through pollination (as opposed to cloning a female plant), growers must carefully keep male plants away from female plants.
Hermaphrodite plants are a rare monecious plant, meaning it develops both male and female sex organs. Hermaphrodites are primarily formed if a female weed plant is exposed to extreme conditions during key stages of growth. Flowers from hermaphrodite plants will be full of seeds, making them very poor quality for consumption. To avoid this, growers must be experts at spotting both hermaphrodite and male plants early and then getting rid of them before they ruin nearby female plants.
Many breeders produce seeds that are feminized as a way to avoid male genetics. These feminized seeds only carry female genetics, and in most cases, is guaranteed to produce female plants. Another option is to grow auto-flowering strains, which are genetically engineered to automatically flower after a brief vegetative period of two to four weeks.
How to propagate cannabis plants
Knowing the parts of a marijuana plant is necessary for propagating cannabis plants. Propagation refers to the process of using one plant to create new plants. In general, cannabis growers do this in one of two ways:
- Cloning : Cloning is a popular method, as it allows you to get multiple baby plants from a single adult plant, without having to buy seeds or go through the longer process of germinating, planting, and growing a weed plant from seed. To clone a marijuana plant, carefully cut a branch away from the stem right at the node. From there, place the cutting into a growing medium, typically either suspended in water or inserted into a starter plug. When the cutting develops roots you can then transplant it into a larger container or the ground, depending on where you’re going to be growing the plant.
- Seeds: Growing from seed requires you to start from scratch, and is ideally suited to growers who are novices, growers who want to produce a new type or strain than what they’re already growing, and growers who don’t have a plant they want to replicate exactly. To grow a weed plant from seed, place a seed in some sort of starting medium such as rockwool or peat pellets and keep it moist until it sprouts. As the sprout develops leaves and roots, it will start requiring more and more light. When a decent little ball of roots has formed, transplant the baby marijuana plant to a larger container or the ground and proceed to feed, water, and ventilate it until the weed plant reaches maturity.
The cannabis plant has many different parts to it. Learn about the cola, calyx, trichomes and more.