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When and How to Prune Marijuana Plants

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  • Escrito por : Ciara
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When and how to prune marijuana plants: depending on why you want to prune your plants, you’ll need to do it one way or another, or at a certain time or another. You wouldn’t prune the same way if you want to make a parent plant, then if you wanted your plant to have a more distributed production in order to have a more discreet plant or if it’s just the way that that particular variety is grown.

We’re going to talk about a few different pruning situations, along with a picture and an explanation so that you know where you have to cut depending on the result you want, because not all pruning is done the same or for the same reason, so each type has a different effect on your plants.

Where to cut if you want to get a clone:

To do this, you need to make sure that the part of the plant that you want to use as a cutting is above where you’re cutting, and that there are a few small branches on it. You also need to leave a knot above the spot where you cut so that when you plant it again you can plant it deep up to the knot, because that’s where the roots will be coming out of. You’ll need to cut it just like the picture, take off the little branch from the knot where we’ll be burying our plant, make sure that you cut it at a 45º angle, and then you should put it straight into some rock wool, jiffy, or whatever you prefer. After a few days, following the right steps (go check out the article we’ve done specifically on rooting clones), your plant should have some roots.

Where to cut with the FIM pruning method:

The FIM prune is a type of cut that’s not followed through on, and it produces 4 or 5 new sprouds. At the beginning they may seem strange and deformed, but they’ll soon turn into sturdy branches, you just need to give them time. This kind of technique is perfect if you want to turn a cutting from another plant into a parent plant. Using the FIM method, you can get a lot of new branches on your plant, which will cause new slip sprouts to appear on the upper layers, which is what you’re after. The first time I tried this I got very good results even though I had never done it before, even though it might seem difficult, you just need to try and leave the middle tip when the cutting is still small, like in the picture, taking away about 60% of the tip and leaving the little leaves that were starting to come out. If you want, you can repeat the process when the tip begins to come out again. You’ll end up having an extremely dense parent plant, which’ll be extremely productive, meaning you can have a SCROG set up with a mesh in your grow room or grow tent.

Where to cut to grow two central calyxes:

To get two central calyxes and have a more centered harvest, all you need to do is cut above the two branches that we want to let grow. The cut must happen after a point in which two new branches are appearing, leaving about 1cm of trunk after those two branches. In the picture we can see the two sprouts coming out of the trunk, and even a little extra bit. In a couple of days the wound will close and the two new central points will have your plants entire attention. That’s where the most bud will be concentrated because your plant will see the two new branches as the central eye of the plant.

Where to cut if you want a nice small, wide indoor plant:

To use this prune technique you’ll have to be a bit more careful, because you’ll have to cut along the fattest part of the trunk, and your plant will have an open wound that you’ll need to cover up. This way you’ll manage to get the plant to have a high density of flowers on the inner and outer branches, creating a blanket of buds of around 40x40cm with which you can fill a square meter grow tent with just four plants or a 1,2×1,2 grow tent with up to 9 plants. This kind of pruning helps spread out the production in the shape of smaller buds but in larger quantities. You’ll need to make the cut right around the height of the lower branches, leaving the plant looking kind of like a candelabrum, allowing the shorter branches to end up at the same height as the longer ones. You’ll need to use a scarring paste on the wound or even wax from a candle so that no dirt or insects can get in and put your plant’s life in danger.

Pruning lower branches to concentrate production at the top (Lollipop):

Some strains absolutely hate it when you prune them to increase their number of branches, so in these strains what you’ll want to do is increase the amount of production on the central stem. These strains tend to be indicas. The one that’s easiest to recognize with this kind of shape is Critical+. These plants center most of their production on the main “eye” of the plant, the central calyx, so to get the most out of these plants you’ll need to place a whole lot together and prune/trim the lower branches. This way you’ll be able to grow up to 16 plants per square meter without them getting tangled. The idea is to prune those branches that come out over the flowerpot, leaving just the main stem and 4 to 6 branches around the bottom. To make sure that it doesn’t end up doubling over with the weight you should wire or string it, and you’ll have 16 extremely productive plants where before you could only fit 9.

Doubling over branches to stop growth and increase strength:

If you take one of the branches on your plant and bend it slightly, it should form a sort of callus which will double the strength of the branch. The cells in your plant will make their way to the injury and they’ll strengthen the branch, allowing it to put up with much more weight. As well as not growing any more, the end bud will have heavier buds. All you have to do is bend the branch slightly, making sure not to go too far; if you actually break it then that’s that. If done correctly, you should end up with thick balls of buds and compact, strong plants. You’ll be able to grow less plants in your grow tent but with a higher production rate.

What not to do when pruning your plants:

Pruning is essentially cutting a part of your plant so that it can direct its strength to other parts that can absorb light easily. This doesn’t mean that you can prune any part of your plants like the large leaves so that the light can reach the lower parts. Leaves have an extremely important part to play in your plants’ lives; they’re kind of like solar panels for plants, and the buds are the batteries. If light hits the batteries they won’t charge, it needs to hit the panels so that the light can be turned into energy for your plants. This means that if you remove the leaves you’ll end up removing a lot of the strength from your plants, as they act like nutrient deposits; if your plants leaves aren’t receiving enough light the plant will automatically absorb all of the nutrients, leaving the leaf yellow and dead.

None of the leaves are disposable, even the smallest ones. Every single one is needed so that they grow properly. If you want to test this out yourself, trim one of the big leaves while your plant is still in the growth phase. You’ll notice how the branch carrying that leaf will stop growing, and branches with all of their leaves will continue growing without any issues. The same thing will happen to the buds; if you remove a leaf so that the lower buds can get more light, the higher buds will end up dwarfed and a lot less potent, when they would have been much bigger than the lower ones to begin with.

Another thing that you mustn’t do is prune your plants while they’re flowering. Plants need a few days to recover from prune-induced stress, and it takes a while to decide where the new branch or central stem is going to grow from. You’ll need to prune at least 15 days before you switch your plants to the growing period or before summer begins for outdoor crops. You need to prune during the growth period every time, or else the start of the flowering period may be compromised.

You can prune to change your plants’ shape, but never prune at the top to allow more light to reach the bottom; the top is always more productive than the bottom even if you want it to get more light. The logical thing to do would be to prune the bottom so that the top can produce even more.

If you’re looking to learn how to do other kinds of pruning, leave a comment and we’ll do our best to add it on to the article.

Author: Javier Chinesta
Translation: Ciara Murphy

Comprehensive article on when and how to prune marijuana plants depending on the effect you want the pruning to have. Read on to find out more.

Complete Guide to Trimming Cannabis

Table of Contents

“Wet Trim” vs “Dry Trim” (trimming buds before or after drying them)

This trimming tutorial is part of our “how to harvest cannabis” series:

Why do growers trim cannabis buds in the first place?

Harvest time has come! You are cutting down your homegrown cannabis buds to dry and cure them. But do growers need to trim their cannabis buds? When is the best time to trim, and why do growers trim buds in the first place?

Trimming cannabis buds – before & after

Here are some reasons to trim buds:

  • “Top Shelf” Appearance – Trimmed buds are often considered higher quality. Most buds are completely manicured (or at least somewhat trimmed) when you see them in magazines, at the dispensary, and online. This is the appearance we’ve come to associate with “good weed” and so untrimmed buds may look less appealing to some people.
  • Better Smell – Buds that are trimmed before being going into jars tend to gain a stronger “weed” smell over time. On the flip side, untrimmed buds take on a “planty” hay smell if they’re stored in an airtight container for too long (several weeks to months).
  • Easier on Your Throat – Leaves are more “harsh” on your throat/lungs than flowers when vaping or smoking. Trimming off extra leaf matter makes buds more “smooth” to smoke or vaporize.
  • Higher THC Concentration – Even trichome-encrusted sugar leaves have a significantly lower concentration of THC and other cannabinoids than the flowers. That means trimmed buds tend to have higher levels of THC gram-for-gram.

Many growers want trimmed buds but don’t want to waste any THC, so they process their trim to extract the THC in the leaves separately. You have endless options for getting the good stuff out of your leaves and other trim, but my favorite ways are making dry ice hash, butter or canna caps. I sprinkle dry ice hash on top of bowls to skyrocket their potency, I use butter for edibles, and I love canna caps for the ability to easily dose edibles on the go!

An example of well-trimmed cannabis buds

Untrimmed cannabis buds – pic by psychonaught

Trim before or after drying? (“Wet Trim” vs “Dry Trim”)

When I first started growing I didn’t know anything about trimming. I knew you could do it before or after drying, but I didn’t know the pros and cons of each. From reading online, I could see that growers successfully use both methods, so there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do it.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to trimming cannabis. Some growers trim their cannabis buds before drying them, and some growers trim their cannabis after buds have already dried.

Trimming your cannabis before drying is known as a “wet trim” because the leaves are still wet during the trimming process. Trimming after the buds have already dried is known as a “dry trim” since your buds will already be dried before you trim off the sugar leaves.

Most growers will at least remove all or most of the big fan leaves with their fingers before drying, though some growers will hang the whole plant upside down without any type of trim whatsoever.

Wet Trim Example – all leaves are removed before buds are allowed to dry.

Dry Trim Example – little trimming was done before buds were dried

Dry Trim Example – full branches were hung (not even fan leaves were removed before drying)

Trim before drying (“wet trim”) when…

  • You’re worried about mold
  • You have high humidity (above 60% RH)
  • There’s a lot of buds drying in a small space
  • You otherwise want buds to dry more quickly

Trim after drying (“dry trim”) when…

  • You’re not worried about mold
  • You have low humidity (below 45%RH)
  • You want buds to dry more slowly (buds drying too fast is the #1 cause of “hay smell”)
  • You want buds to be “tighter” or more dense
  • You don’t mind buds losing their color vibrance (dry trim buds tend to lose their green/purple/color and take on shades of brown or tan)

Here are some examples of buds from plants where I trimmed half the buds before, and half after. I wanted to help you see what difference it made. It’s really kind of different depending on each plant.

Notes on test of dry trim vs wet trim

  • The untrimmed buds took 0.5 to 3 days longer to dry. The leafier the plant, the longer it added to the dry time.
  • The biggest difference is I noticed the “dry trim” buds seem noticeably more dense/uniform.
  • The dry vs wet trim buds smell a bit differently, but all smell good. Neither seems particularly stronger or better as far as smell.
  • I noticed that the “dry trim” buds often seem browner as if they’ve been curing for a while. The effect was most pronounced on the leafiest plants, which may have taken a little too long to dry.
  • As far as comparing taste/smoothness/potency. In blind tests with cannabis enthusiasts, I’ve gotten mixed results. Some people prefer the smell or smoothness of the buds one way, while others like the exact opposite. It doesn’t seem to follow any particular pattern that I can tell. I truly think it’s a matter of personal preference, and also varies from strain to strain.

In practice, I’ve seen a huge variation between growers as far as when they trim. Some growers trim plants immediately after harvest, some trim partway through drying, some trim after buds are totally dry, and some never trim at all. It can also vary with the local weather and even the particular plant. For example, if I had an extremely leafy plant and the humidity was high right as I was harvesting, I may opt to trim the plant before drying to prevent the chance of mold, even though I might normally prefer to trim after.

Some growers barely trim buds at all

If sugar leaves are healthy and covered in trichomes, it’s more common for growers to leave them on. This is what that might look like after the buds have been dried:

Although these cannabis buds are beautiful and the sugar leaves are absolutely covered in trichomes (so you know they have significant amounts of THC), the buds may possibly be slightly more “harsh” than if all the sugar leaves had been trimmed away.

On the flip side, there are many people who prefer seeing trichome-encrusted sugar leaves on their buds, so in the end, it’s a matter of personal preference. There’s no right or wrong way about it!

How to trim your buds like a pro!

What You’ll Need

Sharp scissors (for trimming buds)

Fiskars scissors are our weapon of choice. The blades are thin and sharp, which makes it easier to get your bud looking perfectly manicured. They also have a built-in spring to automatically open the blades after each snip. That ends up saving a lot of work for your hands by the time you’re done trimming.

Any “bonsai scissors” usually work well for trimming. These bonsai pruning shears are popular because they’re cheap, sharp, and spring-loaded.

Big pruning shears, or tough scissors you don’t mind destroying (for cutting off branches)

These will be used to actually cut down single branches as you harvest colas to be trimmed.

If possible, try to use a separate pair, and not the same sharp scissors you plan to use for trimming buds. Some branches are tough enough to destroy a pair of nice scissors in a single harvest. You want sharp scissors for trimming your buds; it will save you so much time!

Disposable gloves

Disposable gloves help protect your hands from your bud. Handling bud without gloves will make your hands sticky to the point where it becomes a constant problem. Plus, hands covered in resin are difficult to clean.

Disposable gloves keep the resin off your hands, and hand particulates off your weed!

3 Trays or Cookie Sheets

You need a tray to hold your untrimmed buds, one to hold your newly trimmed buds, and the last one to hold your ‘trim’ (the plant matter you cut off the buds).

Use cookie sheets or any clean sizable containers to keep your trimmed weed, untrimmed weed, and trim separate.

Of course, you can use anything to keep your separate piles in, but cookie sheets have worked really well for me! Baking sheets work nicely and are cheap, but honestly, any non-absorbent flat surface will work. I like cookie sheets and other wide cooking pans because they have a lip around the edges to help keep everything contained!

Once you have all of your gear assembled, move onto the steps below when you feel ready. Keep in mind that this can be a lengthy process depending on how much bud you’ve grown. However, any negative feelings you get from the labor of trimming will be far outweighed by all the bud you’ll be drying soon!

One last thing… Don’t forget to save all your leaves and other trim! You can use the extra leaves you cut off to make edibles or hash. If you can see trichomes (“glitter”) on the leaves, that means they have good stuff to extract! If a bud is very small or wispy, sometimes I’ll throw that in the trim pile as well.

Learn how to turn your trim into…

1.) Set Up Your Trimming Area

Before you start trimming your plants, you should set up a nice, comfortable place to trim your bud-laden branches. Trimming can take a lot longer than it might seem at first, and it’s a good idea to dedicate at least an afternoon to trimming. I usually try to start trimming in the morning on a day I have off with no other plans in case it goes on longer than expected.

As far as where to do your trimming, a large, clean and cleared table on a non-carpeted floor works great! You will be getting little pieces of leaves everywhere, even if you’re careful, so try to trim in a spot that’s easy to clean. If you have to trim on carpeting, put down a sheet or tarp so spare your poor carpet from trichome stickiness.

I like to get set up in front of a TV, so I can watch movies or shows in the background while I’m trimming. Music or radio can be nice too. In order to stay as comfortable as possible while trimming, I believe it’s important to make sure you get up at least once an hour, even if just to walk around the house or move to a different chair. Take a second to stretch your arms, shoulders and neck. Sometimes you can get in the zone while trimming and not move for a while, so making a point to make breaks will help keep your back, neck and hands from getting cramped up.

Put out your trays as you’ll be using them in just a moment. You’ll be using one tray to hold your untrimmed buds, one to hold your trimmed buds, and one to hold your leaves/trim. You want to keep it all separate if you can, though some spillover is inevitable.

Smell Control: The trimming of buds creates a great deal of odor, especially if they’re fresh! The room that you trim in (and any adjoining rooms) will smell like a cannabis farm. The smell is actually stronger than in the flowering stage. Make sure to contain the smell and try to mitigate the odor if you can. I like to run an exhaust fan on a carbon scrubber (the same one I use in my tent) while I trim. While it doesn’t completely cancel out the smell, it does get pretty close.

Now that you’ve set up your space, it’s time to start harvesting!

2.) Wash your hands and put on a pair of gloves

I prefer latex gloves as they’re sturdy and it feels easier for me to change into a new pair. But any gloves you like will do the trick!

These gloves will soon be sticky with resin!

If you don’t use gloves, get some rubbing alcohol ready, because you’ll need it to get all the resin off your fingers once you’re done trimming! Soap and water won’t cut it! You can also save the resin – it’s basically hash!

3.) Using your tough scissors, cut a branch off your cannabis plant

You may want to cut just one branch down the first time so you can get a feel for trimming, instead of cutting everything down at once. That way you can get an idea of how big of a branch you want to work with at a time.

If trimming immediately after harvest, this also allows you to harvest the plant in stages. If you have to stop halfway through for whatever reason, the buds will be fine for an extra day or two as long as they’re still attached to the plant (even if the rest of the plant is completely hacked up).

When cutting off branches to trim, remember to cut them to a comfortable working size. No larger than these two or you’ll probably have a hard time handling them!

4.) Remove Large Fan Leaves with Your Fingers

These are the leaves that are easily pulled off by their long stem. Put these fan leaves in a pile to be disposed of later.

Here’s a pile of colas that still have their fan leaves

This is what buds look like after most of the fan leaves have been removed by hand

Sometimes you’ll have a big fan leaf that “goes into” the bud and you can’t easily reach the base with your fingers. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to snip those leaves off easily in the next step.

Many fan leaves do not have a usable amount of trichomes on them. If you plan to save your trimmings to make hash you may want to put these bigger fan leaves in a separate pile so you can throw them directly away, instead of mixing them in with your “trim pile”. The big fan leaves add a lot of plant matter that you have to process, but without adding much THC.

5.) Trim Off the Sugar Leaves

Make a note of the small leaves that stick out of the buds; you will be able to see the leaf tips, but usually not the stems. These are typically referred to as “sugar leaves” and don’t need to be removed, only trimmed with your scissors if they stick out.

Before & After – Trimming Sugar Leaves

Another example of trimmed vs untrimmed weed

If the sugar leaves are covered in a lot of trichomes, some growers will leave them on instead of trimming them. I personally don’t recommend doing that if you plan to smoke or vaporize because any extra leaf matter tends to make buds harsher on your lungs. You want as close to pure bud as possible for the best smoking or vaping experience. They don’t have to go to waste. Save them in your separate trim pile and you’ll be able to extract the trichomes off the leaves later to make extracts like hash, caps or weed butter, This means you’re still getting all the THC, but without the added harshness of extra leaf matter. That’s why I recommend trimming all the sugar leaves until they are flush with the buds.

Sugar leaves are cut so they are flush with the bud, giving it a round, almost smooth appearance

Some buds will always have sugar leaves you can see, even if you cut them flush with the outsides of the bud. This is just the way that some cannabis buds grow and is normal genetic variation

When it’s difficult to determine where buds stop and sugar leaves begin, just try to use your best judgment.

You should be left with a branch with trimmed bud on it. Now that you’ve got the hang of it, repeat this process on the remainder of the branches on your cannabis plant!

Do your best to make sure that all the ‘trim’ (the leaves trimmed from your bud) falls onto the tray designated for it. Not only does that let you save more trim for hash, it will help you with cleanup later! Try not to cut off any of the actual buds, but if you do by accident, throw it in the trim pile.

The whole trimming process can take a while depending on how much you ended up with, but if it’s more than you can do at once, it’s perfectly okay to harvest your plant in stages over a few days.

If the buds are already dried but you didn’t have enough time to trim them all, put them in jars or a turkey bag to prevent them from drying further, even if they’re untrimmed. You can come back to trim them later. Just don’t leave them stored like that for too long or the buds take on a hay smell.

Problem: Buds are dry but you don’t have enough time to trim today. Store them in oven bags (also called turkey bags) until you can trim, just don’t leave them too long!

Trimmed and ready

After trimming, your scissors (and fingers) will be covered in hash. Don’t throw that stuff away – it’s concentrated cannabis resin! You can vape, smoke or consume hash just like cannabis flowers!

Don’t toss out all your leaves! Learn how to turn your trim into…

6.) Dispose of your plant

If you haven’t yet, it’s time to securely dispose of the remainder of the plant!

Cut your plant up into pieces and double bag all the plant matter left over after harvest. Do not throw this bag away until the day your trash is picked up. This means there is less time where someone could go through your trash and find it!

Gadgets, tools & shortcuts to help you trim your cannabis better!

For Trimming Cannabis by Hand

Sharp Scissors – Any “bonsai scissors” work great, too!

Fiskars scissors are one of the most popular scissors for trimming buds by hand. They are thin and sharp with a spring to automatically open after each snip. That saves your hands a lot of work over the course of a trim session. These are what I use to trim my buds 🙂

Any “bonsai scissors” usually work well for trimming. These bonsai pruning shears are popular because they’re cheap, sharp, and spring-loaded.

To actually cut off branches from your plant you want something stronger, like these big pruning shears. If you use your Fiskars scissor to cut through stems they will become dull quickly!

Disposable gloves

Disposable gloves keep the resin off your hands, and hand particulates off your weed!

3 Trays or Cookie Sheets

Use cookie sheets or any clean sizable containers to keep your trimmed weed, untrimmed weed, and trim separate. You can use the 4th pan (or a trashcan) to capture the big fan leaves that don’t have trichomes and are often tossed.

Other Ways to Trim Cannabis

Electric Handheld Scissors

There are a few different types of these to make trimming easier. The Bonsai Hero electric trimmer used to be the most common option, but it’s now been discontinued. There are similar options like the Trim Daddy, but it seems to be of questionable quality.

The cool thing about electric trimmers is they let you trim far faster than if you were doing it with regular scissors. They are also easy on your hands since the scissors do all the opening and closing themselves – you just guide them!

The downside is you just can’t get as close a trim job with electric pruning shears compared to regular scissors. They’re just not precise enough. It’s common for growers to use them quickly to trim off most of the leaves and use scissors to tidy the buds up afterward. The other downside to electric scissors is you will end up cutting off more bud by accident than if you were hand scissoring.

However, sometimes the time savings is worth losing a little bud and leaving a little extra leaf matter. In large-scale growing operations, it’s common to give buds a rough cut with electric trimmers and just sell them that way. It gets 90% of the work done in half the time!

Be warned, these are all obscenely expensive! (Seriously, stick to Fiskars!)

Bowl Leaf Trimmers

These have many of the same pros and cons of electric hand trimmers, but there are differences.

First off, they’re quick! With a bowl leaf trimmer, you will be done trimming faster than with pretty much any other trimming method. But on the flip side, you will also lose more bud matter (it will be trimmed away) than other methods, because these basically work by “smoothing” out the outsides of the bud, whether it’s taking off leaf or bud.

One thing about these trimmers that makes them unique is you have to remove the buds from the branches before using the machine, which means you’ll probably also want to use a mesh hanging rack to dry your buds.

And since the buds will be removed from the stems, it may be more difficult to get them to dry slowly. Another option is to trim them with the machine after they’ve already dried.

If you have a whole lot of bud to trim, the ease and quickness of the bowl trimmer method may be worth the reduced flower yield (plus you get higher quality trim)

Now that you have trimmed your buds, it’s time for the cure! You’re almost there!

Continue to the next article to learn about curing your buds

This trimming tutorial is part of our “how to harvest cannabis” series:

Learn how to trim your buds so they look like the ones at a dispensary!