Did you know that tomato farmers routinely prune their crop to increase yield? It’s true – they get rid of the tiny shoots between the branches and trunk in order to eliminate needless plant matter, and also to allow their crops to focus their energy on what remains. As it happens, pruning is also ideal for marijuana plants for the same reason – when you remove the useless shoots, your cannabis plant can produce larger buds which means a greater yield and more potency!
Typically, pruning is associated with professional growers keen to boost the maximum yield per square meter in their gardens. When you remove the unnecessary leaves, you ensure that your entire plant is exposed to good light which results in fantastic growth, as long as you add the necessary nutrients. In this concise guide, we show you when and how to prune your cannabis plants.
When Do You Need to Start Pruning Marijuana Plants?
It is suggested that you should only begin pruning your plants once they attain a bushy shape. You can best achieve this by “training” your plants. When your marijuana plant is still relatively young, it should be narrow enough for all of it to receive ample light. Through plant training, you can ensure your plant grows in such a shape that you can dictate where its canopy is, making it easier to remove excess leaves.
You must begin pruning while your marijuana plant is still in its vegetative stage. Your plant will be ‘shocked’ by the process and will need several days to recover. When you prune early, you give the plant the time to relax and grow bigger leaves. Make sure you don’t force your plants into the flowering stage for at least three days after pruning. This should be long enough for your plants to start growing again. It is also a good idea to ease off on the nutrients for a couple of days.
Don’t assume that you can avoid pruning when using the Screen of Green (SCROG) method. When you use this training tactic, you place a screen approximately 0.5m above the plants. Once the tops of the plants are within 0.1m of the screen, take them off and wait until new tops grow through the screen. After they have grown 0.1m through the screen, bend them gently and connect to the screen.
At this stage, you can prune the plants once the first shoots have come through the screen. After a few days, transition to the flowering stage and during the first couple of weeks, your plants should continue to grow. It is imperative that you don’t prune more than 2-3 weeks into flowering. Otherwise, you could inadvertently trigger further vegetative growth which will negatively impact your yield.
What to Look for When Pruning Cannabis Strains
Experienced growers know that high-quality cannabis will grow where the plant gets the most airflow and sunlight. In other words, outside of the plant. It is important for the plant’s energy to be focused on the top. As a result, you need to get rid of:
- Branches near the bottom of the plant that receive little light.
- Dying leaves (because of a lack of light exposure).
- Bud sites located near the foot of the main stalks.
How to Prune Cannabis Plants
First and foremost, make sure you have the requisite equipment. We recommend purchasing a few pairs of scissors; either Fiskars or Chikamasas are ideal for the job. You also need different cutting tools because you have to be intricate in parts, but at other times, you will require something stronger to remove big branches. Make sure your cutting implements are sharp and clean to prevent infection.
Now, let’s provide you with some important pruning tips.
Focus on the Lower Branches
As you’re probably aware, your marijuana plant needs to expend huge amounts of energy to maintain all of its leaves and branches. However, a significant number of these branches will provide little assistance to the growing process and do nothing more than use up important nutrients.
You will find such branches at the bottom of the plant, and as they receive next to no light, they will produce underdeveloped buds at best. Wait until your plants reach a height of 0.6m and begin removing the weak and useless branches at the bottom. You should get rid of these large branches first. Don’t worry; you are helping your yield, not hurting it!
Next, move on to the branches in the middle of the plant. Once again, it is unlikely that they will receive enough sunlight to become strong and useful. Your next port of call is the bud sites that are shielded from the sun. Check the lower halves of the plant and canopy branches.
As the pruning process expands, intricate cutting becomes essential. This is why the blades and edges of your scissors should be razor sharp and undamaged. NEVER tear out branches with your hands! Remember, you are effectively amputating a plant’s limbs so be careful. The threat of excess plant shock means you should work at intervals rather than do everything at once.
What About Leaves?
There are different schools of thought with regards to pruning leaves. According to some growers, defoliation leads to better yields. However, please remember that the biggest leaves are akin to solar panels; they absorb sunlight for photosynthesis and store it for later use. If you remove too many leaves, you are damaging the plant in two ways.
Although you should remove dying leaves, it is crucial that you leave large and healthy fan leaves alone. The sugar produced by the leaves gets sent to the buds, young leaves, and side shoots.
Removing the Tip
Did you know that the top cola (highest tip of the plant) contains a chemical element that can hinder the growth of other branches? When you cut it, you distribute the energy to other branches. It is especially important to cut the tip when growing outdoors when you’re concerned about the plant growing too tall. If you have limited space indoors or wish to grow via Screen of Green, removing the top cola is also advisable. When you cut off the tip, give your plant a few days to recover.
Don’t Prune During Flowering!
We already mentioned this, but it’s a point worth repeating. When a plant is hurt, it generates a hormonal response including a growth inhibitor named jasmonic acid. When this acid is released, your plant begins to focus on defense rather than growth. It is even possible that this defense mechanism will halt growth or eliminate the production of flowers (buds) completely.
In the excitement of pruning your plant, it is easy to overdo it and end up hurting your yields. In some cases, it is simply a case of removing some THC-rich leaves early to enjoy your crop before harvest. Although it is somewhat understandable, you are undoing all your hard work because the most potent and flavorful marijuana is not available until harvest.
If you are pruning for the first time, take note of whether branches are coming from the basal stem of a leaf. If there isn’t, do not cut that leaf off. Also, don’t strip a stalk or a branch of all its leaves. Make sure you water your plant immediately after pruning to stimulate growth and reduce shock.
A lot of growers’ despair at the thought of removing leaves early. This is because leaves pruned when a plant is less than 12 weeks old contain very little THC. It seems like a waste, butin the bigger picture, you are doing it to maximize yield.
In the end, there is no guarantee of success when growing or pruning your cannabis plants. There are instances where you can carefully tend to a plant for months only to find that it provides a disappointing yield. However, it is extremely rare for this to happen. When you follow the right protocols and prune your plants properly, and at the correct time, you should be rewarded with a healthy, bumper yield.
If you are new to pruning and want to be extra cautious, only prune leaves that look unhealthy. Examples of sick leaves include ones that are yellow, have brown tips, are withered, or parts of their lobes are eaten. As long as the bases of the leaves have branches coming out, you can safely remove them.