Cannabis is commonly referred to as “weed.” Incidentally, it also grows like one! Yeap, you read that right: A cannabis plant can survive outdoors or indoors with minimal input from the grower. In fact, in places like India and South Africa, it is entirely possible to find weed plants on the side of the road, happily growing on their own. Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it kinda is. In fact, cannabis training is a must for all serious indoor and outdoor growers. In the following article, we will see why it is important and what are the methods you can follow for your plants.
Why You Should Train Your Cannabis Plants
Weed can indeed grow, develop and complete a life cycle without human input. Plant (and bud) development relies on certain chemicals and hormones within the plant. In nature, those compounds primarily promote the growth of the parts of the plant that are more exposed to the light. Therefore, in the best of cases, you would end up with a marijuana plant shaped like a Christmas tree and measly flower production. Plant training is essential because it increases the surface of the plant that is exposed to light (canopy), allowing for significantly improved yields.
Training is even more important when growing indoors, as artificial grow lights are much weaker than the sun and offer lower penetration among the foliage. And although bud production outdoors is always better, a non-trained plant will have significantly lower yields.
Marijuana Training Types
There are three main types of plant training and four times as many different techniques. By type, we mean the greater category in which a particular method falls into.
The three main types of marijuana training are:
- Strategically damaging the plant (High-Stress Techniques)
- Bending the Plant
- Manipulating the Environment of the Grow Room (indoors)
We will see the techniques associated with each one of these categories in a moment. All of the above can be applied separately or in tandem, depending on the particular situation (i.e. you can’t manipulate the light intake of an outdoor plant).
The growth and development of cannabis depend on a morphogenic hormone called “auxin,” that is responsible for the behavioral processes of many plant species. On default mode, this hormone will direct much of the energy of the plant towards the main stalk (cola or kola). Your goal as a grower will be to redirect this energy evenly, so the plant grows horizontally rather than vertically.
The most popular cannabis training methods are:
- Screen of Green (ScrOG)
- Sea of Green (SoG)
- Low-Stress Training (LST)
- Monster Cropping
Even if you are an inexperienced or even a first-time grower, you will be able to implement most of the techniques below. Most of them do not require extensive knowledge, so just follow the instructions and you’ll be golden!
Sea of Green (SOG)
Best implemented in gardens with a considerable number of plants, this method offers quicker harvest times. The idea is to create an even canopy by placing the plants close together and then induce flowering while they are still young (a few weeks before flowering). That way, the plants stay short, but the collective canopy will produce more bud sites and increased yields.
Sea of Green is great if:
- You have a garden with many (>5) smaller plants.
- You want quicker harvests.
- You don’t mind caring for a lot of plants.
- You are sure that you can provide a good growing environment.
Sea of Green can be applied simply by switching to a flowering light cycle when the plants are about five weeks old. If unsure, wait a bit longer, as a couple of more weeks on the vegetative stage can help your plants. According to some growers, removing the tops of the seedlings in the early stages of development (5-7 pairs of leaves) can increase the production of flowers, although this hasn’t been proven.
Screen of Green (SCROG)
This method is among the best known in the growing world and involves a horizontal mesh spread above the plants. As the plants grow through the mesh, their top branches spread horizontally, exposing more stalks to the light.
Contrary to the SOG method, SCROG is more efficient for smaller time grows, as it makes better use of the grow lights. Essentially, the SOG and SCROG methods resemble a jungle and a field respectively: In SOG, you are counting on the top to make most buds, while with SCROG you make the most of the plants you already have.
When implementing SCROG into your grow, you will need to make a mesh and a frame to put it. The openings of the mesh should be wide enough to accommodate the stalks and made out of a durable, yet flexible material. Good old string will do the trick. The frame could be made of anything, so long as it fits your grow room.
It is important that you try and keep all of the plants at the same height. That’s why frequently SCROGing goes hand in hand with topping (explained below). As the main branch is separated into two and tucked into the mesh, more bud sites are created.
Marijuana is a surprisingly sturdy plant. Its survival mechanisms had thousands of years to evolve, adapt and overcome adversities. The actual process of topping involves cutting the tip of your plants’ main stalk. When it resumes growing, the tip will have split in two, growing two main branches instead of one. Even better, with proper support (see SCROG), this process can be repeated ad infinitum. That’s the magic of nature for you!
Topping is also beneficial for the undergrowth of your marijuana plant. As you are effectively turning the plant “upside down,” most of the growing area will be exposed to the light. Also, using SCROG and topping in tandem will help your plant grow bushier and thicker than taller. A very efficient solution, if you don’t have a lot of vertical space in your grow room, especially if you have a lot of stretchy sativas.
How to Top Marijuana
As we’ve seen earlier, if left to its own devices, marijuana will focus its energy on developing the main stalk. The reason behind this is natural selection: As the biggest and most powerful part, it stands the higher chance of surviving and spreading its genes.
In that sense, topping is not so different from all the other training methods. It just helps with the redistribution of growth hormones in a way that promotes bigger yields. Removing just the tip of the marijuana plant will result in two new tips forming directly below it. However, these new nodes will be equally strong with the first one, resulting in more efficient grows.
FIMming (FIM standing for “Fuck, I’ve Missed”) is almost the same as topping. The difference is that with this method, you cut just a few centimetres above, directly through the vegetation that forms on the stalk. The goal is to cut approximately 80% of the tip, effectively topping two tips that are still emerging. So, with one cut you get four new stalks and maybe more if you are lucky. This method works best if implemented during the vegetative stage and if you are growing just a few plants.
How To FIM Marijuana
It is hard to gauge the effectiveness of FIMming, because it is based on the lack of precision! However, it should be done during the vegetative stage. Hold the growing tip on the top of your main branch and pull back the smaller leaves. Cut through the tip (not below it) with a sharp pair of scissors and hope that you get four new stalks (more can be hard to control). Make sure that you use a sharp instrument so that the cut will be clean.
Low-Stress Training (LST)
Low-Stress Training is a method that does not involve any harming of the plant whatsoever. Most of the training methods we’ve seen so far involve the “stressing” of the plant, but with LST, the goal is to create an even, flat canopy without causing any damage.
The only thing you’ll need for a successful LST training is a string-like material (preferably rubber coated) or a copper wire. Then you just need to gently bend down the main stalk and secure it horizontally, parallel to the grow light. This will create lots of new bud site, due to the even exposure to light. There are countless ways to secure the wires or strings, but the key thing is to keep the canopy even and flat. Anything that grows too tall must be bent and secured in place.
Even though it is not as extreme as the other methods, LST can give you surprising results with very little effort.
One of the most controversial marijuana training techniques, lollipopping refers to the removal of the undergrowth of your plants, to focus all the energy on the top. Theoretically, this method is useful in grow setups with weaker lighting, which offer minimal light penetration on the lower parts. As the name suggests, if done correctly, this method will result in a lollipop-shaped plant.
Some growers are vehemently against cutting perfectly healthy fan leaves, as they believe they can be an excellent energy source for the plant. I have not personally tried it, but there are several heated discussions on forums that argue on its effectiveness.
How to Lollipop Marijuana
The secret with the right implementation of lollipopping is in the timing. Most growers concur that it should happen during the late vegetative phase, partially or in one sitting. Generally, it is agreed upon that you should never lollipop during the flowering stage, as the shock can hinder bud development.
This is by far the easiest cannabis training method, as you need nothing more than your plant and your fingers. Once more, the goal is to create a flat canopy and this time you do it by pinching and bending the stems strategically.
You should do that during the late vegetative stage when your plant is strong enough to withstand training.
How to Super Crop Marijuana
The philosophy behind super cropping is hurting the plant ever so slightly, so it can regenerate even stronger. Choose stems that are green and flexible, to avoid breaking them.
Pinch and bend the stalks GENTLY so that they can sit at a 90º angle. The skin of the plant must not break, neither the stem must break. You must be able to position the stem wherever you like. Repeat the process until you have created an even canopy. If you end up hurting the plant, bandage the wound with duct tape and remove after a week.
The cool thing with super cropping is that it can deliver results even if it’s not implemented 100% correctly. The plant will still grow stronger after this experience, and the yield increase should be significant.
These techniques are just the tip of the iceberg. There are even more training types and techniques, such as Monster Cropping, that require extensive knowledge of marijuana growing. We will cover them in an upcoming article.
Most of the above techniques should be employed during the vegetative stage, while the plant is still relatively young and flexible. Also, keep in mind that no matter the training and effort, plant genetics are the most important part of your growing experience. There is no way to get more yield from a plant than its genetic potential, so, again, be sure to obtain great quality seeds from trustworthy vendors.
Training is suitable for all types of growers, whether indoors or outdoors. However, if you are growing a plant in nature, the Xmas-shape probably serves you better (as it is adapted for the sun’s trajectory.
At A Glance
- More light means more bud sites. More bud sites mean bigger yields. Training ensures better light distribution.
- You can control a plant’s shape and size with careful training, but genetics play a huge role. Research on the strain you are growing.
- Always pay attention to the distance between your grow lights and your plants. Try to keep the canopy flat and don’t be afraid to improvise.
- Don’t keep the plants too close or too far from the grow lights.
- Don’t train your plant during the flowering stage, unless you know what you are doing.
- All plant training is based on a simple premise: Manipulate natural mechanisms to improve yields! Humanity has been doing this for thousands of years.
- Plant training is impossible on auto-flowering strains. Just let them do their own thing!