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Mainlining Cannabis Plants

Mainlined cannabis plants in a grow tent

What is Mainlining Cannabis?

When I first started out growing my own weed, I truly had no idea just how many plant training techniques there were out there to try.

I, like most novice growers, was under the impression that you just needed to grab a couple of seeds offering strong genetics, chuck them into some good quality soil, and make sure they had all the sun and water they needed, and that was it. Easy-peasy.

And while there is nothing wrong with growing your plants as nature intended, I pretty quickly realized that with a little bit of extra effort, I could produce some incredible results. They say symmetry is beautiful, and that couldn’t be more true here.

Enter mainlining. Although not the first plant training method I tried, it quickly became one of my favorites. Easy to implement, great for both indoor and outdoor crops, and with some impressive results to boot, it’s no surprise that mainlining has gained increasing popularity through the cultivation community in the past 10 years or so.

But as with any plant training technique, there are some key things you need to get your head around before you get started. So let’s dive into the basics of mainlining cannabis plants.

Mainline vs Manifold – What’s the Difference?

Now, there’s a good chance that if you have started to research plant training methods, you may have come across the term “manifold” and thought it was just another way of saying mainlining. It’s an easy mistake to make, as the two terms are often times used interchangeably, but they shouldn’t be.

  • Mainline is the term we use to describe the whole technique, where we train the plant to produce a canopy of evenly sized, super-dense buds instead of the usual Christmas tree-style growth with one main cola.
  • This is done by creating a manifold. Essentially, a manifold is a symmetrical structure formed by splitting the main stem into two equal branches. This creates an equal distribution of nutrients and encourages the plant to focus its energy on developing colas along the manifold. This results in larger yields and a more even canopy, making for easier light distribution and ultimately better quality buds.

Each time we manifold, we create another branch on the “mainline”, hence the term “mainlining”. Think of it as taking that main stem and turning it into a multi-lane highway for nutrients to travel down, rather than just one lane.

What are the Benefits of Mainlining Weed Plants?

What is the one main goal for the overwhelming majority of ganga growers?

Increased yields.

And that’s exactly what you can expect to achieve when mainlining your crop.

But mainlining takes plant training one step further than many of the other HST techniques by forcing the plant to distribute its energy, nutrients, and hormones as evenly as possible. This not only results in bigger yields, but also a more balanced and robust plant overall. This is the main reason why I started to mainline almost all of my indoor and outdoor-grown photoperiod plants, and the results have spoken for themselves.

Before and after mainlining cannabis

Increased canopy size

Sure, not every grower is chasing the biggest yields possible from each and every plant, but for those of us who are, mainlining is a great way to achieve not only bigger buds but a more uniform outcome throughout your crop.

Because we are training the plant to produce numerous (8 all the way up to 32) equal-sized colas, we are creating an even canopy. What this means is that light distribution is far more efficient, and no bud misses out on the chance to reach its full potential.

If you have grown in the past and let the plants just do their thing, you’ll know that certain spots under the canopy just don’t get any light. This is because those areas are blocked by larger colas above them. Plants that are allowed to grow with their natural ‘apical dominance’ will always have their largest colas at the top of the plant, leaving those smaller buds hidden away in darkness. But with mainlining, every cola has a chance to become a top-shelf bud.

Also, with multiple dominant colas instead of one main bud, your overall canopy size will be larger. More colas mean more bud sites, which means bigger yields.

Easy to do

Novice growers are often intimidated by the idea of making drastic changes to their plants (I know I was in the early days), but let me assure you that mainlining is one of the easiest plant training techniques to get going.

All it takes is a few cuts and some shape management through the power of soft tie-downs and maybe a canopy ring (think a tomato cage), although not all growers feel the need for one.

Adaptable indoors and outdoors

Mainlining is a great option for both indoor and outdoor growers.

Indoor growers – you’ll be able to take full advantage of your limited space by creating an even canopy that maximizes light distribution.

Outdoor growers – you’ll be able to achieve a similar effect, creating an even canopy that isn’t at the mercy of wind and rain, and perfect for those out there growing in a greenhouse during those tricky in-between seasons.

Good for limited space

Mainlining lets you truly maximize your grow space, as you can crowd plants together without worrying about competition for light. Each plant will have its own dedicated space directly above the footprint of the pot and be able to produce the maximum amount of bud possible, all while taking up a very specific growing area. This is especially beneficial for those growing in small grow tents.

Only needs to be done once

Once you have mainlined your plant, there is no need to continue the process (although you can, which will produce even more colas). As we implement the ‘mainline’ early on in the growing process, it really only needs to be mainlined once or twice before you start seeing the benefits. By getting that crop under your thumb early, you’ll be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor without needing to do much in the way of maintenance once everything is set up.

How to Mainline Cannabis Plants

Now that we have a good understanding of why mainlining is such a great technique for increasing yields, let’s take a look at the process itself. Equipment needs are minimal, but there are a few things you will want to have on hand before you get started.

What tools you need

  • Scissors/trimmers – If you have grown in the past then you should already have a set of decent trimming scissors, but if not, now is the perfect time to grab some. Every self-respecting hydroponics supply store (and most dispensaries) will offer a range of scissors and trimmers to choose from, but our favorites are these Hydroponic 2-Pack Bonsai Scissors and Plant Trimming Shears. They offer the versatility of both straight and curved trimming blades and are super well-priced.
  • Soft plant ties – You are going to have to tie the branches down during the mainlining process, so make sure you have some soft plant ties. You can use twine or wire, but both of these options can end up damaging your plant, so it’s best to use ties specifically designed for this purpose. Check out this option, 118 feet for less than $7, pretty much all you’ll need for years.
  • A canopy ring – Now, this one is optional, as not every grower feels the need for a canopy ring. But I have always found that using some sort of canopy ring helps to keep the plant under control and makes for a neater grow. You can simply use some garden wire to quickly knock one together, but these work great and are very inexpensive. When used in conjunction with the soft-ties, the hoop allows you to adjust the plant’s footprint easily and quickly by easing the branches along the ring’s edge.
  • Rubbing alcohol and paper towels – This is a must-have for any grow room, regardless of whether you are mainlining or not. But when making cuts on your plant, it’s important to make sure everything is clean and sterile to avoid any potential infections.

Creating a manifold

The manifold is the central nervous system of the mainlining process and where all the magic begins.

First up, there are a few non-negotiables we need to go over.

  • The plant has to be in the vegetative growth stage. You cannot mainline a plant that has already begun flower production.
  • You want to have at least 4 to 5 nodes on your plant before starting the mainlining process. Nodes are where branches grow from the main stem of a plant. You can start later, but since we cut the plant back to the 3rd node, you’ll be losing time if you mainline a plant that has grown more than 4 or 5 node.
  • Make sure the plant is in tip-top health. Mainlining a plant that is growing slowly or showing any other signs of poor health is a big no-no. Unhealthy or slow growing plants most likely won’t be able to handle the stress that mainlining puts on them.

Do not try to mainline autoflowering strains. Most autos simply don’t have the time to recover from this process and still produce a decent harvest. Best to stick with photoperiodic strains for heavy stress training techniques such as mainlining.

Mainlining - creating a manifold

    Now, let’s get started!

    • Choose your plant – Make sure you select a healthy, vigorous plant that meets the above criteria
    • Identify the third node – This will be where we make our cut. We are basically cutting off all growth above this point to create an even canopy later on.
    • Make the cut – Make a clean cut just above the third node using your scissors or trimming shears.
    • Remove any developing branches below the third node also – You may want to allow the branches growing out of the second node to develop for a week or two more so they can be turned into clones, but if not, remove them for extra energy savings for the main colas we are about to create. Leave the two fan leaves that are growing just below the third node though, as they are important for energy production.
    • Tie-down time – With your manifold or ‘hub’ now created, we need to start working on canopy height uniformity. Using the soft garden ties, tie the two branches on your newly cut hub down to either the stem of the plant or the rim of the pot. It’s a little early to get that canopy ring in play, so use just the stem or pot rim for now. Remember, young plants are pretty fragile, so don’t be too rough with the ties. You want these branches to be tied down so they form a right angle to the ground.

    Setting up manifold and mainlining

    And that’s it, you now have a perfectly manifolded weed plant. But the work is not over just yet…


    If everything went well when creating the hub or manifold, then your plant should bounce back relatively quickly. Letting the plant recover for a few days before moving onto this next section is a good idea, as the stress imparted onto the plant will be quite high. Once you are sure your plant has recovered, it’s time for the second round of cuts.

    1. The next move is to top both branches on the manifold. Topping is where you remove the top of a branch just above a node, which forces the two branches at that node to become the dominant growth points. We are doing this to double the budding sites on each branch and create an even canopy. Make sure that you top each side of the manifold at the same node, to create a perfectly symmetrical canopy.
    2. Tie-down once again – Once the topping has taken effect, and the two new branches start to grow, you need to tie them down like you did during the manifold process. This time, the ties should be done so the new branches are at a right angle to the manifold.

    Mainlined weed plant Mainlined cannabis








    And that’s it, you now have a perfectly mainlined plant with a symmetrical canopy that should produce 8 large, evenly spaced colas. From here on out, you can continue to train your plant using the canopy ring and soft ties, keeping everything in check. When it comes time to flower, you will have a perfectly even canopy that will result in an excellent harvest.

    But if you’re not in a rush and want even more budding sites, you can top each branch once more! This will create even more symmetry and an even larger yield. Just make sure to give the plant enough time to recover in between each topping. In general though, I stop at this point when the plant is at the 8 cola mark, as it strikes the perfect balance between yield and recovery time. There is no need to use a SCroG net or any other training techniques when mainlining is done correctly. Trust me, it’s

    Tricks and Tips for Mainlining Cannabis

    Mainlining is an awesome technique for maximizing yields and creating a beautiful, symmetrical canopy. But as with any growing method, there are some tricks and tips that can make the process even more efficient.

    • Defoliation is key – During the mainlining process, defoliation or removing unnecessary leaves can greatly improve light penetration and airflow throughout the plant. This will result in healthier and more robust growth.
    • Watch out for that early flower stretch – Although the majority of the plant structure growth happens during the vegetative stage, the plant does ‘stretch’ quite significantly during the first few weeks of flowering. Keep an eye on your canopy and adjust the canopy height as needed to maintain a uniform layer of colas. This is where the canopy ring really comes in handy.
    • It’s best to start with seeds – While you can mainline a plant that has been grown from a clone, starting with seeds will give you more control over the plant’s structure and overall health. Seed grown plants typically have a stronger root system and are better equipped to handle the stress of heavy stress training, and also grow in a more symmetrical fashion.
    • Patience is key – Mainlining takes time and patience, but the results are well worth it. Don’t rush through the process and make sure to give your plant enough time to recover in between each topping or tying down.
    • Treat them like the queens they are – Be careful not to ‘over bend’ the developing branches or tie them down too tightly. If it seems like the branches don’t want to go all the way down, then bend them a little bit each day until they reach the desired angle.
    • Mainlining works with all growing mediums and light setups – just be mindful of how much space you have between your plants and adjust accordingly.

    Mainlining vs. LST

    LST, or low-stress training, is one part of the mainlining process. LST involves bending or tying down branches to create a more even canopy and encourage lateral growth. While LST can also result in increased yields, it does not create the same level of symmetrical structure as mainlining.

    Mainlining takes LST a step further by creating a ‘hub’ or manifold, and topping the plant’s branches to create even more budding sites. This creates a perfectly symmetrical canopy and allows for a more controlled and efficient use of light and nutrients.

    Ultimately, both techniques can result in increased yields and healthier plants, but mainlining takes more time and patience to execute correctly. It also requires some basic knowledge of plant anatomy and growth patterns, which (if you have made it to this point of the article) you now have.

    Mainlining vs. Supercropping

    Supercropping is another HST (high-stress training) technique that involves manipulating the plant’s branches by bending or crushing them to create a more even canopy and increase bud size. Unlike mainlining, which focuses on creating symmetry and maximizing yield potential, supercropping is primarily used to increase the size and density of buds.

    While both techniques can result in increased yields, supercropping can be more unpredictable and risky, as it runs a higher risk of damaging the plant. Most growers consider mainlining an ‘all-in-one’ technique, where supercropping is used more selectively for specific purposes.

    I don’t tend to supercrop my mainlined plants, as the bending involved in the mainlining process results in branches that simply don’t require supercropping. However, if you want to experiment with both techniques together, go for it. Growing weed should be a fun and experimental process, so do your thing!

    Try Mainlining

    So, should you try mainlining?

    Hell yeah! As soon as I tried this technique, my yields increased and the overall structure of my plants was more robust and symmetrical. The process is not overly complicated, but it does require patience and practice. While this technique may look intimidating at first, once you understand the principles behind mainlining, it becomes a simple, efficient, and super satisfying way to grow weed.

    No need to FIM, lollipop, or deal with any other complicated techniques. Just stick to mainlining, and the results really do speak for themselves. Plus, you’ll end up with the best looking crop in town. You’re welcome.  So go grab some seeds, fire up your lights, and get to mainlining!

    Picture of Sam North

    Sam North

    Sam North is a content writer with a passion for everything cannabis. After working multiple seasons on weed farms absorbing the ins and outs of cannabis cultivation and culture, he decided to transition into a role that would allow him to work from anywhere, anytime. Sam now writes for multiple weed publications. He has extensive experience with a wide range of canna-agriculture styles, from smaller artisanal farms to large-scale commercial operations, and is here to share his knowledge to give you all the best chance of cultivation success. About this Author

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