Trimming weed plants is extremely important for overall maintenance and prosperity. Learn how to trim cannabis plants to get more light and other benefits.
Trimming cannabis plants is one of the easiest forms of plant care there is. By simply removing some leaves, or even branches, you open up a world of opportunities for your beloved weed plants. The hardest part is bringing yourself to make the first cut.
Following our guide will take most of the guesswork out of when, where and why to trim your cannabis plants.
Trimming cannabis plants is essential for nearly every style or method of growing. There are different levels of trimming, depending on your style, but they all aim to achieve similar goals, which is to:
Adequate air circulation is a must for weed plants. Without it, they will suffer the ill consequences of mold, mildew, and in general they just won’t be as healthy as they could be, impacting final yield. As the canopy is the densest area of growth, you may find moisture building up there in particular, which can lead to a host of problems. Bud rot is the bane of growers across the globe. You can perfect every other aspect of cultivation, but if you neglect to provide good air flow, then you may very well end up with a worthless end product.
Light penetration is another biggie when it comes to a successful grow. If you learn how to trim cannabis effectively, you will maximize your light’s effectiveness. You could buy the best lights on the market, but if you have big fan leaves shading the lower bud sites, you are essentially growing that part in the shade. Trimming cannabis plants will improve light penetration through the canopy, ensuring all future or current bud sites are receiving maximum exposure to light.
Trimming weed will actually help boost the final yield. When your plants are in flower, nutrients and energy want to be directed towards bud production, not growing new leaves. Being proactive by cutting leaves and branches at the right time will make your plants into more efficient, big bud producers.
Consistency in growth is a hallmark of a good cultivator. Plants growing unevenly can often be due to poorly planned lighting and possibly watering issues, but learning how to trim cannabis effectively can help achieve a good-looking, evenly grown plant. Uneven growth may not seem like a terrible thing, but anything other than an even canopy, with equal sized branches, will lessen your end weight and potency. For example, higher branches will receive too much light, risking light burn and lower branches will be shaded by those above, reducing the amount of light they should be getting.
Controlling pests and disease is something every single grower will have to deal with at some point. Having an overly dense plant brings on, and exacerbates problems that can be prevented, or identified and treated easily with a well trimmed plant. Not being able to spot issues early is a problem itself.
Let’s first differentiate between trimming cannabis and topping cannabis (a form of High Stress Training) which involves removing the growing tip of a (usually young) cannabis plant to force it to grow two new main lines or branches, instead of one. Trimming cannabis, on the other hand, is the act of removing (cutting off) leaves and branches.
Some cultivators choose to top their plants multiple times, beginning as early as 1–2 weeks into veg. This will force the plant into growing bushier, with more branches, which will increase future bud sites. This technique can be done throughout the vegetative stage.
Trimming weed leaves or branches in the first week or two is only advisable if you are doing it to complete a High Stress Training method, as some methods require removal of nearly all lower leaves to be successful.
Once a couple of weeks have passed, your plant should have a healthy root system and many sets of leaves, which will help it recover from the shock of its upcoming defoliation.
Clean, sharp scissors. You will find shears helpful towards the harvesting stage, but for general trimming of a cannabis plant, scissors will be sufficient. Rubbing alcohol is never a bad idea to have on hand throughout the grow. Sterilizing your equipment (and washing hands) minimizes your chances of introducing/spreading disease.
Once the time comes to trim your actual buds, you may find some other items useful, but we will cover that towards the end.
Although topping is considered a High Stress Training technique (HST), and not technically trimming, it still deserves a mention here as it is often used hand in hand with traditional trimming.
Topping any branches that are growing higher than others will help keep the canopy level, with the additional benefit of getting two new branches growing from the cut. The downside to topping is the same with any HST method, your plant will take up to a week to recover which will extend its time spent in veg, meaning the overall grow will take longer.
Topping, or fimming in flower is risky and should be avoided, it can stress the plants and cause them to hermie, while taking energy away from flower production to recover and regrow.
Lollipopping involves removing all growth up to a certain point on each branch of your cannabis plant, making it resemble a lollipop. When using a support/scrog net, anything under the net/canopy usually gets the chop.
This removal of leaves under the current/future canopy will promote better airflow through the plants. The removal of current/future buds from under the canopy helps direct all available nutrients and energy to where the light is, and where the buds should be.
You should lollipop your plants about 3 weeks into flower. Some suggest to cut any branches that are under the halfway point of the plant, as these will be less dominant than the branches higher up, closer to the light.
Defoliation is a great way to improve airflow, light penetration and removal of dying leaves. There is an argument for leaving things natural, but a dense canopy of light blocking leaves can be more of a burden than a benefit, and we recommend at least some light defoliation.
Stripping away too many of the photosynthesizing leaves will leave your plant unable to produce sugars and, in general, grow. You want to strike the balance of clearing away any large fan leaves blocking nodes or bud sites, while leaving enough for the plant to continue growing. Cannabis leaves store energy and can help the plant out if there are deficiencies. When you trim weed, you want to do it in a way that doesn’t strip the plant of all its survival mechanisms.
Healthy cannabis plants can handle having up to 25% of their leaves stripped away, just be aware there will be a couple of days recovery for the plant. Definitely do not switch to flower (12-12) the same day you defoliate to this extent.
For those looking to get the highest possible yield, the Schwazzing method is a massive defoliation, at two different stages of growth, but it comes with risks. Tread lightly.
Also known as bottoming, and similar to lollipopping, cutting the lower branches will redirect energy up the plant to the canopy where the buds are/will be. This can be done in the first few weeks of flower but for the most impact, cut the lower branches in the last few weeks of veg. Some growers recommend removing the bottom 1/3 of the plant’s branches, but each strain is different. After a while, you’ll begin to learn which branches will reach the light and produce good buds, and which won’t.
Now let’s get into the trimming of the actual flower.
Nearly every bud sold on the market (whichever) will have been trimmed in one of two ways. Wet or dry. Both methods have their benefits, and employing one over the other can sometimes come down to current circumstances.
Wet trimming weed is generally carried out on harvest day, while the bud has the most moisture.
Dry trimming weed is generally carried out 7–10 days after harvest, once the plant has been hung and dried out.
Wet trimming is by far the most common method used today.
Let’s look at wet trim vs. dry trim
Below, we will cover how to trim buds from start to finish.
With a decent pair of pruning shears, cut down the plant and remove all branches.
Cut down the plant and hang upside down, either whole, or in smaller pieces. These drying plants will be ready in 3–7 days, or when stems snap when you bend them.
Fan leaves are the 5, 7, or 9 pointed leaves that everybody knows and loves. These can be removed by hand or with scissors.
You will need to cut the fan leaves off with scissors
Wet + Dry trimming
With a pair of clean, sharp scissors, cut the individual buds from the branches, this is known as “bucking”. Create a pile of buds, and a separate pile of branches, stems, and fan leaves for disposal.
Now that you have your nice pile of buds, the first step is to break up any extra large buds. This can be heartbreaking, but any abnormally large buds aren’t going to dry evenly, which can increase the risk of mold.
Cut the stem right back to the base of the bud, ensuring you don’t cut too close, which can cause the bud to break away.
Angle your scissors to follow the shape of the bud while you snip away. The goal is to trim off any plant matter that isn’t coated in trichomes. Keep trimming it back, removing any and all red haired pistils in your way, they contain almost zero trichomes. Once you have a uniform, manicured surface area to the bud, you will have to leave it on a drying rack for a few days before beginning the curing process.
Same method as above, except you can immediately jar up your finished buds for curing.
Trimming in the later stages of your plant’s life can be detrimental if done incorrectly. That’s not to say butchering it in veg is fine, but there is a bigger window for it to recover, so no harm done (except added weeks to veg).
Whether it be trimming the plant or trimming the bud, your scissors should be wiped down with cleaning alcohol in between sessions. This eliminates the risk of disease being introduced, which have the potential to spread throughout your crop. It’s a practice that’s easy enough to do, but easy enough to forget. Constant vigilance.
Not at all.
Weed trimming machines are mainly utilized by commercial growers looking to maximize efficiency. While you may also want to expedite the trim process, the price tag and slight drop in bud quality from machine-trimmed weed generally deters most home/hobbiest growers.
Hand-trimmed bud is the cheaper option, the buds can be manicured to a higher standard, and pests/mold/seeds can be identified in the process. You will get a little sticky, and may have to donate some of the final product to friends willing to help, but the result will be superior quality.
Machine-trimmers can often over-trim, losing yield in the process. Some seeds and stems can end up in the final product, and the fast-working nature of the machines can knock off substantial amounts of trichomes in the process, degrading quality overall.
On the plus side, trimming cannabis with a machine will massively reduce the time taken to finish up, you won’t get covered in resin, and all leftover trim will be neatly saved for you.
Weed trimming is not just for one stage or the other! For the best results, you can trim from a couple of weeks into veg, right up until harvest. Schwazzing, for example, requires ALL leaves to be removed in the flowering stage, so never be scared to remove a leaf or two when you see fit. Any yellowing leaves should be cut off as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary energy going into a lost cause.
Forking out for some sharp equipment that will last is a good idea. You will have a more enjoyable weed trim experience, and you don’t need to keep buying the same, substandard gear each harvest. It’s a lot easier learning how to trim pot plants with the right tools.
If there’s one thing trimming is great at, it’s providing ample practice on how to trim pot plants. You will naturally get more adept at the art of trimming weed as you make your way through it. One benefit to making mistakes when trimming buds is that you can learn what to do with weed trim.
Wondering what to do with weed trim? Fear not, there are simple ways to get great value from this useful by product.
Edibles are the most popular use for leftover trim, the process is relatively simple. Simply put the trim in the oven for 30–34 minutes at 240F. Then in a large pot, melt butter and add water, then lastly add your “cooked” or more specifically, decarboxylated trimmings from the oven into it. Cook it on a low heat for as long as possible, to ensure you get the most extraction from the weed into the butter. Strain any plant matter out, then put the butter in the fridge to set. Now you have ‘weed’ butter to cook with!
Another by product of trimming by hand is the resin that will stick to your hands and scissors. This can be scraped/rolled off into dark hash. Cannabis trim should never go to waste.
You can either call it a day and rest up, or better yet you can clean and sterilize your grow area and equipment for the next cycle. A heavy cannabis trim session can be exhausting, but cleaning up immediately after a grow helps limit pests, mold and disease from becoming an issue in your grow area. Any leftover, decomposing plant matter is an invitation for insects to move in. As always, being proactive, instead of reactive, will result in a smoother, more enjoyable grow. Trimming cannabis is one of the final steps in producing a great product, it should not be neglected or rushed. Learning to trim bud is essential.
Now that you’ve got a fair understanding of what’s involved with most aspects of trimming weed, the best thing to do is put your knowledge to use. The most thorough way to learn how to trim weed is through careful experimentation, and practice.
Sam N. 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