Defoliating Autoflowers: Why, How & When

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defoliating autoflowers
Author avatar By Derek LaRose
June 17, 2022
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Ever heard the saying, “new hair, new you”? Well, this phrase applies to your cannabis plants too. Defoliating autoflowers gives you fatter, juicier buds, a more bountiful harvest, and healthier greenery

Pruning, trimming, and topping autoflower plants is standard practice, especially for bushier autos. Experienced growers have mastered this technique and know how and when to defoliate autoflower plants to get the best results. 

Read on as we release the tricks of the trade, including why you should defoliate autoflowers, the best time to start, and the steps to get it right. By the end of this post, you’ll unleash your Edward Scissorhands and get monster harvests with just a few snips.  

What does defoliate autoflowers mean?

Simply put, autoflower defoliation is removing the excess foliage from your plants. Plucking away leaves from bushy branches allows more light to reach the buds and takes some weight off. It gets more oxygen to the necessary parts, giving you a healthier harvest.    

Some growers are wary of removing autoflower cannabis foliage because the leaves hold a lot of the plant’s nutrients. Not knowing how to defoliate autoflowers, removing too much foliage, or performing the process when it’s not necessary can lead to lower harvests. 

You could cause more damage in outdoor setups if you defoliate autoflowers as the leaves help plants recover from infestations and droughts. Indoors, you control the environment, and the leaves can become bothersome by taking up extra space and restricting light.

Understanding when to defoliate autoflower plants and using the proper methods enable you to get the most out of this process. Autos aren’t the fragile plants people used to think they were, and over the years, defoliation became a standard canopy-management technique.  

pruning autoflower leaves

What are the advantages of defoliating autoflowers?

Although there are risks, the benefits outweigh them tenfold. Defoliating autoflowers increases your chances of achieving a bigger, healthier yield. Here are some advantages of defoliating your plants: 

  • Cannabis plants have a limited amount of energy. By trimming off the leaves, they can make better use of the resources gained through light and nutrition. 
  • Too many leaves attract mold and pests, even indoors, because they enjoy the humidity.
  • Defoliation enables you to remove old leaves that no longer serve a purpose and drag the plant or specific branches down.
  • Extra leaves on the branches allow more humidity to develop, leading to mold and mildew build-up. Trimming them off makes it easier for plants to breathe and prevents excess humidity.
  • When you defoliate autoflowers, you get better canopy ventilation, ensuring the branches at the bottom enjoy equal access to light and oxygen.
  • The excess foliage hinders the growth of new nugs and takes up space on the branches. Removing it creates more room for the development of new buds
  • Pruning cannabis reduces water loss from your plants’ perspiration, especially during extremely hot conditions. It helps keep your plants hydrated and lock in nutrition
removed cannabis leaves

When to defoliate autoflower cannabis plants? 

This process has a lot of benefits when practiced on plants in need of lighter foliage. Knowing when to defoliate autoflowers is key to getting the most out of the process and using it to give you the greatest possible harvest. 

Experienced gardeners should defoliate autoflowers in the vegetative stage. During this phase, plants typically develop at least three nodes and are strong enough to handle the loss of extra foliage. 

Bear in mind, you shouldn’t defoliate autoflowers excessively. Most growers perform defoliation max once when the plants are vegging and once during the flowering phase. It also depends on the cannabis strain, as most sativas don’t require as much pruning as indicas.

Autoflowers have a short vegetative cycle, leaving growers little room to fix errors before the flowering phase begins. The main risk of defoliating autoflowers is over-pruning and not having sufficient time to allow the plant to regrow the necessary foliage. 

Due to the limited vegetative cycle of autos, inexperienced growers should stick to defoliating autoflowers during flowering. It’s best to act in the early stages of the blooming phase, around the first three weeks. 

Avoid trimming too many leaves in the late stages of flowering, as this may affect the quality of your harvest. The buds benefit from better access to light and oxygen during flowering, so defoliation can help produce juicier and more aromatic smokeables. 

autoflowers defoliation

Is it ok to keep defoliating autoflowers during flowering?

No. Defoliating autoflowers during the late flower phase isn’t recommended because the buds require all the energy they can get. As one of the storage facilities of nutrition, the leaves help create resinous nugs. 

Most buds are fully developed in the final flowering stage, so pruning and trimming in this phase won’t provide a bigger harvest. Instead, you could affect the quality of the already formed buds by stealing one of their energy sources and removing their foliage support. 

When defoliating autoflowers during flowering, be careful not to over prune, as cannabis plants tend to naturally shed in this phase. You should also avoid defoliation if the plant shows signs of stress or deficiencies. Methods like low stress training could be more beneficial in this instance.

trimming leaves of marijuana

What do you need for defoliating autoflowers?

To defoliate autoflower plants, you don’t need much equipment, and you’ll likely have most of the tools lying around. The most important item is a good pair of scissors. Curved trimming scissors give the smoothest cut, but razor blades work well too.

You can also opt for using your hands to pinch the leaves off instead of cutting them. Scissors are the better option for two main reasons: 

  • You’ll get a more accurate trim, thanks to the precision of the blades.
  • Ridgid cuts from plucking with your fingers can take longer to heal. A smooth cut from a sharp blade helps the plant to recover faster. 
  • Scissors are generally more hygienic. 

You also need ethanol-based rubbing alcohol to keep your razors clean. Bear in mind that cannabis plants can get diseases from unsterilized equipment. Always wash your hands or use clean gloves when defoliating autoflowers.

This process poses a risk to marijuana plants if you aren’t gentle. It’s a good idea to keep some duct tape in your defoliation kit. If you accidentally snap or cut any stems, quickly use the tape to stick back any damaged parts.

Trim Scissors

How to defoliate autoflowers: 3 step guide

The process of how to defoliate autoflowers is exactly the same as for any other type of cannabis. However, be careful to avoid mistakes with autoflowers as they have a short vegetative period leaving you with little time to repair errors. 

Remember, the aim of autoflower defoliation is to help your plants concentrate the energy and nutrients only where it’s needed. Each time you defoliate and whichever strain you use, you should follow these three basic steps:

Step 1: Trim off the big fan leaves

The huge fan leaves are usually as big as your hand and have many pointy tips. These big leaves take a lot of the plants’ energy and do more harm than good in bushier greenery. They can prevent light from reaching the middle and lower areas leading to weaker bottom buds. 

The first step in autoflower defoliation is gently grabbing the big fan leaves on the middle and bottom stems and snipping them off. Your aim is to lighten this area, so the bottom branches aren’t left in the shade.

If the plant isn’t overly bushy, avoid cutting fan leaves as they can provide the necessary protection. Fan leaves serve an important purpose for cannabis plants. They’re the powerhouse of photosynthesis, acting as big sponges for the light the buds need to thrive. 

When you defoliate autoflowers, you should only remove what’s necessary. Aim for the biggest fan leaves, taking up sufficient space in the bottom and middle branches. If you’re unsure, remove a small percentage of the fan leaves, ensuring at least two to three remain.

Discard the excess fan leaves in a nearby trash can or use them to brew cannabis tea by simply steeping it in boiling water. 

Pruning weed

Step 2: Remove the central overshadowing leaves

Next, you want to remove the leaves towards the inside of the plant that grow close to the buds. They can cast a shadow over the flowers, preventing them from receiving sufficient light.  

Copious amounts of these leaves suck out a lot of the plant’s energy, leaving you with lifeless buds. When you defoliate autoflowers, remove some of them to protect your smokables. 

These leaves also serve as energy holders for the buds and can save your plants if they experience any diseases or malnourishment. You don’t want to remove too many of them during autoflower defoliation or you risk stunting your plant’s growth.

To perform this phase of defoliating autoflowers, gently move the canopy away and locate the leaves towards the inside of the plant. Using your sterilized scissors, cut anywhere between 10 to 15% of the foliage. 

At this point, your plant should still look lush, but the buds should have better access to light and air. Refrain from cutting more than 20%, even on a bushy plant, as you risk nutrient lockout, which could cause more serious problems than a bad hair day. 

After you defoliate autoflower plants, you can collect these middle leaves and use them to make cannabis-infused items such as marijuana tinctures, oils, and CBD teas. By removing the leaves that overshadow the buds, you’re one step closer to completing defoliation.

Leaf Pruning

Step 3: Cut off leaves that no longer serve the plant

Leaves that are yellow, brown, withered, or shriveling take up the plants’ energy to stay alive but don’t benefit the health of the buds. Removing the excess old yellow leaves increases circulation in the plants’ branches and sends more nutrition to the flowers. 

If you have an excess of yellow leaves, it could signal a nutrient deficiency, so refrain from practicing autoflower defoliation. Instead, focus on supplementing your plants with necessary nutrients, and once they’re healthy, reconsider defoliation.

When removing old leaves, start at the bottom and work your way up, making sure to cut big yellow leaves. New shoots may have a tinge of yellow but don’t cut these. When you defoliate autoflower plants, only remove a few leaves to prevent damaging or stressing your flora. 

When you’re done trimming up to the third node, your cannabis plants will appear to have a better structure. Discard the old or yellow leaves. Once you remove the dead foliage, you’ll also have a better view of the buds without pushing through the fluff to check on them.

If you’re defoliating autoflowers during flowering, don’t try and remove all the old leaves. New shoots and growing tips may also appear yellow at first. For this reason, be careful not to remove too much, especially if your plants are blooming. 

Autoflower defoliation do’s and don’ts

Now you know how to defoliate autoflowers, let’s talk about what you should and shouldn’t do. Defoliation is simple once you get the hang of it, and we’re sure you’ll be trimming like a pro in no time. Here’s a short list of guidelines to help you along: 

Do’s: 

  • Handle the leaves with care.
  • Use sterile scissors and clean hands when defoliating autoflowers to prevent infections in your plants.
  • Pinch out popcorn buds which are lifeless tiny pieces unlikely to transform into smokable cannabis. This technique helps your plants conserve and use energy where it’s really needed. 
  • In the third stage of defoliation, remove only dead leaves and those that have stopped growing.
  • Allow at least one week before each trimming and pruning session to avoid stressing your plants out. 

Don’ts:

  • Never trim leaves during the late flowering phase when buds are fully developed.
  • Refrain from taking too many leaves out at once, even if the leaves are dead. Always trim a few leaves at a time and check your plants reaction.
  • Defoliation during the vegetative phase is perfectly fine but don’t perform it just before your plant transitions to the flowering period. If you do, you might cause unnecessary stress and affect your harvest. 
defoliate auto

Autoflower defoliation: A good haircut changes everything

Trimming and pruning your plants at the right time makes a world of difference to their health. Defoliating autoflowers enables them to use less energy to maintain dead, wilted, or excess foliage and spend more power on nourishing buds.

Knowing when to defoliate autoflower plants is essential because you can cause damage if you do it too early or too late. During vegging and early flowering is the best time to start the process, but you should avoid pruning and trimming during late flowering.

Different strains have unique needs, so not all marijuana plants require defoliation. This technique can help get a bigger, juicier harvest, but it all comes down to high-quality cannabis seeds. 

Shop our range of top-shelf marijuana seeds. We’ve got the biggest catalog of autoflower, regular, and feminized seeds ready to give you enough smokables to subdue a small army. Buy cannabis seeds from Homegrown Cannabis Co. and join our happy customers today. 

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About the author: Derek LaRose

Also known as Kronic from The Cannabis Kronicles, Derek LaRose is a young ambitious cultivator and a staple educator for indoor cultivation.