Pruning Cannabis: Why, When and How to Prune

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Pruning cannabis
Author avatar By Parker Curtis
January 06, 2022
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Growing cannabis is surging in popularity, with our favorite green plant becoming legal across many states in the US. Marijuana gardeners have discovered certain techniques to boost the growth and health of their plants and pruning cannabis is just one of the top methods to drastically improve your final harvest.

This technique involves providing TLC to your plant and trimming parts of it as it grows. Pruning keeps the crop neat and manageable and boosts its overall growth, quality, and yield size.

There are many advantages to cannabis pruning, but there are also risks and steps you need to take to get the best results. Keep on reading as we go over all you need to know to become a master of this technique.

Pruning weed
Pruning weed

6 main benefits of pruning cannabis

Many plants worldwide benefit from pruning, including marijuana. Pruning cannabis can do your crop a lot of good for several reasons.

The top six advantages are:

  1. Boosts plant growth: Think of it like you’re trying to grow out your hair. Regularly trimming the dead ends encourages new growth. The same goes for pruning marijuana plants.
  2. Removes damaged growth and promotes better airflow and light exposure: Removing the dead foliage and excess fan leaves and keeping the plant trim promotes healthier growth. The plant then focuses energy towards the critical parts. 
  3. Boosts yields: Use pruning to increase yield and gain healthier, more dense buds by harvesting time.
  4. Increases carbon dioxide intake and reduces infestation risks: Your cannabis plant needs CO2. By improving the airflow, you give your plant more CO2 and prevent insects and pests from hiding among the foliage.
  5. Makes the most of available space: Pruning cannabis helps in cases where you have a small grow area. By cutting away excess leaves and branches, you maximize the use of your space, allowing the plant to flourish without any obstacles.
  6. It’s free and easy: Besides buying the cutting tool, pruning marijuana plants doesn’t cost anything. It only requires a bit of time and effort on your part.

Pruning makes the growing experience much more pleasurable for you and your plant. Let’s take a look at when and how often you need to prune.

When to prune cannabis plants

Deciding when to prune cannabis requires focus and attention on the grower’s part. Treating it like a baby with specific needs ensures you get a fully developed, healthy adult.

Timing is of vital importance. You do most of the pruning during the vegetation stage, with a little more maintenance during the start of the flowering stage. This technique is best suited for photoperiod plants.

Pruning cannabis starts during the second week of vegetation. You’ll see your plant developing nodes (growth tips) and internodes (the space in between nodes). The crop will be around the size of a standard 12-inch ruler and display several leaves.

Keep in mind that indica plants grow a bit slower than sativas. When judging when to prune cannabis, you may need to wait a few more days to start on indicas. 

During vegetation, the plant is maturing, so you’ll be able to see which parts of the foliage you can remove. You’ll get an idea of its growth cycle and be able to cut off any hindrances to the growth.

You’re pruning to increase yield, so ensure that you stop around two weeks into the flowering stage. If you keep going after this, you prevent the plant from properly budding because it focuses on healing.

Let’s go into more detail on pruning your cannabis crop throughout its growth.

Pruning weed
Pruning weed

How to prune cannabis step-by-step

Pruning cannabis is a simple, delicate process and is essentially a fine art that you develop over time. Remember that performing the technique incorrectly could harm your plant. First, try pruning elsewhere if you’re not confident and worried about harming your valuable cannabis crop.

If you don’t mind potentially damaging a few roses in your garden, start practicing there. It’s not quite the same as cannabis pruning, but it’s good preparation for smoothly and carefully cutting your plants.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you mess up a little. It’s natural to make mistakes as it’s how you learn and improve over time. We’re here to help you.

Below and in the following video, we’ll go over how to prune cannabis at each stage and the techniques you can use.

Pruning cannabis during veg stage

During its vegetative stage, your cannabis plant establishes its support system and starts growing out its branches and foliage. Once you see a few leaves in the second week of vegetation, it’s cannabis pruning time!

Implementing this method during the vegetative stage is the best way to keep your plant healthy and promote growth. By following the techniques further below, you allow your crop to reach its full potential, and it’ll reward you for your efforts.

Be careful not to force your plant into the flowering stage. After pruning cannabis, you need to give your cannabis time to recover. Once it has, you can induce flowering after a few days.

Pruning cannabis during flowering

Knowing when and how to prune cannabis is crucial leading into the blooming stage. If you’re looking at how to make buds bigger during flowering, this is an excellent technique—but be careful.

When your plant starts budding, pruning is more a matter of maintenance than removal. On the lower part of the crop, cut off any damaged or dying branches and leaves.

Keep lightly trimming your plant but only up to two weeks into flowering. Pruning cannabis after this could result in adverse outcomes. 

Remember you should only trim dying, excess leaves, or troublesome growth once your plant starts blooming.

Pruning during flower
Pruning during flower

Cannabis pruning techniques 

During the vegetative phase and the beginning of the flowering stage, there are different techniques you can learn on how to prune marijuana plants.

It all comes down to personal preference. Try experimenting with each of these methods below and see which works best for you.

Before you begin pruning:

  • Grab a pair of sharp scissors or garden shears—the sharper, the better, to avoid damaging your plant. 
  • Sterilize the blade between pruning cannabis sessions by using rubbing alcohol or isopropyl.
  • Carefully take a look at your plant to establish which area to prune.

Trimming 

Trimming cannabis involves cutting away excess or unhealthy growth and lower growth that doesn’t get enough sunlight. It’s one of the top methods for pruning to increase yield. It’s pretty straightforward, making it great for beginners as first-time pruning practice.

You can trim by following the steps below:

  1. The first step in how to prune marijuana plants by trimming involves removing the larger stalks first to give you more working space. Start in the middle, at the low sites on the main stalks. 
  2. Make your way down to the bottom, where you can remove the lower branches that don’t get much sunlight.
  3. Once you progress in pruning cannabis by removing the big stalks, examine your plant for other branches and leaves that are small or dying. Neatly cut them off.
  4. When you finish trimming, feed your plant with nutrient-rich water.
  5. After a few days to a week, you’ll see new leaves and shoots. Once your plant has had time to recover, you can repeat the cannabis pruning process.
  6. Leave the bigger fan leaves, and don’t cut off too much at a time. Rather spread out the process week by week.

Take it easy when trimming your crop, and avoid excessive removal. This could stress your plant and stunt growth and development.

Trimming cannabis
Trimming cannabis

Topping

Topping cannabis involves removing the top of your plant to promote horizontal growth. It also gives you more colas and allows more light to reach your crop.

  1. Wait for your plant to grow to around 10 inches tall with four to six nodes, then you can start cannabis pruning by topping.
  2. Hold down the main stem at the top and carefully cut it off from the fourth node upwards. For taller plants, you may need to go further up. Cut about two inches above the node.
  3. Leave the plant for a few weeks until two new stems have grown out from where you made the first cut. 
  4. Pruning to increase yield is done at this point by cutting two inches above the first node on the two main stems.

Topping should only be done during vegetation and avoided during the flowering stage. 

Topping cannabis
Topping cannabis

Fimming

Fimming is a proven, simple high-stress training method. It’s similar to topping but slightly riskier. 

Learning how to prune marijuana by fimming is recommended to create new stalks with an increased cola count

  1. Once your plant has developed enough nodes, find the main stalk. 
  2. Gently pull back and hold down the green tip of the small middle fan leaves.
  3. Cut the top ¾, or 75% of the stem (Don’t worry, you haven’t messed up! This method of pruning cannabis looks a bit messy like you’ve beheaded the leaves, but this is normal). 
  4. After a few days, you’ll see new growth with four or more new colas.

Lollipopping

Lollipopping is named because it causes the plant to take on the appearance of a lollipop. 

Learn how to prune weed plants by lollipopping to focus energy on the top levels of the plant for better growth and air circulation. It optimizes direct light exposure and energy storage.

There are two methods. Top-down lollipopping involves focusing on a stem and working four nodes down from the tip. Bottom-up lollipopping means starting at the bottom of your plant and making your way up. 

Pruning cannabis using one of these methods results in bigger, more dense, and more potent buds. Again, practice with each method to find which one suits you best.

Top-down lollipopping (Quicker but slightly riskier):

  1. Choose a starting point for your canopy—an area that isn’t getting enough light because of top growth. Focus on excess and unproductive growth at the bottom of your crop.
  2. Begin your cannabis pruning by cutting off four nodes below the tip.
  3. Remove any remaining offshoots at the bottom.
  4. You’re left with abundant foliage on the top, with a long, empty stem at the bottom.

Bottom-up lollipopping (Recommended for less experienced growers):

  1. Start by removing excess, unnecessary growth at the bottom, then work your way up.
  2. This method works just as well for pruning to increase yield. Clear out the bottom section of your plant to resemble a lollipop. Your crop will then focus its energy on the top layers, resulting in bigger buds.
  3. Throughout the vegetative stage, maintain the plant by continuing to trim unnecessary growth.
Lollipopping weed
Lollipopping weed

Pruning cannabis: tips & common mistakes

Once you start learning how to prune cannabis, you’ll get used to the process. It takes some practice, but you’ll find it highly rewarding.

Here are some tips to follow and some common mistakes to avoid:

Tips

  • Keep your pruning tool sharp and sterilize/sanitize it before each cut.
  • Don’t neglect to give your plant the right amount of water, nutrients, and light. Pruning cannabis is great for boosting healthy growth and yields, but your crop still needs proper care.
  • Cut the branches and buds one at a time—don’t just dive in and chop off all the foliage at once. 
  • Take it slow. Spread out your pruning throughout the vegetative stage. Allow your plant time to recover.
  • When pruning marijuana plants, focus more attention on the obvious areas. Remove dead growth, excess leaves, areas that don’t get enough sunlight, and any parts that show signs of pests or disease.
  • Time your plant’s growth cycles and ensure it vegetates fully.
  • Take a break from pruning about a month before flowering begins. This gives your plant enough time to recover and enter the flowering stage without any issues.

Common mistakes

  • Pruning to increase yield in the flowering stage: Try to avoid this altogether, except to maintain the plant. Pruning during flowering can reduce yields instead of increasing them.
  • Removing all the fan leaves: It’s good to remove some big fan leaves, but don’t go overboard as they’re important for the plant.
  • Pruning cannabis autoflowers: Autos have a short growth cycle, so they can’t recover efficiently if you prune them. Leave them to do the job they were designed to do.
  • Removing growth with trichomes: To create a healthy growing surface, only remove the growth that doesn’t have trichomes.
  • Overwatering: How to prune cannabis is important, and so is keeping your plant hydrated. However, overwatering can lead to adverse results. Water one to three times a day and only when a few top inches of soil have dried.

What to do after pruning your cannabis plants

After every cannabis pruning session, it’s vitally important to water and feed your plants. Feed them the correct nutrients so they can recover quicker and better. Invest some time in researching the strain you’re growing and ensuring you get the right nutes for it.

Using Vitamin B-rich fertilizer when pruning marijuana plants benefits the roots and encourages bigger yields. Use Vitamin B1 and nutes with high phosphorus levels to help your plant recover.

Don’t throw away the growth that you cut off. Often, this growth has cannabinoids that you can use to make marijuana tea or edibles. You can also use the hash on your scissors for personal use.

Invest in a healing treatment to use after pruning cannabis. You’ve potentially exposed the plant to pests and diseases, so covering the exposed area can prevent this from happening.

Keep giving your crop plenty of TLC and check on it often to ensure it’s getting everything it needs. Constant care and attention results in a happier plant overall.

Pruning cannabis
Pruning cannabis

Become a master at pruning cannabis

Through the ages, growers have taught themselves how to prune cannabis. Just like you prune roses towards the end of winter to encourage new growth, marijuana plants benefit too.

We’ve gone over a few top methods for pruning, so try them out to discover which method works best for you. Pruning cannabis takes practice and dedication, and it’s a fine art developed over time. 

Always remember to take it slow and treat your plants delicately. If you mess up a bit, don’t be hard on yourself. Soon enough, you’ll become a master at cannabis pruning and revel in the positive differences.

Now you know more about pruning, check out the Homegrown store to order top-quality seeds. They’ll be at your door in a few days via discrete, reliable delivery. Subscribe to our newsletter and check out the Homegrown Diaries and Homegrown Forum. There, you’ll be able to follow other growers’ journeys and also share your own!


About the author: Parker Curtis

Parker Curtis has around a decade of cannabis-growing experience, specialising in soil-less and hydro grows. He’s mastering outdoor, greenhouse, and indoor grows.

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