Pros and Cons of Topping Autoflowers

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topping autoflower
July 07, 2022
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Is topping autoflowers possible? Yes, and no. While growers commonly use the training method on photoperiods, there’s an ongoing debate on whether you can apply it on autos. Read on to find out more.

We discuss what topping cannabis means and why you should practice the technique. Discover why it’s possible to top autoflowers, when to do it, the pros and cons, and what to avoid. 

If you’re interested in topping an autoflower plant, learn how to do it effectively by following our step-by-step guide. Let’s get started.

What’s the point of topping autoflowers?

It’s important to top and train your crops to control their growth and improve yields. If you let them develop as nature intended, you get plants with a slim main cola and a broad bottom. The Christmas tree appearance may look great, but you want them to produce maximum harvests.

Topping autoflower cannabis plants encourages them to develop multiple colas, increasing the production of nugs. Training helps you manage your crops and improve their exposure to light, boosting development.

Growers use many techniques to improve bud size and quality, including low-stress and high-stress ones. Before we discuss why topping cannabis is important, here’s a brief description of each method and how they work:

High-stress techniques (HST)

As the name suggests, these techniques put a lot of stress on your plants. Exercise caution as you can harm your plant if you do them incorrectly.

High-stress techniques

Mainlining

This method isn’t a substitute for topping autoflowers. To perform mainlining successfully, you need more time during the vegetative period. Wait until your plant grows at least five or six nodes before you start, so it has a strong root system in place. 

Super cropping

Also known as supercropping, the method is similar to some low-stress techniques as it involves bending stems but in a more drastic manner. Plants have a natural ability to heal, and this process stimulates the distribution of growth hormones to strengthen their development.

Topping

Topping autoflower cannabis plants is one of the simplest HST, which entails cutting off the top of the main stem to encourage the development of more colas. Crops grow two new branches at the severed node. Repeating the process gives you multiple bud sites, resulting in a higher harvest.

FIMming

FIMming is a more complicated version of topping autoflowers. It results from a grower’s mistake when attempting to top a plant. He exclaimed, “F###, I missed,” thus FIM. Using this method, you cut off a specific part of your crop, and within three to five days, it grows four new branches. 

Low-stress techniques

Low-stress training methods are great alternatives to topping autoflower plants. Using these processes, you flatten your canopy, giving all your buds access to light, potentially offering a bigger yield.

Low-stress techniques

Screen of Green (ScrOG)

This technique involves setting up a large screen to encourage lateral growth. You also need a longer vegetative period to implement ScrOG effectively.

Tie and bend

Tie and bend, a.k.a. low-stress training (LST), is ideal for growers who want some experience before topping autoflowers. As the name implies, the method entails tying and bending specific parts of your plant to force it to grow horizontally.

Pruning

Plants use energy to develop, and it’s important to know which parts are less productive and remove them. When you cut away side branches and leaves, your crop distributes growth hormones to the remaining areas, promoting robust development.

Strip and flip

Unlike topping autoflower cannabis crops—where you remove the growing tip—you cut away everything below the top node. The result is a thin-looking plant with one shoot at the top that produces plenty of buds.

What does topping autoflowers involve?

Let’s explore topping autoflower plants in detail. When performing the procedure, you remove their main stalks to force them to grow bushier and develop more nodes. This practice results in healthier crops that produce a bigger yield.

If you let your cannabis plants grow naturally, they tend to look like Christmas trees—a slim apex with a wide bottom. The appearance is due to apical dominance. Their main colas absorb most of the light, while bud sites lower down the stem become smaller. 

Before topping autoflower cannabis plants, it’s important to understand the phenomenon. Apical dominance refers to the main apex controlling buds in lower parts of the crop by releasing auxins—growth-inhibiting plant hormones that hinder their growth. 

Bud sites lower down the shoot experience dormancy. When a plant has strong apical dominance, you get one dominant central axis, resulting in upright growth.

When topping autoflowers, you cut off the supply of auxins, allowing growth hormones to flow to colas in other parts of your plant. Snipping off the apex also encourages two new shoots to develop at the node when it heals.

Repeating the process facilitates the development of more bud sites, increasing nug production. With autoflowers, we don’t recommend doing the procedure more than once as they don’t have sufficient time to heal.

Topping autoflower plants also stimulates new hormones that promote fast and lateral growth, giving you a bushy canopy of colas and maximizing yields. This benefit is perfect if you have limited vertical garden space. 

topping autoflower plants

Should you top autoflowers?

Knowing the topping benefits, should you top autoflowers? It depends on your cultivation goals and, more importantly, how you view risk, as autos differ from photoperiods. 

Autos are unique as they contain genetics from Cannabis ruderalis, a marijuana phenotype that flowers automatically when it matures. Photoperiods of the indica and sativa variety depend on light cycle changes to transition into the bud-producing phase.

Topping autoflower cannabis plants and removing the growing tip is known as high-stress training (HST). Crops usually take a week or more to recover from the process, which is a risk factor for autos because of their “fixed” life cycle.

You can extend their veg period for photoperiods by adjusting the light schedule, allowing them time to recover from any stress. You can repeat the process several times and give them time to rejuvenate.

So, do you top autoflowers? If you choose to, timing is critical because their growth cycle lasts an average of 75 days, and you can’t lengthen it. Do it before your plants begin to flower. Wait till they have at least three nodes to ensure their root system is mature enough to handle the stress.

Don’t top crops already producing buds because you may stunt their growth when they stop developing to recover from the procedure. You could even end up with a lower yield.

The uncertainty of sufficient plant recovery time and the possibility of lower-quality buds is why some growers don’t recommend autoflower topping. Many refrain from implementing other training methods for the same reason.

If you haven’t topped a cannabis plant, be very cautious when thinking of doing it with autos. Even if you have lots of experience with photoperiods, approach autoflowers differently.

When topping autoflowers, avoid fast-growing strains. The best cultivars are those with life cycles longer than the average. The extra couple of weeks before flowering gives your plants a chance to fully recover from the training stress, resulting in a good yield.

3 topping autoflower plants pros and cons

If you’re still wondering if you should top autoflowers, here’s a list of the advantages and disadvantages to help you decide.

First, a summary:

ProsCons
Helps develop multiple colasLate topping can mean insufficient recovery time
Promotes plant developmentPossibility of stunted growth and lower yields
Lateral growth—ideal for small spacesMaking mistakes that can potentially cause damage to your plants

Let’s look at each benefit and downside in detail:

Pros

The advantages of topping autoflowers include:

Helps develop multiple colas

Topping an autoflower plant involves cutting off its main stalk. The removal of the apex causes it to grow two branches at the point, resulting in two main colas. Repeat the process to develop multiple bud sites which offer a potentially abundant harvest.

Promotes plant development

By cutting the auxin supply to the bottom section of the plant, more energy is available for development because the hormone inhibits growth. The lower colas get more light, helping them thrive.

Lateral growth

Topping autoflower plants encourages lateral growth, which is ideal for small gardens. Instead of tall, slim crops, you get bushier ones that form a canopy. The setup facilitates management and care.

topping autoflower plants pros and cons

Cons

Now we take a look at the disadvantages of topping autos.

Potential for insufficient recovery time

Knowing when to top autoflowers is vital. If you top your plants too close to the flowering phase, they may not have enough time to recover from the stress

Possibility of stunted growth and lower yields

Cannabis plants that don’t recover from training stress before producing buds tend to produce smaller nugs of lower quality

Making mistakes that can damage plants

While topping autoflowers is fairly straightforward, it takes practice to apply the method without making mistakes that may harm your plants. It’s best to use low-stress training techniques like bending the colas until you’re sure of making a clean cut.

When to top an autoflower cannabis plant

Knowing when to top an autoflower plant is essential—their natural life cycle doesn’t give you much time to recover from mistakes. It’s crucial to apply the training method early to give it time to rebound from the topping stress.

The best time to remove the apex is when your crops develop at least three nodes, generally around three weeks after germination. Don’t remove the tip too early as the plants are still immature, and the process may shock the root system, permanently stunting their growth.

We don’t recommend topping autoflower plants in the early flowering stage to avoid adversely disrupting their development. It’s also advisable to only use the method on healthy plants.

When you should avoid topping autoflower cannabis

While it’s tempting to apply the technique as it potentially maximizes yields, it’s important to know when not to top autoflowers:

  • Avoid topping your autos when they’re producing buds because you can inhibit their growth, resulting in smaller harvests. 
  • Don’t cut off the main stem with fewer than four nodes.
  • Refrain from topping autoflower cannabis plants grown from fast-growing strains. They won’t have enough time to recover from the training stress.
  • Steer clear of crops with nutrient issues or experiencing pest infestations. They might not have the resilience to recover properly from topping. It’s best to only work with healthy and robust plants.

We recommend gaining some experience with cultivating autos before you employ the technique. Start with other lower stress methods like ScrOG and LST that don’t involve cutting the stem before jumping into topping your autoflowers.

Don’t rush it. With general care, your crops can produce an abundant harvest without the risk of harm from topping.

How do you top autoflowers? A 3-step guide

Now that you know topping autoflower cannabis plants is possible and you’re aware of the dos and don’ts, we show you how. Our simple three-step guide takes you through the process:

Step 1 – Plant selection

As topping is a high-stress training method, only choose healthy plants. If your crops are already facing challenges such as pest infestation or nutrient problems, they can’t bounce back from the stress.

topping autoflower cannabis plants

Topping autoflowers is also different from training photoperiods. You can’t extend their veg stage as they move into flowering naturally when they mature. 

Your best option is choosing strains that have a longer than the average life cycle of 75 days. These cultivars have an additional two weeks before they bloom, allowing sufficient recovery time if you start early.

To start topping autoflower plants, check how many nodes they have. They’re ready for the procedure when there are at least 3 to 4, usually about three weeks after germination. The phenomenon is different for all autos, so pay attention to your crops.

Although you may be excited to begin, don’t jump the gun, as cutting the growing tip too soon can retard your crops’ development.

Step 2 – Topping your plant

Check before you begin topping autoflowers for signs they’ve begun flowering because you shouldn’t do it once they’re in this phase. Inspect your plants to see if tiny white hairs are sprouting at the joints. If you see them, it’s too late to begin the process.

topping autoflower cannabis plants

For autoflower topping, prepare a pair of scissors or a razor blade. Make sure they’re sharp to make a clean cut. As a precaution, disinfect them with alcohol to avoid infecting your plants. 

Identify the spot on the stem to snip. We suggest cutting the tip above the 5th node, so enough side branches remain on the stalk to bush out properly. 

While it’s possible to repeat the process with photoperiods to get bushier plants and more colas, it’s unlikely you have time with autos. We advise you to stick to one process and not attempt to top again.

Topping autoflower plants correctly causes them to grow two branches at the cut-off point, potentially developing more colas. The bottom section can develop robustly without the auxin hormone, and bud sites get more energy.

Check the nodes shortly after topping for signs that your crop uses energy to make new colas. If the points are enlarging at the base, it indicates that energy is flowing throughout the plant, building a stronger nutrient delivery system.

After topping autoflower cannabis plants, employ low-stress training to produce higher yields. As new colas grow, use cable ties to bend them to the side, so your plant grows symmetrically. This process distributes light to every part, resulting in denser buds.

Be careful when bending the bud sites not to snap the branch as your plant could die.

Step 3 – Monitoring your plant

As autoflower topping is very stressful for your plants, they spend time in recovery before continuing to grow. When they resume development, they do so outwards instead of upwards.

During this time, monitor your auto crops. After a successful process, new growth should appear in 2–3 days

topping autoflower cannabis plants

What are the best autoflower strains for topping?

Selecting suitable strains for autoflower topping is challenging as there are many choices. To help you start cultivating without spending hours researching, we recommend these three auto cultivars:

Gelato autoflower cannabis seeds

Gelato autoflower cannabis seeds give you flavorful and potent buds. They’re perfect for tokers who love sweet-tasting nugs. With 19–21% THC, the herb gives users an energy boost, making it ideal for consumption after a tiring day. 

The strain thrives in any environment, indoors and outdoors. Practice topping autoflowers on Gelato and expect a large harvest.

Moby Dick autoflower cannabis seeds

Unlike the photoperiod version, Moby Dick autoflower cannabis seeds grow smaller crops. Its potency helped it place 2nd in the Best Autoflowering Category of Chile’s 2017 Copa y Festival Latino Americano Cannabis. 

Users can expect an uplifting experience accompanied by creativity—the perfect toke to unwind. Besides being an ideal candidate for autoflower topping, Moby Dick is suitable for beginners as it’s resilient to mold and disease

Blackberry autoflower cannabis seeds

If you love fruity-tasting buds, choose to grow Blackberry autoflower cannabis seeds. The herb offers users a lip-smacking experience while lifting the spirit and relaxing the body. It’s an excellent evening strain.

Although it thrives in any environment, is resistant to pests, and handles fluctuating temperatures, it’s better to cultivate Blackberry when you have some experience.

Time to start topping

So, can you top autoflowers? The answer is yes. The practice involves some risk because the life cycle of autos may be too short to allow them sufficient recovery time. To minimize this downside, we suggest working with auto strains with a longer growth period of at least 75 days before flowering.

At Homegrown Cannabis Co., you can choose from our wide selection of autoflower seeds. With over 20 years of providing customers with high-quality seeds, rest assured you won’t be disappointed. 

Using the right seeds lowers the risk of topping autoflower cannabis plants. Here are some other benefits you’ll enjoy when buying auto seeds from us:

  • We offer over 500 phenotypes, including autos in our seed collection, some hard-to-find ones.
  • Standing by the quality of our seeds, we provide a germination guarantee that gives you free seed replacements for those that don’t sprout.
  • Our regular promos enable you to get free and cheap cannabis seeds. 
  • Your personal and financial data are safe when you order through our secure online purchasing system.
  • Payment is convenient as you can choose from many popular options, including cryptocurrency.
  • Fast and discreet delivery of your package to your home.

For more information on topping autoflower cannabis plants, check our online resource of articles by experts on cultivating marijuana. You’ll also gain knowledge from other cannabis growers sharing their experiences.