Topping Cannabis: Complete Guide to Increase Yields

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Topping cannabis
Author avatar By Parker Curtis
January 11, 2022
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Topping cannabis is a training method that marijuana cultivators use to keep their plants healthy and increase bud production.

Join us as we delve into what topping is, the benefits, and when you should do it. Learn how to apply the technique correctly to improve your yield.

Topping weed plants
Topping weed plants

What does topping cannabis plants mean?

Topping marijuana plants is a method of pruning cannabis, where you remove the top portion of your marijuana plant’s main stem. This technique allows your crop to develop faster and bigger because two new tips will emerge from the node below the cutting point.

Topping cannabis shifts their focus on growing only one cola and redirects energy to the lower branches, so they also produce dense buds. The lateral growth will give you a bushier crop with more nugs. You can repeat this process on the lower branches.

Pinching out is another term for cannabis topping because many growers use their thumbs and forefingers to remove the tip. We recommend using a sterilized blade or scissors for the purpose, and we explain more when we show you how to top cannabis plants.

Why is topping cannabis plants necessary?

What’s the reason behind topping cannabis plants? To understand why, let’s look at apical dominance. It’s a botanical phenomenon where the bud on the central stem sends growth suppressing hormones like auxin to inhibit the development of the lower shoots. 

Marijuana plants have a strong apical dominance; they grow upright like a Christmas tree. They’re tall and thin, and their branches don’t usually expand laterally because the main stem consumes most of the energy for its development.

Topping marijuana plants overrides the apical dominance and causes the redistribution of growth hormones to help the other shoots develop faster and produce bigger buds. When you remove the tip, two new branches emerge. These new colas may be smaller than the original one, but you get a bigger yield overall.

As the new shoots produce dominant buds, you need to perform cannabis topping on them too. Repeat the process to get a bushier plant. You can apply the Screen of Green (ScrOG) many times to create a very wide canopy with plenty of growing tips.

Height management is the next biggest reason for topping your cannabis plants, especially if you grow in confined areas. 

Let’s explore another benefit of having marijuana plants with a wide canopy. 

Topping cannabis plant
Topping cannabis plant

Light distribution and topping marijuana

Before we discuss the importance of light distribution, it’s essential to understand how much sunlight does a marijuana plant need. Topping cannabis is necessary because your plant’s main cola gets most of the light if you don’t. The bud sites on the lower portion receive very little as they’re in the shade. 

The light cycle for marijuana is a critical element in your cannabis plant’s growth, leading to an abundant harvest. When your plant grows wide, there’s better light distribution, and all the colas get almost an equal amount during the day. 

When to top cannabis plants

Cutting the tip off the main stem causes stress, so you need to know when to top your cannabis plant. The best time to perform the technique is during the vegetative stage, when all the energy goes into your plant’s growth

The dominant stems develop new nodes, which produce more branches and leaves. You develop a healthy crop by redirecting the growth hormones from the main stem to the new shoots. 

Begin topping a marijuana plant when it has 3–4 nodes. We suggest waiting until it develops 5–6 nodes, so it promotes photosynthesis, helping your crop recover quickly. Don’t cut below the fourth node or above the sixth, as this action increases vertical growth.

Hardy marijuana cultivars can deal with early topping. Defer the process on slower-growth strains as they may not recover from stress quickly.

Before topping your cannabis plant, ensure your plant has a strong root system, as it will require less recovery time. 

To help minimize the stress, provide it with a conducive environment, such as:

  • Plenty of fresh warm water
  • Sufficient airflow
  • Lots of nitrogen-rich organic nutrients
  • More soil space

Another best time for cannabis topping is at night when most growth hormones are at the roots. Your plant will experience less shock, and there’s a lower risk of slowed development.

Topping weed
Topping weed

When not to top cannabis plants

Avoid topping marijuana plants before they develop a healthy root system because it’s difficult for them to recover quickly from the stress. Your crops need nutrients to repair themselves, and they can’t get enough energy if they don’t have strong roots. 

Knowing how to make buds bigger during flowering, you shouldn’t perform marijuana topping during this phase. Your cannabis plants need plenty of nutrients to produce buds. If you top it at this stage, you may end up with very low yields because it’ll focus more energy on recovery than bud production. 

How to top cannabis plants step-by-step

Learning how to top a marijuana plant is straightforward. All you need to do is follow this guide:

Get proper tools

Using the right tools is critical to ensure you don’t harm the stem. Ideally, use a pruner, but a pair of scissors or a blade will also do the trick.

When topping marijuana plants, you want a clear cut, so make sure your tools are sharp. Blunt implements can cause bigger damage that’ll mean a longer recovery period.

Disinfect your tools

It’s vital to disinfect your tools before topping your cannabis plant because plant pathogens, such as fungi, bacteria, and other harmful organisms, can cause disease

Sterilize your implements by:

  • Wiping with an alcohol-infused cotton ball.
  • Dip them in boiling water.
  • Running them through an open flame. Cool it down before cutting the stem.

Cut the stem

Follow the next steps when marijuana topping. Locate the fourth node on the main stem by counting from its base at the soil. This point is adequate if your plant is short. Ideally, choose the fifth or sixth node and cut the stem about two inches higher. 

Be vigilant

Topping marijuana plants can cause distress, so watch your crops for a few days. Give them plenty of light and water to help with their recovery. Wait a couple of weeks before the next process.

Top the next two dominant shoots

After a few weeks, two new shoots will appear from the node below the cut. Repeat the cannabis topping process. This time locate a node on each branch by starting from the main stem, then cutting two inches above it. 

Topping marijuana plant
Topping marijuana plant

FAQs about topping cannabis

These are common questions cultivators ask: 

Does topping increase yield?

Yes, topping your marijuana plants can increase bud production because:

  • When you cut the tip, two new nodes appear, doubling the number of colas. The buds may be smaller, but their total weight will exceed that of the original nug.
  • By inducing your plant to grow wide, its bud sites will get more light, critical for growth, and higher yields.

Is fimming or topping better?

Most cultivators prefer marijuana topping for a better harvest, but there’s another training method that growers use called fimming. As they increase yields, which technique is better depends on your preference.

The main difference between the two methods are:

  • When topping your cannabis plant, you snip off the whole tip, creating two new shoots. Fimming is more “accidental”, cutting 75% off the top, offering the prospect of more than four colas.
  • Fimmed plants have a weak structure and require support, while topped crops are more stable.

Can you top plants late in veg?

Yes, you can. Since a longer vegetation phase means bigger plants and larger yields, cannabis topping during this time helps your crop grow bushier and stronger. This process is ideal if you cultivate indoors as you can control when your plants start flowering and avoid topping at the wrong time.

Are topping plants worth it? 

Topping marijuana plants is a rewarding technique because it can significantly increase your yields if you do it correctly. You’ll maximize the returns from growing in a small space.

Cannabis plant after topping
Cannabis plant after topping

Start topping cannabis today

As a cultivator, you want to harvest huge, delicious nugs after all the hard work that goes into the growth process. Understanding topping cannabis and why you need to do it is essential to help you achieve your goal.

Now that you know how to top a marijuana plant, follow the steps, and you’ll see improved yields. Check out our website if you want expert advice and cultivation tips. We also have an extensive collection of high-quality seeds to add to your garden.


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.