A Guide to Topping Weed Plants

Topping Weed Plants
January 12, 2021

Topping weed plants the right way is made easy through this guide.

When you hear the word topping in reference to your marijuana, the first thought could be adding something. When growing marijuana, this couldn’t be further from the actual definition of what topping is.

Topping weed plants is actually a tried and tested technique that will not only enable you to grow your pot the right way; it will almost definitely lead to more abundant harvests.

In this article, we will take you through the process of topping marijuana plants and by the end of it, you should be topping weed plants like a pro. How long it takes to grow cannabis indoors varies. You should definitely wait at least two weeks before topping weed plants.

What Does Topping Weed Plants Mean?

Marijuana growers have used topping for generations. Cannabis yields can be increased easily through this technique if it is well applied.

Topping cannabis is a “high-stress” training technique that entails the removal of the “top growth tip” from the marijuana plant’s main stem or from a branch. Many growers are usually concerned that cutting off the top part of their young plants could slow down their growth. While this might be the case in select instances, topping correctly will actually fill the canopy faster as well as cut down on the time needed for vegetation.  

If you’re sitting there feeling the pain of tossing away part of your cannabis plant, rest assured, it is actually a very good idea. Not only will it keep your plants healthy, but it will also increase your yield abundantly.

Why is Topping Marijuana Plants Necessary?

When left to “grow naturally”, marijuana plants will produce just one main cola. Without training, they grow skinny and tall like a Christmas tree and most have minimal lateral growth. This is due to a phenomenon called “apical dominance”, that chiefly determines the directional growth of plants, which we will discuss shortly.

Marijuana plants exert the majority of their energy in growing their main kola. This is also known as the apex bud, or terminal bud. They are inclined to do this naturally as this gives the plant the best chance at both getting pollinated and reaching out for enough light to help it reproduce.

Apical dominance is the strategy the plant employs to ensure all its energy is directed to this main stem. Apical dominance causes the highest bud to send growth suppressing hormones, mainly auxin, to suppress the growth of buds on lower bud sites. This ensures that the auxiliary buds remain smaller and all the energy is concentrated in the main cola. Removing this main tip allows two tips to emerge from each side of the node, just below where it was cut.

These new tips now both become apex buds, and, therefore, apical dominance applies to both of them.

Although the two new kolas will end up being smaller than the single, original kola would have been, their yield put together will be greater than that of the original Kola.

It is important to note that auxin is just one of the growth hormones found in the cannabis plant. Not only is it able to suppress the growth of non-dominant buds, but it also plays a big role in a plants’ internal growth mechanisms. Auxin also regulates the behavior and formation of the other growth hormones that are responsible for other functions such as root growth and flower formation.  You should top your plants during the vegetative cycle. This distributes the growth hormones that were once concentrated in the main stalk to the new stalks and offshoots lower down the plant.

Eventually, the growth hormones are evenly distributed to the other developing Kolas and stalks and this creates an even canopy.

Removing the “main shoot” cancels the apical dominance and this leads to the reassignment of the growth focus to other shoots. These shoots then start growing faster and increase in size. Because of the lack of apical dominance, the plant can then grow into a bush as the newly appointed shoots will now have equal opportunity. These shoots would otherwise be left neglected, growing slowly and producing underdeveloped buds.

Topping allows your marijuana plant to develop new shoots
New shoots developing after topping

The “new” main shoots also tend to suppress the shoots which are located further down their stems. This leads to the necessity to top several times in order to allow your cannabis plant to fan out properly. Another great tip is to do marijuana topping at night when supposedly most of the hormones are down at the roots. This will cause less distress to the cannabis plant and reduce the plant’s chances of experiencing stunted growth.

Other weed plants, especially those of Indica leaning, grow flat and broad naturally. This helps them to adapt to areas with scarce light. As we top, these are the models we should be aiming for in order to make the most of our overhead lighting. We should end up with low, broad, plants that make use of every photon of light available.

Another name for topping weed plants is ‘pinching out’. This is because many cultivators simply pinch out the growing tip using their thumbs and forefingers. However, as we will discuss later in this article, it is always best to use a clean sharp blade or sterilized scissors to cut off the tip.

Light Distribution and Topping Marijuana

Apart from the redistribution of growth hormones, the other main reason for chopping off your main shoot is to allow for better light distribution. Topping cannabis plants creates lateral growth because the light is able to hit in a more equal manner. The bushy shape typically allows for all the bud sites to receive “roughly” the same amount of light throughout the day. 

If you do not top your cannabis plants, the dominant vertical stalk, as well as the main cola will end up getting the most of the light while the lower branches will get “shaded out”.   

To avoid this, top your plant so that you don’t end throwing shade at your baby buds, quite literally. Allow them to grow wide, big, and strong.

How do I Top my Weed Plant?

You should top your weed plants typically during the plants’ vegetative stage of its life cycle. During this stage, the dominant stem usually grows taller and thicker and begins to develop new nodes. These nodes are the sites for yet more leaves, and even new branches.

Before you start topping weed plants, ensure that it has between four-six nodes. This will ensure that your cannabis plant has enough stem, and root development, to help it recover from the “shock” of topping.

When you are ready to start topping your cannabis plant, ensure that you do not cut lower than its fourth node, or higher than its sixth node. If you do this you will increase vertical-growth prioritization and reduce chances of uneven dominance in the canopy

After you have topped your plant, ensure to give it lots of fresh warm water as well as:

  • Flowing, dry air
  • An abundance of organic nutrients that are  nitrogen-rich for example seaweed and liquid fish
  • Plenty of soil space

Providing a conducive environment will help your marijuana plant recover from the shock of topping faster and spur it into rapid growth. A puny eight-inch cannabis baby plant to a two or three-foot-tall tree in the short span of only three-six weeks. The rate at which the leaves gather sunlight and transform it through the process of photosynthesis into chemical energy determines the growth.

Topping weed plants will halt upward growth and allow it to spread laterally. As you change the light cycle to induce the flowering stage, the plant will put a lot of its energy into the growth of the flowers you are aiming for.

How To Top a Marijuana Plant Correctly

Topping weed plants can be a tricky process to get right, particularly the first time you try it. However, it is nonetheless a greatly rewarding technique to use on your plants. Topping can boost yields significantly. This guide should help you with topping cannabis and allow you to do it easier.

  1. Assemble Your Tools

    Topping marijuana might seem complicated but it’s actually a very simple process. All you will need is a Xacto knife, razor blade, or generally any sharp object. A good pair of scissors could also work well, though using pruning tools would be a better option. You can purchase this at your local garden shop or hardware store. If used correctly, they can serve you for a good number of years.

    Whatever tool you end up with, ensure that it is as sharp as possible. Topping a cannabis plant with a blunt edge will break rather than cut the stem. The latter leads to a larger wound that will take longer to heal.Topping tools

  2. Disinfecting the Tools

    Disinfecting your tool before you embark on topping is absolutely vital. You can disinfect your blade by:

    Wiping the blades with a cotton ball. Infuse the cotton ball with alcohol to eliminate harmful bacteria, fungus, and other organisms.
    You can dunk the blade in boiling water

    Running the blade through an open flame. If you use this option, ensure that the blade cools down before you use it to top your plants.Disinfect the tools before you start

  3. Start Cutting

    The next step is cutting!

    Do not start hacking away like a crazed person. There is a system to this.
    First, locate the main stem, and slowly travel up starting from the dirt until you count at least four nodes. These are the locations for new branches to shoot off.
    Now, if your plant is short, four nodes should be adequate. However, as we had earlier mentioned, you might need to go up a further node or two to five or six nodes.

    Once you have identified the node where you want to execute your topping, travel up a further two inches, and snip here.

    This will help to arrest the growth of one main cola that will have many impotent colas below. The colas are able to get both the plant’s energy and adequate light to induce them to grow big and juicy. With topping, you could effectively double your yield!Start topping

  4. Top the Next Two Dominant Stems

    After your plants have grown for a few weeks, they will be ready for further topping. Your first topping will lead to two dominant stems. You can follow the steps listed above to top these stems too.   

    From the main stem, trace the smaller branches until you get to a node. Measure two inches above this node and cut off here. This will effectively continue doubling your cannabis plants’ buds.

    That is basically the A to Z of how to top a pot plant. Now you can top your plants and greatly increase your productivity.Topping the Top 2 Stems

So, when is the Best Time to Start Topping Weed Plants?

You can start topping weed once the plants have developed 3-4 nodes, as mentioned earlier in this article. However, if you allow the plants to get to 5-6 nodes you will promote photosynthesis. This promotes quicker recovery due to the increased surface area. Some growers even prefer to wait until they can spot the roots appearing at the bottom of the grow pot before they top. This ensures that the plant is well established, and therefore able to recover quickly.

Leaves removed after topping

The weigh-off that exists between recovery time and early topping is one that will vary from one plant to the next. While vigorous, robust strains such as Power Plant will be able to handle early topping, slower-growing strains, like “Urkle” may not.

You should repeatedly top new shoots to create an even wider canopy with even more “dominant buds”. You can also top a large SCROG repeatedly, even up to twenty times. This creates a very wide canopy that has an abundance of growing tips.  

When Not to Top Marijuana Plants

You should not top your marijuana plants when they are in their flowering phase. Flowering totally alters the way a cannabis plant grows and operates. The nutrient requirements of a plant change and it focuses all its energy on flower production. Topping at this stage will cause a lot of stress to the plant and may result in very low yields. This is because the energy deflects from growing the flowers to repairs, which will cause you the loss of delicious, sticky buds.

Topping Weed Plants for Bigger Harvests

Topping your cannabis plants is a sure way to ensure you realize a bumper harvest. It ensures that you utilize the resources you have to the utmost maximum. It’s important to note that cannabis plants can be topped both in an indoor and outdoor grow.

With this detailed guide on topping weed plants, you should be well on your way to an abundant harvest!