How to use cannabis plant training techniques for bigger yields
Are you interested in increasing your yields when growing indoors? If so, you’re in the right place! Plant training is one of the easiest ways to improve cannabis yields without upgrading your light or setup. It can be used to increase your yields up to 40% compared to not training, and it’s free!
First off, what is plant training?
“Plant training” means physically manipulating the plant to grow more bud sites, resulting in increased indoor yields.
Why not let plants grow naturally? Cannabis naturally grows in a “Christmas Tree” shape optimized for sunlight, not grow lights. Unlike the sun, indoor grow lights do not rise and set daily, providing light from the sides. Furthermore, indoor grow lights have almost no penetration compared to the sun; the light from a 1000W HPS is usable for a few feet, while light from the sun is usable to plants after traveling 93 million miles!
Even outdoors, lower buds tend to grow smaller than the top ones (cannabis is a wind-pollinated plant and favors buds that are higher up). But the lack of growth in lower buds becomes more pronounced indoors. With grow lights, the vast majority of the light produced is aimed straight down over the top of the plant, and in most setups, the sides don’t get much light. Because of these reasons, the Christmas Tree shape can be inefficient indoors, causing your plant to have just one big top bud and many smaller ones that don’t weigh nearly as much.
When growing cannabis, focus on providing as much light as possible over the top of the plant. This way, the sides of the plant will also receive some light, which will help the plant grow taller and more evenly. A Christmas Tree shape is inefficient in terms of providing light to the plant, and will result in smaller, lower-quality buds.
The main idea of plant training is to create several top colas to take advantage of indoor grow lights so less light is lost and yields are higher overall.
Make many cannabis colas instead of just one!
- Bending and securing parts of the plant while causing little-to-no physical damage to the plant.
- Damaging or removing parts of the plant in a strategic way to get it to grow in a more desirable shape
- Manipulating timelines to get faster or bigger yields
Usually, growers will use more than one of these types of training because they can complement each other, but it’s also possible to use just one and not any others. For example, when growing auto-flowering strains, you can’t manipulate timelines, and it’s generally advised not to damage the plant since they have such a short life, and you want to avoid stunting the plant’s growth. So for auto-flowering plants, the main option is just bending and securing.
Next: a breakdown of each plant training technique so your garden has tons of colas!
Bending and securing parts of your plant is usually referred to as Low Stress Training (LST).
General Low-Stress Training (LST) – LST is bending stems and securing them. The general idea is to bend tall stems down and away from the middle of the plant as it grows, so the plant takes on a more flat and wide shape. This should be started when the plant is still a seedling since its young stems will be flexible, while the stems of older plants become rigid and woody. Some growers use the term “LST” as an umbrella term to cover all types of plant training, while others use it to refer only to bending.
Plant Twisty Ties are commonly used to secure stems after bending them over, but many growers get creative (pipe cleaners, soft coated wire, etc.). Don’t use anything “sharp” like chicken wire because it cuts into the plant as it grows.
This grower consistently bent the tallest stems down as the plants grew, resulting in a flat, table-top shape.
When the plant starts making buds, this flat, comprehensive shape results in multiple colas around the same distance from the light.
No-Technique Plant Training – This is cannabis plant training in its most basic form. If it’s your first grow and you want to keep things simple, or if you don’t have much time and want to do the bare minimum to get results, this is for you!
The main stem was bent over 90° when the plant was very young, so all the lower branches could grow up and become main colas. Bending the main stem was the only training done to this plant, no fancy techniques!
Super cropping – this technique is a more “extreme” kind of bending and is used for stems that are too tall but have become woody and difficult to bend. With super cropping, you “soften up” the stem or branch before bending it at an extreme angle. Super cropping can be incredibly helpful in wrangling an out-of-control plant, and it has a few other benefits, too, because it can stress the plant in a “good” way.
Super cropping involves extreme bending but without hurting the “skin” of your plant.
Screen of Green (ScrOG) is a technique where growers use a screen over their plants and weave stems through the screen as they grow. When the plant starts making buds, it’s already in a flat, table-top shape with lots of well-spaced bud sites under the grow lights. The screen also provides support for heavy buds.
These training techniques involve pruning the plant to improve growth and increase indoor yields.
Topping & FIMing are ways of damaging the plant at a very young age to lead to plants growing more bud sites.
In the following picture, notice how the plant sort of “splits” at one point near the base of the plant. That split is where the plant was topped, or FIMed, and the apical dominance was broken. As a result, the plant turned many stems into main colas instead of only growing big buds on one main stem.
Topping – The idea is to remove the top of the plant’s main stem as a seedling. This breaks its apical dominance, or tendency to grow one main cola, and immediately splits the plant into two main branches. As a result of being topped at a young age, the plant will naturally grow multiple colas even if you don’t do anything else.
FIMing – A very closely related technique to topping. FIMing aims to damage or “shave” the top of the plant instead of removing it completely. This can accomplish many of the same goals as topping but has less chance of stressing the plant. The downside is that it’s more likely to fail at breaking apical dominance (plants may still tend to grow one main cola).
Manifolding – This describes a sequence of topping the plant two times in a specific way so that it forms a wide “manifold” at the base of the plant. This is an easy way to achieve a lot of training without much time. A benefit of training the plant with manifolding is buds tend to grow bigger, longer, and more uniform than they would with some other training methods. Topping your plant twice can add a week or two to your grow.
Defoliation – The defoliation technique removes leaves on your plant, usually only the most prominent fan leaves. This might be done in the vegetative stage for various reasons. Still, the primary “technique” is using defoliation in a certain way during the first month of the flowering stage to encourage buds to grow bigger. With this technique, the cannabis plant is defoliated right before the switch to the flowering stage, then another time or two during the first few weeks while the plant is in the midst of the explosion of growth known as the flowering stretch.
Defoliation involves strategically removing fan leaves in the first part of the flowering stage.
This strategic defoliation exposes all the newly forming buds to light and air right when they’re at their most crucial stage of development. Because of how cannabis (a wind-pollinated plant) buds react to light and air, this dramatically increases the size and density of the buds as long as you take off the right amount of leaves at the right time (overdoing this or doing it too late in the flowering stage can do more harm than good!). It’s also important to note that defoliation should only be done to indoor-grown plants, and even then, only healthy plants!
Notice how few fans leaves this plant has? That’s because it was strategically defoliated during the first few weeks after the switch to 12/12. In response, the buds grew long, fat, and dense.
These aren’t necessarily “training” techniques per se, but they are techniques that growers use to increase yields for free, and the main principle is the same – more buds directly under the grow light!
12-12 From Seed is the technique of making seedlings start flowering (making buds) as soon as possible by giving them a “12-12” light schedule from seed. The idea is to get a harvest as quickly as possible.
12-12 from Seed results in a quick harvest but tends to cause stunted plants
Read the complete article on 12-12 From Seed.
Sea of Green is a related technique to 12-12 From Seed. The idea with Sea of Green is to grow many small plants instead of a few big plants. This allows a grower to make a sea of buds without having to do any plant training and can result in big yields that take less time. The main idea is to let seedlings grow for only 4-5 weeks before immediately switching them to the flowering stage. Since each plant doesn’t have to get very big, the time needed before flowering is reduced by several weeks. Many growers will also “top” their seedlings by removing the tips of seedlings when they have about 4-6 pairs of leaves.
For SoG, initiate the flowering stage when plants are this size or bigger
How Does Plant Training Increase Yields?
Indoor cannabis growers train their plants to grow with lots of thick bud sites because that shape produces the best yields under the limited power of grow lights.
You can control your plant’s final size and shape by using proper cannabis training and growing techniques as a grower. In contrast, the plant is young, such as topping, FIMing, LST, main-lining, supercropping, defoliation, SoG, ScrOG, and more, as described on this page. This page explains everything else you can do to get your cannabis to grow the way you want, small or large, to get the best yields possible.
However, no matter how well you train your plants during the vegetative stage, some growth patterns (and many aspects of your buds like appearance, smell, and potency) will be determined by your plant’s genes, especially in the flowering stage. If you don’t have access to cannabis seeds or clones where you live, you can control the genetics by growing a strain from a trustworthy breeder and ordering seeds online.
Light is Like “Food” for Cannabis Plants
Many indoor and outdoor cannabis growers prefer to keep their plants relatively short, growing bushy and wide instead of tall and thin. Keeping small plants helps ensure each plant gets plenty of light – light is like “food” for your plants, and providing the right light will give cannabis plants the energy to grow.
The spring/summer sun is all the light an outdoor cannabis plant needs to survive (as long as it’s getting direct light for most of the day). It can help with stealth to keep plants shorter than nearby fences or camouflage plants, and training is practical at that, but training isn’t that effective at increasing yields outdoors.
Outdoors, the natural shape of a cannabis plant, is already very well suited to using the light from the sun as it moves in the sky. Growing a giant cannabis plant with more bud sites is the best way to get bigger yields outdoors. Ultimately, the most critical thing for outdoor cannabis plants is to put them in an open space with as much direct sunlight as possible.
Notice how the plants that get the most direct sunlight grow the biggest
Why do indoor cannabis growers want short or wide plants?
For indoor growers, plants tend to yield more if a lot of the plant is kept just the proper distance from the grow lights. This means maintaining a flat cannabis canopy under the grow lights and using growth training methods like topping, FIMing, main-lining, ScrOG, etc. These training methods help ensure all the buds get as much light as possible so you get bigger yields from the same grow lights.
Why do cannabis plants need to be close to the grow lights? It is because indoor grow lights are heavily affected by the inverse square law of light. Unlike indoor grow lights, the sun is so far away that the inverse square law of light doesn’t make a difference – your plant will get about the same amount of light on the ground or 10 feet in the air.
Since indoor grow lights are so close and much weaker than the sun, the distance between the light and the plant dramatically affects how much light the plant will receive.
Keeping grow lights closer will deliver more light to the plants!
But”¦ keeping them too close can severely hurt your plant!
This is a massive part of why it’s essential to understand how far away your lights need to be, depending on what type of light you have.
Powerful Grow Lights – Some grow lights are very bright and powerful (like MH/HPS grow lights or bigger LEDs). More powerful grow lights can cover a wider area with more plants, but the more intense the light, the more it needs to be kept from your plants. Keeping grow lights too close causes light burn, which bleaches your upper leaves and buds and can cause seeds to form (plants may “herm” due to stress, which causes seedy buds). Light burn can also possibly affect the potency of the buds.
Vegetative and early flowering plants are harder to light burn. Still, it’s much easier to do it in the second half of the flowering stage when the plant is no longer making any new leaves, especially with higher-wattage lights.
Less Powerful Grow Lights – Grow lights like CFLs and fluorescent lights have a “sweet spot” only a few inches away. The further you get, the less light your plants get. These lights can grow cannabis plants and may be a good choice for some growers, but with less powerful lights, it becomes even more important to learn how to train your plants to grow short and wide with many colas. Little weed plants are the best way to take advantage of CFL grow lights! Luckily the methods on this page, like topping, FIMing, SoG, ScrOG, main-lining, and more, will give you the tools you need to get the most from your grow lights. Plant training techniques enable harvesting ounces of bud even from relatively small grow lights.
In the diagram below, you can see that the natural plant (left – completely untrained) has fewer parts of the plant in the area with the best light level. As a result, this plant only has one main cola, and the other colas are much smaller because they are further from the grow lights.
Leaves in the “Sweet Spot” of Your Indoor Grow Light Make the Most Energy, Producing Faster Growth and Bigger Buds
Why settle with just one big cola when you could have many big colas?
The trained plant (right side – which has been topped and trained with LST) has many colas that are directly in the sweet spot. Almost the whole plant is getting bathed in just the right amount of light from the grow lights. This means the plant has many big colas, and none of them get burned by the lights.
Generally, the top of the grow light sweet spot is where the most prominent buds form. Cannabis plants love a lot of light, much more than your average house plant. As long as you stay away from the “too bright” zone for your particular indoor grow light (which can cause light burn, even if the air is cool), you want to get as many colas in the top of the sweet spot as possible.
Colas in the Top of the Sweet Spot Grow Biggest, So Maximize Yields by Training Cannabis Plants To Grow Many Colas On the Same Level!
It doesn’t matter what type of grow light you use. Each grow light has a sweet spot, and whenever grow lights are positioned above the plants, there are likely benefits to training your cannabis plants to develop short and wide. By having more of your plant at the best distance from your grow light, your cannabis leaves and buds will be exposed to more light, giving your plant more energy to produce.
Plants with a flat canopy produce more energy than tall & thin plants. As an indoor cannabis grower, you don’t have to accept how cannabis grows naturally. You have a lot of control over how your cannabis plants thrive. So train your plants to fill your grow space efficiently, giving you the best yields possible with your grow lights.
Don’t Grow This Plant!
Grow a Trained Plant With A Cluster of Colas!