topping cannabis

If you aren’t familiar with the term, topping is a technique that involves cutting off the growing tip of the plant, inducing it to sprout multiple colas or central buds instead of just a solitary one. By doing so, gardeners can manipulate the growth and form of their plants, enhancing yields and improving the overall health of their crops.

When it comes to topping weed plants, it's best to wait until there are at least 4-5 nodes. Nodes are the points on a stem where leaves and branches grow from.

Many growers will combine topping with a range of other techniques like low-stress training, FIMing, and lollipoping, and super cropping in order to create a dense and even plant canopy. This will result in bigger yields for many reasons that we will dig into below!

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Why is Topping Cannabis Plants Necessary?

Without topping, marijuana plants will grow tall and thin like a Christmas tree, with one main stem and branch receiving the majority of the light and becoming very tall, while the rest of the branches receive less light and remain shorter. 

This can result in uneven growth and development, with a large main bud and smaller side buds.

Topping cannabis plants allows for more equal distribution of light and energy to all branches, resulting in more uniform growth and development. It also allows for more buds to form, resulting in a larger yield. 

If you don’t top the plants, and let them grow like a Christmas tree, you will have to keep your grow light far enough away to prevent the tall single branch from burning, which makes the rest of the branches too far from the light to produce the dense buds you’re looking for. And if you’re growing outside, those outside shorter branches will be shaded by the tall center branch.

How to Top Marijuana Plants

To top marijuana plants, you will need a sharp pair of scissors or pruning shears, long sleeves, and nitrile gloves to prevent sticky fingers. It's also a good idea to have a garbage bag or can nearby to dispose of the trimmed leaves and branches.

The process of topping cannabis plants involves cutting off the growing tip of the plant (also known as the main cola) in order to encourage the growth of multiple branches. This can be done by cutting off the top of the main stem, just above a pair of leaves. Once the top is removed, the plant will begin to grow multiple branches from the point where it was cut.

Here are some tips for topping marijuana plants:

  • Make sure to cut just above a pair of leaves, as this will encourage the growth of multiple branches.

  • Know when to top weed plants; it can be done any time after the plant has reached the vegetative stage, but it's typically done when the plant is between 3-5 weeks old.

  • When topping, it's important to make a clean cut and avoid damaging the surrounding leaves and branches.

  • Topping cannabis plants will slow down the plant's vertical growth but increase the number of buds.

  • Topping should be done when the cannabis plant is in good health and well-watered.

  • If you're looking for more buds, you can also do FIMing, it's similar to topping but instead of cutting all the way through, you just cut or pinch 75% of the top causing it to split into 4-5 colas instead of one.

  • Be sure to keep an eye on the plant's growth after topping, and ensure it gets enough light, water, and nutrients.

Lollipoping and Topping Marijuana Plants Together

Lollipopping and topping in conjunction with each other is a powerful way to shape the canopy of a cannabis plant. 

Lollipopping involves stripping the lower branches and leaves of cannabis plants that are not receiving enough light. You can strip the branches down and leave the growth at the top, promoting the branch to grow taller.

When you lollipop the side branches that aren’t as tall, and top the tall branches, you will slowly build an even canopy.

An even canopy is important because it allows light to reach all parts of the plant, increasing yields and saving you from those airy popcorn buds that nobody likes!

When the light is evenly distributed, all parts of the plant can photosynthesize efficiently and develop healthy buds. This results in bigger and more buds and ultimately a better harvest.

How Many Nodes Before Topping?

The number of nodes before topping a cannabis plant can vary depending on the grower's preferences and the specific strain being grown. However, generally, it is recommended to wait until the plant has at least 4-6 nodes before topping. This allows the plant to establish a strong foundation and allows for more branching and bud production.

Cannabis growers who are growing a lot of plants in a small or medium-sized area you may want to wait until you have 9 or 10 nodes so you don’t have too many bushy plants. Whereas if you’re growing fewer plants, you may want to start right at 4-6 nodes in order to manipulate the plant into growing wider and bushier. People growing in a sea of green style may never top their plants!

When is it too Late to Top Your Plant?

We know when to top weed plants but when is it too late? It is generally recommended to top a cannabis plant during the vegetative stage before it begins to flower. However, if the plant has already begun to flower, it may still be possible to top it if you’re very early but keep in mind this stress can have negative effects on your yields and may not be a good idea. Try to get all your topping done at least 5-7 days before switching to the bloom phase.

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Topping vs FIMing

The main difference between topping and FIMing is the amount of the plant that is removed. Topping removes the entire top of the main stem, while FIMing you will only remove about 75% of the node, leaving a bit of the tiny leaves still attached. As a result, FIMing typically results in less stress on the plant and a slower recovery time.

Wondering what FIMing stands for? It stands for "F**k, I Missed!" which was coined by a cannabis grower who accidentally pinched the top of his cannabis plants rather than just removing the central growing tip.

The Difference Between Topping and Pruning

We’ve talked about topping cannabis plants, FIMing them, lollipopping, and all sorts of ways to manipulate your plant into creating a perfectly even canopy. But one thing we haven’t discussed yet is pruning.

We’re not going to dive too deep into pruning in this article but I am going to give you a few tips and explain the difference.

The main difference between topping and pruning is that pruning is the process of removing complete leaves and branches from the plant where as topping is cutting right above a set of leaves or nodes on a branch.

Pruning can be done for a variety of reasons, including removing dead or diseased growth, shaping the plant, or encouraging the plant to focus its energy on more productive growth.

Sometimes you’ll have branches that will never reach the top of the marijuana plant, no matter how hard you try to lollipop them. This is where you would prune the branch and completely remove it. At the end of the day, the plant will put that energy towards more important branches that have a chance at creating large, dense buds.

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It can be used as a soil amendment to enrich the growing medium or as a top dressing. It is suitable for indoor and outdoor cultivation and is ideal for use in organic or sustainable gardens.

Save 7-10 Days by Topping Cannabis Mother Plants

As I was writing this article, I learned something new from a study done by Sylvain Gaudreau. It was published in Plant Science Today and is titled “Early topping: an alternative to standard topping increases yield in cannabis production”.

In the study, they topped their clones while they were still on the mother plant and then waited 7-10 days for the new “topped” growth to begin before taking the cuttings. 

The resulting plantlets were able to produce their axillary shoots much faster and they were able to cut down the time of production from cutting to harvest by 7-10 days

This simple technique didn’t disrupt the workflow much, making it an excellent opportunity for commercial growers. Since the plants were topped before being cloned, they didn’t need the 7-10 day recovery time they otherwise would have. 

This results in saving 7-10 days on the entire harvest.

You can do this with fiming too. But keep in mind, they only studied 8 strains, so make sure to do your due diligence and testing before going all out!

Final Tips on Topping Cannabis

  • The earliest you should top cannabis plants is when they have 4-6 sets of leaves.

  • Topping increases yields by creating multiple colas (flowering tops) instead of just one main cola.

  • Topping, FIMing, pruning, and lollipopping are all techniques that can be used together to increase yields and create a bushier, more even canopy.

  • You can top clones on your mother plant a week before taking cuttings for faster harvests.

  • Read about high stress training which wasn't covered in this article.

  • Don't stress about when to top weed plants and remember to have fun and enjoy the time spent in your garden!

Author Biography | Christopher McDonald

Christopher McDonald, founder of Happy Hydro and avid gardening enthusiast, is devoted to revolutionizing sustainable gardening. As an authority in plant care with over 20 years of experience, Christopher balances leading his thriving company with tending to his lush garden. In his free time, he relishes exhilarating backpacking trips, psychedelic journeys, and cherishing moments with his family.

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