How to Increase Terpene Levels When Growing Cannabis
If you happen to be a DIYer looking to grow cannabis specifically for terpene content, you might be surprised to know the best practices for doing so are a little different from those for maximizing yields of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD). Unlike cannabinoids, marijuana terpenes grow almost entirely on the trichomes of the cannabis plant, with very little to be found on the stems and leaves.
Cannabis growers and horticulturists alike specifically target terpene levels when growing their own inventory, whether for sales purposes or for personal use. After all, it’s terpenes that give cannabis strains their distinctive aromas and flavors — along with the different highs associated with them.
How exactly do terpenes work?
In marijuana, terpenes work alongside cannabinoids, flavonoids and other cannabis compounds in a synergistic entourage effect to increase their combined therapeutic potential against a range of common physiological conditions, such as chronic pain, inflammation, anxiety or even stress.
On a more superficial level, high concentrations of terpenes make for a more fragrant and flavorful experience when consuming cannabis. Put simply, in all areas of consumer appeal, good to maximal levels of terpenes are the way to go when growing cannabis yourself.
Luckily for any budding grower, there are a number of relatively simple techniques for getting more terpenes out of weed. This post goes over three tips on improving terpene levels in cannabis; from what you can do outside the growth process (i.e. soil, nutrient selection), throughout the growth process to promote the development of trichomes, and even the use of technology to ensure the best possible temperatures for terpene production.
Tip 1: Use Nutrient & Soil Additives
If you’re looking to have the terpene edge as a DIY grower, you need to feed and nourish your cannabis accordingly. The use of carbohydrates — namely sugar carbohydrates — is crucial for increasing terpene levels, because cannabis plants need ample energy during their flowering stages.
At roughly the fourth week of cannabis’ blooming phase, it is especially hungry for an energy source, as virtually all resources are channeled into the development of buds. A good rule of thumb for this stage of the growth cycle is that keeping your cannabis amply fed and stocked with reserves of sugar carbohydrates guarantees as much terpene production as possible.
While many growers prefer hydroponic growing to the use of soil or compost, the latter method is essential when growing cannabis with terpenes in mind. This is because soil is native to cannabis, and makes for a much more effective medium for nutrient absorption. When the name of the game is keeping your plants well-fed and full of energy, soil beats aqua- and hydroponic setups in almost all cases.
Tip 2: Stress Your Plants, But Not Too Much
Lightly stressing your plants during the flowering stage is also known as low-stress training (LST), and has been a reliable strategy for increasing terpene content for many DIYs over decades. It’s worth remembering that in nature, a primary function of terpenes is to ensure the plants’ survival; whether it be for repelling herbivorous predators or attracting pollinators. For this reason, stressing your cannabis naturally ramps up terpene production.
Common Stressing Techniques
- Branch pinching is the simple process of lightly applying pressure to stems using your index finger and thumb, which has the benefit of stressing the cannabis plant to produce more terpenes. It also allows for manipulation of the direction of plant growth, so no flower has to grow under the shade of another.
- Undercutting your cannabis plant involves removing excess leaves and growth near or around the stem, and in some cases higher up the stem. This directs as much of the plant’s valuable energy resources toward flower development. Of course, this is best done in the run up to the flowering stage and needs to be done judiciously without overdoing it, as too much pruning could stress the plant too much and harm potential yields.
- Thinning the fan leaves around the buds works similarly to allowing your plants limited exposure to frigid nighttime temperatures. When done properly, much of the cannabis plant’s energy reserves are redirected to “protect” its flowers, increasing terpene production in the process.
Tip 3: Maintain The Ideal Temperature & Humidity Levels
It may vary very slightly between strains, but the consensus ideal temperature for growing cannabis indoors is between 75-80˚F, while the recommended humidity level ranges between 50 to 60 percent. When deciding the temperature of your flowering room, be sure to factor in any artificial light sources you might have in use, as well as your time windows for natural light if applicable.
Bonus LST Tip: the last two weeks of flowering is a good time to drop temperatures by 5-10˚F, and humidity by 25 to 30 percent to serve two purposes; namely, stressing the plants into ramping up terpene production while simultaneously protecting the terpenes themselves from excessively high temperatures. Reducing humidity also protects your terpenes, as it prevents the development or proliferation of mold on the trichomes.
Bear in mind that reducing humidity levels will require the use of a dehumidifier, which could increase startup costs for first-time growers.