Growing cannabis plants can be a rewarding endeavor, both personally and financially. Whether it be for personal or commercial purposes, marijuana cultivation requires strategic planning and following certain protocol to achieve the best results. A bountiful harvest is possible for even novice growers if they grow quality genetics, feed the plants properly, and manipulate the plants to grow to a size and shape that maximizes flower production and promotes maximum yield. This article will address the best way to grow large, bushy plants with multiple large colas.
While the approach to growing high-quality cannabis plants differs a bit with commercial versus personal grows, most of the same basic principles apply. Commercial grows usually consist of cloned plants grown in a SCROG (screen of green) cultivation setup. Creating a SCROG screen isn’t difficult and can use a number of different materials for both the frame and screening. The plants grow through the screen, which helps support them and encourages even height and growth patterns. Commercial growers usually top their plants and grow them to a moderate height through the screen before harvest. In the flower stage, a sea-of-green appearance results, with multiple colas growing close together in a fairly even height so they all benefit from the lights mounted above them. The screen discourages uneven height among the plants and supports them evenly while they grow.
Without a screen, one plant may grow taller than its neighboring plants and absorb the lion’s share of the light rays, eventually growing much larger than its stunted neighbors. This is undesirable, and SCROG growing practices do a good job of minimizing this type of uneven plant structure. Since commercial growers grow clones of the same strain, the grow very evenly in the SCROG grow.
While topping, training, and bending cannabis plants have applications in commercial grows, they can be particularly helpful for best results in home grows. Many home growers use SCROG best practices for their personal grows, but it’s possible to grow a fine harvest of excellent cannabis plants without it.
Growing clones of the same strain is the best way to ensure consistent growth, but this isn’t a critical requirement. Growing from seed can also yield consistently great results and outstanding bud. Since many home cultivators grow only a few cannabis plants, a SCROG grow would be more effort than it’s worth.
When growing at home from seed, the best approach is to grow the same strain or similar strains together. For example, growing the short pheno of L.A. Confidential next to a Haze plant would be a poor idea. These two strains grow to dramatically different heights and mature at different rates, with the L.A. Confidential being a fairly fast finisher, and the Haze plant taking much longer and growing much taller.
Instead, grow all similar-height indica, sativa, or hybrid strains with consistent finishing times. Germinating and growing the seedling to a height where they have four leaf nodes usually indicates the time that most home growers top their cannabis plants. By topping the plants, they will create two very large colas instead of one massive cola. Topping also encourages the plants to grow bushier and stockier, with more lateral growth rather than shooting straight up and getting top-heavy once they flower. Perhaps the biggest advantage of topping, however, is that it promotes more flowers and a higher yield than untopped cannabis plants.
Topping is done after a young seedling has grown to a height where it has four nodes, with each node resulting in two leaves, and eventually two branches. After four nodes and sets of leaves are apparent, use a pair of scissors to cut off the apical meristem—the main growing stem at the top of the plant. Be sure to cut enough so that the actual stem is cut and not just the emerging leaves.
Once this is done, within a few days you will notice increased branch development from the lowest nodes, as well as two branches developing at the top of the plant where there used to be just one main stem. Some strains grow bushier than others, but once topped, horizontal branching will become apparent. Topping the plant a second time by clipping off the main two stems will result in four branches at the top of the plant—and a plant that’s quite bushy with plenty of horizontal development. For indica strains that are naturally shorter and stockier, a single topping may suffice.
Topping not only produces more branches and flowers, but it also keeps the plants’ height manageable, and this can be a critical factor in grow spaces with limited vertical space for the plants to stretch out. All topping should be done while the plants are in vegetative mode. Two to three weeks after the last time the plants were topped, induce flowering by switching the light cycle from 18/6 (18 hours of light to 6 hours of darkness) to an even 12/12 (12 hours of light to 12 hours of darkness). If you are using natural seed rather than feminized, you will need to remove any male plants from the grow and destroy them once their sex is apparent in the coming 5 to 10 days.
Even with topping, some sativa strains or sativa-leaning hybrids may grow fairly tall and require additional training. The most basic and simple method of training is done with a stake of adequate height.
For plants in the home grow that begin to droop, stake training may prove necessary. To accomplish this, purchase horticulture poles or stakes from your local nursery. These poles should be slightly taller than your plants, which are still growing. With natural-fiber twine, secure the main branch(es) of the plant to the pole or stake giving it full support to continue growing upward rather than dropping down or, worse yet, splitting.
Training with a stake will ensure that upward growth continues to remain consistent among the growing plants. In the event you’re growing different strains in the same grow, and some are growing considerably taller than others, there are some tricks you can employ if you are growing with more than one light. Say that you have two 400-watt lights and uneven growth patterns. Simply group the taller plants together and elevate the height of one light to an elevation ideal for those taller plants. Meanwhile, keep the other light at a lower elevation that promotes growth in the shorter plants. This arrangement will ensure optimum growth in both the tall and shorter plants.
Bending may prove necessary in extreme cases where growth, either vertically or horizontally, exceeds what the grower anticipated. Usually, this will occur during the flowering phase of growth, when plants continue to stretch quite a bit. Bending the plant is exactly how it sounds. Take the growing branch tip and bend it, securing it with string or twine so that it still receives optimum light but grows in a different direction than straight up or out. The plant may end up looking a bit odd, but bending is a better alternative than topping the plant’s developing buds to prevent additional growth and stretching where there is no more room to stretch.
If you need to bend while the plant is still growing at a rapid rate, you may find that the branch you intend to bend is rigid and too stiff to bend without snapping or crushing. If this is the case, take the area of the branch you intend to bend between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze it, rolling the stem slightly between your fingers. This will break down the stem’s fibrous material and make it possible to bend. Be careful. In the event that you crush the stem when you bend it, wrap the crushed area of the stem in nursery tape (even duct tape will do) to support it and bend to the desired angle. As long as the plant is still growing at a sufficient rate, you will soon find that the stems heal in the crushed area and the plant continues to develop high-quality flowers.
Whether it is topping, training, or bending, growing cannabis plants sometimes requires manipulating the plants in order to achieve optimum results. The resilient nature of cannabis makes it possible to top, train, or bend growing plants without compromising them. With some practice, any grower should be able to master all three of these practices—with topping and training being the main two—and harvest a grow that anyone would be proud to produce.