Growing cannabis is a rewarding endeavor that’s well worth your time and effort. Fine-tuning your cultivation skills at home with some successful grows is a great way to improve the quality of your crops, as well as save significant amounts of money. Or, if you have a career goal of working on a cannabis cultivation team, you need to gain the necessary knowledge to hit the road running once you land the job of your dreams. Mastering the basics of cannabis cultivation at home will provide you with the foundation you need to grow at the professional level.
Learning to grow potent cannabis is a process. While following instructions and learning from others who have already mastered the craft is a wise way to proceed, a certain amount of trial and error will still occur. Strain selection, watering and nutrient supplementation schedules, appropriate lighting, growing container selection, soil mixes, SCROG basics, and grow-room setup are all things that require careful planning and execution. Trying to master all these things at once can be intimidating and overwhelming at first, but setting realistic goals and limiting the scope of your grow will go a long way toward learning the ropes.
Topping: A Critical Step
The purpose of this article is to provide accurate information about topping, one of the most important steps that occurs during the vegetative phase of cannabis growing. Topping is a standard practice in cannabis cultivation, and any experienced grower worth his or her salt will be quite familiar with the process.
For the novice grower, however, topping can be an intimidating process. The idea of cutting a group of healthy young plants will no doubt make inexperienced growers nervous. These beginning growers will have several questions about topping. What exactly is topping? Is it absolutely necessary? Are there times when you shouldn’t top? At what stage of plant growth should you top? How many times is topping necessary?
Read further, to learn the answers to all these questions and more. Armed with the information you will gain, you can rest assured that you have the proper instructions to properly top your plants and eventually harvest a larger crop as a result of topping. Once you’ve done it once, topping your future grows will be a regular part of your standard cultivation procedures.
What Is Topping?
Topping plants in a cannabis grow is a procedure that removes the visible apical meristem of the plant (the very top of the plant where the most rapid growth occurs). Cutting off the apical meristem results in the top of the plant forking instead of growing as a single shoot. Where there was initially just one main stem growing, there will be two after topping.
The process of topping will cause the lower plant nodes (the areas where leaves emerge from the main stem) to develop branches which, in turn, will later develop flowers for harvest. Lateral branch development will result in a larger harvest than a plant that grows straight up and has little lower branch development.
In cannabis discussions about topping, you will occasionally hear the term FIMing (an acronym for F*ck I Missed). Topping is different from FIMing because when you top, you crop the internode (distance between two nodes), and FIMing merely removes the new plant growth at the tip of the plant but doesn’t top the plant to create two main stalks where there was once one. FIMing does result in altering the plant’s growth, and some growers will do it intentionally. The more widely practiced procedure of the two, however, is topping, which is the focus of this article.
Is Topping Necessary?
While topping is not necessary to grow cannabis from start to finish, this important step will greatly increase yield at harvest. Plants that would otherwise grow tall and slender will instead grow shorter but much bushier. An untopped plant will have one cola (main bud) at the top, while a plant that’s been topped once will have two colas, as well as more robust lower branch development.
With vertical grow space in many grow rooms or tents being limited, topping also prevents extreme upward growth and helps prevent plants from getting too close to the grow lights. Plants will continue to grow vertically during the flowering phase of growth when topping is no longer possible, so adequate topping during the vegetative phase is highly advised for areas with limited vertical space.
Topping also helps minimize staking of the plants when they get heavy with mature flowers. A tall plant with one main cola will tend to tip and require support from a stake and twine than a shorter plant with more of a horizontal growth pattern that results from topping.
Does Every Plant Require Topping?
Some indica plants mature at very low heights. For these plants, topping may not be advantageous, and allowing them to grow one large cola instead of two or more smaller colas may provide an equal or even superior yield. Many growers choose to leave these extreme indicas low and squatty with only one large cola.
Any sativa or hybrid plants, as well as most indica plants, however, will produce a more abundant crop if the grower tops them at the appropriate time. Topping is advantageous for the vast majority of plants.
When Should You Top?
Topping is done during the vegetative stage of the cannabis plants’ growth. Regardless of whether you’re growing from seeds or clones, the plants must be of sufficient height and strength to handle the stress of topping. You want to top once the plants have four sets of nodes, which are found where the plant produces two new leaves from the main stalk.
Topping at this stage will result in some lower branch development that will never be as lush and productive as the upper branches that occur after topping. While some of these lower branches will produce worthwhile flowers that are worth retaining for later harvest, the majority of small lower branches—known as “larf”—should be cut from the plant just prior to putting them in flower mode. Usually, the unwanted larf will consist of the lower third (or slightly less) of the plant. Removing the larf will cause the plant to grow more robust buds on the top branches where you want them. Removing larf from cannabis is similar to removing the lower “sucker” branches from fruit trees. You can put the small laft branches to good use by creating clones from them if you wish.
How Do You Top?
Topping is rather simple. After a plant develops four sets of leaves and nodes, take a small pair of clean scissors (use alcohol to wipe the blades), and cut the main stem at the very top, right below the area where new leaves are emerging. Be certain to cut the stalk and not just the leaves that are emerging, because without cutting the stalk, no subsequent forking will occur.
As resistant as you may be to topping a healthy, thriving plant, rest assured that topping will soon result in a lusher, bushier, and more robust plant overall. Right after topping, you will notice that while the top of the plant isn’t growing upward anymore, lower branching will begin to occur at the lower nodes, and very soon two main branches will fork from the main stem at the very top of the plant where there used to be just one main branch.
Soon, the entire plant will be more visually appealing and not resemble the beanstalk some cannabis plants resemble prior to topping. The plants will grow outward as well as upward.
How Many Times Should You Top?
The number of times a plant should be topped depends on the grower. Some growers only top once, while others may top twice or more. Each time the grower tops q plant, increased lateral growth will occur, and the plant will assume a more rounded appearance overall.
If you choose to top a second time, remember that you will be topping two main stems instead of just one. If you top a third time, you will be cutting four main stems. The number of top branches will double with each successive topping a plant receives.
Topping your cannabis plants is highly recommended for increasing yield, promoting sturdier, bushier plants, and limiting their vertical growth. Although this standard practice can be a bit daunting for a novice grower, it’s a simple procedure that will make any garden more productive and visually pleasing.
Once you have a few grows under your belt and have topped several plants, the process will be almost second nature, and you’ll most likely start experimenting with the number of times you top. If you’ve never topped a plant, follow the instructions outlined here and proceed with confidence. You will soon recognize how beneficial the process is to your plants.