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How to trim marijuana plants from seed to plant

How to trim marijuana

Some people enjoy trimming because it’s a good opportunity to connect with the plant, especially if you’ve been growing it for months. But some dread trimming because it’s so monotonous.

Whichever type you are, know that trimming even only a couple of plants will take hours, even days. Be sure to have some good albums or podcasts queued up, and it always helps to have a friend or two helping out. You’ll have plenty of bud to spare.

Why is trimming marijuana important?

Trimming removes buds from plants, cutting off branches, stems, and sugar and fan leaves. All of these are harsh to smoke and don’t contain many trichomes, although they do have a little.

When wet trimming, removing all that unnecessary plant matter also reduces the moisture content of buds, allowing for a more even dry.

Cannabis also takes on a tighter, more uniform appearance and has more bag appeal when trimmed.

Wet vs. dry cannabis trimming

There are two ways to go about trimming weed, each with pros and cons.

Wet marijuana trimming

Wet trimming happens all in one sitting: You’ll cut down the plant, cut buds off branches—called “bucking”—trim the buds, and then place them on a drying rack, where they’ll sit for a few days.

  • Removing sugar and fan leaves is easier—they get shriveled and dried up in dry trimming
  • With less moisture-filled foliage attached to the flowers, drying will happen more quickly; this can be helpful in humid climates where mold is a concern
  • If you’re tight on space, wet trimming removes a bulk of the plant in the beginning, so you don’t have to hang whole plants up to dry
  • Trimming wet will also give you a tighter and more aesthetically pleasing final product
  • Many argue that because buds are stickier when being handled, trichomes remain intact, which preserves terpenes and flavors in the final product

Wet trimming is very sticky. Trichomes will get on your fingers, your trimming shears, your body, everything. Gloves are recommended; rubbing alcohol or coconut oil is essential.

Dry marijuana trimming

With dry trimming, you’ll cut down the plant and hang the whole thing to dry for several days first. When it’s dry, you’ll buck buds off branches and trim them.

  • Keeping leaves on in the beginning makes the drying process slower; this can be great in arid climates, as a quick dry can cause excess terpene loss
  • It’s a lot less messy—trichomes harden as weed dries, reducing the amount of get-on-everything stickiness
  • Those less-sticky, less-messy trichomes are also more brittle and prone to breaking; you’ll have to handle your crop with care to preserve trichomes and THC levels
  • Hanging entire plants takes up significantly more space than if you discard excess plant material first; make sure you have adequate drying space before dry trimming

Marijuana trimming tools needed

  • Scissors (for trimming buds)
  • Pruners (helpful for big branches)
  • Comfortable chair and area
  • A clean surface, like a table
  • Tray/bowl and a clean surface
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Rags
  • Proper clothes (ones that can get sticky)
  • Entertainment

How to trim cannabis buds

After you’ve set up your drying room and trimming area, and your weed plants are ready to come down, it’s time to get trimming.

Whether trimming wet or dry, the process of trimming buds is the same.

Step 1: Cut down the plant and cut off branches

Using a solid pair of pruning shears, cut off branches, breaking the plant down into smaller pieces until you get to the main stalk of the plant, which can get cut off close to the soil.

If dry trimming, you’ll hang the plant for drying now, either in its entirety or its smaller branches. Check out more on drying here.

Drying plants will be ready for trimming when stems snap and don’t bend—usually 3-7 days later.

If wet trimming, don’t worry about drying yet and go to step 2.

Step 2: Remove fan leaves

Fan leaves are the iconic cannabis leaves with five or seven points. The plant has had these leaves since it was in the vegetative stage. Fan leaves have little to no trichomes, so get rid of them.

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If trimming wet, it may be quicker to gently pull these off with your hands, but they can be snipped off with scissors too. If dry trimming, you’ll need to snip them.

Step 3: Buck buds from the branch

Once fan leaves are off, cut off individual buds from branches, also called “bucking.”

Trimmers usually create a pile of buds to work on, either on a table or in a bowl or tray.

Be sure to keep a separate pile for branches, stems, and fan leaves, and compost them.

Step 4: Trim buds

Now that you’re down to just buds, get to trimming. If buds are too big, break them down into smaller buds. A giant bud might look awesome, but it won’t dry as evenly, making it susceptible to mold.

  • Trim the stem at the bottom of the bud as closely as you can without causing the bud to break down. You don’t want the stem to be exposed anywhere but at the bottom.
  • Remove the crow’s feet—these are the leaves at the bottom that look like little bird feet.
  • Trim off extra plant matter and manicure the bud. Angle your scissors and keep them moving. After a while you won’t even think about it.

The goal is to take away everything that isn’t fully covered in trichomes. Create a uniform surface area around the buds. This includes taking down red pistils all the way to the foliage. Pistils have very little to zero trichomes.

Put all your finished buds in a separate bowl or tray.

If wet trimming, you’ll need to put your finished buds on a drying rack for a few days. If dry trimming, you’ll want to jar up your buds for curing.

Pro tips for trimming weed

Make sure to collect your trim. You can dry it too and either smoke it or use it to make edibles or other cannabis products.

Remember to wipe your scissors with alcohol or swap them out with another pair when they get covered in resin. Also, make sure to avoid shaving off large sections of the nug at once—this isn’t great for the bud and it will reduce your yield.

Some trimmers save their “finger hash” or “scissor hash,” which is resin that builds up on your fingers or scissors when trimming. This is perfectly fine to smoke, it just may be a little harsh.

Hand-trimmed vs. machine-trimmed weed

As a homegrower, you’ll most likely be trimming your weed by hand, but some do invest in machine trimmers to cut out the monotonous trimming part. Commercial growers often use machine trimmers because they process such a large quantity of buds.

Pros and cons of hand trimming marijuana

  • Cheap
  • Individual buds can be shaped to bring out the qualities of each strain
  • Issues like mold or insects can be spotted
  • It’s messy—you’ll want lots of rubbing alcohol or coconut oil around
  • Time-consuming
  • Usually have to rely on some buddies to help

Pros and cons of machine trimming marijuana

The high demand for cannabis has paved the way for new technologies and a whole range of machine trimmers. These trimmers do an incredible job of processing buds quickly, so they’re mainly used by large-scale growers producing for the low end of the market.

Highly efficient upper-level systems like the Twister T2 (~$12,000) can trim up to 19 lbs per hour, and lower-priced systems exist, such as the Trimpro Rotor ($1,750), for commercial growers. For homegrowers, there are trimmers such as the iPower ($120).

  • Easy
  • Quick and efficient, saving time and money
  • Less messy; machine trimmers collect trim easily so you use it for other products
  • Can overtrim buds
  • They knock off a lot of trichomes, affecting potency and flavor
  • Stems and seeds can still make their way into finished buds

Johanna Silver, Patrick Bennett, and Trevor Hennings contributed to this article.

How to top and prune marijuana plants

The line between topping and pruning can be a little hazy. Topping is cutting off the main stalk of a weed plant to force it to grow more bushy, which will allow it to yield more and be healthier. Pruning is removing marijuana leaves and branches that are dead or won’t receive much light so that a weed plant can focus its energies on producing buds in other areas.

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The line between the two is blurred because a lot of times growers do both at the same time. Here’s the differences between the two.

Why is topping marijuana necessary?

Although it may seem strange to cut off and throw away part of your cannabis plants, topping is essential to keep your weed plants healthy and to get quality yields.

If left to grow on its own, a marijuana plant will grow vertically, focusing its energy on one main stalk. The result will be one giant cola at the top with smaller colas on the main stalk. These other colas will be small and larfy and of poor quality. The overall size and yield of the plant will be small.

When to top marijuana plants

Topping is done during the vegetative stage to help redistribute growth hormones from the main stalk to side branches—by cutting off the main stalk, the plant will redirect its energies to side branches, forcing them to grow out, instead of up. Topping makes a weed plant bushier.

Wait until the plant has grown six or seven nodes to do the initial top, which is usually done above the 5th node. It’s important to wait until the plant has developed this much so it can withstand the shock of topping.

If you wait to top a weed plant after it has developed more than seven nodes, the plant will have been putting energy into upward growth that you are just going to cut off, when it could have been focusing on lateral growth that you will keep.

How a marijuana plant receives light

A bushy shape allows light to hit all branches more evenly—because the cannabis plant is wide and not tall, all bud sites will receive an equal amount of light.

With one vertical stalk, the main cola will get a lot of light, but the lower branches will get shaded out by the main cola, producing larfy buds down below. With a bushy shape, you’ll get more buds, and they’ll be of a higher quality.

In time, these side branches can also get topped, which will create even more side branches and make the plant bush out even more. Doing this will also create more bud sites on branches and therefore increase your yields. Generally, a plant will get topped 1-3 times during its life.

How to top marijuana plants

Topping cannabis works best when a plant is strong and developed and can withstand drastic change.

For the first topping—cutting the main stalk—a good rule of thumb is to cut the plant above the 5th node. This will give you enough side branches on the remaining part of the plant for it to bush out properly.

For subsequent toppings on the same cannabis plant, cut each side branch above the second or third node, to allow the plant to continue to bush out properly. These toppings are more subjective however, and will depend on how much you want the plant to bush out and how big you want the final plant to be.

To top marijuana plants:

  • Get your tools and disinfect. You’ll need either a pair of pruning scissors or a razor blade. The sharper the better—you want to make one clean cut. The tool should be sterilized with rubbing alcohol to help prevent infections in the plant (this is very rare, but it doesn’t hurt to be safe).
  • Decide where to make your cut. Find the 5th node on the main stem, and cut above it.
  • Wait and watch. Topping can be stressful for the plant, so keep an eye on it for a couple days and be sure it gets plenty of water and light. If you’re going to top again, give the plant a couple weeks to recover from the first topping.
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Topping vs. fimming

Topping marijuana is the tried-and-true method preferred by most growers, but there is another plant training technique called “fimming” or “FIMing”—short for “f**k I missed,” if you’re wondering. Fimming started as an accident but is also useful in the right circumstances.

The difference between topping and fimming is nothing more than the location of where you cut the plant—with fimming, you’ll cut off the upper half of the new growth (see image above). Topping may create two new stalks from where you cut, whereas fimming might create 3-8 new stalks.

The fimming technique works great for cannabis growers in small spaces who are trying to maximize yields. However, fimmed plants will need more structural support, so take extra care in trellising your garden. Topped plants are more stable and have a stronger branch structure, requiring less support.

Whichever technique you choose, you’ll see an increase in yields. If you aren’t sure which method works best for you, try both and see which you prefer.

Why prune marijuana plants?

As mentioned above, pruning removes cannabis leaves and branches that are dead or won’t receive much light. Again, it might feel strange to intentionally cut off bits of your plant, but without the proper amount of light, buds will be a poor quality.

Cutting off these branches will allow the plant to redirect its energies to the quality buds that will receive plenty of light. You also want to prune off yellow or dead leaves—they have no use and will only waste the plant’s resources.

Pruning also creates open space in the middle of the marijuana plant, allowing air to flow through it more freely and light to penetrate deeper, keeping the plant healthy and vibrant so it can produce more quality buds.

While pruning cannabis, take the opportunity to closely look at your plants and check up on their health, looking for pests, nutrient deficiencies, and soil issues.

How to prune marijuana plants

Check out Johanna’s full video series on how to grow weed on Leafly’s YouTube .

In the early stages of growth, a plant is narrow enough that most of the foliage will receive plenty of sunlight. Top plants to promote bushy growth, and start pruning your plants when they begin to take a bushy shape.

As a plant grows and bushes out, you’ll get a better sense of its overall shape and of the entire canopy. This will give you a sense of where the quality buds will grow so you can prune away the unnecessary parts of the plant.

From this point until the beginning of flowering, you can actively prune your plants. Once into the flowering phase, you want to cease pruning, as it can diminish the size and quality of your buds.

To prune cannabis plants:

Grab a pair of pruning shears, usually some Chikamasas or Fiskars, for quick work on small branches and leaves. Also have another pair with more strength nearby to cut larger branches.

Keep your clippers/scissors sharp and make clean snips—this will keep the plant healthy and prevent infection and damage. Quality buds grow where the plant receives a lot of sunlight and airflow, particularly at the top of the plant. You’ll want to:

  • Remove large branches first. This will allow you to clear out space before you begin the detailed work. Start with branches on the bottom of the plant. These won’t receive enough sunlight and will never become fully developed buds.
  • Cut off branches that will get shaded out. This can include branches in the middle of the plant or others that won’t get light, depending on your setup and if you use a trellis or scrog.
  • Prune any small or dying branches or leaves.

In the days following a pruning, your plants should go through a burst of growth—the open space will allow extra light to get to the plant.