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Tuesday May 10, 2022

By David Martin

Image of a cannabis top cola, otherwise known as a top bud, being cut halfway down the green nugget with scissors and gloves. Growing

The truth is, most home growers aren’t dealing with tons of space. When it comes to growing cannabis, or any plant, there is only so much time in the growth cycle and only so much light in the day.

So, how do you grow cannabis with limited space? The solution is to manipulate the plant to produce the max yield during the window you have. One way to do this is a form of high-stress training called “topping” cannabis. You make a simple cut to the top of the cannabis plant at a certain time, forcing the plant to redistribute growth to the side branches, rather than it all growing from the top. This gives you a bushier plant with more buds, increasing your yield.

a large bushy cannabis plant is against a pink background in a grow room
Topping your cannabis plants will lead to a larger yield of buds and a bushier plant. photo credit

Continue reading to learn the secret of topping cannabis.

When to Top a Cannabis Plant?

If you top your plant too early, or even way too late, you won’t be happy with the results. The sweet spot for topping is after you have at least 5 nodes developed, preferably waiting until you have 6 or 7. This is ideal since you want to make sure your plant is healthy and won’t be shocked by the cutting. This stage of growth typically happens after a few weeks in the vegetative stage long before flowering.

Does Topping Increase Yield?

Big time! If you haven’t been topping cannabis plants in your grow, get ready to feel the love. Never in your life will you skip this method again.

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about topping cannabis is why – why do growers do this? To maximize the yield of their cannabis in the same amount of time. Some people have asked if more food can help cannabis become even fatter. Overfeeding and adding too much light aren’t the answers here, though the right fertilizers in the right amounts is definitely an option for experienced growers.

Hundreds of marijuana nugs, still connected to the stems, lay in a large grey bin
The main reason for topping your plants is to increase the amount of cannabis your plants produce. photo credit

By the time you top your plant, you can have 2, 4, 6, or even more colas. Whispers out there claim it’s possible to produce up to 32 different tops if you time it exactly right. At that point, you’d want to consider low stress training them into a bonsai style tree vs. the apical shape. If any home growers happen to achieve this, please comment below!

High-Stress Training (HST) vs. Low-Stress Training (LST)

There are two types of plant training within the cannabis realm — high-stress training and low-stress training. Each of them has a few different techniques under the umbrella and can have great effects when done properly.

High-Stress Training (HST)

Super cropping is one method of HST that’s done later on in the plant’s flower cycle. Basically, the top stalk of your plant is gently pinched and bent over once it has passed a certain height, or when there is a desire to refocus the nutrients to lower flowers. It’s a way of cutting off nutes (nutrients) to the tops and sharing the love.

Ultimately, you get a much chunkier yield of buds and a bigger smile. This technique is often used at my commercial grow house in Denver. Our final yields push better numbers when using this form of HST. It’s crucial when your buds are climbing too close to the light as well.

Topping cannabis also falls under high-stress because it involves breaking parts of the plant.

a person cuts an immature cannabis plant
Topping is known as a high stress training technique since it causes damage to the plant by cutting off certain parts. photo credit

It’s a pretty simple cut near the top which will be demonstrated below. This, in response, triggers a defense-mechanism and sends the plant into survival mode, which will generate more flowers in order to survive the perceived threat.

Low-Stress Training (LST)

Low-stress training, on the other hand, does not involve breaking your plants. Bending your plants and tying the stems in order to change the shape of the plant is a great example of LST. This method can help increase yield and the number of colas on your cannabis plant. LST is recommended for beginners because it can be easy to mess up HST.

Consider your level of skill before manipulating or topping cannabis plants in general.

How to Top a Cannabis Plant

It’s time to learn the secret of topping cannabis — how is it actually done? If you’ve never done this before, this YouTube video is worth your time — especially for those visual learners. It can be easy to mess up or mis-cut, so make sure you’re comfortable with the process before starting.

If you’re ready to dive in, here are the steps and a few pictures for reference.

Step by Step Instructions to Top a Cannabis Plant


- Trimmer shears – sharpened for precision

- Isopropyl alcohol spray

- cannabis plant in veg of your choosing

STEP 1 – Clean off your trimmers with isopropyl alcohol. This assures you are using sterile equipment when topping cannabis plants. The importance of being clean when growing cannabis cannot be stressed enough. It’s unfortunately far too easy to spread bad things, such as pathogens, from plant to plant when using the same set of shears all day. Beginner growers often see weird things happen to their plants and a lack of cleanliness can play a huge factor.

STEP 2 – Identify the number of nodes on the plant by counting up from the bottom. Be careful as you run your fingers up the stem since babies and plants in early veg are fragile and will break in a heartbeat. The minimum number of nodes to start topping is 5, but 6 and 7 are great. The plant will be strong and able to handle the high stress put upon it.

STEP 3 – GENTLY pinch your top at the tip. The name of the game when it comes to cannabis is delicacy. Trust an experienced grower from Denver – it’s far too easy to have an oopsy if you’re being careless.

STEP 4 – Using the tip of your cleaned shears, snip the tip as close to the bottom of its own stem as possible. A clean cut will allow room for two new stems to grow.

STEP 5 – Dispose of the snipped stem in your green waste bin. Now comes the fun part — the waiting game. You might be shocked as to how fast topped cannabis plants respond to the threat of being chopped.

STEP 6 - The new growth will appear, and then it’s time to ask yourself if you should do another round to achieve 4, 8, or beyond. For beginners, keep it simple and stick to one topping. See how the process goes and feel comfortable before considering more.

STEP 7 – Try not to cry happy tears when your babies yield more cannabis than you ever imagined!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Can You Top a Plant?

You should top your cannabis plant at the very top of the plant on the main stem, once at least 5 nodes have developed.

Can I Cut Off the Top of my Plant?

Yes, the topping technique involves cutting off the top of the plant to increase growth on the sides.

Does Topping Increase Yield?

Yes, topping will increase your yield! This is the main reason growers will top their plants.

Have you ever topped your cannabis plants? If so, how did it go? Let us know in the comments!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock


David Martin David Martin

David Martin is a Denver native, commercial cannabis grower and reviewer. He has worked in grows for multiple Colorado cannabis companies; most recently, Callie's Cannabis. He has his M.S. in Sports Marketing from the University of Memphis, and previously taught E.S.L. His favorite pastimes are animated comedies like Bob's Burgers and Rick and Morty. You can often find him concocting new edibles on the weekend.

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