Growing cannabis takes a lot of maintenance.
One of the most important parts of the process is trimming your plants so that they have optimal growth.
While there are many techniques used to care for pot plants, one of the most common is topping.
Today we will go over what exactly topping is, how to do it, and when to top cannabis plants.
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What is Topping?
All cannabis yields derive from one single bud that starts it all, the kola (also known as apex bud and terminal bud).
As the plants continue to grow taller, topping is done to create more life out of the bud.
By topping the cannabis, the tip of the kola will split.
Naturally, another kola will grow from in this new path.
When you top cannabis plants once, the shape of the overall plant will become much rounder and bushier in nature.
How to Top Off a Plant
Topping is pretty easy to do.
All you need is a sterilized pair of scissors to ensure you aren’t introducing any contaminants to the plant.
Select a part of the stem that is growing just below the tip.
At that spot, perform a clean cut just above the lowest internode.
Now your first topping job is done.
How Many Times Can You Top a Plant?
Continuously topping the kola can end up multiplying the total number of kolas from one to double digits.
This will set the stage for even more plant growth because topping also facilitates growth spurts for lower levels of branches, leaves and flowers.
When you top your plant multiple times, the resulting shape will result in a bushier plant.
Instead of a robust exterior, the plant will have more of an upside-down Christmas tree effect.
Be careful putting your plants under too much stress, though.
Topping to many times can end up killing your plant if you do it too aggressively.
How Does Topping Affect Kolas?
As you top off the plant, the kola will continue to grow the most near the top.
This is because the northern section of the plant is what’s closest to the light source, facilitating energy and growth in that particular area.
Exposing the area most prone to light allows the plant to produce more flower.
From there, the apex bud turns to a growth strategy known as apical dominance.
When this happens, little auxiliary buds that would naturally pop up will cease growth.
This is ideal because then all of the light’s energy isn’t being wasted on the little buds and instead is being focused on the kolas.
How Auxin Works to Promote Plant Growth
The chemical auxin is pivotal to the whole topping process.
That’s because auxin promotes cell division that results in stronger growth in both the roots and stems.
Auxin accomplishes these tasks by partaking in four key functions in the plant’s growth cycle.
For one, auxins stimulate gibberellins.
Gibberellins are the hormone responsible for germination, flowering and stem elongation.
When stem elongation happens, this increases the plant’s overall length, which decreases the distance between nodes and spaces each branch further apart from the other.
Next, auxins control where the seedlings reside.
While seedlings tend to sprout from the soil and toward the light, gravity takes auxins down the stem, away from the light.
This reconvenes where the seedlings go, as cells grow more in areas that have higher concentrations of auxins.
As you trim the plant, auxins will also grow where the stem was cut.
At this area, the stem will initiate the roots for more growth.
Lastly, auxins also promote maturation of the ovary wall within the female flower.
This leads to full development of the kolas into thriving marijuana plants.
Two Steps Forward One Step Back
You will now notice as you’re topping, there will be two new tips emerging from both sides of the node.
They should be sprouting just below where you cut.
Both tips that are rising out of this node are now considered terminal buds.
To facilitate more growth out of these new tips, you'll need to apply the apical dominance process.
Now you have more than one kola.
While this is a good thing, you may be a bit perturbed because all of these replicas pale in comparison size-wise to the original apex bud that started off this whole process.
However, there is no need to get upset.
While the individual kolas may be smaller in size than a solitary kola would have grown to become on its own, these extra kolas combined will generate a larger yield of marijuana.
Topping and the Height of Your Cannabis Plant
Sure, you want to cultivate as much cannabis as possible.
But another important reason to top your cannabis plant is so that you can manage how high the things grows.
Since you are snipping away at the top, the plant must figure out a new trajectory.
Seeing as the openings aren't facing the sky anymore, the light starts to attract growth from the plant in a sideways manner.
This is ideal because if a plant does come in contact with the light above, it might scorch the bud, effectively killing off precious THC.
When to Top Cannabis Plants
While topping is an important part of growing cannabis, you don’t want to do it too early, or your plant may not be able to recover the trauma.
The earliest you can start the process without causing any lasting damage to the plant is when the kola has developed at least three or four new nodes.
However, it’s better to wait it out until the nodes have hit around five or six of them.
Due to a larger overall area that is going through the photosynthesis process with five or six nodes, the plant will recover from the snipping a lot quicker.
For some cannabis growers, they will hold off on topping the plant until they notice the emergence of roots at the bottom of the pot.
Roots are a telltale sign that everything is going okay in your plant’s world.
Therefore, if roots are sprouting on the bottom, then the recovery time will be minimal.
When to top cannabis plants can really trip up the novice grower, but just stick to this advice and you'll be fine.
How Long Does a Plant Take to Recover?
Each plant is unique and will have different recovery times.
The general rule of thumb is rotund and thick plants are more resilient.
If you top thick plants too early, their bounce back rate is still impressive.
On the other hand, if you were to clip a thinner, slower-growing marijuana plant, only top it if you are sure of the root health and the amount of nodes.
Getting the Node Ready for Regrowth
Once you top, the fun doesn't stop.
After the apex bud has been topped, continue to top new shoots as they spring up.
All you need to do is wait for one internode to grow.
As soon as the internode sprouts new life in the form of leaves, top it off by cutting just above the new growth.
Additionally, once lateral branches situated below the kola have formed, they can be topped as well.
By doing this, you can expect the plant to grow very bushy.
When Topping is Not an Option
Topping is a popular process and can bring forth a very generous yield of cannabis.
However, it's not always a good idea to top your cannabis plants.
For instance, be sure to stay away from topping when your plant has hit the flowering phase.
You should only top when the cannabis is still growing in the vegetative stage.
That’s because when the plant flowers, its overall chemical makeup changes.
Think of how you or your children acted during puberty.
When things change, plants and humans act a fool.
During the flowering phase, the way marijuana grows and how the plant operates switches it up completely.
Changes in Energy Consumption and Its Effect on Topping
Some of these important changes include how many nutrients and how much moisture the plant needs.
As the plant begins to flower, many growers end up switching to a 12/12 set up.
That means the cannabis plant will receive 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness.
While this is the healthiest way to care for your cannabis plant during the flowering stage, it also puts the plant under a considerable amount of stress.
If you were to cut into the plant during the flowering period, you would negatively affect the overall yield of cannabis.
Adding a new incision to the plant will unexpectedly cause the plant to shift its energy use to repair the new cut.
Doing this will set back your plant growth.
Instead of the cannabis focusing on making sticky flowers to smoke, it’s going to send all its stored energy into the areas that were recently topped off for repair.
This means less yield then you would get if you topped your cannabis at the right time.
So, do you now know when to top cannabis plants?
Here's the TL;DR:
- Wait until there are at least 3-4 nodes before topping.
- Waiting until 6 or so nodes pop up will give you an even better result.
- Don't wait too long to top your plants or it could cause more damage then good.
- You can top the plant multiple times, just don't go too crazy or you will cause too much stress for the plant defectively killing it.
Were you able to top your cannabis plants? Tell us all about it in the comments section below!