Training is fun, it gets you more involved with your plants, it helps maximize on your grow space and lights and it burns a calorie or two in addition to dramatically increasing yields!
But there is a dark side to training. It shows up when newer or possibly misinformed growers attempt to train their cannabis plants, but end up stunting their growth or generally doing them more harm than good. This can come from accidents like breaking stems, but sometimes it’s a fault in the way the technique is being used.
Being aware of these cannabis training mistakes will ensure you have a trouble-free grow and get the best from your genetics. Cannabis loves to be trained, but only by those with the care and finesse to do it right.
Training cannabis plants is a great way to encourage more bud sites and bigger yields. Cannabis responds well, in fact vibrantly, to being trained. Indoors and outdoors, a number of training methods are proven to improve the overall performance of cannabis.
There is no doubt that cannabis is a hardy plant. However, it is not so hardy as to instantly recover from misplaced over-enthusiasm. Plants will eventually recover under most circumstances, but can end up stunted or extending vegetation time significantly. Without a specific time frame, cannabis will recover from the cruellest of attention. But who wants to wait weeks more for lower-quality buds?
Avoiding these training mistakes will ensure you get the quality you are after, in the time frame you want.
Not training plants at all is the first mistake most inexperienced growers make. Indoor grow spaces are most often limited, and not training means not optimising the production capabilities of any space. Even smaller autoflowering varieties respond well to even light distribution over a tied-down canopy.
The screen of green training technique places a metal or plastic screen over the plant canopy. New growth is tucked under the screen to form an even sheet of weed that receives equally intense light exposure. During the flowering phase, emerging colas are arranged evenly for maximum light and air circulation. Only choose this technique if you have the time to spend with your plants, as it can be labour-intensive.
Topping too early and placing the screen too close to the growing medium are an invitation to diseases. Plants need to have good air circulation below the canopy and at the surface of the growing medium.
Not using the screen enough defeats the purpose of this technique. All growth needs to be kept at screen level until at least the second week of flowering. A good knowledge of how plants respond to being topped is essential. If plants simply have a screen placed over them, but aren’t manipulated to suit, then there is simply a grow space with a screen getting in the way.
Growing cannabis with the SCROG (Screen of green) method
WHOOPS! SNAPPED BRANCHES
Snapped branches and training too early (before plants are strong enough) are the most common mistakes made by growers. Snapped branches can be splinted and taped back together, but the recovery time is extensive, while plants that are still too young for training can become stunted as they are not yet strong enough to respond with vigour. Let plants grow to the sixth node before attempting training methods. Take it gently yet firmly, and get the timing right.
Mainlining involves topping a plant a number of times, then undershucking the branches so only main colas are grown. Branches are tied into positions to maximise light and air distribution.
Topping too early, then too often, is a common mistake when mainlining. Too early, and plants take longer to recover, then new growth is too close to the grow medium, preventing air circulation and risking disease. Then, when aiming for 16 or more colas, branches need to grow enough before being topped again so the plant volume doesn’t become overcrowded. Topping all new growth successively will create a slow-growing, poorly structured plant.
A good rule of thumb for a well-distributed plant is to wait to top again until you have the same number of nodes as what number topping it is. After the first top, let two nodes grow before the second top, then let three nodes grow before the third top, then let four nodes grow before the fourth top. This way, plants won’t fight for space and will remain vigorous at each topping.
FORGETTING THE “LOW” IN LST
Low-stress training techniques expose as much leaf surface area to light, then as much bud surface area to light as practical in any grow space. Branches are bent and tied into position to optimise light penetration. At its simplest, it can involve bending a young plant over; at its most complex, it can be a large ScrOG.
Low-stress training techniques require plants to be handled often. Disrespect the natural tolerance of cannabis and it will break for sure. Every grower at some point has cringed to the telltale crunch of a branch snapping through, then painstakingly repaired the injury while trying not to break any more branches. Be confident but gentle—the difference between bent and broken is tiny, especially with strains that have a crispier and stiffer texture.
Defoliation is the select removal of leaves at specific stages of growth in order to enhance plant performance. During vegetation, the increased light penetration into the understory of the plant increases overall growth. Then, in the early budding phase, removal of leaves stimulates growth in the flowering part of the plant.
Be sure to remove the right type of leaves when defoliating. Only remove fan leaves—not sugar leaves. Fan leaves are the large ones that form at a branch; sugar leaves, on the other hand, are part of the bud structure. Removing the wrong leaves is one step forward and two steps back.
Taking off too many leaves makes for a long recovery time. Beginners should start off gently, and then let experience make them more cavalier. If time was no problem, cannabis could recuperate from an utter stripping, and will even force new growth through bare trunks and branches. But it takes a long time, so don’t despair when things are overdone, just a bit of patience is required.
Make sure plants are full-on vegetating before removing leaves. If plants are too young, they will simply be damaged. As a very general rule, if the new growth does not look robust enough to support itself without the sustenance from the adjacent fan leaf, leave the leaf on. When fan leaves are taken off too early, the plant will consider the emerging branch a dud, and it will end up stunted as the plant concentrates energy somewhere closer to the light. As a result, a potential flower site is lost.
NOT CONSIDERING YOUR MEDIUM
The medium in which plants are grown can affect response rates in trained plants. Things are pretty much equal with LST techniques, but plants in DWC or hydro respond quicker to harsher treatment than organic soil grows. Soil still benefits from the extra growth, only over a slightly longer time—but a bit of patience never hurt anyone. Depending on the variables of your grow, training techniques will ultimately result in a spectrum of different recovery periods. It all comes down to watching and “listening” to your plants, giving them the time and space they need to recover after being bent, bruised, and manhandled.