This is part 6 of our week-by-week series on growing marijuana in the Vegetative Stage using hydroponic methods. In the last episode we, we showed you how we prune our plants in veg. Now that our plants are pruned up and are a little bigger, we are ready to “top” these plants.

In this Episode, you will learn the following:

  • The reasons for topping your plants
  • When to top your plant in the vegetative stage
  • How to top your cannabis plant

The Reason for Topping your Cannabis Plant in the Vegetative stage

As with all things related to cannabis cultivation, there is no singular correct way to do things. From the size of pots to the length of veg, there are many different ways of achieving a good result. The same can be said for topping a plant.

Some growers top their plants, some do not. Some growers top early in veg or multiple times. With all of these differences in opinion, we must state that context is critical. A grower must first have a clear end goal in site, and then do what is necessary in veg to obtain that goal.

Once you know what you are trying to achieve, you can put together a strategy.

For us, our goal is maximal yield at the end of flowering stage. And as indoor growers, we must fill our canopy full in order to get maximal yield. For that reason, we have arrived at the opinion of topping our plants later in veg, just prior to switching to the 12/12 flowering stage.

Our reasons for topping: create broader, more even canopy, to achieve greater yield

At Smokey Okies Cannabis, we grow indoors, as a commercial business. Since we have really expensive electric bills, we need to get the most out of the electricity we are paying for. And quality is our top priority, so we want all of our buds to be fully developed and dense. We do not want larfy or spongy buds that lack density, as this is a sign of incomplete development and will affect flavor and aroma.

In order to accomplish this, we want a broad canopy, so that we have a “screen of green” as opposed to individual plants with a tall center and then shorter side branches.

By having all the colas at the top, the light is disperse across the canopy, as opposed to hitting a tall center, and then less and less light hits the middle and lower parts of the plant.

But how do we get this “screen of green” canopy in the flowering stage?

The answer is that we top our plants during the latter half of the vegetative stage. And by topping our plants during the vegetative phase, we are able to have multiple colas, of even height, during the flowering stage.

Your Reasons for Topping: Could be yield, quality, or maintaining desired height

You could be a home grower or another small business grower like us. You, too, will have specific goals and objectives you are after, while also dealing with the constraints of your situation. That could be your ceiling height limitation or something else.

In general, the reason most growers top their plants is to get additional colas near the top that will contribute to the overall yield of the bud. The more bud at harvest time, the better.

Topping will allow you to have more “tops” and can also allow you to control the height of your plant, so you avoid having a tall, skinny plant. Instead, you can have a fat, bushy plant, that is easier to maintain and results in greater yield.

When to Top your Cannabis Plant?

There are several keys to successfully topping your plant. First, you want your plant to be of sufficient height and stature. You do not want to top a small, early stage veg plant for several reasons.

When you top a plant early in its development, you actually stunt its growth. The plant may recover after a few weeks, but now you just extended the length of your veg cycle.

Additionally, since your plant is short in height, you basically instruct the plant to fork out branches near the bottom. We do not want that.  While this does create multiple, additional branches and tops, it also creates more defoliation work later in flower. However, you will not realize this until you are several weeks into flower.

How to decide if your plant is ready to be topped

You need to have a plant that is about two feet tall. This is not a hard and fast rule. But you want enough height that you have several side branches poking out. These side branches are actually what we want to focus on.

We want to develop a “crown” at the top of our plant. This crown should consist of 4 or 5 colas, that will all be of equal height.

Another reason that the plant must be of sufficient height is that we are literally going to chop off the top of it, which will reduce it back down.

So as your plant is growing, look to develop what is surrounding the center. Our aim is to create a crown but cutting off the center “top” and thereby allowing the sides to catch up.

How to Top your cannabis plant?

To many of us, this may be counterintuitive, but it works. We are going to cut that large, center top. The one that looks so glorious. A rather large, and prominent part of the plant. This can’t be good, right?! Oh, but it is….

Our goal is to have multiple, uniform colas during the flowering stage. This will give us the increased yield that we want.This form of topping will also keep our plant growing outwards, as opposed to only upwards.

So how do we do it? Here are the instructions.

  1. Identify the center branch, and go to the top.
  2. Work your way down from the top, until you meet the first fork. It should be a small branch that has only recently jutted out. It will have its own node for future flowering. This is where we want to cut.
  3. Before cutting, observe the surrounding branches for their potential to create a crown at the top of the plant. If there is not enough development, then wait another week before topping.
  4. When it is time to top the plant, go back to the center fork, and cut above the fork at a 45 degree angle.
  5. Remove and discard the severed branch. Allow a full week for your plant to recover.

What to do after Topping your plant

You have now just “topped” your plant. How do you feel? If this is your first time topping your plant, you may have some remorse or second thoughts.

That’s okay. This advice can seem rather counterintuitive. We just chopped off the top of the plant. In fact, we purposely waited for the plant to grow to this height, only to cut it down.

But topping is not about any one “top.” It’s about creating multiple tops, so that you can flower multiple colas. The end result is a more even canopy, and greater yields. This may seem hard to believe, but just wait.

After severing the center top, you will be surprised at how well the plant recovers and rebounds.

After a full week of recovery, your center branch will have only minimally grown, but your surrounding branches will have made much more progress. You can see this for yourself in Part 7 of this series. The plant is shockingly bigger, and that is after only seven days.

Watch both of these videos back to back, so that you have the confidence to chop your plant, knowing it will be better off later on.


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