Simplest Cannabis Plant Training Guide
For indoor growers, there are tons of “techniques” for plant training to increase cannabis yields, including LST, topping / FIMing, manifolding, ScrOG, etc. These tactics have been developed and named by various growers over the years, and it can get really confusing! There’s so many names being thrown around, and some of the techniques can be complicated or time-consuming. Let me simplify things a little bit.
Plant training increases cannabis yields by growing only long, dense colas (without any small buds)
The idea behind almost any marijuana plant training technique is to make a flat, wide table-top shape for your plant canopy with many colas (bud sites). There’s about a million ways to accomplish this which is why there are so many different techniques, but they all have at least that one thing in common.
This shape ensures that each of your main buds gets plenty of light and air, resulting in lots of long, fat buds and bigger yields for you. In fact, with plant training you can increase your yields by as much as 40% compared to not training your plants!
In the marijuana vegetative stage, you encourage your plants to grow many bud sites in a wide, flat, table-top shape. This can be accomplished a few different ways.
You don’t want too many colas because each one will start to become smaller as they lose their ‘personal space’. You’ll get optimum yields by making sure every cola has some breathing room of around 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) between each cola. This gives them room for buds to fatten up. But other than that, try to fill the space under your light with as many colas as you can. Every “empty” spot under the grow light without any buds growing is wasting some amount of light that could be going towards increasing your yields.
Optimally, you want your colas spaced something like this by the time you start flowering…
…which is how you can achieve something like this!
Making lots of long colas is important because that’s where the biggest, longest and most dense buds form!
So today, you’ll learn how to succeed with simple and easy plant training, without any special techniques!
Simple Cannabis Plant Training Guide
Now we’re going to skip all the techniques, and I’m just going to break it down to the most basic principles you need to remember. But before we get started, a quick definition that’s very important to plant training….
What’s a cola? A “cola” is an informal term used by cannabis growers to describe a main stem or “growth tip” that has made it all the way to the top of the canopy. These turn into bud sites.
In the vegetative stage these just look like regular stems with growth tips at the end, but since they’ve made it all the way to the top we label those stems as “main” stems or colas. In the flowering stage it’s these stems in particular that grow into the biggest and longest buds, which is why growers try to make many of them.
Each growth tip/cola looks a little like a “star” from above in the vegetative stage. Can you spot the 8 main colas on this plant?
Colas are sometimes called “mains” or “tops” because they’re main stems, and because they’ve made it to the top of the plant. They can originate from anywhere on the plant that has a growth tip.
Nurture lots of colas for a “sea” of bud sites in the flowering stage!
Quick Fact: Where did the word “cola” come from? Cola is a Spanish term meaning “tail” and was originally used by Mexican cannabis growers. Back in the 70s when marijuana was mostly of the commercial brick variety, many growers would look for weed that had the biggest colas.
Now that you have a handle on what a cola is, let’s get to general ideas to keep in mind!
Idea 1: Pick prominent growth tips and nurture them into colas
Any growth tip can become a cola if given plenty of light and air.
Your goal is to nurture growth tips close to the base of your plant so many of them make it to the top canopy. You don’t need any special techniques to do that, because all you have to do to nurture a growth tip into a full-fledged cola is…
Make sure the growth tips you want are exposed to direct light and air!
In fact, it can actually make a surprising amount of difference just to bend and tuck your leaves out of the way so the growth tips are exposed directly to the light.
You’ll see that some growth tips tend to naturally grow bigger and be more prominent than the others, and you want to try to work with your plant instead of against it. If your plant seems to be “favoring” a particular growth tip, then that’s a really great candidate to nurture into a cola.
Some cannabis growers will actually cut off the top of their plant (“topping”) when it’s very young, to “split” the main stem into two main stems at the very bottom. This can help make it easier to spread out the plant as it gets bigger. But this is only a matter of preference and you will get great results just bending over your main stem without having to cut the plant at all.
Idea 2: Choose colas that start lower on the plant, near the base of the main stem.
When possible try to pick colas that start lower on the plant, near the base of the main stem. The best stems usually go all the way down to the bottom of the plant. For whatever reason the plant seems to put more energy into these stems and they tend to grow bigger buds than ones that originate higher up on the plant.
Note: This is the main idea behind techniques like manifolding where every cola originates near same place on the main base. But you don’t necessarily need to create a manifold to get the increase in yields.
Notice how all the colas on this plant originate near the bottom of the plant. Not only does your plant tend to put more energy into these stems, it also gives you longer buds, further increasing your yields.
Idea 3: Bend Stems the Right Way
Whenever bending stems out of the way you want to try to bend only the flexible parts of the stem, which are usually located near the ends. Avoid bending any part that has already become stiff or woody, as these tend to snap.
Bending technique – try to bend only the flexible parts of stems, which are located near the tips
If for whatever you have to bend a stem that’s already become woody, you need to take a few extra precautions to prevent the skin of the stem from splitting.
How to prevent the skin from splitting: What you need to do is take the part of the stem you want to bend between your fingers. Squeeze it tight, and then slowly and gently wiggle it around, squishing the stem as hard as you can while you’re wiggling. The stem will start to become more pliable as the inside gets kind of crushed. You’re basically “crunching” up the inside of the stem without breaking the skin so it doesn’t offer as much resistance. Once the stem actually feels flexible, that’s when you try to bend it. Don’t try to bend it if it still feels stiff! Some people call this “supercropping” but basically it’s just a way to bend a stiff stem.
To bend a really stiff stem: Pinch the stem tightly between your fingers(not nails), then squeeze firmly while wiggling the stem gently back and forth where you want it to bend. Continue until you feel/hear crunching from the inside of the stem (may take several seconds of wiggling) and the stem gets flexible. At that point slowly bend the stem at the new joint you’ve made, and secure in place.
Recovering from bending/supercropping gone wrong: If you do accidentally snap a stem and break the skin while trying to bend it over, never fear! Vegetative plants can recover from a lot and if you quickly wrap up the injury with duct tape or electrical tape, like a “cast,” your cannabis plant will actually be able to repair the broken stem. After a week or two it will form a “knuckle” at the place that was injured, and you’ll be able to remove the tape. Good as new!
Idea 4: Bend over any colas that are getting taller than the others
When any of your main colas gets taller than the others, bend it down and away from the base of the plant, optimally towards a spot under the light that doesn’t have any other buds.
This works best if you’re checking on your plant regularly so you can catch the problem stem(s) early, before any one gets out of control and becomes difficult to bend over. Staying on top of it also gives you the ability to train that stem to fill up any “holes” in the canopy that are lacking a cola.
If some of the colas are getting taller than the others
Bend the tallest ones over until they’re all the same height as each other
Keep your plant flat as the stems grow out!
Idea 5: Secure stems in place
If you don’t secure your stems after bending, they’ll turn back up and grow right where they were, often overnight!
Use something soft yet pliable like plant twisty ties, as they’ve been particularly made to secure plants this way, and won’t hurt your plants or cut into the skin.
You can secure to anything, but the container of the plant works very well because if you pick up the plant, everything stays in shape.
In hydro I recommend attaching twist ties directly to the lid in some way. That way you can move the lid without disturbing the plant.
When growing in a container I recommend attaching your twisty tie directly to the lip of the pot because you’ll be able to pick up and move the plant freely.
You can find plant twist tie online or in the gardening section of physical stores (if you’re not sure what to ask for, plant ties are often used to secure vines)
Idea 6: Arrange your buds!
Before you initiate the flowering stage, you want each cola to have at least 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) of empty space around it, so there’s a nice space between colas and they have room to grow. Other than that you want as many colas under the light as possible.
So as your plant is growing in the vegetative stage you want to look for “holes” or places under the light which don’t have any colas. If you do see one, find a cola from around the edges (or find a nearby growth tip) and nurture/train/bend it to fill in that hole. Filling up the whole space under the light is how you get the best yields!
Fill up any “empty” spots in the canopy by bending one of the colas from around the edges down and into the empty spot. This arrow points to an empty spot in the canopy.
For example in the picture above, the top middle cola in the back (the ones that is already taller than the others and kind of crowded) is perfect to bend over and fill in that hole.
Idea 7: Before you flip to the flowering stage, remove most/all the stems that haven’t become colas (“Lollipop” your plant)
You definitely want to keep your main stems that you’ve arranged in the top canopy, but as your plant gets bigger and you start getting close to the flowering stage, you’ll see you have lots of smaller and less developed stems underneath the main canopy. Some people call these undeveloped stems “suckers” and they will definitely suck energy away from your bigger buds!
Remove “suckers” that are stealing energy from your main buds!
Remove some of those stems that won’t ever make it to the top – they’ll only make small, airy buds while stealing resources away from the main colas that you want your plant to focus on. No up-and-coming small stems should be competing with a cola for light and space. Advanced growers: For the best results, remove most/all of these underdeveloped stems.
Not long before you change your plant over to the flowering stage, remove stems that didn’t make it to the top of the plant and will never get any direct light. This is sometimes called “lollipopping” the plant. The parts of the plant in darkness will only steal energy away from your main colas, and would only produce small larfy buds so it’s better to get rid of them.
One Last Tip…
When it comes to becoming the most effective at plant training, the best thing you can do is check on your cannabis plant regularly, especially for the first few grows, so you can really get a solid understanding of how the plant and stems respond to input from their grower… you!
But if you just keep the above simple plant training guide in mind, you can achieve yields that are just as good as any special training technique! Or you can combine them with training techniques, as these principles work great no matter how you’re training your plant!
This simple plant training guide teaches you how to increase yields indoors by up to 40%! Learn how to prevent cannabis from growing small or airy buds.
Complete Guide to Cannabis Plant Training
Table of Contents
Introduction to Plant Training: Indoor Training Tactics for Bigger Yields!
Introduction: How to Train Indoor Plants for Bigger Yields
Are you interested in increasing your yields when growing indoors? If so, you’re in the right place! Plant training is one of the easiest ways to increase your cannabis yields without having to upgrade your light or setup. It can be used to increase your yields up to 40% compared to not training, and it’s free!
First off, what is plant training?
“Plant training” means physically manipulating the plant so it grows more bud sites, resulting in increased yields indoors
Why not let plants grow naturally? Cannabis naturally grows in a “Christmas Tree” shape that is optimized for sunlight, not grow lights. Unlike the sun, cannabis grow lights do not rise and set every day, providing light from the sides. Furthermore, indoor grow lights have almost no penetration when compared against the sun; the light from a 1000W HPS is usable for a few feet while light from the sun is usable to plants after traveling 93 million miles!
Even outdoors, lower buds tend to grow smaller than the top ones (cannabis is a wind-pollinated plant and favors buds that are higher up). But the lack of growth in lower buds becomes more pronounced indoors. With grow lights, the vast majority of the light produced is aimed straight down over the top of the plant, and in most setups the sides don’t get much light at all. Because of these reasons, the Christmas Tree shape can be really inefficient indoors, causing your plant to have just one big, top bud and many smaller ones that don’t weigh nearly as much.
The main idea of plant training is to create several top colas to take the best advantage of indoor grow lights so less light is lost and yields are higher overall.
Make many cannabis colas instead of just one!
Three main types of marijuana plant training
- Bending and securing parts of the plant while causing little-to-no physical damage to the plant
- Damaging or removing parts of the plant in a strategic way to get it to grow in a more desirable shape
- Manipulating timelines to get faster or bigger yields
Usually, growers will use more than one of these types of training because they can complement each other, but it’s also possible to use just one and not any others. For example, when growing auto-flowering strains you can’t manipulate timelines and it’s generally advised not to damage the plant since they have such a short life and that could result in stunting. So for auto-flowering plants, the main option is just bending and securing.
Next: a breakdown of each plant training technique so your garden has tons of colas!
Bending & Securing Parts of the Plant
Bending and securing parts of your plant is usually referred to as “Low Stress Training” (LST).
General Low Stress Training (LST) – LST is the process of bending stems and securing them in place. The general idea is to bend tall stems down and away from the middle of the plant as it grows so the plant takes on a more flat and wide shape. This should be started when the plant is still a seedling since its young stems will be flexible, while the stems of older plants become rigid and woody. Some growers use the term “LST” as an umbrella term to cover all types of plant training, while others use it to refer only to bending.
Plant Twisty Ties are commonly used to secure stems in place after bending them over, but lots of growers get creative (pipe cleaners, soft coated wire, etc). Just don’t use anything “sharp” like chicken wire because it cuts into the plant as it grows.
This grower consistently bent the tallest stems down as the plants grew, resulting in a flat, table-top shape
When the plant starts making buds, this flat, wide shape results in multiple colas that are all around the same distance from the light
Read the complete article on Low Stress Training.
No-Technique Plant Training – This is cannabis plant training in its most basic form. If it’s your first grow and you want to keep things simple, or if you don’t have much time and want to do the bare minimum to get results, this is for you!
The main stem was bent over 90° when the plant was very young, so all the lower branches were able to grow up and become main colas. Bending the main stem was the only training done to this plant, no fancy techniques!
Supercropping – this technique is a more “extreme” kind of bending, and is used for stems that are too tall but have become woody and difficult to bend. With supercropping you “soften up” the stem first before bending it at an extreme angle. Supercropping can be incredibly helpful towards wrangling an out-of-control plant, and it has a few other benefits too because it can stress the plant in a “good” way.
Supercropping involves extreme bending, but without hurting the “skin” of your plant
Read the complete article on Supercropping.
Screen of Green (ScrOG) is a technique where growers use a screen over their plants and weave stems through the screen as they grow. When the plant starts making buds it’s already in a flat, table-top shape with lots of well-spaced bud sites under the grow lights. The screen also provides support for heavy buds.
Example of Screen of Green (ScrOG)
Read the complete article on Screen of Green.
Damaging or Removing Parts of the Plant
These training techniques all involve pruning the plant in some way to improve growth and increase yields indoors.
Topping & FIMing are ways of damaging the plant at a very young age to lead to plants growing m0re bud sites.
In this next picture, notice how the plant sort of “splits” at one point near the base of the plant. That split is where the plant was topped or FIMed and the apical dominance was broken. As a result, the plant turned many stems into main colas instead of only growing big buds on one main stem
Read the complete article on Topping & FIMing
Topping – The idea is to completely remove the top of the plant’s main stem as a seedling. This breaks its apical dominance, or tendency to grow one main cola, and immediately splits the plant into two main stems. As a result of being topped at a young age, the plant will naturally grow multiple colas even if you don’t do anything else.
FIMing – A very closely related technique to topping. The idea of FIMing is to damage or “shave” the top of the plant instead of removing it completely. This can accomplish many of the same goals as topping, but has less of a chance of stressing the plant. The downside is it’s more likely to fail at actually breaking apical dominance (plant may still tend to grow one main cola).
Manifolding – This describes a sequence of topping the plant two times in a specific way so that it forms a wide “manifold” at the base of the plant. This is an easy way to achieve a lot of training without much time on your part. A benefit of training the plant with manifolding is buds tend to grow bigger, longer and more uniform than they would with some other training methods. The downside is topping your plant twice can add a week or two onto your grow.
Read the complete article on manifolding.
Defoliation – Defoliation means removing leaves on your plant, usually only the biggest fan leaves. This might be done in the vegetative stage for various reasons, but the main “technique” is using defoliation in a certain way during the first month of the flowering stage in order to encourage buds to grow bigger. With this technique, the cannabis plant is defoliated right before the switch to the flowering stage, then another time or two during the first few weeks while the plant is in the midst of the explosion of growth known as the flowering stretch.
Defoliation involves removing fan leaves in a strategic way in the first part of the flowering stage
This strategic defoliation exposes all the newly forming buds to light and air right when they’re at their most crucial stage of development. Because of how cannabis (a wind-pollinated plant) buds reacts to light and air, this dramatically increase the size and density of the buds as long as you take off the right amount of leaves at the right time (overdoing this or doing it too late in the flowering stage can do more harm than good!). It’s also very important to note that defoliation should only be done to indoor-grown plants, and even then only plants that are healthy!
Notice how few fan leaves this plant has? That’s because it was strategically defoliated during the first few weeks after the switch to 12/12. In response, the buds grew long, fat and dense.
Read the complete article on defoliation
These aren’t necessarily “training” techniques per se, but they are techniques that growers use to increase yields for free, and the main principle is the same – more buds directly under the grow light!
12-12 From Seed is the technique of trying to make seedlings start flowering (making buds) as soon as possible by giving them a “12-12” light schedule from seed. The idea is to get a harvest as quick as possible.
12-12 from Seed results in a quick harvest, but tends to cause stunted plants
Read the complete article on 12-12 From Seed.
Sea of Green is a related technique to 12-12 From Seed. The idea with Sea of Green is to grow many small plants instead of a few big plants. This allows a grower to make a sea of buds without having to do any plant training and can result in big yields that take less time. The main idea is to let seedlings grow for only 4-5 weeks before immediately switching them to the flowering stage. Since each plant doesn’t have to get very big, the time needed before flowering is reduced by several weeks. Many growers will also “top” their seedlings by removing the tips of seedlings when they have about 4-6 pairs of leaves.
For SoG, initiate the flowering stage when plants are this size or bigger
Sea of Green in Action
Read full article about Sea of Green
Why Should Growers Train Cannabis Plants to Grow Flat?
How Does Plant Training Increase Yields?
Indoor cannabis growers train their plants to grow with lots of thick bud sites because that shape produces the best yields under the limited power of grow lights.
As a grower, you can control a lot of the final size and shape of your plant by using proper cannabis training and growing techniques while the plant is young, such as topping, FIMing, LST, main-lining, supercropping, defoliation, SoG, ScrOG and more, as described in this page. This page explains everything else you can do to get your cannabis to grow the way you want, whether it’s small or big, so you get the best yields possible.
However, no matter how well you train your plants during the vegetative stage, some growth patterns (and many of aspects of your buds like appearance, smell and potency) are going to be determined by your plant’s genes, especially in the flowering stage. If you don’t have access to cannabis seeds or clones where you live, you can control the genetics by growing a strain from a trustworthy breeder and ordering seeds online.
Light is Like “Food” for Cannabis Plants
Many indoor and outdoor cannabis growers prefer to keep their plants relatively short, growing bushy and wide instead of tall and thin. Keeping small plants helps make sure each plant gets plenty of light – light is like “food” for your plants, and providing the right amount of light will give cannabis plants the energy to grow.
The spring/summer sun is all the light an outdoor cannabis plant needs to survive (as long as it’s getting direct light for the majority of the day). It can help with stealth to keep plants shorter than nearby fences or camouflage plants, and training is effective at that, but training isn’t really that effective at increasing yields outdoors.
Outdoors, the natural shape of a cannabis plant is already very well suited to using the light from the sun as it moves in the sky. The best way to get bigger yields outdoors is to grow a bigger cannabis plant with more bud sites. Ultimately, the most important thing you can do for outdoor cannabis plants is put them in an open space that gets as much direct sunlight as possible.
Notice how the plants that get the most direct sunlight grow the biggest
Why do indoor cannabis growers want short or wide plants?
For indoor growers, plants tend to yield more if a lot of the plant is kept just the right distance from the grow lights. This means trying to maintain a flat cannabis canopy under the grow lights and almost always using growth training methods like topping, FIMing, main-lining, ScrOG, etc. These training methods help make sure all the buds get as much light as possible, so you get bigger yields from the same grow lights.
Why do cannabis plants need to be close to the grow lights? It is because indoor grow lights are heavily affected by the inverse square law of light. Unlike indoor grow lights, the sun is so far away that the inverse square law of light doesn’t make a difference – your plant will get about the same amount of light whether it’s on the ground or 10 feet in the air.
Since indoor grow lights are so close and are so much weaker than the sun, the distance between the light and the plant has a huge effect on how much light the plant will receive.
Keeping grow lights closer will deliver more light to the plants!
But… keeping them too close can severely hurt your plant!
This is a huge part of why it’s important to understand how far away your lights need to be, depending on what type of light you have.
Powerful Grow Lights – Some grow lights are very bright and powerful (like MH/HPS grow lights or bigger LEDs). More powerful grow lights can cover a wider area with more plants, but the more powerful the light, generally the further it needs to be kept from your plants. Keeping grow lights too close causes light burn, which bleaches your upper leaves and buds, and can possibly cause seeds to form (plants may “herm” as a result of stress which causes seedy buds). Light burn can also possibly affect the potency of the buds.
Vegetative and early flowering plants are harder to light burn, but it’s much easier to do it in the second half of the flowering stage when the plant is no longer making any new leaves, especially with higher wattage lights.
Less Powerful Grow Lights – Grow lights like CFLs and fluorescent lights have a “sweet spot” that is only a few inches away. The further you get, the less light your plants get. These types of lights can grow cannabis plants, and may be a good choice for some growers, but with less powerful lights, it becomes even more important that you learn how to train your plants to grow short and wide with many colas. Little weed plants are the best way to take advantage of CFL grow lights! Luckily the methods on this page like topping, FIMing, SoG, ScrOG, main-lining and more will give you the tools you need to get the most from your grow lights. By using plant training techniques, it becomes possible to harvest ounces of bud even from relatively small grow lights.
In the diagram below, you can see that the natural plant (left – completely untrained) has less parts of the plant in the area with the best light level. As a result, this plant only has one main cola, and the rest of the colas are much smaller because they are further from the grow lights.
Leaves in the “Sweet Spot” of Your Indoor Grow Light Make the Most Energy, Producing Faster Growth and Bigger Buds
Why settle with just one big cola when you could have many big colas?
The trained plant (right – which has been topped and trained with LST) has many colas that are directly in the sweet spot. In fact, almost the whole plant is getting bathed in just the right amount of light from the grow lights. This means the plant has many big colas and none of them are getting burned by the lights.
Generally, the top of the grow light sweet spot is where the biggest buds form. Cannabis plants love a lot of light, much more than your average house plant. As long as you stay away from the “too bright” zone for your particular indoor grow light (which can cause light burn, even if air is cool), you want to get as many colas in the top of the sweet spot as possible.
Colas in the Top of the Sweet Spot Grow Biggest, So Maximize Yields by Training Cannabis Plants To Grow Many Colas On the Same Level!
It doesn’t matter what type of grow light you use. Each type of grow light has a sweet spot, and whenever grow lights are positioned above the plants, there are likely benefits to training your cannabis plants to grow short and wide. By having more of your plant at the best distance from your grow light, your cannabis leaves and buds will be exposed to more light and give your plant more energy to grow.
When your grow lights are positioned above your cannabis plants….
Plants with a flat canopy will produce more energy than tall & thin plants. As an indoor cannabis grower, you don’t have to just accept the way cannabis grows naturally. You actually have a lot of control over how your cannabis plants grow. So train your plants to efficiently fill up your grow space, giving you the best yields possible with your grow lights.
Don’t Grow This Plant!
Grow a Trained Plant With A Cluster of Colas!
This article on plant training shares several ways to train your plant to achieve this shape!
Now that you have mastered the art of cannabis plant training, what do you want to learn how to improve next?
Get a summary of all the most common plant training techniques that growers use to increase their cannabis yields indoors!