By Nebula Haze
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!
Ready for more? Learn more about the science behind indoor plant training.
5 Ways to Increase Yields Indoors (with any strain)
10-Step Quick Start Grow Guide
Regular vs Autoflowering Strains
Diagnose Your Sick Plants
Two Papaya plants trained to produce many fat, thick colas!