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7 Unfortunate Plant Training Mistakes

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Did you know that “training” your cannabis plants to grow many main bud sites (instead of just one) is a simple and free way to get bigger yields indoors? Plant training can increase indoor yields by 40% or more (compared to letting plants grow naturally) by forcing plants to grow bigger, denser buds, without as many smaller or airy ones.

In the vegetative stage, marijuana plants are trained to grow wide and flat, like a table

In the flowering stage, this shape ensures that many bud sites develop into long, thick colas by taking advantage of the fact that cannabis plants put the most energy into buds that are both at the top of the plant and close to the grow light.

Although plant training can produce impressive results, sometimes marijuana growers aren’t given the right information, which can cause unfortunate mistakes that hurt their yields!

With that in mind, I will cover the 7 most common marijuana plant training mistakes, so you get the yields results you want every time, even if it’s your first time!

1.) Not Training at All

In our growing forum, when I asked what people’s biggest mistakes were when it came to training their cannabis plants, the most common answer was actually growers regretted not training their plants at all!

It’s true that you can get great results without any plant training, but training techniques can significantly improve your yields compared to letting the plant grow into its natural shape. Plant training can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, but even a little bit of effort in your plant’s early life can make a big difference to your final bud weight!

The trained plant on the right had many more main colas and produced far more bud than the untrained plant on the left, even though it took up less space

2.) Breaking a Main Stem by Accident

It’s important to use bending techniques from the beginning of a plant’s life because stems start getting stiff as they get older. Starting while the plant is still young makes the whole process go much more easily!

However, even if you’re careful, it can be easy to snap a stem by accident. This most often happens when trying to forcefully bend an older stem that has become thick and unyielding.

Nothing is better than bending when stems are flexible to get your plants to grow exactly how you want, but there are a few techniques that can help you bend over stems after they’ve already hardened!

Prevent broken stems by bending at the newest growth if possible, where stems are more flexible.

Supercropping (Advanced) – If a stem feels too stiff but it must be bent, don’t force it! Use a technique called “supercropping” to soften up the inside first, so the skin doesn’t break.

  1. Pinch the stem tightly between your fingers at the place you want it to bend
  2. Start gently wiggling the stem back and forth while also trying to crush the new joint in between your fingers.
  3. Wiggle back and forth for 10+ seconds, or until the stem has greatly loosened up at the place you want to bend.
  4. Once the stem feels loose and flexible at the joint, you’re safe to bend it over and secure it in place. This can even work with thicker stems if you’re patient enough to wiggle for a while!

If you do end up breaking a main stem, you can often tape up the injury like a cast and the plant will heal itself over the next week or two.

Remember: If you do break off a main stem early in a plant’s life, it’s no big deal because there are usually dozens more growth tips to take its place! And even if you break off a main stem/cola during the flowering stage and can’t tape it up in time, it can help to remember that most growers lose a cola at some point!

3.) Mistakenly Keeping Plants Too Small

A very small plant just can’t make as much bud as a bigger plant, so keeping plants smaller than needed can reduce your yields. You will get the best yields by growing your plants so that they fill up your grow space.

Since this plant was kept so small before it started flowering, it just doesn’t have the size or infrastructure to support a lot of buds. There’s nothing a grower can do at this point to get a plant like this to yield a lot of bud. It’s important to avoid mistakenly keeping plants too small before they start making buds!

It’s important to wait until a plant is at least 3-4 weeks old before initiating the flowering stage (putting cannabis plants on a 12/12 light schedule), even if you’re trying to get to harvest as fast as possible.

This is because a plant won’t start flowering before about week 3-4 anyway, so giving plants a 12/12 light schedule before that time just reduces the total amount of light they get each day, and they won’t get as big as plants under 18/6 or a 24/0 schedule from seed.

3-4 Week Old Plant – Never switch to 12/12 earlier than this or plants will stay tiny, and waiting a few more weeks is probably better!

This plant was switched to flowering when it was 4 weeks old, and yielded about an ounce in one big cola.

Some growers recommend you wait until 6 weeks to start flowering. One reason is that cannabis plants tend to mature the fastest if they have already started showing “pre-flowers” (tiny versions of adult flowers) before initiating the flowering stage.

But the main reason is that letting the plants go just a little bit longer – to about week 6 – will give you plants that are significantly bigger and which can support bigger buds.

6-Week Old Plant That’s Been Trained to Grow Flat

After being switched to 12/12 immediately after the above picture, the plant turned into this, yielding about 6 ounces on the single plant. Two extra weeks in the vegetative stage can make a huge difference in plant size!

Note: These rules don’t apply to auto-flowering plants, which will automatically start flowering on their own without any input from you. If you want a very small plant that yields a lot, consider auto-flowering strains: they’re ready to harvest about 3 months from germination and stay small on their own! Overall, it’s much better than doing 12/12 from seed.

4.) Letting Plants Get Too Big

As we just covered, if you have the space/height for it, you’ll get better yields for your electricity by giving the plant time to get to a decent size before switching to the flowering stage.

However, if you let a plant get too big during the vegetative stage, it may completely overgrow your space!

Look at how this plant has already grown into the grow lights in the vegetative stage! This is a problem because the lights can’t be lifted up any higher in this particular grow space, and the plant is going to double in height after the switch to 12/12! This kind of crazy overgrowth can happen before you know it if you have a fast-growing plant, so stay aware of how big your plant is getting!

If plants are allowed to get too big during the vegetative stage, you’ll not only end up wasting time and electricity, you’ll also find yourself with an overcrowded grow space. Plants being too close to each other and the grow lights can cause light burn, white powdery mildew, bud rot, and other unwanted problems.

Flowering Stretch: It’s important to remember that plants often double in height (known as the “flowering stretch”) after the switch to the flowering stage, so it’s important to change to 12/12 around the time the plants have reached half the final desired height.

Pre-Stretch – Right before the switch to 12/12

Post-Stretch – 4 weeks after the switch to 12/12. Notice how much taller they got!

If you have a plant that’s been growing incredibly tall and lanky, with a lot of upward growth without as much side branching, consider that a plant like that may stretch up to three times its height after the switch to 12/12. A plant that tends to grow short and bushy its whole life may not stretch much at all.

Different strains will stretch a different amount after the switch to 12/12. The main clue is what the breeder says about the strain, as well as how the plant tended to grow in the vegetative stage (lanky vegetative plants often become lanky adults).

5.) Topping Plant Early or Incorrectly

Removing the top of the main stem (“topping” the plant) before it has grown at least 3-4 nodes often wastes more time than it saves.

In fact, removing any part of the plant when it’s very young can stunt the plant, meaning it may grow slowly or stop growing altogether for days or even weeks.

However, if you wait until a plant is healthy and growing fast with a good root system, it won’t even slow down after being topped! Waiting until the plant is the right size often improves your overall results from topping.

These young cannabis plants are ready to be topped

If you cut off just the very tip of your plant, there’s very little chance of stunting, even if it only has 3 or 4 nodes in total.

Many growers top down to the 3rd node/pair of leaves (like in the following picture) in order to form a short manifold. If you plan on any kind of extensive training like building a manifold, wait until the young plant has grown at least 6 nodes before starting; this ensures it has established a good root system. The more of the plant you remove at a time, the more it stresses the plant, so you want to make sure your plant is mature/strong enough to handle it!

Be careful not to damage the growth tips during topping. These tiny stems will become your new main colas, and the base of every growth tip is where buds form.

Always leave a little extra stem when topping a marijuana plant – this helps prevent the main stalk from splitting!

6.) Not Securing Your Plant Properly!

Don’t use string or anything “sharp” to secure plants, as it can start cutting into their skin over time! Also, it’s important to make sure that you can easily access all your plants after training.

Never use string to hold down your plants!

Notice how this plant can’t be moved from its location because it’s attached to a nearby wall? Don’t do this! Always attach your plant directly to the pot so you can pick it up and move it. Also, avoid using something sharp like string or chicken wire to hold down the plants, because it will slowly cut into the plant’s “skin” over time and cause damage.

Plant twist ties are perfect for securing plants! They bend into the shape you want, and are soft enough they won’t hurt plants.

Or get creative! Any type of soft flexible wire works well

Make sure to attach any twisty ties directly to the plant container; this lets you pick up and move the plant freely!

As the plant grows, whenever 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. Following just that one principle will produce the shape you’re looking for!

7.) Excessive Training on Sick or Slow-Growing Plants

When a cannabis plant is slow-growing or suffering from deficiencies, it is much more sensitive to stress from training. Things like topping, supercropping and extreme defoliation can all aggravate a sick plant and make it take longer to recover.

If you have a sick or slow-growing plant it’s good to give them a few days of TLC before you commence training 🙂

Always let sick plants recover before extensive training. This plant suffered from a grower accidentally giving 3x the correct amount of nutrients. It’s important to wait until it’s healthy and growing new leaves every day before doing anything else to this poor plant!

What can you do to help a cannabis plant relax for a few days?

Help plants recover quickly by moving the grow light a few inches away, and leaving the plant alone on an 18/6 light schedule (if it’s in the vegetative stage, of course, if you have a plant on a 12/12 light schedule you don’t want to change it!).

Providing relatively low levels of light in a comfortable, temperate environment without any disturbance can help a stressed plant regain its strength and start growing fast again in just a day or two. Once your plant is healthy and growing again, put the lights back on at full strength!

After extensive wilting from a heat spell, the grower of the plant below thought his baby was a goner. He tossed the dying plant in a bucket at the edge of his grow room, with the plan of throwing it in the garbage later that day. He somehow forgot, and a few days later he came back to find out that the comfortable temperature outside the grow tent and filtered light levels from a nearby window had been just the thing to bring the plant back to life! Even with just an inch of water at the bottom of the bucket, the plant was thriving!

At a recent growing convention in San Diego I heard from another grower who’d noticed that lowering the light levels just a tiny bit can help a sick plant recover more quickly. The worst thing you can do for a sick plant is turn up the light, because it makes the plant work harder to keep up with all that photosynthesis!

I thought a cannabis plant could come back from anything?

When people say, “It grows like a weed” and explain how cannabis plants can recover from anything, they’re talking about a healthy, fast-growing plant. You really can do almost anything to a vibrant cannabis plant in the vegetative stage and it’ll bounce right back!

For growers who always have healthy plants, it can seem like plants simply can’t get stunted. But if you take the same approach with a sick, sparse or slow-growing plant, it can dramatically slow down the plant’s growth for days or even weeks in rare cases!

Now is not the time to train this plant (or try anything new really). Wait until it has recovered first, then start training!

Whenever you’re thinking about training or removing parts of the plant, always consider the plant’s overall health first. You’ll know when you would be better served by waiting a few days to start training.

Now that you know how to prevent the 7 most common plant training problems that hurt yields…

Training your plant to grow many big buds (instead of just one) can increase your yields dramatically! Learn how to avoid the most common mistakes…

Why are my buds taking forever to mature?

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Why is my plant taking so long to mature?

Sometimes you’ll run into a situation where the buds of one or more of your cannabis plants don’t appear to be maturing as fast as expected, even after you’ve been in the flowering stage as long as the breeder has estimated. Why isn’t your plant ready to harvest yet, and what can you do about it?

Here are some of the most common reasons your buds may be taking a long time to mature. Then, I’ll explain exactly what you need to do to speed things along so your buds ripen faster!

Strain

Some cannabis strains or specific plants take longer than others to finish ripening in the flowering stage, especially Sativa, Haze, and “XXL” strains. However, part of what makes these plants yield so much is the flowering stage takes a lot longer.

Another thing to consider is that some strains are “lazy” and their buds don’t look ready for a long time, but then suddenly look mature almost overnight. I think of these end-heavy flowering plants as “procrastinators” 🙂 Make sure to keep a close eye on your plant if it’s taking a while because you might be surprised to look one day and realize it’s just about ready to harvest!

This bud looks like it’s a long ways from harvest even though it’s been ten weeks in the flowering stage – look at all those white pistils!

Here’s that same bud only seven days later. It has almost completely matured in that time, and it’s also gained significantly in weight. Nearly all the white pistils have darkened and curled in, and the trichomes have turned cloudy. I think of strains that do this last-minute spurt as “procrastinators” 🙂

This impressive growth right before buds are mature is one of the reasons why you don’t want to harvest early; you could be losing out on potency and yields when you only need to wait a few more days!

Unrealistic breeder expectations

When looking at the estimated flowering time for a strain (information you can find with nearly every strain from a trustworthy seed source), remember that most breeders start counting when first flowers appear, not after the switch to 12/12. That makes sense for outdoor growers, but indoor growers should add two weeks to the breeder’s listed time for a more accurate estimate.

Even when doing that, in general, most cannabis plants take a little longer than the breeder’s recommendation to be “fully” mature. This is partially because people are more likely to buy “fast-maturing” strains. Many breeders estimate when to expect the beginning of the harvest window because slightly early-harvested buds will do the job, even if you end up with lower potency and yields.

Heat or Light Stress

High temperatures or very bright light can cause your plant to keep putting out new waves of growth as a result of stress.

If the top leaves of your plant are starting to look yellow or burned and you keep seeing the tops of your buds closest to the lights put out more and more new white pistils or foxtails, it’s a sign of possible light burn or heat burn. Heat and Light stress can both cause the plant to keep trying to make new, “fresh” calyxes that aren’t getting stressed by heat or light.

If you keep seeing more and more new growth on the buds closest to the lights (especially when combined with all the top leaves being yellow), it is likely a sign of heat or light stress. Buds like this will keep getting thicker and thicker on top closest to the lights.

Another example of the plant making new buds in response to heat or light stress is when you see “foxtails.” Don’t pay attention to the trichomes on this type of new growth when determining when to harvest. Make sure you’re checking the trichomes on the sides of the buds with older growth.

And of course, make sure to prevent further damage until harvest by lowering your temps, raising your grow lights or both.

LED Grow Lights

Some LED growers are getting odd results with flowering times, and some plants seem to take much longer than expected for buds to mature. This seems to happen more often with auto-flowering strains though this issue can also affect photoperiod (regular) strains.

At this point, we’re not sure if it’s just specific LED models or light spectrums that are causing this, or if it’s more of a strain thing. Since LED models can perform vastly different from each other, it’s tough to tell what’s responsible! In either case, you can usually get plants to mature faster by reducing the number of hours of light they’re getting each day.

For some growers, LED grow lights seem to be associated with lengthier flowering periods. However, I’ve also done testing where LEDs made plants flower faster! I think it goes to show how much variance there is between LED models.

Reverting to the Vegetative Stage

One possible reason your buds may have stopped maturing is the plant is “re-vegging.” “Re-vegging” means the plant is returning to the vegetative stage in which the plant only grows stems and leaves.

Re-vegging happens most often when plants are somehow getting light during their 12-hour dark period. Sometimes it can take just a small amount of light to trigger the plant to reveg (for example an indicator light, or a small light leak).

Re-vegging will cause buds to stop maturing, and if the plant isn’t put back into flowering, the buds will turn brown and die after a few weeks. If you see new round or “smooth” leaves appearing on the buds, and buds stop getting bigger, it’s a sign the plant is revegging.

Sometimes an extremely stressed plant may show similar symptoms. How can you tell the difference? In the case of heat/light stress, your plant puts out lots of new foxtails/buds, while a re-vegging plant stops making new buds or fattening the ones that are there.

In this example, you can see the strange leaves are appearing on new buds/foxtails. If you observe the plant making lots of new, strange-looking buds, it’s most likely heat stress or light stress because a re-vegging plant doesn’t create new buds. These are more like out-of-control sugar leaves.

Check Trichomes on Buds, Not Leaves

Make sure you’re looking in the right places. Check the trichomes only on buds, not any of the leaves including the small sugar leaves. If plant keeps putting out new white hairs over and over, check the trichomes on the sides of the buds where the older growth is, instead of looking only at younger growth.

Ignore trichomes on leaves because it’s the buds you want to harvest on time!

How to get buds to mature faster!

Here are several tips and tactics you can use to make your buds mature faster, so you get to harvest sooner!

Reduce Light Hours

When the plant is getting less light each day, it “thinks” winter is coming. This is why giving a plant 12 hours of darkness a day causes it to start flowering.

However, some strains (especially sativas and hazes) tend to take a long time to finish maturing. In this situation, shortening the day period will help plants mature faster. For example you could try switching to a 10-14 schedule (10 hours light, 14 hours of complete darkness) or even 8-16.

If you have an auto-flowering strain that is not maturing, try switching from the standard 18-6 schedule to a 12-12 schedule just like for photoperiod cannabis plants. The longer nights can help encourage plants to finish flowering sooner if you have one that’s taking too long.

Important Note: Reducing light hours means lower yields. Switching from 12/12 to 14/10 shouldn’t make a significant change, but it’s still something to consider when you’re making that decision.

Give plants fewer hours of light a day to make buds ripen faster

Complete Darkness at Night

This may seem simple, but double-check to make sure your plants are getting total darkness during the dark period, without any sources of light touching any part of the plant. Sometimes you may find that there’s a light leak or another source of light that you didn’t realize was there. That little bit of light can prevent buds from maturing properly.

It doesn’t take much light to interrupt your plant’s night period, make sure it’s completely dark in the grow room when lights are off!

Low Temps, Low Light, Low Humidity

Some growers believe lower temperature and reduced light levels can make plants ripen faster by simulating the fall. Another method some growers use to increase trichomes and possibly speed up maturation is to lower the humidity below 40% RH, which may also help imitate cold, dry winter weather.

Buds ripen faster if you simulate the fall because the plant “thinks” winter is coming

Specialized Supplements

There are supplements you can give your plant that many claim will actually help boost the level of maturation, though this hasn’t been proven. These supplements include Kool Bloom (dry version) and Terpinator.

Patience

Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to wait, but you will be rewarded! Harvesting on time increases potency, and the bright side of buds taking longer is you usually end up with significantly bigger yields because buds get more time to bulk up!

Examples of Buds That Should Be Harvested
(Even If Trichomes Don’t Appear Ready)

When determining when to harvest your cannabis, you can visually inspect the plant, but the best way to ensure the highest level of potency in your buds is to look at the trichomes/glitter on the buds themselves. When the buds have reached the highest levels of THC, the trichomes will have mostly all turned white and milky looking.

This means you can check the trichomes under a magnifier to ensure the highest potency when you harvest (learn how here).

However, there are times when your trichomes might not look 100% ready under a magnifier, but you should still harvest them anyway. Keep scrolling for pictures!

Don’t forget to check out the full tutorial on when/how to harvest your buds with even more pictures and information!

Buds Are Becoming Brown or Burnt

When buds start to appear toasted or are becoming brown in spots, it’s time to harvest even if the trichomes don’t look right quite yet.

Burnt Buds – Ready to Harvest

It’s especially important to harvest when the buds themselves are turning brown as potency may start degrading at this point

Plant Has Stopped “Living”

In the wild, a cannabis plant germinates in the spring, lives its entire life, and dies by the end of the year. It is designed to make buds and then perish. Once a cannabis plant has stopped “living” you won’t really be able to get more growth out of it.

If you’ve burned off or otherwise lost all your leaves and sugar leaves, take the plant down. Your buds won’t fatten up without any green on the plant, but buds may start to get discolored or otherwise damaged.

No Green Leaves Left – Ready to Harvest!

Once all the leaves have turned yellow, you should harvest the plant in order to prevent discoloration from spreading to the buds

Hermies

If a marijuana plant has completely busted out with hermie pollen sacs or bananas, you might consider harvesting immediately so it doesn’t self-pollinate or pollinate your other plants, which causes seedy buds. Be very, very careful moving a hermie plant if there are other plants in the room, and realize that even if you can’t see any, pollen may have contaminated your grow room!

Pro Tip: GENTLY cover the plant in a plastic bag before attempting to move it. This will contain most pollen if any escapes.

If you see “balls” or “bananas” among your buds, you have a hermie and may want to harvest immediately to avoid letting buds get seeded

Example of a “banana”

Bud Rot

If you’ve been affected by bud rot, I highly recommend taking down buds immediately. Do it the same day if you can! You don’t want bud rot to spread, and once its hit one cola it can get others overnight!

Although it’s not ideal to harvest plants on the early side, a good dry and cure will help make up for an early harvest. It’s way better to harvest a little early than to lose your entire crop!

As an outdoor grower, it can be a good idea to take down plants if you have dense buds and you know it’s going to be cold and rainy/humid for a few days – those are prime conditions to create bud rot which can ruin a whole harvest!

If you see bud rot, don’t wait; harvest all your plants immediately!

Bug Infestation

If your plant is within a few weeks of harvest but has gotten infested by bugs which you can’t seem to stop, I recommend taking down your plants and salvaging what you can as opposed to treating the plants with potentially harmful pesticides (which can get on your buds). You can safely make hash out of buds you may not want to smoke for whatever reason.

For Other Problems & Symptoms…

Is your weed taking forever to mature? Is there a way to make your bud ripen faster? We'll explain why your bud is being lazy and how you can fix it! ]]>