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Understanding Water PPM for Cannabis

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If you plan to grow cannabis, or even if you already have a few successful grows under your belt, sooner or later you’ll encounter the acronym “ppm”.

While it’s not usually necessary to obsess about ppm and you can grow outstanding cannabis without even knowing what ppm is, it pays to educate yourself about it because it can impact your grow—especially as you advance with your cultivation methods and technique.

Learning more about ppm will put you at an advantage.

What is PPM in Water

So, let’s lift the veil of mystery over what ppm is and how it can relate to growing cannabis. An acronym for “parts per million,” ppm relates to water solubles, including mineral and other substances, in the cannabis space. One part per million equals 1 mg of solubles for every liter of water.

This is a very small measurement increment. Parts per million are found in most types of water, from tap water to mountain spring water. Distilled or reverse-osmosis water are two of the only types of water that eliminated ppm. If you have your tap water tested for purity, the results will be measured in parts per million.

Analyzing your tap water will indicate if you would benefit from a water purification system for drinking water. Testing well water is especially useful because it’s devoid of fluoride and other additives found in most city water to minimize contaminants.

Most tap water that’s safe for drinking or cannabis use will have ppm in the 200-300 range, which is relatively normal. When water gets to several hundred parts per million, it indicates the pipes in your home may be somewhat old and an alternative water source may be beneficial for your cannabis.

How Do You Measure PPM?

To determine the level of ppm in your water, you will need a TDS meter (TDS is an acronym for “total dissolved solids”). So, if you use a TDS meter to measure your home’s tap water and your results come back as 200-300 parts per million, it means you have 200-300 parts per million of dissolved minerals in your water, which is in the normal range.

PPM and EC

Any serious conversation about ppm will also touch on ec; it almost seems inevitable since the two are closely related. EC stands for “electrical conductivity.” Using an EC meter measures the electrical conductivity in the water you’re using, and this reading is useful for measuring the amount of dissolved solubles in your water. A PPM meter and a EC meter essentially do the same things.

As a matter of fact, some TDS meters actually determine the level of electrical conductivity of a water sample and convert the results to parts per million. Simply stated, some TDS meter are really EC meters. Since the two are so closely related, brief mention must be made about EC.

PPM Relevance to Cannabis Cultivation

By this time, you may be wondering why knowing about ppm is important when growing cannabis. The main reason is to provide optimum nutrient amounts to your plants, while simultaneously avoiding burning them by overdosing them on nutrients.

If you’ve grown cannabis long enough and use a variety of fertilizers and soil additives, you realize that all fertilizers are not created the same and nearly every cannabis grower has a favorite. No one likes to see the telltale curled leaf tips and yellowing commonly associated with nitrogen burn in cannabis.

Although plants will eventually recover and be none the worse for wear over the long haul, burning does shock the plants and temporarily hamper them.

Eliminating nutrients altogether for a while will solve the problem, but as the old saying goes, “prevention is the best medicine.” Try to avoid burning altogether by being somewhat conservative with nutrients and additives (use one half to three quarters the suggested amount), and as a second step you can monitor the parts per million to dial in on precise nutrient dosing.

Water PPM and Nutrients for Cannabis

Since water ppm varies depending on the source, knowing the water’s soluble ppm right out of the tap will aid a grower when deciding how much nutrients to add to the water. Along with proper water pH, optimum ppm levels after adding nutrients can sometimes make the difference between adding too little fertilizer or too much. A person with a high tap water ppm can sometimes unintentionally burn a plant when following correct nutrient dosage and schedule protocol.

Plants can only absorb a certain amount of solubles and minerals, and you want your plants to receive the optimum amount.

A young seedling or a cutting (clone) will enjoy a ppm of approximately 500-600 and will respond positively to an increase of about 850 ppm during the medium and late stages of vegetative growth.

During the flower stage, optimum parts per million rises to 1000-1100. Clearly, cannabis plants enjoy increased parts per million as they grow.

Water ppm readings have applications for both hydroponic and conventional soil cultivation methods. With soil cultivation, the water ppm should be checked after adding additives to the watering vessel. For hydroponic use, check the reservoir. With too low ppm, add more nutrients, and with too high, dilute with water until you reach an optimum level.

TDS Meters

Like humidity meters, temperature gauges, and pH meters used for cannabis cultivation, there is a wide range of TDS meters on the market at affordable prices. TDS meters that measure parts per million differ somewhat. Some can read a higher level of ppm and can monitor other things like temperature. The range of measurable ppm on some of the fancier meters can go as high as 9999 ppm, but this is not necessary for cannabis cultivation. Using a TDS meter that goes to 3500 parts per million will serve your needs just fine. Anything over 5000 is unnecessary.

Before using your TDS meter to measure ppm in water, nutrients, and runoff, you’ll need to calibrate your device using a solution containing a certain level of ppm. Calibrating solutions can be bought online or at a grow supply store. Make sure your calibration fluid is at room temperature to avoid discrepancies. Follow the package instructions to test your fluid with your meter. If the ppm reading is correct, your device is calibrated. If not, follow your device’s instructions to calibrate it.

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Now that you know your TDS meter is up-and-running and precise, you can start using it to measure your ppm. Turn on your TDS meter, remove the cover from the bottom, and ensure it has a reading of zero before inserting the tip (about half an inch) of the meter into the water you’re testing. Below, you’ll find a list of the best TDS meters for your cannabis grow:

  • HM Digital TDS-EZ Water Quality TDS Tester
  • HoneForest Water Quality Tester
  • Generic Digital LCD TDS Meter Waterfilter Tester
  • Lxuemlu TDS Meter Digital Water Tester
  • Health Metric Professional TDS PPM Conductivity Meter

Understanding PPM Results

water PPM cannabis 1536x1152 1

To determine the exact nutrient intake of your cannabis plants, you’re going to have to measure the ppm of your nutrient reservoir and your runoff. Generally, the ppm reading of your runoff will be lower than the ppm from your reservoir. This shows that your plants are taking in nutrients when you’re feeding them.

As you can see understanding water ppm for cannabis is a key to getting cannabis grows right! PPM in water is a science in itself.

PPM Lower in Runoff

A low ppm runoff reading compared to the nutrient’s ppm reading is ideal. Keep measuring your ppm regularly to catch any significant drops. If your ppm drops from 1500 to 800 every day for a week, it means your plants are consistently drawing in the same level of nutrients.

For extremely low runoff levels, however, consider increasing your nutrient treat rates gradually.

No PPM Change

If there is no difference in ppm results between your nutrients and your runoff, we have a problem. That means your plants aren’t taking in the right level of nutrients. If this is occurring in your garden, consider checking your pH levels. Inconsistent pH levels can hinder nutrient intake. Nitrate and phosphate, for example, are best absorbed in certain pH ranges.

Lower-Than-Usual PPM in Runoff

If you notice lower-than-usual ppm readings in your reservoir, you may be losing out on nutrients due to nutrient lockout. Check for a white precipitate build-up in your nutrient reservoir. This can occur when some ions don’t mix well together and form a solid. Calcium phosphate is notorious for this.

To overcome this issue, make sure you’re properly mixing your nutrients as you add them and wash your mixing cup between nutrients.

Water PPM Higher in Runoff

A higher-than-normal ppm result from your runoff is rare, but this indicates that there’s a salt buildup at the root zone. The buildup gets stuck and gradually dissolves into the runoff leading to high ppm levels. Ensure you’re properly stirring calcium salts such as calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, and calcium hydroxide. A line cleaner or flushing with water can help remove the calcium salt buildup.

Yellow Leaves

If your cannabis leaves are turning yellow, you’ll need to check your ppm results for your nutrient reservoir and your runoff. Ensure your nutrient levels (phosphates, nitrates, and potassium ions) are decreasing between your reservoir and runoff, showing that the yellowing isn’t due to any nutrient deficiency. Check for other element deficiencies. If nutrients aren’t the problem, your pH may be the source of the issue.

pH Changes

Is there a considerable pH increase or decrease between your nutrient reservoir and your runoff? A little discrepancy between pH levels is normal. Significant pH changes, however, are known as pH drift. Check for nutrient lockout, one of the main culprits for pH drift. Changes in pH can prevent the roots from absorbing certain nutrients, which is why it’s so important to regularly monitor for this.

Using Organic Soil

Testing your ppm can get tricky if you’re growing organically. Unlike using synthetic fertilizers, organically-assembled soil contains complex molecules that are gradually released over time. Because the organic soil has yet to break down the complex molecules into simple salts, your ppm readings may be hard to decipher.

Ppm readings from your organic soil won’t take into account the total nutrients in your soil that have yet to break down. When growing organically, pay more attention to your pH levels and signs of nutrient deficiencies or imbalances.

Is Measuring Water PPM Necessary?

Whether or not a TDS meter is necessary when growing cannabis depends on your water source and your cultivation goals. Certainty commercial operations should monitor it closely to maximize yield. For the private home grower, the decision depends on how much the grower wants to dial in on perfect cultivation methods and perfect his or her craft.

Measuring the salt and nutrient levels in the water is crucial to ensure the right amount of nutrients are fed. For instance, if you measure your ppm one day and get a result of 1,600 ppm and then measure your ppm the next day and get a 2,100 ppm reading, you know you added too many nutrients the day before.

There is no doubt that many cannabis growers have cultivated and harvested a large number of dank and sticky grows without giving parts per million a second thought. These same growers can grow outstanding bud without worrying excessively about grow room CO2 levels.

There are over 300,000 jobs in the cannabis industry. CTU trained me for one of them!

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– Johanna Rose
Makes $24.50 @ THC +

When it comes to cultivation factors like ppm and CO2 levels, we’re looking at somewhat advanced procedures. These are choices that separate the novice cannabis grower from the advanced cannabis grower.

If you merely want to grow some good flower for personal use, you may want to skip it. On the other hand, if you want your grow to be as perfect and productive as possible, it would be wise to implement these advanced techniques.

If you ever want to advance to commercial cultivation with a cannabis company, do yourself a favor and learn about it—and put it to use now. You’ll be a more knowledgeable and successful grower as a result! Now that you are understanding water ppm for cannabis it’s time to get growing!

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Anyone can enroll at Cannabis Training University from anywhere in the world! Learn how to grow marijuana on a budget. Save money on your cannabis garden. Buy the right hydroponic equipment for growing weed.

Learn more about ppm in water in our cannabis cultivation courses.

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How to Obtain a License to Grow Cannabis in Florida

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Are you interested in growing commercial cannabis in Florida? Although the application period for medical cannabis cultivators is closed, many opportunities are available for growing hemp in Florida. Here’s what you need to know about the state’s cannabis cultivation business laws.

Florida’s Medical Cannabis Program

In November 2016, Florida voters passed Amendment 2, legalizing medical cannabis possession, use, and sales. Under the new law, patients could use cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation to treat a qualifying condition.

Further reading: How to Get a Medical Cannabis Card in Florida

At first, businesses could apply for standalone MMTC licenses, such as cultivation or retail business licenses, but lawmakers passed legislation requiring vertical integration, meaning companies had to grow, process, and sell their own cannabis.

Cannabis operators have fought against the unconstitutionality of vertical integration, suing the Florida Department of Health (DOH). The Florida Supreme court has ruled in favor of keeping vertical integration.

Currently, Florida has 22 vertically integrated MMTC licenses, each able to open as many retail, cultivation, and processing facilities as needed. Florida has become the largest medical cannabis market and one of the largest markets in the country.

In September 2022, the state issued 1 MMTC license to a black-owned business, the first permit issued since the first licensing round. The DOH plans to provide an additional 22 MMTC licenses through a second licensing round to qualified applicants. 

The timeline and requirements for the second MMTC application process have yet to be available. The DOH is currently drafting the rules and regulations.

Florida’s hemp program, started in 2020, is another option for aspiring business owners looking to break into The Sunshine State’s green rush. Hemp business licenses are available through the state’s online Hemp Cultivation Licensing Portal.

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Are Medical Cannabis Cultivation Licenses Available?

Florida’s medical cannabis program is vertically integrated, requiring all cannabis businesses to operate every aspect of the supply chain from seed to sale. Currently, the state of Florida is not issuing any new MMTC permits. A timeline for new licenses has not been released.

Cannabis Business License Requirements

Florida’s DOH is drafting new rules for the state’s second licensing round. When the licensing period is open, applicants can apply if they meet the basic business requirements and have paid the initial application fee. 

Although the new requirements have not been released, it can be helpful to understand the requirements for the initial licensing round. For the first round of licenses, applicants must have demonstrated:

  • For the 5 consecutive years before applying, the applicant has been registered to do business in the state.
  • Possession of a valid certificate or registration issued by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
  • The technical and technological ability to cultivate and produce cannabis, including, but not limited to, low-THC cannabis.
  • The ability to secure the premises, resources, and personnel necessary to operate as an MMTC.
  • The ability to maintain accountability of all raw materials, finished products, and any byproducts to prevent diversion or unlawful access to or possession of these substances.
  • An infrastructure reasonably located to dispense cannabis to registered qualifying patients statewide or regionally as determined by the DOH.
  • The financial ability to maintain operations for the duration of the 2-year approval cycle, including the provision of certified financial statements to the DOH.
  • All owners, officers, board members, and managers have passed a background screening.
  • The employment of a medical director to supervise the activities of the MMTC.
  • A diversity plan that promotes and ensures the involvement of minority persons and minority business enterprises, or veteran business enterprises, in ownership, management, and employment, An applicant for licensure renewal must show the effectiveness of the diversity plan with their renewal application.

MMTC License Fees

The DOH has not released application fees for cannabis business licenses. However, application fees may be steep. In 2018, the non-refundable application fee for an MMTC license was $60,830 in the form of a money order or cashier’s check made payable to the DOH.

How to Become a Legal Cannabis Grower in Florida

Growing cannabis requires a comprehensive business strategy that complies with the state’s rules and regulations. Business owners must hire the right personnel, create a business plan, get funding, and choose the right location before applying for a license.

There are over 300,000 jobs in the cannabis industry. CTU trained me for one of them!

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– Johanna Rose
Makes $24.50 @ THC +

Further reading: The Best Way to Get Started as a Legal Cannabis Grower

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Leap into Florida’s cannabis market by enrolling in Cannabis Training University’s Master of Cannabis Certification Program. Our easy-to-use online learning platform lets you learn anytime, anywhere. Our online cannabis business training is available on demand. Enroll today!



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How to Grow Cannabis From a Seed in 10 Easy Steps

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Whether it’s to control budget or because it’s hard to acquire clones, many are interested in learning how to grow cannabis from a seed. Growing marijuana has never been easier or more accessible.

Our guide to growing cannabis takes you from the planning stages to the final stages of your harvest. If you’re ready to start growing your favorite strain, keep reading.

Step 1: Sourcing and Germinating Seeds

If you can’t or don’t want to grow from clones, seeds are a great (and some may say better) alternative. Finding high-quality seeds is easier said than done.

Dispensaries in states with medical or adult-use cannabis may carry cannabis seeds. In states without cannabis laws, finding seeds is strictly limited to online cannabis seed banks.

Do your research on the many available seed banks that ship to the U.S. While many say they ship worldwide, they may exclude the U.S. in the fine print.

Seed banks differ in seed selection. They also offer a variety of payment methods and discreet shipping. Some of the most popular seed bank sites include Attitude Seed Bank, True North Seed Bank, Amsterdam Marijuana Seeds, and Seedsman.

Cannabis seeds require germination to jumpstart the growing process. The simplest way to achieve this is through the paper towel method. During this process, the germ in the seed breaks through the outer shell forming a root, also known as a taproot. Germination can take a day or up to a week. Germinated seeds can be placed in the growing medium.

Step 2: Location and Light

Cannabis can be grown indoors or out. However, most towns that allow for home cultivation require gardens to be secured and away from public view. Regardless of where you choose to grow, your space must have the right amount of light and space to grow.

If you’re growing outdoors, consider any large trees that may cast a shadow or shrubs and bushes that can limit its space. North American growers should plant their garden in a space that faces the South to increase the amount of light it gets.

Growing indoors? Consider the height of your space and garden. Don’t forget about including the hanging lamp height in your calculations. Grow lights need to be a certain distance away from lights to prevent burns and avoid stretching if the light is too weak.

Indoor growers can grow in basements, garages, rooms, and even closets. Many growers start off with a grow tent, which provides a contained space for cannabis gardens. Many tent options come with all the necessary pots, lighting, filters, and fans needed to start growing from seed.

Once you’ve chosen your preferred space to grow your garden, it’s time to consider lighting, an integral part of the process. Most growers choose metal halide (MH) lamps during the vegetative stage. They switch over to high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs during the flowering stage.

Others may stick to their fluorescent and LED options. These can provide the right level of supplementary lighting for HID lamps. If you’ll be depending on LED lamps for your garden, make sure they have a full spectrum of white light.

Full-spectrum LEDs are a bit more expensive than conventional HID lights, but they can save you money on energy bills. 250 to 400-watt HID lights can work for small gardens.

Step 3: Medium and Container

The medium of your plant refers to the base structure of your plant’s roots. A container keeps your medium, nutrients, and water contained when needed. Outdoor growers can use dirt, topsoil, compost, and other soil amendments to create a thriving microbiome needed to feed the plant’s roots.

Indoors growers, on the other hand, are increasingly preferring soil-less growing methods. Mediums made from peat, sphagnum, and coco act like soil. They hold the moisture and air needed to absorb the necessary nutrients.

Many smart pot options have holes around the sides and bottom of the container to improve water drainage. These breathable pots allow roots to get oxygen during the dark cycle. The pots prevent water build-up, which can lead to root rot and mold.

Step 4: Nutrients

Choosing the right nutrients is important for the best growth possible. Cannabis plants require certain nutrients to grow its roots, foliage, and buds.

Nutrient solutions usually include an N-P-K ratio (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). Nutrient solutions come in grow and bloom formulas for vegetative and flowering stages, respectively.  Grow formulas have higher ratios of nitrogen compared to bloom formulas due to their differing needs.

Start off by reading your nutrient solution’s instructions and create a diluted solution at ½ to …” the recommended dosage. Starting off with a lower-than-recommended dose ensures you don’t overfeed and ruin your crop.

If within a week or 10 days you don’t see any signs of nutritional deficiencies, you can increase the dosage to the listed levels on the packaging. If however, your plant looks healthy, you can continue your feeding levels.

Ideally, you want to use organic fertilizers to avoid salt build-ups in the medium. Organic and veganic nutrients are pricier than synthetic fertilizers, but they produce a far better product. Organic nutrients are helpful to bring out the cannabinoid and terpenes from your strain.

Some outdoor growers choose to feed their gardens through a composted medium that has many of the minerals needed for the plant’s growth. Others use time-release pellets that contain nutrients that are slowly released into the medium.

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Step 5: Vegetative Stage

A plant’s vegetative stage is the first (some might say most important) part of the growth process. Much of the plant’s size and yield are produced during this time. Some may say that longer vegetative periods can lead to bigger yields. Vegetative periods can last between a couple of weeks to a couple of months.

Plants will remain in a vegetative stage when the light-dark cycle has more light than dark hours. Indoor growers set light timers to provide their plants with a minimum of 18 hours of light per day during this stage. During its dark cycle, the roots develop, so every hour of light and darkness matters.

Many growers use MH bulbs during this stage. MH bulbs have blue wavelengths, which are necessary to keep your plants from growing tall and wild. Indoor growers may prefer this set-up to keep their plants short and bushy. MH bulbs can produce plants with short internodal lengths (the distance between the main stem and the branches).

During this stage, you can employ different training and pruning techniques to maximize growth and yields. For instance, topping a plant involves removing the top shoot of the main stalk near the end of the vegetative stage. When cut, the plant produces additional shoots under the shoot’s cut, where buds can form during the flowering stage.

During this time, you can also install a trellis system to train the plants to grow a certain way. A trellis system can stretch out your plant to get better and more even light coverage. When branches become too heavy, the trellis can support the structure, but requires you to weave the branches through the trellis grid.

Step 6: Flowering Stage

field of cannabis

After the vegetative stage comes the flowering stage. When growing outdoors, the flowering stage comes after the summer solstice (late July), when there are fewer daylight hours (under 12 hours of light). 

Indoor growers can mimic the same process by reducing the light period using a light timer. Growers can set their timers on a 12-12 light-dark cycle. Strains vary in their flowering period, but most strains can flower in 8 to 9 weeks.

You’ll want to pay close attention to your plants during the final part of its flowering stage. Plants can grow half their size in the late stages. Some growers use HPS bulbs to increase the yield, but this can also cause plants to stretch. Try balancing the red wavelengths of HPS bulbs with an MH bulb with shorter blue wavelengths.

Throughout the flowering stage, you’re going to have to prune your plant. During this stage, most of the focus should go into growing the bud sites, not leaves or stems. It’s up to you to prune the dead leaves that take focus and energy away from bud growth. 

Most bloom nutrient formulas lack the nitrogen needed during its vegetative stage. But, they have a higher ratio of phosphorus and potassium. This lack of nitrogen is the cause of the yellowing leaves and foliage growth.

Step 7: Flushing

Flushing is a critical aspect of the growing process. During this process, growers use water at the late stages of the flowering period. A water-only diet ensures the nutrients are completely flushed from the plant. Growers can flush for a week or up to two, depending on their preference. 

Flushing may result in your plant’s leaves turning a yellow color, a clear sign of nutrient loss. Don’t fret, flushing is for the good of your plant and buds. Proper flushes ensure you have a smooth smoke or vape. Some say that cannabis that burns into white ash has been properly flushed compared to one that burns black.

Step 8: Harvest and Drying

After many weeks of tending to your plants, it’s finally time to harvest your buds. Cutting and drying weed requires a careful hand to produce a ripe bud. Generally, growers should cut down their plants at the end of the dark cycle, just before the sun or lights appear. 

Cutting down branches during this time allows you to prevent the plant from starting up its photosynthesis process, which can bring moisture and minerals back up from the roots.

But, how does one cut down a plant exactly? Many growers start off by cutting individual branches at the top of the plant. Cut the branch right below the first shoot. This cut allows you to hang each branch upside down from its base during the drying process.

If you’re dealing with more than one strain, make sure to label each branch with its appropriate strain name and plant. 

Once you’ve cut down all your branches, hang them upside down in a dark and dry space for 5 days to a week. Proper air circulation is a must to keep the evaporation process going. Fans are helpful tools to maintain air circulation. A hygrometer can help you keep track of your space’s humidity levels. If levels get too high, bring in the dehumidifier to maintain a balance.

Step 9: Trimming and Curing

Don’t lose steam quite yet. The trimming and curing process may be one of the last, but certainly not least important steps of the process. How well you cure your buds determines the quality, aroma, and flavor of your cannabis.

Before you cure your cannabis, you need to trim your nugs from your cannabis plant. Large scale growers may send branches through a machine trimmer, but home growers depend on hand-trimming for a more effective prune.

There are over 300,000 jobs in the cannabis industry. CTU trained me for one of them!

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– Johanna Rose
Makes $24.50 @ THC +

Now, let’s consider the differences between wet and dry trimming. Wet trimming involves trimming the buds immediately after the harvest without letting any of the moisture evaporate. Dry trims happen after the bud branches have been dried for a certain amount of time.

Theres a debate between which method is best, but it ultimately depends on your preference. Some growers say dry trimming is easier compared to pruning sopping wet buds. Others say that wet trimming ensures less of the trichomes stay on its bracts. Regardless of the method you choose, you must trim before curing your cannabis.

Curing is another integral aspect of the harvesting process. Curing is a slow drying process that usually occurs in a UV-protected glass jar. Cannabis buds are placed inside the jar for a week or up to two months, depending on your preference. Some growers argue that longer cures result in better cannabis, but it’s all subjective.

During the curing process, you want to store your cannabis jars in a dry and cool place that doesn’t get a lot of direct light. For maximum freshness, burp your jars once or twice a day. Burping your buds allows the moisture to slowly evaporate and release from the jar. Just leave your jars open for up to 10 minutes every time.

Buds are usually cured for a week or up to 10 days. Use your senses to determine their peak freshness. Open the jar and smell your buds. Do you notice a difference over time? Practice makes perfect. Over time, you’ll learn the best time to stop curing and start smoking.

Step 10: Enjoy

Once you’ve grown your plant to its maturity, you can reap the fruits of your labor. Growing your own cannabis allows you to control every aspect of the process. You can smoke or vape your cannabis. You can also create a range of edibles, concentrates, and topicals using your home-grown buds.

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Topping Cannabis to Increase Yields

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There are many cannabis plant training techniques, but only a handful have been used for decades and proven effective. Increasing yields, managing the canopy, and light efficiency are all reasons to practice techniques such as topping. Today we aim to demystify the most common plant training practice; how to top a cannabis plant.

Topping, low stress training, supercropping, sea of green, and scrogging are a handful of training techniques used by cannabis growers to control the overall form of the plant. Tall strains can be trained to grow out instead of up. Some growers will cut the top portion of the plant off to create a shorter and bushier plant. When growing a variety of cannabis strains in an indoor area, many times, cannabis training is required to keep the canopy as close to level as possible.

A popular technique often used in the garden is topping. Topping is the act of removing the upper portion of the plant. We realise it may be a little counterintuitive to remove the upper part of the plant; after all, that is where the big colas come from. Although it sounds crazy, your yield potential increases when you remove the top.

Plant topping is meant to maximise the quality of buds by creating multiple colas instead of one giant cola on the main meristem and increase yield. Again, it is the increased number of top bud sites that increases the yields when using cannabis training methods like topping.

Why removing the top of a plant can be beneficial

Three main reasons cannabis growers use topping as a training technique include space management, hormone distribution, and light efficiency. We will explain the “why” behind each of those statements, and how topping can lead to greater success in the garden.

When grown naturally, cannabis plants want to grow in a Christmas tree shape, with the lower branches reaching out the widest to receive unobstructed light. Removing the top portion means the lower branches are no longer shielded by the large fan leaves above. More light to more leaves equals more photosynthesis, and that means more power for the plant to grow and develop buds.

The technique of topping cannabis can also be used as a height management tool in small grow areas with low ceilings. Topping is also an effective training technique to create an even canopy. If gardeners grow a variety of cannabis strains and one of them grows much taller than the rest, topping that plant will bring it back to a level closer to the others.

Topping cannabis is an effective plant management tool if a gardener lets their plant get too tall in the vegetative stage. Most strains will nearly double in size during the transitional “stretch” phase as you begin the flowering cycle. If a plant is already close to the light source and you fear that it will grow above the light after the stretch, topping can tame that beast back into control.

There are a few physiological benefits to topping the plant. When a cannabis plant is topped, it is the lower branches that rise to create the canopy. These branches grow thicker and more robust, often requiring less support later. The primary physiological reason for topping any plant would be the redistribution of auxins and hormones when we break the apical dominance.

Instead of the auxins and growth hormones going to the tallest point, it is evenly distributed amongst the evenly level canopy. This promotes even growth across many bud sites instead of the single tallest point. By having more “top” buds instead of one large cola, yields can increase dramatically, particularly when combined with other plant training techniques.

Another reason growers want an even canopy is to maximise the amount of usable light (PPFD) delivered to the cannabis plant. A level canopy will distribute the same amount of light to as many bud sites as possible. When plants grow untrained, they can have a main stem far above the bulk of lower branches and bud sites.

To accommodate that taller top area, the grow light must be kept further from the majority of bud sites, which results in lower PAR to the bulk of the bud sites. With an even canopy, you can place the light closer to the majority of the upper bud sites.

Overall, when you top a plant (or even the many side branches), you will get two new branches in the place of the old one. Growers then have two bud sites, which is one way that topping can help increase yields. The change in distribution of growth hormones also encourages lateral branching in the plant. Combined, these two benefits result in a larger, bushier plant than one grown without topping.

When to top a cannabis plant

Topping a cannabis plant is almost always done in the vegetative stage. In instances of an extremely stretchy plant during flowering, topping might be the only option, but for the most part, topping cannabis is done in vegetation. Most gardeners will top a cannabis plant once or twice. This training technique can be performed several times, as long as the grower gives the plant a chance to recover in between.

Often growers will reference a node number as to when and where they top the plant. It is best practice to use your discretion. Commonly growers recommend topping between the 5th and 7th nodes. However, there can often be a difference in how tall a plant is by the 5th – 7th node, depending on an indica or sativa morphology. Know the height of the garden space, and the typical stretch of the strain, and top the plant accordingly.

Other growers will let the plant get further into the vegetative stage before topping a cannabis plant. The established root system helps the plant recover quicker compared to a seedling with a less developed root system. Growers may trim a few of the lower branches before deciding where to top. Removing some of the lowers will influence how many branches (nodal spaces) to leave before topping the plant.

In both cases, you want to only top a healthy plant, as this technique does induce some stress. Although the plant undergoes mild shock, with solid genetics, topping a plant should not trigger hermaphroditic expressions. Topping cannabis plants is the most prevalent of all plant training techniques.

How to top a cannabis plant

Growers will only need one tool to top the plant, a sharp, sterile blade. Many cannabis gardeners will use trimming scissors, and others will use a fresh razor blade. Similar to taking a clone, gardeners will want to make their cut at a 45 degree angle instead of straight across.

When topping a mature plant, make the cut 2-3 cm above the last node you want to branch out. The cut portion of the stem will dry and shrivel back slightly. Leaving this extra space will allow for that without compromising the strength of the branches on the uppermost node.

To count nodes, start at the first set of lower branches and go upwards. Each pair of branches above is a new node. Nodes are simply the location where a branch is attached, usually one branch on either side of it. When using this plant training technique, growers count the nodes on the main stem to make their decision of where to top.

Now that you’re ready

After topping the cannabis plant, give the freshly topped plant a few days to a week to recover from the shock. Don’t top a cannabis plant and then immediately put it into flowering. Keep the plant watered and fed; it is incredible what a healthy cannabis plant can handle regarding training techniques and stress.

By utilising this one easy plant training technique, you can have larger yields, grow different strains side-by-side, and maximise the efficiency of your wattage per euro.

Topping as a plant training technique is often used in combination with other techniques. LST (low-stress training) techniques, like bending branches or tying them down, is another way to deal with canopy management and breaking the apical dominance of a plant. The cannabis training technique referred to as “mainlining” is a combination of topping and LST.

Our goal is to lift the mystery behind these growing techniques and make them easily relatable to any gardener enjoying the hobby. We’ll be covering LST, supercropping, scrogging, and more in the upcoming plant training articles. What techniques would you like to know more about? Which plant training techniques are your favourite? Let us know down in the comments. Happy gardening!

  • Disclaimer:

    Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.



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