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Topping Cannabis Plants: The Complete Guide

Growing your own marijuana? You absolutely must start topping cannabis if you want to maximize your yields.

While topping cannabis sounds like something you drizzle on a salad — a cannabis topping, perhaps — it couldn’t be further from the edibles you whip up in your kitchen.

In this article, the all-things-cannabis experts at Budcargo introduce you to this handy-dandy method for making more buds and give you tips and tricks for topping cannabis like a pro.

What Does Topping Cannabis Mean?

plants ready for topping cannabis

If there’s one thing we love about cannabis and cannaculture — and there are oh so many things to love — it’s that the stoners of yore passed on a propensity and love for inventing their own lexicon.

Just one puff and you’ll be making up your own words to describe everything from the first few seconds after the THC hits you (WTFJH*) to the way you move when you’re high (jangle or jangling*).

* Patent pending

What’s the point of this discussion (sorry, our minds were wandering)? The point is that topping is just another term for pruning.

More specifically, topping is pruning the top part of the cannabis plant — who’d a thunk it! — in order to stop upward growth and promote lateral growth in the lower branches.

More lateral growth means more opportunity for flowers to develop which means that your plant will yield more smokable, bakeable, extractable buds for your recreational and medicinal pleasure.

But is this extra step necessary? You could just let the damn thing grow while you enjoy a bong full of Cherry OG, right?


Topping cannabis is a necessary part of growing healthy marijuana plants (but that doesn’t mean you can’t toke some Cherry OG before doing it).

Why Is Topping Cannabis Necessary?

topping cannabis

Plant Shape

Left to its own devices, the tiny pot plant in your closet focuses all its energy on growing one main stalk as tall as possible.

The result is one dominant cola with small, immature (larfy) colas lower down the stalk that really aren’t good for anything.

While this might be a win the first time you grow your own pot plants, what you really want is a bushy plant with lots of large, mature — and potent! — buds off to the side.

Topping cannabis makes that possible.

Cutting off the main stalk forces the plant to redirect growth hormone and grow energy to the smaller side branches that are left.

With more side branches, the plant can create more bud sites, which, in turn, leads to more flowers.

You may even choose to incorporate topping cannabis on these side branches as well. This will cause the plant to bush out even more — who doesn’t love a good bush! — and produce the most buds possible.

And that’s really what it’s all about — the most buds!

Light Distribution

Before you go skipping to the when and how, it’s important to understand that topping cannabis is about more than just the bush. It’s also about light distribution.

Topping cannabis also allows light to hit the plant in a more “equal” manner because the plant itself is more or less wider than it is tall. The bushy shape allows bud sites to receive roughly the same amount of light over the course of the day.

If you don’t top your pot, the dominant vertical stalk and the main cola will get the lion’s share of the light while the lower branches get shaded out.

Don’t throw shade on your baby buds! Top your cannabis so that everything grows big, strong, and wide.

When To Start Topping Cannabis

Topping cannabis becomes important during the vegetative stage of the pot plant’s life cycle.

During the vegetation phase, the stem will grow thicker and taller and will begin to develop new nodes. These nodes will produce yet more leaves and even new branches.

We recommend waiting until your cannabis plant has four, five, or six nodes before you top it. This ensures that the plant has enough stem and root development to recover from the shock of topping.

When you do start topping cannabis, don’t cut any lower than the fourth node, and no higher than the sixth node so that uneven dominance and vertical-growth prioritization don’t come into play.

After topping, be sure to give your plant plenty of fresh warm water along with:

  • Flowing, dry air
  • Lots of nitrogen-rich organic nutrients (e.g., liquid fish or seaweed)
  • As much soil space as possible

All of this together helps your marijuana plant recover from the shock of topping and grow from an eight-inch baby plant into a two- to three-foot-tall tree within the span of three to six weeks.

The plant’s growth largely depends on the rate at which its leaves can gather sunlight and transform it into chemical energy (photosynthesis).

As you top your pot, the THC tree will halt its upward growth somewhat and start to spread out laterally.

Eventually, as it starts to receive less natural outdoor daylight or when the indoor grower reduces the plant from 18 to 12 hours of fluorescent light per day, the plant will put all its energy into growing the flowers you’re looking for.

How To Start Topping Cannabis

cannabis plant

Assemble Your Tools

Really, all you need for topping cannabis is a sharp object like a razor blade or an Xacto knife.

Even scissors will work in a pinch, but there are much better tools available that are created specifically for the job of pruning plants.

We recommend purchasing a pair of pruning scissors at your local hardware store or garden shop. They will hold up nicely and — as long as you’re not cutting tree branches with them — be useful for years to come.

Whatever you choose, make sure the tool is as sharp as possible. Topping cannabis with a blunt edge actually breaks the stem rather than cutting it. Breaking leaves a much larger wound that takes longer to heal.

It’s also important that you disinfect your tool before topping cannabis.

A simple swipe with an alcohol-infused cotton ball is enough to eliminate any infections that might linger on the sharp edge and cause problems for your marijuana plant.

You can also dunk the blade(s) in boiling water or run them through an open flame. Just make sure you let them cool before you go topping cannabis.

Start Cutting

Now you’re ready to start cutting!

But don’t just go hacking away at every piece of green you see. There’s a system to it.

First, find the main stem and travel up from the dirt counting at least four nodes (places where new branches shoot off).

If your plant is short, four nodes should do it, but, as we mentioned, you may need to go as high as five or six nodes.

Once you’ve found the node at which you want to start your topping, travel up the main stem another two inches. Snip here.

Now, instead of growing one main cola with smaller, impotent colas below it, the plant will put its energy into growing multiple potent buds. You’ve effectively doubled your yield!

After a bit of growth (a few weeks), you can further top the two dominant stems you just created. Follow the same procedure you used to top the main stem.

Trace the smaller branches off the main stem until you come to a node. Cut two inches above this node to continue doubling the number of buds the plant produces.

That’s it! Topping cannabis isn’t as complicated as you thought.

Now get out there, plant some seeds, and start growing your own marijuana.

More Tips For Growing Gorgeous Ganja

plant ready for topping cannabis

Topping cannabis is just one small corner of the 40,000-piece puzzle that is growing gorgeous ganja plants.

Other corners include:

  • Drying
  • Curing
  • Trimming
  • Germinating
  • Monster cropping
  • Harvesting
  • Growing
  • Preventing mold
  • Decarboxylating
  • Diagnosing and treating various deficiencies

The list literally goes on and on.

Don’t let all of that deter you. There are few things more satisfying than growing your own pot plants for recreation and medicinal use.

When you first start out, it will feel overwhelming. Just keep on trucking!

The worst that can happen is that your plants will die and you’ll have to start all over again. Mistakes, though, are an opportunity to get things right the next time around. Don’t give up!

You can always jangle on down to your local dispensary and pick up a full O of Sour Diesel, Yoda OG, or some other strain to see you through your grief.

With a bit of practice, patience, and persistence, you can grow tall, lush pot plants that will amaze your friends and make you the most popular person on your block.

For more information on all things cannabis and to check out our 100% all-natural marijuana products, visit today.

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