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Topping Marijuana for Dummies

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When you hear the word topping in reference to your marijuana, the first image that might come to your mind is a salad drizzle. In the growing of marijuana, this couldn’t be further from the actual definition of what topping is.

Topping is actually a tested and tried technique that will not only enable you grow your pot the right way; it will almost definitely lead to more abundant harvests.

In this article, we will take you through the process of topping marijuana plants and by the end of it, you should be topping like a pro.

What Does Topping Cannabis Mean?

Topping is a very common and popular training technique which has been used by marijuana growers for generations. It is a very simple, yet effective method in which cannabis yields can be increased.

Topping is a “high-stress” training technique that entails the removal of the “top growth tip” from the marijuana plants main stem or from a branch. Many growers are usually concerned that cutting off the top part of their young plants could slow down their growth. While this might be the case in select instances, topping correctly will actually fill the canopy faster as well as cut down on the time needed for vegetation.

If you’re sitting there feeling the pinch of tossing away part of your cannabis plant, rest assured, it is actually a very good idea. Not only will it keep your plants healthy, it will also increase your yield abundantly.

Why is Topping Marijuana Plants Necessary?

When left to “grow naturally”, marijuana plants will produce just one main cola. Without training, they grow skinny and tall in a Christmas tree fashion and mostly have minimal lateral growth. This is due to a phenomenon called “apical dominance”, that chiefly determines the directional growth of plants, which we will discuss shortly.

Marijuana plants exert the majority of their energy in growing their main kola, which is also known as the apex bud, or terminal bud. They are inclined to do this naturally as this gives the plant the best chance at both getting pollinated, and reaching out for enough light to help it reproduce. Apical dominance is the strategy the plant employs to ensure all its energy is directed to this main stem. Apical dominance causes the highest bud to send growth suppressing hormones, mainly auxin, to suppress the growth of buds on lower bud sites. This ensures that the auxiliary buds remain smaller and all the energy is concentrated in the main cola. Removing this main tip allows two tips to emerge from each side of the node, just below where it was cut. These new tips now both become apex buds, and apical dominance therefore applies to both of them.

Although the two new kolas will end up being smaller than the single, original kola would have been, their yield put together will be greater than that of the original Kola.

It is important to note that auxin is just one of the growth hormones found in the cannabis plant. Not only is it able to suppress the growth on non-dominant buds, it also plays a big part in a plants’ internal signaling as well as the control other growth mechanisms. Auxin also regulates the behavior and formation of the other growth hormones that are responsible for other functions such as root growth and flower formation.  Topping is performed during the plants’ vegetative cycle which distributes the growth hormones that were once concentrated in the main stalk to the new stalks and offshoots lower down the plant. Topping creates an even canopy because the growth hormones end up being distributed to the other developing kolas and stalks.

When the “main shoot” is removed, the apical dominance is cancelled, leading to the reassignment of the growth focus to other shoots. The other shoots then start growing faster and increase in size. Because of the lack of apical dominance, the plant can then grow into a bush as the newly appointed shoots will now have equal opportunity. These shoots would otherwise be left neglected, growing slowly and producing underdeveloped, lanky buds.

The “new” main shoots also tend to suppress the shoots which are located further down their stems, which leads to the necessity to top several times in order to allow your cannabis plant to fan out properly. Another great tip is to do marijuana topping at night, when supposedly most of the hormones are down at the roots. This will cause less distress to the cannabis plant and reduce the plants chances of experiencing stunted growth.

Other weed plants, especially those of indica leaning, grow flat and broad naturally as they are adapted to areas with scarce light. As we top, these are the models we should be aiming for in order to make the most of our overhead lighting. We should end up with low, broad, plants which make use of every photon of light available.

Another name for topping pot plants is ‘pinching out’. This is because many cultivators simply pinch out the growing tip using their thumbs and forefingers. However, as we will discuss later in this article, it is always best to use a clean sharp blade or sterilized scissors to cut off the tip.

Light Distribution and Topping

Apart from the redistribution of growth hormones, the other main reason for chopping off your main shoot is to allow for better light distribution. When cannabis plants are topped and the growth becomes more lateral than vertical, light is able to hit in a more equal manner. The bushy shape typically allows for all the bud sites to receive “roughly” the same amount of light throughout the day.  If your cannabis plant is not topped, the dominant vertical stalk, as well as the main cola will end up getting the most of the light while the lower branches will get “shaded out”.   To avoid this, top you plant so that you don’t end throwing shade at your baby buds, quite literally. Allow them to grow wide, big, and strong.

How do I top my weed plant?

Topping cannabis is typically done during the plants’ vegetative stage in its life cycle. During this stage, the dominant stem usually grows taller and thicker and begins to develop new nodes. These nodes are the sites for yet more leaves, and even new branches.

Before you start topping your cannabis plant, ensure that it has four – six nodes. This will ensure that your cannabis plant has enough stem, and root development, to help it recover from the “shock” of topping.

When you are ready to start topping your cannabis plant, ensure that you do not cut lower than its fourth node, or higher than its sixth node. This is to ensure that vertical-growth prioritization, and uneven dominance are not introduced to the plant.

After you have topped your plant, ensure to give it lots of fresh warm water as well as:

  • Flowing, dry air
  • An abundance of organic nutrients that are nitrogen-rich for example seaweed and liquid fish
  • Plenty of soil space

Providing a conducive environment will help your marijuana plant recover from the shock of topping faster and spur it into rapid growth. A puny eight inch cannabis baby plant to a two or three foot tall tree in the short span of only three- six weeks. This growth is largely determined by the rate at which its leaves can gather sunlight and thereby transform it through the process of photosynthesis into chemical energy.

Topping your plant will halt its upward growth and allow it to spread laterally. As you change the light cycle to induce the flowering stage, the plant will put a lot of its energy into the growth of the flowers you are aiming for.

Steps To Top a Marijuana Plant

Step 1. Assemble Your Tools

Topping marijuana might seem complicated but it’s actually a very simple process. All you will need is an Exacto knife, razor blade or generally any sharp object. A good pair of scissors could also work well, though using pruning tools would be a better option. These can be purchased at either your local garden shop or hardware store. If used correctly, they can serve you for a good number of years.

Whatever tool you end up with, ensure that it is as sharp as possible. Topping a cannabis plant with a blunt edge will break, rather than cut the stem, leading to a larger would that will take longer to heal.

Step 2. Disinfect your pruning tools

Disinfecting your tool before you embark on topping is absolutely vital. You can disinfect your blade by:

  • Simply swiping the blades with a cotton ball that has been infused with alcohol can be enough to eliminate harmful bacteria, fungus, and other organisms that may cause an infection in your weed plants.
  • The blade can also be dunked into boiling water.
  • Running the blade through an open flame. If you use this option, ensure that the blade cools down before you use it to top your plants.

Step 3. Locate the main stem and start pruning from there

Now you are prepared to start the cutting process!

Do not start hacking away like a crazed person. There is a system to this.

First, locate the main stem, and slowly travel up starting from the dirt until you count at least four nodes (these are the locations for new branches to shoot off).

Now, if your plant is short, four nodes should be adequate. However, as we had earlier mentioned, you might need to go up a further node or two to five or six nodes.

Once you have identified the node where you want to execute your topping, travel up a further two inches, and snip here.

What you will have done effectively is arrested the growth of one main cola that would have many impotent colas below it to multiple colas that will be able to get both the plants energy, and adequate light to induce them to grow big and juicy. With topping, you could effectively double your yield!

Step 4: Repeat the topping after a few weeks targeting the dominant stems

After your plants have grown for a few weeks, they will be ready for further topping. Your first topping will lead to two dominant stems. You can follow the steps listed above to top these stems too.

From the main stem, trace the smaller branches until you get to a node. Measure two inches above this node and cut off here. This will effectively continue doubling your cannabis plants’ buds.

That is basically the A to Z of how to top a pot plant. Now you can top your plants, and greatly increase your produce.

When is the Best Time to Top Marijuana Plants?

As we have discussed earlier in this article, once they have developed 3-4 nodes, they can be topped. However, allowing them to get to 5-6 nodes allows for quicker recovery due to the plant having a larger photosynthesis area left. Some growers even prefer to wait until they can spot the roots appearing at the bottom of the grow pot before they top. This ensures that the plant is well established, and therefore more able to recover quickly.

The weigh off that exists between recovery time, and early topping is one that will vary from one plant to the next. While vigorous, robust strains such as “Power Plant” will be able to handle early topping, slower growing strains, like “Urkle” may not.

Also, as discussed above, new shoots can also be repeatedly topped, resulting in an even wider canopy with even more “dominant buds”. A large “SCROG” could be topped even up to twenty times, resulting in a very wide canopy that has an abundance of growing tips.

When Not to Top Marijuana Plants

You should not top your marijuana plants when they are in their flowering phase. Flowering totally alters the way a cannabis plant grows and operates. The nutrient requirements of a plant change, and it focuses all its energy on flower production. Toping at this stage will cause a lot of stress to the plant and result in very low yields. This is because the energy will be defected from growing the flowers to repairs, which will cause you the loss of delicious, sticky buds.


Topping your cannabis plants is a sure way to ensure you realise a bumper harvest and utilize the resources you have to the utmost maximum. It’s important to note that topping can be done for both indoor and outdoor cannabis plants. With this detailed guide, we hope that you are now well versed with the process, and that you can now top your way to an abundant harvest!


Lydia K. (Bsc. RN) is a cannabis writer, which, considering where you’re reading this, makes perfect sense. Currently, she is a regular writer for Mace Media. In the past, she has written for MyBud, RX Leaf & Dine Magazine (Canada), CBDShopy (UK) and Cannavalate & Pharmadiol (Australia). She is best known for writing epic news articles and medical pieces. Occasionally, she deviates from news and science and creates humorous articles. And boy doesn't she love that! She equally enjoys ice cream, as should all right-thinking people.