When growing cannabis, one of your top priorities is maximizing your crop yields. Typically, the more time and effort you put into your plants, the better your buds, meaning the more profit you can make.
While there are many ways to increase your yields, low-stress training is one of the simplest and most effective. If you’re new to cannabis cultivation, you may not be familiar with this tactic, but it can help you get more bang for your buck. Thankfully, you don’t have to try to figure it out on your own. Instead, we’ve created this ultimate guide to help you get started.
Here’s everything you need to know about low-stress training and how it can improve your cannabis operation.
What is Low-Stress Training (LST)?
If you’re familiar with cannabis plants, you know they tend to grow in a Christmas tree formation. So, there’s a central stalk in the center with smaller branches and stalks breaking out towards the sides. As you near the top of the plant, the branches narrow to a point, and they widen as you get closer to the ground.
Although this is the natural shape of the cannabis plant (called apical dominance, by the way), it’s not the most efficient. As you can imagine, those branches toward the bottom don’t receive as much light, meaning they don’t photosynthesize as easily, so they don’t grow buds as well.
So, low-stress training is designed to spread out this canopy so that more branches and leaves receive equal amounts of light. When done correctly, LST can help your plants grow faster and deliver larger and more potent buds. As we’ll discuss later, you can achieve these results by bending and shaping the plant, so it grows outward, not upward.
Pros and Cons of Low-Stress Training
The primary advantage of LST is that you can grow larger plants that yield more buds. This process works well for smaller indoor operations that need to make the most out of limited space. Large-scale operations may not invest in LST tactics because they’re relatively time-consuming and require extra equipment and expertise. These time constraints are the primary disadvantage of this process, especially if you’re growing everything yourself. Since you have to monitor and train each plant, LST can take hours to complete and requires consistent upkeep until you’re ready to harvest.
How to Prep for LST
Fortunately, you don’t need many supplies to train your plants, such as:
- Soft Plant Ties – You’ll use these to tie your branches down, so you want something that won’t cut into the plant and cause damage. Regular string or wires may be easier to find, but they might negate the entire process and lead to lower crop yields.
- Small Wooden Stakes – These stakes will become necessary as your plant branches out and creates more leafy stalks. You don’t need massive stakes to train your plants, so keep them small and lightweight.
- Hand Drill – The best way to tie your branches down is to drill small holes in the sides of your planters. While you could do this manually, it will make your hand hurt if you do it more than a few times. Best of all, you can reuse the planters for your next crop, meaning you only have to drill the holes once.
- Duct Tape – Tape is necessary to ensure that the string and stake stay in place as the plant grows. Also, it’s much easier to remove and replace duct tape than other adhesives. Keep in mind that you’ll have to readjust your positioning as the plant gets bigger.
- Scissors – We recommend using plant scissors instead of standard stationary ones. You’ll need these to top your plants, and we’ll discuss how to do that in the next section.
Common Low-Stress Training Methods
As we mentioned, the primary purpose of LST is to increase the surface area of your cannabis leaves. There are two primary ways to do this – topping and bending. Let’s break down each method:
Topping Your Cannabis Plants
Topping is when you chop off the top of the plant so it will start growing in two directions instead of one. You can top your plants multiple times during their growth cycle, meaning you can wind up with many different branches.
Topping also allows you to clone your plants by planting the top section in new soil. Since cloning is essential to ensure consistency among your strains, you’re taking care of two steps at once.
The best time to top your plants is when they’ve grown at least five or six nodes. If you top too soon, you may damage the plant, causing it to be weaker and not grow as quickly. We recommend cutting the top off at around the third node. When doing this, be sure to leave some of the original stem above the node.
Every time you top your plant, ensure it’s had time to grow new nodes from each branch. This way, you can ensure the plant can survive the process and will still stay as resilient and potent as possible.
Even if you top your plants regularly, you’ll still have to bend them to ensure even light distribution. The goal is to create a flat layer so that no one branch sticks out too much above the rest. Use your string to tie the tips of each stalk so that it grows horizontally, not vertically.
You’ll notice that your plant will continue to try and grow straight up with new branches. As these develop, you’ll have to bend them down as well. You should always start in the vegetative stage because that’s when the plant is growing the most.
One challenge of bending cannabis plants is that you need more space around the base to accommodate the horizontal branches. So, rather than growing your plants relatively close together, it’s better to spread them out with more space between them. Otherwise, multiple plants will start to grow into each other pretty quickly, making it harder to train them individually.
Lastly, always bend the plants from the tip of the branch, not at the base. If you tie the bottom of each stem, you risk damaging the plant and causing breakage. Since the tips are softer and more flexible, they’re easier to manage.
The Bottom Line
Overall, low-stress training doesn’t require much insight or expertise. If you’re worried about damaging your plants or getting the process wrong, we recommend starting with a single plant to practice your skills. Then, once you feel comfortable expanding your operation, you can begin training all of your plants at once.