Once you’ve gotten into a good routine with your cannabis grows, you might start to feel a little bored. You have decent yields, you’ve got a really solid grip on how your preferred strains grow, but it’s all very repetitive. You’re ready for a new challenge, something to bump yields even higher. You’re in the perfect place to try defoliation.
Defoliation isn’t for beginners. It’s a step beyond normal high-stress techniques and takes attention to detail. Balancing your plants’ needs with stressing them into better growth takes experience and some willingness to accept risk. However, if you’re open to the challenge, it can pay massive dividends when it’s time to harvest.
What Is Defoliation?
Defoliation is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the process of removing leaves from your cannabis plants. There are several styles of defoliation, ranging from a one-time deal to a constant process. The idea is that by removing vegetation that doesn’t directly contribute to bud growth, you encourage bigger, denser buds. It’s a delicate balance to keep enough leaves on the plant to allow growth while removing enough to see benefits.
Defoliation also has health benefits for the plant. Especially in bushy plants, it’s hard to get consistent airflow throughout the plant. By removing excess vegetation lower on the plant, you get rid of stagnant air pockets that might encourage pests. Spider mites and mildew both love still air, so defoliating your bushy plants can keep your plants healthier.
Lollipopping is the process of defoliating the plant just a few weeks into the flowering stage. When you lollipop cannabis, you get rid of all the leaves and bud sites lower on the plant. At the end, each cola looks like a lollipop, with a big puff of vegetation on the end of a bare stalk. How much you remove depend on how comfortable you are with defoliation and how much vegetation you want to keep.
You can also get a lollipop-like effect by slowly defoliating your plant during the vegetative stage. Removing the bottom leaves, small stems, and bud sites forces the plant to focus on stronger sites higher up the plant. It removes vegetation that won’t flourish because it’s in the shade.
Schwazzing is a two-part process. First, you lollipop the plant. Then, three weeks later, you defoliate again. This is a more controversial method, because major pruning during the flowering stage is tricky. Be cautious with schwazzing, because you can’t put the leaves back on the plant (unfortunately).
Equipment for Defoliation
When you’re removing plant matter from your cannabis, you should always use a sharp pair of shears. You want your plants to heal quickly and survive the shock of leaf-loss. A clean cut will help your plants get over the event sooner and avoid infection.
Fertilizer is important to keep your plant healthy after defoliation. Be cautious when fertilizing after defoliation. When your plants have been defoliated, they use fewer nutrients and aren’t able to process extra as easily. You want to make sure your plant fertilized, but keep an eye out for signs of overfertilization. Using a half-dose of fertilizer for a week after defoliation can help avoid problems.
Gloves, duct tape, and isopropyl alcohol are always important to have on hand when you’re trimming your plants. Gloves help keep your hands from getting sticky. Duct tape is the most efficient way to repair branches or stems that are accidentally broken or bent. Wiping your shears down with rubbing alcohol helps keep them clean and free from any diseases. You want to make this as easy on your plants as possible.
How to Defoliate Cannabis
The actual defoliation process is quick and easy. Take your sharp shears and trim the leaf just above where it connects to the main branch. Be careful to avoid bud sites, unless you intend to remove those too. Start from the bottom and work your way up.
Lollipopping is the most common type of defoliation. Two weeks into your grow, examine your plants with the light as bright as possible. The lower third of branches should be where you focus. Trim any and all leaves that aren’t receiving much light. Lower bud sites and those inside the bush can be trimmed as well. Don’t remove too many bud sites, though, or you’ll start lowering your harvest instead of boosting it.
To schwazz your plants, you start by lollipopping them. Right at the beginning of flowering, go through and get rid of everything more than four leaf nodes from the top of the plant. Especially focus on bud sites that won’t receive much light.
Your plants should complete their flowering stretch over the next three weeks. This will result in more leaves growing and more bud sites developing. If your plant appears bushy, at the end of week three it’s time to defoliate again. Anything in shadow can be trimmed. This time, though, be more cautious and leave bud sites. Your plants won’t grow more leaves after week three. You can always take more leaves off if you need to, after all. At the end of the second defoliation, you should see light reaching all the remaining bud sites and leaves.
If you’re working on a long-term defoliation instead, you can work on a once-a-week schedule. You can check every week during the vegetative phase, after your plants have five or six leaf nodes. Look for leaves or bud sites that don’t look like they will mature into something useful, and trim them off. This will help shape your plant into one where all the bud sites will receive plenty of light.
When to Defoliate Cannabis
Defoliation isn’t for the weak of heart. It’s done best by those who have a bunch of successful grows under their belts. Experience helps you judge how many leaves you can safely remove, and what bud sites will give good results. If you’re a seasoned grower looking for more extreme methods of boosting your harvest, then defoliation is a great choice. Always be careful and learn the method on just one plant, though. It would be a shame to try a whole crop at once and have it turn out poorly.
Choosing the Right Strains for Defoliation
You should look for hardy strains if you want to use defoliation. You’re going to be causing your plants stress, so the right strain should be disease-resistant and quick to heal. Sativa strains grow more quickly, so you can usually begin the defoliation process sooner with them. On the other hand, indica strains benefit a lot from defoliation, because they are so bushy to begin with.
Be cautious when defoliating autoflowers. They grow so quickly and switch to flowering so soon that defoliating can stress them out too much. They need calm, easy environments to give the quick and large harvest for which they’re known. You can usually get away with minor defoliation along the bottom of the plant, but schwazzing or lollipopping the plant can kill your yields.
You can boost your yields in a serious way by trying defoliation. It’s not for the new grower, but you can guide your plants into growing beautiful buds with it. Once you’re confident in your skills, defoliation can take your grows to the next level.