Cannabis plants grow notoriously quickly. They grow like weeds, actually. An un-trained cannabis plant will develop a strong central stalk and potentially a few smaller colas, and have a few basic flowers at the top. A wild plant’s focus is energy production, with just enough flowers to produce seeds and continue the species. In the wild, that’s considered a success.
In a cannabis garden, you’re looking for something else. Your cannabis plants, for the most part, shouldn’t be riddled pests or infections, since you’re caring for them. That means that the form designed for efficient energy production isn’t as necessary. Instead, you want your cannabis plants to focus on flower production. Tricking your plants into slightly less survival-oriented forms can help you trigger more and larger flower growth. That’s the goal of low-stress training.
What Is Low-Stress Training?
Low-stress training doesn’t involve cutting your cannabis plants. Instead, you carefully guide the plant to grow into different shapes than the general “Christmas tree” shape that usually occurs. By tying branches down and otherwise guiding growth, you break that shape. Smaller branches can then catch up in size to the main cola. That allows you to grow an even canopy and help the whole plant develop more and evenly-sized buds.
This method works by adjusting how the plant distributes “auxin“. This is the growth hormone that triggers elongation. Using low-stress training helps your plant to distribute auxin more evenly. That leads to even growth in every branch, as long as you keep an eye out for branches that are starting to overtaking smaller stems.
Low-stress training can be used by even the newest grower. Other training methods can easily damage a marijuana plant if done poorly. The best thing about low-stress training is just that – it’s low-stress. You aren’t going to remove too much foliage and risk killing your plant through shock. Instead, you just pay attention over the course of the growing period and keep the plant from getting in its own way.
Equipment Needed for Low-Stress Training
Another great benefit of low-stress training is that you don’t need much equipment. Some gardening stakes and twine are all you need to get started. If you want to get really fancy, you can drill small holes around the rim of your planters to tie your plants. Finally, if you’re worried about possibly snapping a stem, duct tape works remarkably (and surprisingly) well as a reinforcement for damaged branches.
Always be cautious when tying your plants. You can choke off a branch if you tie it too tightly. Loose knots are better than tight ones, as this gives your plants room to expand. Stems widen as they grow, and choking off a stem early can reduce your harvest from that plant.
How to Use Low-Stress Training
The first step to low-stress training is to convince your marijuana plant to break “apical dominance.” That is the technical term for cannabis plants’ tendency to have one primary cola. To do this, you’ll need to tie the main stem off to the side. When your plant is has four to six pairs of leaves, or when it’s 8-12 inches tall, carefully bend the main stem off to the side, until the top portion is about horizontal. Take some twine and tie the plant so it remains in this position.
This bending exposes more of the plant’s total leaves and bud sites to the light. This leads to more light exposure and a better harvest. It also breaks apical dominance by leaving the smaller branches taller than the main branch.
As the smaller branches grow, you’ll need to tie them away from the original main branch. The goal is to develop an even, thick canopy. If any single branch gets too large, adjust your ties to encourage the smaller branches to catch up. LST is simple, but it requires that you pay attention to every plant. Apical dominance is a strong tendency in cannabis, so tying one branch down isn’t the end of the story.
If you start low-stress training later in your plants’ development, you may not be able to move a branch into position all at once. Remember, you want to avoid snapping your plant. If you’re worried about breakage, be sure to take your time bending it. Carefully move the stem as far as it will go in the direction you want, and tie it there. In a day or so, test and see if it will bend further – if so, shorten the string. Keep doing this until the branch is where you want it.
When to Use LST
Low-stress training is particularly useful in a couple of different situations. First, if you’re dealing with a particularly low ceiling, LST can help you maintain your plant’s height. High-stress training techniques can’t be used during the flowering phase, as cutting off the top of the plant would be counterproductive when you’re already growing buds there.
In low spaces, you simply keep tying down branches whenever they get too tall. This doesn’t harm the plant, so this style of training can be done all the way through harvest. That means you never have to worry about your plants running into your grow lights.
You can also use LST training if you want to keep grow time short. High-stress methods that involve cutting off significant growth can make the vegetative stage last longer. Marijuana plants need to recover from the cuts, which takes time. Low-stress training, on the other hand, means the plant never has to recover from vegetation loss. Instead, it simply redistributes resources to the growth that it already has.
LST works equally well indoors and out. Anywhere you want to grow your cannabis plants can be a good space for LST. Indoors, low-stress training can help you keep your plants at a manageable size. Outdoors, it can keep your grow lower to the ground and more stealth by changing the plants’ distinctive shape. Either way, it’s a simple method that has great results.
How to Choose the Right Plants to LST
LST works best if you choose plants well-suited to it. You will have to do more work training your plants if you choose to low-stress train Sativa strains. However, you’ll also get more obvious results with Sativa strains, since they have a much stronger tendency towards apical dominance than Indica strains. Breaking that allows you to keep your Sativa strains shorter and bushier. That’s great for indoor grows or outdoor stealth gardens.
Autoflowers handle LST beautifully. You should avoid cutting your autoflowering strains, because they start flowering so quickly. Cutting them back simply reduces the number of potential bud sites without leaving enough time for the plant to recover. Therefore, low-stress training is the best choice for autoflowering plants and other fast growers.
Low-stress training takes some attention to your plants, but it’s the simplest way to get more out of your plants. No matter when you want to start training your plants, low-stress training is always an option. It will not harm your plants, as long as you are careful when bending the branches. Whether you’re a new grower looking to ease your way into training, or someone who’s been growing cannabis for years, LST is a great choice.