Fraser Horton
Fraser Horton
Last Updated on October 10, 2021

As marijuana is being legalized around the US, more and more growers are deciding to take up marijuana cultivation. For first-time growers this may be a daunting task, so hang around while we tackle one part of growing marijuana plants – defoliation.

Defoliation is a great way to improve light penetration and airflow across the whole plant, and with that, increase yields. If you’ve been having difficulties growing your cannabis plants, read on to see how defoliating them may be the key to a bigger harvest.

What’s Cannabis Defoliation?

When we talk about cannabis defoliation, we’re referring to the process of removing leaves from the plant in order to get bigger yields. It can also be called “lollipopping” if you focus the defoliation process on the bottom parts of the plants.

While some cannabis growers agree that this process can help increase cannabis yields, others think that plucking the leaves off cannabis plants isn’t beneficial at all. No matter which way you lean, keep in mind that defoliation isn’t as effective in increasing the yields for outdoor plants as it’s effective for indoor plants, so it’s only a good option for indoor growers.

Moreover, defoliation can’t aid plants that don’t have enough light or grow space, are kept in grow rooms that are either too hot or too cold, or don’t receive enough nutrients. This method is a way of maximizing the yield potential of healthy plants.

When to Defoliate and How Much Should You Remove?

There are three life cycle stages that are crucial for marijuana cultivation and defoliation should only be done during certain cycles. The flowering phase is probably the best time to defoliate, although some growers defoliate even in the vegetative phase. In the end, it all depends on your preference. 

  • Seedling or Clone Stage: Depending on how you prefer to grow your marijuana plants (from a seed or a clone), this is the first stage during which the plant should grow undisturbed. 
  • Vegetative Stage: At this stage the plant has grown leaves, branches, and nodes, and starts to grow both horizontally and vertically. During this stage, it may be a good idea to start some light defoliation.
  • Flowering stage: During this period, the cannabis plant focuses most of its energy on growing flowers, so it may benefit from defoliation. 

How Much Should I Remove?

Some growers decide to only defoliate lightly, while others believe that stripping the cannabis plant of nearly all the lower branches and leaves is the best way to ensure a good yield. The former focus on defoliation as something that should be done only when necessary (when the plant doesn’t have enough airflow), while the latter believe that the cannabis plant should focus all its energy on producing buds instead of leaves once it starts flowering. Whether or not the cannabis plant needs defoliation will also depend on the cannabis strain you’re growing. For example, Kush varieties thrive without pruning or defoliation.

Why Should You Defoliate Your Cannabis Plants?

  • To prevent mold – fewer leaves would mean less humidity and lower chances for the flower to develop mold, mildew, or bud rot.
  • To produce bigger yields – buds that are exposed to an appropriate amount of light and air fatten more quickly and produce bigger yields.
  • To help plants grow faster – since you cut out the parts of the plant that you don’t want, the plant can focus on the branches it has left, meaning it will focus on the ones you want.
  • To train the plant more easily – you can train plants with low stress training (LST) and use growing techniques like ScrOG and manifolding more easily.

Cannabis Defoliation in the Vegetative Stage

Some growers advise against cannabis defoliation during the vegetative stage because they believe that it prevents the overall growth of the plant. Although if you only remove the troublesome fan leaves (large leaves with many fingers), and don’t disturb the bud sites and the main colas, you could get higher yields. If you decide to defoliate during the veg stage, focus on removing the leaves that are laying on top of each other as well as leaves from the lower and middle part of the plant. You could use the defoliated leaves to make other cannabis products like cannabutter, cannabis oil, edibles, CBD tea, and other products.

Defoliating Cannabis in the Flowering Stage

Similar to the defoliating process during the veg stage, you’re primarily focusing on defoliating fan leaves. You should especially focus on the big fan leaves that are hiding the buds from light at the top of the plant because the main goal for defoliation at this stage is to expose the buds to as much light as possible. This process is often called big leafing.

Some growers have specific defoliation methods that include defoliating at week 3 of the flowering stage, and then again at week 6, and others do it on an as-needed basis by pulling leaves whenever they see that they’re affecting the bud sites. Do your research and choose the best option for you.

If you find a yellow fan leaf here and there, it should also come off. Be careful not to over-defoliate and leave enough leaves so the plant can thrive.

Different Ways to Defoliate Your Cannabis Plants to Boost Cannabis Yields

There are many different defoliation techniques, some more extreme than others, but the one you decide to use depends on your personal preference and the type of weed strain that’s being cultivated.

Lollipopping as a Defoliation Technique

Lollipopping is a defoliation technique that focuses on removing leaves from the bottom part of the plant which leaves the plant resembling a lollipop. The focus is on the leaves that may prevent your plant from getting enough light.

Schwazzing – an Extreme Defoliation Technique

Schwazzing is a more extreme method of cannabis defoliation that includes doing the process two times during the flowering stage, once at the beginning, and once after three weeks. 

By removing the fan leaves in intervals, the plant can replenish the lost foliage and also focus on bud development. If you decide to use this method, make sure you supplement your plants with enough nutrients so they can push through the shock of defoliation.

Understanding the Differences Between Defoliation,  Pruning, and Topping

Pruning

Pruning is a high stress training technique (HST) that involves removing entire branches and nodes together with fan leaves, and is more aggressive compared to defoliation. This technique focuses on leaving only nodes that receive the best light in order to produce the biggest and most potent buds. Some cannabis growers use pruning in addition to defoliation in order to optimise production.

Topping

Topping is done by cutting the top of the stem in between the nodes so the plant can have more growth hormones to send to the lateral branches. It creates 2 main colas at the top of the plant, and by using a low stress training technique (LST), growers can create even more colas. The additional main stems grow from the node where the cut was made. This is a great method for optimizing cannabis yields.

Conclusion

Defoliation is a great method for increasing your cannabis yield by removing leaves that block airflow and impede the plant’s growth. If done correctly, it can also increase the quality of your weed buds, and is a useful technique for indoor growers.

Disclaimer

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