Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 6, 2023

Big yields and quality buds are what every marijuana grower dream of, and if you’re one, you’ll surely agree. After all, you want all that hard work to pay off so you and others can enjoy the final product. This is why many plant training techniques have been developed over the years, many of which are used for plants other than weed to maximize their harvest. 

Today we want to discuss topping, which is a commonly used technique in cannabis cultivation (this can help you get strong plants and increase your yields). Whether you cultivate outside or in a grow room, this technique is equally successful, so let’s get into the details.

What Is Topping and How Does It Help Your Cannabis Plants?

Topping is a high-stress plant training technique wherein you cut off the top of the main stem of the cannabis plant where the main cola would grow. The way the cannabis plants naturally grow is they take a Christmas tree shape with the top cola, which is the dominant and largest one, being the star. 

And so the plant focuses all its energies on growing vertically and sending most of the growth hormones towards the top, and less towards the side branches. That’s why the main cola is dominant and more potent, whereas the peripheral buds are smaller and of poorer quality. The branches also don’t receive equal amounts of light which is another thing that affects their growth process. Needless to say, without topping, the yield would probably be unsatisfying.

With topping, the game changes. By cutting off the part of the plant where the dominant cola would be, you will actually redirect the energies of the plant to the other bud sites and encourage the cannabis plant to develop even more bud sites. You actually break up the Christmas tree shape and instead produce shorter and bushier plants whose lower branches are just as developed as the higher branches (because they can receive more light and air without any blockages).

When to Top Your Cannabis Plants 

Topping is best done when the plants are around 30 days in the vegetative stage so that the growth hormones can be redistributed from the main stalk to the side branches. By this time, the plants should have developed 4-5 nodes, depending on the strain, which is when the roots and stems are strong enough to withstand the snipping and bounce back from the stress. 

However, don’t wait until the plant has developed more than 7 nodes because it won’t make much of a difference in terms of the direction of growth. If you wait too long, the plant will have already directed its energy towards growing upwards, so it will do nothing for lateral growth, and you will just be cutting off parts of the plant unnecessarily.

You should never top your plants too soon (eg. the seedling stage) when they have not developed enough as it would be too much of a shock for them. Don’t top your flowers during the flowering stage either because you will interrupt their energy flow which should be directed towards the bud sites, and it can do them more harm than good. If you want to train your plants during this stage, it’s better to use a low-stress training technique (LST). 

Finally, give the plants a couple of weeks to recover before topping new growth. Your crops need this time to adjust to the new growth pattern so they can grow stronger.

How to Top Your Marijuana Plants for Bigger Yields

To top the plant, you should cut off the top of the plant at the stem between nodes. Snip it cleanly and make sure to leave about 5 mm of space between the place where you’ve made your cut and the side branches. This is enough space to ensure you don’t cut off more than necessary or accidentally snip off any of the side branches. 

By doing this, instead of forming a large cola, the plant will develop two new stems and the two nodes will develop new colas that will be evenly spaced. This redirects the growth and creates short and bushy plants that will get even light and proper airflow. You can repeat the process again after some time until you get the desired result.

Equipment for Topping Marijuana 

To top your plants successfully, you must be precise and use sterile tools. Topping requires you to make a clean cut and snip those plant shoots very accurately. To do this, you need a sharp cutting tool as blunt tools can cause the main stem to break (and cause greater damage). 

Office and kitchen scissors could get the job done, but not as well as the right equipment. Pruning scissors are your best choice, hands down. Razor blades could also work well, but if you can get your hands on pruning scissors, it would be the best. Plus, you can use them later to trim off sugar leaves during harvest or just for pruning in general.

Similar Techniques to Topping

There are some techniques that are very similar to topping with slight differences that can produce slightly different results. Growers can combine them or apply them accordingly, depending on how their plants are doing.

How Is Topping Different from Pruning?

Topping and pruning are so similar that you can even say that topping is a form of pruning. The main difference is that pruning refers to just cutting off the fan leaves and lower branches that are discolored, dying, or don’t receive much light anyway, whereas topping is cutting off the growing tip of the main stem where the large cola grows. 

Cultivators prune their plants to help them spread and receive light more equally, which in turn makes them thrive. 

You can prune the plants more than once, but you need to give them ample time to recover in between. It’s best to water them immediately after pruning and give them plant food.

What Is Fimming? 

Fimming is another high-stress technique that involves cutting off part of the plant in order to get bigger yields. It’s still similar to topping in that the main goal is to increase the colas, but instead of doubling down, you will end up with at least 4 main colas on the top. 

The word “FIM” actually stands for “f**k I missed” which refers to the technique of fimming itself and how it looks like the grower missed while topping it. As you can guess, it was discovered accidentally. The way you fim the plant is to cut off about 2/3 or 75% of the tip of the plant, instead of all the way down.

As with topping, you should fim your plants during the vegetative stage, or when they have developed 4-5 nodes. Don’t do it during the flowering phase to allow them to focus on flower formation.

This technique is great for growers who cultivate only 1 or 2 plants as it will maximize the potential yield. Outside plants also benefit from fimming because the 4 main colas you get aren’t as large, so it makes them stronger and more resistant to both weather changes and bud rot. The only downside is that it’s not as effective as topping for reducing vertical growth, which is not a problem with Indicas, but it can be with Sativas.

The Takeaway

Topping is an interesting technique that might not seem like it would produce good results because it involves cutting off an essential part of the plant, but the opposite is true. It will increase the bud sites and even out the shape of the plants by redistributing the growth hormones evenly through all parts of the plant. 

Topping is best done around 30 days into the vegetative stage when the plant is strong enough to handle the stress of snipping. Pruning and fimming are two similar techniques to topping that produce similar results. They can be used either separately or in conjunction with the other, depending on the plants’ needs.

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


The information presented on this page is provided as a public service to aid in education and is derived from sources believed to be reliable. Readers are responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed here. In no event shall Leaf Nation be held reliable for any injury, loss or damage that could happen if using or abusing drugs.