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What to Look for When Trimming Your Cannabis Plants

Updated July 25, 2022

Part of growing cannabis plants is trimming them. Trimming is an exciting part of the process as it means that you are moving on from growing to harvesting and are close to being able to use your cannabis buds. Despite the potential for excitement, some people find the idea of trimming their cannabis boring or a hassle. You can make trimming go by much more quickly if you know what to look for and how to properly trim the plants before you pick up your shears.

Reasons to Trim the Cannabis

Before trimming your cannabis, you should understand why this process is so important. Some of it has to do with appearance. Trimmed or manicured cannabis is more aesthetically appealing. It will have a more uniform and tighter appearance, more closely resembling the cannabis used for photos from dispensaries. If you do not trim the cannabis, the extra foliage can be distracting, as can the uneven buds.

There are also good reasons to trim your cannabis from a practical perspective. Simply put, there tend to be lower concentrations of trichomes in the sugar leaves of the cannabis plant. As such, removing those sugar leaves will help improve your trichome concentration in the flower. It also makes the trichome-rich nugs easier to reach.

Additionally, cannabis that still has larger leaves branching out from the buds will typically have a harsher smoke. This is because the thickness of the foliage makes it harder to remove the moisture.

Trimming is also important for curing and drying your cannabis. If trimmed properly, the buds will all contain a similar moisture content allowing them to dry out uniformly, without any areas under or over-drying. This even dryness allows for a smoking experience that is more even and flavorful.

Knowing When to Trim Cannabis

You need to choose the right time to trim your cannabis plants, as well. You may be surprised to learn that you should trim the plant a few days before you harvest it. Ideally, you will do it around the same time that you remove the larger fan leaves. It's common to begin that type of trimming several weeks before harvesting, which is when senescence (deterioration) begins. Senescence is the phase of the plant cycle is when the bigger fan leaves would start to whither due to age. You can remove all the fan leaves at this point, a few days before harvest. Alternatively, you can just start removing the dying/dried leaves.

Whether to Hand or Machine-Trim

Before you trim your cannabis, you will need to look for which method works best in your situation. Most small-scale growers will opt for hand trimming, while those who grow on a larger scale opt for machine trimming.

Machine trimmers are not practical for most small-scale growers. They can be expensive and require a great deal of maintenance. There is also the issue that machines will trim in a standardized way, not accounting for variations in density and shape. This could damage your buds. Because of those factors, most people who have the time and patience to hand-trim their cannabis will. Machine trimming becomes more appealing with larger numbers of cannabis plants when the quality of the trim is not crucial.

Whether to Trim Dry or Wet

The other thing to look for is whether you prefer to engage in wet or dry trimming. Neither is better than the other, but each has its own advantages.

Wet Trimming

Wet trimming is when you trim the plant the same day you harvest it, while it is still on the vine. Many growers prefer wet trimming because you get “open” bud access. It is much easier to remove the sugar leaves at this point because they extend outwards from moisture. This factor leads to some arguing that wet trimming results in tighter buds.

As a bonus, wet trimming should speed up the drying process since there is no extra foliage in the way that can trap the moisture in the buds.

Dry Trimming

With dry trimming, you trim the cannabis plant once it is dry. If you go this route, you want to let the buds dry in an area with controlled temperature, humidity, and light for between four days and two weeks. Controlling these factors lets you ensure the buds dry slowly, which is ideal for quality. If the buds dry too quickly, they may do so unevenly. Quickly dried buds tend to have bone-dry exteriors with dank, unaired interiors.

Dry trimming appeals to many growers since it is easier on the shears and less sticky. The result is fewer breaks to clean your gear.

Tools to Look for When Trimming Cannabis

Before you can start trimming your cannabis buds, you will need to find the proper tools to use. With the proper equipment, you will be able to trim the plant more efficiently, with minimal damage to the plant and less strain on yourself.

Trimming Scissors

If you choose to hand-trim your cannabis, you will need to look for a pair of sharp pruning shears that are sterilized. Opt for ergonomic scissors since the process of trimming your cannabis can take a long time and you want to be comfortable. You should also ensure that your chosen scissors are easy to clean, especially if you wet-trim your cannabis.

Many growers prefer multiple pairs of trimming shears, so they do not have to pause as often to clean. It is also common to get two pairs in different sizes. This way, you can use the smaller scissors for precise trimming and the larger ones for cutting branches. Choosing between standard and spring-loaded scissors comes down to your personal preference.

Cleaning Supplies

Do not overlook the importance of cleaning supplies when gathering the materials you need for trimming cannabis. Cannabis is highly resinous, so your shears will quickly develop resin buildup. Rubbing alcohol and a clean rag should be enough to keep your gear clean.

A Solid Surface

You need to look for a clean space where you can trim your plants without contaminating them. Trimming trays are popular since they make it easy to transport your buds and gear and they can fit on your lap. Whether you use a tray or a table, ensure that you can clean it easily.

An Ergonomic Space

You can expect to spend at least several hours trimming your cannabis plants, so you should look for an ergonomic space with enough room to work. Choose an area with enough light and without excess hair and dust since those could contaminate your cannabis. Try to avoid chairs that cause you to hunch over since your lower back will start to hurt as you trim. Instead, find a supportive, ergonomic chair.

An Apron

Because cannabis plants are highly resinous, you should also look for an apron to wear as you trim. This will help you keep the resin off your clothing. Supplement it with gloves, as well, as these will keep the resin off your hands. If gloves are not comfortable for you, then try rubbing olive or coconut oil on your hands to keep the resin off.

How to Trim Cannabis

Once you have everything you need to look for before trimming cannabis, you are ready to get started. This is just a quick overview of the steps if you choose to trim the cannabis while it is dry. If you trim it while wet, the steps will be slightly different.

Remove Fan Leaves

When you harvest your cannabis, there will be large fan leaves unless you have already removed these. These leaves do not contain trichomes, so you should ideally remove them even before you dry the cannabis. If you do not remove them before drying, do this as the first step after drying.

Remove Buds from Branches

After the cannabis is dry and the fan leaves are off, you can start trimming the buds from the cannabis plant. Bucking down refers to snipping buds from dried branches without trimming them. Doing it this way will make the process of trimming go more smoothly since you do not have to alternate between removing buds and trimming.

Trim the Buds

Now you are ready to trim the buds. You will want to have just a large handful of buds on your tray, as overfilling it will slow you down from lack of organization. As you trim, try angling the scissors toward the bud. Make precise snips and keep your scissors in motion.

What to Look for During the Actual Trimming

During the trimming process itself, you want to look at the size of the bud to ensure it is correct. Make sure that the stem is only exposed at the bottom. Trim the stem at this part of the bud as closely as possible without damaging the bud.

You will also want to look for the crow’s feet and remove them. These are the small branches that stem from the nugget’s bottom. They get their name from their resemblance to bird’s feet.

Finally, look for any extra plant matter and remove it using your shears.

When you think you are done, rotate the bud completely and look for anything that ruins its appearance. You want to confirm that you are satisfied with your work.

Additional Tips for Trimming Cannabis

In addition to all the above, there are a few key things to keep in mind when trimming cannabis.

Use the Scissor Tips

As you trim, you should focus on using the tips of your scissors and not the sides. This helps with precision and helps you keep your tools clean of resin longer.

Remove Everything without Trichomes

If you are not sure what to trim, work to remove everything that does not have a full covering of trichomes. The red pistils are included in this since they have minimal trichome content. They only serve aesthetic purposes, so you should trim them down to the foliage.

Keep the Trimmed Foliage

Frugal growers would be wise to keep the bits of the cannabis plant that they trim off. You can use the extra foliage in things like tinctures, edibles, and budders.

This also applies to the hash that you create with your scissors as you trim. You can enjoy this “finger hash” as a reward for successfully trimming your cannabis.

Cure the Buds in Airtight Containers

After you finish trimming the buds, place them in airtight containers. This is the perfect environment for curing them.

What to Look for When Pruning

In addition to the final trimming of your cannabis plants, you will also want to occasionally prune them. Pruning will help you boost the yield and quality of the plant. With pruning, you remove lower-quality parts of the plant, so the higher-quality portions get enough nutrients and light to thrive.

As you prune, remember that buds need airflow and sunlight to grow to high quality. During pruning, look for and remove low branches that get minimal sunlight, low bud sites without enough light, and leaves that are dying from lack of light.

You will want to start occasionally pruning your cannabis plants once they start to develop a bushy shape. You can actively prune from that point until the flowering stage is three to four weeks along. Stop pruning after this, as it will encourage your plant to return to vegetative growth, reducing your yield.

Additional Pruning Tips

To get the most from pruning your cannabis plants, you should be sure to water the plants right after pruning. This will stimulate growth and reduce the shock that the plant experiences. You also want to include plant food with this watering.

It is also possible to train the cannabis plants to increase production with pruning. Essentially, this involves pruning during earlier growth, removing portions of the plant that are still alive, and forcing the plant into recovery so it grows back with more strength.

The Takeaway

Trimming your cannabis plant is your opportunity to remove the unnecessary foliage from the buds and ensure your buds are perfectly manicured. Most growers will do this by hand, which allows for precision but requires patience.

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