Growing bigger buds is a lifelong ambition for most gardeners. However, bigger buds won’t happen overnight. Gardening is a skill that takes time to refine since you can’t speed up a plant’s growth process. One of the best things you can do is to write down what you’re doing to your grows every day; that way, if you have a successful harvest, you can revisit what you might have done differently in your garden and replicate it with future grows.
If you are a cannabis grower, you know the underlying goal is to grow the biggest and healthiest buds possible in your garden. You also know the feeling of disappointment when a strain you’re growing never fully develops the dense sticky buds you hope it would. While some strains are low-yielding, you should always be able to produce a high-quality bud if you’re taking the right steps.
If growing outdoors, make sure your pots or trenches are spaced far enough apart so that the sides of the plants can receive full sun. Growing on a south-facing slope will guarantee your plants are receiving as much sun as possible.
By super cropping (high-stress training) or using LST (low-stress training) methods such as tying down the top branches, you can motivate the rest of the surrounding branches to develop, thus creating a more level canopy. What happens when you train your plants is the growth hormones that are focused on the main stalk are redistributed to the surrounding branches, promoting growth for the entire plant. This results in an even canopy of branches that will all grow large colas while being equal distance from the light source.
Intuitively, you might think that more nodes means more and larger buds, but this is far from the truth. Nodes with buds that are lower down on the plant away from the canopy will try to develop in flowering but will never become fully developed because they do not receive adequate light.
Cannabis buds will form at most of the plant’s nodes. A node is where a leaf or branch grows off the stalk. The larger the plant grows, the more nodes will appear, which means your plant will have more locations where buds can grow.
The GroBox can help grow cannabis plants in a small space. (Courtesy of GroBox)
Once your plant switches to flowering, decrease your nitrogen levels and increase phosphorus levels to help the buds fully develop and become dense. If growing in soil, when switching from vegetative growth to flowering, top dress the soil with bat guano or worm castings as a great way to increase phosphorous levels while you liquid feed your plant other nutrients.
If you want to grow big buds, you need to have big lights. When you identify the highest-quality cannabis in stores or dispensaries, you’re looking at cannabis where growers provided optimal indoor and outdoor lighting. You can’t cut corners when it comes to properly lighting your grow area. A basic guideline for lights is generally every 100 watts can cover one square foot. For example, a 600-watt light can cover a 6’x6′ area.
Another tip for growing bigger buds involves regularly feeding compost tea to your soils. Compost teat helps develop healthy mycorrhizal relationships between the soil and mycelium. The more mycelium in the soil, the more nutrients the plant is going to take up, which will result in bigger buds.
Correctly feeding your plant is absolutely necessary when trying to grow large buds. Nitrogen is associated with vegetative growth, while phosphorus is the nutrient that is most closely associated with flowering plants. Feeding a plant nitrogen while it is vegging creates a healthy, vibrant plant at a young age that will grow rapidly, which leads to increased yields.
Make sure your lights are at the right height so your plants are not suffering from heat stress. The plants should not feel hot, nor should your hand if you hold it at the top of the canopy. If you want to be precise, you can use a digital thermometer to figure out the precise temperature. By providing the right amount of light and keeping the lights the right distance away from your plants, you’ll keep your grow happy, resulting in the desired bigger buds.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways to improve the size of your buds. Pruning, training, feeding, and lighting are the most common ways to dictate how your plant will develop.
Another simple way to increase your yields is by training your cannabis plants. If left alone, plants generally grow one main large stalk with other small stalks growing up around it. A cannabis plant will grow in the shape of a menorah, where the center candle highest up represents the main large stalk. While this one large stalk will grow a beautiful large cola, the height of this one cola will dictate where the lights can be placed if growing indoors. This results in the lower branches receiving significantly less sunlight than would be possible with an even canopy.
If you want to improve the yield of your plant, the best method is to prune away any plant life that isn’t receiving quality light. Trim away the buds and foliage that are under the canopy to “lollipop” your plant. This strategy will send all the energy into the canopy where the buds are receiving the most light, thus giving you bigger, denser nugs.
Do you have any experience growing big buds? Leave a comment below with your own advice!
For some people, cannabis cultivation is a hobby. Others a life-long passion. But it’s unique in its vast demographic appeal. “Everyone I know grows,” Lipton said. “There are people in their 20s doing it. I know people in their 60s. It’s a fun thing for people. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.” Here are Lipton’s tips on growing your first plant.
While most, if not all, medical and recreational farms cultivate cannabis from seeds, guaranteeing that their plants are free from viruses, most home growers, even those with experience, typically begin with clones — essentially trimmed pieces of female cannabis plants that have been rooted in separate pots. “When most people think of cannabis — you know, what you smoke — they’re thinking about the flowers of female plants,” Lipton said. “When you grow from seeds, half of them will be males. If you’re only going to do one or two plants, you don’t want to waste your time with that stuff.” A clone sourced from a dispensary or a knowledgeable friend guarantees that the plant is female and will eventually produce bud pending proper care. “You can get up to four ounces off the right plant — if you know what you’re doing.”
Both medical and recreational dispensaries now sell female cannabis clones, which retail for about $15. Alternatively, it’s commonplace for home growers to gift clones to their friends. “When you get a clone, someone will likely give it to you in a four-inch pot. You’re skipping that whole step of having to germinate seeds. You’re already 10, 14 days ahead of the game and basically ready to plant.”
Foster the right growing environment.
Despite the hurdles, many first-time growers still choose to cultivate cannabis indoors (which is legal in Alaska, Colorado, Washington D.C. and Oregon), and there are steps to maximize a plant’s chances of succeeding. It all starts with a plant’s genetics. “For your typical closet setup, you’re going to want a plant that stays short,” Lipton said. “A lot of time that means an indica. Sativas are really tall and lanky.” (More on the difference between those two families here.)
Another layer to consider is that cannabis cultivation must happen “out of plain sight.” “You can’t have any odor. If it’s offending people in the neighborhood, then it’s an issue.”
Even in our most progressive states, however, the law is far from simple. “In Colorado, it’s now county-specific,” Lipton said. “When the amendment first passed, they said you could grow six plants per person. But now, certain counties and municipalities have come out and said it’s just six per house — there’s no combining plant counts. That means you can have three vegetating and three flowering at any given time.”
Though the 12-hour interval is fairly universal, knowing exactly when to induce flowering is less clear. For the home grower, it usually comes down to space; the longer one waits to trigger the flowering cycle, the taller their plant will be. A good rule of thumb: cannabis will only continue to grow 30 to 50 percent once the light source is reduced. If the plant is growing in a closet, growers should trigger the flowering cycle, understanding that there must be more than two feet of space between the canopy of the plant throughout the entirety of its life.
“Growing cannabis in tight spaces is not my usual recommendation,” said Stephen Lipton, the cultivation manager at The Farm Recreational Marijuana Dispensary, an award-winning recreational facility in Boulder, Colorado, specializing in what it calls “craft cannabis.” At any given time, Lipton oversees close to 15,000 plants across seven different facilities in Boulder County. “If you have a really tight space and it gets too hot or too humid, you’re going to have big trouble.”
To understand the flowering cycle, it’s important to remember that cannabis is a plant. And, like most plants, it follows the seasons. To trigger flowering — which will take 55 to 60 days to complete — growers reduce the time plants spend exposed to the light source from 18 hours to 12. “You’re basically telling your plant it’s mid-September,” Lipton said.
Know the law.
Before someone even begins to consider the genetics of their preferred strain, they should first ensure that their apartment is cannabis-friendly. There are five main factors to consider: space, temperature, humidity, the pH of water, and the amount of light.
Light: 2,200k. “For a closet set up, I would recommend a 175-watt HPS light,” Lipton said. “Some people try to use fluorescent lighting, but I wouldn’t recommend that. You’re just not going to get a very good outcome. Nowadays, HPS lights can just go right into your home outlet, and you’d just need a timer [to set the intervals]. Position the light directly overhead. They can be pretty powerful, so you’re going to want it at least two feet from the top of the canopy [to prevent the plant from overheating].”
It’s important to remember that cultivating even one cannabis plant for personal consumption is felony on the federal level and punishable by up to five years in prison. Meanwhile, four US states — Alaska, Colorado, Washington D.C. and Oregon — have passed local amendments, allowing citizens who are 21 years old and over to grow a limited number of plants without fear of persecution.
Sticking to that schedule is key, he added. “Say you’re at day 30 of the flowering cycle and you come into that closet when it’s supposed to be dark and turn a bunch of lights on. You’re going to throw the whole cycle off and that’s the end of that. It only takes 10 seconds.”
Trigger the flowering cycle.
To harvest, many growers begin by removing the leaves of the cannabis plant with trim scissors, followed by the buds (using pruners). “We call this bucking,” Lipton said. “Gloves are also extremely important for sanitation reasons as well as to keep your hands from becoming sticky with the resin from the plant.”
Presented by Florida Man DIPA.
The last step involves curing the bud. “Curing is just as important as the growing process,” Lipton added. “We do a slow cure, which means that it takes anywhere from three to six weeks depending on variety.” Temperature and humidity play a large role during cure and must be maintained to ensure a great final product. “Our actual cure process is somewhat of a secret, so I cannot share the fine details,” Lipton said. “But it’s an art form and extremely crucial to our success.” The reason growers cure bud after harvesting is that it creates a smoother smoke and increases its potency. Detailed recommendations for proper curing can be found online, here and here.
Even with a healthy clone, however, cultivating cannabis can be a long and arduous process — especially in tight indoor spaces. “A lot of people think growing is easy, but it’s not,” Lipton said. “You have to be really on it. Not everyone has success, obviously.”
Temperature: 68 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit. “A tool you should always have is a little temperature gauge,” Lipton said. “They call them hygrometers. They’re cheap and tell you both the temperature and the humidity.”
Take note, though, that these supplements are on the alkaline end of the pH scale and that at a pH above 7 (neutral), plants are less able to absorb phosphorus. When using bone-meal supplements, check the pH of your nutrient solution and, when needed, use natural acids to bring it down.
Carbon dioxide is the fuel for photosynthesis, the process that plants use to convert light into growth. The atmosphere has about 400 parts per million (ppm) of CO2, enough to sustain plants outside. In an enclosed indoor space, CO2 levels can drop as plants absorb it from the air, slowing their growth.
As plants begin flowering, reduce the humidity in your indoor garden to 50 percent, enough to ensure that there is sufficient moisture during this intense stage of plant growth but not so much that you lose buds to mold. The simplest way to reduce humidity is through ventilation with outside air, which outside of tropical climates is closer to your ideal.
Tie the bent stems to thin bamboo sticks with twine to keep them in place—just remember not to cinch the ties so tightly that you cut off the circulation of vital fluids in the stem and branches. This low-stress training technique is more effective at increasing bud size and quantity than snipping off the top leaves (known as topping) as many growers do.
When plants reach their mature size and begin flowering, they need more phosphorus, the nutrient most essential for budding. Check the N-P-K ratio listed on every package of nutrients to be sure that you’re using a high-nitrogen formula during the vegetative stage and a high-phosphorus fertilizer when your plants are flowering.
4. Bone Up On Your Feeding.
Compact fluorescent and LED bulbs produce enough light for plants to grow and even to flower, but high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures provide the most light in the spectrum that plants need during their budding stage. HPS lights can get hot, so you need a well-ventilated room to use them.
When you see buds maturing, you’ll be tempted to harvest them. If you can wait, you’ll see that buds bulk up noticeably in the last couple weeks before they finish growing. Give the plants only water—no nutrients—after you see the buds are mature. Hold off on picking them for another 10 to 14 days, when they’ll be at their peak.
You want the biggest and the best harvest? Then it’s all about the details! With these seven key strategies, your crop will be bigger and better than ever. Achieving these results is easier than ever. Read on to learn mroe about how you can increase the size and quantity of your harvest.
Plants are most vigorous when the temperature is 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day (or when the lights are on inside) and 70 degrees Fahrenheit when it’s dark. In warmer conditions, plants tend to wilt. When it’s colder, plants are stressed and stop growing. Disruptions such as these diminish the plants’ energy for bud production.
You want to keep the lights 18 to 36 inches above the tops of the plants. Check to be sure they’re not too hot by putting your hand under the lights at the same height as the tops of the plants—if it’s too uncomfortable for you, it will be for your plants as well.
As plants grow taller, the bigger leaves on top shade the lower leaves and branches. That can lead to small plants with buds on only the highest tier. By gently bending the top of a plant, you bring light to the lower leaves, increasing the colas (nodes where buds form) and bringing light to lower-level buds.
Humidity helps keep your plants hydrated, preventing the drought stress that can slow their growth. With water used constantly in indoor gardens, grow rooms tend to have high humidity, often as much as 80 percent. Too much humidity can lead to fungal diseases, including those that can turn your buds into a mildewy mess.
Phosphorus is the critical nutrient during the budding stage. Bone meal, a natural plant supplement, is loaded with phosphorus and calcium, which activates key growth-regulating hormones essential for flowering. Weekly doses of bone meal, starting just before budding begins, ensure that your plants have the phosphorus and calcium they need to bud abundantly.
Plants need the macronutrients of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium throughout their growth, but the proportions of each element—collectively called the N-P-K ratio—change as the plant grows. In the early stages, you want the plants’ energy directed into growing stout stems and dense leaf canopies. The bigger the leaf area, the bigger your buds will be. Nitrogen is the nutrient needed most for this green growth.
6. Pump Up CO2.
Consistent ventilation with outside air is all the CO2 plants need during budding. More CO2—as much as 1,500 ppm—will amp up your plants’ growth rate and yields. Pushing the level to as much as 1,500 ppm of CO2 makes the maximum amount available to your crop during the crucial period when the buds are forming and fattening up. You can get a simple CO2 generator for less than $120.
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