A Better Way to Manage Your Growth (Literally)
This guide for commercial and residential growers provides resources that will allow you to ask the right questions and identify the best approaches for maintaining your indoor grow. Your degree of experience as well as budget and time constraints will largely determine the size of the crop that you are able to care for, while plant count, climate, and space limitations will dictate the rest.
From traditional methods of plant training, to mold and pest maintenance, to the latest advances in agricultural technology that allow you to automate your grow, the resources and information provided here will help growers of all scales to design and maintain the operations that will provide the maximum return on investment.
A Targeted Approach to Plant Training
Controlling Your Stress Levels
Plant training is a method of controlling plant growth and yield that requires manipulation of branches to produce more bud sites. This is the most labor intensive and time consuming part of plant maintenance for growers.
“High stress training” (HST) requires branches to be deliberately injured or removed to stimulate bud formations at multiple new sites on the plant.
"Low stress training” (LST) is a gentler approach that uses gradual bending and light tying of branches to preserve plant material and increase canopy. Low stress plant training is not only better for the plant, but did you know it can be done in less time and with less organic waste than high-stress training?
There are even ways to automate your indoor plant growth so that you can enjoy more frequent and bountiful harvests without sacrificing your time, energy, and safety. Saving time and energy is money in your pocket, so it is critical to educate yourself on both traditional and contemporary farming techniques that are available and when these techniques are most beneficial to your operation.
High Stress Training vs. Low Stress Training: Why it Matters
For all licensed cannabis growers, whether dealing with plant count restrictions or not, keeping the grow controlled is essential. It is not uncommon for growers to use training techniques that deliberately stress the plant in order to produce the desired yields.
“Plant stress” can be defined as any element or activity that compromises the ideal growing conditions of a plant, forcing it to compensate in other ways that may not be natural to the plant’s growth cycle. There are two main types of plant stress: “biotic” stress referring to pathogens and contaminants, and “abiotic” stress which refers to environmental conditions that can be manipulated to alter plant growth patterns. Plant training is an example of abiotic stress, as plant branches are intentionally bent to coax the desired results.
While there is much discussion about high vs. low stress training, there are most certainly benefits to both. Often, high-stress plant training is utilized to control the shape and size of the plant.
High stress training is riskier for the plant and may result in larger amounts of wasted organic materials; but, it can be a useful technique for producing higher yields from fewer plants in smaller spaces.
Low stress training is much less risky for the plant but can require more labor, as branches need to be individually tied, defoliated, and slowly trained. While the constant monitoring of plant growth requires more contact with the plant and more time shaping it, the advantages of low stress training are more harvests from faster vegetation times, a higher yield, and more consistently potent flower.
Different crops and strains of plants will tolerate different levels of stress, so it is critical that you understand your grow, your resources, and your return on investment in terms of time, money, and yield before you decide what method is right for you. (this is a reference to the infographic). And with so many advances in Smart Farming and automated growing methods, you should be sure that your chosen method is compatible with the advances being made in agricultural technologies.
High Stress Training: A Traditional Approach
High stress plant training has been a tried and true approach used by indoor Cannabis growers for years. The shape of the plant is modified and controlled through intentional stem bending and heavy pruning.
While not normally a technique that would be recommended for many crops, cannabis responds well to more drastic manipulation when done correctly.
High stress techniques cause Cannabis plants to produce thick stems and develop an even, robust canopy as growth repair hormone is emitted throughout the plant, resulting in a heartier and more resilient plant.
While it is a well-subscribed method for Cannabis propagation, it is as it sounds - the plant is deliberately stressed and, depending on the high stress training method that is chosen:
The degree of stress inflicted on the plants can result in necessarily longer vegetation times, as plants must spend a good deal of energy healing and redirected growth hormones and nutrients to potential node sites.
It can also result in a great deal of potentially viable plant biomass being necessarily discarded. Whichever method of high stress training you choose, consider the strains you will grow, the layout of your space, the environment to be controlled, and the plant count restrictions you may need to adhere to.
Topping is a way to create multiple cola from a plant that would normally have a single apical bud with a single cola. This is done by literally pruning the top of the Cannabis plants off at the terminal bud, forcing a split that results in multiple new buds forming at the pruning site.
Both indoor and outdoor growers find this method to be productive, as the height and shape of the plants are controlled along with the increase in single plant yield. On the other hand, this method necessitates that large amounts of viable plant material are pruned away and discarded at the time of topping.
Topping Tips And Debunking Plant Myths
Sea Of Green (SOG)
The Sea of Green (SOG) method may be the least stressful method of those listed here, as it technically does not “train” the plant so much as it allows for maintenance that reduces the time and effort needed for plant training.
While it does not require topping, it does require several plants being grown quite close together to create the referenced sea. Young plants are forced into the vegetative state early, and will therefore be ready for harvest sooner as well.
This is a great way to increase the number of harvests you can get in a short amount of time, as plants don’t need to grow tall before they flower. However, the resulting number of bud sites on smaller plants is often equivalent to the yield of a single plant that has gone through the natural stages of development.
No biomass is wasted, but plants are essentially stunted, which can affect the potency of the buds that are produced. It is also not the best option for those who have plant count limitations, and the crowding of plants can also lead to problems with pests, mold, and other biotic stressors that will require regular monitoring and environmental controls to prevent.
There is also the possibility that plants of varying strains in the same small space will not grow an even canopy and will therefore require even more time and attention than plants that are living through their natural cycles.
The Screen Of Green (ScrOG)
For the screen of green (ScrOG) method, trellis netting is stretched over the top of the plant to offer support as branches stretch outward and plants get taller. The lower branches are pruned off as they will not receive adequate light anyway and will simply consume energy that the plant can better use for bud and cola production.
This technique can result in more resin production of a higher potency when done correctly, but it is a risky maneuver and could result in broken branches. Starting at the bottom, mature stems are pinched and bent in several spots, but no higher than 2-3 nodes below the bud.
Although it seems counterintuitive, this actually sends a signal to the plant that nutrients and growth hormones should be sent to the damaged areas right above where the “knuckle” (the scar site) has formed. The result is the appearance of new growth at the knuckles.
The height of the canopy is also manipulated to remain at the same height as the plants that were snapped. Super cropping is an excellent way to limit the vertical growth of the upper canopy, making this technique ideal for growers with limited head height. But high stress training does not come without its risks, and super cropping will slow down vegetative growth.
This means that more time will be needed to achieve the canopy size that low stress training produces in a shorter amount of time. Also, if not gentle enough, stems can be broken leaving plants exposed to disease and bacteria infestations.
This technique requires the removal of plant material at an early stage, in order to train plants to develop additional nodes and, consequently, more colas. This is done by topping the plants at an early stage (when they have developed at least 5 nodes) down to the third node.
This encourages the development of multiple nodes rather than a single, vertical, terminal bud. As such, the canopy develops more widely and evenly. Stems will require tying and training as they grow, in order for light and air to be distributed evenly throughout the vegetative and flowering stages.
Lollipopping requires the removal of lower branches in order to direct growth hormones to the topmost buds. This is a common practice by many indoor growers, as the quality of the flower improves when the quantity of potential bud sites is reduced.
However, it can be very time consuming to prune and train the plant, and many healthy plant shoots are sacrificed in the process.
Plant Training Methods That Yield Results
Low-Stress Training and Automation
Maintaining the Mellow
It is true that many of us love our plants and don’t mind spending the time (if we have it) showing them a bit of love with the techniques mentioned above. But realistically speaking, most growers don’t have the time required for regular tying and pruning.
Additionally, for commercial growers, it may not make for the best return on investment, as extra time and wasted plant materials cuts into profits. So what can be done to reduce waste and time while nurturing healthy plants?
Low stress training is a gentler way of controlling the shape of your plants. While it may still be necessary to defoliate your plants, low stress training requires much less pruning. Branches are delicately tied to encourage a gradual, horizontal growth, allowing nature to take its course for fuller canopy. Not having to prune means all potential bud sites are exposed and allowed to mature.
This results in more frequent and more robust harvests. No haste, no waste; however, tying, trimming, and monitoring of the plants is still time consuming and requires a lot of plant handling.
Commercial growers especially understand the importance of keeping stressors and contaminants out of the grow site with every plant interaction. No one wants mites to wipe out a crop and the income that goes with it.
One solution is automation. Automated monitoring of CO2, humidity, grow mediums, and water Ph allows you to make informed, educated decisions about your process, so you can adjust quickly and not compromise a whole season’s harvest.
There are several automated farming tools that you can employ which we will discuss in more detail, with the latest device to enter the market being the newly patented TrellaGro LST™.
These automated units use low stress training to eliminate the need for tying and pruning, protects branches from breaking, and will notify growers when changes to the controlled environment occur.
Based on the planet’s current rate of population growth, it has been predicted that we will need to increase our food production capacity to accommodate 8.6 billion people by 2070. To do so would require us to dedicate a land mass roughly the size of Brazil to farming.
Combined with the challenges of climate change and natural disasters, the need for alternatives to outdoor, soil-based farming becomes even more urgent. One of the responses to these challenges is the rise in popularity of indoor plant farming and vertical farming. This is a trend that is most useful in Cannabis production as well.
The Pros And Cons Of Vertical Farming
Converting indoor spaces into viable grow operations, we dramatically increase our capacity for plant production by maximizing small spaces. Plants can be stacked on shelves and grown in containers, which means space can be used more efficiently and environments can be regulated.
Growers can produce a variety of strains and keep crops rotating throughout the year by cloning from healthy and consistent Mother Plants - or plants that are propagated specifically for clone production and not for harvesting flower.
Although this is a wonderful solution, it is by no means a perfect one.
High stacks of plants mean workers must climb ladders to perform the unsteady tasks of trimming and tying.
Not only does this put workers in danger, but it could potentially violate federal OSHA guidelines on ladder safety. No one should have to fear for the safety of their workers or worry that their operation could be in violation of safety regulations.
One type of vertical farming is called freight farming.
Just as it sounds, shipping containers are converted into hydroponic grow spaces. Freight shipping containers are essentially portable farms that can be set up just about anywhere. This type of farming is a direct response to food insecurity, and can be applied to Cannabis just as well.
The Pros And Cons Of Freight Or Container Farming
Freight and container farms are a great way to maximize space for farming. They can be set up anywhere, including in places that are considered “hard-to-grow”. They are also transportable, meaning remote growing is entirely possible. Crops can be started in one location and continue growing en route. But in order to do this, your grow must be automated and remotely monitored so that plant training occurs as the plants grow, and environmental conditions and lighting can be controlled.
The main challenge to freight and container farmers is navigating the space itself. When freight farms are filled to capacity, it becomes difficult to physically maneuver through the plants as they grow taller and fuller; yet, it is essential to do so in order to maintain plant height.
Not only can this lead to damaged and broken branches, but to the introduction of contaminants by the workers who must touch and brush against the plants. And again, safety becomes an issue. The list of pros and cons is one well worth considering when designing or choosing your grow space.
Contamination and Pest Management
Whether growing on a small or large scale, every grower must take preventive measures to protect plants from organic stressors as well. While it would seem logical that indoor cannabis cultivation would put plants at less risk from biotic stressors than outdoor cultivation, indoor operations are definitely not exempt from infestations of molds and pests.
If environmental conditions are not carefully monitored, humidity can breed powdery mildew. And every time you enter the grow space from outside, you run the risk of introducing pathogens- or predators like aphids that will reproduce asexually and lay live offspring in the summer. These insects will destroy the roots of your plants to feed on them.
Pest and Contamination Prevention
Once your crop is infested, it will be much more difficult to protect your investment. An ounce of prevention could save you a ton of aggravation, wasted materials, and ultimately, money. One way to one-up pests is to practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
By understanding the life cycles and habits of the pests that threaten your crops, you are able to nip things in the bud, so to speak, particularly when natural pesticides are applied. There are many fantastic resources available to growers who are interested in the natural methods of pest prevention that IPM offers.
Podcasts are a great way to keep up-to-date on best practices when you are on-the-go. There is also an abundance of research and educational resources available online for any inquisitive grower looking for natural approaches to pest control.
Of course, the best way to prevent contamination is to stay out of the grow space. Every time you enter the space to adjust the lights, monitor the climate, and train the plants, you are risking exposing your beautiful crop to potentially deadly enemies. There can be nothing more discouraging than contaminating an otherwise healthy crop with an outside pathogen.
How TrellaGro LST™ Controls Mold and Pests
Here is where automation comes into play once again.
By monitoring and regulating the controlled environment remotely, you will not only be able to set your ideal climate to prevent mold and powdery mildew, but you will keep from entering the space in order to do so. Automated plant training and maintenance systems are a sound investment if you want to reap the maximum from what you sow.
Automated controls for ventilation, temperature, lighting, feeding, and plant growth can help you save time and maintain a healthier grow environment.
To be sure, training your plants manually can be a very rewarding experience. Cannabis is a very forgiving plant, and there is perhaps no better way to learn about it than to watch its progress very closely. Many growers value the time with their plants as an opportunity to physically connect with and respect what is being created. There are lots of great, manual, low-stress training options available to choose from.
If you would like to automate your grow for the reasons explained above, whether you are a commercial or residential grower, you can begin by automating any or all of the following processes:
- Automate your grow lights to stay on an 18/6 or 12/12 cycle, depending on the stage of your plants.
- Automate your air conditioners and humidifiers/dehumidifiers to turn on when the temperature and humidity in your grow room fall outside their optimal levels.
- Automate your ventilation system (exhausts and fans).
- Automate CO₂ supplementation (if you’re using it).
- Automate nutrients using auto-dosers.
The patented TrellaGro LST™ from Trella Technologies uses machine learning and software applications to automate climate controls, ventilation, and plant training, making it an efficient choice for commercial growers who need to save time, stay out of the grow space, and maximize harvest frequency and yields.
Systems utilizing automation tools and equipment can be set up to automate a range of processes for your grow operation, There are even systems that allow you to integrate all of your automation into a single, smart greenhouse!
Not a commercial grower? Not to worry. Every grower wants to get the most out of each individual plant, so plant-training is key.
Home growers are likely going to face greater limitations in space and plant count as well.
Your designated grow space could be a greenhouse, high tunnel, or grow tent. It might also be a closet, cabinet, or part of your basement.
You may wish to automate some, all, or none of it. But whatever you do, make sure you understand the environment of the space, the climate of your area, and the home cultivation laws of your state.
Some basic items to purchase:
- Trellis netting for plant training - this will provide support as plants get taller and will allow you to maintain even canopy height. There are several types and sizes to choose from, and you can even find complete grow packages.
- While plastic ties are very popular, there are more environmentally sustainable ties available now that will secure your plants gently as you train them.
- A good set of hand pruners. Remember to clean your pruners with alcohol between each use.
- Lighting - Many find LED lighting is best for tight spaces as lights can be placed closer to the plant’s canopy in spaces where height restrictions may be a challenge. LEDs use less energy than any other grow light to achieve comparable results, and the little heat generated by them doesn’t require an HVAC system to expend it.