Crop Steering for Cannabis: Tips And Techniques To Get Better Yields

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Added 06 April 2023

Are you looking to elevate your cannabis cultivation? It may be time to take your growing operation to new highs with a relatively new craze in the cannabis industry: crop steering. 

No, this does not involve a tractor and is unrelated to the game farming simulator.

Instead, crop steering is a process where you carefully monitor and manipulate your indoor grow room's growing conditions and climate to push your cannabis plants to their limits. With crop steering, you can optimize your plant’s growth and reap better rewards.

In the rapidly growing cannabis industry, maximizing yield and potency while maintaining quality and consistency is critical to success. One technique gaining popularity among cultivators is crop steering, a method of adjusting environmental conditions to control plant growth and optimize the production of desired compounds like THC and CBD. 

By combining specialized equipment and a deep understanding of plant biology and the growing environment, growers can fine-tune the cultivation process and produce high-quality, consistent crops. 

In this article, we'll examine what crop steering is, how it works, and its potential benefits for cannabis growers.

What is Crop Steering?

What is Crop Steering?

Crop steering is a gardening or agricultural practice where the grower manipulates the indoor environment of the grow room, including aspects like the feeding regimen, lighting, and climate, to “steer” the growth of their plants. Crop steering aims to give your plant the right conditions for the best yield possible. 

Think of it like a recipe for growing cannabis — just like you adjust the temperature and cooking time when baking a cake to get the perfect texture and flavor, cannabis growers adjust the growing conditions to get the best possible yield and potency from their plants.

This strategic practice requires you to monitor and modulate the environment throughout the plant’s vegetative and generative growth stages. Doing so allows your plant to optimize its phytochemical profile, leading to a better yield.

For example, cannabis growers have found that their plants grow better if not watered during the night. This is because this dry time stimulates their survival mechanism. According to studies, this response is due to phytohormones. 

If you had to explain phytohormones to a 5-year-old, I’d say they are like special messages that cannabis plants use to tell their different parts what to do. They help the plants grow huge, and they can also tell the plants when it's time to make flowers. These messages are very important for the plant to grow and produce good buds that can be used to make medicine or other products.

When your plant goes through a dry spell (aka drought), auxins (a type of phytohormones) signal the plant to develop roots and increase cellular activity. In a controlled environment, auxins can help your plant grow much bigger. 

This is one example of how water intake or your feeding regimen can help your plants grow better and yield more. But this must be meticulously controlled. However, the process may backfire if you dry out the plant too much. 

Benefits of Crop Steering

Benefits of Crop Steering

Crop steering has various benefits, the primary of which is higher yields. With crop steering, you can optimize your plant’s growth and be rewarded with a better yield. 

Apart from an increased yield, your plants will grow higher-quality buds thanks to the controlled environment. Plus, cannabis grown with crop steering also tends to have better cannabinoid and terpenoid profiles, depending on the methods used. 

Crop steering also allows you to save resources since you administer water and nutrients in a more controlled method. And since you will be closely monitoring your plant, it will also get more manageable to spot any signs of diseases and fix them before they damage your plant. 

All these benefits come together to make you a better grower and your plant a healthier specimen of cannabis. If you are a hobby grower, that is a gratifying experience, and for commercial growers, this even translates to more profits!

In summary:

  • Crop steering is a technique used by cannabis growers to adjust environmental conditions to optimize plant growth and maximize the production of desired compounds like THC and CBD.
  • It can help growers produce high-quality, consistent crops with better taste and effectiveness.
  • Crop steering can also increase yield, which is important for commercial operations and can result in more profits for growers and a steady supply of cannabis products for consumers.
  • Crop steering allows you to save resources since you administer water and nutrients in a more controlled method.
  • Crop steering makes it easier to spot any problems with the plant before it gets out of hand.
  • It requires some investment in equipment and a deep understanding of plant biology, but the results can be well worth it!

What are the Ways to Crop Steer Cannabis?

What are the Ways to Crop Steer Cannabis?

As mentioned earlier, cannabis crop steering involves manipulating various environmental factors in your grow room, like the feeding regimen, climate, and lighting. Let’s look at these factors and how they affect your cannabis plant. 

1. Water Content

Cannabis likes water more than anything — it drinks a lot of water, especially in the vegetative stage. During this time, cannabis consumes water to expand the root ball, build branches, and develop leaves. 

In the flowering stage, also known as the generative stage, cannabis prefers an adequate water supply but not too much. If you limit the water intake, the plant develops bigger buds. 

How does this work?

Your cannabis plant uses photosynthesis to convert the sun’s heat into energy. During this process, the plant also absorbs carbon dioxide and water, converting them into energy and creating carbohydrates for the plant. 

Water vapor and oxygen are released into the atmosphere via stomata, the tiny pores on the plant’s leaves. These pores regulate gas exchange between the plant and the atmosphere. When the plant does not get enough water, they close up to conserve energy, pushing the plant to use stored energy. 

When the plant is in the flowering stage, the plant still uses photosynthesis, but the energy is focused on bud development. If you lower the water supply, the plant will use its energy reserves to develop buds. 

This is backed by research. According to a study conducted in 2019, drought conditions increased bud weight in cannabis plants. The study used two sets of plants — one controlled that got enough water and the other that faced dry down periods. The study found that the latter group produced more cannabinoids like THC and CBD.

Essentially, with crop steering and controlling the water supply, you force the plant to focus its energy on the immediate development stage, leading to better plant growth. This process also increases oxygen under the soil, leading to better nutrient uptake and root development.

But does this mean that you force the plant into drought-like conditions at home? No!

Cannabis plants require consistent and appropriate water to grow and produce healthy buds. Drought stress can cause the plant to experience stunted growth, reduced photosynthesis, and decreased yield, including bud weight. In severe cases, drought stress can even lead to the death of the plant.

While some growers may use techniques like "dry farming" to simulate mild drought stress in cannabis plants, remember that this technique can be risky and lead to reduced yields if not done correctly. Crop steering is usually done by commercial farms with access to sophisticated equipment that can manipulate many factors, including water. If you’re growing at home, however, you should consistently provide water to the plant. 

2. Fertigation Frequency

In a typical cannabis garden, the grower uses basic gardening pots with drain holes at the bottom. They irrigate the plant daily and let the excess water drain from the bottom. While this method is sustainable for the plant, many nutrients also drain out during the process. 

Thanks to recent developments in horticultural technologies, growers have started using automatic drip irrigation systems that save a lot of costs while reducing nutrient wastage. 

In the process, growers have also found that it is unnecessary to saturate the root ball for the best growth of cannabis. Here, the dry-down tactic tends to perform better when watering the plant using small injections multiple times daily. This allows the substrate to dry out between the doses, making the plant kick in its natural responses. 

But there is more to this technique. Of course, you can’t let your vegetative cannabis dry out regularly since it requires a lot of water to bulk up. Here, growers inject the substrate with small doses of water throughout the day, and around mid-afternoon, they stop watering the plant to induce a dry-out during the night. 

When the plant starts blooming, the frequency of water shots is further reduced to increase bud formation and cannabinoid production.

3. Electrical Conductivity

Your plant also relies on various nutrients for its growth. For instance, it uses the three macronutrients the most: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. Additionally, cannabis also requires various micronutrients like boron, iron, sulfur, calcium, magnesium, etc. 

But the plant does not use them consistently throughout its life cycle. It needs different concentrations of such nutrients depending on its growth stage. For example, it requires more nitrogen during the vegetative stage since this element is useful for leaf and stem development. 

On the other hand, phosphorus and potassium are required in higher quantities during the flowering stage for optimal bud development. 

Hence, the concentration of the nutrients is essential when preparing the nutrient solution for your cannabis plants. One way to check the concentration of nutrients is by using electrical conductivity (EC)

EC is the charge carried by a fluid, which is the nutrient solution in the case of cannabis plants. So, if you use an EC meter to check your nutrient solution, the higher the salt, the higher the EC, i.e., the more concentrated solution.

Generally, young cannabis plants don’t need a lot of nutrients — low EC — since their focus is first on developing a sustainable root ball. As the plant grows, you need to adjust the concentration incrementally, i.e., an increase in the EC of the solution, to further sustain your plant. 

In crop steering, you can use EC of your nutrient solution to determine if it is concentrated enough for the optimal growth of your cannabis plant. If not, you can revise the solution by adding more nutrients. 

4. Vapor Pressure Deficit

Vapor pressure deficit, or VPD, is another crucial aspect of indoor cannabis setups. You can use VPD to measure and fine-tune the environment for the best results. 

But don’t let the term make you think it’s something complex. It’s a simple analysis of the environment that determines the pressure difference between the plant’s leaf surfaces and the atmosphere. 

Your cannabis plant uses transpiration to transport nutrients and water from the root to the leaves and flowers. The excess moisture is then released through the stomata back into the atmosphere as water vapor. This transpiration process relies on the right temperature and relative humidity. 

If your grow room has ideal temperatures and RH, your plant transpires better and more efficiently, creating a steady flow of water vapor.

In stressful situations, stomata behave differently. In higher temperatures, the stomata shut off to hold moisture; in high humidity conditions, the rate of vapor release reduces. 

You can use a VPD measuring device to determine the rate at which your cannabis plant releases water vapor and tweak it accordingly. How do you control VPD? By tweaking the temperature and relative humidity in your grow room. 

For example, you may aim for a lower VPD during the vegetative stage so your plant can grow bigger. On the contrary, you may aim for a higher VPD during bloom to make your plants work harder, resulting in a higher cannabinoid profile in the buds. 

What is the Difference Between Vegetative Growth and Generative Growth?

What is the Difference Between Vegetative Growth and Generative Growth?What is the Difference Between Vegetative Growth and Generative Growth?

The cannabis plant’s growth relies on various external factors, due to which the plant regulates its hormonal responses. This growth occurs in two ways — vegetative and generative, where the energy is diverted differently.

Vegetative growth refers to the growth of a plant in its vegetative stage. In crop steering, specific hormonal responses are triggered via external stimuli to influence vegetative growth, making the plant grow more prominent. 

For vegetative growth, you need to use the following environmental conditions:

  • Lower EC and higher water content
  • Lower VPD
  • Milder light intensity
  • Relatively stress-free grow room environment 

On the other hand, generative growth refers to bud production in cannabis plants, where the plant directs its energy toward the bud sites. Unlike vegetative growth, which requires mild conditions, the plant in the flowering stage performs best under harsher conditions that resemble the summer season. 

You need to use the following environmental conditions for generative growth:

  • Lower water content 
  • Higher EC and VPD
  • Intense lighting conditions 

You can influence generative growth in your cannabis plant at different times in the plant’s life cycle. For example, if your cannabis plant is growing excessively during the vegetative stage, you can influence generative growth to curb its growth. This is useful if your plants are growing too tall for your setup, like in a vertical farm setup. 

In most cases, growers stick to vegetative growth during the vegetative stage and switch to generative growth during bloom. However, depending on your preferences and goals, you can switch between the two to maintain a balance in your plant’s growth to achieve the desired outcome.

In the past decade, cannabis growers have been experimenting with crop steering in various ways. Many growers also mix vegetative and generative steering throughout the life cycle to achieve the best results. 

Depending on your goals, you can perform crop steering at any stage of your plant’s growth.

For example, you can use generative steering during the flowering stage while switching the light cycle. And once the buds are set, you can switch to vegetative steering to keep the plant bulky and increase bud size. 

Experiment with different strategies of crop steering to determine what works best for you. It’s a vast subject, and one size does not fit all. So, find one that fits your plant the best and use it. 

How to Use Crop Steering for Cannabis?

How to Use Crop Steering for Cannabis?

Crop steering is a relatively straightforward practice, and there’s a high chance you may already be practicing some of it without even knowing it. Crop steering is essentially using external stimuli to influence your plant’s growth, isn’t it?

But let’s dive deeper into crop steering and consider how to use vegetative and generative steering for your cannabis plant.

1. Crop Steering a Vegetative Cannabis Plant

In cannabis, the vegetative stage refers to the period when the plant develops its foliage, stems, and branches. So, the plant's energy is directed to these parts for better growth. The stage also prepares the plant for the flowering stage by packing more green leaves for photosynthesis.

To stimulate this type of growth, i.e., vegetative growth, you must simulate certain environmental factors to resemble the spring season. This process will allow your plant to grow more green matter. As mentioned earlier, the conditions include lower VPD and light intensity and a stress-free environment.

As a general guideline, here are the ranges you can aim for to steer your plant for vegetative growth:

  • Keep the temperature between 75°F to 85°F (24°C to 29°C) 
  • And relative humidity between 65% to 80%
  • Keep the VPD between 0.8 to 1.1 kPa

Along with the climate, you can also fine-tune other factors as needed, which are as follows:

  • Water your plant more to increase the water content between 55% to 70%
  • Lower the EC of your nutrient solution between 2 to 4 dS/m

If you plan to irrigate your crop with syringes, keep a shot size of 1% to 3% of the substrate volume, dry back 10% to 15%, and irrigate your plant 6 to 9 times during daylight hours. 

Remember, these guidelines work for a regular cannabis plant, but your plant may require different conditions for the best green growth. So, research well to figure out the best levels that will benefit your cannabis plant.

2. Crop Steering a Flowering Cannabis Plant

Once your cannabis plant starts flowering, it will focus its energy on bud development. So, the plant will stop growing new leaves and stems, and the buds will start developing at the bud sites. 

So, if you want to steer your plant for better generative growth, simulate the following climate conditions:

  • Keep the temperature between 60°F to 70°F or 15°C to 21°C 
  • And the relative humidity between 40% to 70%
  • Keep the VPD between 1.0 to 1.5 kPa
  • Aim for a carbon dioxide concentration of 800 to 1200 ppm

Apart from the climate, other crop steering methods for generative growth include the following:

  • Lower the water content to 255 to 70%
  • Maintain a higher EC, between 5 to 12 ds/m

If you’re using syringe shots for irrigation, keep the shot size of 4% to 8% of the substrate volume and the irrigation frequency between 3 to 9 during the daylight hours. 

Again, these are generic guideline figures. Adjust the conditions per your plant’s preferences, local climate, and goals. 

What is Crop Registration?

What is Crop Registration?

Crop steering is an act of balancing the environment to boost your plant’s growth, and one tool that comes in handy in this process is crop registration. Simply put, it is the process of journaling your plant’s growth. 

It is crucial that when crop steering cannabis, you track the steering cues and your plant’s growth as a result. Tracking these variables allows you to test various tactics and monitor their results. Over time, crop registration would help you gain a clear, more precise understanding of what works best and what does not. 

For ideal crop registration, track attributes like plant height, root ball size, stem diameter, leaf color, internodal spacing, bud size, trichome concentration, growth rate, etc. 

Can Crop Steering be Made Easier?

Crop steering is easy but lengthy — this can be daunting for many growers. If you are one of them, don’t worry yet. Fortunately, there are many ways to make the process easy and seamless. The solution is to use technology. 

Thanks to recent technological developments, crop steering is easier since the tech devices allow you to monitor and manipulate various conditions in your grow room. Many growers claim that crop steering is only possible due to these devices. 

Crop steering technologies incorporate various devices apart from temperature and humidity sensors. These devices gather information like the transpiration rate, EC, substrate temperature, water content, VPD, and barometric pressure. 

Of course, investing in a dedicated crop steering system can be an expensive affair. Still, you can begin by installing various sensors around your plant to monitor it and specific devices to automate processes like light cycle changes and irrigation. 

If you don’t mind splurging, you can't go wrong with a dedicated system. These systems offer all the crucial data in a dashboard and even automate specific tasks based on the sensor readings, saving you a lot of effort and time.

In conclusion, to get results with crop steering at home, try these tips:

  1. Monitor environmental conditions: Keep track of temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, and light intensity in your grow space using sensors or meters. This will give you a baseline understanding of the conditions in your grow space.
  2. Adjust environmental conditions: Use fans, humidifiers, heaters, and other equipment to adjust the environmental conditions in your grow space as needed. For example, you can increase humidity during the vegetative stage to encourage leaf growth and decrease humidity during the flowering stage to prevent mold growth. 
  3. Use nutrient additives: Add various supplemental additives to your water or soil to promote desired growth characteristics. For example, use a phosphorus-rich additive during the flowering stage to encourage bud development.
  4. Experiment with different techniques: Try different crop steering techniques, such as adjusting light schedules or using CO2 supplementation, to see what works best for your plants.

Summary: Crop Steering for Cannabis: Tips And Techniques To Get Better Yields

Crop steering is not a new method — tomato growers have been using it for decades to improve their yields by manipulating the water frequency in their greenhouses. But as technology advances, crop steering has conveniently made its way into cannabis cultivation. 

These days, crop steering is one of the trends that more and more hydroponic growers are adopting to take their cannabis cultivation to the next level. And it is effective, as evident on countless internet forums. 

Crop steering is the process of manipulating the environment and conditions to boost your plant’s growth. For a vegetative plant, you need to simulate conditions that lead to better foliage development; for a blooming plant, you must simulate conditions that influence better bud development. 

Remember, it is an act of balancing. You should use a mix of both vegetative and generative crop steering techniques to influence your plant. The result would be a bigger, healthier plant that produces more buds with higher phytochemical profiles. 


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Awesome post! I would like to see more info about that irrigation method and more about EC in veg and EC in Flowering stages