Defoliating Cannabis: The Best Method to Increase Yields

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Added 17 January 2022

Cannabis growers are always on to the next best way to increase yields. 

The internet is a great resource to find some fantastic tips; however, while some are effective, others aren’t. 

There’s monster cropping, lollipopping, LST, HST — pretty much every technique you can use to increase yields. But among these, defoliation is a rather controversial topic. 

Some say defoliation is the next best thing since sliced bread, but others swear it destroys their plants. 

Defoliation is a high-risk method that promises improved yield and bigger buds. Here, you have to remove excess foliage so your cannabis plant can redirect its energy to the buds, so they grow dense and big. 

The method aims to optimize the light and airflow your plant enjoys.

But, should you do it? Is it wise to mess with your plants, especially if you’re a beginner? After all, you spend good money on seeds, so is it logical to experiment on your plants?

In this article, we will explore if defoliation is worth it. And, of course, we will tell you how to do it to help you decide if you want to take that route. 

So, what is cannabis defoliation, and how can you do it? Let’s find out.

About Cannabis Defoliation

Cannabis defoliation is controversial — many growers reject it immediately because the very thought of cutting leaves off their priced plants is unimaginable. 

It stresses the plants, so those who reject it aren’t wrong. After all, your plant needs the fan leaves for photosynthesis, and by removing them, you are decreasing the amount of light your plant can absorb.

But there’s more to defoliating cannabis than just that.

Yes, the plants may struggle initially, but it depends on the timing. It’s not how, but when you defoliate, that matters. Because let’s face it — anyone can pluck leaves off the plant, but experienced growers do it at the right time. 

Cannabis defoliation involves removing particular leaves that overshadow buds or are densely packed together. 

The idea is to redirect the plant’s energy from excess foliage to the blooming buds, which grow bigger and fatter! As a result, many growers have noticed a remarkable increase in yields, thanks to defoliation. 

However, we must point out that aggressive defoliation can harm your plant. It can stress the plant out and stunt its growth, eventually lowering your yield. So, do it only if you are experienced.

Cannabis Defoliation vs. Lollipopping

Defoliation must not be confused with lollipopping, either. The latter is a method of removing foliage in the lower branches while leaving the higher-tier leaves untouched. On the other hand, defoliation is about strategically removing leaves and branches wherever necessary to improve light and airflow to the buds.

When to Defioliate Cannabis Plants?

Before you even cut one leaf off your plant, you must ensure you will benefit from defoliation. So, you must have a fundamental knowledge of cannabis cultivation and evaluate if it’s worth risking your yield. 

Ideally, we recommend defoliating your cannabis plants in combination with other training methods like topping, Scrog, or tying down the branches, making it easier for you to tie branches or the canopy.

So, when’s the best time to defoliate?

Vegetative stage

During the vegetative stage, you can defoliate the plant at any point, and the plants will recoup themselves. However, it’s best to wait until the plants are bushy enough to be defoliated. Otherwise, you’d simply waste light. 

Note that this rule applies only to photoperiod plants and you shouldn't be defoliating autoflowering plants much anyway. Some growers with a lot of experience in growing autoflowering plants defoliate autoflowers too, but you should stick to removing only a few fan leaves if you're a beginner.

Remember to defoliate only the fan leaves obstructing the light from reaching the bottom parts of the plant. But as mentioned already, do not remove too many leaves that are receiving light because it may stunt the photosynthesis process.

Flowering Stage

Things are a bit different during the flowering stage. You need to be a little careful to prevent the plants from getting stunted.

You should defoliate only during pre-flowering, which means you can start as soon as you switch the plants to the flowering stage. In other words, do it when you flip the light cycle from 18/6 to 12/12.

Some growers like to defoliate when the plants are about 2-3 weeks into flowering. If you're comfortable doing it, you can do it too. However, don't do it when it's too late in the flowering stage, as it may affect yields.

Here’s a quick recap of what you should and shouldn’t do during both stages:

Vegetative Stage

During the vegetative stage, defoliate when:

Vegetative stage cannabis defoliation

  1. You have a hardy strain that tends to grow bushy with lots of leaves.
  2. The plant has too many leaves at the bottom and has no light reaching them at all.
  3. You see leaves at the top obstructing the light from getting to the bottom parts of the plant. However, note that you shouldn't pluck too many leaves at the top since they get all the light and are responsible for photosynthesis or providing food to the plant. Only look for leaves at the bottom or are growing inside towards the plant.
  4. You identify stems with a lot of space between nodes. You can remove them along with the leaves because such branches tend to grow very lanky and produce tiny buds. Ideally, you’re letting the plant focus on colas that can produce enough buds. Additionally, you can remove even tips of branches at the bottom and have a hard time getting any light.

On the other hand, you should not defoliate in the vegetative stage if:

Vegetative stage defoliation

  1. You are growing strains that won't grow too big.
  2. You don't have a lot of experience with defoliating.
  3. The leaves and branches at the bottom are getting enough light.
  4. The plants don't sport many leaves in the first place.
  5. The plant is unhealthy or is showing any signs of deficiency.

Flowering Stage

Similarly, there are a few rules for defoliating in the flowering stage. 

You should defoliate in the flowering stage if:

Flowering stage cannabis defoliation

  1. You have a hardy strain that grows many leaves and explodes in growth during the flowering stage.
  2. There are too many leaves obstructing light from reaching the bottom.
  3. The stems at the bottom have no light at all.

You should not defoliate during the flowering stage if:

Flowering stage defoliation

  1. Plants are displaying nutrient deficiencies or have diseases.
  2. Plants don't have too many leaves, and the bottom parts receive ample light anyway.

Benefits of Cannabis Defoliation

Defoliation is a terrific method that offers various benefits for growers and consumers alike. Here are a few of them:

  • Grow bigger buds: Under adequate light and airflow, cannabis buds can grow and fatten quickly, improving your yields
  • Help the plant grow faster: By cutting the unwanted leaves, the plant can redirect its energy to other branches that grow buds
  • Train the plant with ease: Defoliating makes it easier for you to train your plant using techniques like ScrOG, manifolding, or topping
  • Prevent mold: The method prevents excess humidity build-up and improves airflow, reducing the chances of mold and bud rot on your cannabis plant

Guide to Defoliating Your Cannabis Plant

While defoliating requires you to be more experienced, the process itself is pretty straightforward. All you need is:

Some experienced growers also prefer to use their fingernails to make clean cuts, but we don’t recommend doing so. Doing so may tear the stem skin improperly, making your plant more vulnerable to infections.

Once you have the scissors and alcohol ready, you can start defoliating your cannabis. Here is how:

  1. Only choose leaves that block the light or if they are densely packed together
  2. Next, remove any old yellowing or unhealthy leaves that may be sucking nutrients from the plant
  3. Then, carefully cut any leaves that are growing towards the inside of the plant
  4. Remove all bottom leaves and branches
  5. Lastly, let your plant recover by watering and feeding it according to your schedule  

Remove bottom leaves

We recommend defoliating the plant again roughly three weeks into the flowering stage. But you must be more careful this time as the bud development can be disturbed easily. Don’t overdo it, though — there’s a serious risk of stunting the plant, and you can end up with little to no yields if you disturb the plants during the flowering stage. 

Essential Defoliation Tips

  • For beginners, we recommend starting low because it is low risk and gives you more room for error; once you grasp the concept thoroughly, you can become more aggressive.
  • There’s no finish line, so we recommend you only cut 1 to 3 leaves at a time every week and let your plant recover completely. Doing this will also help you understand how your plants respond to defoliation. 
  • Some growers go overboard and cut too many leaves, leaving their plants naked; instead, only remove a maximum of 10% to 20% of the total foliage.
  • The objective is to improve airflow and allow more light to reach the buds, so never cut any leaves closer to the bud sites as it can hamper their development.
  • And never remove any leaves that may slow down photosynthesis; remember, you are defoliating to optimize energy, and not the other way around.

Examples of Defoliation

Many growers here have posted excellent results comparing their plants before and after defoliation. Even beginners have managed to do well. Here are a few images to show you how defoliation encourages the plant to grow bigger better buds. 

Defoliating cannabis plants

In the image above, Greenbum, the grower continued defoliating right into the third week of flowering. 

Defoliation results

The results, as you can see, are spectacular!


In this example, Highaltitudeorganics, the grower, has defoliated the plants while including both ScrOG and SOG techniques to complement them. Notice how he has removed most leaves at the bottom while letting the tops soak all the light. He has also defoliated the plants during the flowering stage. 

Scrog vs Sog

The pictures speak for themselves, don't they?! The plants, despite losing most of their leaves, have performed way better than regular plants. 

Summary: Defoliating Cannabis: The Best Method to Increase Yields

Defoliating cannabis is a terrific way to improve your yields and get bigger buds, and we recommend it for most experienced growers with dense plants. Plus, it reduces the chances of bud rot and mold build-up on your plant by improving airflow and light.

So, remember to start low and only cut 10% to 20% of the foliage, focussing on leaves that overshadow others or are unhealthy. Don’t forget to use sharp scissors to get cleaner cuts. And let your plant recover fully before trying to alter it further.

Defoliating can be stressful for the plant, so we recommend caution always. Understand the concept correctly and start low if you are a beginner, and only cut a few leaves at the time. 

But don’t let the process scare you. As long as you are cautious, your plant will recover quickly and reward you with amazing buds!





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Danke Sehr informativ und hilfreich für mich ;)
thank you for this beautiful information 😉
Thanks much appreciated 🙏
Informative info! :)
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