How to Fix Foxtailing Cannabis Buds?

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Added 13 November 2022

Ask any cannabis grower what kind of buds they like to grow and their answer will most commonly be “big, bushy, aromatic nugs”. But what happens when you find out your cannabis buds don’t look so big or bushy? What if the buds appear slender and frilly?

This phenomenon is called foxtailing, which occurs in cannabis buds quite often. 

For some users, foxtailing cannabis buds is not an issue worth breaking a sweat — it can even be a selling point for their buds. But that’s only one instance. In other cases, foxtailing cannabis buds are a sign of an underlying cannabis issue that must be fixed immediately for a fruitful harvest. 

Here’s everything you need to know about foxtailing cannabis buds.

What is Foxtailing Cannabis Buds?

What is Foxtailing Cannabis Buds?

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Foxtail is a relatively common problem for cannabis growers, where, as the name suggests, the cannabis flowers start growing like fox tails — frilly and elongated — the buds appear strange and irregularly shaped.

This is not the case with healthy or otherwise normal cannabis flowers, which appear rounded and dense. Yes, some grow tall with narrow buds based on strain genetics, but they still appear thick and dense. 

Besides looking long and slender, foxtail buds also contain long sugar leaves, which appear like fur on a fox’s tail. Yes, it may not look entirely like a fox tail, but the name has stuck.

Sometimes, foxtail cannabis buds aren’t the problem — in fact, many consumers are intrigued by the unique appearance of foxtail buds. These “good” foxtail buds are just as potent and flavorful and their appearance is a selling point for them. Even many seedbanks sell strains that genetically produce foxtail buds. 

But apart from genetics, foxtails can sometimes be a problem for your cannabis plant. They may be a sign that your cannabis plant is suffering from other problems or environmental stressors. And if not treated on time, foxtailing can affect the yield’s potency and flavor to a great extent.

Is Foxtailing Cannabis Buds a Problem?

Is Foxtailing Cannabis Buds a Problem?

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We mentioned above that many cannabis users like the idea of foxtail buds, but not all foxtail buds are good. Hence, the answer to this question is both yes and no, depending on your perspective and situation. 

Speaking of perspective, if you want to grow foxtail cannabis buds, you can. Nothing wrong with that as long as the foxtailing process is occurring due to the genetics of the strain and not due to environmental stressors. In this case, foxtailing is a “good” thing. 

Remember, “good” does not mean anything except that such foxtailing won’t harm your plant — it is merely cosmetic. 

For this, you merely have to find strains that naturally grow foxtail buds, and a reputable seed bank should be able to help you with that. And don’t worry, these buds are still potent and contain ample cannabinoids and terpenes, although they might weigh less. 

On the other hand, there is “bad” foxtailing. Here, foxtailing occurs in buds not due to genetics but due to environmental stress factors, and the condition is a sign of an underlying issue with your plant. 

If your plant exhibits foxtail buds that are not intentional or genetic, you need to be wary and act quickly. If you ignore foxtailing, you are ignoring your plant’s problem and also risking a low-quality yield that may not be as potent or flavorful. Remember, we all want big, bushy buds, and foxtails are the opposite of that. 

How Do Cannabis Buds Foxtail?

How Do Cannabis Buds Foxtail?

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Cannabis buds contain calyces (singular: calyx), and each of them acts as a potential home for a seed. But these seeds only develop when the plant is pollinated by a male plant or it turns into a hermaphrodite (where it develops both female and male sex organs).

As the cannabis plant matures, it soaks up more light and nutrients, and during the flowering stage, the calyxes pile up on each other until they end up giving the buds a more rounded, dense shape. Even exotic bud varieties contain calyxes that pile up on each other in much the same manner. 

But either due to genetics or other environmental stressors, the calyxes on a cannabis plant may fail to develop correctly and pile up on each other. They may develop fewer in number or grow in an irregular direction, which ends up making the buds appear slender and not so dense. That is how foxtailing occurs in cannabis plants.

What Causes Foxtailing in Cannabis?

What Causes Foxtailing in Cannabis?

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But what are the stressors that make the buds foxtail? If your cannabis plant is exhibiting signs of foxtail buds, you need to fix the issue as soon as possible before it starts affecting the yield quality and quantity.

Before fixing the problem, you must learn what causes it so you can nip the problem straight in the bud, pun intended. 

The main reason why cannabis buds foxtail is due to various stress factors your plant may be experiencing both below and above the soil level. As you would guess, the cannabis plant reacts strangely to such stress factors. 

Here are the most common stress factors that cause foxtailing in cannabis buds.

  • Light Stress

The most common reason why cannabis buds foxtail is because of light. Yes, your cannabis plant needs a lot of light, but even too much light can be bad for your plant. The plant uses light to create energy but if the lights are too powerful, they can produce heat or burn your cannabis plant. And one of its side effects is foxtail buds. 

Apart from foxtailing, light burn also shows in other ways on your cannabis plant. The first thing you will notice is that the leaves and buds at the top of the plant will start to bleach, lose color, or start showing burn signs. 

Additionally, the leaves may also turn yellow. But unlike nitrogen deficiency, these yellow leaves will mostly not wilt and will stay strong. These are the early signs of light stress in cannabis plants. 

Do note that these symptoms are similar to those of nutrient burn or deficiency, so you need to observe your plant carefully. Symptoms of light stress only show up on the higher parts of the plant that are closer and more exposed to light. 

If your plant is experiencing foxtailing due to light burn, you need to act quickly because this is not a “good” kind of foxtailing. You need to check and adjust the light source to bring the light levels down. If left unchecked, this type of foxtailing can affect your plant’s yield by making the buds less potent than you would expect. 

In most cases, if the buds are foxtailing due to light, they have already lost some of their potency. But not all is lost. By acting quickly, you can minimize the damage and ensure the buds still remain usable. 

  • Excess Heat

In the same veins as excess light, even excess heat can cause foxtailing in cannabis buds. Cannabis prefers consistent, warm temperatures throughout its growth cycle, and while some temperature fluctuations are safe for the plant, excess temperature spikes can cause various problems.

If the temperatures rise too far up the scale, it can cause heat burns in the plant, which show itself in symptoms like tips of the leaves curling or burning, brown spots, dry leaves, etc. One uncommon symptom of heat stress on cannabis is foxtailing in the buds. 

Heat stress can be caused due to various reasons — if your grow lights are too bright, even they can cause heat stress because they do heat up. Additionally, heat stress can also be caused due to lack of airflow and circulation, incorrectly set air conditioners, heat-trapping in a greenhouse, heat waves, etc. 

  • Root Zone Health

While you can’t really see under the soil, a lot goes on in this zone. It is a rich ecosystem in itself full of various microbes, minerals, and compounds. Here, pH and microbial life play a major role in the plant’s health.

So, if the pH for instance is out of the ideal ranges, it can cause various problems for the plant, starting with hampered nutrient uptake. And if the microbial warfare is tilting towards the side of harmful bacteria, it can also cause various problems related to your plant’s nutrient uptake. 

Both these problems can lead to foxtailing buds. Let’s dive deeper into both causes.

1. Wrong pH Levels within the Root Zone

pH is perhaps one of the critical aspects of growing a healthy cannabis plant because it dictates how your plant absorbs nutrients. Within the right pH range, your plant’s roots can absorb all the nutrients efficiently, but if the pH strays too far, your plant may face problems absorbing some nutrients from the soil. 

Sure, slight fluctuations in the pH are okay and to be expected while growing a plant, but if the pH is far off, nutrient lockout occurs. During the flowering stage, your plant may not be able to absorb all the nutrients required for healthy bud development. The result? Buds that appear thin and slender — foxtail buds.

2. Bad Microbial Balance within the Soil

Microbes within the root zone are critical for your plant’s health if you are growing in soil. These beneficial microbes synthesize and metabolize various nutrients and make them easily available to plants by forming a symbiotic relationship with the roots. 

But there are millions of microbes in the soil, and many are even hostile. If these hostile microbes take over the beneficial microbes, they can affect how the nutrients and minerals are synthesized within the root zone, leading to similar effects as the wrong pH — the roots can’t absorb nutrients properly. 

Additionally, some harmful microbes, like parasitic nematodes, attack the roots. They can chew through the roots, steal nutrients, or even cause root slime. When this happens, the plant cannot get adequate nutrients to grow buds in a healthy, efficient manner, which again leads to foxtail buds. 

3. Strain Genetics

Another common reason why your cannabis plant may grow foxtail buds is genetics, and this is a “good” foxtailing. This won’t hurt your plant because it is genetically wired to grow foxtail buds. 

It isn't surprising that we have created thousands of strains that produce such a variety of flowers. Sometimes, some strains produce foxtail flowers that are still potent, flavorful, and aromatic. 

So, you need to check what type of strain you are using. If you have purchased your strain from a reputable seed bank, you will find the information on their website. Many seed banks intentionally produce foxtail strains because it is a selling point for many consumers. 

In this case, there’s not a lot you can do — and you shouldn't, either. This type of foxtailing caused by strain genetics is nothing to worry about. For all you know, your customers may even pay a premium for foxtail buds. 

But do ensure that the buds are foxtailing because of genetics and not because of any other issues as discussed above. 

How to Fix Foxtailing in Cannabis Buds?

How to Fix Foxtailing in Cannabis Buds?

Image Credit — Dilphoducus

If you notice foxtail buds on your cannabis plant, you need to figure out the reason behind them. If it is due to genetics, don’t worry about it. Grow it as usual and enjoy the buds but try to avoid the same strain in the future if you don’t want foxtail buds.

On the other hand, if the problem is something else, it’s time to take matters into your hands. Follow these tips to fix foxtailing cannabis buds based on the source problem. 

  • Adjust the Grow Lights

If the foxtail buds are only present on the higher tiers of the plant, it is due to light being too intense for the plant to handle. In that case, you need to adjust the light according to your plant’s requirements. 

But if you have followed the right steps and still facing foxtailing buds, you need to do some manual work. You need to focus on two aspects of grow lights — distance and intensity.

  • Light Distance

Regardless of the type of grow light you use, you need to place the light at the right distance. Ideally, you should maintain a distance of at least 18-25 inches between the light panel and the top of the canopy. Plus, you should follow the light manufacturer’s recommendations on placing the light above the plant. 

  • Light Intensity

The next step is measuring the light intensity. Here, it is advisable to invest in a light meter, but you can also use a phone app to measure light using your phone’s ambient sensor. 

In terms of lux, you need to maintain the following range of distance between your plant’s canopy and the light source:

  • Seedling stage: 40,000 lux (15,000 to 70,000 lux)
  • Flowering stage: 60,000 lux (35,000 to 85,000 lux)

The figures in the bracket signify the maximum free play you can adjust your light intensity. 

In terms of PPFD, follow these recommendations:

  • Vegetative stage: 308 to 617 μmol in 18 hours
  • Flowering stage: 642 to 926 μmol in 12 hours

You can also do a hand test to ensure the lights aren’t too bright. Place your hand, palm facing down, on the canopy, and under the grow light. If the light feels hot on your hand, it is too intense for the plant. Consider moving the lights further up or reducing their intensity.

  • Increase Airflow Within the Grow Room

If lights aren’t the problem, the next most likely cause of foxtailing buds is high temperatures in the grow room. 

Generally, most cannabis strains prefer a temperature range of:

  • 68°F to 77°F (20°C to 25°C) in the seedling stage
  • 72°F to 82°F (22°C to 28°C) during the vegetative stage
  • 68°F to 79°F (20°C to 26°C) during the flowering stage

It is wise to invest in a thermometer for your growing space. Measure the temperature and ensure it is within the recommended range. If the temperatures are too high or if there are heat spikes during the day, follow these tips:

  • Use an air conditioner to keep the grow room cool
  • Circulate the air using an oscillating fan (not pointed directly at the plant)
  • Ensure the vents and exhaust units are clean and working efficiently 
  • If you are growing multiple plants, space out the plant so they don’t get too crowded
  • You can also prune the plants to remove excess leaves and branches that may be affecting the airflow within the canopy 
  • Monitor the pH Levels

The next solution to solving foxtailing cannabis buds is to check the pH levels in the soil. All you need is a pH meter to measure the pH.

Start by measuring the pH of the nutrient solution followed by the pH of the runoff water after you water the plant, and compare the results. This will give you a clear idea of the pH level in the root zone.

Ideally, the pH levels for the cannabis plant should be between 5.8 to 6.2. If the pH of the nutrient solution is off, you can use pH Up or Down products to balance the pH. 

But if the pH of the solution is ideal but the runoff pH is off, it is likely due to mineral buildup within the root zone. Flush the grow medium with clean water to clear out all the buildup and then follow your regular watering routine. 

  • Recruit Beneficial Microbes

If light, temperature, and pH are proper, you should then look at the microbial life within the growing medium. If the medium is harboring harmful microbes, you can get some beneficial bacteria and introduce them to the growing medium. 

The recommended microbe for fighting foxtail buds are mycorrhizal fungi and rhizobacteria. You can buy these at your local gardening store and they can help you bring balance to the grow medium’s microbial ecosystem. 

How to Harvest Foxtail Cannabis Buds?

How to Harvest Foxtail Cannabis Buds?

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Following the advice listed above should fix the foxtailing buds problem in your cannabis plant, but if you fail to reverse the damage or notice the problem a little too late, you don’t have to toss the buds. 

You can still enjoy foxtail cannabis buds!

Follow these tips to harvest foxtail cannabis buds:

  • Rectify the source of stress as much as possible to prevent the damage from getting worse 
  • Flush the cannabis plant two weeks prior to harvest 
  • Harvest the buds when 20% to 30% of trichomes turn amber 
  • Dry and cure the buds as usual but with more care so as to retain as much cannabinoid and terpene content as possible

Some growers trim off foxtail buds and wait for good buds to appear, but you don’t have to go through that route just yet. Foxtail buds are a problem unlike mold or bud rot — they are still buds that contain cannabinoids and are safe to consume. So, don’t let your efforts go to waste just yet. 

At the same time, avoid harvesting foxtail buds too soon as they won’t have optimal levels of cannabinoids. Instead, wait until 20% to 30% of the trichomes have turned amber before harvesting the buds. 

Summary: How to Fix Foxtailing Cannabis Buds?

Foxtailing cannabis buds, unless due to genetics, are a sign of trouble. And you need to act quickly. But it’s nothing that can’t be controlled with minor tweaks to your garden. 

In most cases, you simply have to adjust the grow lights or turn down the heat in the grow room. In other cases, you may have to balance the pH of the soil or add beneficial bacteria to the medium. 

Whatever the case is, follow this guideline to identify and fix the issue. 

But remember, in some cases, foxtailing cannot be reversed even if you try your best. That’s just how the buds have grown and there isn’t much you can do about it. What you can do instead is harvest the buds at the right time and enjoy them nonetheless. 

Foxtailing isn’t the issue. The issue is the problem that is causing foxtailing, and it can cause other problems for your plant and its yield. 


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