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Tips for Preventing Popcorn Buds on Cannabis Plants

Added 23 June 2023

When growing cannabis, your priority is to harvest top-notch buds that are powerful, fragrant, and aesthetically attractive. But not everything is rosy. Sometimes, you run notice that the plant develops several popcorn buds, which is a common problem. 

There’s nothing wrong with them, as you can still smoke them; however, popcorn buds aren’t preferred because they are airy and thin, indicating that the harvest isn’t as great as you expected.  

Typically, popcorn buds are small, unlike the thick, dense buds you’d want from a cannabis plant. They are usually located in the lower branches of your plant and are much less powerful than the buds at the top. 

Whether you’re a recreational or a medicinal cannabis user, popcorn buds are unfavorable. 

Although you can’t do much about popcorn buds once they are formed and ready to be harvested, there are many ways to prevent them.

In this article, we will check out a series of efficient techniques and strategies you can use to prevent popcorn buds and take full advantage of the high-quality buds the plant produces. 

What are Popcorn Buds?

What are Popcorn Buds?

Before we get to how to prevent popcorn buds, let’s first understand what popcorn buds are and how can identify them if you’re a beginner. 

Generally, popcorn buds are tiny, airy buds located at the base of your cannabis plants. They are very different from the big buds located at the top if you’ve grown your plant well. Of course, if the entire plant has small and airy buds, you’ve messed up somewhere big time, but you’ll see a clear difference between the top buds and the bottom ones in most cases. 

Here’s how you can recognize popcorn buds:

  • Structure

Popcorn buds are significantly smaller, often measuring around an inch in size, in contrast to premium buds that are inches long and fat. They look like small popcorns popping in the plant, hence the name. 

  • Airiness

One defining characteristic of popcorn buds is their airy composition. If you examine them carefully, you'll discover they are loosely formed, with ample space between the calyxes (bud structures) and bracts (small leaves surrounding the flowers). Unlike the dense and jam-packed structure of desirable buds, popcorn buds have a more open and less solid feel to them.

  • Location

As mentioned already, popcorn buds form on the lower branches of the plants. Once the plant begins to grow further, it develops several branches and leaves, with the top ones getting maximum light exposure. Unfortunately, because of their positioning, the lower branches are deprived of light, which is why they produce popcorn buds. 

  • Reduced Potency and Flavor

When you smoke them, you’ll notice that popcorn buds aren’t as flavorful as the premium buds due to a reduction in terpenes. In addition, they won’t have a high level of cannabinoids either. As these buds have less access to light, there’s a dramatic difference in taste, fragrance, and even potency. 

Thanks to these reasons, many commercial and home growers try their best to prevent popcorn buds. 

What Causes Popcorn Buds?

What Causes Popcorn Buds?

Now that you’re aware of the disadvantages of popcorn buds, let’s take a look at why the plant develops them in the first place. 

  • Genetics

The genetics of a cannabis plant plays a vital role in establishing the general framework and bud growth. While some strains may be naturally predisposed to developing a lot of airy, thin popcorn buds, other strains may produce bigger and denser blossoms. If you grow strains that are naturally going to produce popcorn buds, you’re out of luck. In such cases, there isn’t much you can do.

  • Stress

Stress is a killer both for us humans and cannabis plants. Any type of stress, whether due to over or underwatering, heat, excess light, nutrients, and extreme temperatures, can stress the plant to such an extent that it stunts its growth, leading to popcorn buds. Thus, it’s important to consider a host of factors to prevent stressing the plants. We will discuss various ways to prevent stress and avoid popcorn buds in this article. 

  • Insufficient Light

Marijuana plants need a lot of light to grow strong and develop loads of buds. The amount of light the plant gets is often directly proportional to the potency and size of the buds. Poor lighting is one of the biggest culprits that forces the plant to develop popcorn buds. While the top branches get sufficient light, the lower branches are usually ignored. Plus, if your plant has a tendency to produce thick, bushy leaves, they will restrict the light from filtering to the lower branches. 

In addition, the plant can develop thin, airy buds if you don’t position the grow lights correctly. For instance, if the distance between the grow lights and the buds is beyond the recommended ranges, there will be a lot of popcorn buds. Refer to this article about lighting factors to know more about appropriate distances, as they depend on the type of grow lights you use. Also, if your grow lights aren’t strong enough or of a low-quality build, your plant will likely produce many popcorn buds. 

  • Nutrient Imbalances

Nutrition is crucial for healthy and balanced bud growth, and any imbalances can negatively influence your plants, resulting in the development of popcorn buds. Both nutrient shortages and an imbalance of the macro and micronutrients can contribute to his problem. 

For instance, a shortage in crucial macronutrients such as phosphorus or potassium throughout the blooming phase can impede bud production and also lead to popcorn buds. Conversely, too much nitrogen during the flowering phase can also cause the same issue as nitrogen helps with growth, and potassium and phosphorus aid in the development of flowers. 

  • Environmental Factors

The environment around your plants also plays a significant role in producing premium-quality cannabis buds. Variations in temperature, moisture, and airflow can affect bud growth. While high levels of moisture or humidity can raise the danger of airy and mold-prone popcorn buds, extremely low levels of humidity can stress the plants and interfere with their development. Indoor grow rooms with poor ventilation are more likely to produce a high amount of popcorn buds. 

  • Improper Training Techniques

Training techniques are meant to increase bud production. However, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can affect the growth of buds. For instance, let’s say you want to top the plants and cut off the tips. Or, perhaps you want to LST the plants, which is another technique we will discuss shortly. Both methods are used to ensure that the lower branches get adequate light; however, if you don’t employ them properly, you fail to provide sufficient light to the branches at the bottom, ultimately leading to popcorn buds. 

  • Improper Light Cycle

Cannabis plants, especially the photoperiod ones, depend on a specific light cycle when they grow outdoors. Similarly, as an indoor grower, you will mimic the conditions the plants get outside to make sure the plants grow beautifully. 

For example, photoperiod plants need 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness during the flowering phase. This is when they know that the flowering phase has begun, and they start producing buds. It’s important that they are undisturbed during the period of darkness, as any kind of light leakages or disruptions can interfere with the blooming phase and produce popcorn buds. 

As you can see, there are many factors that cause popcorn buds; however, recognizing the root causes and nipping them in the bud, pun not intended, will allow you to avoid thin popcorn buds without much substance. 

How to Avoid Popcorn Buds in Your Cannabis Plant?

How to Avoid Popcorn Buds in Your Cannabis Plant?

If you yearn for potent, attractive, resinous cannabis buds without having to worry about popcorn buds, there are various things you can do. First, you need to be attentive and make sure you’ve taken care of the basic stuff your plants need. Secondly, you can use other techniques so that you get a bountiful harvest at the end. 

Let’s take a look at both.

1. Select Strains With Good Genetics

Can you expect a chicken to produce golden eggs? No, it won’t happen. Similarly, expecting a cannabis plant with poor genetics to perform will not only disappoint you but also prevent you from growing them confidently in the future. 

The genetics of your strain will determine whether the plant will produce thick buds full of resin or if it’s a dud with buds that don’t grow according to your expectations. If you want to prevent popcorn buds, selecting premium seeds with the best genetics is critical. 

All cannabis plants have their own unique characteristics when it comes to the structure and thickness of the buds. Even if you clone the plants, they won’t grow exactly the same. Just like us humans, plants have their own personalities. So, it’s your job to choose strains with impeccable genetics that are likely to produce large buds and have a high-yield potential. If you get this right, you’ve already handled half the problem. 

Here’s how you can make an informed choice:

  • Breeder 

Reputable breeders usually spend effort and time in establishing genes that continually create excellent buds. Some will even provide lab tests to give you an inkling about the cannabinoid and terpene profile, which is very important if you want strains for medicinal purposes. 

Rather than going for someone less experienced in the field, conduct some research and only go for trusted breeders with a solid reputation and experience. In addition, excellent breeders that are serious about their business will test their plants and only sell seeds that preserve healthy hereditary attributes that are preferred by most growers. This way, you’re going to be growing plants with genes that have actually been meticulously picked and also fine-tuned over generations. It will also reduce the chances of growing seeds with unpredictable genes or unidentified heritage that may eventually lead to lanky plants with airy popcorn buds. 

  • Feedback and Reviews

Just like you wouldn’t purchase a brand new phone without reading the reviews, you gotta read about the experiences and comments of various other growers when purchasing seeds. Is the breeder trustworthy? Do they have a large selection of seeds? Any landrace strains? Any tests to prove their authenticity? You get the gist. 

To do so, talk to your local growers if there are any. Or, better yet, read reviews on our site. First, click on the breeder and then click on reviews. You can also go through the thousands of diaries posted by growers that tell you what to expect from the plant. These reviews will tell you what you can expect from the breeder. 

2. Optimum Lighting

Supplying the best light is necessary for healthy, balanced plant development and to prevent the formation of popcorn buds. Here are some factors to take into consideration when it involves maximizing lights for marijuana cultivation:

  • Light Intensity

Marijuana plants call for ample light strength to perform photosynthesis and grow vigorously. Various stages of growth have different demands when it comes to light intensity. While grow lights of high intensity are required during the vegetative stage to produce thick foliage, the same will help promote bud development during the flowering phase as well. Thus, it is essential to pick lights that can provide the needed strength for every development phase.

You can choose from various types of lights, including HIDs such as HPS and MH, LEDs, CFLs, and CMH lights, depending on what you want to achieve. While HPS lights are the strongest among all, modern LED lights have the ability to perform just as good. 

  • Light Spectrum

The light spectrum of the grow lights influences cannabis plants in numerous ways. For example, throughout the growing phase, a blue-white spectrum helps with vegetative development and reduces internodal spacing. As the plants shift to the blooming phase, you can switch to lights leaning towards a red and orange spectrum to boost the reproductive process and improve bud growth. Many LED lights allow you to use one light for an entire cycle, so you can use them too. 

  • Light Distribution

The canopy needs to have uniform light to prevent popcorn buds. This means that the entire plant, including the lower branches, gets adequate light. In addition, as you already know, the distance between the lights and the plants matters, so ensure that you position them appropriately and readjust the distance as the plants grow. This single action will prevent popcorn buds to a great extent. 

  • Light Schedule and Leakage

Marijuana plants call for particular light cycles to stimulate the flowering cycle. For example, an 18/6 cycle during the growing phase is ideal, whereas a 12/12 cycle will signal to the plants that the flowering phase has begun. Light leakages or disturbances throughout the dark duration can interrupt the blooming process and produce popcorn buds. So, you need to invest in proper grow tents to prevent that. Or, make your own DIY grow tent, but ensure it’s completely lightproof. Seal any type of openings that might allow outside light into the grow tent.

3. Training Techniques

You must implement appropriate pruning techniques to avoid popcorn buds and promote huge thick buds. Trimming and training methods help the light infiltrate deeper into the canopy. Here are some techniques you can use:

  • Defoliation

Defoliation is nothing but the process of cutting off leaves. For example, if your plant is bushy with thick vegetation, cutting off the bigger fan leaves can help the lower branches get more light and increase bud growth. Another advantage of this technique is that it promotes good airflow, which is critical to prevent mold.  

However, remember not to overdo it, as the plants rely on the leaves for photosynthesis and storing nutrients. Just cut off a few leaves at a time during both the vegetative and flowering phases, and you’ll be fine. If you’re a beginner with no experience in defoliation, cut off the leaves only during the vegetative stage. 

  • Topping

Topping involves cutting off the tip of the plant once it has developed 2-3 nodes, early during the vegetative phase. This is done to force the main stem to split into several colas rather than one major cola, which is how cannabis grows naturally. Once you cut off the apical bud, which is dominant, the plant will reroute its energy to other branches, thereby promoting many more buds. Topping can be done throughout the vegetative phase. 

  • Low-Stress Training (LST)

LST entails delicately bending the plant's branches to the sides of the container to ensure that the lower branches get more light. This method is one of the best to maximize light distribution, uniformity, and development of numerous bud websites. Thanks to LST, even the lower branches get light, triggering the production of more buds, thereby preventing popcorn buds. LST is commonly done throughout the vegetative phase when the plant is much more flexible.

  • Screen of Green

The SCROG method is where you use a screen or a net on top of the canopy and weave the buds through it. As the buds grow, you will have to move them back into the net squares gently so there’s uniformity. Not only does SCROG ensure there’s proper light distribution, but it also encourages the side branches to develop more buds. In addition, you can control the plant's height and prevent it from getting too tall

  • Pruning

Pruning is very much like defoliation, except you can cut off the lower branches with pruning instead of just the leaves. Although this might sound like a harsh method, pruning lower branches that are likely to develop popcorn buds will help the plant focus only on branches that will produce big buds. It’s best you prune during the vegetative phase as the plant will need some time to recover before it begins flowering. 

Regardless of the training method you employ, make sure you use sharp trimming scissors that are clean to reduce the risk of infection. 

4. Nutrient Management

Cannabis plants need a balanced amount of macro and micronutrients to grow big buds. It’s optional, but they don’t mind if you use bloom boosters to kickstart the production of gigantic buds. If you want to avoid popcorn buds, pay attention to the nutrients you feed the plants. Here are some factors to consider for efficient nutrition administration:

  • Fertile Soil

If you’re growing in soil, you must first make sure that you’re using fertile soil. Don’t just use any soil available in your local nurseries. Instead, do some research and go for soil from branded companies that sell fertile soil containing a bunch of nutrients. Or, make your own super soil complete with organic amendments that will make your plants very happy. 

You can also use natural nutrient resources to improve the taste and scent of your buds. Some organic nutrients release the nutrients slowly and enhance the fertility of the soil. Microbial inoculants and mycorrhizal fungi can boost nutrient uptake and produce potent buds.

  • Cannabis-Specific Fertilizers

Although many people use fertilizers meant for other plants, like tomatoes, it’s best to stick to nutrients formulated for cannabis. Not that cannabis is any different, but since you’ll be growing it indoors, you must be extra cautious with the nutrients. Outdoor plants adjust fairly quickly, but the same cannot be said for cannabis plants growing indoors. 

The fertilizer should have a balanced ratio of macronutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other trace elements like boron, molybdenum, and many more required for the various stages of growth. 

For example, if you’re using liquid nutrients, you’ll notice that they are available as Part A and Part B or “Grow” and “Bloom”. This is because cannabis plants need nutrients containing higher amounts of nitrogen during the vegetative phase to support leaf and stem development. During the blooming stage, they need higher amounts of phosphorus and potassium with less nitrogen to develop flowers. 

Along with macronutrients, cannabis plants need trace elements that are vital for producing strong buds. Micronutrients such as iron, zinc, manganese, copper, and boron play essential functions in numerous processes. Most companies selling cannabis fertilizers will offer micronutrients as well. 

As you can understand, these nutrients are formulated keeping cannabis in mind, so it’s best to stick to them. You could also make your own nutrients, but pay attention to the stage of growth. If you use too much nitrogen during the flowering phase, you’ll likely see a lot of popcorn buds or stunted growth. 

In addition, develop a regular feeding timetable that lines up with the development phases of the plants. As the plants grow very fast during the vegetative stage, they may require constant feeding. You can readjust the timetable, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions for best results. 

  • pH Levels

You could use all the nutrients in the world, but they will be naught if you ignore the pH because the plants won’t even be able to absorb nutrients if the pH levels are incorrect. Marijuana plants normally flourish in somewhat acidic to neutral pH ranges (around 6.0 to 7.0 in soil and 5.5 to 6.5 for hydroponics). Whether you’re growing in soil or hydroponics, check the pH levels regularly for good nutrient absorption. 

5. Environmental Factors

Maintaining ideal environmental conditions is a must if you want the plants to produce thick buds. It will also reduce the likelihood of developing popcorn buds. Here are a few factors to keep in mind:

  • Temperature 

Marijuana plants thrive when you maintain consistent temperatures ranging between 68°F to 82°F (20°C to 28°C) for seedlings and plants during the vegetative stage and 65°F to 80°F (18°C to 26°C) during the flowering phase. Remember not to go below or above these temperatures as it can stunt growth and produce popcorn buds. Use air coolers or air conditioners to reduce the heat. 

  • Humidity

Managing humidity between 40-70% during the vegetative phase and reducing it to about 40-50 or even 55% during the blooming phase is equally important. Make sure you reduce the humidity progressively rather than doing it all at once. 

6. Add CO2

Adding Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a great way to significantly enhance cannabis growth and maximize yields. CO2 is an essential component of photosynthesis, which is how plants derive energy to fuel their growth. By increasing CO2 levels in your grow room, you can trigger accelerated growth, leading to larger plants that produce equally large buds. In addition, extra CO2 enables plants to allocate more energy and resources to bud formation, resulting in improved bud size, density, and resin production.

Here are a few things you must consider when adding CO2:

  • Optimal CO2 Levels and Monitoring

While CO2 enrichment offers numerous benefits, it's crucial to maintain optimal CO2 levels and monitor them closely. Cannabis plants typically thrive with CO2 levels between 1000-1500 ppm when the lights are on. CO2 Is great, but higher concentrations may not necessarily provide additional benefits and can even become detrimental to you and the plants. You will have to increase the intensity of lights to make sure the plants can use CO2; however, don’t overdo it as always, or you’ll have to combat heat stress. 

In addition, proper ventilation is essential if you plan to use CO2. Adequate airflow helps distribute CO2 evenly within the canopy and prevents the buildup of excessive heat or humidity. Monitor the levels of CO2 closely to avoid any mishaps. 

Now that you understand a great deal about what popcorn buds are, what causes them, and how to prevent them, let’s talk about some commonly-asked questions. 

Can Popcorn Buds Make You High?

Can Popcorn Buds Make You High?

Popcorn buds are definitely less desirable, but that doesn’t mean you throw them away! They may be smaller and less dense than larger buds, but they can still contribute to a pleasant cannabis experience. Sure, their potency may be slightly lower, but they still contain THC and other cannabinoids that can induce a nice high. 

In fact, if you grow plants with very high THC, even the popcorn buds will produce an amazing high. They retain the flavors and aromas of their parent strain and are convenient for those who prefer smaller quantities or a less intense high. Plus, if you purchase them from dispensaries, they are cheaper. Whether used in joints, vaporizers, or cooking, popcorn buds can still deliver a satisfying and enjoyable cannabis experience. 

Can You Smoke Popcorn Buds?

Can You Smoke Popcorn Buds?

Yes, you can smoke popcorn buds. As mentioned earlier, they still contain THC and other cannabinoids that can be activated through smoking or vaporization. Use them just like regular buds by grinding them up and packing joints, blunts, or pipes, and you’ll see they are a good alternative, although they may not be as good as regular buds. 

In addition, you’ll need more popcorn buds to fill joints or pipes compared to regular buds, as they are smaller. Plus, they may burn faster, so your smoking experience may differ slightly in terms of flavor, intensity, and duration. However, if you dry and cure them properly, popcorn buds can still deliver a satisfying and enjoyable smoking experience.

Summary: Tips for Preventing Popcorn Buds on Cannabis Plants

Popcorn buds are small, less dense buds that develop on the lower branches of cannabis plants. While they may not have the same size or density as regular buds that typically form at the top, they still contain THC and other cannabinoids, making them suitable for consumption. However, their potency may be slightly lower compared to larger buds.

Like regular buds, the quality of popcorn buds is influenced by genetics. Therefore, choosing high-quality genetics is crucial for preventing popcorn buds. Poor genetics can result in weaker plants and lower-quality buds. 

To prevent popcorn buds and ensure optimal bud development, several cultivation practices are essential. You should maintain a stable growing environment, including the temperature and humidity, provide optimal lighting, manage nutrient levels, and prune and train the plants. 

Also, you can add carbon dioxide (CO2), as it plays a significant role in cannabis growth and promotes photosynthesis along with larger, denser buds. However, you must maintain optimal CO2 levels to prevent issues.