Ultimate Guide to LST Cannabis

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Added 06 October 2022

As cannabis growers, we want to improve our plants’ yield as much as possible. Naturally, we expect our effort and hard work to be fruitful. 

And, the yields. Of course, it's all about the yields, isn't it?

You see many growers yielding way too much and wonder where you're going wrong. But, did you know that they put in lots of work to get there?

One of the top methods to get the best yields is to train your plants, but are you training your plants at all? If yes, are you doing it correctly?

If you're a beginner, you probably have no idea where to start. And, judging by the pictures of countless growers, training your plants seems like a counteractive method with no guarantees. Fair enough.

Training can be stressful for plants and minor mistakes can cause major problems, including stunted growth, deficiencies, or lower yield. 

But did you know that not all training techniques are ambitious? You can start small and tweak it later. In fact, you can go with minimal stress to ensure the plants are safe. 

And, this low-stress method is known as LST. As the name suggests, it does not stress out your plant and also promises better yields. 

If you're here to find the best way to increase your cannabis yields, sit back and learn all about how to LST cannabis in this article.

What is Low-Stress Training? 

what is LST

So, what is LST? Low-stress training, or LST, is a popular training method for cannabis plants that can boost yields significantly. The premise of this low-stress training technique is to optimize the use of light and space available to the plant. 

For best results, you have to gently bend and tie down the plant’s branches and stems to improve light and air exposure throughout the canopy, not just the top. 

The reason why this training method is called low stress is that it doesn't harm or affect the plant significantly, unlike many other training methods. With LST, you don’t have to worry about the plant experiencing stress, which can otherwise lead to stunted growth and other health problems. 

Origins of Low-Stress Training

Low-stress training is not limited to only cannabis plants. Many plants grow apical dominance, like cannabis, making them grow one main stem and other side branches. Such plants include flowers, vegetables, and fruits that we have been cultivating for centuries.

And throughout history, gardeners and farmers have found creative ways to break apical dominance and get more out of their plants. Such methods include topping, pruning, bending, screen of green, etc., which optimizes light for the canopy.

Low-stress training is no different.

LST is a contemporary variety of an old gardening method that was used to force trees to grow a flat canopy. For example, ancient Egyptians used similar methods to force fig trees to grow horizontally over 3000 years ago. 

In recent centuries, European gardeners of the 17th century used espalier (careful trimming and shaping) to shape apple and pear orchards for better yields and improve the landscape. 

Low-stress training arises from such methods but does away with all the cutting and trimming that may affect some cannabis plants.

Advantages of LST Cannabis 

Advantages of LST

LST is a terrific training method used by various growers for a few main reasons. Here are some of them that will probably convince you as to why you should consider LST on cannabis. 

1. Breaks the Plant’s Apical Dominance 

Cannabis plants grow with apical dominance, like many other plants. Apical dominance makes the plant grow towards the light source, giving it a Christmas tree shape that we are familiar with. This happens so that the plant can get more light to produce photosynthetic energy.

However, apical dominance also leads to the main cola growing bigger than other branches because it gets the most light. The other branches, especially on the lower tiers, don’t receive the same amount of light, leading to smaller buds.

When you use low-stress training on cannabis plants, you bend and tie the branches in strategic positions to break apical dominance. This is similar to topping, but you don’t cut the main branch, just bend it. 

Once the main cola is bent and tied, and other branches are evened out, the entire canopy receives uniform light, leading to the buds growing significantly better. With a few simple steps, breaking apical dominance in cannabis plants with LST can help you achieve significantly higher yields. 

2. Better Light Distribution

This leads us to the second reason: low-stress training allows more light to reach the lower tiers of the plant. And when that happens, the lower tiers end up growing bigger buds. 

So, instead of your plant growing one large bud along with a few wispy buds, you can encourage your plant to grow bigger buds across the canopy. 

3. Improves the Yield

With bigger buds over the canopy and the apical dominance broken, LST significantly boosts your cannabis plant’s yield. 

The rate of boosted yield entirely depends on your plant’s genetics, health, and other conditions, but in an ideal situation where everything is in order, your plant can achieve 50% better yields with well-executed low-stress training. 

4. Easy on Your Plants

As mentioned earlier, low-stress training, as the name suggests, is easy on your plants. Most growers can LST cannabis plants without any health issues or damage. And the chances of cannabis reacting negatively to LST are rare and happen when the plant is already not healthy enough or suffering from an issue.

5. Easy to Do

Lastly, LST is quite an easy method of training. With a few basic tools and steps, even beginners can LST their plants without making major mistakes that can hamper their plant’s growth.

Disadvantages of LST Cannabis

Disadvantages of LST

However, there are some instances where LST may not be that helpful for a cannabis grower. Here are the reasons why you may not want to LST cannabis.

1. Requires Constant Maintenance

While low-stress training cannabis does not require topping or chopping of the plant parts, it still needs a lot of maintenance and constant supervision. So, if you are growing cannabis as a side project and can’t give it more time, you shouldn't probably LST cannabis.  

2. Risk of Damaging the Stems

Cannabis plants are resilient and versatile and can withstand a lot of abuse. However, they can still be damaged. When using low-stress training, there is always a small risk that you might accidentally break the stem or branches during the process, and this risk gets bigger as the plant ages.

Therefore, you must be tender with your plant when using LST, and if you are not sure about the correct methods of bending the branches, you should put your LST project on hold for a while.

3. Pointless for Large Outdoor Plants

If your cannabis plant is too big, you will need a heavy amount of training with LST to shape the canopy. Plus, you may have to adjust the canopy more frequently, meaning you may have to do it multiple times a week, which can be labor-intensive.

Additionally, outdoor cannabis plants already get adequate sunlight since the sun moves through the sky, providing light to multiple parts of the plant throughout the day.

But that does not mean all outdoor plants don’t need LST. In colder climates, where summers are short and the sunlight is weak, LST can be a significant help to your plant for its yield. 

Lastly, if you want to keep your outdoor plant discreet, regardless of its size, LST can be used to shape the canopy and hide it from onlookers or peeping Toms.

How to do Low-Stress Training on Cannabis?

Low-stress training is similar to pruning and trimming, but what sets the former apart from the latter is that you don’t have to cut any parts of the plant with LST. This is why it is known as low-stress training. 

LST is easy on your cannabis plants and it does not require your plant to recover from the trauma like other methods. So, cannabis plants tend to respond well to LST and the same difference makes LST easier to execute than other training methods.

If you want to use low-stress training on cannabis, here is how you can do that. 

1. Gather the Supplies

Gather supplies

The first thing you need to do is gather the supplies, such as the following:

  • Plant wire or soft plant ties

Many growers use any ties or threads for LST but you should avoid that. Instead, choose rubber-coated or soft plant ties that are specifically designed for horticultural use. Such ties are soft and do not damage or bruise the stem.

  • Bamboo Stakes

While there are many ways to carry out LST on cannabis, one cannot go wrong with basic bamboo stakes. These stakes are used to offer vertical support to the plant, and you can even place them horizontally for extra support if required. 

Here, you tie the branches to the stakes to expose the lower tiers and side branches to more light while evening out the canopy.

You can even use other methods like tomato cages or mesh screens to tie the branches. Find out what works best for you and your cannabis setup and choose accordingly. You can find this support equipment in most gardening stores near you.

  • Drill Machine

If you want to fix your stakes (or cage) in the container, you may also need a small drill machine. You have to use the drill to make holes in the rim of the container, where you will affix the stakes using ties. 

  • Gardening Tape

As mentioned earlier, there is always a risk of snapping a branch with LST. So, to be prepared, you should always have gardening tape handy. If the branch snaps, you can bandage it with tape and let the cut heal. 

If gardening tape is not available near you, duct tape also works well in a pinch, but ideally, gardening tapes are always better because they are more tender.

2. Prepare the Container

Prepare the container

The next step is to prepare the container for the stakes. For this, use the drill to make several holes in the rim of the cannabis container. Depending on the shape you are aiming to achieve on your plant, you can place stakes accordingly and tie them with zip ties or regular ties.

Just ensure that the stakes are secured properly so they don’t bend over due to the plant’s weight. 

3. Disrupt the Plant’s Apical Dominance

Disrupt the plant's apical dominance

Now, it’s time to start low-stress training. Here, you have to begin by breaking the apical dominance of the plant by bending the main cola down towards the lower tiers. 

Do so gently because you don’t want to snap the branch and use soft plant ties to secure the branch in place. This will flatten your canopy, making way for horizontal growth in the coming weeks, while allowing even light distribution within the canopy.

Some growers combine low-stress training with topping where they cut off the main cola and bend the side branches, which gives the plant a spider-web shape. If you are not planning to top the plant, you can still perform some light defoliation. Use sharp scissors to defoliate the plant. 

This is not mandatory, because standard LST on cannabis does not require any of this, but this can help the light penetrate the canopy better.

4. Shape the Plant

Shape the plant

When you use LST on cannabis, you need to maintain the horizontal canopy. 

Also, for upkeep, check the canopy daily to ensure the plant is growing as desired. Branches tend to grow towards the light, so some branches may grow taller than others. Thus, if one branch grows taller than others in the later weeks, you need to shape it further. Bend the taller branch lightly to even out the canopy.

You also need to maintain the plant over the coming weeks. If you notice any signs of stress on the plant, take the right measures to fix it. The most common stress on the plant with LST is snapping off branches. 

As mentioned earlier, if one of your branches snaps, you can easily fix it with gardening tape. Leave the tape on for a week so the plant can heal and mend the snap. 

Low-stress training is not a one-afternoon job — it requires constant maintenance and upkeep. You are molding the plant’s shape for better light penetration. So, if you feel like you need to readjust a branch because it is shading another branch, don’t hesitate. Untie the branch, gently bend it in another direction, and retie it to the stake. 

5. Redouble LST During the Flowering Stage

Redouble LST during the flowering stage

Once your plant enters the flowering stage, it will experience a flowering stretch, where it can double in size within two weeks. Here, it is essential to plan for the stretch and reshape the canopy before it gets out of control.

You will have to maintain the canopy’s shape until the third week of flowering, depending on plant characteristics. After that, you can ease off LST and relax since the plant will no longer grow.  

When to Start LST on Cannabis?

when to LST cannabis

The best time to start LST is as soon as possible. That is, once your cannabis has grown into its vegetative stage and is healthy, you can train it with LST. Avoid beginning LST on cannabis if the plant is too young because the plant will not have established enough good nodes. 

However, if your plant has already started flowering, it is too late to start LST as the stems turn rigid during bloom. If you start training your plant during bloom, the branches can snap instead of bending. 

Also, once the plant is one month into bloom, you should stop low-stress training on cannabis. During the first few weeks of flowering, the plant will experience stretching, which will diminish within a month into bloom. Further LST is not required, except for minimal upkeep.

Another reason why you should stop LST on flowering cannabis, especially when the buds have appeared, is to keep the buds safe. Even an accidental touch to the flowers can damage the resin glands, impacting the flower’s quality. 

Can You LST Autoflowering Cannabis?

Can you LST autoflowers

Generally, high-stress training on autoflowering cannabis plants is not recommended because they grow fast and don’t have the luxury of time to heal from the stress. But LST is low-stress, so even autoflowering cannabis can benefit from it due to improved light exposure. 

Plus, autoflowering cannabis plants have a relatively lower yield compared to their photoperiod counterparts. So, using LST can help you maximize the yield of the short plants. But get started with LST on autoflowering cannabis as soon as possible (as soon as the plant grows 3-4 nodes) for a noticeable improvement in results. 

Does LST Include the Screen of Green?

Yes! The screen of green (ScrOG) method of training cannabis is an alternative low-stress training technique. Here, you have to use a screen to even out the canopy, encouraging horizontal growth of the plant. 

For the screen green method, you have to suspend a screen above the canopy. Once the branches start growing beyond the screen, you simply have to tuck them back into the screen to keep the canopy even. The results are similar to the standard LST method mentioned earlier in the article — it optimizes yield by improving light exposure within the canopy.

Can You Use LST and Topping on Cannabis?

Or, can you LST and top cannabis? When you compare LST to topping, LST is the clear winner. However, you can still use topping and low-stress training on cannabis simultaneously. 

The topping method involves cutting off the main cola of cannabis, making it a high-stress training method. It causes more stress to cannabis but encourages the plant to grow bigger side branches as a defense mechanism by disrupting apical dominance. 

So, you can get the benefits of both methods by topping the plant and using the LST method from thereon to train your plant. Just remember to give your plant enough time to heal from topping before adding more stress to it, otherwise, you may hamper the plant’s growth.

What are Some Tips for Low-Stress Training on Cannabis?

Even if you follow the steps for LST on cannabis to the T, there is always room for improvement. So, to help you get better at LST, here are some tips to guide you.

  • Don’t Panic if a Branch Snaps

While uncommon, LST can sometimes snap branches during the bending process. Don’t panic. Your cannabis plant is more resilient than you think and will recover from it with a little help. As mentioned above, use gardening tape to bandage the plant and let it heal for a week or two. 

  • Top the Plant at the Right Time

If you are using LST with topping, timing is everything! Before you begin bending the side branches, you need to top the plant. Ideally, the best time to top a plant is when it reaches 5 to 6 nodes as it encourages the production of growth hormones. 

  • Start LST on Cannabis ASAP

To get the best results from low-stress training, start doing so when the plant is young and flexible, but well into the vegetative stage. As the plant grows older, the branches become rigid and can snap easily. 

  • Tie the Branches Securely

When tying the branches, use gardening ties that are soft and tie the branches securely. Avoid trying to protect the branches by tying them loosely — if the ties are loose, the branches may rub against them and get bruised. 

And avoid using thin, hard ties or cables. They are too rough for the plant’s delicate surface tissues.

  • Pick the Anchor Points Carefully

The reason why we recommended fixing the stakes to the container is that it gives you flexibility. Avoid anchoring the stakes to the grow tent beams or anything else around the plant. Doing so keeps you from moving your plants when needed.

Also, if you are using fabric pots, you can use safety pins to anchor the stakes. 

Summary: Ultimate Guide to LST Cannabis

Low-stress training on cannabis is one of the best ways of training cannabis plants to improve yields. Yes, some methods promise better results, and some are much easier. 

But LST is the perfect balance for any cannabis grower. 

With the right planning and steps, low-stress training can help your plant grow consistently bigger buds. LST improves light exposure within the canopy, which aids photosynthesis while breaking the plant’s apical dominance. Combined, these effects can lead to terrific results later in the plant’s life cycle.

Of course, you must regularly maintain the canopy and use the right tools like soft ties and bamboo stakes, but other than that, LST is as simple as it can get.


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