Ultimate Guide to Pruning Indoor and Outdoor Cannabis Plants

Created by
Added 09 September 2022

Pruning indoor and outdoor cannabis plants seems like a contradictory method, especially since you’ll be chopping away leaves and stems to induce more yield. 

However, the method just works!

In fact, the plant grows even more vigorously after its pruned. And, it’s not just cannabis — many other plants do the same. 

That’s right. Pruning is a technique where you have to deliberately cut off certain parts of the plant, like dying leaves, the main cola, or lower branches, to boost your plant’s growth and increase yield. 

Even though the method sounds counterintuitive — perhaps the reason why many growers are against it — it works surprisingly well and can help you maximize your plant’s bud development capabilities. And it can also help you shape your plant so it can stay contained in your grow room or hidden from onlookers.

But pruning is not as easy as cutting off random leaves and hoping for the best results. This method, not madness, has more nuance and you need to be cautious while carrying it out. It is, after all, inflicting damage to your plant. 

To help you understand pruning cannabis better, so you know exactly what you are doing even before you pick up the pruning scissors, here is an in-depth guide on pruning cannabis. 

What is Pruning?


Pruning is a popular yet advanced growing technique that involves cutting particular parts of the plant — like old leaves or branches — in specific amounts to encourage vigorous growth in cannabis. This makes pruning cannabis quite similar to grooming.

When cannabis is growing, some of the older leaves naturally die off, but they don’t die quickly and may still consume some of the plant’s energy. So, pruning these leaves allows the plant to conserve energy and grow healthy leaves, instead of wasting it on the dead or dying ones. 

When you prune cannabis, the plant can focus on growing new and healthy leaves, which help produce more chlorophyll and energy. This efficient use of resources causes a domino effect that leads to more buds during the harvest season.

Plus, pruning allows you to improve light exposure and aeration within the canopy, especially at the lower tiers. The leaves and branches at the base of the plant are often close together, which may prevent light and air penetration. This can further improve the yield by allowing the lower tiers to grow well.

Another advantage of pruning is that you can shape the plant to fit your needs. For example, if you are growing outdoor cannabis, pruning can help keep the plant short and out of sight if you want to keep your garden discreet.

Similarly, if you are worried that the plant will outgrow its grow tent, you can prune the main cola to keep it short and grow sideways. 

In some regions, the law forbids growers from growing more than a certain number of plants. In such cases, pruning cannabis can help the growers produce more yield while keeping their project legal. 

While many growers may think pruning is stressful for the plant, the method is actually quite harmless — as long as you do it properly. Your plant can easily recover from the pruning stress with some basic care and love in the form of the right nutrition, environment, and watering.

But pruning is not mandatory, either. Many experienced growers choose not to prune and let nature do its thing. But pruning is super useful if you want to optimize your plant’s performance. 

Is Pruning Beginner-Friendly?

Not really. Pruning is an advanced growing method for cannabis, so it is best suited for experienced growers. If you are planning to prune cannabis, you need to be mindful and plan the entire process beforehand. 

Pruning cannabis is a delicate process, which can damage your plant and hamper its growth if you make mistakes or harm the plant during the process, which is quite common with new growers. 

So, if you are a new grower and want to prune your plant, we recommend waiting for a while. It is better to begin by understanding all you can about the basics of cannabis growth, followed by some not-so-advanced training methods, so you can also know how to troubleshoot common training problems. Once you have the right understanding and skills, you can try pruning your cannabis plants.

What is the Best Time to Prune Cannabis?

defoliating cannabis

If you want to prune cannabis, you must plan the process because timing is everything. Prune your plant at the wrong time and you will do more harm than good, even compromise your yield.

Ideally, you should start planning the pruning process when the plant is in its second week of the growth cycle. During this time, cannabis plants have several internodes and you will also be able to gauge their growth.

However, if you are growing a plant with a slow growth rate, like certain Indica strains, you should wait for another week to let the plant grow properly. 

And, sometimes, you can continue pruning the plant up to the second week of flowering, but not after that. Cannabis needs a few days to recover from pruning, so you don’t want it to go through recovery while it is growing buds. 

Plus, some plants tend to stop growing during recovery. So, if you prune too late, the plant will focus all its energy on recovering and very little on the bud development, which will reduce your yield. 

How to Prune Cannabis Properly?

Pruning cannabis leaves

It’s time for pruning cannabis the right way. For this, you need to first get the right tools. You can either use dedicated pruning scissors that can be bought from your local gardening store or sharp scissors or razor blade. Here, the sharper the tools, the better, as it impacts less stress on the plant with a clean cut.

You also need to sterilize the scissors before pruning the plant with rubbing alcohol. This will prevent infections in the plant, which can develop if the tools are contaminated. 

Now, decide where you want to cut. Ideally, you should cut above the fifth node on the main stem. You can also prune other parts of the plant, such as the following:

  • Large Branches

Pruning large branches allows you to clear out the canopy and make detailed pruning cuts within the canopy. For this, start with the branches in the lower tier that don’t receive enough sunlight and will never fully develop buds.

  • Perpetually Shaded Branches

Similarly, you should also prune any branches that are always shaded from the light. This applies mostly to indoor plants since outdoor plants tend to get better light during the day. 

  • Dying or New Branches

Next, cut off any dying branches. They are only consuming energy from the plant and will die off before growing a bud. Then, remove any new side shoots every week.

  • Unhealthy or Dying Leaves

You should also prune any leaves that look unhealthy or dying. Signs of a dying leaf include yellowing, discoloration, or brown tips. This will help the plant focus its energy on healthy leaves while improving light penetration within the canopy.

We recommend not cutting off any older leaves as they produce a lot of sugar and prevent light loss. The larger leaves produce a lot of sugar by converting water, light, and carbon dioxide, which is then sent to the buds, shoots, and young leaves. 

Remember, never prune cannabis incorrectly. For instance, never use a blunt scissor or tear away the leaves with your hands. It can cause traumatic injury to the plant’s tissues, which can turn into an infection. 

How to Care for Cannabis After Pruning?

pruning cannabis plant

Once you are done pruning your cannabis plant, water the plant immediately to stimulate growth and include nutrients in the water, especially if you are growing indoors. You can also administer some vitamin B complex fertilizers to help the plant through recovery as it helps it grow larger. 

Then, just wait for a while for the plant to recover. And keep an eye on it for a few days while ensuring it gets plenty of light, water, and nutrition. Avoid pruning again for a couple of weeks.

How to Train Cannabis with Pruning?

topping cannabis

Pruning is an excellent way to improve your plant’s yield, but if you want to take it to the next level, you can train your plant with pruning for even better results. Training can not only increase yields but also optimize airflow and light penetration in the canopy.

The most basic form of training is defoliation, where you need to remove some of the plant’s leaves (like the largest fan leaves), which allows the buds to grow faster and bigger. And this technique is only suitable for healthy, indoor plants, and advanced growers. 

Other training techniques include lollipopping and topping. Lollipopping is an advanced form of defoliation, where you remove the lower growth of the plant, turning it into a lollipop. 

The other one — topping — involves cutting off the top of the plant’s stem, which encourages the plant to grow multiple colas instead of just one.

Here is more on these techniques.

1. Cannabis Defoliation

Defoliation is just a specific form of pruning where you remove larger fan leaves that overshadow buds or those that are crowded. This improves light and air penetration within the canopy and results in buds growing bigger. 

Additionally, defoliating lets you prune your plant easily using LST like manifolding, topping, or ScrOG, and keeps mold at bay thanks to improved airflow. 

Ideally, defoliation works best in combination with other methods like ScrOG, topping, or tying down branches. And the best time to defoliate is during the plant’s vegetative and pre-flowering stages.

Defoliation is suitable for both indoor and outdoor plants, but avoid carrying out this technique on autoflowering plants or plants with plagues, deficiencies, or stress. 

Follow the steps to defoliate your cannabis plant:

  1. Select the branches and leaves you want to defoliate — specifically the ones that block the light to sprouts under them or if they are crowded together 
  2. Remove any old or yellowing (dying) leaves that may be consuming nutrition from the plant 
  3. Then, cut away any leaves that are growing inside towards the canopy 

As mentioned earlier, let the plant recover by watering and feeding it regularly. You can defoliate the plant again around three weeks into bloom, but be extra careful during this time to avoid disturbing the buds. 

2. Cannabis Topping

Did you know that topping can help you get a yield of up to five ounces per plant? That’s because it helps maximize the plant’s access to light and air, which is why this method is most recommended for indoor plants where light is unidirectional and limited. 

But that doesn’t mean outdoor plants cannot benefit from this. Topped cannabis buds are slightly smaller so they are not as sensitive to diseases and bud rot. 

Topping involves pruning off the main stem of the plant, which encourages the plant to grow more shoots and branches. If done correctly, this method can transform your cannabis plant’s shape into an inverted cone. 

Yes, a single cola produces larger individual buds, but topping can offer even better results. The four colas post-topping bask in more light and grow bigger buds. Also, if you've ever topped your cannabis plant, you will notice that it produces more buds, compared to a single cola. 

This is an effective method because a shoot grows two petioles with four leaves, and when you cut it off, the two shoots in the axils grow to become the main buds. 

The best time to top your cannabis plant while pruning is during the growing phase when it is at least ten inches tall and has a few internodes. 

When you top your cannabis plant, ensure to only cut off the latest shoot to inflict minimal damage to cannabis. And the plant may not grow for a couple of days as it recovers from the stress, but that’s normal. And if you want to top again, wait for some time and let the plant recover. 

3. Lollipopping

Lollipopping is another popular pruning method that allows you to remove the lower tiers of the plant, which improves bud development at the top of the plant. Essentially, this method eliminates competing growth, so energy can be directed to the main colas. 

During lollipopping, you have to cut off the overly shaded leaves. So, this method is useful in indoor grow environments, where the lower tiers don’t receive a lot of light anyway. 

It is called lollipopping because once you are done with the process, the plant ends up looking like a lollipop. Tasty name for tasty buds. 

The best time to lollipop your cannabis is during the vegetative phase, and you can do it either as a one-shot process or a continuous one. But the latest by which you should lollipop your plant is two weeks before the 12/12 light cycle. You can still do some light maintenance during bloom if required. 

There are two ways to lollipop your plants — top-down lollipopping and bottom-up lollipopping. 

Top-down lollipopping is a more severe version of lollipopping, although the process is quite simple. Here, you need to remove the growth that is below 4 nodes from the top. On the other hand, bottom-up lollipopping is less severe, where you start cutting off growth from the bottom and work your way upwards — if the shoots are too short to make it to the top, you need to cut them.  

Is There Something as Too Much Pruning?

If pruning your plant is beneficial, should you do more of it? The answer is NEVER. You should never over-prune cannabis as it can slow down the growth of the plant and even reduce the overall yield. 

Follow the tips mentioned above and take it slow. Understand your plant better before pruning more leaves to know whether it can take it or not. 

Here's what you should do to prevent over-pruning:

  1. Avoid cutting off leaves that are not growing out any branches out of their basal stem
  2. Avoid stripping off all the leaves from a branch 

Remember, this method only works in moderation. If you go overboard with pruning, it can backfire and significantly reduce your plant's yield.

What are Some Tips for Pruning Cannabis?

The above sections cover all you need to know about pruning cannabis and a few of its training methods. But to help you prune your cannabis plants even better, here are some tips to help you along the way:

  1. If you are pruning non-productive branches at the base of the plant, cut them out sooner when the plant is still relatively small. When the plant blooms, those branches are unlikely to grow any substantial buds so cutting them sooner helps optimize your plant’s nutrients.
  2. Be extra careful while cutting off branches, especially when the plant is still young. With the wrong cutting method or contaminated tools, it’s easy to introduce diseases or infections in your plant or even cause trauma that may damage the plant’s growth.
  3. Many growers also cut off leaves or branches with their fingernails. Avoid doing that at all costs. Our nails contain a lot of microbes that may infect the plant, and fingernails don’t really give a clean cut.
  4. Remove any dying or dead leaves. They usually die off due to lack of light exposure, so cutting them off will not harm your plant’s growth in any substantial way. Plus, other healthy leaves will benefit from the extra supply of energy from the plant. 
  5. Once you have pruned the plant, wait for a couple of weeks before pushing it into the flowering stage. The plant needs time to recover, and forcing it to flower during recovery may result in reduced yield. 
  6. Speaking of the flowering stage, avoid pruning your plant during the flowering stage. Pruning can cause shock to the plant and compromise the yield. However, you can still prune some dead leaves here and there during bloom without shocking your plant. 
  7. If you are growing cannabis indoors, you should always keep an eye on your plant’s height or width, depending on your setup’s size limitations. If the plant is getting too big for the setup, don’t hesitate to prune it. 
  8. And for outdoor plants, you can use pruning to keep the plant hidden from onlookers. Outdoor plants can still benefit from pruning despite getting a lot of light during the day — pruning helps outdoor plants optimize energy consumption.

Summary: Ultimate Guide to Pruning Indoor and Outdoor Cannabis Plants

Many growers are against pruning, and while they are right in their place — pruning does damage the plant — the damage can be good for the plant as long as you prune your plant properly.

So, before dismissing this method, you should give it a shot. And if you are someone who wants to take your cannabis cultivation to the next level, then pruning cannabis is an excellent method for you, and you should go for it.

Just remember the few basic tenets of pruning:

  1. Always use sterilized, sharp scissors or razors for pruning to minimize the damage to your plant
  2. Never cut off any part of the plant that will grow big buds, except the main cola, if required
  3. Try to cut off any many dying or dead leaves as possible 
  4. Give your plant enough time to recover before trying out pruning or any other training method that may further stress out the plant
  5. In the meantime, ensure your plant is well watered and fed so it can recover quickly and continue growing further
  6. Time your pruning sessions wisely — wrong timing can significantly affect your plant’s growth and yield

With the right knowledge and tools, pruning becomes an easy task — although you should never treat it as such — and you can easily enable your plant to grow more buds that are even bigger. So, with some effort, care, and love, you can dramatically improve your yield!

Stay tuned to know more about growing cannabis using various advanced training methods and techniques. 


Sort by
"Many growers also cut off leaves or branches with their fingernails. Avoid doing that at all costs. Our nails contain a lot of microbes that may infect the plant, and fingernails don’t really give a clean cut." Bend down leaf near stem and its easily snap out and clean cut. I never used scissors removing leafs but branches yes. 😊