Low-Stress Training Techniques for Cannabis Plants

Rather than seeking sophisticated methods of boosting your cannabis garden’s yield, keep things simple with a low-stress training (LST) technique. It is a method of gently altering the shape of your plants to free space for further bud sites to form. When performed correctly, LST can increase the amount of weed you harvest per plant. Best of all, you don’t put your plants at risk as you do with high-stress training (HST).

You might have heard of LST and assumed it is a recent phenomenon. In reality, horticulturalists have implemented it for millennia. It is a variation of an ancient technique (espalier) which forced fruit trees to grow in a flatter structure. The ancient Egyptians were doing it for fig trees at least 3,000 years ago. The practice enjoyed a brief boost in popularity in Europe during the 1600s. During this era, it was common to see rows of carefully trimmed and pruned fruit trees.

What Is the Purpose of LST?

LST and HST are different methods of helping change the chemical balances in the plants. The primary difference is that low-stress training doesn’t directly damage the plant, whereas high-stress training does. If you leave your marijuana plants to grow freely, they will produce a single main cola. It will grow as tall as possible and looks fantastic but doesn’t help increase your crop’s yield or the quality of the herb.

If you cultivate your weed indoors like most residential growers, you must prevent the light from getting too close to the top cola. As a result, the buds that grow on the lower parts of the plant miss out. When you train your plants via LST, you provide the opportunity for more ‘even’ canopies to grow.

The growth of your plants depends on auxin, a hormone. Your cannabis plants’ auxin is mainly focused at the top of the plant. As a result, most of the growth concentrates on the central stalk. When you utilize LST, however, you eliminate this focal point and provide a base for a level canopy and multiple colas. The consequence of this is more bud per plant!

Pros & Cons of LST

Pros

  • Higher yields from the same lighting and setup you usually use.
  • Total control over the shape, size, and height of your plants.
  • Your plants will produce numerous large buds rather than a single central bud and multiple small ones.
  • The process doesn’t involve damaging your plants, so they only need a few days of ‘recovery’ time at most.
  • You can use the technique when you run out of growing space but don’t want to prune.

Cons

  • It is a labor-intensive method.
  • You may not have the time to complete LST if you have a large cannabis garden.
  • If you bend too much, too soon, you could snap the branches of your plants.

How to Complete Low-Stress Training for Your Marijuana Plants

Before you begin LST, make sure you have the following equipment:

  • Duct tape
  • A small hand drill
  • Thin wooden stakes
  • Soft plant ties or rubber-coated wire
  • Sharp scissors

In general, it is a bad idea to try and cut corners by using wire or string to hold your plants down. Typically, these materials are too harsh and could damage the stems. There are soft plant ties on the market for a few bucks that are specifically designed for the job.

The LST method consists of bending the plant as it grows. You tie down branches that are becoming too long. Once you pull the plant downward to form an ‘L’ shape, you ensure more evenly distributed auxin. As for where you draw the branches to, your best bet is to drill a few holes around your growing container’s rim. This practice makes it easy to put the ties through the holes and around the branches.

Experts recommend pre-bending the stems before you tie them down to decrease the risk of snapping. You may also want to remove some of the most significant fan leaves. Otherwise, they could continue to block the light to lower bud sites even after LST. Also, please note that you will need to implement training as your plants become larger and bushier. Low-stress training is an ongoing process, so bear this in mind before you begin.

Now, let’s provide you with a step-by-step guide to LST.

1 – Top the Plants if You Wish

Some growers like to ‘top’ their young plants when they have at least four nodes first. The goal is to eliminate the weed plant’s apical dominance. When you cut its main stem, it begins to branch out, and soon enough, you’ll find that it produces several colas. When you ‘top’ the plant, LST becomes easier because you’re no longer working with one stem only. Experienced growers say you should top plants down to the third node. You should end up with two main colas that split in the same area on the stem.

2 – Choose Your Stem & Start Bending

When picking the stem you wish to bend, make sure you analyze it first to ensure it is flexible. If you suspect the stem could break, look for an alternative. Next, consider the type of shape you want your plant to grow in. For beginners, it is best if you stick with a basic ‘bush’ form. If you have pre-drilled holes in your container, you can easily tie the stem inside them.

Ultimately, the idea is to keep all stems the same distance from the light. Therefore, you need to bend the tallest stems down continually, so they are at the same level as the others. Make sure you have several soft ties ready. Even if you choose not to top the plant, you can bend it in the direction you want.

3 – Continue Shaping & Maintaining Your Plants

When performing LST, you need to maintain a flat canopy where all branches are at the same level. Make sure you bend the shoots outward and away from the main stem. At some point, you may snap a branch as you bend it. This is where the duct tape comes in! It isn’t a catastrophe as long as the limb doesn’t come off completely. Even a snapped branch can heal in a week or so.

You will find that the branches start growing around 24 hours after bending. However, it begins at the same level as the rest. When the secondary branches get more light and begin to grow, you will have to use LST on them as well.

Once your plants begin to flower, you will see several towering peaks emerging. At this point, they will grow extremely quickly. When this happens, prune any lower branches that have no shot of getting any light. This process encourages the plant to become even more productive rather than using energy on things that don’t benefit the yield. It also ensures your canopy gets better ventilation.

When Should I Perform LST?

As the old saying goes: “Better late than never.” Ideally, you will begin LST when the stems of the plants are young and flexible. If you wait too long, they become harder and more likely to break when bent. Only bend the softer parts of the stems, which you find near the tips. In general, you can begin once your plants are a couple of weeks into the vegetative stage. If you don’t manage it that early, just make sure you do it before the flowering stage.

Once your plants start to bloom, they can double in height in a matter of weeks. If you have already implemented LST by that point, you can control the growth and maintain the fantastic canopy. If you have already begun low-stress training by that stage, you can continue implementing it for a couple of weeks. Make sure you avoid touching new buds if you can.

Also, don’t assume that you can only perform low-stress training on indoor plants. If you cultivate outdoors in a colder climate, LST can help boost yield during the summer season. It is also a technique that keeps your plants at a reasonable height. This is useful if you don’t want the world to know about your outdoor grow.

It is also possible to use LST on autoflowering plants. They have a short growing period and minimal time to recover from HST techniques such as defoliation and topping. However, if you get started during the short vegetative stage window, you can still benefit.

Other Quick LST Tips

  • Remember, one of the main goals of LST is to manipulate your plant as much as you can without inducing a stress response. Steer clear of ‘sharp’ ties such as wire as it cuts through plants easily. If you can’t find soft ties, get creative by using something like pipe cleaners or thick clothes hangers.
  • As we mentioned earlier, one of the easiest ways to attach the LST wires is by drilling holes in a pot. However, thicker forms of wire may conveniently stick in the ground and stay there.
  • Experienced growers can combine LST with Screen of Green (SCROG). This technique involves the use of a screen to create a canopy. Rather than tying your plants down, you wait for them to begin growing through the filter. When this happens, bend the branches back down through the screen.
  • Always bend the branches slowly and carefully. Also, you should focus on the newer, most flexible parts of the plant. If a stem feels stiff, look for a different one to bend.
  • Check the ties thoroughly to ensure they are appropriately attached to the plant. Don’t allow them to slip across a stem’s surface, or else you can cause abrasion. If you find it tricky to get a stem to stay down, secure it in other places.
  • At least once a week, choose a tall stem to bend.

Best Cannabis Strains for Low-Stress Training

While you can use LST for any marijuana strain, there are several that seem to derive the most benefit from the process. Here are three of our favorites:

  • Chocolate Haze: This sativa-dominant hybrid is a cross of Cannalope Haze and OG Chocolate Thai. It has a THC content of up to 20% and provides an intense cerebral high. It has a flowering time of 9-10 weeks and can provide up to 18 ounces of bud per meter squared indoors, or 18 ounces per plant outdoors.
  • Amnesia Haze: It is another sativa-dominant hybrid, and is bred with old-school Haze genetics. Its THC level is 21%, and it offers a fast-acting high. Its flowering time is 9-11 weeks, and it can yield up to 21 ounces per square meter indoors and 25 ounces per plant outside.
  • Shining Silver Haze: This strain is a sativa-dominant hybrid that’s a cross of Haze, Skunk, and Northern Lights. With a THC content of 21%, you get an almost instant feeling of intoxication. It flowers in 9-11 weeks and yields up to 23 ounces per square meter indoors and 23 ounces per plant outdoors.

Final Thoughts on Low-Stress Training Techniques for Cannabis Plants

The LST process is a relatively simple way to get the most out of your marijuana garden. You only need minimal equipment and can begin when plants are a few weeks into the vegetative stage. Make sure you don’t use anything sharp to tie down the stems. Otherwise, you risk causing damage to your plants. However, if you accidentally snap a stem, don’t panic! There is every chance that some duct tape and patience will help heal the plant.

However, please note that low-stress training is not a ‘set and forget’ technique. The process involves carefully watching over your plants to create the shape you want. By continually monitoring your crop, you can quickly spot any branches that become too long. Also, you must remember that bent stems rapidly ‘understand’ that they are sideways. Any part of the plant that isn’t tied down will begin growing upwards.