May 06, 2017 | DR. SCANDERSON FOR NORTHWEST LEAF
Training is the very short time where your interactions with your plants and what manifests from those interactions is most rich and vibrant.
Plants, for many people, are their greatest teachers.
They garner the effortless ability, in a single moment, to impart knowledge at a level of complexity that would otherwise take several years of conventional study to grasp. Nowhere is this trait perhaps more easily demonstrated then when it comes to the topic of training plants. Training, or the physical manipulation performed on the plant that alters its otherwise natural growth pattern, is an area where much variety of applications and technique exists—each of which lends high levels of self-expression to us as gardeners. The techniques and methods used can be simple in their essence, but knowing when, how and to what degree to apply them determines to a large degree the overall health, vigor and success of the round.
What is Training?
An ideological perspective on training is, in my mind, the area where the true artisan skill of indoor farming is most easily expressed. The places and ways we, as humans, choose to manipulate the plant is completely subjective and a reflection on how we see and interact with the world around us. It also provides a special and trusting interaction between the human being and the nonhuman plant being, where understanding and closely being able to predict future growth patterns can be used to maximize canopy space as well as prevent disease and infestation. I call this area “sculpting tree” as much like a sculptor, the gardener is charged with moving and removing only the excess from an otherwise already flawless subject. Our subject in this case just happens to have the feature of dynamic and regenerative movement.
The answer to this question is rooted in the fact that this article focuses on indoor cultivation. As an indoor farmer, you are forever without an adequate light source. In effort to burn the candle from both ends of the wick, the industry focuses on researching, discovering and manufacturing light solutions that more closely mimic the benefits the sun imparts. On the candle’s other end, as gardeners, we can choose to train the plants to grow in a specific pattern that varies highly from how the plant grows with no training in effort to customize the canopy and maximize the already inferior light source. But that’s just the root.
Training plants has many other benefits, which is why indoor and outdoor gardeners alike use training and manipulations to maximize the environment. Training and bending plants catalyzes root growth, as well as increases stem size, rigidity and strength. Having the opportunity to interact with the rhizosphere nearly as often as the canopy as a water gardener allows much feedback through direct observation with the techniques that impact the root zone. Unequivocally, a low or no stress training session will have a nearly immediate impact on increasing root growth when working with a healthy plant. Other benefits include significantly improved pest and disease resistance, as properly trained plants will have improved light penetration, air flow as well as air movement and less biological matter, especially in the risky areas where pests most often find their footing.
As indoor gardeners, the primary skill rests in being a canopy manipulator. Being able to finish the plant’s stretch period such that the limited area where there is the greatest amount of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) light output is fully maximized by the ideal number of plant tops. This will still allow for proper light penetration, air flow and in partnership with the plant’s particular ideal production pattern. That’s it, that’s about the whole McCoy. The rest is a matter of knowing how and when to use the right equipment and resources, but is far less of a dynamic process. Doing anything less seems to wag a finger in the face of the evident short coming we, as indoor gardeners, are faced with.
Topping (Tiny Cropping)
Topping your plants is a method of training manipulation in which the apical meristem is removed from the primary growth shoot at an early stage of growth (first few leaf sets). Removing this top has a few immediate impacts. First, by removing the apical tip you stop vertical growth from that tip, which is the highest point on the plant. Secondly, you diffuse the auxins, the hormone generally responsible for vertical or apical growth, throughout the plant allowing cytokinins, the hormones generally responsible for cellular division and lateral growth to be more dominant resulting in more branching. The new branches then eventually become the new tops where the auxins will again be sent to improve vertical growth, but now over a greater number of “tops” or plant heads.
Other methods of topping provide for allowing the plant to remain un-topped, growing in its natural pattern until it reaches a point where the side branches are sufficient in the lower section of the plant to remove a large portion of the upper section, leaving only the lower sets of lateral, more branchy nodes.
In both cases after more branches have been established as “tops” the process can be repeated, creating an exponential result of tops each time. For example, the first main stem topping results in two tops emerging from a lower section of the plant. Those two new tops now become the two dominant heads in that plant’s canopy. Top each of them again, and the two becomes four new heads that will want to grow into the dominant tops of the plant, top those and you have eight new tops and so on. By starting this process early, as is dictated by the tiny cropping technique, you can end up with a very short main stem and many main branches to produce, which is particularly nice when producing in an indoor environment.
Super Cropping or High Stress Training
Without belaboring the various names people use when referring to this technique, I’m talking about the practice of breaking, snapping and extreme bending of plants as a way to deal with stretch. This practice is just as it sounds. Cannabis is an incredibly resilient plant, and one can use its ability to repair itself and sustain large amounts of damage as a tool in training. Much like topping, when you super crop or snap a top from a plant demonstrating vertical internodal stretch, you immediately slow the vertical growth of that node. The process of snapping a top is a matter of finesse and experience with the particular plant, but generally speaking, the goal is to create a break and softening of all the tissue inside the stem without damaging the outer sheath. This results in the top flopping over rather perilously.
The longer term result however is that the plant will slow or stop vertical growth of that internode in favor of repairing the damage. Much like building calcium deposits to mend broken bones in humans, the plant heals itself by building up a bunch of rigid biomass in that area. Within a few short days or less, depending on the variety, the once limp and sad looking top will have turned itself right back up to the light while the damaged area is repaired. A few days later the once damaged areas become a bulky rigid and supportive bump that protects the once damaged section of the plant. The node may stretch again and the same process is repeated on a different section of the same internode, creating a “staircase of knuckles” but also many large individual bud sites sitting side by side creating improved yield, airflow and light penetration.
Low Stress or No Stress Training
In this technique, the gardener imparts very small amounst of “encouragement” guiding the plant’s growth pattern usually through a series of anchors or ties. Without ever creating a break in the plant’s tissue, the plant’s natural elasticity is used to manipulate and expose different sections of the plant to light. This training creates a growth pattern far more favorable for indoor production. Also, because the technique doesn’t demand damaging the plant in any way, there is no “down time” while the plant is repairing itself. One only needs to regularly guide and make small adjustments with regularity to both leverage the plant’s natural growth speed and response to being fed with light.
To this end however, low stress or no stress training demands the highest level of experience in working with the plant as the manipulation begins within a few days of transplanting the clone. Knowing what to bend, by how much and when is essential to keeping the stress low or non-existent and gaining the benefits intended. The risk of overdoing it at this stage is also very much increased, a mistake at the beginning of the process may result in termination of that plant altogether. Additionally, it’s imperative that a general understanding of how to create the framework of the plant’s base. How to deal with the myriad of new shoots the manipulation provides is something I was only able to master through experience.
Using tools like trellis netting, tomato cages and stakes as a way to provide some reliable internal structure to anchor the plant to and/or against is the primary methodology available for farmers looking to master this technique. Up until the introduction of a product called the OG Spring, it was straight trial an error. This nifty little innovation’s simplicity is exceeded only by the results and ease of use it provides. The spring is a simple inexpensive piece of metal that uses the sacred geometric ratios found all over nature defined by us humans as The Golden Ratio and commonly known as the Greek letter Phi to effortlessly create a low stress training model and support system that doesn’t require any topping. Not only does this open the world of low stress training to gardeners of all skill levels by providing a simple-to-follow technique that consistently results in exceptional plant structure, but also allows the plant’s natural growth speed to be harnessed, as the technique requires no topping of any heads.
Training or “sculpting tree” is really one of the areas I can easily identify as one of the reasons I know I have been put on this earth to work with plants on the most intimate of levels. That is to say the excitement, amount of available information and opportunity to impact a result is what keeps many of us coming back for more, round after round, year after year, decade after decade. Make no mistakes, this isn’t a chore. Although labor and time intensive, training is the very short time where your interactions with your plants and what manifests from those interactions is most rich and vibrant.
If you have specific questions on training techniques mentioned in this article, or anything I missed, please feel free to message me at DrScanderson@protonmail.com