Why do growers trim cannabis buds in the first place?
Harvest day has come! You are cutting down your cannabis buds to trim before you dry and cure them. But do growers even need to trim their cannabis buds? In fact, why do growers trim buds in the first place?
- Appearance - In magazines, at the dispensary and in pictures online nearly all the buds you'll see are completely manicured, or at least somewhat trimmed. This is the appearance we've come to associate with "good weed" and so untrimmed buds tend to look less appealing to many people
- Harshness - leaves are more "harsh" on your throat/lungs than straight bud when smoking cannabis, so trimming off extra leaf matter improves the "smoothness" of your buds when smoking
- THC Concentration - the sugar leaves on your buds inherently have a lower concentration of THC than bud (even trichome-encrusted ones!), which means that you're "getting" less THC gram-for-gram than with bud. Many growers want trimmed buds but don't want to waste any THC, so they process their trim to extract the THC in the leaves separately. You have endless options for getting the good stuff out of your leaves and other trim, but my favorite ways are making dry ice hash, butter or canna caps. I sprinkle dry ice hash on top of bowls to skyrocket their potency, I use butter for edibles, and I love canna caps for the ability to easily dose edibles on the go!
An example of well-trimmed cannabis buds
Untrimmed cannabis buds
There are two schools of thought when it comes to trimming cannabis. Many (most) growers trim their cannabis buds before drying them, though some growers wait until after the buds have already dried to trim their cannabis.
Trimming your cannabis before drying is known as a "wet trim" because the leaves are still wet during the trimming process. Trimming after the buds have already dried is known as a "dry trim" since your buds will already be dried before you trim off the sugar leaves.
Most growers who choose to dry first will still usually remove all or most of the big fan leaves with their fingers. However, there are some growers who won't even remove those before drying, though that is much less common.
Wet Trim Example - all leaves are removed before buds are allowed to dry
Dry Trim Example - very little trimming is done before drying (only fan leaves are removed)
Dry Trim Example - not even fan leaves were removed (this is less common)
Do a "wet trim" because...
- Buds usually look better in the end
Do a "dry trim" because...
- If the leaves haven't been trimmed it slows down the drying process, which can be helpful in a low humidity environment since you want buds to dry slowly after harvest
In practice most growers trim their marijuana before drying their plants (wet trim) because trimming marijuana buds when wet usually produces "tidier" looking buds
When I first started growing I didn't know anything about trimming. I knew you could do it before or after, but I didn't know the pros and cons of each. From reading online, I could see that growers successfully use both methods, so there's not "right" or "wrong" way to do it.
However, although it seemed like people tended to trim right after harvest, I didn't trim my first plant before drying. Honestly it was mostly because I was just too lazy at the time, but it was also because I figured it wouldn't make much difference.
After that experience, I knew I could never do it again! It was so hard to trim buds when the leaves are all curled up and dry instead of sticking straight out. I never was happy with how my "dry trim" buds came out even after spending hours trying to trim them. I've learned that most of the time buds just look better and more "neat" when trimmed before drying!
This is an example of what untrimmed buds look like after they've finished drying. This is still superb bud, but I hope it helps you see how difficult it would be to remove all the dried green sugar leaves at this stage since they are all curled in instead of sticking straight out!
If sugar leaves are healthy and covered in trichomes, it's more common for growers to leave them on. This is what that might look like after the buds have been dried:
Although these cannabis buds are beautiful and the sugar leaves are absolutely covered in trichomes (so you know they have significant amounts of THC), the buds may possibly be slightly more "harsh" than if all the sugar leaves had been trimmed away.
On the flip side, there are many people who prefer seeing trichome-encrusted sugar leaves on their buds, so in the end it's a matter of personal preference. There's no right or wrong way about it!
What You’ll Need
Sharp scissors (for trimming buds) - Fiskars shears are our weapon of choice. They are very sharp and have a pointy end, which makes it a lot easier to get your bud looking perfectly manicured!
Big pruning shears, or tough scissors you don’t mind destroying (for cutting off branches)
These will be used to actually cut down single branches as you harvest colas to be trimmed.
If possible, try to use a separate pair, and not the same sharp scissors you plan to use for trimming buds. Some branches are tough enough to destroy a pair of nice scissors in a single harvest. You want sharp scissors for trimming your buds, it will save you so much time!
Disposable rubber gloves
Rubber gloves are actually meant to protect your hands from your bud! Handling bud without gloves will make your hands sticky to the point where it becomes a constant problem. Plus hands covered in resin are difficult to clean!
3 Trays or Cookie Sheets
You need a tray to hold your untrimmed buds, one to hold your newly trimmed buds, and the last one to hold your ‘trim’ (the plant matter you cut off the buds).
Of course you can use anything to keep your separate piles in, but cookie sheets have worked really well for me! Baking sheets work nicely and are cheap, but honestly any non-absorbent flat surface will work. I like cookie sheets and other wide cooking pans because they have a lip around the edges to help keep everything contained!
Once you have all of your gear assembled, move onto the steps below when you feel ready. Keep in mind that this can be a lengthy process depending on how much bud you’ve grown. However, any negative feelings you get from the labor of trimming will be far outweighed by all the bud you’ll be drying soon!
One last thing... Don't forget to save all your leaves and other trim! You can use the extra leaves you cut off to make edibles or hash. If you can see trichomes ("glitter") on the leaves, that means they have good stuff to extract! If a bud is very small or wispy, sometimes I'll throw that in the trim pile as well.
1.) Set Up Your Trimming Area
Before you start cutting down your plant, you should set up a nice, comfortable place to trim your bud-laden branches. Trimming can take a lot longer than it might seem at first, and it's good idea to dedicate at least an afternoon to trimming. I usually harvest in the morning on a day I have off, with no other plans, so that I have the least amount of time constraints.
As far as where to do your trimming, a large, clean and cleared table on a non-carpeted floor works great! You will be getting little pieces of leaves everywhere, even if you're careful, so try to trim in a spot that's easy to clean.
I like to set up in front of a TV, so I can watch movies or shows in the background while I'm trimming. Music or radio can be nice too. In order to stay as comfortable as possible while trimming, I believe it's important to make sure you get up at least once an hour, even if just to walk around the house or move to a different chair. Take a second to stretch your arms, shoulders and neck. Sometimes you can get in the zone while trimming and not move for a while, so making a point to make breaks will help keep your back, neck and hands from getting cramped up.
Put out your trays as you'll be using them in just a moment. You'll be using one tray to hold your untrimmed buds, one to hold your trimmed buds, and one to hold your leaves/trim. You want to keep it all separate if you can, though some spillover is inevitable.
Now that you've set up your space, it's time to start harvesting!
2.) Wash your hands and put on a pair of gloves
I prefer the type of disposable rubber gloves that have powder in them because I find it easier to slip the gloves on and off. But any gloves you like will work perfectly!
These gloves will soon be sticky with resin!
If you don't use gloves, get some rubbing alcohol ready, because you'll need it to get all the resin off your fingers once you're done trimming! Soap and water won't cut it! You can also save the resin - it's basically hash!
3.) Using your tough scissors, cut a branch off your cannabis plant
You may want to cut just one branch down the first time so you can get a feel for trimming, instead of cutting everything down at once. That way you can get an idea of how big of a branch you want to work with at a time.
This also allows you to harvest the plant in stages. If you have to stop halfway through for whatever reason, the buds will be fine for an extra day or two as long as they're still attached to the plant (even if the rest of the plant is completely hacked up).
When cutting of branches to trim, remember to cut them to a comfortable working size. No larger than these two or you'll probably have a hard time handling them!
4.) Remove Large Fan Leaves With Your Fingers
These are the leaves that are easily pulled off by their long stem. Put these fan leaves in a pile to be disposed of later.
Here's a pile of colas that still have their fan leaves
This is what buds look like after the fan leaves have been removed
Most fan leaves do not have a usable amount of trichomes on them. If you plan to save your trimmings to make hash you may want to put these bigger fan leaves in a separate pile so you can throw them directly away, instead of mixing them in with your trim pile. The big fan leaves add a lot of plant matter that you have to process, but without adding much THC.
5.) Trim Off The Sugar Leaves
Make a note of the small leaves that stick out of the buds; you will be able to see the leaf tips, but usually not the stems. These are typically referred to as "sugar leaves" and don't need to be removed, only trimmed with your scissors if they stick out.
Before & After - Trimming Sugar Leaves
If the sugar leaves are covered in a lot of trichomes, some growers will leave them on instead of trimming them. I personally don't recommend doing that because any extra leaf matter tends to make buds more harsh when you smoke them. You want as close to pure bud as possible. If you don't want to waste all the trichomes on your sugar leaves, the best thing to do is save them in your separate trim pile and you'll be able to extract the trichomes off the leaves later to make extracts like hash, caps or butter, This means you're still getting all the THC, but without the added harshness of extra leaf matter. That's why I highly recommend trimming all the sugar leaves until they are flush with the buds.
Sugar leaves are cut so they are flush with the bud, giving it a round, almost smooth appearance
Some buds will always have sugar leaves you can see, even if you cut them flush with the outsides of the bud. This is just the way that some cannabis buds grow, and is normal genetic variation
Try not to cut off any of the actual buds as keeping them on the branches will help with a slow drying process (which we want). The people who might consider removing the buds from the stem are those struggling with high humidity (and may have a difficult time drying). Otherwise, try to keep buds on the stems if possible.
You should be left with a branch with trimmed bud on it. Now that you’ve got the hang of it, repeat this process on the remainder of the branches on your cannabis plant!
Do your best to make sure that all the ‘trim’ (the leaves trimmed from your bud) falls onto the tray designated for it. Now only does that let you save more trim for hash, it will help you with cleanup later!
The whole trimming process can take a while depending on how much you ended up with, but if it's more than you can do at once, it's perfectly okay to harvest your plant in stages over a few days.
After trimming, your scissors (and fingers) will be covered in hash. Don't throw it away - it's concentrated cannabis resin! You can vape, smoke or consume hash just like cannabis flowers!
6.) Dispose of your plant
Once all of the branches on your cannabis plant have been cut down and trimmed, it's time to securely dispose of the remainder of the plant!
Cut your plant up into pieces and double bag all the plant matter left over after harvest. Do not throw this bag away until the day your trash is picked up. This means there is less time where someone could go through your trash and find it!
Fiskars shears are very sharp and one of the most popular types of scissors for trimming buds by hand! These are what I use to trim my buds!
To actually cut off branches from your plant you want something stronger, like these big pruning shears. If you use your Fiskars to cut through stems they will become dull quickly!
Electric Handheld Scissors
There are a few different types of these to make trimming easier. The brand that seems to be most popular for trimming cannabis is probably the "Bonsai Hero" electric trimmer, though there are others showing up on the market.
The cool thing about electric trimmers is they let you trim far faster than if you were doing it with regular scissors. They are also easy on your hands since the scissors do all the opening and closing themselves - you just guide them!
The downside is you just can't get as close a trim job with electric pruning shears compared to regular scissors. They're just not precise enough. It's common for growers to use them quickly to trim off most of the leaves, and use scissors to tidy the buds up afterward. The other downside to electric scissors is you will end up cutting off more bud by accident than if you were hand scissoring.
However, sometimes the time savings is worth losing a little bud and leaving a little extra leaf matter. In large-scale growing operations, it's common to give buds a rough cut with electric trimmers and just sell them that way. It gets 90% of the work done in half the time!
Be warned, these are all obscenely expensive!
Bonsai Hero Shears - probably the most popular type of electric shears I've seen
"The Magic Trimmer" is another electric trimmer that gets consistently high ratings
Bowl Leaf Trimmers
These have many of the same pros and cons of electric hand trimmers, but there are differences.
First off, they're quick! With a bowl leaf trimmer you will be done trimming faster than with pretty much any other trimming method. But on the flip side, you will also lose more bud matter (it will be trimmed away) than other methods, because these basically work by "smoothing" out the outsides of the bud, whether it's taking off leaf or bud.
One thing about these trimmers that makes them unique is you have to remove the buds from the branches before using the machine, which means you'll probably also want to use a mesh hanging rack to dry your buds. And since the buds will be removed from the stems, it may be more difficult to get them to dry slowly. Another option is to trim them with the machine after they've already dried.
If you have a whole lot of bud to trim, the ease and quickness of this method may be worth any possible downsides!
Now that you have trimmed your buds, it's time for the dry & cure! You're almost there!