Grow Guide: The Best Methods of Trimming Cannabis

Nobody wants to smoke leafy stash full of sticks and stems. Trimming your cannabis plants is the final step in converting flowers into finished product.

We break down the wet and dry trimming techniques, so you can best decide how to manicure your marijuana.

The difference between wet and dry trimming your buds

So, your plants are ready for harvest. Unless you plan on hand-rubbing chars from the fresh flowers, you’ll need to carefully harvest your bud. Every grower, with the basic competencies for successful cannabis cultivation, understands that marijuana needs to be dried and preferably cured before it is fit for toking.

The nugs with the most bag appeal, without exception, will be those that have been trimmed to perfection. Which brings us to the question, how does the ordinary decent grower produce a visually stunning stash?

First, you must decide between two trimming methods. Option one is to follow the standard operating procedure for the majority of home growers, trimming your cannabis plants wet on harvest day. Or you can dry first and then trim, which is known as the dry trimming method. There are pros and cons attached to both. In the end, you must settle on the method that is most suitable for your crop. Let’s break down the options to help you decide whether to wet or dry trim your plants.

What is dry trimming?

Dry trimming is a somewhat controversial technique mostly favored by large-scale commercial growers. That being said, dry trimming is enjoying a resurgence in popularity attributed to YouTubers. Essentially, dry trimming means cutting down the cannabis plant and removing only the large fan leaves and hanging the untrimmed plant to dry slowly.

The advantage of not removing leaves from flowers is that it dries your marijuana nice and slow. This is because the extra green material will retain moisture. At the same time, this can be a big risk. More so in a high humidity climate. Too much trapped moisture can cause buds to mould. Outdoor ganja farmers and guerrilla growers have long favored dry trimming as there is simply not enough time to trim wet. Furthermore, the cannabis plants must be transported for indoor storage.

After 10-14 days of drying, removing curled, tangled leaves from flowers can be a painstaking process with trimming scissors. Dry trimming by hand takes at least twice as long as wet trimming. Large-scale dry trimming necessitates an investment in professional pruning tools.

Electric trimming machines are costly and also take some time to get used to. You might shred more than a few buds before you perfectly dry trim a trophy cola. Over time with practice, you can perfectly manicure cannabis plants in hours, rather than days.

What is wet trimming?

Wet trimming is the normal way to harvest your cannabis plants. You either cut the whole plant down and start removing as much leaf material as possible with fingers/scissors, or trim one branch at a time. This method is preferred by the vast majority of cannabis cultivators worldwide.

Trimming away wet leaves immediately is far less laborious than waiting for your sticky green to dry into a clump of matted flower and leaf. By handling only the stems, and rotating buds for better cutting angles, wet trimming can produce perfectly manicured buds. Of course, the more leaf removed, the lower the final harvest weight. But the smoke will be a whole lot smoother and sugar leaves are great hash making material.

The disadvantage of wet trimming is the time it takes. For commercial growers, hired hands will be required for post-harvest processing. This can be costly and a security risk. Home growers may need to wet trim in stages for larger harvests, especially if you favour the ScrOG method. 2-3 days of trimming solo by hand is hard graft.

How to trim your buds like a pro!

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)

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.

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 a 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. If you have to trim on carpeting, put down a sheet or tarp so spare your poor carpet from trichome stickiness.

I like to get 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.

Important Note: The trimming of fresh buds creates a great deal of odor! The room that you trim in (and any adjoining rooms) will smell like a cannabis farm; it’s actually far worse than when they’re just flowering! Make sure to contain the smell and try to mitigate the odor if you can. I like to run an exhaust fan on a carbon scrubber (the same one I use in my tent) while I trim. While it doesn’t completely cancel out the smell, it does get pretty close.

Now that you’ve set up your space, it’s time to start harvesting!

Wash your hands and put on a pair of gloves

I prefer latex gloves as they’re sturdy and it feels easier for me to change into a new pair. But any gloves you like will do the trick! 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!

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 off branches to trim, remember to cut them to a comfortable working size.

Remove Large Fan Leaves with Your Fingers

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.

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.

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 harsher 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

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. Not 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 that stuff away – it’s concentrated cannabis resin! You can vape, smoke or consume hash just like cannabis flowers!

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!

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