Low-Stress Training A Useful Tool for Novice Growers and Veterans
Low-stress training, or LST, is a simple, well-established way to coax marijuana plants into producing larger, more numerous buds. Particularly compared to more disruptive, damaging forms of plant training, LST is also especially accessible to beginners. While it will take a bit of research and practice to train cannabis plants to develop wider, lower, more bud-laden canopies, even first-timers can expect to succeed.
Veteran growers can also benefit from LST, though, and many make it a regular part of their cultivation strategies. Some of the reasons why LST so often makes sense are that it is:
- Although it requires some planning and ongoing effort, LST is simple and easy enough that any grower can do it. Even the sorts of LST mistakes that novices are prone to making tend to be easy enough to correct.
- As a low-stress approach to plant training, attentive, mindful LST puts marijuana plants at very little risk. As with any sort of growing-related intervention, there is always some danger of damaging a plant or stunting its development. Generally speaking, though, careful, methodical LST should never put a harvest in doubt.
- Despite being so safe and easy to make use of, LST is capable of producing impressive improvements to yield. While the results that manifest in any given case will depend upon a wide range of factors, especially successful LST can triple the quantity of buds a plant produces.
- Some more advanced and sophisticated growing and training techniques are applicable only to a relatively narrow range of situations and goals. While LST does perform best under certain conditions, it applies nicely to many of the most common modern growing arrangements.
- Some proven ways to improve marijuana yields require the investment of significant amounts of money. Buying better equipment or lavishing more nutrients on plants might produce results but can also be expensive. Although LST does require some supplies, it can be carried out on a shoestring budget.
Of course, there are also some weaknesses inherent to LST that will sometimes make it less appealing. Three of those that most often prove significant are that it:
- Takes time. Successful, worthwhile LST typically requires fairly significant investments of time. That includes everything from initial setup work to ongoing but less time-consuming maintenance after plants have started flowering. The overall cost of LST should probably account for this fact, in most cases. That can make it seem less appealing compared to more financially burdensome but less time- and effort-intensive alternatives.
- Can harm plants. Although it is less stressful than high-stress techniques, LST can still result in growth-inhibiting damage to plants, infections, and other problems. This is particularly true for beginners, but most find it easy to overcome such initial hurdles. As with almost anything else related to growing, opting for LST requires weighing the likely benefits against the possible drawbacks. In most cases, though, the odds favour LST.
- Won’t always make much of a difference. Although it is a versatile technique, LST will not always produce significant improvements to yields. Someone growing Cannabis sativa plants outdoors in a sunny, spacious, fertile area, for instance, might not find the technique worth bothering with at all.
A Trait That Makes Sense in the Wild but Not For Most Growers
Like many other plants, Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and hybrids exhibit a trait known as “apical dominance” by default. This evolutionary adaptation sees each marijuana plant pouring the bulk of its resources into nurturing a single, central branch and its bud-generating cola.
While the side branches of an untrained marijuana plant will also produce buds, these will tend to be smaller and less numerous than those growing off the main shoot. A hormone called “auxin” directs nutrients to the dominant shoot and also inhibits the growth of secondary ones. This helps individual cannabis plants compete against others that are seeking the same sunlight, while also preserving enough reproductive capacity to allow the continuation of the genetic line.
In many common growing environments today, though, this natural disposition of cannabis plants inhibits yields. Marijuana plants that grow overly tall while maintaining a narrow, conical shape put practical limits on the amount of artificial light, for instance, that can be provided to each. Apical dominance might have been evolutionarily advantageous for cannabis plants, but it is not necessarily desirable to the average grower.
How LST Works and Why It Helps
LST gently counters the natural apical dominance of cannabis plants by encouraging a more even distribution of resources and branch growth. At its core, LST revolves around gently bending and securing branches to train a plant to develop a wider, lower canopy.
The same basic technique has been used in various forms for centuries on plants ranging from fruit trees to shrubs. As the structure of an apically dominant plant changes, the effects of the hormone auxin end up being distributed more evenly among its branches. A marijuana plant that develops a wider, flatter canopy thanks to LST will also generally be able to soak up more yield-enhancing light under artificial growing conditions.
That often allows a plant to generate far larger yields than if it had not been trained. While there are modest costs and downsides inherent in LST, it is an approach that has proven its value to growers all over the world.
The Few Simple Steps Needed for Successful LST
One of the reasons LST is so popular is that it puts minimum stress on marijuana plants. Another is that it does the same to growers, since LST is an especially approachable, straightforward way to improve yields. The LST process can be broken down into four distinct steps.
- Gather Materials and Get Ready
LST is simple, but it does require a few supplies. Before getting started, make sure you have:
- Young but established and healthy plants. Trying to train marijuana plants that are too young will almost certainly damage them or slow their development. Plants that have become overly established will not have time enough left before flowering to learn the lessons LST tries to teach. Older plants also tend to have overly thick stems that cannot be bent as easily and safely as those of younger ones. Most experienced growers advise that LST should start when a plant has from 4 to 6 branch nodes. That will give it enough time to develop the sought-after structure but ensure that it has become sufficiently well-established to withstand LST.
- Soft, flexible ties. To actually secure bent branches in place, you will need to have something to wrap around them. Inexperienced growers sometimes assume that string or twine would work well enough. In fact, such thin, unyielding materials are overly likely to bite into plants being trained. Simple paper-covered twist ties are used by many growers as safer contact points. Nurseries and growing supply stores also often sell more substantial ties covered with cloth or another soft material that can be used on heftier branches.
- Anchor points. Each tie that holds a branch at a targeted point will need to be anchored to something, as well. Growers often simply drill holes into growing containers, and then run strings between theses and individual ties. Safety pins can also be pushed through the walls of cloth containers, or binder clips attached to the edges. Another option is to put stakes down into the soil around a plant, making sure they are secure enough to withstand the tension put on them.
- Although string should not come into contact with the plant, it can be used to connect ties and anchors. Anything else that serves the same purpose, like sufficiently flexible wire, should work as well.
- Bend and Tie, Then Repeat as Needed
With everything ready, it will be time to actually start training. Begin with the top of the plant, attaching and anchoring a number of ties to gently bend it down to nearly horizontal. Once the bulk of the plant is in place, you can do some initial refinement of the structure by tying, bending, and anchoring any shoots that project well outside of the desired outline.
Don’t worry too much about getting things perfect right away, as you will have time to clean up and readjust later on. Wait a few days after the first training session, and then go through another round of bending. Make sure, in particular, that any leaves which are blocking light from getting to others get moved out of the way.
Over time, a fairly flat, even canopy should develop thanks to your training efforts. If you break a stem at any point, tape it up carefully so the plant can heal as quickly as possible.
- Force Flowering, If and When Needed
If you are training an auto-flowering strain of marijuana, buds should hopefully start appearing at around the time the plant’s canopy solidifies into the desired shape. Otherwise, you will need to force flowering as usual, looking for the signs that the plant is ready.
- Keep Up With Maintenance Before Tapering Off for Harvest
Once your trained plant begins to flower, you will want to back off a bit on your regular bending and anchoring sessions. That will help keep buds from getting damaged and also make it less likely that the stems of the mature plant experience too much strain.
Even so, obvious imperfections should still be addressed, especially any stray branches that are hogging too much light. As harvest time gets nearer, though, you will want to become more and more sparing with training. LST that happens so late in a plant’s life-cycle is less about actual training and more about maximizing the light that each part of the canopy receives.
Additional Options and Considerations
Becoming comfortable with the process and ideas above should allow you to increase your marijuana yields significantly. Even so, there are some additional options and concepts that are worth becoming familiar with, such as:
- To truly qualify as “low stress,” a training regimen should not require any damage to the plant. Many growers find, however, that LST pairs very naturally with a high-stress technique called “topping.” In fact, many LST guides have growers begin by cutting off the central shoot above the fourth budding point, or thereabouts. If you choose to get your LST program started by topping, make sure to use sharp, sterilized scissors to minimize the risks. Because topping a plant is more stressful than bending and anchoring its branches, timing is even more significant. Growers using auto-flowering strains also typically avoid topping because the time to maturity is too brief to allow complete recovery.
- A popular relative of the LST approach described above incorporates a screen or net instead of individual ties and anchor points. Some consider this “screen of green”–or “SCROG”–technique easier to keep up with, too. If you opt to use a screen or net, you will simply weave a plant’s branches through the openings as needed to encourage the development of a flat, even canopy. Because the height of each portion of a screen cannot be adjusted as easily as the length of a string, be especially careful about not stressing branches too much.
- Strains and other factors. LST in its various forms can be used with any type of cannabis plant and in any environment. It is most often employed with either pure indica varietals or hybrids that incline heavily toward the bushiness typical of that species. Sativa plants, with their characteristically high yields, can potentially benefit even more from LST though, if they are supported appropriately.
While LST is not a panacea, it is a powerful technique that should also be accessible to just about every grower. As with everything else in the world of marijuana cultivation, experimentation and experience will help you leverage LST even more effectively as time goes on. Just about everyone who takes marijuana growing seriously for any length of time eventually becomes familiar with LST, and few ever feel anything but enthusiastic about it.
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