How Many Nodes Before Topping

By: Kevin

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Imagine this: You’ve just started your journey into cannabis cultivation. You’ve heard about various techniques to maximize yield and plant health, and one term keeps popping up everywhere: “topping.”

But what does it mean? And more importantly, how many nodes before topping? It’s a question that has puzzled many novice growers, and even some experienced ones.

Topping, when done correctly, can significantly enhance the growth and yield of your cannabis plants. But timing is crucial.

Dive into this guide as we unravel the mystery behind this popular cultivation technique, ensuring you get the most out of your plants.

What is Topping?

Topping is the deliberate act of cutting off the main growing tip of the cannabis plant. Why, you ask? It’s all about redirecting the plant’s energy. In nature, most plants, including cannabis, exhibit a behavior known as “apical dominance.” This means the main stem, or the “apex,” grows taller and more dominant than its surrounding branches. Picture a Christmas tree: tall at the center with shorter branches radiating outwards. While this is great for a pine tree basking in the sun’s shifting rays, it’s not ideal for indoor cannabis plants with a fixed light source.

Growers can break this apical dominance by topping, encouraging the plant to grow more horizontally than vertically. This results in a bushier plant with multiple main colas, rather than just one. But here’s where it gets interesting: this isn’t just about aesthetics or controlling height. It’s a strategic move to increase the number of bud sites and potentially boost the overall yield.

Now, while topping falls under High-Stress Training (HST) techniques, it’s not about causing undue stress to your beloved plants. It’s about understanding their growth patterns and making precise interventions for optimal results. Think of it as giving your plant a new direction, a new purpose, and watching it thrive in response.

The Science Behind Topping

Ever wondered why plants grow the way they do? Why does one stem shoot up tall and proud while others remain short and sideways? The answer lies in a little hormone called “auxin.”

Auxins are like the plant’s internal communication system. Produced at the very tip of the plant, the apex, these hormones flow downward, sending signals to the lower branches. Their primary message? “Stay put, let the top lead.” This phenomenon is known as “apical dominance.” The apex, with its high concentration of auxins, suppresses the growth of lateral branches, ensuring it remains the tallest and most dominant part of the plant.

Now, when you top a cannabis plant, you’re essentially removing this main source of auxins. It’s like cutting off the general on a battlefield. Without the apex sending its dominant signals, the lower branches are suddenly free from suppression. They sense an opportunity and start growing with renewed vigor. The plant’s energy, previously focused on pushing that main stem upwards, now disperses, promoting lateral growth.

But there’s more to this story. When the apex is removed, not only are the auxins reduced, but another group of hormones, called “cytokinins,” which promote branching and are found in the roots, start playing a more dominant role. The balance shifts and the plant begins to prioritize its side branches.

In essence, topping is a grower’s way of hacking the plant’s natural hormonal balance. By understanding and manipulating these internal signals, cultivators can steer the plant’s growth in a direction that maximizes yield and suits their space constraints. It’s a dance between nature and nurture, where a little snip can lead to a bountiful harvest.

When to Top Cannabis Plants

In cannabis cultivation, knowing when to top is as crucial as knowing how to top.

Traditionally, the golden rule has been to wait until the cannabis plant has developed between 3 to 5 nodes. Think of nodes as the intersections on the plant’s stem where leaves and branches sprout. By the time a plant has 3 to 5 of these, it’s usually strong enough, both above and below the soil, to handle the stress of topping. It’s like waiting for a child to reach a certain age before introducing them to a new challenging activity.

However, not all plants are the same. Some strains, especially the vigorous sativas, might shoot up quickly and could be ready for topping slightly earlier. On the other hand, a slow-growing indica might need a bit more time to mature. It’s essential to observe and understand the unique growth patterns of your specific strain.

But here’s a word of caution: topping too early can be detrimental. An immature plant, much like a young sapling in a storm, might struggle to recover from the stress of topping. It could stunt its growth, leading to reduced yields or even plant health issues. It’s always better to err on the side of caution. If you’re unsure, give your plant a bit more time. Let it grow, let it strengthen. Remember, patience in the early stages can lead to bountiful rewards later on.

How to Top Cannabis Plants

Imagine you’re a sculptor, chiseling away at a block of marble. Each strike needs precision, a clear vision, and the right tools. Similarly, when it comes to topping cannabis plants, the approach is equally meticulous.

1. Gather Your Tools: First and foremost, you’ll need a pair of sharp, sterilized blades or horticultural scissors. Clean tools are crucial. Just as a surgeon wouldn’t operate with a dirty scalpel, you shouldn’t top your plants with unclean equipment. This reduces the risk of infections and ensures a clean cut.

2. Identify the Top: Look for the main stem’s apex, where the newest growth is occurring. This is usually easy to spot as it’s the tallest point with young, tender leaves sprouting.

3. Find the Node Count: Count the nodes from the base upwards. Remember our earlier discussion on the 3-5 node rule? Once you’ve identified the 3rd, 4th, or 5th node, it’s decision time.

4. Make the Cut: Position your blades about a quarter-inch above the node you’ve chosen. With a steady hand and a clear intention, snip off the apex. It’s essential to ensure the cut is clean and not jagged to prevent any undue stress or damage to the plant.

5. Post-Care: After topping, it’s a good practice to monitor your plant closely. Ensure it has adequate water, but be wary of overwatering. The plant might experience a brief period of shock, but with proper care, it will soon redirect its energy to the lateral branches.

A few pro tips to keep in mind:

  • Always top during the plant’s vegetative stage. Topping during the flowering phase can stress the plant and reduce yields.
  • If you’re new to this, practice makes perfect. Consider starting with a plant you’re less attached to or even practicing on other similar plants before moving to your prized cannabis.
  • Remember, the goal is to promote growth, not hinder it. Always approach the process with care, understanding, and a dash of patience.

Effects of Topping

For Indoor Growers:

  • Flatter Canopy: One of the most immediate effects of topping is the development of a flatter, more even canopy. Instead of the Christmas tree shape, you get a plant that resembles more of a bush. This is particularly beneficial for indoor growers using artificial lights. A flatter canopy ensures that light is distributed evenly across all parts of the plant, maximizing photosynthesis and growth.
  • Increased Yield Potential: With the main stem’s dominance curtailed, the plant starts focusing on its side branches. These branches, now invigorated, develop into main colas themselves. The result? Instead of one primary bud site, you now have multiple, leading to a potential increase in overall yield.

For Outdoor Growers:

  • Controlled Vertical Growth: Some cannabis strains, especially sativas, can grow exceptionally tall. In an outdoor setting, this might not be ideal, especially if discretion is a priority. Topping helps control this vertical growth, ensuring the plant remains more concealed and less conspicuous.
  • Adaptability: Outdoor plants face a myriad of challenges, from unpredictable weather to pests. A bushier plant, with its increased foliage, can sometimes fare better against these challenges, providing a natural shield against external threats.

But it’s not just about the physical transformation. Topping also affects the plant’s internal dynamics. The hormonal balance shifts, energy is redirected, and the plant, in its resilience, adapts to this new growth pattern. It’s a testament to the incredible adaptability of nature. With a single snip, you set into motion a series of events that can lead to a stronger, more bountiful plant.

However, it’s essential to remember that every action has its reaction. While topping offers numerous benefits, it’s crucial to monitor the plant post-topping. Ensure it’s not showing signs of excessive stress and provide it with the care and attention it deserves.

Topping vs. Other Techniques


  • What is it? Supercropping involves gently bending and pinching the stems, causing minor internal damage without breaking the outer skin. This stress encourages the plant to grow stronger and more resilient.
  • Comparison: Unlike topping, which focuses on removing the apex, supercropping is about manipulating the existing structure. It’s less about redirecting growth and more about strengthening the plant. Both techniques aim to create a bushier plant, but the approach and outcomes can vary.


  • What is it? Lollipopping involves removing the lower branches and leaves of the cannabis plant. This focuses the plant’s energy on the topmost buds, ensuring they receive maximum light and nutrients.
  • Comparison: While topping promotes horizontal growth, lollipopping is about vertical optimization. It’s a technique that complements topping, ensuring that the plant’s energy isn’t wasted on non-productive lower branches.


  • What is it? Fimming stands for “F*** I Missed,” hinting at its accidental discovery. It involves making a cut slightly above the last topping point, leading to the development of multiple growth points.
  • Comparison: Fimming is like topping’s close cousin. Both disrupt apical dominance, but fimming can result in 4 main colas instead of the usual 2 from topping. It’s a bit more unpredictable but can lead to even bushier plants.

Strains and Topping

Not all strains are created equal. Each has its unique growth patterns, characteristics, and responses to cultivation techniques like topping.

Why Some Strains are More Suited for Topping:

  • Growth Patterns: Some strains naturally exhibit vigorous vertical growth. Topping these strains can help control their height and encourage a bushier structure, making them more manageable, especially in indoor setups.
  • Yield Potential: Strains with a higher yield potential can benefit significantly from topping. By increasing the number of main colas, growers can further maximize the yield of these already bountiful strains.

Considerations for Different Types of Strains:

  • Sativas vs. Indicas: Sativas are known for their tall, lanky growth, making them prime candidates for topping. Indicas, on the other hand, are naturally bushier. While they can still benefit from topping, the effects might be less pronounced compared to sativas.
  • Autoflowers: Topping autoflowers can be a bit tricky. Given their short life cycle, they have less recovery time. If you decide to top an autoflower, ensure it’s done early in its growth stage and monitor the plant closely for any signs of stress.

Examples of Strains that Benefit from Topping:

  • Blue Dream: A sativa-dominant hybrid, Blue Dream can grow quite tall. Topping helps manage its height and can lead to a more substantial yield.
  • Sour Diesel: Another sativa-dominant strain, Sour Diesel benefits from topping, especially when grown indoors, ensuring an even canopy and optimal light distribution.
  • OG Kush: While it’s more balanced in its growth, OG Kush responds well to topping, producing multiple robust colas.

Pros and Cons of Topping

Navigating the world of cannabis cultivation can sometimes feel like weighing the scales of justice. Every decision and every technique has its benefits and drawbacks. Topping, despite its popularity, is no exception. Let’s delve into the pros and cons, helping you make an informed choice in your cultivation journey.


  • Controlled Growth: One of the most evident benefits of topping is the ability to control the plant’s growth. Instead of a tall, single-stemmed plant, you get a bushier structure, which can be especially beneficial for indoor growers with height constraints.
  • Increased Yield: By promoting multiple main colas, topping can potentially increase the overall yield. More colas mean more bud sites, translating to a more bountiful harvest.
  • Better Light Distribution: A flatter canopy ensures that light is distributed more evenly across the plant. This is particularly beneficial for indoor setups, where light sources are fixed.
  • Optimized Energy Use: By removing the apex, the plant’s energy is redirected to the side branches. This can lead to a more robust and resilient plant, as energy isn’t wasted on excessive vertical growth.


  • Stress to the Plant: Topping is a form of High Stress Training (HST). While plants often recover and thrive post-topping, there’s an initial period of stress that growers need to monitor.
  • Potential for Stunted Growth: If done incorrectly or too early, topping can lead to stunted growth. It’s crucial to ensure the plant is mature enough and healthy before making the cut.
  • Not Suitable for All Strains: As discussed earlier, not all strains respond equally to topping. Autoflowers, given their short life cycle, might not always benefit from this technique.
  • Requires Experience: Topping requires a certain level of expertise. Novice growers might feel apprehensive, and there’s always a risk of making mistakes in the initial attempts.


Topping, as we’ve discovered, is more than just a technique; it’s an art form, a dance between the grower and the plant. It’s about understanding, intuition, and a deep respect for nature’s wonders.

The question of how many nodes before topping is more than just a numerical answer. It’s about recognizing the rhythms of your plant, the subtle cues it gives, and responding with care and precision. Every snip, every decision, shapes the future of your cannabis plant, guiding it toward its full potential.

But as with all things in life, balance is key. While topping offers a plethora of benefits, it’s essential to approach it with knowledge and respect. Understand the strains, recognize the signs, and always prioritize the well-being of your plant.

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