One goal most cannabis growers have in common is the desire to grow the most potent marijuana possible. For years, breeders have used hybridization methods to increase the potency of various cannabis genetics. The amount of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are determining factors in a marijuana crop’s potency, flavors, and odors. Most cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are found in marijuana’s trichomes; the tiny, mushroom-like structures that become more and more prevalent as a cannabis flower reaches maturity. Since most of the sought after cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids are contained in the trichomes, it only makes sense that cannabis growers are using products and techniques to maximize trichome production in their plants. In fact, with the increasing popularity of cannabis extracts, many growers are focusing more on the trichome production of their plants instead of the total weight of the dried flowers.
A cannabis grower who wishes to increase the amount of trichomes on his or her plants should understand that there are multiple contributing factors influencing a cannabis plant’s trichome production. In other words, there is not one simple step to increasing trichome production. Instead, the best way to maximize trichome production is to use a holistic approach that incorporates multiple products and techniques. Many of the techniques used to increase trichome production are performed in the cultivation process. A closer look at the most influential factors over trichome production in cannabis plants will showcase the ways that growers can achieve maximum potency.
Although there are techniques that can increase trichome production in marijuana plants, the biggest contributing factor to high potency cannabis is genetics. Put another way, the genetic makeup of the plant itself will dictate its potency. Here is the good news: due to hybridization, most of today’s popular marijuana genetics are considered high potency. In other words, for years marijuana plants have been bred specifically for their potency, so many of the accessible cannabis strains already are predisposed to produce trichomes rich in cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. A grower looking to maximize the potency of his or her crop should chose the genetic wisely. It is important to choose a genetic from a reputable cannabis breeder, instead of sprouting the seeds your uncle has been holding on to since the 1970s. Although genetics play the largest role in a cannabis strain’s trichome production, there are numerous ways a grower can maximize the trichome production and attain the full potential of a particular genetic.
The overall growing conditions will have a large impact on a cannabis plant’s trichome production. Similar to a human eating healthily and exercising to maximize his or her genetic potential, cannabis plants given the right diet and environment can achieve a higher potency. Even genetics that automatically produce more trichomes need a good grow habitat to produce the cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that contribute to the finished product’s potency. In fact, the quantity of trichomes themselves doesn’t always equate to a finished product with a higher potency. The cannabinoid and terpenes that are present within the trichomes are greatly impacted by environmental influences, such as light spectrum, nutrients, temperature, and humidity.
The light spectrum given to indoor cannabis plants can influence the plant’s trichome production. The cannabis plant’s unique cannabinoid profile is still not fully understood, but it is known that the trichomes of a cannabis plant act as protection against pest insects, fungi, molds, and UV light. By supplementing UV-B light in the grow room, a cannabis horticulturist can actually increase trichome production in his or her plants. Particular light technologies provide more UV-B light than others. For example, metal halide (MH) lamps provide a good amount of UV-B light and do not require additional UV-B supplementation. However, growers who exclusively use high pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs for flowering can increase trichome production with UV-B light supplementation. A few UV-B fluorescents (commonly sold at pet stores in the reptile department) can be added to a HPS flowering room to boost trichome production. It is important to remember that UV-B is just a supplement to the existing lighting system and that too much UV-B light could be counterproductive. Put simply, you don’t need a lot. For supplementation purposes, 1-2 watts of UV-B light per square foot of garden space is all that is needed.
Maintaining a balanced feeding program is also important for trichome production. A cannabis plant provided with all of the essential elements will naturally be able to produce more trichomes in its later stages of growth than a plant that has been deprived of proper nutrition. There are also nutrient supplements created specifically to increase essential oils (trichomes). These additives, used in conjunction with a balanced fertilizer program, will provide everything, nutritionally speaking, for maximum trichome production. The best way to figure out which product works best for a particular plant variety is to experiment with different products and test the results. One particular additive used by cannabis growers to enhance and retain larger amounts of trichomes is silica (potassium silicate). Plants that receive silica, along with a balanced fertilizer regimen, have a stronger resistance to pathogens, which means a stronger, healthier plant. It is also believed that silica boosts the hardiness and resilience of the cannabis flowers and trichomes, making the finished product more potent and less susceptible to damage that could diminish quality (even after harvest).
Atmospheric conditions, such as humidity and temperature, also play key roles in trichome production. The high temperatures from artificial light sources can damage the trichomes of cannabis plants. This is one reason why it is recommended to lower the operating temperature of a flowering room during the last couple weeks of flowering (during peak trichome production). Generally speaking, the optimal operating temperature for growing cannabis is 75-80 degrees F. During the last couple of weeks of flowering, some growers like to drop the temperature range by 5-10 degrees F. The reduction in temperature will slightly stress the plants (increasing trichome production) and protect the essential oils from being damaged by excessive heat.
Ideally, the humidity level in a cannabis flowering room should fall between 50-60%. However, during the last few weeks of flowering, the humidity level can be dropped to around 30%. For many marijuana growers, this means employing a dehumidifier. A lower humidity in the later stages of flowering will lightly stress the plants, which, in turn, will increase trichome production.
Another effective way to increase trichome production is to physically stress the cannabis plants during the flowering stage. Slightly inducing stress in cannabis plants can be done a few different ways. Just remember that deliberately initiating stress is a fine line to walk and, although the benefits can be great, it should always be done cautiously so as not to over-stress the cannabis plants. The goal is to slightly stress the marijuana plants or stress them just enough to boost trichome production, but not enough to cause any serious harm.
One simple way to lightly stress a cannabis plant is to pinch some of the branches. By simply taking the stem between the index finger and thumb and then pinching firmly, a grower can lightly stress the marijuana plant. Branches can also be bent or manipulated to change the direction of growth. This technique can actually serve two purposes: first, the stress will increase the production of trichomes and, second, a grower can reposition branches for better light coverage.
Undercutting is the process of removing leaves from the lower section of the cannabis plant where they are shaded and do not receive much light. By removing these leaves during the flowering stage, a grower can redirect the majority of the plant’s energy into producing flowers (at the top of the plant). Undercutting will also create just enough stress in the marijuana plant to increase the plant’s trichome production. A novice grower should experiment with his or her particular strain before undercutting too much vegetation. Removing too many leaves can over-stress the cannabis plant and be counterproductive. A good rule of thumb is to never remove more than 1/3 of a cannabis plant’s vegetation at one time.
In addition to carefully selecting the cannabis strain, a grower looking to maximize the potency of his or her cannabis crop should use products and techniques that increase trichome production. By focusing on providing his or her plants with optimal growing conditions (nutrients, temperature, and humidity), an indoor cannabis grower automatically sets him- or herself up for maximizing the crop’s trichome production. Adding UV-B light to the flowering room, especially when light technologies that lack UV-B light are being used, is one of the simplest ways to increase trichome production. Finally, invoking physical stress on cannabis plants, when done properly, can reap large rewards in terms of boosting the amount of trichomes. The great thing about products and techniques for increasing trichomes is that they can almost all be used at the same time. A grower who implements these techniques will be one step closer to maximizing his or her crop’s trichome production and overall potency.
Eric Hopper is a Professional Marijuana Grower Senior Editor.