How to Understory Cannabis Plants

Boost your yield with this simple cultivation tip.

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “understory your cannabis plants”? The first time I heard it, I honestly wondered if people had been reading to their plants before turning out the lights. Call me wild, but growers do crazy things to achieve max results. They play music to increase yield. They talk to their plants. Who says you couldn’t read your ladies a bedtime story? I could not have been more wrong.

Also known as “lollipopping”, the term “understory” refers to pruning away the lower stalks of the cannabis plant. There is only so much energy within one plant during a growth cycle. It can only flower so much, and at that point, it’s up to human intervention to boost the cannabis plants’ production. The main goal of understorying is to improve yield up top where the light is the strongest. It’s not necessary, but skipping this step will lead to tiny popcorn buds at the base of the plant which is a waste of energy. Let’s make sure you avoid this.

Keep reading to learn how to understory cannabis plants!

Understorying or Lollipopping Cannabis

The term “lollipopping” probably gives the best visualization versus calling it understorying or even pruning. Picture a lollipop. The stick is very thin and then suddenly, there’s a huge portion of candy. This same type of look is the goal with understorying. The final appearance once pruned should resemble a lollipop. It gives your plants a much better chance of increased yield and fatter top colas.

The top of a green cannabis plant with fat cola tops

Lollipopping can make your top colas produce more cannabis weight. Photo credit: Shutterstock

A grower will start on the bottom and begin removing any excess branches or plant growth that won’t have a chance to mature because they are shadowed by top growth. The best measure of success is the halfway mark. Although you will only be pruning the 1/3rd section from the bottom of your plant, it is ok to remove a stalk that doesn’t grow past 50% of the plant’s height towards the top. It won’t get enough light and will end up producing popcorn nuggets

Why Should I Understory My Cannabis?

When it comes to growing the best cannabis, or plants in general, there are only so many hours in the day. There are only so many hours of sunlight and only so much food that one plant can transform into sticky flowers. So, the question is, why wouldn’t you do everything possible as a grower to achieve the maximum yield that a plant can produce? 

Maximizing the  final yield is the biggest reason to understory your cannabis. This method can increase your yield by 20-30% or more in some cases. The other reason is to prevent mold and bugs down below. A thick canopy on the lower side is a wonderful place for problems to begin.

When Should I Understand My Cannabis?

The best time to lollipop or understory cannabis is a few days before you switch to flower while they are in their vegetation stage. That would be switching from the 18 hours of light to 6 hours of dark in the vegitation cycle to the 12-12 cycle with equal hours of light and dark.

Green cannabis plant that is in a brown pot

Understorying should be done a few days before you flip your vegetating plants into flower. Photo credit: Shutterstock

The plants will go into shock when pruned, especially if they are over pruned. Give them 3 days or so to recover and then you can safely switch your lights into flower mode. 

How to Understory a Cannabis Plant

Before we explain this simple process, you will need a couple things:

Rubber gloves, preferably latexA pair of disinfected cannabis trimming shearsA small bath of isopropyl alcohol if pruning multiple plants

Steps to Understory or Lollipop a Cannabis Plant:

Step 1 — Examine the bottom of the plant. Determine which stalks would be the best place to begin pruning.

Hand holding a lower branch of a cannabis plant

Starting from the bottom, remove the smaller, weaker branches. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Step 2 – Carefully, taking your time, begin snipping at the tiny, excess branches. The small ones will be the easiest to start with. They come from the main stalk at the very bottom.

Step 3 – Pick away any popcorn buds, or anything that looks underdeveloped, that is near the bottom and doesn’t have a chance. Why let these small buds grow when that same bit of energy could be concentrated toward the top? The goal is to create the biggest buds at the top of the canopy. Removing the excess on the underside of the plant will help focus the nutrients and growth where it needs to be.

hands removing tiny plant growth on a cannabis plant

Remove underdeveloped material to push the energy of the plant to the top buds. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Step 4 – Slowly run your fingers up each stalk. Find the next small branch that feel skimpy. Prune it right at the base of the plant without leaving a node. Repeat this step for each of the weak or thin stalks that are running from the base. There will be several more as you get toward the middle canopy

Step 5 – Be careful as you arrive at the middle of the canopy. This is when the grower needs to use their best judgment. Look at the stalk itself. Does it cross the halfway mark on the plant? Is it growing up into a THICK spot of top canopy and being neglected from the light it needs?

Each of those middle stalks can be a tough call but always consider the top. All that energy will be saved for the best of the best. After you’ve removed the branches, carefully remove leaves and underdeveloped material from that area down, including on the branches you’ve decided to keep. Remind yourself to stay within the safety zone and prune only the bottom 1/3 of the plant.

clean branches leading to the tops of fat green cannabis colas in front of a soft pink background

Understorying will result in healthy yields for your cannabis harvest. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Step 6 – Dispose of your green waste – the branches, leaves, and popcorn buds. Tell your plants they did a great job and then give them a few days of rest. Some growers are impatient at this point and flip the vegetation lights over to the flowering stage. Please resist, this can cause shock to your plants that can actually hurt the yield, which almost defeats or diminishes the point of pruning in the first place.

How Much Should I Understory My Cannabis?

The best recommendation is to prune about 1/3 up the plant from the bottom. Stalks, especially thin ones, that aren’t passed 50% height of the plant by flower aren’t going to do much. Those lower stalks will lead to popcorn when you could be pushing for massive tops. If you go too high when lollipopping, it might shock the plant too much and hurt the yield.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Lollipopping Increase Yield?

Yes, if done properly. Don’t prune higher than 1/3 of the way up.

How Do You Understory Autoflowers?

The process is the same as a feminized cannabis plant. Autoflowers have a mind of their own but that doesn’t mean they can’t receive training.

Should You Understory Outdoor Plants?

Yes, you can but it’s not necessary. The light from the sun is going to grow a much taller plant than anything your LED can provide. Lollipopping outdoor cannabis plants is doable but it’s a ton more pruning.

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