Cannabis Growers Guide: What is Defoliation?

Cannabis Growers Guide: What is Defoliation?

Published on 4/2/20

Defoliation is an advanced trimming technique which involves the careful removal of leaves from the cannabis plant. Defoliation should not be confused with basic trimming techniques and is recommended only for highly experienced growers.

As you know, plants consume energy through light, in a process known as photosynthesis. Defoliation is the process of removing certain leaves on the cannabis plant, with the intention of exposing other leaves to more light. The idea is simple, the more light that hits the leaves, the more energy the plant can consume. However, the process of removing leaves can potentially jeopardize the life of your plant and is therefore somewhat controversial in the cultivation community.

An Introduction to Defoliation

Defoliation is not unique to cannabis cultivation, it is a technique that has been used in agriculture on crops like cotton for many years. The technique differs slightly by plant but the concept is the same, removing foliage from the plant.

Before you begin, you need to know that the removal of leaves from a plant will put stress on the organism and that too much removal can lead to serious consequences to the yield of your cannabis plant. For that reason, it is best to start slow and remove a very small amount at a time. Defoliation is not an exact science, every plant will need a unique strategy and every grower will have their own distinct method. Ask two different cannabis cultivators how to defoliate a plant and it is likely that you will get two very different answers.

How to Defoliate Your Cannabis Plants

The best way to begin the cannabis defoliation trimming process is by removing all the dead or discolored leaves from your plant. Many growers do this already, even if they choose not to remove other leaves on the plant. Next, you should select the largest fan leaves on the top of your plant, which look as if they will block the light from reaching the lower, more quality buds. The goal of this removal is to expose the buds lower down to more light, therefore manipulating where your plant spends most of its resources. During this phase, do not disturb any of the bud sites, or leaves growing very close to these sites. Remove only enough fan leaves from the top so that a little bit of light can penetrate to the bottom of the plant. You should not be able to easily see through the leaves to the floor.

Different Ways to Defoliate Your Cannabis

As we previously stated, there is a myriad of different techniques and methods when it comes to defoliating your cannabis, with every grower having their own distinct variations. Your own method should take into account what type of strain you are growing, whether you are growing indoors or out and several other factors. Below we have outlined just a few of the various different defoliation strategies for growing cannabis.


As the name suggests, lollipopping is a defoliation technique that involves removing a large number of leaves from the bottom of the plant and leaving the top untouched. This makes the plant somewhat resemble a lollipop. The strategy here is to remove leaves that will not be getting light from your plant, with the intention to divert more of your plant's resources to the buds and foliage higher on the plant.


This method of defoliation involves defoliating your cannabis at specific points in the growing process. This technique most often involves leaving the plants untouched during the vegetative phase and then defoliating just before the flowering stage. 20-25 days after the first defoliation, another round of defoliation is conducted on your plant. It is important to provide your plant with plenty of nutrients and care after the trimming to ensure that your yields are not damaged in the process. 

When to Defoliate Your Cannabis

Depending on your desired effects, you can also choose to defoliate your cannabis plant during a certain phase of its life cycle. Defoliating at different stages of the life cycle will produce a wide range of results in your plant and you need to carefully weigh your options before proceeding.

Vegetative Phase

Should I defoliate during the vegetative phase?

  • If you have a very leaf-heavy cannabis plant, it may be wise to defoliate during the vegetative phase. A leaf-dense plant can hold a lot of moisture and the excess humidity can cause mold. Defoliating some of the thickest leaf areas can help prevent mold in your plant.
  • Defoliating during the vegetative phase can also promote faster growth. If this is your goal, remove the parts of the plant that you do not want, and the rest of the plant will start growing faster due to the excess energy and light. Leaving your main colas untouched and removing the smaller, insignificant ones will help generate higher yields overall.
  • If you are an indoor grower, you are likely familiar with the disastrous effects of mold or bud-rot in your cannabis. Defoliating during the flowering stage can help reduce humidity and prevent mold.
  • If you want to produce larger yields (and who doesn't) trimming excess leaves during the flowering stage can have beneficial effects on your cannabis.
  • If leaves are laying on top of buds and preventing them from receiving light, it may be wise to remove those.

When should I defoliate during the vegetative phase?

When the plant has more than several nodes and appears to be perfectly healthy and normal, you can safely defoliate a small amount from your cannabis.

Flowering Phase

Should I defoliate my cannabis during the flowering stage?

It's important to defoliate early in the flowering stage to let the buds receive as much light as possible. This also allows the plant to focus all of its energy on growing buds rather than growing more leaves. Generally, you want to follow the same procedure as you would if you were to defoliate during the vegetative phase. Be sure to avoid defoliating late in the flowering stage.

When should I defoliate during the flowering stage?

Only defoliate your cannabis plants during the flowering stage if they have been healthy and strong their entire life cycle. It is best to defoliate your plants the day before switching to the flowering phase, and then again 3 weeks later.

Have you tried to defoliate your cannabis plants before? What were the results? Let us know in the comments below!

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