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Low stress training is a general technique that can be harnessed in a number of ways (such as ScrOG and SoG methods of growing). Essentially, it is a method of training your cannabis for bigger yields without causing them large degrees of stress in the way pruning or topping would. Instead, you work to maximize light exposure.
If you imagine a regularly grown cannabis plant, as it grows upwards, the lower levels of its leaves are exposed to less and less light - due to new foliage growing above and blocking it out. When you use low stress training, you encourage the main stem of the plant to grow sideways by restraining and guiding it, allowing a larger proportion of leaves to be exposed. This helps with improved bud formation, resulting in higher yields.
Despite being a method intended to be less stressful for your plants than topping, the two are often used in conjunction with each other. In fact, topping your cannabis is the ideal way to start. By cutting off the growing tip just below its end node (the newest, highest node on the plant), you encourage the cannabis to grow two new shoots in place of the first, doubling potential growth. Both of these new shoots can then be trained to increase leaf exposure. It is worth noting, that before you go crazy cutting off nodes here and there, that the more you do it, the more stress you will lay on your plants – increasing the likelihood of problems such as retarded growth. You need to have at least 5 nodes before you begin, and try not to do it more than 2 or 3 times per plant. Of course, if you want to keep stress at an all-time low, then you don’t need to top your cannabis at all, you can simply start training your original shoots.
The Low stress training itself is done by carefully bending branches downwards and outwards. Then, using something as simple as string tied to an elastic band, the branches are tied in place - often being tied to the plant pot itself. The constant level of tension and pressure offered by the elastic band keeps the branches under ideal condition for them to grow outwards – maximizing the amount of surface area exposed to light. Just make sure the string or elastic band is padded where they loop around a branch, so they don’t cut into it.
The important thing to remember when getting into low stress training methods is to not to rush things. Training takes time and forcing your plant to bend out and downwards before it is large enough, or too quickly, can cause it damage. As the lower branches get bigger, slowly increase their string tension to better support their position, adding extra, lighter tension strings along the newest areas of the branch. You should eventually be left with plants whose lower branches range pretty far out, and whose upper branches have been kept reasonably far down – giving plenty of room for bud growth and maximizing light exposer. When you see buds beginning to grow, let them grow upwards whilst keeping the branches restrained, this will ensure they are not too crowded, have maximum light, and are easily accessible.
Pretty much all species and types of cannabis can be enhanced by low stress training. Just remember that sativas get big, and will require a lot of elbow room if you plan on encouraging them to grow outwards as well as up.
You can find out the specifics of various low stress training techniques by checking out our guide to Sea of Green (SoG) and Screen of Green (ScrOG) growing methods.