Is it Safe to Defoliate Autoflowering Cannabis?

Defoliation is a controversial technique, especially for autoflowers. Find out if it's safe to use this technique in this article...
01 January 2020
6 min read
Is it Safe to Defoliate Autoflowering Cannabis?

Among the many techniques discovered by cannabis cultivators, defoliation is one that’s shrouded with mysteries. Is it safe to defoliate autoflowering cannabis? That is the question. But many don’t have an answer.

Defoliation is nothing but a method to improve cannabis yields. Obviously, anyone growing cannabis wants to use several ways to maximize yields. Even beginners learn ways to do so. However, be warned that defoliation isn’t something everyone can do.

If you’re a beginner, stay away from trying this. Or, wait for a while until you’ve grown several batches of marijuana. Also, defoliation suits photoperiod plants where you remove many leaves while the plant is still in the vegetative stage. Those plants have enough time to grow back in full force and the grower switches the light cycle to the flowering stage only when the plants are strong enough.

But, as you may already know, things are a little different with autoflowers. They don’t rely on the season or light cycle to flower. They simply start flowering automatically once they reach a certain age. Thus, it’s normal to wonder if it is safe to defoliate autoflowering cannabis. 


Sebastian Good tells you everything important about defoliation for autoflowering cannabis.

Autoflowers don’t give you a lot of time to mess with them. Since they finish their growing and flowering cycle in 2-3 months, you need to be careful and consider if it’s worth it to defoliate the leaves.

Is it safe to defoliate autoflowers?

The short answer is – yes, it is. It is a risky technique, sure, but you can defoliate autoflowers as well. As long as you remember to remove leaves in the vegetative stage, you’ll do good. But, don’t even think of applying any technique in the flowering stage lest you want the plants to yield tiny amounts of cannabis.

Why defoliate autoflowers?

Good question. Why would you think of removing leaves to maximize yields? Especially autos? Well, you gotta do everything you can to get more buds. That’s the most straight-forward answer you’d get. While some growers stay away from defoliating completely, others swear by the yields they get.

What is defoliation?


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Autoflowering cannabis in a SCROG system.

In simple terms, defoliation is a method that involves removing the leaves of the plant. You start by removing the leaves of the lower nodes. Some growers defoliate the leaves and use other training methods like SOG as you can see in this picture. By doing this, you’re ensuring that the lower parts of the plant receive light as well. Also, you can’t remove too many leaves at once or you’ll make the plant weak.

Purple Lemonade Auto
5 out of 5
Thank you Fastbuds! I can’t believe you can grow stronger stuff from autos than you can find at a dispensary! So high right now! 10/10!
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Reviewed 9 April

Instead, you remove a few older leaves of the lower nodes to force the plant to focus on buds located at the top of the plant. Some even refer to this technique as “lolipopping method” but it’s nothing but a process of stressing the plant to increase yields.

Note that this technique may not necessarily work if you’re growing cannabis organically outdoors. Due to pests and other factors, the plant is already under stress and it needs the fan leaves to store nutrients and help the plant grow. When you’re growing indoors, however, you’re constantly supplying all the nutrients the plant needs. The plant doesn’t feel the need to hold on to old leaves, and you’re just helping it by removing fan leaves.

Also, it’s not necessary to only remove fan leaves that are located at the lower nodes. The idea is to ensure that the canopy receives a uniform distribution of light. Thus, you can also remove leaves that are obstructing the growth of the buds situated down below. And, you do this even if they are at the top. Within a week, you’ll see that the buds at the bottom are going to get bigger. A uniform canopy does more wonders than you can imagine.

How to defoliate autoflowering cannabis?


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Autoflowering cnnabis growing indoor.

You start with the lower leaves. Make sure you remove only a few leaves at a time. Do not stress the plant too much. Instead, remove leaves in such a way that all the parts get loads of light. Once the plant starts to feel the love, it will expand like anything. Although this sounds cliché, plants can actually feel your love!

So, you begin with fan leaves that are ready to drop anyway. Even sick leaves can be removed so that the plant can focus on the healthy ones. Basically, you’re encouraging the branches to expand as much as possible.

Stardawg Auto
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She grew quite tall and I got a good yield off her. About 1000g in wet bud, so I think once it's dried it's gonna be a good harvest.
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Reviewed 22 March 2020

For instance, let’s imagine you removed a few fan leaves on Monday. Look for leaves obstructing bud growth again on Wednesday. Do not pick leaves repeatedly. We cannot stress this enough.

Now, you shift to upper nodes and remove small and big leaves that prevent light from reaching the lower nodes. You can also remove tiny buds that have no hope. These buds are called popcorn buds. By eliminating them, you’re making the plant focus more on buds that can actually grow into big monsters. Sure, it feels like you’re hurting the plant, but you’re not. Cannabis plants are super sturdy and it takes just a few days for them to recover even if they are autoflowers.

You’ve probably heard of pruning if you’re a gardener. Defoliation is very similar. The difference here is that you snip off leaves rather than pruning branches or roots. Yep, some experienced gardeners even prune roots, but we are not going to get into that topic here.

Difference between topping and defoliating


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Pruning allows you to get a better harvest from your autoflowers.

Since defoliating is also called a pruning tehcnique, many growers get confused. Topping is another technique where you prune the tips of the plant. And, again, you do that to encourage more buds. It’s a process that divides the main cola into several different colas. Many colas = many buds. As simple as that.

Although topping is a pruning technique, it’s not the same as defoliation. With topping, you only cut off the tips whereas defoliation demands that you remove the fan leaves or any leaves obstructing light from reaching the bottom parts of the plant.

And, just like topping is an amazing method for autoflowers to produce more yields, defoliation is also en excellent technique to get more buds. Both the methods are stressful for the plants, but the results prove that these simple techniques actually work.

Who shouldn’t defoliate autoflowers?

Anybody can defoliate their autoflowering cannabis plants, but there are some growers that should stay away. For one, if you’re a beginner, you shouldn’t try topping or defoliating. In fact, you shouldn’t try any technique until you’ve gained enough experience to do so.

Many growers start with photoperiod plants. Later, depending on their needs, they shift to autoflowers. Yes, they are experienced with a an extensive knowledge about cannabis plants, but even they shouldn’t try to defoliate autoflowering cannabis on their very first go.

Why? Well, it’s because an autoflowering cannabis plant is a different beast. Right when you think you’ve figured it all out, it will behave completely differently and throw you off. You may have experience with photoperiod plants, but autos will teach you the importance of timing. For example, if you begin defoliating an autoflowering cannabis plant just before it starts to flower or when it’s flowering, you cannot expect the plant to perform according to your high expectations.

Also, autoflowering cannabis growing outdoors are defoliated and maintained differently. So, keep in mind that this article is for those growing autos indoors. Defoliating may seem intimidating, but once you succeed with a few plants, you’ll actually realize that it’s a piece of cake!

01 January 2020