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Bigger isn’t better: The case for growing small marijuana plants

January 14, 2020
cannabis growing, marijuana grow tips
(Elton Clemente/AdobeStock)
We’re not going to delve into other matters where this might be up for debate, but when it comes to cannabis, bigger doesn’t mean better. Sure, giant weed plants look really cool. If nothing else, it’s ridiculously impressive that a warm season annual can go from seed to tree-sized in a matter of months. We get it.

But when it comes to the actual growing, drying, flavor, and quality of your crop, don’t be suckered into thinking that size is everything. In fact, we have solid reasons to encourage you to embrace smaller plants in your garden.

Nosy neighbors can’t see them

No matter the size, your neighbors might be able to smell the goods from over the fence. But you’ll keep your garden much less conspicuous by growing plants on the smaller side. While weed cultivation might be legal in your state, we’re still operating in a grey area due to federal illegality.

If someone’s got a vendetta against you, you’re just better off not having weed plants towering above fences and in plain sight. And besides revenge seekers, there are people who might be tempted to steal your crop if you’re making it too easy for them.

They’re much easier to care for

The best method of pest control always starts with you giving your plants a once over. That’s quite easy to do when plants are on the smaller side. You can reach up or kneel down, walk around your plant, and give every leaf and bud an inspection, usually without breaking a sweat or taking all day.

Things get a little more complicated when you need a ladder to do the same thing. Not only do you open the door to injury from falling, but it’ll take much more time when you’ve grown giant plants. You’ll likely skip the task entirely, opening the door for pest problems to get out of control.

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Small buds are easier to dry

Massive buds definitely look cool, but it can be a headache to try and dry them properly. A tasty, usable crop depends on buds drying evenly from the outside in and inside out. This is a much more reasonable task if buds are a manageable size. Once they feel dry from the outside, a few days of burping them in a storage vessel will suck out the remaining moisture.

Bigger buds are more difficult. Even when you think buds are dry on the outside, they might be packing quite a punch of moisture on the inside. Not only will curing be much more of an artform and take much longer, you’re much likelier to end up with mold problems.

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It will likely taste better

If you’re not sold yet, this one will get you: The Emerald Cup judges often hand out awards to buds coming from plants that yield less than two pounds. Simply put, smaller plants can produce better tasting weed.

Think about it: A plant’s goal in life is to reproduce. If it’s stressed in any way, it abandons unnecessary tasks (like packing on extra foliage) and focuses everything on reproduction. That’s why you hear so much about mouthwatering dry-farmed tomatoes or grapes. The harvest might be smaller, both in fruit size and yield, but the taste is unbeatable, as stressed out plants pour everything they’ve got into their fruit, flowers, or seeds.

In the case of weed, that means stickier buds loaded with terpenes and packed with cannabinoids. Don’t take our word for it—Happy Dreams Farm, Eel River Farms, and High Water Farm are just a few of the Humboldt-area spots having great success with dry-farmed weed. Their plants are itty bitty and tasty as hell.

Not shooting for massive weed also bodes well for the environment as well as your pocketbook. You can skip the heavy doses of fertilizers in the false thinking that bigger weed yields tastier plants. What you want to do is a lot simpler and a lot less expensive.

When you first plant your weed outdoors, make sure the soil is amended with plenty of quality, finished compost. Truth be told, that’s likely all your weed needs for the growing season. It’ll be just enough to get the plant growing nicely, and not too much nourishment for the plant to get lazy about flavor.

Johanna Silver's Bio Image

Johanna Silver

Johanna Silver is the former Garden Editor of Sunset Magazine. She lives with her husband and young son in Berkeley, CA. In her garden she grows fruits, veggies, a little weed, and as many cut flowers as she can possibly fit.

View Johanna Silver's articles

  • lemmetelya

    Johanna, you are absolutely correct when you mention stressing out the plants causes crazy dense buds! 🙂

  • DAC

    Absolutely good advice. Another thing is the increased possibility of damage from wind and rain on larger plants growing in areas subject to storms. I have learned this the hard way, seeing oversize plants split apart in a late summer thunderstorm when the wet branches get whipped by turbulent winds. Smaller is definitely better in my opinion.

  • HumboldtBiologist

    I’m sorry but your correlation between smaller plants and flavor is anecdotal at best and does not directly mean smaller size results in more flavor. And how does dry farming correlate to small plants? Even dry-farmed full-sun plants on average are bigger then irrigated light deprivation plants. You’re also incorrect in assuming larger plants result from the use of more fertilizers, take dry-farming for instance. And how is dry-farming feasible for small personal grows that are most likely going to be indoors due to city regulations on personal growing?