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Low-Stress Training: How To Increase Your Bud Production
Plants in an indoor garden tend to grow straight toward the lights, almost in a single file. With a technique known as "low-stress training" you can help your plants become bushier, with more leaves to gather energy from the lights. At the same time, you can dramatically increase the number of flower buds they produce. Low-stress training, often referred to as LST, is simple, requiring no special equipment or skills – even a first-time grower can have success with it. Here's what you need to know:
Low-Stress Training Creates More Buds
By bending stems and guiding them away from the interior of the plant, you allow light to be more evenly distributed and reach more of the leaves, not just those on the top and outside. As those secondary leaves increase in number and volume, the plant's capacity to produce energy through photosynthesis increases, too, leading to even more foliage that supports the plant's needs. Bending the stems also encourages the development of more colas, the cluster of leaves at the end of a limb where flower buds form. More colas means more flower buds for you to harvest. Another benefit of LST: It allows you to limit the maximum height of your plants, which can be critical in an indoor garden when you're raising plants that may reach more than 7 feet tall.
Low-Stress Training is Best Early
As with children, the best time to start training is when the plant is young. When stems get older they become hard and woody, making them more difficult to bend without breaking. New growth, however, is very flexible. If you begin training when the plant has about 6 leaf clusters, you can gradually guide it to have a wide, open structure with many colas as it matures.
That being said, you can use low-stress training at any time during a plant's vegetative stage. Once it transitions to bud formation, the time for training is over because you want the plant to direct all of its energy into making flowers.
What to Use with Low-Stress Training
Bent stems need to be kept in place or they will gradually return to their upright position. Twist ties made for garden plants are sold at nurseries and online at about $7 for a 16-foot roll are the best way to hold stems. The ties have metal wire inside soft plastic, which protects the stems from damage. You can also use plastic "zipties" (found wherever electrical or plumbing supplies are sold) or fuzzy pipe cleaners. Don't use twine or bare wire directly on plant stems – as they start to thicken and harden, the string or metal can cut into them and inhibit their growth.
How to Use Low-Stress Training on Your Plants
Many growers remove the top tier of foliage before starting LST. While not necessary, cutting or pinching off the uppermost leaf clusters stimulates the plant to begin branching out and it gives you a symmetrical base to start the training.
When you're ready to bend the stems, check to be sure each is flexible enough to be pulled downward. If any are stiff and resistant, move higher up on the stem to younger growth that will be more pliable.
Starting with the outermost branches, bend each stem away and down from the middle of the plant. An easy way to do this: Form a twist-tie into a hook and loop it around the stem where it won't break off any limbs or leaves. Use the hook to gradually, gently pull the stem down.
To hold the stem in place, loop the end you're holding of the twist-tie to the container. If there are no openings or handles on the top edge of your containers to which you can secure the twist-ties, you may need to punch a few holes yourself. Some growers attach ties to fishing weights to hold down the stems, while others anchor them with hooks pushed into the soil. However you decide to tie down your plants, be sure you don't attach them to something immobile, so that you can still move the containers, if necessary.
Be careful that the ties don’t slip across the surface of the stem and scrape it. If you have a stem that won't stay down, secure it in several places so the tension is spread out rather than focused just in one spot. If your plant gets wounded in the process (it can happen even when you're being careful), wrap the break with first-aid tape to close it and provide support to the stem.
Your plant may take a few days to recover from the training, but you'll soon see new shoots sprouting upward along the bent stems. Leave the ties in place as the plant continues to grow and form new colas. Each cola will produce buds that receive the maximum exposure to light, giving you not only more buds but denser, more solid ones.
One more benefit of low-stress training: When you're harvest is done, you'll have many more limbs to use for taking cuttings and turning into clones for your next crop.
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