Complete Guide to Trimming Cannabis

Updated Mar 15, 2019

by Nebula Haze

Table of Contents

Why trim cannabis buds?

“Wet Trim” vs “Dry Trim” (trimming buds before or after drying them)

How to actually trim your buds

Gadgets & tools to help you trim cannabis better!


This trimming tutorial is part of our “how to harvest cannabis” series:

Flushing > Harvest > Trimming > Drying & Curing

Why do growers trim cannabis buds in the first place?

Harvest time has come! You are cutting down your homegrown cannabis buds to dry and cure them. But do growers need to trim their cannabis buds? When is the best time to trim, and why do growers trim buds in the first place?

  • Appearance – In magazines, at the dispensary and in pictures online nearly all the buds you’ll see are completely manicured, or at least somewhat trimmed. This is the appearance we’ve come to associate with “good weed” and so untrimmed buds may look less appealing to some people.
  • Harshness – leaves can be more “harsh” on your throat/lungs than flowers when smoking cannabis, so trimming off extra leaf matter can improve the “smoothness” of your buds when smoking.
  • THC Concentration – the sugar leaves on your buds inherently have a lower concentration of THC than bud (even trichome-encrusted ones!), which means that you’re getting less THC gram-for-gram than with bud.

Many growers want trimmed buds but don’t want to waste any THC, so they process their trim to extract the THC in the leaves separately. You have endless options for getting the good stuff out of your leaves and other trim, but my favorite ways are making dry ice hash, butter or canna caps. I sprinkle dry ice hash on top of bowls to skyrocket their potency, I use butter for edibles, and I love canna caps for the ability to easily dose edibles on the go!

An example of well-trimmed cannabis buds

These marijuana nugs are an example of very well-trimmed cannabis buds!

Untrimmed cannabis buds

An example of an untrimmed cannabis bud - the sugar leaves have not been removed!
pic by Clark French

Trim before or after drying? (“Wet Trim” vs “Dry Trim”)

When I first started growing I didn’t know anything about trimming. I knew you could do it before or after, but I didn’t know the pros and cons of each. From reading online, I could see that growers successfully use both methods, so there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to do it.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to trimming cannabis. Some growers trim their cannabis buds before drying them, and some growers wait until after the buds have already dried to trim their cannabis.

Trimming your cannabis before drying is known as a “wet trim” because the leaves are still wet during the trimming process. Trimming after the buds have already dried is known as a “dry trim” since your buds will already be dried before you trim off the sugar leaves.

Most growers will at least remove all or most of the big fan leaves with their fingers before drying, though some growers will hang the whole plant upside down without any type of trim whatsoever.

Wet Trim Example – all leaves are removed before buds are allowed to dry

This weed plant was harvested, trimmed while wet, and hung to dry. A "wet trim" often results in nicer looking marijuana buds.

Dry Trim Example – little trimming was done before buds were dried

These cannabis buds were not trimmed before drying (known as a "dry trim" since the trimming happens after the buds have already dried all the way)

Dry Trim Example – not even fan leaves were removed before drying

These "dry trim" cannabis buds were not trimmed before being hung to dry. In fact, the grower didn't even remove any fan leaves! Instead the plant was hung almost directly upside down

Trim before drying (“wet trim”) when…

  • You’re worried about mold
  • You have high humidity (above 60% RH)
  • There’s a lot of buds drying in a small space
  • You otherwise want buds to dry more quickly

Trim after drying (“dry trim”) when…

  • You’re not worried about mold
  • You have low humidity (below 45%RH)
  • You want buds to dry more slowly (buds drying too fast is the #1 cause of “hay smell”)
  • You want buds to be “tighter” or more dense
  • You don’t mind buds losing their color vibrance (dry trim buds tend to lose their green/purple/color and take on shades of brown or tan)

Here are some examples of buds from plants where I trimmed half the buds before, and half after. I wanted to help you see what difference it made. It’s really kind of different depending on each plant.

Dry trim vs wet trim buds (CInderella Jack strain)

Example of dry trim buds vs wet trim buds (strain is Royal Cookies)

Difference between trimming buds before and after drying (strain is THC Bomb)

Forum Stomper - Difference between trimming before and after drying

Creme de la Chem - Difference between trimming before and after drying

Notes on test of dry trim vs wet trim

  • The untrimmed buds took 0.5 to 3 days longer to dry. The leafier the plant, the longer it added to the dry time.
  • The biggest difference is I noticed the “dry trim” buds seem noticeably more dense/uniform.
  • The dry vs wet trim buds smell a bit differently, but all smell good. Neither seems particularly stronger or better as far as smell.
  • I noticed that the “dry trim” buds often seem more brown as if they’ve been curing for months. The effect was most pronounced on the leafiest plants, which may have taken a little too long to dry.
  • As far as comparing taste/smoothness/potency. In blind tests with cannabis enthusiasts, I’ve gotten mixed results. Some people prefer the smell or smoothness of the buds one way, while others like the exact opposite. It doesn’t seem to follow any particular pattern that I can tell. I truly think it’s a matter of personal preference, and also varies from strain to strain.

In practice, I’ve seen a huge variation between growers as far as when they trim. Some growers trim plants immediately after harvest, some trim partway through drying, some trim after buds are totally dry, and some never trim at all. It can also vary with the local weather and even the particular plant. For example, if I had an extremely leafy plant and the humidity was high right as I was harvesting, I may opt to trim the plant before drying to prevent the chance of mold, even though I might normally prefer to trim after.

This cannabis bud was well trimmed, giving it a "tidy" appearance

Some growers barely trim buds at all

The sugar leaves of this cannabis bud were not trimmed before drying. After it's dried, you can see that it's going to be pretty difficult to trim them all off at this point

If sugar leaves are healthy and covered in trichomes, it’s more common for growers to leave them on. This is what that might look like after the buds have been dried:

The grower didn't trim off the sugar leaves on this cannabis bud, but since they are all covered in trichomes the bud still looks great!

These Super Rhino marijuana buds did not get their sugar leaves cut off before drying

Although these cannabis buds are beautiful and the sugar leaves are absolutely covered in trichomes (so you know they have significant amounts of THC), the buds may possibly be slightly more “harsh” than if all the sugar leaves had been trimmed away.

On the flip side, there are many people who prefer seeing trichome-encrusted sugar leaves on their buds, so in the end, it’s a matter of personal preference. There’s no right or wrong way about it!

 

How to trim your buds like a pro!

 

What You’ll Need

Sharp scissors (for trimming buds) – Fiskars shears are our weapon of choice. They are very sharp and have a pointy end, which makes it a lot easier to get your bud looking perfectly manicured!

Get Fiskar Sheers on Amazon.com so you can trim your own cannabis!

 

Big pruning shears, or tough scissors you don’t mind destroying (for cutting off branches)

Get big pruning sheers on Amazon to help you cut down your plant after harvest

 These will be used to actually cut down single branches as you harvest colas to be trimmed.

If possible, try to use a separate pair, and not the same sharp scissors you plan to use for trimming buds. Some branches are tough enough to destroy a pair of nice scissors in a single harvest. You want sharp scissors for trimming your buds; it will save you so much time!

 Disposable rubber gloves 

Rubber gloves are actually meant to protect your hands from your bud! Handling bud without gloves will make your hands sticky to the point where it becomes a constant problem. Plus, hands covered in resin are difficult to clean!

3 Trays or Cookie Sheets

You need a tray to hold your untrimmed buds, one to hold your newly trimmed buds, and the last one to hold your ‘trim’ (the plant matter you cut off the buds).

Of course, you can use anything to keep your separate piles in, but cookie sheets have worked really well for me! Baking sheets work nicely and are cheap, but honestly, any non-absorbent flat surface will work. I like cookie sheets and other wide cooking pans because they have a lip around the edges to help keep everything contained!

Once you have all of your gear assembled, move onto the steps below when you feel ready. Keep in mind that this can be a lengthy process depending on how much bud you’ve grown. However, any negative feelings you get from the labor of trimming will be far outweighed by all the bud you’ll be drying soon!

One last thing… Don’t forget to save all your leaves and other trim! You can use the extra leaves you cut off to make edibles or hash. If you can see trichomes (“glitter”) on the leaves, that means they have good stuff to extract! If a bud is very small or wispy, sometimes I’ll throw that in the trim pile as well.

Learn how to turn your trim into…

1.) Set Up Your Trimming Area

Before you start trimming your plants, you should set up a nice, comfortable place to trim your bud-laden branches. Trimming can take a lot longer than it might seem at first, and it’s a good idea to dedicate at least an afternoon to trimming. I usually try to start trimming in the morning on a day I have off with no other plans in case it goes on longer than expected.

As far as where to do your trimming, a large, clean and cleared table on a non-carpeted floor works great! You will be getting little pieces of leaves everywhere, even if you’re careful, so try to trim in a spot that’s easy to clean. If you have to trim on carpeting, put down a sheet or tarp so spare your poor carpet from trichome stickiness.

Put on some entertainment and get comfortabe to start trimming

I like to get set up in front of a TV, so I can watch movies or shows in the background while I’m trimming. Music or radio can be nice too. In order to stay as comfortable as possible while trimming, I believe it’s important to make sure you get up at least once an hour, even if just to walk around the house or move to a different chair. Take a second to stretch your arms, shoulders and neck. Sometimes you can get in the zone while trimming and not move for a while, so making a point to make breaks will help keep your back, neck and hands from getting cramped up.

Put out your trays as you’ll be using them in just a moment. You’ll be using one tray to hold your untrimmed buds, one to hold your trimmed buds, and one to hold your leaves/trim. You want to keep it all separate if you can, though some spillover is inevitable.

Important Note: The trimming of buds creates a great deal of odor, especially if they’re fresh! The room that you trim in (and any adjoining rooms) will smell like a cannabis farm; it’s actually far worse than when they’re just flowering! Make sure to contain the smell and try to mitigate the odor if you can. I like to run an exhaust fan on a carbon scrubber (the same one I use in my tent) while I trim. While it doesn’t completely cancel out the smell, it does get pretty close.

Now that you’ve set up your space, it’s time to start harvesting!

 

2.) Wash your hands and put on a pair of gloves

I prefer latex gloves as they’re sturdy and it feels easier for me to change into a new pair. But any gloves you like will do the trick!

These gloves will soon be sticky with resin!

Fingers are sticky with resin after trimming

If you don’t use gloves, get some rubbing alcohol ready, because you’ll need it to get all the resin off your fingers once you’re done trimming! Soap and water won’t cut it! You can also save the resin – it’s basically hash!

 

3.) Using your tough scissors, cut a branch off your cannabis plant

Get big pruning sheers on Amazon to help you cut down your plant after harvestYou may want to cut just one branch down the first time so you can get a feel for trimming, instead of cutting everything down at once. That way you can get an idea of how big of a branch you want to work with at a time.

If trimming immediately after harvest, this also allows you to harvest the plant in stages. If you have to stop halfway through for whatever reason, the buds will be fine for an extra day or two as long as they’re still attached to the plant (even if the rest of the plant is completely hacked up).

When cutting off branches to trim, remember to cut them to a comfortable working size. No larger than these two or you’ll probably have a hard time handling them!

Sirius just cut down a branch to be harvested

4.) Remove Large Fan Leaves with Your Fingers

These are the leaves that are easily pulled off by their long stem. Put these fan leaves in a pile to be disposed of later.

Here’s a pile of colas that still have their fan leaves

Colas before their fan leaves are removed

This is what buds look like after the fan leaves have been removed

Fan leaves have been removed

Most fan leaves do not have a usable amount of trichomes on them. If you plan to save your trimmings to make hash you may want to put these bigger fan leaves in a separate pile so you can throw them directly away, instead of mixing them in with your trim pile. The big fan leaves add a lot of plant matter that you have to process, but without adding much THC.

 

5.) Trim Off the Sugar Leaves

Make a note of the small leaves that stick out of the buds; you will be able to see the leaf tips, but usually not the stems. These are typically referred to as “sugar leaves” and don’t need to be removed, only trimmed with your scissors if they stick out.

Trimming off the sugar leaves with a sharp pair of Fiskars

Before & After – Trimming Sugar Leaves

Trimming off sugar leaves - before and after

If the sugar leaves are covered in a lot of trichomes, some growers will leave them on instead of trimming them. I personally don’t recommend doing that because any extra leaf matter tends to make buds harsher when you smoke them. You want as close to pure bud as possible. If you don’t want to waste all the trichomes on your sugar leaves, the best thing to do is save them in your separate trim pile and you’ll be able to extract the trichomes off the leaves later to make extracts like hash, caps or butter, This means you’re still getting all the THC, but without the added harshness of extra leaf matter. That’s why I highly recommend trimming all the sugar leaves until they are flush with the buds.

Sugar leaves are cut so they are flush with the bud, giving it a round, almost smooth appearance

 A bud that has been trimmed

Some buds will always have sugar leaves you can see, even if you cut them flush with the outsides of the bud. This is just the way that some cannabis buds grow and is normal genetic variation

The structure of this cannabis bud means that there is still going to be a significant amount of plant matter even after the sugar leaves are trimmed flush with the bud

You should be left with a branch with trimmed bud on it. Now that you’ve got the hang of it, repeat this process on the remainder of the branches on your cannabis plant!

Do your best to make sure that all the ‘trim’ (the leaves trimmed from your bud) falls onto the tray designated for it. Not only does that let you save more trim for hash, it will help you with cleanup later! Try not to cut off any of the actual buds, but if you do by accident, feel free to throw it in the trim pile.

The whole trimming process can take a while depending on how much you ended up with, but if it’s more than you can do at once, it’s perfectly okay to harvest your plant in stages over a few days.

If the buds are already dried, you should put them in jars to prevent them from drying further even if they’re untrimmed. You could potentially come back to trim them later.

Trimmed buds on table

After trimming, your scissors (and fingers) will be covered in hash. Don’t throw that stuff away – it’s concentrated cannabis resin! You can vape, smoke or consume hash just like cannabis flowers!

Trimming cannabis with Fiskars scissors

Don’t toss out all your leaves! Learn how to turn your trim into…

 

6.) Dispose of your plant

If you haven’t yet, it’s time to securely dispose of the remainder of the plant!

The remains of the plant need to be disposed of after harvest

Cut your plant up into pieces and double bag all the plant matter left over after harvest. Do not throw this bag away until the day your trash is picked up. This means there is less time where someone could go through your trash and find it!

 

Gadgets, tools & shortcuts to help you trim your cannabis better!

For Standard Trimming Cannabis by Hand

Other Easy Ways to Trim Cannabis

For Trimming Cannabis by Hand

Sharp Scissors

Fiskars shears are very sharp and one of the most popular types of scissors for trimming buds by hand! These are what I use to trim my buds!

Get Fiskar Sheers on Amazon.com so you can trim your own cannabis!

 

To actually cut off branches from your plant you want something stronger, like these big pruning shears. If you use your Fiskars to cut through stems they will become dull quickly!

Get big pruning sheers on Amazon to help you cut down your plant after harvest

Disposable rubber gloves 

They keep the resin off your hands, and hand particulates off your weed!

3 Trays or Cookie Sheets

Use these or any clean sizable containers to keep your trimmed weed, untrimmed weed, and trim separate.

Other Ways to Trim Cannabis

Electric Handheld Scissors

There are a few different types of these to make trimming easier. The brand that seems to be most popular for trimming cannabis is probably the “Bonsai Hero” electric trimmer, though there are others showing up on the market.

The cool thing about electric trimmers is they let you trim far faster than if you were doing it with regular scissors. They are also easy on your hands since the scissors do all the opening and closing themselves – you just guide them!

The downside is you just can’t get as close a trim job with electric pruning shears compared to regular scissors. They’re just not precise enough. It’s common for growers to use them quickly to trim off most of the leaves and use scissors to tidy the buds up afterward. The other downside to electric scissors is you will end up cutting off more bud by accident than if you were hand scissoring.

However, sometimes the time savings is worth losing a little bud and leaving a little extra leaf matter. In large-scale growing operations, it’s common to give buds a rough cut with electric trimmers and just sell them that way. It gets 90% of the work done in half the time!

Be warned, these are all obscenely expensive! (Seriously, stick to Fiskars!)

Bonsai Hero Shears – probably the most popular type of electric shears I’ve seen

Bonsai Hero shears are hand-held electric trimmers that work great for trimming cannabis buds quickly! Although they won't get a close cut, they'll take 90% of the leaves off!

“The Magic Trimmer” is another (extremely expensive) version of a handheld electric trimmer

Get the Magic Trimmer on Amazon.com - it's perfect for trimming weed buds, but it's incredibly expensive!

Bowl Leaf Trimmers

These have many of the same pros and cons of electric hand trimmers, but there are differences.

Get a mesh drying rack on Amazon.com to dry buds that have been pulled from the stem due to a bowl trimmer

First off, they’re quick! With a bowl leaf trimmer, you will be done trimming faster than with pretty much any other trimming method. But on the flip side, you will also lose more bud matter (it will be trimmed away) than other methods, because these basically work by “smoothing” out the outsides of the bud, whether it’s taking off leaf or bud.

One thing about these trimmers that makes them unique is you have to remove the buds from the branches before using the machine, which means you’ll probably also want to use a mesh hanging rack to dry your buds. And since the buds will be removed from the stems, it may be more difficult to get them to dry slowly. Another option is to trim them with the machine after they’ve already dried.

If you have a whole lot of bud to trim, the ease and quickness of this method may be worth any possible downsides!

Now that you have trimmed your buds, it’s time for the dry & cure! You’re almost there!

 


 

This trimming tutorial is part of our “how to harvest cannabis” series:

Flushing > Harvest > Trimming > Dry & Cure

 


 

Just about time to start trimming my newly harvested weed!

Time to start trimming your weed!

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