After harvesting, your cannabis growing season doesn’t end there. Next, you must manicure your buds.
There’s an art and science to trimming buds that you can only master through experience and education.
One choice you have at the outset of bud manicuring is to choose between dry and wet trim. Dry trim is when you’re manicuring your buds after they’ve dried, but before they’re cured. Wet trim is when you’re manicuring your buds before they’ve dried and cured.
Which trim method is most useful to you? It depends on personal preferences and your overall harvesting procedures. My preferred method of harvesting is to cut the entire plant and hang it upside down. In this way, the buds take 5–9 days to dry in a controlled drying-room environment of 74°F and 64 percent relative humidity.
As the plants dry out, their leaves and stems shrivel up, and some fall off on their own. Leaves that don’t fall off tend to fold onto the bud to encapsulate it, exposing the base of each leaf, which makes it easier to use a precision trimmer to snip the leaves off.
I’ve conducted wet trim and dry trim, and while I find dry trim to be easier, some growers prefer wet trim because removal of moisture-infused leaves and stems opens the remaining bud structure up to air flow, allowing drying to take place a little faster.
However, my experience is that trimming wet buds is trickier and can lead to more bud damage. Remember, bud damage means resin gland degradation that lowers bud potency and market value.
Marijuana Manicuring Supplies
Before I start manicuring, I assemble the materials I’ll need. These include:
- Precision trimming scissors
- Scissors sharpener
- Stainless steel containers
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Resin-proof gloves
- Clean hand towels
- A headlight with magnifier
- Stick-on labels
- Glass containers for alcohol soaks
I arrange the stainless steel containers within easy reach so I can sort and place my buds and trim materials as I work.
Some containers are for trash, such as useless leaves, stalks and stems. Other containers are designated for sugar leaves. I don’t segregate sugar leaves from each other because I use them all at once to make dry sift, concentrates or medibles. Growers who want strain-specific dry sift or other processed cannabis products have separate containers so they can segregate each strain’s sugar leaves.
I define sugar leaves as leaves that are at least 50 percent covered in intact, fresh resin glands. Some marijuana strains don’t produce many sugar leaves, but strains known for extra-high resin gland production — such as Gorilla Glue, White Widow and Hash Plant — often sport large bud leaves covered in glands.
Some of my containers are for defective buds. As I trim, I examine each bud closely, using my headlamp magnifier. If I see too many resin glands are fallen, broken or otherwise damaged, or if I detect debris, mold, mildew or any other contaminant embedded in the bud, the defective bud goes into a separate container marked for processing, and I’m spared the effort of trimming that bud further.
I water wash damaged buds to remove debris and chlorophyll, and to make alcohol tincture from them. The alcohol kills any dangerous microbes such as molds and mildews, and extracts cannabinoids and terpenoids.
Growers can also use butane, CO2 and other solvent extraction methods to rescue and extract cannabinoids and terpenoids from contaminated buds.
Check out the below clip from VaderVision about trimming and manicuring medical marijuana:
Sorting & Grading Buds
If I have an immediate order from a customer who’s waiting for delivery of my latest buds, I use my manicuring marijuana session to also do bud grading.
The crudest form of bud grading involves examining buds for obvious defects that make them unsellable and too inferior to use as whole flowers. Those buds are destined for processing into shatter, honey oil, bubble hash, dry sift, oil, and various extracts and cannabis concentrates.
The higher levels of grading involve sorting buds by the percentage and quality of resin glands, the scent, bud density and aesthetic appeal.
When a bud is absolutely perfect, with clear, intact resin glands, a dense and gooey structure, and penetrating scent, I put those into my personal stash containers. Buds that are almost perfect but not absolutely perfect go into my sale containers.
At all times, I make sure that my containers are labeled by strain name. It’s easy to make mistakes during long manicuring sessions, in part because you’re breathing aromatic volatiles that affect you. If you’re not careful to wear the kind of gloves I recommend, resins could be absorbed through your skin.
There are many opinions about how close to trim a bud. The standard trim for commercial retail buds is very tight. All bud leaves, including sugar leaves, are removed, leaving the intact core of the bud and nothing else.
I prefer to do less manicuring than that. I leave small sugar leaves on the buds. One reason I do this is that the sugar leaves have resin glands that contain useful compounds like THC and CBD. Another reason is that the sugar leaves protect the resin glands on the inner bud.
This protection is especially useful because even the slightest pressure or jostling of buds can collapse and rupture resin glands. As soon as a resin-gland head is knocked off its stalk, crushed or compromised, the cannabinoids inside it begin to oxidize and degrade. Poor handling of buds is the single biggest factor in loss of potency and subsequent diminished market value.
Many growers look at manicuring buds as a tiresome, boring, time-consuming hassle, but I’ve always found it to be a focusing and satisfying hobby.
Like many growers, I tried hiring trimmers to help me with large harvests when I was running large outdoor cannabis grow ops, but it was a lot more trouble than it was worth. Not only was it costly to pay them, but there were issues of broken trust and chronic pilferage that made me realize it was better to manicure my entire harvest myself than risk bringing other people into my marijuana operation.
My manicuring process for commercial buds involves first taking off the largest leaves, then the next largest, and finally shaping the remaining bud into a nugget of pure resin glands by removing or trimming tiny leaves to eliminate unevenness.
If I know the buds are for long-term storage, I may keep some leaves on the bud, because the leaves function as a layer of protection for fragile resin glands.
I have to take breaks frequently because bud trimming strains the hands, wrists, fingers, and eyes, and because volatile aromatics make me feel sluggish and sometimes give me a dull headache.
Of course, stoppages also occur because trimming scissors goo up with resins. Isopropyl alcohol is the cleanest, most effective substance you can use to remove gooey resins, but sometimes wiping the scissors with alcohol on a cloth won’t remove all the sticky residue.
You may have to soak scissor blades in a glass of iso alcohol for an hour or more to loosen cannabinoid and terpenoid resins enough to be wiped away. I have multiple pairs of trimming scissors, so I’m able to keep working while a pair is soaking.
There comes an obvious point at which you’re done trimming a bud, then it’s on to the next one. Depending on how precise and quality-centered you are, trimming a pound of buds can take an entire day.
I’ve experimented with bud trimming machines, including models that cost as much as $2500, which were the most reliable. If you’ve got many pounds of weed and just don’t want to deal with manicuring, you can throw piles of bud into the machine, and out comes buds with most of their leaves trimmed off so they bear some resemblance to hand-trimmed product.
The machine gathers the trim in a bin, and you can just pour the trim into a processing unit if you want to, or dispose of it altogether. The machines do more damage to your buds than hand-trimming does, but they sure do save time and labor.
For those of us who want to stick with the classic method of hand trimming, you’ll get the most bud and bud quality when you arm yourself with my proper trimming protocols, and then you’ll be ready for the final step in your grow season: Curing your buds.