By Brendon Smart
There are numerous common methods for supporting and growing cannabis plants. Each method has pros and cons, requiring different materials and amounts of time to ensure healthy, profitable crops. So how do the different methods compare?
Velcro or String
Velcro or string are two of the most common materials used to support marijuana plants as they grow. By week five or six, the stalks become strained by the growing weight of the buds, requiring additional support. Using 50- to 100-foot rolls of half-inch green Velcro or string, the material is cut to length and affixed from the heavy branch to the center stalk.
As flowers change weight and size, retying and adjustment is typically needed for at least 50 percent of tied branches. Although materials for this method are inexpensive, the task of tying and retying is extremely time-consuming in order to be effective. However, when adequate time is invested, Velcro and string-tying methods will result in a great harvest.
Labor required: 5-10 minutes per plant, 2-3 times per flower cycle
Materials required: Velcro, string, bamboo sticks
Trellis netting is commonly used over beds or pots and is laid across the entire canopy at week two or three. Plants grow through the netting, which provides support for the stalk and upper branches. Although branches and buds above the net enjoy proper light and airflow, the lower part of the plant can suffer from reduced light and airflow.
With trellis netting covering the canopy, branches below the netting may be difficult to access. Heavy buds may rot because they end up on the ground. Lower buds that manage to stay off the floor will be limited in growth due to inadequate light. Limited access to the “hospital,” or lower third of the plant, makes maintaining and monitoring the health of the plants difficult as well.
If the base of the plants are accessible, lower branches with buds still require tying, following the method above to keep flowers off the floor. Due to inaccessibility, the success of a crop supported with trellis netting relies heavily on hoping for the best.
Labor required: Varies depending on plant accessibility
Materials required: Netting, bamboo sticks (plus string or Velcro if plants are accessible)
Wire Tomato Cages
Wire tomato cages are another common method for supporting cannabis plants. In this case the wire stakes of the cage are pushed into the soil around the roots of the plant around week two.
Tomato cages are designed with a narrow diameter at the bottom and larger diameter at the top, like a funnel — or, when viewed from the side, a triangle. Cannabis plants, however are naturally wider at the bottom and narrower at the top. Because of this, when cannabis plants are supported with tomato cages, the lower branches lack anything to rest on. In order to keep the buds off the ground, tying with string or Velcro is still required. Narrow tomato cage bases are also unable to keep top-heavy plants from tipping over which can result in partial or entire plant loss.
Other considerations with wire tomato cages include interference in ideal lighting conditions and potential contamination near the roots. During the early stages of the flower or veg cycle, lights cannot be lowered close enough to the plant (within 12-18 inches) because the top of the cage is in the way. With metal stakes rusting and deteriorating near the roots of the plant, it’s important to consider the risk of nutrient lockout.
Labor required: 5-10 minutes per plant, 1-2 times per flower cycle
Materials required: Wire tomato cages, bamboo sticks, string or Velcro
Extendable Wire Cannabis Supports
Wire cannabis supports have been available for a number of years, but aren’t as well known as other methods. Similar to tomato cages, cannabis supports feature wire rings at various heights to support branches. However, the overall design mirrors the natural shape of a cannabis plant, with a wide base that better supports lower branches.
Pots are placed on the bottom of the cannabis cage at the start of the flower cycle or during the veg cycle. The base of the cage keeps the pot off the floor, and the weight of the pot sitting on the cage prevents the plant from tipping over — regardless of how heavy it is at the top. With no wire penetrating the soil, there’s less risk of lockout due to contamination.
Cannabis supports also have another unique feature — they’re extendable up to 72 inches tall. As the plant grows, the next stage of the cage is popped up in a matter of seconds to provide another level of support. Throughout the growing cycle, lights can be brought down to within 12-18 inches of the plant for maximum lumen intensity.
This is the only method that requires no tedious and time-consuming tying. Branches naturally rest on wire rings around the support, allowing for quick adjustments or guidance as needed. The plant is able to fill out naturally, which ensures maximum airflow.
Labor required: 30 seconds per plant, 1 time per flower cycle
Materials required: Wire cannabis supports
Tying with Velcro or string is inexpensive and effective; however, it also requires the most amount of time, tying and adjusting throughout each growth cycle. Netting and tomato cages have higher material costs and higher risk for unhealthy or damaged buds, as well as requiring time for tying lower branches, if they’re accessible. The final method, wire cannabis supports, require a larger initial investment, but eliminate all time spent tying. They’re also the only supports that will last 10 years or more.
Brendon Smart is a growing consultant with more than 20 years in the cannabis industry and 10 years spent growing in British Columbia.