How to Trim Weed Buds

Sophia Delphi June 28, 2022 - 7 min read
Fact Checked
Trimming cannabis buds after harvest

One of the joys of a vegetable garden is being able to walk into the backyard, pick some newly-ripened tomatoes or cukes, and immediately enjoy the fruits of your labor.

It’s not that easy when you grow weed. It takes months before you can harvest them.

Buds aren’t ready for smoking at harvest time; they’re loaded with water. Even if you quick-dry them, the flower won’t be as potent as it should be, and the plant’s chlorophyll will make the smoke unpleasant.

Cannabis must be dried and cured over a month or so for its quality to be maximized.

And it also has to be trimmed.

Trimming weed involves removing the “unnecessary” parts of a harvested cannabis plant. They’re the ones that are much less potent and much less satisfying to smoke. The trimming process can be lengthy, but it’s important.

There are two ways to do it. We’ll describe both after a closer look at the weed plant.

The Weed Plant after Harvest

After months of caring for your grow, you finally have plants ready for harvest.

You’ve been admiring the green, leafy growth ever since it first emerged. You may have become emotionally attached to your plant’s beautiful leaves that symbolize marijuana. But even though we all love “the green,” most of the plant’s green stuff actually has to be removed before you can enjoy your weed.

The branches and stems have to go. They contain very few cannabinoids and terpenes [1], so they won’t get you high. Even if you try, their smoke will be extremely harsh.

The big, beautiful fan leaves that you’re emotionally attached to? They’re not much better. The average fan leaf only contains about 0.3% THC; that’s the same amount you’ll find in legal CBD products.

That brings us to sugar leaves, the smaller leaves that surround the buds and are ideally covered in sticky trichomes. You might think that those should stay on the plant because they contain lots of cannabinoids and flavonoids. You’d be wrong.

The sugar leaves must be removed, too — not because of a lack of potency, but because they’ll trap moisture in the flower. That excess water can encourage the growth of mildew or mold. Sugar leaves also taste harsher than flower, and they’ll detract from the overall look of dried and cured weed.

So the branches stems, and leaves all must be trimmed from cannabis plants after harvest.

Don’t worry, though, we’ll find good uses for much of that “trim.”

Ways to Trim Weed

Growers use two different methods for the weed trimming process.

One is known as wet trimming, which is when the plants are trimmed before they are dried. The other is dry trimming; as you’d guess, the plants are hung up and allowed to dry completely before the branches, stems, and leaves are removed.

Each method has its pros and cons.

Wet Trimming

The biggest drawback to wet trimming is that it’s extremely messy. The trichomes get all over everything: your hands (you should be wearing gloves), the tools, and eventually, your body. There are several advantages, though.

  • When trichomes are stickier, they’re less likely to fall off the plant (and take the weed’s goodness with them).
  • It’s easier to remove leaves filled with moisture than it is when they’re dry and shriveled.
  • Once excess plant parts have been removed, the plants require less space to hang and will dry more quickly.

Wet trimming is the best choice when the humidity is high, and mold is a very real risk.

Dry Trimming

The pros and cons of dry trimming are the exact opposites of the ones we’ve just listed.

Waiting until the plants have dried makes for a cleaner trimming experience. But some of the plant’s trichomes will fall off, removing the leaves is more difficult, and you have to wait longer before the plants are ready for trimming. Another disadvantage is that the flower may lose some of its distinctive color.

Dry trimming is the right approach when humidity is low.

How to Trim Weed

The process used for trimming weed is the same, whether the plants are wet or dry.

Required Equipment and Tools

You don’t have to have these exact tools, but the ones you do have must be able to perform the same functions. You will definitely need a roomy area with a clean table or work surface, though.

  • Pruning shears and smaller scissors
  • Three large bowls or trays
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Rags

It will also help to have a friend who can supply an extra pair of hands and ideally, some music or podcasts to listen to. This will take a while.

Trimming Your Buds

Be sure to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting messy and sticky, as well as your gloves.

  1. Use the pruning shears to cut off the branches. It’s much easier to work with them individually than it is when they’re attached to the stalk.
  2. Using either the scissors or your hands, pull off all of the fan leaves (the big ones). If you want to use them for brewing tea, making smoothies, or creating lotion, save them. Otherwise, they can be composted along with the stem and the stripped branches.
  3. Now pluck or cut the buds from the branches. This is known as “bucking.” Put the buds into one of your bowls so you can work on them one at a time.
  4. Take one bud, and starting from the bottom of the cluster, use your scissors to carefully remove any sugar leaves (the small ones) that stick out from the nugs. Also, remove small stems and pistils. Do this over the second bowl or tray so the trichomes that fall off can be salvaged.
    All of the plant material removed in this step should also go into that bowl, which will contain your trim.
  5. When you’ve finished trimming the bud, it should look compact and smooth. Satisfied? Put it into your third bowl and move on to the next one. Use the alcohol to clean your tools before tackling the next bud.
  6. It may seemingly take forever, but when you’re done, you’ll have a bowl of trimmed buds and a bowl of trim.

The buds can now be dried if you went the wet trimming route or cured if you’ve already dried them. The trim will be full of trichomes and is perfect for making concentrates, extracts, edibles, or salves. If you’d rather not bother, it can also be composed.

If you wish, you can also salvage the resin from your tools and gloves to make hash. Waste not, want not!

Trimming Weed: FAQ

Q: Aren’t there machines that will do the trimming for you?
A: Yes, and there are models designed for home use that only cost about $150 or so. However, they’ll knock off lots of trichomes, meaning your weed may be less potent. The machines have also been known to over trim the buds, cutting away the stuff you’re trying to save.

Q: What about electric shears?
A: If you’re an accomplished gardener, those may be a good way to save time without damaging your bud. These tools aren’t easy to control when used for detailed trimming, though, so you’re likely to find that you’re either leaving too much trim on the buds or cutting off a lot more than you wanted to.