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As an intermediate or expert cannabis cultivator, mainlining should be on your list of tried and tested growing techniques. This high-stress technique was named by Nugbuckets, a renowned cannabis cultivator and established photographer. He came up with this technique to eliminate small, wispy popcorn buds and instead grow uniform, large, dense buds. Mainlining involves splitting the cannabis to create manifolds that allow equal energy distribution across the entire plant. 

This technique centers more on bud quality than quantity (although it produces a significantly higher yield compared to an untrained plant). The entire process incorporates several training techniques that synergically alter the structure/form of the cannabis plant, leading to higher yields and buds of superior quality. Mainlining requires expertise and precision in executing defoliation, topping, and LST for optimum results. With this technique, you will end up with not one or two central colas but up to 16 or 32 of them! 

Does this spark your interest? Would you like to learn more about this technique that will improve your yield? This piece covers everything you need to know about mainlining cannabis, including the steps to follow for best results, pros and cons, and tips on making the most out of the main lining. Let’s dive in.

What is mainlining weed? 

Mainlining centers on the concept of splitting the cannabis stem into a manifold and creating 8 to 32 uniform/even colas from it. A manifold refers to a Y-shaped hub created by splitting the cannabis plant from a single node. The split promotes equal and efficient energy distribution to all parts of the plants, starting from the root to the cola. Mainlining weed involves creating up to 32 colas that receive optimum energy, consequently growing uniformly and producing healthy, large, and dense buds.

How to mainline cannabis plants 

When is the right time to mainline weed?

Cannabis is mainlined during the vegetative stage when the plant has grown five or more nodes. The first step involves topping the plant to get rid of the primary/central cola. Topping is a highly stressful technique that involves cutting off the plant’s main cola. Consequently, you need to ensure that the plant is healthy enough to withstand and recover from the cut, besides having more than five nodes. 

The second factor to consider is the right time to top the plant. Topping too early may lead to stunted growth and low yields. Waiting too long wastes the plants’ energy since any growth above the 3rd node is cut off. After ensuring that all conditions are optimum, get your pruning shears and garden/plant cables or ties (the equipment you will need to execute the mainlining technique). 

Step 1: Top your plant and create the first two mainlines

Using a sharp pair of pruning shears, cut the stem above the 3rd node. Ensure you make a precise and smooth cut to this will speed up recovery. Remove all the growth beneath the 3rd node, including the cotyledon leaves. This way, you are left with 2 mainlines (shoots). Once done with the cut, start training the plants with LST if the shoots are long enough. This encourages horizontal growth, whereby the plants grow parallel to the ground. Use the garden ties to keep the shoots straight. Ensure you are gentle throughout to avoid snapping and damaging the young, fragile plants. 

Give the plant time to recover, and the two mainlines to grow 3 to 4 inches tall before conducting the 2nd topping procedure. You can use the main shoot as a cutting/clone to grow another plant of similar genetics. If the topping procedure is executed correctly, the plant will recover within a couple of days and begin to grow exponentially. 

Step 2: Double the mainlines to 4

After 10 to 15 days or when the shoots grow 3 to 4 inches tall, perform the second topping. Depending on your preference, you can either cut the stem from the 1st or 3rd node. Symmetry is the central theme associated with mainlining. Consequently, ensure you make the cuts symmetrical. This means that if you cut the first node on one shoot, then do the same for the next. Unlike the first step, you won’t remove the growth below the 3rd node this time. Instead, remove the second one to remain with the first and third nodes. 

Step 3: top again to get 8 shoots

Sticking to the same time interval (10 to 15 days), top your four shoots/mainlines. This will result in 8 mainlines. At this point, the initial mainlines have grown significantly and almost reached the edge of the grow pots. This is a great time to take clones from the plant if you plan to do so. Instead of topping the plants at this time, give them 5 days tops to grow another pair of nodes, then top from the first node. Preserve the removed parts and use them as cuttings/clones. The removed shoots are rich in auxins, a growth hormone, so they are bound to grow rapidly and develop a robust root system without difficulty.

Step 4: pre-flower pruning, providing support, and creating 16 mainlines 

The plants have grown exponentially at this stage (5 to 10 days since the last topping). Some growers introduce a trellis net at this point to provide support, but it’s best to wait until the plant begins to flower. This is because mainlining creates solid and sturdy branches capable of supporting the plant for most of its growth. 

First, prune the plants to remove any yellowing or dried leaves. Also, remove any leaves that are not getting enough light or are blocking the airflow around and within the plant. The defoliation helps the plant get maximum light penetration and airflow, leading to optimum growth. Continue training the plants to grow side. Top the 8 mainlines and allow the plants to recover for 3 to 5 days before flipping to flower. 

Step 5: Top the plants for the 5th time to develop 32 main branches (optional)

While some cultivators are satisfied with 8 or 16 mainlines, some like to go all the way to create 32. Before changing the light schedule to 12/12, you can decide to top the plants a 5th time. First, give the plants 10 to 15 days to recover from the 4th topping. This is best done in an outdoor setup since time is available. Growing that many mainlines indoors will overextend the vegetative stage; however, this does not mean that it can’t be done. 

Step 6: Extra pruning 

Pruning is done three weeks after flipping to flower when the stretching phase ends. At this point, the plants have formed a bushy canopy that might attract a host of pathogens. Start by removing the yellow and dying leaves, then remove any leaf that isn’t getting sufficient light. Additionally, remove leaves that block bud sites, as they can significantly affect the quality of flowers. As you prune, be careful not to leave the middle/center of the plant looking hollow. Ensure the canopy area is fully covered. 

In the flowering phase, the cannabis plant ceases to grow vertically and laterally and puts its focus on bud production. Perform subtle LST to provide even light distribution for larger, denser, and healthier buds. This is the ideal time to set up the trellis net to support the branches as they hold the weight of the heavy buds.

Step 7: final pruning before harvest

One or two weeks before harvesting, the plant is busy developing trichomes. Pruning small, yellow leaves diverts the energy to the important stuff -trichome production. Additionally, remove any leaves that block light penetration or airflow. Proper trimming will make the trimming process much easier after harvest

Using a cannabis cage

To make mainlining easier you can also use a plant cage, you can purchase these online or you can simply make your own DIY cannabis cage as I have done below using some plastic piping.

By growing the plant inside a cannabis cage like this it makes the process of growing a wider plant with multiple bud sites much easier. You can run wire or string between two pipes almost in the same way you do if you are making Scrog netting. This allows you to support the plant is it packs on size and weight.

mainlining cannabis cage

Seeds or clones for mainlining?

It is best to grow cannabis plants from seeds when using the mainlining technique. This is because seeds produce symmetrical nodes, making them easy to top and grow even buds. Clones have uneven nodes, so trying mainlining will be a guessing game, leading to unpredictable results. 

Is mainlining autoflowers possible?

Autoflowers have a short growth period lasting between 8 to 14 weeks from seed to harvest. Due to the limited growth duration, autos are not in a position to recover from this high-stress technique. Unfortunately, it is impossible to extend their vegetative phase since they have an internal clock that decides when the plant flips to flower, regardless of the light schedule. As a result, mainlining autoflower is not recommended. 

Pros and cons of mainlining

Mainlining comes with its fair share of advantages and disadvantages, as highlighted in the table below;

Pros Cons 
Promotes high cannabinoid production and more potent budsProlonged vegetative period 
Large, dense, and uniform collar that deserves top-shelf recognitionTime consuming and the plant requires regular tending to 
Cost-effective method of cultivating cannabis that produces multiple colas instead of one
Helps to control vertical growth for growers looking for discretion or those working with limited grow spaceStressful for the plant
Can be used indoors, outdoors, and greenhouses.
Regular pruning and more stretched plants create a healthy environment for cannabis growth and bud production. The increased airflow and light penetration keep pathogens, such as, powdery mildew, pests, and Bud rot at bay.
Creates an even canopy that gives the grow room a visual appeal
Helps advance a cultivator’s cannabis training ability

Tips for best results when mainlining cannabis plants

  • Use rubber-covered ties to avoid hurting the plants. A wire or string damages the outer skin of the plants, referred to as the epidermis. This leads to limited sugar transportation in the plant, affecting its overall growth. Alternatively, you can use garden ties to keep the mainlines in a horizontal growth trajectory by tying the main shoots to the plant’s trunk. 
  • Mainlining is a high-stress technique that may lead to the odd broken branch. Ensure you have some duct tape or grafting tape to piece the branches together. The plants will recover in record time and continue to produce quality buds. Cannabis plants are very resilient and can recover from trauma without compromising yields.
  • Always work with branches that are easy to bend. These are soft, young, and fleshy branches. A significant crack on a hard and woody stem may be impossible to recover from. 
  • Use fabric pots to allow efficient aeration and water drainage. This allows the roots to grow faster and more robust, leading to increased quality yields. 
  • Top the plant 3 times when growing indoors to grow 8 main colas, 5times when growing with the scrog technique, and 3 to 5 times when growing in a greenhouse or outdoors.
  • Ensure that the plants you intend to mainline are healthy and are under to optimum growth conditions. Topping sick, unhealthy, or nutrient-deficient plants may lead to stunted growth, compromised yields, and death. 
  • Use seeds instead of clones to ensure symmetry throughout the growth period. Check on the plants twice a week and make necessary adjustments to ensure symmetry is achieved. 

Is mainlining cannabis plants worth it?

Yes. Who wouldn’t want to have multiple colas that can go up to 32? Mainlining presents a unique opportunity for cultivators to make the most out of a single plant. The training technique is easy to execute, inexpensive, and result-oriented. Every cultivator’s dream is to see their plants reach their full potential, and mainlining offers this on a silver platter. 

Top strains for mainlining

Attaining an even-sized canopy is one of the goals of mainlining. Consequently, it is imperative that one works with plants that present similar characteristics in terms of growth speed, height, and branching. Manifolding the plants does not alter their genetic traits; it only increases equal resource distribution. The best strains for mainlining have pronounced apical dominance, are medium to tall, and experience limited side branching. Some of the best strains for mainlining include;

  1. Gorilla Glue #4 – High THC – 50/50 hybrid
  2. Jack Herer – Legendary strain – 55% Indica / 45% Sativa
  3. OG Kush – 75% Indica / 25% Sativa
  4. Skywalker OG – 50/50 Hybrid
  5. Sweet tooth – 60% Indica / 40% Sativa
  6. Purple punch – High THC Purple Strain – 80% Indica / 20% Sativa

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