Defoliation, as the name suggests, is a foliage-removal technique used by experienced growers, consisting of careful removal of specific leaves from the cannabis plant. If you’re a beginner, you’ll want to stick to simpler trimming techniques before employing defoliation.

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The idea is to strategically remove leaves from the plant to manipulate its growing process and exposing key areas to more light, increasing the harvest. Defoliation is used in other agriculture beyond cannabis, such as for cotton and cowpeas, though its use for maximizing cannabis harvests is a controversial one that has many growers divided.

Defoliation Basics

Green cannabis leaf close-up on a light background. Selective focus iStock / Vera Tikhonova

Since you’re removing leaves, defoliation causes some stress to the plant. Beginner growers should not attempt to defoliate their plants because it takes a great deal of understanding the anatomy of the plant paired with knowledge of the overall growth process. If done improperly, you risk overstressing and hurting your yield.

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Start slow and think of it as a haircut. You can always trim off more if you want it shorter, but there is no going back if you cut off too much. The best way to start is by removing all of the unhealthy or undesirable leaves from your plants, such as any yellow or discolored pieces. Then, you can move your way around the plant.

Defoliation is not a concrete process where everyone follows the exact same steps, which explains why growers are so divided about it. Different methods of defoliating will yield different results, but as a general rule, growers should be removing any leaves that may hinder the growth of your buds by blocking the light.

Remove some of the upper leaves if they’ll be shading over the lower parts of the plants. To some, this means an almost naked plant, while others carefully select the biggest leaves impeding the light and go from there. A big part of the defoliation process will occur in the lower parts of the plant, though.

The goal of defoliating the lower portion of the plant is to prevent it from using its resources on lower quality buds. If you can manipulate where the plant is dedicating its energy, you can force it to grow bigger, denser, and overall more desirable buds.

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Variations in Defoliation

marijuana farmer iStock / Seth Michael

As mentioned before, defoliation is not a term for a universal practice everyone follows, and there are many variations in techniques used amongst growers.

Defoliation can increase harvests for both indoor and outdoor cannabis grows, though the strategy of removing leaves will vary depending on the lighting setup or if the plant is just receiving sunlight.

Growers can choose to defoliate during the vegetative stage and into the flowering stage. The timing will have different effects, but defoliating during the vegetative stage is less likely to stress out or hurt the plant than during the flowering stage.

It’s common to defoliate as the plant transitions from the vegetative stage to the flowering stage. Defoliating the plant as its well into the flowering stage can still be beneficial, but it’s riskier and may hurt the plant if done poorly.


Schwazzing is a term for defoliating the plants at specific times in their lifecycle. The plants go through their typical vegetative stage with no interference, then all of the fan leaves are removed just as the plant transitions into the flowering stage.

Three weeks later, any other fan leaves are removed, essentially stripping the plant. It will then flower and mature on its own, without any parts in the shade. This intense stripping of the leaves can take a toll on your plants though, and it’s imperative that they’re given proper, tender, loving care after you chop. Providing plenty of nutrients may help the plant recover if there is any shock from the process.


Lollipopping the plant means to remove most of the bottom growth that is lacking light and leave everything at the top untouched. Basically, you can remove most of the foliage in the lower end of the plant while leaving the end buds to grow denser.

Don’t remove too many buds and have your plant too-closely resemble a lollipop, but remove the areas that aren’t receiving light so more energy can be spent on the larger buds already receiving light. This technique can be especially helpful in indoor growth setups where there are no side lights to reach the lower areas of the plant.

Tips for Defoliating

Remember, defoliation is not a technique that should be used for first-time or inexperienced growers. If you get a little too snip-happy, you may end up stressing your plant out beyond repair. Anyone considering defoliating their cannabis plants should already have thorough knowledge and experience with other important aspects of growing cannabis.

Your first few times defoliating plants will probably be a game of trial and error. It may take a bit of time before you really have a feel for how many leaves you should be removing and where exactly to chop. Again, you can always remove more leaves, but you can’t put them back. Go slowly.

Starting small is your best bet to avoid hurting the plant. If you remove too much material, the result could be a nutrient lockout where the nutrients build up in the roots and are unable to transport across the plant.

If you notice changes in the plant after defoliating, don’t fret. Sometimes the plant just needs a couple of days to recover from the initial choppings.

When done right, defoliating leads to a better harvest. Your plants will have better access to light and improved airflow. This leads to increased yields, something all growers want from their cannabis plants.