Have you ever received a bag of loosely-clustered buds about the size of everyone’s favorite movie theater snack, or noticed tiny buds emerging from the inner and lower branches of your cannabis plants? These miniature bud clusters are called popcorn buds, and they’re a common sight throughout the cannabis industry. What are popcorn buds, and are they worth having? Let’s take a look.
What Are Popcorn Buds?
Popcorn buds, also known as larf weed, are simply underdeveloped buds. On the live cannabis plant, popcorn buds appear small, wispy and loose, and they can occur anywhere that dense foliage prevents the buds from receiving optimal light. For outdoor crops, these types of buds mostly appear on the inner branches, closest to the stem. Indoor crops tend to produce popcorn buds on the lowest branches where ceiling-mounted grow lights are unable to reach. Once dried and cured, these buds are roughly the size of a piece of popcorn, as the name suggests. Size is only one factor, however. Not all small buds are popcorn buds, as some larger bud clusters of quality weed are trimmed down to remove the stems. Popcorn buds are also not as tightly-clustered or as heavily dusted with trichomes compared to top-level buds from the same harvest. A small percentage of popcorn buds may still end up in your supply of high-quality weed, but if someone offers you a bag that is entirely composed of popcorn buds at full price, find another seller. Many distributors will offer popcorn buds at a discounted price due to their lowered potency and visual appeal.
What Causes Popcorn Buds?
Popcorn buds are usually the result of environmental stress. Some of the factors that cause stress in cannabis plants can be difficult to avoid, while others can be prevented using specially-developed methods.
Excessive heat is one of the main stressors that lead to the proliferation of popcorn buds. Signs of heat stress include leaves curling up, irregular brown blotches on the leaves, and yellow discoloration. These plants can withstand a wide heat range, but temperatures in the mid-seventies are ideal for indoor grow rooms. Avoid exceeding temperatures of 82°F(27°C) as it will cause major stress on the plant. Unfortunately, you don’t have much control over temperatures if you’re growing outdoors. When a heatwave hits, it’s best to provide shade for your outdoor plants using a greenhouse shade cloth or other translucent material during the hottest parts of the day to diffuse the natural light and lower the temperature below. If indoors, check the thermostat in your grow room often and adjust as necessary. You can increase airflow and ventilation by installing or adding extra input and exhaust fans. In very warm conditions, you may even consider bringing in an air conditioner or evaporative cooler. If your grow lights are producing excessive heat, adjust the distance between the light source and the tops of the plants, keeping in mind that light exposure decreases exponentially over distance. Minor adjustments can make a big difference. You may also consider switching to lightbulbs that give off less heat.
Another common stressor for plants that leads to the production of popcorn buds, and it can be easily prevented using a few tried-and-true cannabis growing methods. Remedial pruning is a great way to remove undesirable parts of the plant while diverting the plant’s energy toward producing large, dense bud clusters. Defoliation is a method of trimming unhealthy or discolored leaves as well as trimming some of the top leaves that are blocking the light from reaching the branches below. Outdoor growers use a technique called “middling,” which is removing some of the inner branches that are unable to absorb adequate sunlight. “Lollipopping” is another pruning method that promotes better bud development, especially for indoor plants that are not exposed to side lighting. Growers trim the lower leaves and branches that receive very little light in order to promote greater development in the upper and outer parts of the plant. While pruning can be highly beneficial, remember that overtrimming can cause stress to the plant as well. Use these methods as needed—you can always trim more, but never less. Another way to prevent overshading is to utilize the SCROG method. Short for “Screen of Green,” this method helps to distribute light evenly to more buds by training the plant to grow in one even layer. A screen of mesh or twine netting known as “trellis netting” is suspended over the cannabis plants, often zip-tied or otherwise secured to evenly spaced posts so that it is taut enough to support the weight of the buds and branches. As they grow up through the screen, the branches are divided by gently looping them under the netting into their own individual sections. It’s very important to avoid damaging the branches in the process. Allowing more light to penetrate the lower levels of the plant can promote more budding sites and increase high-quality yield. The SCROG method works well in conjunction with defoliating and lollipopping to prevent overshading.
By placing too many plants together on one plot of land or in one indoor space can cause undue stress and have adverse effects on your plant. Without room to expand, fewer buds will be able to develop fully, resulting in more popcorn buds. The minimum recommended spacing between plants is one plant per every two feet square. If using the SCROG method, it’s recommended that you allow enough space to place one plant for every square meter.
Should You Smoke Popcorn Buds?
Popcorn buds are generally considered B-grade, but still worth smoking for some. While popcorn buds can be of a higher quality than schwag weed, they do contain fewer THC-producing trichomes than the dense and dusty top colas and mid-level buds of the cannabis plant. Popcorn buds also tend to be less attractive and lack bag appeal, but the lower levels of THC can be seen as a perk for those who don’t want to get too high, and lower prices can be great for your bottom line. Discounted popcorn buds can be great for making cannabis oil for use in edibles. If you are growing your own cannabis, your trimmed popcorn buds can be used with other trim or cannabis to make hash or cannabis distillates, or simply smoke as usual for a more mellow experience.