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Topping Plants: It's Easy


When it comes to hydroponics gardening, there are some specific strategies and techniques that growers can use to really get refined results. There are a lot of things that you can do with hydro, that you can't do in soil-based gardening. There are also things that you need to do because of the plant’s particular environment. For example, in a closed grow box, you are setting up the right conditions for plants with a variety of types of gear and equipment. In a way, hydro is all about micro-management, giving plants what is right for them, but that doesn’t mean it has to be overly complicated.

With this in mind, you can sometimes get a lot better results in hydroponics with some simple steps like topping. But as with other specific hydro techniques, beginners can get confused and overwhelmed by these types of practices. So what is topping and why is it done?

The Topping Process

Topping plants is easy. You simply cut off the topmost portions of the plant to encourage it to grow in particular ways. What you're going to do is watch the plant as it grows and look for places where smaller stems come off of the primary trunk of the plant. These are the precise places where you're going to cut and pick parts off of the plant.

That's it -- it's that easy. Use a hand pruning tool or a pair of scissors or whatever you've got handy. Use the cut off parts of the plant as you see fit, and watch the plan change its shape.

Shape Results

Essentially, over time, when you top the plant, it's changing the plant structure from a bottom-up structure to a top-down structure. To put this a different way, it's changing it from a “Christmas tree” shape to a shape where the majority of the leaves and stems are at the top of the plant, rather than the bottom.

Reasons for Topping

Why is this done?

One reason is that topping helps to expose the plant to more light.

This is part of a difficult equation with hydroponics -- you have to make your plants accessible to light. You have grow lights set up, usually at the top of the structure and beaming down on plants. So unless most of the plant is at the top, most of it is not going to absorb direct light. There are other things you can do, like introduce interior reflective materials that will bounce light around and get it to more plants, but topping is also fairly effective in getting plants more access to light.

Another big reason that topping is done is that it minimizes plant height. Plants that have topping done are shorter and squatter than other plants and can fit better in a tight environment such as a compact grow box.

The Context of Topping

In general, topping isn't one of those things that you do until you've gotten the other basics of growing down pat. You’llhave the lighting, the nutrients and the irrigation water. You have to make sure that plants have the right temperature, humidity and ph value. You’ll have to make sure that the roots are getting water. And then you can do some of these extra things. But the thing to remember is that all of these items on their own are easy. It's not like you have to be a chemist or have a lot of insight. When you just follow the simple instructions, everything becomes clear, and you're able to have a lot of success with a hydroponic project.

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