Wispy, poor potency and unsellable as top-shelf, larf cannabis buds are a bane for many cannabis cultivators. But those larfy buds may not be the demons many growers make them out to be. In fact, for some, they can be a blessing, providing a little extra treat that would be gone if removed.
Here is the down-low on larf cannabis. How to avoid it, how to remove it, should you even be removing it, and if so, how much?
What Is Larf Cannabis?
Larf cannabis, commonly called popcorn buds, are typically immature cannabis flowers/bud sites that received inadequate light during the flowering phase, usually because they are from the lowest branches.
These small wimpy buds are less potent, containing fewer cannabinoids and terpenes than the flowers at the top of the crop. When attempting to break them up, their fluffy and straggly nature causes them to smash down and get stuck in a grinder. Then some people may find they produce a harsher and less aroma smoke due to the ratio of plant matter to trichomes.
While typically found at the bottom of a plant, genetics, heavy stress, nutrient deficiencies, and poor overall light can cause larfy nugs to put up anywhere.
How To Reduce Larf
More Light – With lack of light being the biggest cause of larf, adding more lights to your grow room should be the first thing a cultivator looks into when struggling with larf. For growers who can’t get better light intensity on their lower branches, for whatever reason, they may wish to look into adding far-red/infra-red to their main fixture. These wavelengths will penetrate deeper into a plant’s canopy, which may theoretically help buff up larfy flowers.
When growing with only the sun, get as much sunlight on your plants as possible as cannabis’ daily light integral (DLI) is daunting, with many regions struggling to meet these crops’ light saturation points.
Topping – Unless you plan to keep your plants very short, — final height under 12 inches — topping is a must if you want to avoid significant larf. Topping is the practice of snipping under a bud site to remove it, letting the two bud sites below the snip become the stems’ most dominant bud sites.
Cannabis can be topped to extremes, but most top between 2 and 4 sessions, creating 4 to 16 main bud sites or branches instead of just 1. Because of how the inverse square law applies to artificial lights, pruning a cannabis plant to look like a baobab tree vs. a pine tree will better take advantage of a light fixture’s light spread and penetration. This is a great way to increase a single plant’s yield, while only delaying its harvest date a few days to a week. Outside plants can greatly benefit from topping as well.
SrcOG (Screen of Green) – This is the practice of setting a wire screen above a young cannabis plant, letting its array of topped branches grow up into it. After growing a few inches above the screen, the branch is pulled over the top of the wire and back down. By weaving the plant’s main branches through the wire mesh, the plant snuggly grows horizontally, bringing lower bud sites up to the top, giving them equal light as the very tops of the plant.
Lollipopping – This is the practice of removing the lowest stems and any bud sites getting significantly less light than the others. Even when practicing topping and scrogging, lower and baby branches prone to larfing are common, and lollipopping helps with that. Lollipopping gets its name because it makes the plant look like a lollipop.
Defoliating (NOT RECOMMENDED) – Some growers will remove healthy fan leaves from the top and middle of a plant’s canopy to open up room for light below. Removing your plant’s solar panels is a tricky process that can easily and accidentally increase larf.
Should Growers De-larf Their Crops?
Along with topping that breaks apical dominance, creating multiple main branches, it’s become common practice for growers to remove the lowest branches/buds. Commonly called de-larfing or lollipopping, the thought is that this practice redirects energy and resources to the branches that receive the most light.
With research showing that the flowers at the top are more concentrated in cannabinoids like CBD, creating even bigger flowers up top seems like a smart idea. A recent cannabis study found “total CBD-concentration…in different fractions of the plant’s height was significantly higher in the top (9.9%) in comparison with mid (8.2%) and low (7.7%) fractions.”
So we should be heavily delarfing, right? Well, maybe not!
Problem #1 With Removing Larf
First, while those popcorn buds on the bottom are less potent, and removing them will create bigger flowers up top, the plant may not be able to recoup all the potential trichomes lost by removing them. Especially, if a grower gets a little too heavy-handed with their pruning, prunes too late, or pulls larf buds with the potential to still fill out.
Unfortunately, what those last three things look like is incredibly difficult to say. Variables such as light intensity, size of the plant, number of colas, room size, genetics, and on, make it currently impossible for advice such as: Always remove bud sites more than 12 inches from the top, that are dime-size or smaller after week-3 in flowering.
Problem #2 With Removing Larf
Then to further our point of diminishing returns, some research has found that the largest flowers don’t always equal the most potent part of the plant. According to Dr. Bruce Bugbee, “higher flower mass dilutes the concentration of cannabinoids“.
While yield dilation looks to be a real problem for cannabis growers, it appears it may be influenced by overfertilization just as much, if not more so, than flower mass. And there is debate about whether the cannabinoids lost due to yield dilution really matter or not.
I understand how frustrating these results are, but even without all the research we need, we likely have enough to move our plants in the direction best for us.
How Much You Should De-larf And How?
How much larf to remove comes down to personal preference. Those who only use their plants for smoking or dry flower vaping will probably prefer a heavier de-larfed plant.
With research still out on yield dilution and the tricky nature of determining how much less potent a larf flower is vs. one from the top of the plant, my suggestion is as follows.
Most growers will likely want to remove some lower branches and the most shaded immature buds. Most won’t need to be heavy-handed. In fact, their goal should be getting near equal light intensity on all parts of the plants to avoid having to remove lower branches.
Growers will want to avoid growing any of their colas too large, however. This can be achieved by topping the plant several times, scrogging aggressively, and only lightly de-larfing/lollipopping.
Last, you’re going to feel pressured to heavily increase nutrients to plump up those larf flowers, but the extreme majority of growers are going to want to resist that urge for now.
All-in-all, get more light on those larfy buds, and don’t kick yourself if you end up with a lot in your attempts to dial in how much to prune. Extra larf because you didn’t prune heavily likely means the plant produced more cannabinoids and terpenes overall, and with some easy tips, you can take advantage of this.
Tips For Using Larf
It seems to a degree some larf is unavoidable, but this is completely fine. Trying to remove it all would likely hand you a final yield with fewer overall cannabinoids and terpenes.
And, hey! What many new growers and smokers call larf would put to shame what your average toker in the 70s considered good weed. So no shame in smoking flowers that are slightly less concentrated in cannabinoids.
Throwing your larf in your vaporizer, or even better, reserving it for edibles, is a great way to offset the health risk to the lungs that may result from smoking plant matter. Dry sifting larfy buds is a popular recommendation on the internet, along with making bubble hash from them.
My Formula For Avoiding Larf
For newcomers, the best way to see how much larf you should remove is by checking out what advanced cultivators are doing. Here’s my formula, which is a fairly common one.
1. Topping Session #1 – Top the main stem just above the third node around two weeks into the vegetative stage
2. Remove the lowest true branches/stems set (first set above the cotyledon leaves)
3. Topping Session #2 – Top your two new main stems (usually node 1 or 2) and your second stems set (usually node 2 or 4) which are directly below the mains
4. Topping Session #3 – Top every stem previously topped, resulting in 16 main bud sites, that should be kept fairly even in height with low-stress training (LST) and supercropping
5. Install scrOG netting a week before flowering, then switch crops to flowering after they reach 8-10″ in height
6. ScrOG aggressively for first 3 to 4 weeks of flowering, aiming plant’s final height to be no more than 6″ above the scrOG
7. After week 3 or 4, either remove almost all plant matter that’s more than 12″ away from the plant’s top canopy or add side light bars
8. Remove early bud sites that pop up randomly throughout flowering that are heavily shaded