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The art of cannabis cultivation is about much more than just boosting cannabinoids. To enhance the scent and flavours of their final product, growers must also nurture their plants’ terpene production. Increasing the concentration of these aromatic compounds can transform bland bud into a multi-sensory delight, so it’s well worth taking the time to work on your terps.
Why Terpenes Matter
Terpenes are volatile compounds that are found in the essential oils of cannabis plants. Produced and stored in the trichomes alongside cannabinoids like THC and CBD, these oils protect plants from predators, pests and environmental stress.
Terpenes like limonene and pinene have developed strong scents and flavours to deter leaf-munching critters. Without them, cannabis would be pretty dull and tasteless.
Many terpenes, including myrcene and caryophyllene, also have medicinal properties that help keep cannabis plants healthy. These same compounds contribute to the medical benefits of marijuana and are increasingly sought-after as the therapeutic potential of cannabis becomes ever more apparent.
However, as volatile compounds, terpenes are easily degraded or destroyed, so it’s essential to take extra special care of these delicate yet potent ingredients.
The Role Of Genetics
Not all cannabis strains are created equal, so choosing the right genetics is vital if you want to maximise terpene production. Growers who familiarise themselves with the terpene profile of different cultivars and start their grow with high-quality seeds will always have the best chance of getting the desired outcome.
For instance, cultivars like Blue Dream are genetically predisposed to produce high myrcene concentrations, while Gelato tends to be packed with caryophyllene. Even the most skilled growers can’t get a plant to do something that isn’t part of its genetic makeup, so starting with the right seeds is paramount.
Does Growing In Soil Increase Terpene Production?
Many growers claim that cannabis plants develop more decadent aromas when grown in high-quality, living soil instead of hydroponic setups. This is because the soil’s microbes and other life forms help plants absorb a wider array of nutrients, allowing for a more complex terpene profile.
That’s not to say growing cannabis in other mediums can’t produce great results too, but if it’s terpene content you’re interested in, then soil is the way to go.
Lighting And Cannabis Terpenes
Lighting is one of the basics of cannabis growing and significantly impacts the production of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. Ensuring plants receive sufficient light will also help to maximise terpene levels, although the type of lighting used makes a huge difference.
Cannabis plants grown outdoors tend to have the best terpene profile as they are exposed to the full spectrum of light from the sun. In contrast, weed grown under HPS or even LED lights indoors may not receive as many different wavelengths of light, resulting in less aromatic compounds.
Some indoor growers therefore supplement their setup with UV lights to mimic sunlight. There’s even a theory that UV light triggers an increase in terpene production as plants attempt to shield themselves from the harmful effects of this radiation.
Low-Stress Training For Terpene Production
Because cannabis terpenes primarily serve to protect plants from stress, it makes sense that distressing your weed should lead to an increase in essential oils. Low-stress training (LST) is therefore something that many growers employ, although it’s vital to get the balance right and not put cannabis plants under too much strain.
Branch pinching and bending are two standard LST techniques that can help to increase terpene levels. These involve manipulating some of the branches to move large fan leaves around, thus ensuring that all your bud sites receive sufficient light.
This increase in light penetration will give your plants more energy to create terpenes and cannabinoids, but the slight stress will also trigger them to up their production of aromatic volatile compounds.
Some growers also choose to lower the temperature in their grow room by a couple of degrees during the last few weeks of flowering. This has the double-whammy effect of slightly stressing plants to generate more terpenes while also minimising the chance that these compounds will become damaged by heat.
Flushing is a controversial topic within the world of cannabis cultivation, with some growers swearing by the technique while others consider it unnecessary. The idea behind flushing is that by feeding plants pure water for the last couple of weeks of flowering, excess nutrients are washed out of the plant, and the taste is enhanced.
This technique won’t increase terpene production per se but may help to ensure that the unpleasant taste of plant nutrients doesn’t mask the flavours produced by these compounds.
Missing the ideal harvest time is one of the best ways to wreck your plants’ terpene profile. Typically, cannabis plants increase their terpene production during the flowering period, as this is when they need the greatest protection from predators and pests.
Harvest too early, and you won’t leave enough time for terpene levels to peak. On the other hand, harvest too late and these volatile compounds will have already started to degrade. Paying attention to the trichomes can help you find that sweet spot when your plants are at their absolute peak and ready to be reaped.
In most cases, the perfect time to pick your bud is when the trichomes have just started to turn from milky to amber, although this can vary between different cannabis strains. When harvesting, it’s essential to handle plants as gently as possible, as trichomes are fragile and easily damaged.
Drying And Curing
Even after your bud has been plucked, there’s still a way to go before you can use it. To start with, weed needs to be properly dried over several weeks to eliminate water content and prevent the risk of mould. This should always be done at a low temperature, as heat can destroy terpenes and cannabinoids.
Finally, dried bud needs to be cured in a cold, dark, airtight environment for several months. Curing enables flavours to mature as sugars within the plant break down. At the same time, this process deactivates enzymes that would otherwise accelerate the degradation of terpenes and cannabinoids, so skipping this step often results in tasteless, impotent weed.