Cannabis Popcorn Buds Explained 

Cannabis plants love light. It is perhaps the most essential ingredient in a successful crop, indoors or outdoors. How and where light (sunlight or artificial) interacts with cannabis greatly affects the overall growth of plants. That being said, available lighting directly dictates the quality and sorts of cannabis flowers which plants produce in cannabis cultivation. Generally speaking, flowers are classified by size in three categories: colas, mid-size, and cannabis popcorn buds. Cannabis popcorn buds are those small flowers which are large enough (at least the size of one’s thumbnail) and dense enough to be kept with the rest of the more prized buds. Furthermore, any bud smaller, or lighter, than a popcorn bud is generally added to harvest’s “trim.” They are then made into cannabis extracts, butter, hash, or edibles.

Indoor vs. Outdoor: Plant Pruning and Cannabis Flower Growth

The amount of cannabis popcorn buds present in one’s harvest is greatly dependent upon the way in which growers choose to prune their plants. Similarly, how growers prune their cannabis plants is also dictated by whether the plant is grown indoors or outdoors.

For indoor gardening operations, the intensity of horticultural lighting diminishes exponentially in relationship with distance form a light source. This means, a mere six inch difference in how close a branch and flower is to a grow light will greatly affect their growth and productivity. Point being, a uniform canopy will result in a harvest that contains mostly cola and mid-sized buds. Because, the entire canopy is receiving maximum illumination. Those branches below the average canopy height will yield popcorn buds and trim material.

To put the actual flower growth of cannabis plants in perspective, the top cola buds are the largest flowers because they receive the largest amount of light. For indoor gardens, these top cola flowers are generally the only buds that gardeners like to leave in their canopy. In indoor settings, growers usually “clean-up” the bottom portions of plants ¾ away up the plant. In this clean-up process, cultivators use a sterile pair of scissors to remove elements of the plant (leaves, branches, buds) which don’t receive very strong light from the artificial light source in question. Because, those elements of the plant not receiving full light will yield airy flowers (for trim) and cannabis popcorn buds.

Outdoor cannabis gardeners have the blessing of abundant sunlight as well as plants that are greatly spread-out from one another. As a result, outdoor cultivation operations feature large colas on the sides, as well as, the tops of plants. Strong sunlight reacting with this side growth results in these cannabis flowers.

While the general plant processes of growth for indoor and outdoor gardens is the same, the less restrictive growth space of outdoor gardens requires a different pruning process. For outdoor grows, this pruning process is referred to as “middling.” Because, growers only clean up the middle of the plants—generally not cutting off the bottom branches (because of abundant sunlight). As seen with indoor crops, outdoor cultivators do this middling process to remove all plant matter which isn’t receiving much light. This plant matter is generally considered trim or cannabis popcorn buds.

Cannabis Popcorn Buds: Trimming and Handling

As aforementioned, popcorn buds are those small buds which are tightly enough packed to be kept in a bag with the rest of the colas and mid-size flowers. However, while popcorn flowers are considered “keepers” in the minds of most cultivators, there are a few stipulations one should remember when processing and storing them:

  • Trimming popcorn buds is an extremely daunting task. A sure way to burn oneself out while trimming is to schedule an entire day of little bud hand work. Therefore, many cannabis gardeners today choose to use trim machines to “clean-up” their popcorns while hand-trimming the larger, prized flowers.
  • If hand trimming popcorn buds, it is a good idea to mix them in with the larger flowers as to not overwork oneself while handling these smaller buds in one trim session.
  • When harvesting a significant sized crop, it is easy to overlook popcorn buds and put them directly in with one’s trim. Make sure that a keen eye is kept on the harvest process to ensure that these little buds make it into the bag with the rest of the flowers.


This article originally appeared in the October / November 2017 edition of HydroLife Magazine.