Low Stress Training Guide
By Chris Stobing
What do growers mean when they talk about “low stress training”? To anyone new, it might sound like some workout for the weekends or a new diet plan, but the experienced grower will know right away that you’re trying to maximize yield, and use as little space as you can while doing it.
Low stress training, or LST as it’s more commonly referred, is the practice of bending plants to your will in order to get the heaviest fruits possible in the least amount of square footage available. The process begins when the plant is only a few weeks old, and will continue all the way through flowering in order to give it the best chance to flourish in an area that may be less than vertically or horizontally ideal.
As each node grows it will be tied down to a portion of the pot, watering system, or surrounding wall to give it an anchor. This anchor then guides the plant on its growth path, in order to effectively use as much of the box or closet as it can, without occupying a space it would suck up if left totally without tending.
How you tie your plant down depends entirely on the environment it’s surrounded by, so check out our guide on the best ways to accommodate your grow room with the low stress training method.
Tie It Down
If you have buckets, pipe cleaners are a popular option to tie down the branches in an adjustable fashion, without hurting the plant or causing water blockage like some other options do. Another harm-free way to achieve the same effect is to use fish hooks attached to adjustable strings, which you can tie down along the rim into pre-drilled holes. Anytime you use string or something less flexible than rubber bands, keep in mind that the tie-down area is going to grow a lot over a short span, and anything which constricts the flow of water along that pipeline is going to affect the overall health of that site for the rest of the grow cycle.
Zip ties have also become more common in larger operations, as they provide a quickly adjustable method to tie down branches which can sustain a low level of constriction with a high capacity for strength. Because you can still hold the growths with enough space to grow into, this makes for a low-maintenance choice which can relieve many of the headaches involved with using LST in your garden. Generally the straight-line nature of their build means you won’t have as many directional or customization options when the moment comes to decide what your plant is going to do, but for an easy-to-use application these are definitely the best way to go.
One thing to remember is most plants can be relatively strong when they get bigger, and a lot of grip will be required to keep everything tied in place when the plant is big enough to break out into song with a chorus a la Little Shop of Horrors. Eventually the branches will outgrow most bonds you originally make (unless they are entirely metal for some reason, which I can’t recommend). By the time this happens they will be able to support themselves without your girders though, and a simple Google search can show you hundreds of pictures of plants both pre and post trim which reveal the positioning that is required in a successful LST setup.
I’ve found that no matter what kind of plant you eventually end up growing, the best method is always to make a drawing or diagram of your grow room, plot the patterns that your prospective plant likes to grow in, and create predetermined points which will be hit during the course of my grow. That way no matter what the plant does, I can always be sure that the product will follow a specific pattern I created beforehand, getting the most efficiency out of the small area I generally have to work with.
Buckets vs. Tubs
So whether you eventually decide to use soil or hydroponics to feed your crop, there are two camps of growers out there right now that should each know how to properly determine the paths for their greenery.
The first are buckets, and no matter if they are using clay hydroton or Fox Farm soil to keep their roots suspended, they should follow a few key rules when deciding how their plants are going to eventually pan out. A beginners mistake is to only make anchoring holes along the edge of the bucket and use those to secure any wild branches. Do this without a set plan and you’ll end up with an uncentered bush that has a huge bald spot right in the middle, with no flowers or fruits basking in the most important portion of the grow.
This can be harmful for both hydro and soil, as the central root area is the last place you want being heated up over its limits, and without proper coverage it can bake a healthy root system alive just a matter of days. To avoid this, make sure you tie down the first growths out to the rim, and after one link double back into the middle in order to give the surface of your medium the protection and shade it needs to keep root masses cool.
Rubbermaid tubs on the other hand are an entirely different beast, one which takes a special level of expertise and understanding of genetics before you get it right. For anyone who grows in tubs I recommend breaking new systems in with several different types of the same plant, and taking extensive notes on the pattern in which different strains grow. From there you can select the best contenders for your space, and refer to earlier diagrams on where tie downs should take place to minimize the amount of surprises. With soil this is a little more flexible, as you can use removable tent stakes to act as the tie which can be used over and over, while still maintaining the resistance you’ll need.
After this is done on the first or second harvests, you can drill into the top and handles of the reservoir, and use those spots as permanent lines that clones will always follow.
"Trim for the plant it’s going to be, not the one it is now.”-Anonymous
I came across this saying when I was still green and scrolling through the hundreds of different responses on forums like Garden’s Cure. There you could get answers to any different question, from topics like lighting and plumbing, to trimming and nutrient balances from people who had been involved in the industry for decades prior.
So after applying the idea to my own garden, I realized that over-trimming is a bad habit I needed to break myself out of, because taking big branches is just a lost opportunity for something that could have been great. Whenever you decide to prune, tie down sites; potential or current, are what you need to be aware of at all times if you want to create a productive garden. This is where the notes come in handy, as the variety of your plant can be predictable as long as you keep everything aligned to the same plans and lay ties along its natural route.
Trimming is not to be taken lightly...some call it an art form, one that involves an intricate understanding both the genetics, capabilities, and resistance levels of every strain currently available on the market today. Once the perfect seeds or clones are found, they have to be very carefully manipulated in a calculated game of prediction and risk, which if done well by an experienced hand can pay off in spades and then some.
From our guide you can see that Low Stress Training is not just the mastery of one talent, but many, both in knowledge and in steadiness of hand. Bend one branch too hard-you might as well be supercropping, send another twisting in the wrong direction-you’ll have nutrients backing up on the interstate faster than you can say “I only went to sleep for the night”.
Done properly, it’s capable of creating a special bond between master and puppet, with a symbiotic relationship of give and take that will eventually form over the course of the growth cycle. There’s something magical about giving instructions to an organic piece of life and watching it follow them without question., and marvel at the canopy that fills in over the course of a few weeks while you bend, slice, and snip your way to a perfectly maintained network of stems and fruit sites on the finished product.
Much like raising a child you worry when the early paths are being laid while it’s still young, but when they become someone who ends up exactly the way you’d hoped, the same pride can be attributed to a skillfully matured and well-constructed plant.