As a cultivator and caretaker of fruit trees, one of the more interesting metrics I’ve encountered regarding pruning is that one should be able to toss a cat through the center of a trimmed tree without them bumping into any branches as they pass through.
Since hemp plants are smaller than fruit trees, we decided to give that old maxim an upgrade. The flying squirrel seemed like a natural choice because of their diminutive stature and ability to glide to a gentle landing.
Of course, comfortable aerial passage for cute fuzzy creatures is merely a secondary benefit of creating an open structure in our hemp plants.
The first pruning occurs while the plants are still in the greenhouse. We typically pinch the bottom set of leaves off in order to allow for more ground clearance once the plants are in the field. Then we count up four or five sets of leaves (nodes) and pinch off the central leader. This allows for the two shoots at the top node to become co-leaders and mature into two forearm sized colas, which is the term for the large flower buds that become dense as harvest approaches. In our experience, these two resultant primary colas are often just as large as what a single one would have been had we not pruned, and we certainly appreciate that. It also has the effect of directing more energy to all of the other side branches, resulting in a bushier plant that yields more flower buds at harvest.
Another reason for pruning is to create good airflow. As transpiration occurs and water vapor escapes the plants through the openings (stomata) in their leaves, a humid microclimate is created in the atmosphere just around the plant. Without good airflow, this moist environment could be a place where mold spores find a hospitable place to grow. This transpiration process also signals the plant to pull more water up from the soil and keep their own water cycle going. I liken this activity to a person working up a sweat and then rehydrating, flushing out toxins along the way. It’s critical for us to keep things moving and allow our bodies to discharge what they no longer have use for. The plants have these same needs.
When wind whips through the valley at the Bravo farm, a hemp plant with reduced vegetation becomes less of a sail and allows for air to move readily through. Hemp plants are strong and sturdy, but they also put on so much vegetative mass so quickly, they sometimes run the risk of catching enough wind to bend or even break.
Many of the internal leaves and branches tend to get shaded out as the plants become larger. Eventually, this lack of sunlight tends to result in deficiencies that eventually cause the plant to shed these parts by themselves. When we prune some of these parts that are destined to drop to the ground anyway, we encourage the plant to put her precious energy into areas that are more likely to persist and be robust in the long term. Like so many things, a subtle redirection of focused attention can provide better outcomes.
Finally, pruning is a time when we get to be engaged with each plant individually, looking for signs of disease or pest damage or anything else the plants might need. Our craft-sized operation at Bravo allows us to have an intimate relationship with the plants, and really, this is the best thing of all. When we leave a pruning session with hands a little bit sticky and smelling of sweet hemp, we are reminded of just how magical it is to be involved in the process and we hope that our – and the plant’s – joy shines through in whatever Bravo offering suits you best.