How To Manifold Cannabis Plants

A Cannabis Manifold Plant

A cannabis manifold is a very efficient way to train plants to produce large harvests of the most desirable bud. In our article, “Mainlines & Manifolds: the best ways to train cannabis plants”, I explain the benefits of manifolding and compare manifold training to mainline training, screen of green training (Scrog), and Sea of Green grows (SOG). I invite you to read that article first to be sure that manifold training is right for your cannabis grow. In this tutorial, I cover how to manifold cannabis plants. I go step-by-step through the process to provide a simple and clear tutorial for manifolding cannabis plants.

This article is part of our comprehensive guide to mainline and manifold training for cannabis plants.

The Coco for Cannabis Guide to Mainlines and Manifolds

Cannabis Manifold Training Q&A

What is a Cannabis Manifold?

A cannabis manifold is a plant that has been topped twice. Two branches are preserved during the first topping. Four branches are preserved from each side during the second topping, which leaves eight nearly equal main branches or “colas”.

How is manifold training different than mainline training?

Both manifold training and mainline training are techniques to produce plants with eight main branches or colas. Mainline training involves topping the plant three times at symmetrical nodes to produce eight equal main branches or “colas”. Manifold training produces eight main branches with only two toppings by preserving four branches on each side of the plant during the second topping. To learn more and determine which is the best cannabis training method for your plants, see our article “Mainlines and Manifolds: The Best Ways to Train Cannabis Plants”.

Is manifold training good for beginner growers?

Yes! As long as the plants are growing well, any grower can execute a manifold. It is a systematic approach that takes out much of the guess work. Just follow our step-by-step guide to manifolding cannabis plants below.

How long does it take to grow a cannabis manifold?

This depends a lot on your media and style of growing. If you follow our style of high frequency fertigation in coco/perlite, then you can complete manifold training and be ready to flip the plants to flowering in as little as four weeks from seed. See our guide “Growing Cannabis in Coco with High Frequency Fertigation” to learn the keys to growing in coco. In deep water culture, growth rates will be similar. However, in soil, it could take 6-8 weeks before plants are ready to be flipped.

Is manifold training good for seeds and clones?

You can manifold plants grown from seed and from clone. However, I believe that mainline training is a superior technique for plants grown from seed. This is because seedlings have great symmetrical growth and take full advantage of the mainline structure. See our tutorial, “How to Mainline Cannabis Plants”.

I believe that manifold training is the best way to train clones. Clones do not have symmetrical growth, which makes it hard to evenly divide dominance between the branches at each topping. It is that even distribution of dominance that makes mainlining so effective for seedlings. With clones, it is actually easier to achieve equality among the eight branches with manifold training. I offer specific tips for manifolding clones below.

Can you manifold auto-flowers?

Manifold training is possible for auto-flowering cannabis plants. However, it is important to have healthy and vigorous plants. You have a limited amount of time for topping when you are growing auto-flowers. Therefore, if the plants do not grow fast enough you may run out of time to complete the second topping.

If you want to manifold an auto-flower you have to set a time limit for topping your plants. Most 10-12 week auto-flowering strains can be topped for the first 30 days from the time that the seeds hit water. 8-10 week auto-flowers will offer only 21-24 days during which you can safely top the plant. These timelines are rough guidelines that are safe for most plants. However, you should always watch your plant and never top it once it has started to produce pistils.

Most growers will have a hard time to successfully manifold an 8-10 week auto-flowering strain. However, it is possible to manifold a 10-12 week auto-flowering strain. The only trick to manifolding an auto-flower is that the second topping must be complete before the plant is 30 days old or starts to produce pistils.

The media that you grow in will make a big difference in whether you are able to grow the plant quickly enough to top it twice in less than 30 days. It is certainly possible if you follow our guidelines for high frequency fertigation in coco/perlite ("Growing Cannabis in Coco with High Frequency Fertigation"). However, it is far more difficult to accomplish in soil.

If you set out to manifold an auto-flower and run out of time, it is not the end of the world. Rather than the second topping you should just use aggressive LST and/or super-cropping to help distribute the apical dominance and the growth. The plant will still benefit from the first topping and become branchy and trainable.

How many cannabis manifolds will fit in my space?

Cannabis manifolds become large plants. They can occupy a huge footprint if trained out wide. Alternatively, they can be kept in a pretty small space if you allow them to grow vertically. I think the ideal is to have about 3-4 square feet per plant.

In a 4x4 tent, I think four manifolds is ideal. I have grown as many as six manifolds in that space, but it was too cramped and did not allow room for the plants to spread out. Two plants trained as manifolds could fill a 4x4 tent but starting with four plants is more efficient.

Cannabis Manifolds will grow a lot, so be sure that you have adequate space. If you try to cram a lot of plants into a small footprint, you had better have plenty of vertical height to allow them to grow up. If your vertical height is limited, then you should grow fewer manifolds and work to spread them out horizontally.

Four Cannabis Manifolds in a 4x4 tent

Equipment & Supplies for Manifolding Cannabis

If you plan to do any topping or pruning then you will need to get a pair of pruning snips. These will also be your number one tool for trimming the harvest!

Fiskars Non-Stick Softgrip Microtip Pruning Snips
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These Fiskars snips are really the best on the market and every grower owes themselves a pair. We linked the non-stick version because that feature really helps later when you are trimming the sticky resinous colas.

Slim Soft Ties
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Plant ties are used to secure the plant during training. They hold the plant in place but do not injure the plant. You can use other household items like string or yarn, but they are not nearly as convenient as proper plant ties. What ever route you take, avoid using anything that is too narrow or sharp. Things like fishing line can actually injure the plant.Soft ties are my preferred plant tie solution! I bought a couple spools several grows ago and continue to reuse the pieces on every grow. It is a soft coated wire that is easy to bend and shape, but rigid enough to support and restrain cannabis plants.

When you are training or working around your plants you may accidentally injure them. Stem splits and tears often occur during low stress training (LST) or supercropping. Many growers use a sticky tape such as electrical tape to wrap around these injuries. While it is important to wrap up the injury, you should never put sticky tape on a plant, because it will lead to further injury!

Grafting Tape
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Grafting Tape is the professional horticultural solution for this problem. Grafting Tape is more like kitchen plastic wrap, in that it sticks to itself and creates an air tight seal, but it does not stick to the plant. It also expands to accommodate plant growth. Every grower should buy a roll! It is the correct product to help heal injured plants and it is quite inexpensive.

Dr. Coco’s Cannabis Manifold Training Tutorial

In this tutorial I use the terms “node”, “growth tip”, “top” and “cola”. For clarification of these terms, please see “Cannabis Training Terminology” in our guide, “Mainlines & Manifolds: The best ways to train cannabis plants”.

Step 1: Grow the plant to six nodes

The first step in manifold training is to grow the plant out to six nodes. It is important to wait to allow the plant to develop six nodes before topping for the first time. As we explain in our article, “Topping Cannabis Plants: Why, When & How”, if you top earlier than this you risk stunting the plant. It often seems counterproductive to new growers to wait for growth and then cut it all off. However, the growth that is most important during this time is in the root system. Leaving the plant unmolested until it develops six nodes ensures that it has adequate time to develop a good root system. An established root system will prevent shock and help the plant to recover quicker from the topping.

Trim the Tips, but Leave the Leaves

During the early growth of the plant it is critically important to keep every single leaf that you can. The leaves are powering the growth of the plant and removing them will slow the plant’s growth considerably. That said, you can and should remove the growth tips that you will not keep. In both mainline and manifold training, we only keep the branches from the third node on the main stalk. That means that we need to trim off the branches from the first and second nodes. You can trim these as soon as you can safely cut them away without injuring the adjacent fan leaf. Remember, trim the tips but leave the leaves!

Topping and Transplanting

In early life, our job as growers is to encourage healthy growth and good root development. As with all plants, I recommend starting in small containers and potting up. Be sure to read our article, “Transplanting Cannabis Plants: Why, When & How”.

Plants are often ready for final containers around the same time that they are ready to be topped for the first time. When I use half-gallon second containers, I often transplant to final containers before topping. In larger second containers, you should plan to do the first topping in the second container and then transplant to final containers. Both topping and transplanting can be stressful events for plants. Therefore, you should always separate them by a day or two and verify the plant has recovered from one before doing the other.

Step 2: Top the plant to the third node

This is a pretty simple step, but it can be hard to bring yourself to do it. We spend three weeks or more nurturing these little plants and then we are supposed to chop them in half. If you struggle with this step, then you are like virtually every other cannabis grower who has tried it. However, I assure you – it will work out for the best in the end.

We top manifolds to the third node. This means that we remove the fourth node and everything above it. The branches growing from the third node become the two new “tops”. They are the main branches, and each will be topped again in time. The lower branches from the first and second node were removed during step one. Therefore, following this first topping there are exactly two branches on the plant.

Leave a stump

When we top the main stalk to make a manifold, it is important to leave a stump. Avoid cutting close to the third node. Instead make the cut just below the fourth node. This leaves a large section of “stump”. It may look ugly but helps to prevent stem splitting. As the plant grows, it will eventually envelope this “stump”.

Use sharp snips like the Fiskars snips that I use. Apologize to the plant if you feel that you are betraying her, and then it is just a quick snip and it’s done. If you have space, you can take the tops that are removed during this topping and clone them.

Step 3: Grow both branches to the fourth node

Following the first topping I allow my plants to grow unimpeded until each main branch is working on its fourth node. In coco, this usually takes 5-6 days. It will take somewhat longer in soil.

There are manifold training guides that recommend aggressive training during this stage. I disagree with this approach and argue that it is counterproductive to our ultimate goals. You can gently bend the branches away from each other if they need space, but aggressive bending and supercropping should wait until these branches have reached past their third node.

Remove the growth tips on the second node

For manifold training we will preserve the growth tips from the first and the third node on each of the two branches. However, the growth tips on the second node need to be removed. You can trim these as soon as you can cut it away without injuring the adjacent fan leaf. You want to keep all the leaves that you can to power the growth of your plant.

Step 4: Top both branches to their third node

When each main branch has grown past the third node it is time to top them again. Unlike, the first topping, it is not important to let the plant grow much past the third node. Initially that is important to allow the plant to establish a root system. At this point we can top the plants as soon as they are ready.

You can do the second topping as soon as you can safely cut the main stalk without injuring the tips on the third node. It is helpful to wait for the fourth node to start to push away from the third to have room to make the cut. However, you can also gently pull the leaves back to expose and cut the stem earlier. Just make certain that you do not injure or remove the two growth tips on the third node.

Following this step, you should have eight growth tips remaining on the plant. There are two main branches. On each main branch there are two growth tips coming from the first node and two growth tips on the third node. Because the remaining branches emerge from different nodes on the plant we now need to train them so that they will develop equally.

Step 5: Train the main branches

After the second topping it is time to begin really training the two main branches. Because we remove very little growth from the plant during the second topping, we can begin training without waiting for the plant to “recover”. I often top and train during the same session.

With manifolds, our first training priority is to ensure that all eight branches develop equally. When you use mainline training, the branches are equal because they all emerge from the same height on the plant. However, with manifold training we keep branches on both the first and the third nodes during the second topping. Without training the growth tips on the third node will become dominant and suppress the growth of the branches on the first node.

The natural tendency of cannabis is for the terminal growth tips to be dominant. We can reduce this tendency by lowering the terminal growth tips through training. Training eight equal main branches on a manifold requires significantly lowering the two main branches. The goal is to have the first node and the third node at the same relative height above the ground.

There are two options for this training. You can use low stress training which is gently bending the main branches down and securing them with soft ties. Alternatively, you can supercrop the two main branches.

Supercrop Manifolds for Even Growth

I recommend supercropping to create the best symmetry among the eight colas. Super- cropping is a technique based on pinching the stem to break the inner core. Softening the stem in this fashion allow us to bend and fold branches without injuring them. It allows us to lower the main branches more than low stress training. Furthermore, it produces knuckles at the point of supercropping which become points of structural support for the manifolded plant. I discuss the specific practice of supercropping these branches in our tutorial, “When & How to Supercrop Cannabis Plants”.

Promote the growth of the branches on the first node

The branches on the first node will be larger than the tips at the third node when you do the second topping. However, the goal is to continue to promote the growth of those first node branches. We need to give them every advantage early or the third node branches will dominate and suppress their growth. One way that we do this is by bringing the third node tips down to the level of the first nodes. We also need to make sure that the first node branches get good light.

There is one leaf that you can cut off

At this point in the training, the plant should still have all its leaves. However, after supercropping the main branches there is one leaf that is in your best interest to prune. On almost every cannabis manifold, when the main branches are supercropped, the inside leaf from the second node will cover the two growth tips from the first node. It is really a shame that we have to prune this leaf, because it is perfectly positioned to receive light. However, its shade will slow the growth of the branches on the first node. At this stage of the process, promoting the first node branches is our first priority

Manifold Training for Clones

Mainline and manifold training for clones is more difficult because clones grow without symmetry. Early in life cannabis plants produce symmetrical nodes with two branches that emerge from every node at the same place. However, as the plants mature, the nodes lose their symmetry and the branches emerge at different points on the stalk. Since cannabis clones are usually taken from mature plants, they have asymmetrical nodes. The lack of symmetry makes it a challenge to top the plants and produce two equal branches.

When working with clones it is no longer possible to neatly count nodes. Instead, you choose branches to keep based on their position and in some cases based on their potential.

For the initial topping you should choose a pair of branches that emerge from close to the same spot on the stalk. If there is little difference, then choose the most vigorous adjacent two branches. Cut the main stalk above the set of branches that you select.

After the initial topping one little branch will be higher than the other. It is critical to lower the height of the higher branch and shift dominance towards the branch that emerges lower on the main stalk. I hold the upper branch down until the lower branch has gained a slight advantage and appears thicker than the upper. This may take 2-4 days.

Cannabis Manifold Training for clones

When the two main branches are growing out you need to select 4 growth tips on each side to keep. Because of the asymmetrical growth of clones, each plant will be a little different. The rule here is just to choose branches that are vigorous and pointed in the right direction. Remove the tips you will not keep and top the branch above the fourth tip that you will keep.

In most other ways, manifold training for clones is just like manifold training for seedlings. For both types of plants, once the basic structure is complete we shift our attention to pruning and training to spread the plant out and promote an even canopy.

The Next Steps

Once you have eight main branches, the manifold structure is complete. The plants are usually about four to six weeks old and entering the late vegetation stage. This is an exciting time for cannabis manifolds because the growth will explode over the next several weeks.

See our guide, “Training Mainlines and Manifolds in Late Vegetation and Flowering” (coming soon!), for tips on how to manage the rest of your cannabis manifold grow.

The Coco for Cannabis Guide to Mainlines and Manifolds

Author: Dr Coco

I am a university professor and have taught courses in horticulture. I am coco for cannabis and I hope you are coco for cannabis too :) Grower Love!

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