Growing cannabis isn’t a walk in a park. At least growing great cannabis isn’t. You need to know a lot of things to optimise the health and yield of your plant. One piece of information that is important to consider is the sugar level of your plant. This might seem like a strange variable, but it’s actually one of the biggest factors affecting cannabis growth, ultimately dictating the weight of your harvest. If a plant produces enough sugar and distributes it to the right places around its structure, you can expect a haul of fat buds.
Thus, it’s essential for growers to know how sugar is distributed around your plant, as well as how you, the grower, can boost sugar development.
We’ve all heard of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a natural process conducted by all plants, in which sunlight is converted to, you guessed it, sugar.
There are a variety of ways to enhance this process and encourage greater sugar production. But it’s not just about adding supplements; sugars must reach the right places throughout the plant, with some areas requiring more than others.
The principle behind sugar distribution is called “sink strength” where sugar flows or “sinks” through its different organs. However, the speed of the flow varies, and the buds are the ones that need and receive most of the sugar.
Also, younger foliage requires more sugar because it is still growing. Meanwhile, the older and mature leaves need less. The unabsorbed sugar doesn’t go to waste though, as it is transferred to the young leaves.
This might sound like a straightforward process, but it really is quite complex. In fact, there’s a lot of competition going on as every part of the plant pulls whatever sugar they can get. The harder the pull, the more sugar goes into it. This means that the organs with stronger suction get more sugar.
We can calculate how efficiently sunlight is being converted to sugar by measuring carbohydrates (simple sugars) contained within the sap of cannabis leaves. The process may sound complicated, however, with a brief overview of brix levels and a cheap, straightforward instrument, novice and experienced cultivators can unlock invaluable growing prowess.
Brix is the scientific term for measuring how much light bends when it passes through an object. Place any object into water and it appears to bend. In reality, the light outside the water travels at a higher speed than the light within the water. The difference in density of the two substances is what results in the optical illusion. By measuring the angle at which light travels through sap, it is possible to calculate the degree of refraction taking place. The brix level obtained via the use of a refractometer will give growers an indication of the sugar density of sap, and thus the strength of the plant.
Remember, higher sugar content means fatter buds, and a greater brix percentage is indicative of this. Although other compounds within sap will alter the angle at which light refracts, sugar—or in this case carbohydrates—are one of the largest molecules, and as a result, their effect on light is more dramatic than other, smaller molecules.
The difference between the plants before and after sugar treatment is a beautiful sugar like frosting all over the buds. The trichomes basically double overnight, making the buds look extra white and milky. Everybody knows that the trichomes contain the greatest amount of cannabinoids, so a plant heavily coated in trichomes is a good result.
Even though a lot of growers debate about this issue, the grower of this garden swears by feeding cannabis plants sugars. You can use a number of different methods to apply sugar to your plant, such as with sugar water, honey or molasses. You can make your own mixtures or buy products on the market. However, this is one of those unconventional growing tricks, so experimenting is the only way to find out!
Sugar as energy
Some sugar carbohydrates function as a primary energy source for cannabis plants, feeding the buds and leaves throughout their lives. Meanwhile, other sugars function as cellulose for plants, contributing to their structure.
Cannabis plants produce sugar carbohydrates as a result of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process by which plants convert light, carbon dioxide (CO₂), and water (H₂O) into oxygen (O₂) for the environment around them, and sugar energy for themselves. A chemical called chlorophyll is used to convert the light energy the plant absorbs into useable food energy. At night, or during an otherwise dark period, the plant will switch from energy production to protein production and oxygen processing.
Sugar is primarily produced in maturing leaves, as they typically take in the most sunlight. Fully-grown, matured leaves are a cannabis plant’s main source of sugar production. As such, some growers prefer to trim smaller leaves and stems that may distract a plant’s energy from being concentrated in these areas.
Sugar carbohydrates that are consumed for energy are known as “non-structural carbohydrates”. Some of the sugars created during photosynthesis are immediately consumed for energy. Meanwhile, others are distributed throughout the plant where they are stored in reserve for later energy needs.
Sugar carbohydrates are especially important during a plant’s flowering period when energy is needed the most. A plant will require the most carbohydrates around week 4 of its bloom stage when it is most focussed on bud production. Well-fed cannabis plants with well-stocked sugar reserves will develop thick, potent, and resinous buds. Maximising sugar production and sugar reserves is essential to maximising terpene and resin production in buds.
Sugar as structure
Sugars also contribute to the cellular structure of plants. In the case of cannabis, sugars contribute 80% of the plant’s structure. These kinds of sugar carbohydrates are known as “structural carbohydrates”. They function as vital building blocks, helping to develop cell walls throughout the plant.
The importance of sugar distribution
In addition to sugar production, cannabis plants also need to effectively distribute the sugars. Before storing sugar reserves, marijuana plants first transport carbohydrates to the locations where they will be needed in the future.
The distribution method that marijuana plants use to mobilise carbohydrates is called “sink strength”. Sugars flow downwards throughout the plant and its organs, almost as if they were sinking.
Certain parts of the plant are more demanding and exert a much stronger pull on carbohydrate resources. As such, sugars do not always flow or sink at the same rate throughout the entire plant. Experts believe that a plant’s main bud sites can have a pull/sink strength nearly 3 times stronger than that of younger leaves.
There is very little waste when it comes to the distribution of sugars. Mature leaves and main colas will always demand and acquire the most sugar resources. This is because female cannabis plants will always prioritise the production of buds over leaves.