While the frenzied post-harvest rush to market may still tempt many cultivators to journey down the path of wet trimming in an effort to save time, it’s safe to say that the old wet trim vs dry trim debate is all but over on today’s most successful cannabis farms. Few if any cultivators look forward to the labor-intensive process of trimming cannabis. For decades, this process required a small army of seasonal helpers working day and night to meticulously remove leaves from cannabis buds in preparation for retail or further processing into cannabis-infused products. However, the evolution in manufacturing equipment is freeing craft and commercial grow operations alike from the laborious process of trimming by hand with the added benefit of automatically collecting their leftover biomass for use in other products such as cannabutter and topicals.
Trimming cannabis is the process of removing the sugar leaves from your buds — a huge part of the post-harvest work that goes into preparing a cannabis crop for consumption. In many cases, it can be the difference between an eighth that sells for $20 and one that sells for $65. First and foremost, trimming greatly reduces the chance of any mold forming on your freshly harvested cannabis before it has the chance to dry. These leaves can trap moisture, making it much easier for mold to form, ruining months of hard work. Safety aside, trimming cannabis is also an important way to improve the experience, aroma, aesthetics, and price.
In terms of experience, trimming won’t literally increase the potency of cannabis — pruning a leaf at this stage does not help produce more THC in other parts of the plant. However, removing the excess plant material that’s far lower in active compounds such as THC will leave you with you a much stronger product. The other big factor in experience is how harsh the smoke feels when the sugar leaves are left intact. Since these leaves do not produce a significant amount of cannabinoids or other active compounds that contribute to the entourage effect, it doesn’t make much sense to leave them on the plant.
Trimming also provides a boost to the aroma, similar to the way it affects potency. Without the sugar leaves in the way, the plant’s terpenes are more pronounced. These are the aromatic compounds that are largely responsible for each strain’s unique smell and effects. Careful trimmers know to handle the plant with care to ensure none of the trichomes that hold these desirable compounds are damaged or broken. If done properly, this makes for a pristine product that experienced consumers can see is bursting with swollen trichomes that can justify a much higher price.
What is Wet Trimming?
Wet trimming is the process of pruning cannabis buds immediately after they’re harvested but before they’re dried. Regardless of your moisture content, learning how to trim is largely the same for wet and dry cannabis. You begin by cutting each branch near the node or joint that connects each new stem offshoot with older more substantial growth. It’s important not to set a wet branch down on a flat surface, otherwise, the buds will likely begin to flatten under their weight and lose their bulbous shape — and shelf appeal. The next step is to carefully prune the small sugar leaves on each bud, starting at the base of the bud and working your way up. Once the buds are mostly free from any sugar leaf remnants during a wet trim, they’re ready for drying and curing.
Generally speaking, commercial growers who trim wet tend to be in a time crunch and look to wet trimming as a way to speed up the post-harvest process. But that does not mean there aren’t a few advantages to wet trimming, including mold prevention, faster drying, and the ability to place more buds on the drying rack. From an operations standpoint, it may make sense for some growers to keep staff on from the harvest through the trimming process, without waiting for any drying in between. On the downside in terms of operations, trimming wet can result in a much higher cost of labor per pound. Because most trimmers across the industry are paid by weight, trimming wet means growers are essentially paying for water that will be lost before the product is weighed for retail. This means that a grower will likely pay a trimmer much more to work with a wet product than a dry product. For most commercial operations, the costs tend to outweigh the benefits when comparing wet vs dry trimming.
What is Dry Trimming?
Dry trimming is the process of pruning cannabis buds after they’re dried but before they’re cured. In dry trimming, freshly harvested branches are hung upside down in a drying room for around 10 to 14 days until the ideal level of moisture is achieved. Once dry, the large individual branches are cut into manageable pieces. Trimmers then carefully remove the sugar leaves from each bud, beginning at the bottom and working their way to the top. Once the majority of sugar leaves and their remnants are removed, the trimmed buds are carefully loaded into curing containers and stored until the active compounds within the remaining trichomes reach their optimal level of flavor and potency.
Dry trimming is generally considered better at helping flowers maintain their full flavor as a result of a slower dry time. This allows the chemicals within the plant to mature at an optimal pace. This process also helps produce finished buds that are denser or more compact, which makes them more desirable for retail. On the other side, a drier cannabis bud is more delicate and the brittle trichomes may be easier to damage if not handled with care. The drying process also takes up much more space in a drying room because of the large amount of plant material present prior to trimming. From an operations standpoint, dry trimming can be more complicated if you’ve already sent the workers home while you wait for your hanging plants to dry. However, this last issue has become largely antiquated with automated trimming machines able to process up to 16 pounds an hour, outpacing the fastest human trimmers who are able to produce up to three pounds in one hour.
The Verdict: Dry Trimming is Best
When working under normal growing conditions, experience, aroma, aesthetics, and sales price are all positively impacted by dry trimming. But when a cultivator is contemplating all of the pros and cons surrounding each trimming method for cannabis flowers, it’s important to consider how this decision impacts the rest of your post-harvest activities. Deciding between wet and dry trimming dictates the way in which you’ll dry and cure your cannabis. If you add the benefits of machine automation to tackle the vast majority of your trimming work, any of the time-saving arguments for wet trimming dry up very quickly. Knowing that you can save countless hours with automation means that farms can shift their time and energy into higher-value activities, such as a proper curing process that ensures the plant’s chemicals have reached their peak aroma, flavor, and effects without being rushed to market.
What to Do With the Leftover Trim?
Regardless of your trimming preference for dry, wet, hand, or machine, you’re going to have a great deal of leftover plant material. This includes stems, stalks, fan leaves, and the sugar leaves you removed during the trimming process. While many growers will consider these low-cannabinoid items waste products, this collection of “trim” does have value and should be put to good use with the help of a dry-sift, solvent-free trichome extractor machine. For large commercial grow operations, selling their bulk plant material or “biomass” to other processors to turn into kief, topicals, and other extracts is an excellent way to capture as much value as possible from every plant grown.
For home growers as well as retail consumers, keeping your stems to steep into a homemade cannabis-infused tea is a popular pastime. While your trimmed sugar leaves may not be bursting in trichomes, they do have enough THC and other active compounds to be used in a cannabutter recipe for edibles. You can also use your leftover plant material to make a cannabis salve from CBD-rich or THC-rich plant trimmings.