In order to increase the number of buds you harvest, it’s important to ensure your cannabis plant has enough sugar. Let’s take a look at why sugar is so essential to the growth process, and how the cultivator can boost sugar production with various methods.
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.
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.
HOW ARE SUGAR LEVELS MEASURED IN CANNABIS PLANTS?
The amount of sugar carbohydrates present in a plant is determined through the measurement of its Brix levels. Brix levels measure the angle at which light moves through sap. When it comes to cannabis plants, Brix levels effectively tell us the amount of sugar they contain. They do this by measuring the amount of solid matter present in the plant’s juices. The higher the Brix levels found in a plant, the healthier and better-off it is.
Brix levels can be measured using a small handheld refractometer tool. Ideally, you should use one specifically designed for measuring Brix/sugar levels between 0–32%. The ideal refractometer tool should also automatically account for temperature.
The first step to measuring the Brix level of a marijuana plant is calibrating the refractometer with distilled water. A reading of 0% should confirm that the refractometer is working correctly and is ready to test cannabis.
Cannabis plants are tested by measuring their juices. A small leaf should be picked from the plant and crushed to produce juice. This juice can then be tested using the refractometer. In order to get the most accurate reading possible, try to make sure that the juice is pure, and not contaminated with plant matter.
The general consensus among growers is that the optimal Brix level of a cannabis plant should be approximately 22%. However, only a minimum baseline of 12% is considered necessary in order to raise a healthy plant. If you find that your plant’s levels are below these, you may want to look at ways to increase their sugar carbohydrate concentration.
In addition to their Brix levels, marijuana plants can also give you an indication of their energy reserves through their appearance. Plants that contain high sugar and mineral content tend to develop a healthy, shiny, waxy veneer.
CALCULATING SUGAR USING BRIX LEVELS
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.