Terpenes are yet another compound found in the cannabis plant that greatly impact how certain strains taste and smell. As more research is done on terpenes and how they impact humans, they are becoming an increasingly popular factor for consumers when purchasing cannabis products.
Because of this surge in popularity, cannabis growers are looking for ways to increase the terpene levels in their plants, and there are many different ways that can be done. Before we go into the details on how to increase terpene levels, first, it is important to understand where terpenes are located in the cannabis plant.
According to Winston Peki, CEO and Chief Editor of Herbonaut.com, terpenes are located in the trichomes, which are the resin glands found on the flower parts of cannabis plants. Therefore, in order to increase terpene levels in cannabis plants, growers need to maximize both flower and trichome production of the plant.
Follow these tips to increase the terpene levels in your plants, maintain them, and preserve them throughout your plant’s life cycle:
- Use Seeds with Superior Genetics
- Use Proper Nutrients & Soil
- Optimize Light Quality & Exposure
- Utilize Proper Quality Control & Sampling Techniques
- Don’t Forget to Flush
- Correctly Trim & Cut Your Plants
- Dry & Cure Your Buds Properly
1. Use Seeds with Superior Genetics
To maximize flower and trichome production of cannabis plants, Peki says that growers need to start with seeds that are proven to have superior genetics. How do you determine ‘superior’ genetics? If a strain has a THC-percentage of 20% or higher and a percentage of 3% or higher in minor cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, or CBC, then you can safely assume it is of ‘superior genetics.’
“Various studies have found that high cannabinoid-percentages in plants are correlated with high terpene-percentages. Therefore, a strain with high cannabinoid percentages will likely also have higher-than-average terpene percentages,” Peki said.
2. Use Proper Nutrients & Soil
Peki also advises that growers feed cannabis plants the right nutrients during the flowering stage. Flowering and blooming nutrients should always be the highest in Phosphorus (the ‘P’ in N-P-K), then Potassium (the ‘K’ in N-P-K), and lastly, small amounts of Nitrogen (the ‘N’ in N-P-K). It is also important that you feed the plants with enough trace elements like Magnesium (Mg) during this time.
“It is important to start with disease-free genetics so a cultivator can focus on what really matters — growing. First, establish a baseline: grow strains under well-controlled and reproducible conditions to establish the chemical profile baseline. Next, conduct trials with nutrient additives, lighting spectrum, and other environmental factors, thus learning how to steer the specific strains to their full genetic chemical potential,” Dr. Hope Jones, Co-Founder and President of Superior Phenos, LLC, and CEO of Emergent Cannabis Sciences and Ph.D. at Advanced Nutrients, said.
3. Optimize Light Quality & Exposure
Even with great genetics and a perfect feed, the terpenes profile of finished flower can be improved, or ruined, during post harvest, according to Anthony DeMeo, Director of R&D at Somai Pharmaceuticals. The environmental conditions and light intensity/duration during drying can cause terpenes to volatilize, and bad curing techniques can cause not-so-pleasant terpenes to be expressed more than others.
“To maximize flower and trichome production of the cannabis plant, you need to minimize stress during the flowering stage of your plants,” Peki said. “To initiate the flowering stage, you usually switch to a 12/12 light/dark cycle. Give your plants 12 hours of light, followed by 12 hours of darkness. During the dark cycle, you need to make absolutely sure that there are no light leaks in your growing space or grow tent. Light during the 12 hour darkness cycle will stress out your plants and reduce flower and trichome production.”
Peki advises growers to use lights with white light instead of ‘blurple’ lights, which are one of a range of different grow room lighting options that include Metal Halide (MH) lights, High Pressure Sodium (HPS), lights and full spectrum LED lights. Instead, supplement your grow lights with UV light, which has been shown to increase both cannabinoid and terpene content. White light resembles the sun significantly better than lights that only emit blue and red spectra, or ‘blurple’ lights.
4. Utilize Proper Quality Control & Sampling Techniques
Many terpenes are volatile, so when they are exposed to the air, they can just filter off, which is why having a really strict quality control regime and having eyes on the entire process is a good way to make sure all terpenes stay true through to the end flower product. The handling and care of cannabis plants is very important, so growers should make sure they are being appropriately sampled, whether that be through the star pattern method or through special programs such as AOAC, according to Samuel Richard, CEO at OnPoint Laboratories.
“Many regulated states adopt an AOAC method or others for sampling, so making sure you are doing it in a way to achieve the most representative sample is very beneficial. The reason you should do this is because you do not want to have an unrepresentative sample, since it will have lower or higher terpene levels and then not meet the expectations of consumers,” Richard said.
5. Don’t Forget to Flush
According to Finest Labs, around two weeks before harvest, growers should stop feeding their plants. The reason for this is that nutrients have a way of building up in the buds and will depreciate them of the unique, intoxicating flavors and aromas. Without flushing, you will not get the true flavor and aroma of the flower, even if you dry and cure your buds correctly.
Also be sure to provide your plants with a pure water source, as it will encourage all the excess nutrients to slowly be washed out and leave you with a clean, fragrant end product. This is a critical step in maximizing terpenes, as flushing incorrectly may lead to a final product with poor smell and taste and an unenjoyable, harsh smoking experience.
6. Correctly Trim & Cut Your Plants
“The terpene levels in a plant have more to do with the strain and how it is cut and trimmed,” Marlo Richardson, creator of Braymar Wines and CEO and founder of cannabis brands: Tremendo, Just Mary, and Greenwood & Co, LLC, said. “Some people use hand trimmings, while others use machine trimmings. Machine-trimmed buds will always have less terpenes because they sometimes get cut off. Since I have a smaller grow, we trim everything by hand, and so we see high levels of terpenes on all of our plants.”
7. Dry & Cure Your Buds Properly
Terpenes are highly volatile compounds, so if you do not handle your cannabis flower correctly after harvesting the plants, you risk evaporating a large percentage of the terpenes. According to Peki, here are the most important steps to follow for drying and curing:
- When drying, the ideal temperature is 65℉ — 75℉ (18℃ ― 24℃) and ideal humidity levels are 40-60%.
- After four-to-ten days of drying, it is time to trim the flowers/buds off of the branches and put them straight into glass jars and seal them.
- You should keep these glass jars in a relatively cool (50℉ ― 70℉ / 10℃ ― 20℃) and dark place.
- For the next two weeks at least, it is best to open the jars daily for 10-20 minutes. You need to do this to vent off the gasses that emerge in the curing process.
“If you do not follow these steps, you risk reducing the terpene content significantly because you will either evaporate the terpenes by a too harsh drying environment, or you risk destroying your buds by inviting mold by curing/drying in a too humid environment,” Peki said.
There is a lot of tender love and care that goes into increasing terpene levels in your cannabis plants, but higher levels of terpenes equals a better end product for your customers. If your goal is to get the highest quality buds to consumers, then you are going to want to try out everything mentioned above during your next grow.