When you want to grow sweet cannabis, you may be tempted to look for an out-of-the-box, one-size-fits-all, “enhancing” product, but making buds sweeter is a bit more complex than simply “buy and apply.” However, you’ll understand why bud sweeteners are a popular choice among growers willing to go that extra mile for the quality of their yields.
What are cannabis bud sweeteners?
Bud sweeteners are a category of crop additives that increase the production of the phytochemicals (plant-derived, organic molecules) that humans perceive as “sweet.”
Sweetness is a scent and flavor profile found naturally in many cannabis varieties. Sweet cannabis types exude smells that remind us of other sugary things. These cultivars are often named for candies and baked goods (for example, Bubblegum, Zkittlez, Gushers, Sunset Sherbet, Cookies ’n’ Creme, Girl Scout Cookies, Do-si-dos, Tropicana Cookies, or Wedding Cake).
The concept may be a bit confusing since, in cannabis culture, glandular trichomes are often colloquially referred to as “sugar.” We might also refer to “sugar leaves” as the leaves growing among the flowers as they develop. These leaves are also covered in trichome heads, unlike the larger, sun-energy harvesting “fan leaves.”
So when we talk about “sweetening” buds, it may refer to getting more of those sweet tastes, but it can also be about producing more glistening, cannabinoid-rich trichomes.
What do cannabis bud sweeteners do, and how do they work?
The best bud sweeteners elicit the plant’s natural desire and support their ability to produce the inherent, genetically-specific, sweetness-evoking terpenes.
To understand how bud sweeteners work, it’s important to understand why marijuana plants make terpenes in the first place.
Terpenes serve many purposes in the lives of plants; they send sensory signals — which we perceive as smells and flavors — as they evaporate, attracting those which will benefit them and repelling those which will harm them.
Bud sweeteners feed the beneficial microbes that live in your plant’s root zone, giving them the energy to thrive and out-compete destructive pests and diseases. Some of these microbes are also responsible for transforming local food supplies into more bioavailable (absorbable/digestible) forms, allowing your cannabis to use a greater proportion of its energy to develop strong branches and heavy flowers.
The best bud sweeteners also contain seaweed (kelp), benefiting cannabis not by providing additional essential NPK nutrients (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) but by increasing its ability to harvest and efficiently use available light and nutrients.
How do you use bud sweetener during the growing stages?
As you and your plant share the goal of growing the healthiest, biggest, oil-rich flowers, the flowering stage is when you want to boost the capacity of your plants to make the best use of available nutrients for stacking juicy, “loud” (if our noses could hear) buds.
Apply bud sweeteners as a soil drench when plants are ready to flower and supplement PK-dominant nutrients with bud sweetener at each feeding.
Typically, sweet terpenes are produced by plants when they are blooming; their flowers are scented to attract beneficial insects. In non-cannabis plants, these include pollinators; for cannabis, which relies on wind pollination, it’s the insect-eating insects that are lured by these scents.
Are bud sweeteners a good idea?
Giving your plants every opportunity to be at peak performance throughout their life cycles is a good idea. If an amendment encourages and supports the production of terpenes in greater abundance and benefits microbial partners, the plant is likely going to be more robust and grow to its maximum potential.
The best cannabis bud sweeteners available today
I would argue that the best cannabis bud sweetener is the one you make yourself. Homemade bud sweeteners are not necessarily expensive or complicated to put together, and, like bringing a batch of fresh home-baked brownies to your loved ones, it feels good to feed that craving and see it produce a positive response.
Of course, depending on your personal style, experience level, and the scale of your grow, commercial products might be more appealing and give you a place to start. There are plenty of companies that offer amendments designed for this purpose.
Seek one that specifically feeds your plant’s partner microbes in the growing medium; most will have either “sweet” or “sticky” in the name (or both, like Humboldt’s Secret ‘Sweet and Sticky’), or reference sugar or terpenes in their titles.
Aside from brand loyalty, budget, and local availability/access, your own research and experimentation will determine whether a formula is right for your favorite cannabis cultivar — make sure to take note of the ingredients listed, follow mixing instructions, and track your results to make the most out of your purchase.
Homemade cannabis bud sweetener
A simple homemade bud sweetener mainly consists of plant-sourced carbohydrates (sugars). Many growers use blackstrap molasses because it contains minerals lost in the refining process for white sugar. Fermented plant juice (aka FPJ, in Korean Natural Farming (KNF) lingo) supplemented with kelp extract is also a good base recipe.
In either case, a little goes a long way; 1 to 3 teaspoons (5-15ml) per gallon is all you generally need to add to your flowering stage feeding regimen.
Traditional KNF methods also recommend irrigation with a 10% seawater dilution, claiming it sweetens fruit in the final weeks of growth. This step may create minor stress on the plant tissue, eliciting it to push harder toward its self-propagating goal. If you live near the ocean, give it a try!
Enhancing the flavor and aroma of cannabis flowers
Ensuring that the nutritional building blocks for these molecules are abundantly available and easily absorbable while the cannabis buds are forming will enhance the flavor and aroma of cannabis flowers. Harvesting at the right time, and treating your buds with due care at maturity, will also ensure you have flavourful and aromatic flowers in your stash.
To bring out the full sweet potential of your chosen cannabis genetics, prepare to give your plants good reason to produce more terpenes and support them with the nutrients they need.
Try growing in living soil because the intricacies of localized biology will expose your plants to natural challenges that trigger their immune systems and drive their desire to survive and continue the species.
When exactly to harvest is a personal choice and will be dictated by a combination of factors. Check out Robert’s Harvest Guide and Grow Bible for more guidance on how to make this decision.
Deploying a staggered harvest is an excellent way to improve the sweetness of your crop as a whole. If your labor power is well matched to the size of your grow (in number or size of plants), cut and process the biggest, most mature flowers at the tops of your stalk and branches at their peak. Allow the slightly younger, secondary, and smaller buds to swell to their full capacity with gorgeous terpene and cannabinoid-rich resin before bringing them down.
You don’t have to be overly precious with your plants as you crop out (harvest), but you also shouldn’t beat them up needlessly. Many growers have adopted a gentle wash in an effort to remove any residues, dirt, or insects from their flowers before they are dried. This could also have some (perhaps minor) impact on the taste and smell of the final result.
Historically, where cannabis is treated as a street drug rather than the holistic herb we know it to be, all kinds of bud doctoring techniques have been deployed to increase “bag appeal” and disguise lower-quality products. I do not recommend using any tactics that attempt to infuse essential oils into or spray onto already-harvested plant material. These oils are generally not designed for inhalation after exposure to combustion-level temperatures.
Using proper post-harvest drying, curing, and storage practices means you will not need to resort to such tactics. You can preserve the smell and potency of your buds by using time-proven herbal processing techniques.
Make sure your harvested buds remain at their sweetest by:
- handling them with care to prevent undue loss and breakage of trichomes
- keeping them out of the sunlight
- drying them at relatively low temperatures
- transferring small stem sections to paper bags to finish once partially dry (where the risk of mold is less present)
- storing in glass jars with good seals after a final trim
Bud sweeteners are sometimes brushed off as hype. In some cases, this opinion is fairly justified; especially when used in situations where they will mostly be flushed away quickly or have no mechanism to benefit the plants (e.g. when the grower uses an inert substrate, and there are no microbial partners to feed).
Pairing with the right genetics, and giving them plenty of love and care, will surely lead to satisfying results.
Perhaps, then, it’s the high-quality relationships you build in your garden’s community that are the best bud sweeteners of all —
How sweet is that?
For all you need to get growing, don’t forget to download Robert’s Marijuana Grow Bible, check out other articles on this site, and visit our seedbank to pick up the sweetest selections for your next gardening adventure![We really couldn’t make this easier — find your new best bud in the Sweet Mix, Autoflowering Sweet Mix, Baking Mix, or Fruity Mix Packs!]