|Bushy plants in veg mode|
The vegetative period is pretty straightforward--the plant grows in height & width by doubling its sets of leaves on top. It may start to look big & unruly during this period, which might tempt you to remove some leaves. We'll get to this in a minute.
But first: As soon as the plant's first set of true leaves is large & bulky, you should begin exposing it to an oscillating or free-standing fan for at least an hour per day (if not constantly). This will help fatten up the stem so it doesn't become weak & topple under the weight of the plant. Don't put the fan too close or turn it on too high or you risk wind burn. The leaves should be gently swaying in the breeze...not flapping violently. As it acclimates to the fan you can leave it on longer or put it on a higher setting, but take it slow at first. Try to mimic a breezy Summer's day in a meadow. Or someshit. 💩
During veg you can do a 24/0 or 20/4 light schedule, or even 18/6. I chose 20/4 to maximize growth potential while still giving the plant (and my electricity) time to "rest". You should consider your grow room's temperature & other convenience factors when deciding which light schedule to pick, as it truly doesn't make any difference in the outcome of your plants. Some growers will do 24/0 in Winter & 18/6 in Summer to manage heat. Remember, autos don't "need" a dark period so you don't have to worry about light leaks if you do turn the lights off. It's totally optional. Joy.
I stopped Ziplocking my plants with the humidity baggies after the 2nd set of true leaves was starting to get big (the plant had outgrown the baggies by then), but I continued misting 3x per week for the added humidity. She seemed to dig this. No fertilizer or nutrients were needed until the end of Week 3. If you get quality soil, you can let her ride until Week 3 with no added nutes too. I chose Black Gold Natural & Organic soil, which is full of dark stuff & big twigs. Very nutrient-dense.
Cannabis plants need mostly nitrogen during vegetative growth, which is already in the soil. But by the end of Week 3 it will start to become depleted, so you can add a light dose of vegetative nutrients or a homemade teas like grass clipping tea or diluted urine (yes, human pee) that are rich in nitrogen. Just go very gently because it's easy to burn your plant when it's this small. I used the D.U. at a ratio of 12:1 urine-to-water at the end of Week 3 & my plant loved it. The Grass Clipping Tea is made by steeping grass clippings in warm water for up to 3 days in a covered container like a gallon water jug, straining the plant matter & applying at a ratio of 1:1 with plain water. (There are recipes online if this isn't clear enough, or I can clarify in the comments). If you use store-bought nutrients, read the directions carefully to see how much you should be using, and then start with 1/3rd of the recommended amount. Store-bought is definitely EASIER & less guesswork, but if you're truly on a shoestring budget, well...
|Grass clipping tea|
If you do choose to lollipop or defoliate, wait until at least Day 30 if possible & don't remove more than 20% of the plant's leaves per session to prevent stress. Mainly take the large old fan leaves that are blocking bud sites or those that have gone yellow at the bottom. Leave a little sprig of the stem behind when cutting in case an infection develops so it won't go directly into the main stem. I prefer to cut my leaves with sterilized scissors but it's okay to pluck them manually w/ clean hands if you do it gently & evenly. If your plant has a lot of big leaves stacked on top of each other in the middle section, pluck some of those too. They present a mildew risk.
A ton of other advanced plant training techniques exist to increase yield, but I chose to keep it simple during my first grow & that was the right call. Some light defoliation was all I went for. Other techniques you can research include: supercropping, Low Stress Training (LST), topping, FIM'ing & manifolding. If you can pull these off, more power to ya. But I'm saving that for my later grows.
Not all training techniques are a good fit with autoflowers--topping & manifolding fall into this category. Both techniques can set growth back by too many days, which is no bueno when your plant is on a pre-set deadline. (But again, all growers have their own opinions on this stuff so I'm just giving you MINE). LST is generally safe & beneficial if your plant is in a big enough container to warrant it. I found that my Solo cup wasn't big enough to require or accommodate quality LST so I let the plant grow in its natural shape.
There are countless online forums to consult if you run into unexpected problems along the way...and you will. Nutrient deficiencies, watering issues, pests, weird genetic traits, heat stress & more are troubles you could bump into on your journey. When you happen upon an abnormality & think "Zoinks, what's wrong with my baybee?!" head on over to RollItUp.com, Autoflower.net, ICMag.com or reddit.com/r/microgrowery to get some feedback from real growers. Or just drop me a line in the comments under this article & I'll try to help. Including pictures of your plant (without the glare of the grow lights) is always helpful.
...all this seem overwhelming? It should. Because it is. But don't let it discourage you from diving in headfirst & doing the damn thang. It's so amazing to have this super-power, which you'll understand when you start cranking out the dank. 🌿🐛