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Foxtailing - What is it, and why it can be good or bad

Published Jun 8, 2021 11:00 a.m. ET
iStock / diegocardini

You could sit down and watch over a hundred cannabis videos and never hear a single word about foxtailing. Though it’s a lot more common than the growing community seems to let on, there is very little for information out there about this unique deformation that can appear in a marijuana plant, so we thought we’d cover the basics to help you out.

What is foxtailing?

Foxtailing is nowhere near as exciting as the term sounds. As a marijuana plant matures, they begin to form the calyx. The calyxes slowly develop on top of one another and eventually build up the lush and uniform colas for us to harvest. Now normally calyxes all pop up in a way that forms a smooth surface, which is why they create wide rounded marijuana buds, but when foxtailing happens, several calyxes have formed directly on top of one another to create a long chain rather than a round bundle.

What does a foxtail plant look like?

Foxtailing shoots can come in a broad range of forms and sizes. Since it’s a type of mutation, it isn’t a standard trait that will look the same in ever marijuana plant that has it. However, they are still relatively easy to spot, as the small shoots look like elongated buds that stick out much farther from the plant than others that surround it.

In some cases, a foxtail plant will only have one of these shoots, but it is not uncommon to see several on the same marijuana plant, and that is because it is often caused by less than ideal environmental factors. These shoots can range anywhere from a few millimeters in length to the entire height of the plant if left unchecked, and that makes them easy to see against a background of uniformity unless of course, you are growing a marijuana plant with genetics that make it naturally flourish as a foxtail plant.

Is foxtailing good?

There is more than one type of foxtailing, and that is important to recognize before you can properly answer this question, as one is caused by genetics, and the other is environmental factors. Growing weed strains that are naturally predisposed to forming in this really strange way can work out really well for the cultivator, depending on the results they are hoping to achieve.

For the most part, genetic foxtailing is more of a cosmetic issue than anything, so if the plant is built to withstand the protruding towers and you are happy with oddly shaped buds at harvest, then it certainly isn’t a bad thing. The issue, however, can be more devastating if you require aesthetically pleasing marijuana buds, or if this formation is caused by environmental factors.

How is foxtailing bad?

The other kind of marijuana plant foxtailing is generally caused by grow lights. If you have stronger lights such as LED or HPS and put it too close to a marijuana plant, these massive spikes are the plant’s natural response to a stressful situation with either lights or heat, which means that you are probably in need of some serious fixture adjustments.

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If you allow this stressful condition to continue for too long, then you will start to see yellowed almost dead or bleached leaves, which can significantly impact the look of the plant, but that’s not all that is at risk here. If you don’t reduce the stress that your plant is under, then the buds that are harvested at the end of the season will also be less potent. This is because the marijuana plant is essentially in survival mode which forces it to put all of its energy into growing rather than producing the natural cannabinoids in significant amounts.

How to fix a foxtailing plant

If you have a foxtail plant that is still in the early stages of growth, then you might be able to salvage what is left, but you will have to take action fast by following these simple steps.

  1. Look at the distance between your marijuana plant and the light fixture. While some cannabis grows lights are designed to be placed in close quarters with greenery, most standard options require a minimum of at least one foot between the marijuana plant and the powerful bulb.

  2. Next, you will need to look at our timer that is attached to your grow lights. If you don’t have one, then now is the time to make the investment, as manual adjustments are tedious and difficult to maintain. As a marijuana plant grows, it needs varying amounts of light each day, so you could have our lights placed perfectly, but just don’t be leaving them on for far too long. Set the timer according to the plants growing stage before moving on to the next step.

  3. If you’ve made it this far, the good news is that you are almost done. The bad news is that this next challenge is one that can be the most difficult to deal with. The second major cause of a foxtail plant is excessive heat, so it’s time to take a temperature check of the room. Ideally, a marijuana plant prefers daytime temperatures of between 21-26°C, so if you are over that, then you will need to make some changes. This can be done by adjusting household temperature, adding a larger gap between the lights and the plants, and by adding extra fans to increase airflow.

Foxtailing like most strange traits that a marijuana plant can display is something that can strangely occur for no reason at all, but they are most commonly found in just one spot that is obviously close to the issue at hand. So, if you’ve solved all these potential problems and your marijuana plant is still foxtailing, then it’s possible to have an oddball plant that breaks all of the rules.

The most important thing to remember is that cannabis will flourish in the right environment so if you are providing that, then chances are pretty good that you will make out with a successful harvest at the end of the year, no matter how strong it may be looking.

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