Light Burn or Light Stress
Problem: Your cannabis plant can only withstand a certain amount of light. After a certain point, your cannabis will start turning yellow or otherwise exhibit signs of stress on the leaves near the sources of light and/or heat.
Light burn usually causes yellow leaves at the top of the plant directly under the grow lights (though it can appear on older leaves that have been exposed for a long time).
Sometimes the first sign a plant is getting too much light is all the leaves start pointing up or “praying”, like this (though sometimes you don’t see any symptoms until the yellowing starts)
With light burn, often the inside veins stay green. Yellow leaves won’t fall off or be plucked off easily, unlike a nitrogen deficiency where leaves fall off on their own.
The leaves closest to the light may appear much more pale than the rest of the plant, and tips may turn yellow.
Another example of yellow tips from light burn
Sometimes light burn causes edges of leaves to turn up. If it goes on a long time, the leaves also start to become crispy and can even break off if you try to bend them
You may noticed just the tallest colas getting droopy, which is sometimes a sign the light is too intense (though it could also be caused by root problems or over/under watering)
Light burn is often mistaken for a Nitrogen deficiency which makes wilting yellow leaves. Nitrogen-deficient leaves fall off on their own, while light-burned leaves are hard to pluck off. A nitrogen deficiency starts from the bottom of the plant and moves up, while light burn often is worse at the top of the plant.
Cannabis light burn usually affects the top leaves closest to the grow light
A Nitrogen deficiency creates yellow leaves at the bottom of the plant as the Nitrogen is sucked out of the oldest leaves to feed the top of the plant. On the other hand, light burn produces yellow leaves at the top of the plant under the grow lights because the leaves have worked too hard and/or too long from the light being too close. The leaves aren’t able to keep up with regular plant processes.
Imagine sitting outside all day under a scorching sun, possibly for days on end. Even if you could handle it for a day or two, it might wear you down over days or weeks.
It’s probably light burn if mostly just the leaves closest to the lights are turning yellow
With cannabis plants that have light burn, your leaves can sometimes become yellow or red/purple, possibly with brown spotting, often with burnt tips/edges and margins that stay green. Other problems, like nutrient problems, can trigger or make the symptoms of light burn a lot worse. Leaves may also appear generally burnt in places when there’s too much light, especially when combined with heat or nutrient problems.
Nutrient deficiencies make light burn worse!
If you see light bleaching and unhealthy discoloration only on the parts of the plant directly under your grow light, or only on older leaves that are exposed to the light, it often means it’s too bright for your plants and you should move your grow lights further away! If your plant is also having other problems, it is much more likely to be affected by light burn. A healthy plant can withstand higher light levels than a sick plant.
If the lights are only slightly too close, maybe just an inch or a few cm, the yellowing from light burn may happen slowly over the course of days (or even weeks!) because leaves are dying early instead of immediately. Because of that, light burn may first appear on somewhat older leaves, which can be confusing and make it hard to diagnose.
This cannabis seedling is being burned by too-close LED grow lights
Another example of light burn from an LED grow light being kept too close to the plants
These leaves of this LED-burnt plant started curling upwards
This cannabis seedling basically grew up into the grow light! The heat from the bulb caused massive burning everywhere it touched. If a plant’s leaves directly touches the lights, it leaves “burns” from the heat of the bulbs.
This plant was green and healthy through the vegetative stage under an LED grow light, but the leaves started dying soon after flowering started (even though that distance had been fine in the vegetative stage). The reason was the LED was too close. This is also very common with LED grow lights with just read and blue diodes, without any diodes in the green spectrum.
These plants seem apparently healthy, but the top leaves keep getting lighter and lighter, in this case from a 600W HPS that was kept just under a foot (30cm) away. The leaves slowly turned yellow over the course of a few weeks, getting light burn even though the temperature was a comfortable 75°F (24°C).
These yellow leaves were caused by an LED grow light that was too close. If you don’t realize it’s light burn, the symptoms are inexplicable!
A mild case of marijuana light burn is often mistaken for a nutrient deficiency or a pH problem, but if you look closely, the symptoms are concentrated directly under the grow light.
Light Bleached Cannabis Buds Sometimes Turn White
This is how you get “albino” or white buds. Light bleaching is most common with high-power LEDs and HPS grow lights because these can be brighter than the sun. Basically, bud bleaching is what happens when buds get too much light, kinda like how hair can get bleached if you spend plenty of time in the sun. Except a “sun-burnt” bud is often less potent, and may have lost it’s “cannabis” smell!
Buds which have been bleached tend to be low potency or even have no potency (no available THC or other cannabinoids). Therefore you should avoid light-bleaching your plants at all costs!
Sometimes light-bleached cannabis will get mis-labeled as “albino cannabis” or “white cannabis” but the truth is that the white color is not healthy, so this is not a desirable trait (even if it looks pretty cool).
Most of the Time, Light-Burned Buds Appear Burnt
Often though, light burned buds look like they’ve been burned.
LED-burnt cannabis buds – notice how all the tiny “sugar leaves” have turned yellow or brown
In this case the LED-burn caused the leaves closest to the LED to turn red. Although the buds smoked pretty well anyway, they definitely weren’t as pretty as they could have been!
The leaves too close to the LED grow light turned yellow and wilted. For some reason, cannabis plants seem a lot more prone to light burn after they start flowering.
Another example of a bud that has light burn from a too-close LED
Light burned bud on top, healthy bud below
Solution: If your marijuana plants are getting too much light, try removing some of the lights or moving your grow lights further away from the tops of the plants. If you can’t move the light further away, bend your plants over so the tops are further away or if your plant is still in the vegetative stage you might even consider cutting off the top of the plant to remove some of that height.
Reduce power of grow lights and/or move them further away from your plant
(How far away do I keep grow lights from my plants?)
It is unlikely for your plants to get “light-burned” from the sun when growing outdoors, and they definitely can’t accidentally grow into the sun. Outdoor plants can show signs of light stress if plants were used to shady conditions and moved into direct sunlight without time to get accustomed to the brigher light levels. It also may be possible in extreme high light conditions if the plant is unprotected but in general cannabis plants like a lot of light.
When making changes to your plant’s environment, it’s best to make changes relatively slowly if possible. For example when moving a cannabis plant from indoors or outdoors you might consider giving the plant some shade for a few days before moving it into full sunlight.
Sometimes heat stress can look like light stress. When learning how to grow cannabis, it’s best to try to keep things at a comfortable temperature at all times for optimal growth. If it’s too hot for you, it’s probably too hot for your plants. Outdoors, it’s a lot harder to control temperature, but there are steps you can take to protect your outdoor plants from the heat including supplementing with sea kelp, partially covering them and making sure they’re well watered.Light bleaching is similar to bleached hair from spending ample time under the sun. Read for more information on how to prevent and solve light bleaching.
Problem: Your cannabis plant can only withstand a certain amount of heat and light. After a certain point, your cannabis will start exhibiting signs of stress on the leaves near the sources of light and/or heat. Your leaves will get yellow or brown brown spotting and may appear generally burnt in places when there’s too much light. It’s also common for leaves to curl up or down, fold inward like conoes or tacos, and for the serrated edges of leaves to start flipping up. What else can cause dry, crispy marijuana leaves?
This cannabis plant suffered from the grow light being too close along with major heat stress during a heatwave in Southern California
Important for Hydroponic Growers! High temps can trigger root rot, a serious problem that can kill your plants.
Cannabis will also display heat stress when grown outdoors in hot, dry weather, especially when not given enough water.
When the heat gets too high, the edges of the serrated leaves will begin to curl up even if there are no burns or other signs of light stress.
When the heat gets too high, the edges of the leaves will begin to curl up and the leaves will begin to “cup.”
Very low humidity can make plants more likely to get stressed by the heat. Sometimes you’ll get symptoms that look like heat stress even if it’s not that hot, and the symptoms are worse because the plant is being affected by very low humidity! Dry, hot air will commonly tip up the edges of leaves like this:
Heat stress is even more damaging in the flowering stage since plant is no longer growing many new leaves. Indica-leaning strains are most prone to heat damage in the flowering stage. Heat damage during budding will reduce your yields by demolishing many of your most important leaves, while also causing buds to grow airy with ugly foxtails.
Even though the grow lights were turned off, this is what happened to an indica-leaning plant overnight after being exposed to 105°F (40°C) temperatures during a heat wave.
If flowering cannabis plants are grown under too-hot conditions for a long time, sometimes they respond by growing new buds on top of the old ones. When you see extensive growth on top of the buds closest to the grow lights, that’s a sign that the grow light is too close or the temperature is too high. Some people call the new growth (which often grows in spires) “fox tails.”
If it seems like your cannabis plants are completely ready for harvest, but they keep putting out new white pistils at the top of the plant, it might just be heat. If that’s the case, pay attention to the lower growth to decide when to harvest.
Heat during the flowering stage also causes fox-tails, which are airy and don’t have much substance to them. It’s basically the same response as growing new buds on top, it just looks a little different on some plants. The plant is basically “abandoning” the original heat-damaged bud to try to make a sad new one.
Example of unwanted “fox-tailing” caused by too much heat
Solution: Get a way to monitor temperature. Control heat by whatever means necessary using the steps outlined below.
Indoors, find a way to lower the temperature and/or increase the circulation in the grow room or grow area if heat is the problem. Having a small fan blowing over the tops of your plants will help prevent hot spots from forming directly under your grow lights. How far away should you keep your grow lights from your plants?
You may consider removing grow lights further away from the tops of the plants if heat is a problem.
When growing cannabis, it’s best to try to keep things at a comfortable room temperature at all times for optimal growth. If it’s too hot for you, it’s probably too hot for your plants.
Keep roots cool!
If you can keep your roots cool, it will help your plant deal with heat affecting the top of the plant. If there’s some way to protect the roots from heat, do it!
When cannabis plants are recovering from heat shock, some growers recommend using seaweed kelp extract (often available as a convenient liquid fertilizer) to help plants recover from the stress and possible even protect plants from heat stress in the future.
Many indoor setups will require that you vent out hot air using a fan and/or an exhaust system. By creating good suction with an efficient exhaust system and adding a carbon scrubber, you can also pretty much scrub all smells from the grow room. Learn more about controlling odors in the grow room.
An oscillating fan will circulate air in the room as well as provide a gentle breeze for your plants, and a small one will cost less than $20.
Outdoors, you have less options to reduce heat during a heat wave, but you are able to monitor your local weather via weather forecasts.
It is possible to partially shield your plants when you know the temperature is going to get hot. You can also adjust your watering schedule to make sure plants at least have plenty of water.
Some things to try when you know the weather outside is going to be hot or dry:
- water plants in the evening or early morning to help prevent water evaporation during the hottest hours
- keep roots cool – for example by putting your potted plant in a ceramic pot to help insulate the roots from the sun. I’ve also heard of growers digging a hole in the ground to place their potted plant inside, because the ground is usually cooler than the air when the temperature gets high
- kelp extract for roots – provide a small amount of liquid fertilizer that contains seaweed kelp extract (can help protect against heat stress)
- increase shade to reduce the heat experienced by plants – you can use an old sheet or other cloth as a short term solution, or get a profesionally made “Sun Shade Sail” which is made particularly to create shade outdoors. It’s important to remember that giving plants shade for more than a few days will make them less “hardened” to the sun, and you may need to reintroduce full sunlight back slowly to prevent them from getting shocked from the light intensity
- move potted plants – luckily with potted plants, it’s usually easier to move them out of direct sunlight during a heat wave
- take extra good care of heat-stressed plants – when cannabis plants appear heat-stressed, try to baby them as best you can, and offer shade during the hottest days.
When growing cannabis outdoors, it can often take a few weeks for plant to recover after a hot or dry spell, so prevention is the best medicine for outdoor plants.Too hot for your cannabis in the grow room? Learn how to save your plants from heat stress with a variety of techniques as well as certain supplements! ]]>