If you’ve ever paused to admire the shape, color, aroma, density, or frostiness of a big beautiful cannabis bud, there are many people you can thank for that. Cannabis plants go through a long journey from seed to sale, and bud trimmers play an integral part in that journey.
But what does a bud trimmer do, exactly? How does that role fit into the bigger picture of an operation, and what does it take to become a bud trimmer?
Discover what the role is, why it’s important, and the key things to know if you’re interested in becoming a trimmer, including the experience needed, pay rates, and more.
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What is a bud trimmer?
Cannabis cultivation involves ushering female cannabis plants through a whole life cycle — from seed to mature flowering plant — before they’re harvested. This is an extremely important time for the plant, where growing conditions and techniques attempt to coax the very best from its genetics to achieve a rich blend of cannabinoids and terpenes, the primary active ingredients that provide us with the range of effects and experiences we expect from cannabis. Cultivation is both an art and a craft that generally takes years of intentional practice to master.
But once the plant comes out of the ground, the careful and intentional care of the plant continues. The post-harvest process is equally important for creating a final product that expresses all the effort that went into growing it.
While the delicate and aesthetically pleasing flower you find at the local dispensary might not suggest it, cannabis plants can grow to be quite large, sometimes reaching towering heights of 10 feet or taller. Trimming is an activity in the post-harvest process that removes unwanted or unneeded parts of the plant before it can be ready for final sale or further processing.
Sometimes trimming is done right after harvesting — called “wet trimming” — and sometimes the plant is dried before it is trimmed — called “dry trimming.” Some cultivators take a hybrid approach by doing some wet trimming, drying the remaining plant, and then finely manicuring it with a dry trim. Either way, a bud trimmer is needed to deftly and carefully trim the bud into the sweet nugs we know and love.
What does a bud trimmer do?
The title “bud trimmer” might give you the impression that the job is simple, but like many things in cannabis, there is nuance and complexity to be found if you dig a little deeper.
“A bud trimmer is an integral and often underappreciated part of harvesting the cannabis plant,” said David Wicks, Chief Executive Officer of the UK-based seed bank Bud Champion. “The primary task of a bud trimmer may seem simple enough. It is the trimming of a cannabis plant and preparing it for sale. But this is anything but simple and requires precision and skill.”
The flower is just one part of the larger cannabis plant’s anatomy, sitting on large branches that need to be removed first. From there, fan leaves — those signature five to seven-fingered leaves we associate with cannabis — are removed before the buds themselves are removed from the branches in a process called “bucking.” Then, the buds are ready for the finer parts of trimming.
But trimming isn’t the only job of a trimmer. Another important part of the process is weighing the buds before and after they are trimmed to ensure both the productivity and production goals of the business are being met. “We track how many pounds of flower [trimmers] are able to trim per shift, as well as how much of the flower they’re able to retain,” explained David Arias, the Director of Operations at Revolutionary Clinics in Massachusetts.
In a hypercompetitive market like cannabis, trimming becomes a fine balance of removing what is needed to have a high-quality final product without unnecessary waste. “This is when hand trimming becomes really important,” said Arias. “Because [trimmers must] keep the structure of the bud while removing as much of the crow’s feet and sugar leaves as possible.” Cannabis businesses carefully track weight metrics to accurately assess their final harvest.
Trimmers also provide additional value as a point person for quality assurance. While trimming away excess stems, sugar leaves, and crow’s feet (small leaves at the bottom of the bud that look like a bird’s feet), trimmers are up close and personal with the buds and keep a lookout for debris, mold, seeds, and pests. They do all of this while carefully handling the flower to take special care of its trichomes: the resinous glands that sit on the plant’s surfaces and produce goodies like cannabinoids and terpenes.
Hand trimming versus machine trimming
Trimmers also help make your bud look great. “The ideal trimmed flower should accentuate the natural shape of the flower and give a customer a sense of the uniqueness of the genetics and skill of the grower,” said Patrick LaRose, Vice President of Cultivation at Ethos Cannabis.
This brings up yet another important part of the trimmer’s job: strain-specific knowledge. Each strain has its own unique growth patterns and bud structure that requires specialized knowledge when trimming. “Over time, the bud trimmer has to learn to adapt to various strains,” explained Michael Burns, the Cultivation Manager at MariMed. “This means that the manicure of the dried flower might look different for different strains, so the trimmers are responsible for ensuring the best representation of the strain they are handling.”
Cannabis trimmers bring a level of care and precision that machine trimming has not yet matched, and this human element is crucial for any outfit producing top-shelf flower. That said, both hand and machine trimming have their pros and cons and many operations use both depending on the intended final use of the buds and the size of the harvest, among other possible considerations. According to Lazary Diaz, a trimmer with Revolutionary Clinics, machine trimming may be faster and more efficient, but hand trimming allows for human inspection while also being better for protecting precious trichomes.
“Ultimately, trimming is all about displaying the beautiful, sexy buds that you spent all year growing,” said Lindsay Wehmeyer, Project Manager at Canndigenous, a Native-owned hemp farm in Wisconsin. “There’s a level of style and artistry that goes into [hand] trimming.”
Highs, mids, and lows of being a bud trimmer
Consider the pros and cons of being a bud trimmer.
- Personally rewarding. Style and artistry are two ways in which bud trimming can offer a sense of pride at a job well done. The job can also be very personally rewarding in other ways. “For MariMed’s hand trimmers, there’s a real sense of ownership in being the last and one of the most important touches to our flower,” said Burns. “They ensure that the buds are well manicured to represent the quality and effort that goes into its cultivation. Before a customer or patient ever smokes or vapes the flower, they see and smell the buds, so it’s a big deal that they look the part.”
- Helping people. Trimming also offers a direct line to the many people who use cannabis medicinally. Medical cannabis can improve quality of life and offer relief, which is why many people are drawn to the industry. “One of the best parts of being a trimmer, honestly, is working with a product that you know is actually going to help someone,” said David Powell, Trim Manager at Item Nine Labs in Arizona.
- Opportunities for advancement. While trimming is often an entry-level position, if you’re interested in making cannabis a career, then trimming is a great way to get your foot in the door. If you reliably show up with a great attitude and are willing to learn, there is ample opportunity to flourish and thrive.
- It can be repetitive. According to Chris Vaughan, the Chief Operating Officer of California delivery and retail operation Emjay, it’s definitely not a job for everyone. “Doing repetitive tasks for hours with a large number of plants makes this role suited only for people who have a lot of stamina.”
- It’s physically demanding. Not only is it repetitive, but it’s also a very physical job that requires intense focus and attention to detail that can be strenuous. “You can kind of get lost in trimming,” added Powell. “You get in the zone and don’t recognize what your body’s doing. So I make sure that my trimmers are getting up and moving, stretching, getting back some blood flow, and taking care of their bodies.”
- You will smell like weed. This may be a pro, depending on your personality, but it’s a con for many. “You will definitely smell like cannabis after every shift,” said Powell, which can be less than ideal if you need to go grocery shopping or be out and about after work.
Do you need experience to be a bud trimmer?
Trimming is an entry-level position. While requirements and qualifications will vary from state to state, you often won’t need any prior experience to get a job trimming. “In some cases, we [at MariMed] prefer that they don’t have prior trimmer experience so that we can teach the bud trimmer our systems of hand trimming,” said Burns.
In many cases, having a genuine interest in the plant and a desire to be part of the industry is enough to get started as a trimmer. “We [at Canndigenous] are taking anyone who has a great attitude and is willing to learn,” said Wehmeyer. Some states require that you obtain a permit or complete registration to work in their cannabis industries.
Often, working in cannabis requires a criminal background check, and if a permit or registration is required, this typically involves paying a fee. While you might not need direct experience in cannabis to get started, having a basic understanding of the cannabis plant and its cultivation is definitely helpful.
Two books that many growers recommend to get the basics are:
Essential skills for bud trimmers
While the job may seem straightforward at first glance, trimming requires a variety of skills, aptitudes, and even personality traits to effectively meet the physical and mental demands of the job.
- Precision: Trimming requires removing what is necessary, no more and no less. “Cutting more than an inch could be wasting a product and cutting less could be compromising on quality,” said Wicks.
- Dexterity: You’ll be dealing with delicate flowers that require making cuts to small and tight spaces while maintaining the integrity of the bud. Plus, your tools and gloves will get sticky, so you’ll need to learn to work with — and love — all the kief because it’s very much a part of the job.
- Attention to detail: Not only must a trimmer consider the strain-specifics of their work, but they are an important part of quality control when inspecting for mold, seeds, pests, or debris. “Attention to detail is the number one thing that we focus on here [at Item Nine Labs],” said Powell.
- Speed: Working with a large quantity of product means speed is essential, but must be balanced with attention to detail and care to create a high-quality finished product. If you have no experience trimming, however, don’t fret: Employers often recognize that if you’re a new trimmer, that speed can be developed over time.
- Organization: Keeping your workspace tidy and organized as you trim away different parts of the plant is essential for tracking yields and for general efficiency.
- Staying cool under pressure: Trim rooms are often fast-paced environments, so it’s important to remain composed and stay focused on the task at hand.
- Stamina: Maintaining focus and consistent output over the course of your workday requires stamina. “Bud trimming is a very physical job, and trimmers need to be able to stand, crouch, bend, and more for many hours at a time,” said Tom Bruggerman, Chief Executive Officer at Tom’s Tumbler.
- Be a team player: It’s important in any job, and cannabis jobs are no exception. “Qualifications of a good trimmer are someone who is a good teammate in general: pleasant to be around, works alertly and diligently, and communicates issues well,” said LaRose.
How much do bud trimmers make?
Pay rates will vary by state. Trimming jobs are often paid hourly though some are salaried positions. According to the cannabis hiring platform Vangst, in 2021, trimmers typically made $14 to $22 per hour. Cannabis staffing agency CannaBizTeam reports a median salary of $35,250 in 2022.
Bud trimming is an important part of the post-harvest process, and bud trimmers are often the last ones to touch flower before it makes its way into your hands. While some might dismiss trimming as an entry-level or mindless job, it actually requires a whole host of skills and abilities, along with real dedication and professionalism, to do well.
“Throughout every step in cultivating this beautiful plant, every hand required to get it to patients’ and consumers’ hands is equally as important as any other position within the operation,” said Burns.
Passionate trimmers often take pride in the style and artistry they can bring to this delicate and intricate work while finding deep satisfaction in contributing to something that betters people’s lives. Not only that, but trimming offers a way to get started in this rapidly growing and dynamic industry.
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