News and Best Practices

How to Train Your Eyes to Detect Quality Buds

October 4, 2016

When we first encounter some freshly stocked buds, our eyes are usually the first sensory organs to engage.

Whether you’re a budtender, a professional grower, a trimmer, a store manager or even a customer, you’ll want to recognize quality buds. If you’re new to this cannabis thing, no need to fret: you’ll figure it out soon. If you’ve been around a while, then consider this article a review.


Although it’s impossible to prioritize every visual aspect of good buds, color is typically the greatest indicator of the buds’ quality. If the plants were grown and cured with skill, the nuggets should be some shade of green. Some of the more exotic cultivars may bear a violet, magenta or blue tint. Some of the even more exotic ones may be black or purple. But you should be seeing green most of the time.

Quality characteristics: The green color comes from chlorophyll, the “energy powerhouses” of the cannabis plant. If you see green in your plant, then congratulations—the buds you’re looking at were cured correctly. A proper cure will slowly sap the moisture from plant matter but won’t strip the color from the now-inanimate chlorophyll.

Warning signs: Brown buds, which are rare but not entirely unheard of these days, indicate a heat-dry process instead of a tried-and-true cure. Using heat to rush the drying process was a lot more common back in the days of full-on cannabis prohibition, but sometimes brown buds still pop up in the legal market. If the plant experienced some trauma or its buds were dried in an oven, then the chlorophyll withers away, leaving behind the brown. Pesticides, fertilizers and even some pest damage can also cause buds to turn brown.

For the record, some strains naturally produce brown or, at the very least, brownish, buds. If you spot a jar of brown buds at your local store, ask them if that strain normally produces nuggets of that hue.


Although brown buds may indicate heat-drying, that’s not always the case. Some strains naturally exhibit a slight caramel tint. (Source: Randy Robinson)



In addition to a good staff of growers, a solid cannabis operation will also employ skilled trimmers. Those trimmers are experienced in cutting the buds from the stalks in an aesthetic manner.

Quality characteristics: There should be little to no fan leaves present on the buds, leaving every bud in a cone shape. The buds should stretch from top to bottom of what little stem they’re still attached to. Irregular shapes that expose the stem should be minimal.

Warning signs: Lower quality buds may be too dry, which results in crumbling. Crumbled buds will appear disheveled, as if they were missing pieces. Buds that were too moist may have compacted together into tight clumps, appearing pressed.


A bud with a slightly irregular shape. Because the stems grow along a “spiral” pattern, even skilled trimmers may not be able to clip to that perfect “pine tree” shape. (Source: Randy Robinson)




The density of a bud is probably the most subjective and one of the most misunderstood aspects of a visually appealing nug. Some buds look rather compact and puny (known as “popcorn nugs”). Other buds may appear thin or scraggly, with much of the stem being exposed. Again, although these kinds of buds may not look pretty, they may be highly effective once consumed.

Typically, a quality bud should be dense and closely packed. You should not see the bud’s stem except at the very bottom. These buds look a bit like tiny Christmas trees, with little to no empty spaces along the length of the flower.


Some buds just naturally grow small and dense. They tend to be more spherical in shape than other buds. There’s nothing wrong with this, so long as all the other cultivation steps were correctly followed. (Source: Randy Robinson)



Trichome coverage

Quality characteristics: Quality buds should be covered in little trichomes. These glandular sacs, which hold the bulk of the bud’s cannabinoids, will bear spectra between a milky translucent to tanned honey. Truly amazing buds will be caked in trichomes, appearing as if they were rolled in sugar crystals.

Warning signs: Subpar buds will lack a distinct coating of trichomes. Sometimes trichomes are rubbed off due to hasty or amateur trims. Some less scrupulous vendors may sift the trichomes from their buds to collect the kief, which can be processed into a variety of hashes.


A “sugar coated” plant smothered in trichomes. (Source: Théo/Lenny Montana, Flickr)



Cannabis trichomes close-up. (Source: Cannabis Pictures, Flickr)


The worst of the warning signs

Sometimes, vendors may try to pitch their low-quality stuff after a poor grow. These could be buds damaged by mites, buds infested with mold, or buds that just weren’t cured correctly. If the buds look shriveled, you may be dealing with a curing process that was cut short. If your buds look like they’ve got just way too many trichomes on them, you may be holding a nug infested with powdery mildew (it can sometimes look like kief to the untrained eye).

Fortunately, today’s legal markets usually require some kind of batch testing on commercial cannabis. As regulated businesses mature, we’re seeing fewer of these problematic warning signs on the product that makes it to the shelves.


By Randy Robinson
Dispensary Management Today articles are for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal guidance or advice on dispensary operations. You should contact an attorney or a qualified cannabis consultant for specific compliance and dispensary/retailing advice.
© 2016 CAN Performance Group, LLC. All rights reserved.


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