by Nebula Haze
When I first started growing cannabis, I was so excited to finally be able to pick my own strains! I was also a little (a lot?) confused about the whole concept of strains. I had so many questions… What's the difference between each strain? Which ones are the most potent and what about yields? Is it even worth paying attention to strain?
Years of non-stop experimentation and breeding for positive traits has resulted in there being a superabundance of strains available. The sheer number of choices can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, it's pretty fun when you start with a little bit of information and choosing a good strain is very rewarding!
Based on personal experience, I’ve put together a list of popular cannabis strains with exceptional genetics which makes them…well, just plain better to grow. I'll explain why I picked each strain so you can use the knowledge to further your own research and help you pick the best strain for your next grow!
I want a strain that is…
- Quick – Fastest Time to Harvest
- Easy – Most Forgiving and Easy to Grow
- Highest Yields – Produce As Much Bud as Possible
- Highest Potency – Famous Strains & Cup Winners
Plus some bonus info about…
- Strains for Growing with CFLs
- Strains that are Good for Grow Boxes
- Medical Marijuana Strains
- Further Strain Research
Want to grow more than one strain at the same time?
Learn about growing multiple strains together!
For when the most important thing is getting to harvest as fast as possible!
When it comes to trying to get to harvest as quickly as possible, your best choice is often to grow an auto-flowering strain of cannabis. With an auto-flowering strain, you’ll have the option to harvest your plant 2-3 months from seed, and it’s not unusual to harvest an ounce or two off each plant. Under powerful grow lights and with some room to grow, auto-flowering plants can produce 5-6 ounces per plant or even more!
Although there are “quick flowering” photoperiod strains, they are rarely ready to harvest in less than 3 months from seed, which means you can usually get a quicker harvest with autos.
Auto-flowering plants have some unique qualities:
- Ready to harvest 2-3 months from seed – quickest time to harvest of any strain of cannabis (though there are some auto-flowering strains that have been bred to take longer and get bigger, most are ready to harvest in 3 months or less)
- Autos don’t need special light periods – “Regular” (photoperiod) plants need 12 hours of darkness each day in order to make buds, while autos will make buds and be ready to harvest no matter what light schedule they receive. This can be helpful if you can't avoid light leaks, or if you want to keep your lights on all the time (for example if you need your lights on to keep plants warm)
- Tend to be higher in CBD – Auto-flowering strains generally have 1% CBD levels or higher. This can make buds more relaxing with more of an anti-anxiety effect, while reducing some of the inner "racing" mental effects some people get from cannabis. This means that auto-flowering strains can be a good choice for medical marijuana patients, or those who’d like to get extra relaxed from their buds. However, there are also some very high THC, low CBD auto-flowering strains which provide more of a psychedelic “in your head” experience, especially those that have been hybridized with Sativa and Haze strains.
- Need your full attention – Auto-flowering strains are generally pretty easy to grow, but you're on a strict time schedule. During the first 6 weeks, it's incredibly important you pay close attention to your plants and react quickly to any problems. If an auto-flowering plant runs into major problems during the first part of its life, you may end up with tiny plants and tiny yields because an auto-flowering plant stops growing bigger after about 6 weeks. However, when nurtured through the first few weeks, these strains can produce surprisingly high yields in a short amount of time.
- Very important to pick a good breeder – the ancestor of all auto-flowering strains was a type of wild hemp which had tiny buds and very low levels of THC. As a result, the original auto-flowering strains from more than half a decade ago were generally poor yielding and far less potent than photoperiod plants. Luckily, we now have dedicated breeders who put a lot of focus on breeding auto-flowering strains (Mephisto Genetics, Dinafem & Dutch Passion are three of the best known auto breeders). As a result, there are newer auto strains that have been carefully bred for many generations to be just as potent as their photoperiod counterparts. So when you choose a good breeder, you'll be very happy with your results. Yet because there are poor genes out there, it’s important to choose a trustworthy breeder as unscrupulous breeders may sell seeds that that end up making tiny buds with no potency!
Here are 3 recommended auto-flowering strains for beginners (and connoisseurs!)
- Quickest Time to Harvest – Auto Lemon OG Haze by Nirvana – Nirvana is known for producing stabilized strains where you always get exactly what they tell you to expect. Their recently debuted Auto Lemon OG Haze strain is the result of 5 generations of careful breeding using star genetics. The resulting plant produces buds with a creative, energetic effect that also comes with a body "buzz" and is ready to harvest as soon as 2 months from seed, though giving the plant an extra week or two before harvesting can dramatically increase your yields. This strain produces dense chunky buds that look beautiful and have a pleasant fruity/citrus scent.
Auto Lemon OG Haze buds become covered in trichomes
- “Psychedelic” Auto-Flowering Strain – Auto Sour Diesel by Dinafem. This strain is one of the strongest and most potent of all the auto-flowering strains I've grown. The effects have "psychedelic" potency but come with a strong body effect as well. It grows long spear-like buds with a strong "diesel" smell and is surprisingly high yielding when the plant is trained to grow flat. For the best results and highest potency, this strain takes about 3 months from seed to harvest. See a grow journal featuring this strain.
Auto Sour Diesel buds may look average but their potency is out of this world!
- Medical Strain (Very Relaxing) – Blue AutoMazar by Dutch Passion – One of the highest yielding autos (and Dutch Passion specializes in high-yielding autos!), this strain carries a "cheesy" smell from its Blue Cheese ancestors. The buds don't really smell as much like cannabis as something else that's kind of funky. That can make this a good choice for a "stealth" strain since it doesn't have as much of the traditional skunky "weed smell" that can give away a grow. Buds are ready to harvest in a little under 3 months from seed and its effects are some of the most relaxing buds I've tried with any strain, photoperiod or auto. I believe this would be a great medical or anti-anxiety strain.
Blue AutoMazar Just Before Harvest
In order to get the best results with growing cannabis, you need to pay regular attention to your plants. However, that’s a lot easier said than done! Maybe you don’t have a lot of time, and you just want to do the “bare minimum” and still get to harvest. Although I highly encourage you to take great care of your plants, if this sounds like you, you may get the best results by choosing a hardy strain that’s been specifically bred to be easy to grow and can roll with the punches.
Although they're generally hardy, in some ways auto-flowering strains can be tough for a beginner because they don’t leave a lot of time for mistakes. If you mess up in the first 3-6 weeks, you can sometimes end up with a tiny plant and small yields at harvest and unfortunately there’s really nothing you can do about it at that point.
On the flip side, a photoperiod plant gives you as much time as you need to dial in your grow and make mistakes because it won't start making buds until you "tell" it to. That gives you time to conduct experiments and/or really see what a plant can do!
They don’t say cannabis grows like a weed for nothing! With a photoperiod plant you can bring it to the brink of death and back, then continue on with your grow without much consequence.
For that reason, I highly recommend sticking with photoperiod ("regular") strains if you’re specifically looking for a strain that’s easy to grow and can bounce back from problems.
- Low Odor – Northern Light is a hardy, potent strain that tends to have less of a smell than other strains, which can be helpful for stealth reasons. This strain is a classic that has won many awards for its effects. Northern Light plants tend to stay short, bounce back easily from problems, and are relatively quick to harvest. It's one of the first strains I ever grew, and lived through a lot (heat, overwatering, dropping a light on it….). Despite all that mistreatment, the plant produced amazing results and yields.
Northern Light buds aren't as smelly as many other strains of cannabis, and plants tend to be very forgiving and easy to grow
- Quick – Papaya is ready to harvest about 8 weeks after you initiate the flowering stage, so with a 3-4 week vegetative stage you're looking at smoking your buds in possibly less than 3 months from germination. Although a short-flowering photoperiod strain like Papaya is not quite as fast as the fastest auto-flowering strain, it's close and much more forgiving in case you mess up!
Papaya responds very well to stressful conditions – check out a grow journal featuring this strain!
- Good for LEDs and Can Handle Tight Spaces – Blue Cheese plants respond well to LEDs by producing extra potent, extra sticky buds. This strain is also very hardy & resistant to many common plant problems (over watering, underwatering, stress, mold…). It's important to get a strain that can resist mold and diseases if you're growing in the high humidity of a small grow box, which don't usually provide enough air circulation for proper growth. This strain is overall just easy to grow and high yielding, and because of its effects I always choose it if I see it available at a dispensary!
Sometimes the most important thing is producing as much bud as possible!
- Indica – Wonder Woman – Incredible strain that makes huge, dense buds with a strong Indica effect and yields that can't be beat. Check out a grow journal featuring a single Wonder Woman plant that produced over 12 oz of bud!
A single Wonder Woman plant can yield over 12 oz under the right conditions!
- Sativa – Utopia Haze by Barney's Farm – This strain produces buds that have 22% THC and higher with low levels of CBD, for a truly vivid, "in-your-head" trip true to its Sativa roots. It can grow tall and lanky and produces very well both indoors and outdoors. It responds well to training and is easy to grow, you just need to be careful because these plants can get really big overnight and crowd out your grow space!
- Social – Pure Power Plant (PPP) – Very high yielding and the buds produce a "friendly" and relaxing effect that can be good for social settings. A good strain for recreational states (and Canada, congrats!) to have at a gathering with friends!
Some of the most potent strains available today have won quite a few awards! Cup winners have an air of credibility around them that makes them really attractive and some strains are just straight-up legendary now.
I wanted to share two types of strains with you – Cannabis Cup Winners & Top Dispensary Strains!
3 Cannabis Cup Winners
Sometimes you want to grow something that has won dozens of awards around the world! These strains have become famous for a reason!
- High THC – Sour Diesel by Reserva Privada – The potent effects of this plant are mind-altering and long-lasting. It has incredibly valuable genetics and many breeders have tried to create a "new" version of Sour Diesel in an attempt to capture its unique power in a slightly-easier-to-grow form.
But so far nothing has yet been able to beat the original when it comes to effects. This plant is very stretchy which means it needs to be topped and trained to get the highest yields.
It has a Sativa background and you should expect it to double in size or more after the switch to the flowering stage unless you make sure to take time to continue bending and securing stems down so all the branches stay short. It comes from a warm climate and can handle very high temperatures and tends to grow slower in cooler temps. When well taken care of, it produces huge, long and thick colas. Its trichomes do not turn amber when the plant is mature, so this strain should be harvested when all the trichomes are milky white, as this is when the buds will have the highest levels of THC.
- Weirdly potent – Jack Herer by Sensi Seeds – Sometimes called the "champagne of strains", the true version of Jack Herer is obscenely expensive and is only available in "regular" (non-feminized) form from Sensi Seeds. It's a world famous strain with buds that blend some of the best tropical Sativa genes for an "up" effect, combined with strong Indica genes to give it a heavy body effect – the best of both worlds! It has amazing resin production that extends from the buds to the leaves, producing valuable trim. It has only average yields and can be a little tough to grow, so it's meant more for the connoisseur who just wants the best as opposed to growers who care about getting the highest yields possible. Although it's very mold-resistant, it doesn't respond that well to topping (cutting off the main stem to "split" the plant) and should only be trained using LST (low stress training) to get the best results.
- Legendary Strain – White Widow is the gift that keeps on giving. A true "legendary" strain, it continues to win Cannabis Cups and show up in coffee shops and dispensaries around the world, in part because of its ability to make you feel uplifted and happy. It's known as White Widow because its buds become so covered in trichomes/glitter that buds can actually look white. Here's an LED grow journal featuring White Widow.
3 Top Dispensary Strains
I live in Southern California and when I go to dispensaries there are certain strains that show up over and over again on the top shelf, consistently selling out. Because of that, I know from personal experience that these strains are proven to produce incredible buds no matter who grows them and I wanted to share my own personal “insider” list with you. Most of these strains are on the pricey side, though I believe they're worth the cost!
- Girl Scout Cookies by The California Connection – Years ago, a strain called "Girl Scout Cookies" appeared on the California market and exploded with popularity. The clone-only strain went on to receive several cannabis cup awards and has gained an almost legendary status. There's just something special about GSC and it regularly appears on the top shelf of dispensaries, only to quickly sell out. A breeder known as "The Cali Connection" (who specializes in California-based genes) has stabilized this strain and now it's finally available in seed form for everyone around the world. Their version of GSC is so well rated that many growers believe it may actually be better than the original clone.
- Blue Cheese by Big Buddha Seeds – This strain has already appeared once on this list but I felt the needs to list it here as well because Blue Cheese is remarkable for several reasons. It is very high in THC, has a nice amount of CBD, stays short and flowers quickly. It's incredibly hardy and produces good yields with dense buds, even in a harsh environment. But the true reason it's popular is this strain produces buds with particularly powerful effects that are often described as "couchlock," "stoney" and ultra relaxing. When I see Blue Cheese on the menu, I get it every time!
Blue Cheese is one of my personal favorite strains
- L.A. Confidential by DNA Genetics – A unique taste/smell is part of what make this particular strain so memorable alongside its spectacular effects, which have been described as "enormous", "mind-blowing" and "energetic". As a result, this strain and has won many awards including cannabis cups. It's one of those strains where if I see it on a menu I know it will always be good, no matter who grew it.
When it comes to growing cannabis with CFL grow lights, there are a few things to keep in mind that will help make things easier for you. Photoperiod or auto-flowering strains are both suitable for growing with CFLs, and you can make CFLs work with any strain. However, if possible you want to choose a strain that naturally stays short because CFLs don’t have a lot of light penetration and need to be less than a foot (30 cm) away from your plants to be the most effective. In order to maximize yields with CFLs, you always want to train your plant to grow short and flat, so many bud sites can be close to the CFLs.
Because you want shorter plant with CFLs, you generally want to stick with indica-based strains, while avoiding most sativa or haze strains as they tend to grow tall and stretchy.
Train plants to grow short and flat with many buds sites to get the best yields from CFLs
In a grow box it's important to grow a cannabis strain that…
- Naturally stays small/short – helpful because most grow boxes don't have a lot of extra space. Indica-hybrid strains are recommended because they tend to stay on the smaller side.
- Resistant to heat – some strains are more resistant to high heat and lack of good air circulation, especially strains from the equator
- Resistant to mold – mold is very common due to the high humidity of a small grow box, which usually doesn't provide enough air circulation for proper growth. "Cheese" strains and strains with Hawaiian ancestry tend to be more mold-resistant in general, but it's also a strain-by-strain thing.
- Weak cannabis smell – Generally growers with grow boxes want to keep their garden a secret. Something that can help prevent other people from noticing your grow is a strain that produces buds with a low level of smell, especially if buds also smell flowery or fruity instead of skunky.
- Can stand high levels of light – this helps because plants are normally kept very close to grow lights in a short space. Many Sativa and Haze strains tend to be more light loving, while Indica strains are more likely to suffer from light burn. However, Indica strains tend to grow short, which is helpful, so if possible you want to find a hybrid that has both traits.
Example of good strains for grow boxes
- Papaya by Nirvana – This strain can be a great candidate for a grow box because it has been bred to stay short, harvest quickly, and produce mold-resistant and disease-resistant buds. It also has a relatively light smell that's a little tropical and spicy, with less of a "cannabis" smell than many other strains. It produces a "couchlock" stone that's heavy on body effects.
- Aurora Indica by Nirvana – Another strain by Nirvana that's well-suited to micro grows in small spaces (they've developed a few specialized stealth strains). It has more CBD than the Papaya, which makes it more suitable for medical marijuana patients, and has a very potent effect and also a deep "body stone." It takes a few weeks longer to finish than the Papaya.
This is an Aurora Indica plant I grew. It stayed very short but buds were thick and dense! The buds had very strong Indica effects.
When it comes to growing medical marijuana, the goal is usually to grow strains that are either very high in THC (psychoactive effects), high in CBD (relaxing effect), or high in both.
If you’re still looking for the exact right strain, check out our tutorial with tips on how to research strains so you find the right one! Learn about some resources you might not know about to get more information about each potential strain!