How Do I Select Which Cultivar (Strain) to Grow?

A cultivar is a cultivated crop variety that has been produced from selective breeding. In the Cannabis world, cultivars have long been called ‘strains’, similar to wine grape cultivars being referred to as ‘varietals’. The term strain generally refers to unique genotypes of microorganisms, but has been somewhat co-opted by the Cannabis industry.

While there are some Cannabis breeders that truly pursue the production of stabilized genetic lines with unique phenotypic properties, in my opinion, most of the Cannabis strains on the market are produced quickly and have not undergone a long enough selective breeding process to stabilize the lines. Many strains on the market are a result of breeders simply crossing the best sellers of a given season in order to cash in on the hype of particular genetics. This results in most of the products on the market being unstable polyhybrids that have not undergone rigorous breeding on a large enough scale to select phenotypes for traits such as disease resistance that are commonly overlooked.

This is my list for the most important aspects in selecting genetics for your grow:

  1. The most important aspect to consider in microgroweries is whether or not you enjoy the effects of the strain you are growing.
    1. For example, some of my favorite strains of all time have Cherry Pie genetics including GDP and Purple Punch. I tend to get anxiety with sativa-dominant (cerebral) strains and prefer strains with more sedating effects. I also really enjoy strains with high CBD and moderate THC.
  2. Secondly, it is extremely important to choose strains that have been released by reputable breeders that place importance on stable genetics (particularly when growing from seed). If you are purchasing clones, it is important to know that the genotype does not have a strong propensity for hermaphroditism and has phenotypic traits that are favorable.
  3. In an indoor grow, some of the most important phenotypic traits to look for besides the effect of the strain are:
    1. Flowering time (In general, strains that are closer to ‘indica’ on the cannabis spectrum are ready to harvest quickly as compared to plants that are considered more ‘sativa’). I tend to select strains that can finish in approximately 8-10 weeks after the start of flowering. If you are buying seed, one should consider the possibility of growing an ‘autoflowering’ strain. I will go into a bit more detail on autoflowering Cannabis a bit later on.
    2. Yield (Plants that produce large and dense colas are generally preferable when growing on a small scale).
    3. Stature (Height, bushiness, the degree that the plant stretches in flower, and density of branching are all important factors to consider.)
    4. Cannabinoid profile and potency (This may be a very important factor to some. While cannabinoid profile is important to me, I tend to not select my strains on the basis of THC levels simply because most of the strains on the market are too strong for my personal preference, and I do not care much about maximizing THC).
    5. Other metabolite profiles of your plant: Terpenes and flavonoids are important to consider. Terpenes are mainly responsible for the odor of the strain you are growing, but many are psychoactive and influence the effects of the strain you are growing.
    6. Resistance to disease and pests: Different strains have different levels of resistance to various diseases and insect pests. For example, if you have had trouble with powdery mildew in the past, it would be useful to avoid strains that are particularly known for powdery mildew susceptibility.
      1. In my last grow, I had three strains in one grow tent (Dream Queen, Purple Punch, and Venom OG). I had a whitefly infestation occur, and I noticed an obvious difference in whitefly populations on the different strains. Dream Queen had very few whiteflies, while Venom OG seemed to have the most.
      2. For Powdery Mildew, it appears that the most resistant strains have Afghani heritage, please see my post on PM under pest and disease profiles for strain recommendations.
      3. For bud rot, it appears that the most resistant strains are equitorial sativas. Please see my post on bud rot under pest and disease profiles for strain recommendations.

As you can tell, indoor growing really lends itself to strains that have classically been considered ‘indica heavy’ and have a short, bushy stature, quick finishing time. Although plants with a more ‘sativa’ phenotype can be grown indoors, they tend to be more difficult because they are more lanky, they tend to have a longer internodal spacing, they stretch a lot during flower, buds tend to be less dense, and the time to finish can be quite long. However, there are techniques to help keep these plants more manageable such as training. Do not let yourself be deterred if you are set on growing such a strain.

If you are new to Cannabis and do not have a firm grasp on your strain preference, I would do the following to select a strain to grow:

  1. Look for local vendors selling cannabis clones and look through their offerings. Select at least a few of the strains (some indica dominant strains, some sativa dominant strains, and some hybrid strains).
  2. See if there are any dispensaries in your region selling flower of your selected strains and purchase a small amount of each of the selected strains.
  3. Sample the flower on different days and select the one with the effects you enjoy the most for purchasing clones. Often times, the dispensaries in the region may not have the flower of the strain you want to sample. In that case, it might be worth doing some searching for the offerings of local dispensaries and only selecting strains that you can purchase clones for.

I believe that for first time growers, it is best to grow from clone as opposed to seed if you have access to them. The reasons for this include: genetic uniformity between plants and phenotypes that have already been selcted for favorable traits. When you buy seeds, as I mentioned earlier, many strains are not stable and can produce a variety of phenotypes, some of which may be unfavorable. It is best to have a bit of experience in finding trusted breeders before buying seeds. However, with a bit of web searching, you can find some well-reviewed genetics from trusted breeders. If you are buying seeds, I believe autoflowering seeds tend to be the easiest beginner plants to grow; you will not need to change the light cycle to induce flowering, they finish quite quickly, and you do not need to fuss about physical manipulation techniques such as ‘topping’, ‘FIMing’, trellising, or other training techniques. Though historically considered to be of lesser quality, autoflowering Cannabis has come a long way and there are many strains out there that produce high quality flower.

What to Look for in a Clone Nursery

Due to my location, I have only ever bought my clones from one source: Dark Heart Nursery (with the exception of when I was running Ken’s Cut GDP for a while). Dark Heart is a very reputable nursery that puts a lot of care into their strain selection, and most importantly for me, they produce disease-free clones. They have a dedicated Plant Health Department that ensures operating procedures are kept as sterile as possible, and they go through the necessary steps to ensure that their clones are free from known viruses and viroids. The causal agent of cannabis ‘dudding’ disease was discovered and described as the Hop Latent Virus by their plant health department and necessary steps were taken to ensure the viroid was eliminated from all plants [1].

It is important to select your clones from a nursery that takes care to ensure they are providing healthy, disease free clones.

How Do I Select a Reputable Breeder?

In my opinion, if you are not going to test out seeds or cuts from various different breeders, the best way to find reputable breeders is to read forums discussing the topic.

One of my favorite strains of all time that I kept in production for multiple years was Ken Estes’ Granddaddy Purple. I personally do not have a ton of experience with trying a large variety of breeders, but I have also had success with Greenhouse Seeds (I did a few runs of their Bubba Kush).

Purple Punch is a favorite of mine, and though uncertain, breeders at Supernova Gardens claim to have produced this legendary strain. Often times, the breeder of well-known strains are debated and the actual crosses that occurred are unknown as well. In such cases, you generally will grow the strain because it has a reputation of being high quality regardless of the breeder. One such strain I have grown is Dream Queen, though the genetics I grew came from the highly reputable Humboldt Seed Co.

I enjoyed growing Venom OG from Rare Dankness, but as with many ‘OG’ strains, it was a bit lanky and the buds were a bit loose for my liking. However, I enjoyed the diesel odors, rich colors, and effects of this strain. One of the most reliably consistent seed-grown strains I have ever run is Skunk #1 from Sensi Seeds. Though the strength of this strain is mild to moderate, I enjoy the lower THC content, the consistency of the plants, the hard to come by skunky odor, and the yield. Sensi Seeds has a lot of very stable strains that I enjoy, and they don’t seem to play the THC-hunting game or the name game so prevelant in today’s Cannabis culture. Their Big Bud is also a nice strain to grow. It produces well, is not overly powerful, and is very forgiving to the new grower.

I am also a big fan of Barney’s Farm. Though I cannot speak to all of their products, I grew their LSD one time. It yielded well, had no issues to speak of, and I enjoyed the moderately strong but relaxing effects. I would grow this strain again.

In terms of autoflowering plants, I have ever only tried Blueberry Auto by Dutch Passion Seeds. By introducing ruderalis genetics to DJ Short’s legendary Blueberry genetics, they have managed to produce a plant that yields very well, finishes very quickly under long day conditions, and is fairly potent with a nice nose, which can be difficult to achieve with autoflowers.

Aside from the breeders/seed companies mentioned above, popular seed companies in forums include DNA Genetics, Bomb Seeds, Sin City Seeds, Buddha Seeds, Anesia Seeds, and Royal Queen Seeds. These are all companies I see popping up in forums (recently I have seen a lot of praise for Sin CIty, Buddha, and Anesia in particular). I have not tried anything from them.

What is the Takeaway?

There are so many strains out there it can be overwhelming to choose. The bottom line is you should choose a strain that you enjoy consuming, but other factors (mainly yield and finishing time) should come into play in choosing between strains you like. Buy your seeds from a reputable breeder/seed company and buy your clones from nurseries that ensure you are receiving a healthy plant.

If you don’t know where to even begin and don’t want to sample a bunch of cannabis, simply choose any of the companies I have mentioned above and buy a product with positive reviews, go on Leafly and determine if the described effects are desirable to you, and just do it. When it really comes down to it, it’s hard to go wrong.

  1. Warren, J. G., Mercado, J., & Grace, D. (2019). Occurrence of Hop Latent Viroid Causing Disease in Cannabis sativa in California. Plant Disease, 103(10), 2699. https://doi.org/10.1094/PDIS-03-19-0530-PDN

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