The terms “Indica” and “sativa” mainly describe how cannabis plants grow and how they’re structured. Plants with indica characteristics tend to grow bushy and relatively short, and produce higher yields with a shorter flowering time than sativas. On the other hand, sativas tend to grow taller and lankier, and have longer flowering times with relatively smaller yields.
Sativas and indicas also show different characteristics during their growth cycle. As a general rule, indicas are hardier plants that aren’t terribly picky about what they’re fed. Brief but extreme environmental changes—a sudden lack of water or a burst of cold air—won’t usually compromise an indica crop. On the other hand, sativas are finicky about they’re fed, and they’re much more sensitive to environmental changes.
Indicas typically produce the half-lidded, couch-lock effect desired by many chronically ill patients and recreational users who prefer a cloudy, stoney-headed high. Because of this and other reasons, indicas are a popular variety among professional growers. They’re easy to handle and tend to adapt well to their surroundings—making them good candidates for beginning or veteran growers who have busy schedules.
“Indicas should be SOG’ed,” said Chris West, a long-time cultivator based in Washington state. “Big ones should be topped, and they should be thinned out by removing the lower branches.”
SOG stands for “sea of green,” a technique where cannabis plants have their top portions cut off (or “topped”) to force the plant to grow out rather than up. The SOG technique will grow short, bushy plants—and still produce nice yields while taking up a minimal amount of space. SOG also maximizes light efficiency.
For indicas, nitrogen feeds should be cut off early, just prior to the flushing stage. Because of their bushy nature, their fan leaves should be removed regularly to preserve the plant’s energy for flower production.
Over the years, the uplifting, energizing effects of sativas have increased their demand by customers who prefer being functional while also being medicated. Incredibly popular strains such as “Green Crack/Candy,” “Blue Dream” and “Sour Diesel” are all sativas, so it’s critical to master sativa cultivation to meet consumer demand.
“Sativas are sensitive to overwatering,” said West, “and they’re picky eaters.” He recommends hydroponic grows for sativa crops so that feeding and watering remain 100 percent consistent throughout the entire grow cycle.
West also advises growers to “super crop” their sativas, which is a method of bending the stems to force the plant to grow out rather than up (much like SOG for indicas).
Another excellent technique for efficient sativa cultivation is the screen of green (SCROG), which shapes the plant’s flowering regions along a flat plane. SCROG requires a bit of planning and some investment in very affordable materials, but the payoff means better use of space, light and electricity.
“The plant can feel if its branches are supported by ties or screens,” said West. “It will grow out to accommodate the supports.” Plants can also sense when they’re growing in the presence of other plants, which causes them to grow taller than they normally would when growing alone. Because of this, supports, super cropping and screens are essential for a successful sativa grow.
As medical marijuana moves into the mainstream, more patients are seeking out high CBD strains. CBD is a molecule that confers many of the medicinal properties associated with cannabis (anti-inflammation, analgesia, etc.) but doesn’t produce a high. Many patients don’t enjoy the psychoactive effects of cannabis, since it can cause anxiety, paranoia or confusion. So, high CBD strains serve as a way to receive relief from the plant without feeling elevated.
According to Adam Jacques, an Oregon-based cultivator who specializes in extracting CBD oils, most high CBD strains are sativas. “But indica is growing in popularity.” Since indica strains are increasingly crossed to produce high CBD strains, the market will rely on sativas to produce CBD plants.
If you’re growing for medical patients, keep in mind that sativas may be the primary route for CBD right now.
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