Everything You Need to Know About Growing Northern Lights Cannabis

Soft Secrets
08 Dec 2020

Some cannabis strains are simply famous, but Northern Light? - It’s a legend among the legends. One advantage of cultivating this strain is, it’s relatively easy to grow. Several phenotypes circulate the market, so first and foremost, it’s crucial to find Northern Lights with good genetics. Read on to find out how to grow the best buds of NL. 

If you enjoy cannabis as much as every experienced pothead does, the chances are you’ve probably, at some point during your bud tasting journey you’ve had Northern Lights or some of its associated varieties. Northern Lights is an iconic weed. It’s a strain that has topped rare milestones in the modern history of cannabis.

Proof of that is that it has been rewarded with numerous accolades within the last four decades or so. The staple indica strain is linked to several continents, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Get acquainted with its unordinary genetics lineage and skim through the tips below to get help on how to grow the most potent Northern Light plants with luscious buds and irresistible flavor.

What’s the buzz with Northern Lights genetics?

Its modern version is a genuine, heavenly made match with Afghani Indica and Thai Sativa, but the name of this classic strain may refer to at least a dozen different original NL plants. The general sentiment is that Northern Lights originates from the Pacific Northwest region in the United States. It’s often thought that its place of origin is Washington state, although the strain genetics are linked to the Golden State sometime in the early 1970s.

Afghan seeds and Thai genetics were crossed a decade later in an attempt to enhance the strain, so it’s better adapted to an environment frequently affected by bleak wet weather. From the U.S., those early modified Northern Lights plants traveled overseas to the Netherlands, where the Seed Bank created the Dutch version of the strain, today sold by Sensi Seed Bank. Dutch growers grew the strain next to other vanguards, the likes of Skunk #1 and Original Haze.

A yummy handful of ground weed

While Northern Lights accounted for a pure indica in the beginning, with crossbreeding, its genetics changed. The early original plants rarely surpassed four feet in height and were marveled at their broad fan leaves and ubiquitous green color. In the Netherlands, the legendary strain was excessively bred, and it was this mixing that resulted in wiggling its genes with some vigorous sativa. Of all Northern Lights that have succeeded, the Northern Lights #5 has been the most famous and most recognized one.

Number five has repeatedly won the High Times Cannabis Cup and has been voted the best Dutch strain of cannabis. Northern Lights #2, which has been crossbred with #5, has been hailed as another favorite. According to Sensi Seed Bank, Northern Lights’ genetics share 10% sativa and as much as 90% indica. It usually takes between 45-50 days for Northern Lights phenotypes to flower and its outdoor harvest time is from mid-to-late September.

The Canadian variant, known as Atomic Northern Lights after its creator Dr. Atomic, bumps a genetic mixture of 35% sativa and 65% indica. Atomic Northern Lights takes up to 50-65 days to flower and is usually harvested in mid-October. In this case, genuine Northern Lights plants were crossbred with Afghani landrace and Thai Haze ancestors. Northern Lights strains are praised for their strong psychedelic effects, characterized by intense, heady high with a hint of euphoria.

Is it easy to grow Northern Lights?

It’s reasonably easy, yes. The average time the plants finish flowering is around eight weeks, and whether you use hydroponics for growing, it may shorten to six.  Northern Lights plants have compact, dense buds, which are relatively easy to trim. We have written before that NL buds are tight and thick, but they are not impenetrable. So, while NL buds will quickly adapt in humid environments, you should still pay attention to protect the buds from rot.

A silvery-white layer of trichomes coats the buds, and the yield is admirable. Depending on which phenotype you grow, your NL plant might have a singular cola structure or a dense, compact central stalk accompanied by four or five lateral branches (indicative of NL #2 genetics). If you’ve decided to grow Northern Lights, start by finding the best strains genetics out there.

Where to look for Northern Lights seeds with the best genetics?

You may be the most attentive marijuana grower in the room, but sometimes, if you don’t have the right seeds, the growing effort might miserably fail. Network with other growers and inquire if someone has Northern Lights with good genetics. You want to find seeds that will respond well to the local climate where you’ll be growing your Northern Lights plants.

If you take seeds from an experienced grower, the chances are they’ve already made efforts into creating a potent version of NL, which has already become resistant to fungus and pests. You also want to find seeds that mix both indica and sativa. A hybrid is always easier to grow, especially if you are growing inside. Despite it’s a hybrid, you do get an indica-dominant one. Alternatively, you can look for seeds online from sources such as Dinafem.

Should you train your Northern Lights plants?

Whether you want to grow taller plants and have beautifully defined colas, each receiving sufficient light and nutrients, plant training is recommended. Several methods work for Northern Lights plants. If you perform low-stress training (LST) on your NL plants, you will encourage the plant to extend its growth.

With LST, you want to gently bend the stems, fixing them in positions without radically changing the plant’s shape. If the NL plants appear to have too many leaves that prevent light and airflow from reaching the lower areas of the plant, growers may consider defoliation, which is a particular type of high-stress training (HST). A major intervention here is removing leaves from the plant. One common error with defoliation is growers identifying and working on to remove leaves only on ailing plants.

But this is not the point of the procedure. Defoliation should be performed on healthy plants. When performed on weak plants, it may make the plant even more vulnerable or cause it to die. So, defoliation should best target healthy plants, but where the upper leaves appear to shade the lower leaves. Reserve this method for indoor crops, and only if you are an experienced grower. Another method that works miracles for Northern Lights plants is the Sea of Green (SOG). The idea with SOG is to grow several smaller cannabis plants instead of a few bigger ones.

Here are some basic SOG steps: 

  • Germinate seeds or make cuttings to create clones 
  • Grow the seeds or cuttings into young plants using 18 to 24 hours of lights
  • When the plants grow to about 6 inches (around 25 centimeters), change to a 12-12 light regiment. This should speed up flowering.
  • Make sure there’s sufficient space between each plant.
  • Wait until the plants form dense canopies or until after buds form, then trim the branches beneath and create clones with them. 
  • Harvest when you are ready and repeat the cycle.

With SOG, individual plants will grow fewer colas and grow less big, but the grander idea here is to have a recurring harvest and faster harvest.  Novice growers are encouraged to stick with LST but refrain from trying HST, such as defoliation, which can kill the crops if done wrong.  If you are a new grower, you may also want to wait for SOG until after you gain some basic experience from growing one or two plants, observing the process carefully, and learning from the mistakes you make. 

A small Sea of Green (SOG), a common method among growers

Is constant harvest achievable with Northern Lights plants?

Yes, especially if you opt for the SOG method mentioned earlier. You can apply SOG both with soils and hydroponics, and, in ideal cases, you can accomplish multiple harvests during the year-round. One important thing is to play right with the lights. Nourish your Northern Lights plants with plenty of natural light. While you are encouraged to use indoor light during the germination and vegetation of your plants, when the NL plants come about flowering time, switch to outdoors light.

If it’s possible for you, you can, in the wintertime, use interior space for growing, packed with lights, and come spring, take your crops outside. Given that you catch such a growing cycle correctly, you can aim for as many as three annual harvests of Northern Lights. Another perk of using natural light whenever you can is reducing your electricity bill.

How to best optimize light for growing Northern Lights plants?

Basically, you need to shower your Northern Lights with light. During vegetation, NLs require extensive hours of light. While you are safe to go with at least 18 hours of light a day, in an ideal setting, you can opt for a full cycle of light or keep the lights on 24 hours non stop. Because NL plants demand so much access to light during vegetation, they are not the perfect candidate for outdoors growing during this stage. You can switch to 12-12 light cycles once the plants begin to flower. In other words, at this point, you can take them outside if the weather allows it. During the flowering stage, your NL plants should be pretty tall. You can anticipate they are ready to yield in about 45 days of flowering.

Here’s how to organize an annual harvest calendar for Northern Lights:

  • Have your plants ready and out by early March so you can pursue a first round of harvesting in late April 
  • Move the second round of plants in early April, so it’s ready for yield somewhere at the end of May
  • Go for the third round and harvest at the end of June too

With a strain such as Northern Lights that demands excessive light exposure, it may be worrisome for some of you that it might reflect on the utility bill. But do it properly - the result is rewarding! A majority of growers choose High-Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps such as Metal Halide (MH) or High-Pressure Sodium (HPS). It’s good to note that with HPS lamps, Northern Lights plants may need an extra week to reach full maturation, but the yield may also be more significant.  If you are due to supply lighting equipment for your horticultural effort, see the catalog at Lumatek.  

Cannabis receiving artificial light. Various cannabis strains require excess lights when they are young plants.

How to nurture Northern Light crops?

Like other cannabis plants, Northern Lights need sufficient nitrogen (N) levels in vegetation as well as sufficient phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) when it enters flowering time. Another good thing with Northern Light is that nitrogen burn chances are lower as the strain can soak more nitrogen than usual. Needless to say, those who’ve only recently endeavored the grow-your-own journey should always stay cautious when feeding their crops. Your plants will give signs whether you are overfeeding them or not. Yellowing leaves is one of the most classic presentations. Watch out for other odd discolorations, too.

With Northern Lights, be especially careful during the early stages, when the plants are very young, and especially if you’ve supplied ready-made nutrients from the shop. Most of the time, these products are super packed with nutrients, more than what your plants ask for. Carefully administer the amounts of nutrients, little by little, and see how the plant reacts to it. It’s never a good idea to overfeed the plants as that would be the perfect recipe to kill the plant.

Besides an N - P - K mix, Northern Lights plants may benefit from other nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and sulfur and a tinge of copper, iron, zinc, manganese, and boron. All of these nutrients are contained in most nutrient mixes, but as already mentioned, be cautious about the dosages. If you have a friend who’s more experienced with nourishing nutrients to plants, ask their best practice. If you have supplied your NL seeds from another gardener, inquire how they manage the plant food.

What pH balance to stick with?

While the ideal pH range for cannabis is between 6.0 and 7.0 for soils and slightly less than that for hydroponics, for Northern Lights, you can try out a pH range somewhere between 6.3 and 6.7. If you are unfamiliar with what pH is, here’s a good place on the internet to get the basic idea. Cannabis crops will typically suffer when they are not adjusted to their optimal range. A 0.1 difference may not result in anything devastating; a more significant difference than that will do.  Using the right doses of nutrients to the soils or hydroponics setting where you grow your cannabis is generally of utmost importance because it can affect the pH values. The pH value of each element is different. If all this is new to you, you should opt for growing in soils as it’s the less likely way to face any pH issues. Leave the hydroponics until you collect some intermediate growing experience. 

Extra tips: Rainwater can help if you face an issue where the soil is too alkaline. A thin crust of dolomite (a type of mineral) should help resolve soil becoming too acidic. For hydroponics, ensure the pH range is set between 5.5 and 6.5. 

How to monitor pH?

The simplest way to check pH in your growing medium is by using pH strips. When you dent the small litmus piece of paper into the medium, it’s designed to change color and indicate whether the medium is alkaline or acidic.  Since you’ll repeatedly add water and/or nutrients to your crops, you’ll need to monitor pH levels continually. For a hundred bucks, you can also purchase a digital device to measure pH. 

Leaf discoloration is a frequent sign of overfeeding the plant

What should you do to prevent crops infestation?

Know that pests could always be after your cannabis plants even when you are growing Northern Lights, a strain generally praised for its resilience to invaders. While the cannabis plant has its natural mechanism to defend against pests, you should always support your crops with additional protection. The minimal effort you can do is maintain a clean growing setup. Sterilize the hydroponics set up before you start growing. Wash your hands every time before you touch the plants. Handle cleanliness of your growth as you would handle cleanliness of your food.

Maintaining the optimal humidity and temperature ranges is another critical step to ensure your plants stay safe indoors. Also, always filter the air, preferably with a high-quality household filter. For infestations such as with fungus gnats, you may need to use neem oil, which contains active ingredients like azadirachtin, which kills pests. Insecticidal soap will also suffocate any invader. In order to prevent infestations from recurring, you need to reduce humidity in the grow room as fungus thrives where it’s damp and dark.

Roots and seedlings are most common to suffer.  Another aspect of being aware is that when you notice one sickly plant, the chances another one will go sickly are double as infection quickly spreads from one plant to another. A fast reaction towards pests and infestations is critical.  Here’re some more tips on dealing with some of the most common pests known to invade cannabis plants. Ideally, you’ll use natural solutions to ward off the pests.

What are the ideal temperature and humidity setups for NL?

Northern Lights crops thrive in warm weather, ideally where the summer is hot and steamy. When grown indoors, the indica strain requires a temperature around 80°F (or around 27°C). Five degrees plus or minus from this parameter are tolerable for NL plants, although, during the flowering stage, it’s best not to surpass the 80°F margin. Usually, during the nighttime, the plants should stay in lower temperatures than during the daytime, but ensure that the difference is no greater than 10 degrees Fahrenheit (or five degrees celsius). If you use grow lights, note that they will efficiently generate excess heat in the room, so you need to implement a solution where you will vent out the extra hot air and allow for cold air to circulate the grow room.

Whatever you do, make a note that Northern Lights cannot sustain temperatures greater than 85°F (or around 29°C). In case you can’t solve this, ensure that you add extra CO2 in the room so that you can utilize the excess energy into photosynthesis. To avoid infestations, avoid radical drops in temperatures where the difference is more significant than the above mentioned 10 degrees Fahrenheit or five degrees celsius.

Cannabis is properly stored in a glass jar. Avoid storing in a plastic package.

As per humidity, when your plants are still young or vegetating, keep above 60% value. Once your plants begin to flower, you can start to decrease humidity levels by 5% each week. To boost luscious buds on your NL plants, at this stage, you want to lower the temperature as well. Do it gradually. A high-quality thermometer and humidity monitoring unit will benefit you well, especially if you are growing a more significant number of plants. Regulating humidity is also critical for when you proceed to dry and cure the plant's plucked buds. Keeping the freshly harvested buds in temperatures at around 65°F (18°C) and with a humidity range of 45%-55% will facilitate a healthy conversion of THCA into THC. When your Northern Light jars are ready, it’s time to taste your homegrown.

What are some of the expected effects of smoking Northern Lights?

Northern Lights, which is one of the most popular indica strains of all times, is well received by growers, medical patients, and recreational users. Anticipate a nice cerebral high with a hint of euphoria. Its medical qualities counteract depression, anxiety and stimulate the appetite. The strain is also commonly used for insomnia and pain as it helps to sleep and relaxes the body and muscles. While some strain variants will contain as much as 27% of THC, others may have as little as 12%. If you are not up for growing this strain, it’s available in dispensaries across the West Coast and Colorado. But if you do like to try to grow Northern Lights at home, follow the directions set in this article and reach out in the comments to summon community help for any issues you might face in the process. Happy growing!

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