Hydroponics vs Soil | What’s the difference?
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Hydroponics vs Soil – do you know the difference between the two? Obviously there are more than one, and in this short post we’re going to go over the differences between growing cannabis plants hydroponically or in soil indoors; how much they yield, how flavor and aroma is affected and how general plant growth differs.
Hydroponics vs Soil | Main Differences
When grown in soil or peat substrates and in flowerpots, plants grow independently – only when grown in separate flowerpots, of course. The only thing they share with the rest of the plants is the nutrient solution you use to feed them.
This allows for strict control over your plants individually, so you can give each one its own treatment, allowing you to get rid of ill plants or problematic plants without affecting the rest.
Hydroponics, however, is a totally different story. All plants grown hydroponically get the exact same food and water. This means that if one of your plants ends up with an illness or fungi on its roots, it will most likely spread to the rest of your plants. That’s why you need to be incredibly cautious when it comes to keeping your plants’ roots clean when growing hydroponically.
In order to avoid such issues, we recommend keeping a close eye on your plants’ roots. You can use silicone and trichoderma products which keep your plants’ roots protected. Of course, while this may be almost necessary when growing hydroponically, you can also use this method when growing in soil to ensure stronger, healthy roots.
Hydroponic Agriculture | Pros and Cons
The pros of hydroponics
Like we were saying before, hydroponic growing is much more delicate than growing in soil, but it definitely has its benefits. Your plants will grow much faster in hydroponics, and they’ll also be capable of producing much larger yields. It also saves quite a lot when it comes to electricity and water bills, as your plants will be ready to harvest much earlier.
This is due to the enormous amount of oxygen that your plants’ roots receive due to being watered constantly, which means that they basically grow non-stop thanks to all the extra oxygen. This is one of the biggest differences when it comes to the hydroponics vs soil debate; the oxygen found in soil is much inferior to that which hydroponic plants have access to.
In order to grow cannabis plants properly in hydroponic set ups, you’ll need to maintain a few parameters in order as consistently as possible. For example, you’ll need to keep your water at around 22-26°C for optimal oxygen and nutrient absorption. When growing in soil this parameter isn’t as crucial, although it still needs to be adjusted.
Another advantage when it comes to growing hydroponically is the fact that you can effectively “reuse” your substrate. Clay balls are incredibly easy to clean, however peat or soil substrates can’t really be reused as they’re incredibly hard to clean; another money saver!
The cons of hydroponics
Not everything about growing cannabis hydroponically is beneficial though, and issues may arise that cause your final product to decrease in quality quite a lot. This is due to the fact that growing cannabis hydroponically produces much less terpenes than when you grow it organically in soil.
The main reason that plants grown in aquatic media don’t produce many terpenes, and therefore have less intense aromas, is the water itself. Due to having developed in a constantly humid environment, the plant doesn’t go through the natural short periods of drought that other plants do, which is what increases terpene production.
Another disadvantage to growing hydro cannabis plants is the fact that you need to constantly monitor the water and your plants to see how they react to their feed. If left to their own devices, you may end up with no plants at all. This is due to the fact that any issues are accelerated, just like growth is, in hydroponics. If you don’t have much experience, we recommend starting with soil and then try out one or two plants in hydroponics.
Hydroponics vs Soil | The Verdict
After having a look at some of the main differences when it comes to hydroponics and soil, hopefully you’ll be able to decide which method is better for you. When it comes to hydroponics vs soil, depending on the part of the world, soil is generally the winner when it comes to widespread use. However, hydroponics can produce amazing results and it’s much less widespread in some areas of the world.
Those that tend to grow for large yields use hydroponic systems for the speed and larger yields, including commercial growers that look to grow as much weed as possible in order to sell it, regardless of quality.
We highly recommend investigating different growing methods until you find the one that fits your needs and tastes; none of them are truly better than the other, but one of them may be better for you and your particular preferences when it comes to maintaining your plants and how experienced you are.
In this article we talk about hydroponics vs soil – the advantages and disadvantages of growing in each medium when it comes to cannabis plants and yield.
Soil vs Hydroponics: Growing Cannabis
Today, we’re going to discuss the difference between growing marijuana with soil or growing marijuana with hydroponics.
What is soil and what is hydroponics?
Soil for Growing Cannabis
Soil is the mineral and organic material found on the surface of the Earth which is a natural growing medium for plants.
Marijuana prefers rich, slightly acidic, high-quality soil that drains well. Many growers supplement their soil with perlite for added drainage. Soil growers also almost always add either liquid nutrients or nutrient-rich materials such as manure, earthworm castings, or seabird/bat guano to make sure the marijuana plants get everything they need.
Organic potting soils often work well for growing marijuana when mixed with perlite. Fox Farm Ocean Forest is a popular soil choice among marijuana growers. Regardless of the soil you start with, most growers will need to supplement with nutrients for the best results.
Popular Cannabis Soil Choice: Ocean Forest Mixed with About 20% Perlite
Plants naturally absorb nutrients from soil, though especially in the flowering stage, it’s up to you to provide just the right amount (not too much) of the right kind of nutrients to maximize your yields and prevent nutrient deficiencies.
If you start with rich soil like Fox Farms Ocean Forest, you won’t need to add any extra nutrients for at least the first few weeks of growth, but by the time your plant gets to the flowering/budding phase, it’s very important you add additional nutrients to support bud growth (since your plant will have already used a lot of the nutrients in the soil!)
Learn more about marijuana soil nutrients here:
Hydro for Growing Cannabis
Hydroponics refers to growing plants in pretty much anything besides soil, including growing mediums like coco coir, sand, gravel, straight water, or even misted air.
When growing marijuana hydroponically, as the grower it’s up to you to provide all the nutrients your plants need throughout the entire grow. This is done by adding nutrients to their water supply.
The benefit to this is that you can accurately provide the right amount of exactly the right kind of nutrients your marijuana plants want, to maximize your yields.
Common growing mediums for hydroponics (often mixed together):
- Grown directly in water
- Growers often use Hydroton (clay pebbles) to anchor the roots in a hydro system
- Coco coir (coconut shell husks)
- Peat Moss
- Soilless Potting Mix
Growing Weed in Soil Pros & Cons
- Many growers claim soil-grown marijuana tastes better
- Soil can be more forgiving for the inattentive grower since it already contains some amount of nutrients in the soil
- If you’ve grown anything in soil before, growing cannabis in soil probably seems easier than some types of hydroponic growing
- Marijuana tends to grow slower in soil than in hydroponics in the vegetative stage
- Soil usually returns lower yields compared to hydroponically grown marijuana (when given the same time, lights, and environment)
Popular Cannabis Soil Choice: Ocean Forest Mixed with About 20% Perlite
Growing Hydroponic Weed Pros & Cons
- Total control over nutrient levels
- Faster harvest (you can shave up to 2 weeks off the vegetative stage)
- Less likely to suffer from weeds, soil-born diseases or pests
- Growing in a soilless growing medium like coco coir is almost exactly the same work as growing in soil, yet you get nearly all the benefits of hydro
- Techniques like bubbleponics and DWC give growers the ability to pretty much automate their grow, so it takes a few minutes a week to maintain
- Can correct problems much more quickly in hydro
- Some growers claim hydro grown weed doesn’t taste as good, though many growers agree that taste has more to do with your nutrients and flushing methods than purely hydro vs soil
- Plants are quicker to show signs of problems
- Some hydro methods are overly complicated and not beginner friendly
- No natural nutrients so you have to supplement nutrients, which can be as simple as a nutrient system like Dyna-Gro (Grow + Bloom) and as complicated as a full cannabis nutrient system.
Biggest Differences Between Growing Marijuana in Soil vs Hydro
Generally hydroponic and soil-grown cannabis need slightly different nutrients, but there is one nutrient system that works for cannabis in all growing mediums, including soil, coco and hydro. If you’re not sure what to get, it may be worth a try. Learn more about cannabis-friendly nutrients.
Optimum pH for Nutrient Absorption
Soil pH: 6.0-7.0
Hydro pH: 5.5-6.5
Even if you’re growing in a potting mix, if it doesn’t say “soil” you will need to adjust the pH for hydro levels. So if your bag says “Coco Coir” then use the pH for Hydro.
We recently received this question where a reader was growing marijuana in a mix of vermiculite and perlite. Because this seems soil-like, he was adjusting the pH levels as if he were growing in soil.
It’s important to note that growing hydroponically means growing in basically anything besides soil, even if it resembles soil.
Here’s the question….
Question: I’m growing 3 White Widow plants in soil with High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights using cannabis-specific utrients. The soil is made up of 75% Perlite 25% Vermiculite and I’m adjusting the pH to 5.5 – 5.9. All my plants seem to be having this problem. Any idea why? Thank you in advance.
Answer: It looks like Magnesium deficiency, but considering your nutrients have plenty of magnesium, and what you said about your pH. I think this is really a pH problem.
Using Perlite and Vermiculite is still technically considered hydroponic (not soil), so you’ll need to use a hydroponic pH range (5.5 – 6.5). Magnesium and Calcium especially tend to get locked out when the pH near the roots drops below 6.0. If you adjust the pH to the proper levels, this problem should clear right up.
Also make sure you’re testing the pH of the runoff water that comes out the bottom of your pot. This will give you a clue if there’s something going on at the roots that is dramatically changing your pH. Good luck!
Hydro and Soil Grown Marijuana Usually Need Different Nutrients
As a general rule, you will need to get nutrients specifically made for soil or hydro. This is because soil provides some nutrients, while in hydro you must provide all the nutrients.
Dyna-Gro is a noted and well-loved exception that works great for growing marijuana in soil or hydroponically. Just follow their instructions at half strength. Use “Grow” or “Foliage Pro” for the first part of the plant’s life and then switch to “Bloom” after you see the first flowers growing.
There Are So Many Different Hydroponic Methods, It’s Hard to Generalize
Each hydroponic grow method has its own pros and cons, and they’re so different from each other it’s hard to truly compare “hydro vs soil.”
Some hydro growers use bubbleponics of Deep Water Culture (DWC) which means they’re growing with their plant roots directly in water.
Other hydroponic growers grow in soilless potting mixes or coco coir, which in practice is extremely similar to growing in soil besides the nutrients and optimum pH.
Here’s the simplest way to grow weed in soil. Get Fox Farms Ocean Forest soil and plant your seeds. Water whenever top inch or so of soil seems dry. Start adding a tiny bit of Dyna-Gro Bloom fertilizer to your water after plants start budding and you’re good to go!
You should grow in soil if…
- You really like the idea of growing weed as “close-to-the-wild” as possible
- You have access to good soil or are willing to make your own
- You are willing to supplement with organic compost teas or nutrients as needed
- You feel that soil-grown marijuana tastes the best
- You want something that’s more “set it and forget it” and don’t care as much about yields or fast harvests
You should grow with hydroponics if…
- You want a faster harvest
- Getting the highest yields possible is most important to you
- You desire the convenience of soil without the pests (hand-water grow in soilless potting mix)
- You’d like the convenience of a close-to-fully automated system (DWC, bubbleponics, etc)
- You are willing to become the sole provider of nutrients throughout the grow
- You love experimenting with different methods and want to tune into the perfect grow method
I hope you enjoyed today’s issue. As you may have gleaned from this article, I (Nebula Haze) personally love growing marijuana hydroponically. I believe proper flushing and overall lower nutrient levels give you marijuana buds that taste even better than soil-grown (though my opinion is obviously biased).
At GrowWeedEasy.com, we are dedicated to teaching people how to grow indoors the way they want. We’d love to hear from some soil growers and get more from your side of the story!
If you love growing marijuana in soil, don’t hesitate to submit info or pictures so we can share with the rest of the growing community!
About the Author: Nebula Haze
Nebula originally started growing hydroponically in coco coir mixed with about 25% perlite. Once the coco coir and perlite get mixed up, they look just like soil.
Then for nutrients she either used Dyna-Gro Grow / Bloom OR the General Hydroponics Trio at 50-75% strength for happy plants, easy harvests and fat, potent buds.
Now she grows in DWC using a 250W HPS, check out one of her grows!
In response to the need for more tutorials aimed at new growers, Nebula co-founded GrowWeedEasy.com in 2010 with fellow grower Sirius Fourside.
Since then, Nebula has published dozens of growing articles in print and online, stars in online video lessons, and continues to dedicate herself to serving the needs of the medical marijuana growing community.
“My mission is to show other medical marijuana patients how easy and fun it can be to grow pounds of killer weed out of your closet.”
Should you grow marijuana with soil or hydroponics? This article explains what you need to know to make the right decision!