Hydroponics vs. soil is a recurring question in cannabis cultivation circles, but there’s no definitive answer. Both of these substrates produce stunning nugs boasting high THC levels and plenty of healing cannabinoids and flavorful terpenes.
Irrespective of the medium, the weight of your harvest depends on a few crucial settings. You must manage the conditions to provide your plants with an environment that promotes growth.
Meeting the nutritional and lighting requirements is key to giving your flora the best chance of flourishing. Growing with stable genetics also aids the production of epic yields.
Read on to discover what your chosen medium means for your cannabis crop. We examine the pros and cons to determine which substrate provides the best results for marijuana growers.
Let’s dig in.
Soil is a natural and cost-effective method of cannabis cultivation. You likely already have some experience, perhaps through raising vegetables, fruits, or flowers.
In soil for cannabis, the roots absorb minerals and elements from organic matter that makes up the medium. Microbes, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and protozoa help break it down into usable plant nutrients.
Organic growers use weed compost or other natural fertilizers to elevate nutrient levels. Some cultivators prefer the simplicity of using chemical additives that boost growth.
You can sow your seeds directly in soil for outdoor weed or use pots. Earth can present problems with consistency as various regions have vastly differing mineral contents. Some soils need supplemental nutrients to make up the shortfall.
The hydro vs. soil taste debate is arguably the best reason for growing in the ground. While flavor is subjective, the consensus is that soil-grown weed is superior. Some cultivators claim it’s more natural, smooth, and rounded than hydroponic buds.
This natural substrate is an obvious candidate to house your young marijuana seedlings and maturing crops. Thousands of years of evolution have made cannabis seeds completely at home in soil. It offers several positives:
- Soil is natural and accessible. It’s the medium the plant evolved in, and with sunlight, oxygen, and water, you can yield delicious organic buds.
- It’s inexpensive and the obvious choice for beginners.
- Growing in soil is more forgiving. The slower rate of development means the manifestation of problems takes longer, giving you time to rectify errors.
- You can make use of soil for indoor and outdoor grows.
- Industry experts believe that growing in soil accentuates the terpene profile, giving the flowers a richer and more complex taste and flavor.
- It’s easier to cultivate organically in soil than hydro.
- It’s easier to move plants around when using soil-filled pots.
An organic environment isn’t all sunshine and roses, though. Helpful microbes and damaging pests both get invitations, so there are some negatives to look out for:
- The comparatively slow rate of growth translates to smaller yields.
- Soil is attractive to many other pests and insects, so pay close attention to avoid infestations or diseases.
- Soil can be a messy growing medium indoors.
- It isn’t easy to automate.
When you grow with hydroponics, you replace the soil with an inert solution. The roots rest in the mixture, which supplies all the macro and micronutrients needed. It also provides all the water and oxygen your plants might need.
Is hydroponics better than soil? It’s a contentious question, but hydro can do certain things better than the traditional method.
When recirculating hydroponic setups work efficiently, they save on water and nutrients and produce incredibly generous yields.
Hydro growers can employ a wide range of styles to improve output and quality. Deep water culture (DWC), ebb and flow, aeroponics, bubbleponics, and aquaponics are all variations that can be helpful in certain conditions.
Is hydroponic cannabis organic? It depends on the grower and whether they use organic fertilizers and pest control. Hydro relies on external inputs and doesn’t enhance a living ecosystem as the soil does.
Soilless options technically fall under hydroponics. These choices operate similarly to soil but feature an upgrade to the delivery of nutrients. They can be organic, inorganic, or synthetic.
Soilless substrates include coco coir, perlite, rockwool, and vermiculite. They’re inert and reduce the potential for bugs. They also combine good drainage with nutrient retention. Coco for cannabis is an excellent medium for novices as it teaches what plants need.
You can buy soilless options from horticulturists, nurseries, or the best seed banks.
Hydroponic systems have changed the game, making heavier yields possible in prime conditions. That’s not the only advantage:
- Faster growth means higher yields of better-quality buds are virtually guaranteed.
- The sterile growing environment eliminates the risk of soil-borne pests or diseases.
- A closed-loop system saves on nutrients and water in the long run.
- Complete control of all aspects of nutrient delivery through the entire lifecycle.
While massive harvests are possible, hydroponics requires some DIY skills, extensive time, effort, and significant investment costs. Other potential disadvantages include:
- The temperature of your nutrient mix is vital for seamless uptake but can mean an investment in cooling equipment.
- Getting the nutrient combination and cannabis feeding schedule balanced may be challenging. Errors can rapidly impact your garden because the nutrients are fed directly to the roots. Keep an eagle eye on your crops.
- Some hydroponic growers run into problems with the roots. It’s crucial that the water temperature is about 70⁰F and that they have a steady oxygen supply.
- Some hydroponic setups are high maintenance, requiring regular check-ups for effective development.
- Hydro is an unforgiving medium; minor errors can cause massive problems in a rush.
- Waterborne diseases occur quickly and can obliterate your crop.
Growing weed in hydroponics vs. soil compares marijuana to chalk and cheese. While both gardens grow the same product, various equipment, techniques, and management make the media and the end result quite different.
The most apparent and obvious difference is the size of the harvest or yield. Hydroponic setups boost growth by providing the roots with all the nutrients they need anytime they want them.
All cannabis cultivators should know how to germinate marijuana seeds. Both hydro and soil farmers typically use the simple paper towel method to induce sprouting. After the white taproot emerges, you can transplant it into the final medium.
Soil growers sometimes germinate in soil plugs and transplant later, but you can also plant your cannabis seeds directly in their permanent medium. Many hydro growers swear by germination in rockwool cubes that they drop into net pots in the hydro setup.
Soil growers often transplant into progressively larger containers to allow the roots to spread out. Some germinate in the final medium to avoid the stresses of transplanting altogether.
Most hydroponic plants stay in the same spot once after germination.
Harvesting cannabis is one sphere where these media don’t differ. You can wet or dry clip the buds after harvesting. Most growers have an opinion on the hydro vs. soil bud flavor debate, though. The majority claim that soil-grown weed boasts a finer terpene profile.
The two different types of growing medium each provide benefits and drawbacks. The most significant difference between hydroponic weed and soil is the positioning of the roots.
In soil, the roots draw up the nutrients needed for growth by seeking them out and absorbing them. They rely on organic matter for these micro and macro-elements essential for development. Microbes process the minerals to make them available to plants.
You effectively remove the medium from the equation with hydro. The water is a delivery system for nutrients that’s direct and efficient, powering explosive growth. It does what soil does, but the roots don’t have to grow to locate their minerals.
In hydroponics, the roots sit in the nutrient solution permanently or intermittently. It means they can consistently get all the minerals and vitamins they need.
Deep water culture is a popular and practical method for cannabis cultivation in hydro, with the roots constantly sitting in the nutrient mix. Most growers use air stones to provide a steady supply of oxygen.
In an ebb-and-flow version, the water level rises and falls like the tide, allowing the roots to alternate between breathing and feeding.
Whether plants are grown indoors or out, in hydro weed or soil, they still need nutrition from their environment or medium.
For soil growers, this means providing a substrate that offers sufficient elements to promote heavy growth. Some cultivators supplement with fertilizers where needed. In hydroponics, the nutrients are all added and delivered through the solution.
Cannabis is a nutrient-hungry crop that takes up heavy doses of nitrogen (N) during the vegetative phase and phosphorus (P) during flowering. It also needs potassium (K) for healthy growth and reproduction. They’re known as the NPK elements that all weed plants need to thrive and survive.
Marijuana crops need these macronutrients in considerable quantities. Nitrogen is an essential ingredient in chlorophyll, allowing the plant to turn sunlight into energy. It makes up the amino acids that form building blocks for proteins and is also responsible for crop development.
Cannabis plants also need several other nutrients in smaller quantities. These micronutrients are essential to various physiological processes and include:
While soil and hydro operations require the same nutrients, how you administer them is very different.
Cultivators who grow in soil employ various methods to get the nutrients where they need to be.
Some insist on natural options like compost, manure, straw, and woodchips produced by the decomposition of organic matter. It takes some time to break down into usable minerals, though. Ensure your soil is rich enough to carry the plant through the first few weeks.
Others choose synthetic options that provide liquid or powdered formulas to administer during the vegetative and flowering phases. These nutrients are immediately available but work best when growers adhere to a strict feeding schedule.
Some prefer the Korean Natural Farming (KNF) technique. It’s an autonomous system that cultures microorganisms to fertilize the soil. KNF doesn’t use pesticides or insecticides and avoids manure to limit pathogens.
KNF makes plant ferments that can be used as foliar sprays to improve the uptake of nutrients, elevate yields, and reduce pathogens.
Hydro growers can use both synthetic and organic nutrients. Organics and hydroponics sound like a marriage made in heaven, but persistent issues with clogging or blocked lines can prevent wholesale uptake.
Soil growers can get away with feeding their crops too much or too little due to the delay in uptake, called buffering. Hydro growers don’t have the same leeway and must ensure their portions are accurate.
Most water contains only trace elements, so add artificial, commercial nutrients as needed. They’re simple to use and easy to measure. Some farmers also opt for organic minerals for their hydroponics setup, but general effectiveness is elusive.
While soil operations dispense the nutrients into the soil, hydroponic growers add them to a container. The most straightforward hydro setups, like the Kratky method, only have a single reservoir.
More advanced styles like recirculating DWC incorporate an external reservoir with pumps and pipes for distribution.
The environment is similar whether you’re growing hydroponics or soil weed. Marijuana plants need specific temperatures and relative humidity (RH) within a limited range to prosper.
The levels vary with the plant’s stage of development. After germination, the first three weeks are known as the seedling stage.
The young vegetation requires high humidity in the 60–65% or even 70% region. Seedlings thrive in optimum temperatures of 77⁰F, but anywhere between 72–79⁰ F works. Cooler overnight temperatures of 65⁰ F reduce stem elongation and internode spacing.
Seedlings are sensitive, and feeding nutrients can kill them.
In the vegetative stage, plants grow best with temperatures between 68–86⁰ F. They can also handle high humidity of around 60%, but remember to taper it off as you approach flowering. Some cultivators drop RH as low as 40% by the onset of bloom to reduce the potential for mold.
During the flowering stage, most growers reduce the RH to minimize problems with mold or mildew. Some strains retain water that causes bud rot which can compromise your yield.
Seedlings like high humidity because the root system is still undeveloped. By the flowering stage, the plants are happy with RH of only 40%, and perhaps down to 30% in some cases. Most cultivars enjoy optimized flowering in temperatures of 65–85⁰ F.
There are few absolutes in the soil or hydroponics dilemma. Our definitive comparison contrasts the cost, simplicity, speed, and final output.
Which is cheaper?
It might seem like no contest, but several variables influence the question of cost.
Complicated hydroponic methods require significant financial outlay to get up and running. Conversely, a couple of outdoor pots and some potting soil won’t stress your financial adviser.
If you’re only planning a small grow, the cheapest way is outside in the ground or in pots. Indoor growing includes investments in a grow tent, lights, a dehumidifier, and more.
While indoor cultivation is typically more expensive, sometimes there’s little option. It’s especially true in cold places with short growing seasons, like northern Europe.
There are several ways to reduce costs. The standard Kratky style uses just a single reservoir and doesn’t need electricity. Deep water culture is another cheap option.
Costs soar with more advanced hydroponic setups, which may also need more space. Recirculating DWC needs an external reservoir, containers, pumps, pipes, and power.
These expensive systems eventually reduce nutrient and water consumption, the latter by a mind-boggling 90%.
Which is easier?
Most people assume the hydroponics weed vs. soil question has a definite answer. The truth is it depends.
Growing in soil is generally more straightforward if you want to cultivate a single plant. Most gardeners think it’s more accessible, but there are a few considerations. It’s vital to balance the potential size of your crop, quality, quantity, time, effort, and expenditure.
If you’ve cultivated other crops before, you already have some experience. Most people have an innate understanding of the traditional substrate.
While the Kratky method and DWC are excellent for starting with hydro, they still require more effort than growing in soil. Basic hydroponic operations are compact, take up a minimal area, and are simple to operate.
They require little effort and resources but provide a generous harvest. Pre-mixed bottled formulas simplify feedings that cater to your plant’s every whim.
Complex hydro operations are more challenging to set up and are usually scaled up, too. They’re often automated, making day-to-day functioning pretty elementary. Hydro still needs periodic cleaning, maintenance, and repairs.
Which can bring you more yields?
There are many aspects to cannabis cultivation, but hydroponics produces fast, extensive growth, especially in the vegetative stage. It leads to more bud sites and translates to heavier yields than with a soil medium.
Hydro spurs development with ready access to nutrition, oxygen, and light. It means larger plants with fatter, high-quality buds.
Plants in soil need time to seek nutrients to power their natural development. This substrate can also grow huge yields if given time, nutrients, oxygen, and light.
Hydroponic vs. soil weed boils down to a contest between plump buds and luscious nugs. Hydro produces heavier outputs.
Which is faster?
Hydroponics promotes faster growth by supplying plants with the necessary nutrients and minerals. The plants can absorb the micro or macronutrients as required from the solution.
Hydro speeds up development, allowing your plants to gallop through the lifecycle. You can shorten this cycle but gain more from sustained rapid growth.
Crops that grow quicker get bigger and produce and carry heavier loads. Giant leaves contain extra chlorophyll with the ability to make reserves of energy for the plant.
Soil relies on healthy roots seeking out the necessary nutrients. It takes time for them to grow and uncover the minerals the flora needs. Biological decomposition takes time, extending the growing period and the time it takes for plants to reach maturity.
Our hydroponic weed vs. soil weed comparison shows that both media provide excellent properties for growing high-grade cannabis. Your personal preferences and requirements can and should dictate your decision.
Soil allows more leeway to survive minor errors in feeding or watering. It may also improve the flavor profile, while hydroponics promotes faster growth and heavier yields.
Remember that cannabis seed genetics, quality nutrients, and suitable environmental conditions are imperative to successful cultivation. When growing weed, hydroponics vs. soil is a regular debate topic. The bottom line is you can reap stunning buds with both methods.
You now have all the information you need to decide on your cannabis medium. Order your epic cannabis seeds from our online store and start your cultivation journey in soil or hydro.