In the realm of cannabis cultivation, there is this one question that lingers on for all eternity: how should you grow your cannabis hydroponics or soil?
And the answer can be as simple as — if you like the challenge and tinkering with new technology, go for hydroponics. If you want to keep it as natural as possible, go with soil.
But this is, in no way, a definitive answer.
Most beginner growers start off with soil, just because it’s the most traditional growing medium. On a plus side, it is the ancient way of growing marijuana and, according to many experts, produces a yield with better flavor.
Hydroponic growing is a more recent trend, hyped up through its many promises. Growing cannabis in hydroponics essentially means to grow it in anything but soil…
…and that means you’ll have to learn more about ebb and flow, aeroponics, drip irrigation and nutrient management.
Sounds too complicated at first, right?
But to truly breakdown which growing method wins, we’ll have to go a bit deeper.
Strap up Pablo.
The real difference between hydroponic and soil growing
Since you’re reading this, you’re either familiar with the basics of both of these growing methods or you’ve just overheard two stoners talking about growing methods in your local bar and you just want to get informed so you can grow your garden tomatoes like a beast.
Whatever the case is (not judging you in any way), you’re in the right place.
Because I was looking for the same answer just a couple of weeks ago…
Cracking down this ancient hydroponics vs soil debate should start off by first explaining the basic difference between our two terms.
All plants need four things to grow prosperous and happy:
The only thing you have to do, as a grower, is to provide your plants with these things (in the right mixture) and they will definitely grow, make no mistake about it.
It can be blatantly said that these 4 elements come from two directions: bottom and above.
Plants soak in air and light from above the ground and nutrients and water from below the ground.
Even though there is just one way of providing your plants with air and light, there are actually two mediums of getting nutrients and water to their root systems:
By using either soil or hydroponics.
When plants are grown in soil, they grow just as they would in the nature and you, as a grower, only have to mimic the optimal conditions to get the biggest yield. You plant your herb in a potent soil mixture and add water and nutrients by watering the plant. The soil absorbs everything and the plant “drinks” away, growing stronger by the day.
Hydroponic growing is the same…but completely different.
When growing your plants using hydroponics, you leave the soil out of the equation and manually administer water and nutrients to your plants. This way, you are able to dose the hell out of your plants and get a lot more control over their growth. Thus, the yields are often much bigger and the entire start-to-end harvest is more manageable.
The image above is an awesome presentation of an Ebb and Flow hydroponics system, and it perfectly describes hydroponics in general:
You administer the nutrient/water/air solution directly to your plant’s roots and everything that is excess just returns to the reservoir.
There are several methods for administering that, so that is why we have a bunch of different set ups, or otherwise known as hydroponics systems.
To get this clear, these are all just names for a specific set up, not individual brands of hydroponics gear. The links above provide some of the best tutorials on their topics, so feel free to check them out.
Side note: If you’ve already decided you want to start growing cannabis with hydroponics, Wick system is a good starting point. It’s completely passive, does not have a lot of moving parts (low maintenance) and you can build it yourself in your shed or the basement. Scroll down to learn how to get started.
With all this in mind, we can line up the biggest differences of soil vs hydroponics in cannabis cultivation and production:
- Soil growing can be completely organic while hydroponic might not
- Hydroponic growing produces bigger yields than soil
- Properly dosing nutrients with hydroponics is much easier than with soil
- Hydroponically grown cannabis flowers 2-3 weeks earlier than soil grown
- Soil growing is easier to get started and maintain
- Plants in hydroponic systems take up less space
- Soil is prone to diseases and pests unlike hydroponics
By looking at this you might get this picture of how hydroponics is superior to soil. But that is not my intention, whatsoever.
I respect soil grown cannabis the same as I respect hydroponics — both of these methods take hard work and dedication in order to produce the highest quality yield.
Yes, everything is debatable nowadays, but a true decision can be made only when we objectively consider both methods.
Benefits of hydroponics vs soil in growing cannabis
I’m sure that, by now, you’re screaming: “Come on dude, stop being so boring, I’m just here for a comparison!”
And for you, my friend, I have prepared a nice, quick breakdown of the biggest benefits of both of these growing methods.
Benefits of hydroponically grown cannabis:
- Bigger yield
- Easier nutrient management
- Faster grow
- Less diseases
- No pesticides and herbicides
- Less water (up to 90% less than soil methods)
- More plants in the same space
- More control over plants growth
Benefits of soil grown cannabis:
- More terpenes and thus a better taste
- Possibility to grow it completely organic
- More forgiving when it comes to nutrients
- Lower maintenance
Here is how to get started with hydroponic growing
As I’ve said above, getting started with hydroponics is as simple as setting up a Wick System wherever you have some room.
This system functions through the principle of capillary action — principle discovered by who other than Leonardo Da Vinci, characterized by the liquid’s ability to flow in an upward direction when coupled with porous materials, such as tubes, paint brushes or, you guessed it, wicks.
Once the wick gets soaked, the nutrient and oxygen enriched water slowly travels up and into the grow tray, where it is steadily soaked by the plant’s roots.
The grow tray, in this setup, is usually filled with a growing medium like vermiculite or perlite in which the cannabis plant is placed. These materials don’t get soaked as much as the soil, so all principles and benefits we mentioned above are still applied.
The reservoir is used for water and nutrients and the air pump-air stone combo is there to oxygenate the water, similar to your regular home aquarium.
Setting up a Wick System is cheap and low maintenance, as it has no moving parts and you can basically do it yourself.
Here are some things to pay attention to when getting started with the Wick System:
- Getting the right growing medium combination takes some experimentation, but stick to the smaller mediums like Vermiculite
- Air pump can be noisy, so if you’re stealth growing, consider substituting an air pump with a hydrogen peroxide growing solution, which instantly releases oxygen molecules into the reservoir (Oxyplus would be a good start)
- Cotton wicks can sometimes become moldy which can be detrimental to your plants. Substitute them with a nylon rope for a quick workaround.
The final call — growing cannabis hydroponics or soil?
The way I see it, the world is slowly moving towards hydroponics as the preferred growing method for both cannabis and all other plants.
As a man of nature, I am quite concerned over how uncontrollably we spend our God-given resources.
Hydroponic growing uses up to 90% less water than soil, produces a bigger yield much faster and takes up less space.
The final answer: I’d go with hydro the next time around.
Author Bio: Luke Petkovich is the Editor-in-chief at Greencamp. He first got introduced to the plant 11 years ago and says it’s been a thrill ride ever since. Luke’s main points of interest are technical tutorials and topics related to cannabis culture. In my spare time, he lovesf working out and watching classic stoner TV, like South Park and Game of Thrones. You can follow him on Twitter here.