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Growing Cannabis in Hydroponics vs. Soil


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There are many ways to grow cannabis, but the most common are in soil and in hydroponics. Most people have a personal preference, but that's the extent of it. When comparing growing cannabis in soil to hydroponics, one isn't necessarily better than the other. In fact, they're different enough that you'll need to carefully decide which method makes more sense for you before you get started.

The Basics of Growing in Soil

Growing cannabis in soil is exactly what you expect: growing the plant in soil, typically in a pot or planter of some sort. This is the traditional method of growing all types of plants and how they grow in nature. It is popular because the soil contains organic matter and important minerals that are difficult to provide to your plants with other methods. Even so, most people who grow cannabis in soil will add nutrient-rich materials or solutions.

The Basics of Growing with Hydroponics

Growing cannabis in hydroponics eliminates the need for soil. Hydroponics is commonly used to describe any growing method that involves a medium other than soil. Solution culture describes water-based growing without any stationary medium. Most people will define hydroponics as a method that puts the cannabis plant’s roots in constant contact with your water solution. Hydroponics growers add nutrients to the water in liquid form. Hydroponics maximizes the grower’s control over what elements the cannabis receives.
In addition to growing cannabis in water, hydroponics can refer to growing it in hydroton, perlite, peat moss, mister air, coco coir, sand, gravel, or vermiculite, among other mediums.

Common Hydroponic Systems

To give you a better idea of what to expect from hydroponics, consider some of the most common hydro systems.

Aeroponics

With aeroponics, you suspend the roots in the air via a grow chamber. There is no medium in this closed loop. The plants’ bases are doused in nutrient-rich water while hanging. The oxygen-rich space encourages the plant’s microbes to process and digest the nutrients.

Aquaponics

There is a variation of hydroponics that also lets you raise fish at the same time. With aquaponics, you raise fish in the same tank, letting their waste product provide nutrients. The plants help the fish by filtering the water. The system works thanks to a biofilter, which is a bacterial colony.

Deep Water Culture

With deep water culture, you use bubblers, which are buckets of nutrients. You suspend the plants over the nutrients and let the roots grow into them. The mixture in the bubblers gets air from an aquarium pump to speed up the plant’s grow time.

Drip Irrigation

With drip irrigation, each cannabis plant sits in a separate chamber and receives its feed separately. A dripper delivers the nutrients with the solution being recycled.

Ebb and Flow

The ebb and flow method uses Rockwool or a similar medium instead of soil. It tends to result in high yields by simulating natural rain cycles for a natural environment.

Nutrient Film

Using the Nutrient Film Technique has you pump a nutrient solution into a gulley or tray, creating a slow-moving shallow film moving through the roots of the plants. The roots grow in the solution, and a root mat forms in the tray. This setup helps with maximum yields and quick growth.

The Main Difference

The biggest difference between growing cannabis in hydroponics vs. in soil is the question of quality vs. yield. With hydroponics, you can control the grow area to the tiniest detail, but there are space limitations. When growing in soil, especially outdoors, you cannot control everything, but the cannabis plants have nearly unlimited space to grow up.

Pros and Cons of Soil

Pro: Space to Grow

As mentioned, the biggest benefit of growing cannabis plants in soil is that they will have plenty of space to grow, assuming you place them outside. Outside, the cannabis plants do not have any height restrictions and the roots have enough space to reach out in any direction they want. This lets you grow cannabis plants up to 2 meters tall with more than 400 grams of bud on each plant.

Con: Less Control

To counter the strongest point in favor of hydroponics, growing cannabis in soil does not give you the same level of control. Even if you grow indoors, you cannot control all the nutrients in the soil as some elements will already be present. These present elements will also include bacteria and organic matter, which may not be beneficial. If you grow your cannabis in soil outside, you will also be unable to control factors like light, temperature, and humidity.

Pro: Easier for Beginners

Soil is the easier of the two growing mediums for cannabis, making it a popular option among beginners. Soil is readily available and easy to set up, even if you cannot grow your cannabis outside due to legal or space restrictions. Growing in soil tends to require less attention since the soil already has most of the required micro and macronutrients.

Pro: Natural

For many people, growing cannabis in soil is a more natural process. While hydroponics can include all-natural items, this is not how the plant grows in nature or how people have grown it traditionally. The fact that soil is the traditional, natural method of growing cannabis appeals to many growers.

Con: Requires More Space

Another disadvantage of growing cannabis in soil to keep in mind is the space requirements. Growing it in soil will require more space compared with hydroponics. This may eliminate it as an option depending on your available room. Alternatively, it may limit the number of cannabis plants that you can grow.

Cons: Higher Risk of Pests

Growing your cannabis in soil increases the risk of pests, from bugs to bacteria. These could potentially damage your cannabis plants.

Con: More Time Consuming

Growing cannabis in soil tends to take longer than doing so in hydroponics, which is something to keep in mind.

Pros and Cons of Hydroponics

Pro: Complete Control

As outlined above, growing cannabis plants in hydroponics puts you in complete control. You can control the temperature, humidity, and even the nutrients. While you could add nutrients to cannabis plants grown in soil, you cannot remove them. By contrast, growing in hydroponics starts you with a blank slate.
The fact that you control all environmental factors combines with the full control over added nutrients to give you complete control when growing with hydroponics. This lets you create the perfect environment for cannabis to thrive, no matter where in the world you live or the strain you are growing. You can even set up multiple grow zones with slightly different conditions for different strains.

Con: Limited Space

The opposite of the main advantage of growing cannabis in soil, growing with cannabis will always result in limited space for the plant to grow. You can always opt for a larger grow space or large pot or water bucket, but the plant’s growth will be limited by the size of the growing medium. As such, you cannot expect cannabis grown in hydroponics to reach the size or yield quantity of the plants grown outside.

Pro: Easier to Correct Problems Due to Control

Going back to the full control over hydroponic grow methods, this lets you more easily resolve any issues that arise. For example, controlling humidity in a grow space with soil will not magically remove moisture from the soil instantly, but you can make minor adjustments to your hydroponic grow medium with ease.
As a bonus, you are less likely to have to deal with pests since they will not be found naturally in your growing medium.

Pro: Higher Cannabinoid Concentrations

Generally, cannabis grown in hydroponics tends to have a higher cannabinoid concentration.

Pro: More Automation is Possible

Hydroponics appeals to growers who want to be able to maximize the automation of caring for their plants. It will not be possible to completely automate caring for the plants, but between timers for humidity and lights and methods such as drip irrigation, you can dramatically reduce the time you have to spend physically caring for the plants.

Pro: Less Space Required

Since a disadvantage of growing in soil is the amount of space required, it stands to reason that hydroponics has more limited space requirements. This makes it a popular solution for those who do not have as much room in their home to grow.

Pro: Quicker Results

Although not always the case, it is possible to grow cannabis more quickly with hydroponics than with soil. This comes down to the complete control you have over the grow area.

Con: More Automation Required

Because hydroponics requires more equipment than growing cannabis in soil, you will have to spend more time maintaining that equipment.

Con: More Attention Required

Because of the added steps and controls associated with growing cannabis in hydroponics, you also must pay more attention during the process. By contrast, cannabis naturally grows in soil, so minimal attention is required.

Con: More Likely to Have Root Problems

If you are unfamiliar with growing cannabis in hydroponics, you will need to be careful to avoid issues with your plant roots. This is a common issue, but you can avoid it by ensuring the roots receive enough oxygen and the water stays around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Comparing Taste Based on Method

Some people will tell you that cannabis grown in soil tastes better because it is more natural and is how cannabis was traditionally grown. Others will say that hydroponically grown cannabis tastes better since you can control every aspect of it to influence the flavor. In reality, it comes down to personal preference.

Both Methods Can Include Adding Nutrients

Whether you choose to grow your cannabis in soil or hydroponics, you will need to pay careful attention to the nutrients that it receives. The nutrient requirements will vary slightly based on the chosen grow medium, so you have to do a little bit of research on the ideal nutrient levels.
All macronutrient products for cannabis plants will include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, also known as NPK. You should see an N-P-K ratio on the nutrient bottle that shows how much of each is present.

Extra Nutrients for Soil

When growing in soil, you can also add manure, as this is nutrient-rich and cannot be replicated with a hydroponic solution. While supplements are not as crucial to cannabis growth in soil as in hydroponics, they can still help you improve the quality and quantity of the yield.

Extra Nutrients for Hydroponics

When growing with hydroponics, you will typically need to add more micronutrients, including those that are already present in soil. For example, most soil will already have magnesium, copper, and iron, so you will have to add minimal quantities of these elements to soil. By contrast, hydroponics solutions need more of these micronutrients to overcome the lack. Nitrogen is another mineral that you will need to add to hydroponics in much larger quantities than soil.

Additional Tips for Growing Cannabis

Cannabis plants do best with rich soil that has maximum drainage capabilities. As such, it is common to use perlite instead of soil to maximize the drainage.
You can also add a range of nutrient-rich materials to your soil instead of directly adding nutrient solutions. Examples include manure and earthworm castings. The cannabis plant will absorb the relevant nutrients right from the soil.

Consider Soilless Mediums, as Well

Some of the soilless mediums, also called hand-watered hydro at times, will seem like a hybrid of growing in soil and with hydroponics. One of the most common of these methods is growing in coco coir.
This method has the benefits of quicker growth, a reduced risk of pests, and being easy to care for, just like soil is. Disadvantages include still not growing as quickly as hydroponics and the need to determine the proper nutrients.

The Bottom Line: Which to Choose?

You should be able to get great results whether you choose to grow cannabis in soil or hydroponics. If you are unsure which to choose, consider soil if you can grow your cannabis outside. Even if you cannot grow outside, growing in soil can appeal to those who want an easier grow method and bigger yields. Go with hydroponics if you want to be in full control or grow your plants more quickly.

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