Hydroponics is a word referring to a category of growing methods that don’t use soil. There is always some form of nutrient solution that carries nutrients directly to the roots.
Some hydroponic systems are more complex than others. They require different levels of maintenance to ensure the plants survive and thrive.
We’ll go through some of the major pros and cons of hydroponic growing vs soil growing. This should help inform your overall decision of which growing category to choose. This assumes you haven’t made the choice already.
You may have to do further homework to determine which type of hydroponic system to choose if you go with that category. You can also browse the hydroponic grow systems we carry at Grow Supply Shop.
The Pros of Hydroponic Vs Soil Growing
Hydroponic Solution is More Predictable Than Soil
Soil varies in quality. Without extensive testing, you may not know what’s in it. Different plots of land or soil batches will have different levels of each macronutrient and micronutrient. They’ll also have different levels of organic matter and the microorganisms that make the organic matter useful for plants.
You Can Control Nutrient Levels
Hydroponic solution contains exactly what you put in it. There is no guessing unless someone just hands you a bottle of it without telling you how it was made.
Because hydro solution is applied directly to the roots in predictable amounts, you know how much food each plant is getting at any given time.
That is, unless you run into some of the problems mentioned in the cons section below.
You Can Control Contaminant Levels
Soil may contain chemicals and heavy metals you won’t be aware of without testing it. These contaminants can be absorbed into the plants. You control what is in the hydroponic growing medium and what is in the nutrient solution.
This does not mean that hydro grows are sterile. Hydro and soil grows are both vulnerable to fungi, bacteria, mold, and other hazards.
Pest Control is Easier
Some hydroponic systems don’t allow crawling pests to reach the plants without drowning. Indoor grows in general will have fewer insects, rodents, and other pests for obvious reasons.
Whether indoors or outdoors, your hydroponic grow probably won’t be 100% safe from pests. Spider mites, thrips, and aphids can still harm an otherwise good grow. However, you will likely have less to worry about, and pests will be easier to control.
If you use a Gorilla Grow Tent, you can dramatically reduce the chances of pests ruining your grow.
One hydroponic system is especially good at this, even without a tent. It’s called the Grobo Premium Automated Hydroponic Grow Box System. This system even saves a lot of work by automating the pH maintenance, nutrient dosing, and lighting. The environmental monitoring features work around the clock, too.
Hydroponics Yields Higher Cannabinoid Concentrations
If you do hydro right, you can get much higher yields of terpenes, THC, and CBD for every gram of bud.
The plants don’t have to work as hard to receive nutrients, so they can focus on producing cannabinoids and flowers.
Hydro Plants Grow Faster
They tend to grow 25%-50% faster because nutrient uptake is higher and the roots have higher exposure to oxygen. The faster plants develop, the more harvests you can have.
Hydroponics Conserves Water
If you have a closed hydroponic system that recycles water, you won’t need to use as much water as you would with soil. These systems reuse not only the water, but also the nutrients in the water.
Hydroponics Requires Less Space
This advantage depends on the system you set up. Stacked vertical systems are very space efficient. The possibilities for saving space are endless.
Generally, you can group plants closer together in a hydro system. This saves space as well. Just keep in mind that powdery mildew, one of the major grow killers, prefers crowded growing conditions. Learn how to prevent and remove powdery mildew that kills indoor plants in our Cultivation Chronicles.
No Need for Weeding
You won’t have dandelions growing in your reservoir. No need to kneel or crouch for long periods to eliminate your girls’ competition.
No Need for Crop Rotation Either
Soil requires replenishment. Crop rotation and soil prep are common practices. Hydroponics doesn’t need any of that.
Some Systems Make Harvesting Easier
Your grow doesn’t need to be at ground level. Depending on your system, you may not need to bend over, crouch, or kneel to pluck your buds. Hydroponics can give you more layout choices.
There are pre-made hydroponic systems designed with ergonomics in mind.
No Risk of Chemical Reactions with Fertilizers
Soil can contain substances that chemically react with fertilizers and harm the grow.
The Cons of Hydroponic Growing Vs Soil Growing
What are the disadvantages of hydroponic farming? There is endless debate between hydro and soil growers on this matter.
Some things come down to how good you are at either method. Some hydro growers are great at producing good flavor. On the other hand, soil grows, on average, produce better tasting buds.
This may come down to specific growing and curing methods. There are other notable differences between hydroponics and soil that are less disputable.
Below are some of these differences.
Soil Contains Beneficial Microbes That Turn Organic Matter Into Nutrients
Soil that contains enough organic matter will attract microorganisms that are healthy for plants. The microorganisms will help the plants in numerous ways. One is breaking down the organic matter so that naturally produced nutrients become useful for the plants. They serve other functions as well.
These naturally healthy conditions don’t exist in hydroponic grows.
The U.S. National Organic Standards Board once voted for an organic category for some hydroponically grown crops. However, growing hydroponic crops organically is very complex.
You can add some organic matter, but then you also have to add microorganisms like lactobacillus strains and sugars to feed them. This can clog up your hydroponic system. There are other nightmare scenarios to watch out for as well.
Root Rot is Unique to Hydroponics
Root rot plagues hydroponic grows that don’t deliver enough oxygen to the roots. This is not a concern with soil grows.
Pump Failure Can Kill Your Hydro Plants
Some hydro systems circulate nutrient solution and oxygen to the plant roots using pumps. If the pumps fail, that can kill the crop.
One notable exception to this rule is the SuperPonics 8 Hydroponic Grow System. It combines automated top feeding with deep water culture and AeroPonics. You could say it is two or three hydroponic systems in one. If one fails, the plants are still safe and will continue thriving.
Bacteria & Parasites Can Spread Rapidly in Hydroponic Grows
Once a hydroponic reservoir gets infected with bacteria, your grow can get ruined quickly.
Humid air contributes to mold. Algae buildup can make your nutrient solution salty.
A solid hydro grow requires more vigilance than a solid soil grow. On the other hand, it’s easier to control the sanitation in a hydro environment, especially if it’s in an indoor grow room.
More Things Can Go Wrong in a Hydroponic Grow
Slight pH changes can cause a major setback in the health of the plants. This is especially a problem for drip systems that apply nutrient solution directly to the roots. Both pH and nutrient levels can shift quickly.
Soil is simpler, and it’s normally recommended for new growers.
There is a steeper learning curve for most types of hydro grows. However, once you get past that learning curve, you get to enjoy more of the pros of hydroponics and fewer of the cons.
Soil Holds Onto Nutrients Longer
Soil keeps nutrient levels stable. Nutrients can sit in the soil for a long time before getting absorbed by the roots. pH levels are relatively stable in soil, too.
Hydroponic solutions require more frequent testing and monitoring.