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Hydroponics vs. Soil: Is There a Clear Winner For Growing Cannabis Plants?

Once you’ve decided to grow cannabis plants, you’ll be faced with the age-old debate:

What are the advantages of using hydroponics vs. soil for your specific needs as a grower?

Like everything in the growing world, there is an endless list of pros and cons to each method…

And those who are dedicated to their style remain steadfast in singing its praises.

But is there a clear winner?

Read on to find out…

The Advantage of Growing Cannabis Hydroponically

When you choose to grow in hydroponics, you’re exchanging earth’s soil for an inert solution instead. With a hydroponic method, you’ll enjoy a direct method for supplying nutrients, water, and oxygen to your root zone.

Of course, you probably know by now that there are many different types of hydroponics setups, each with its own list of advantages and disadvantages.

Let’s take a look at each.

Understanding a Recirculating Hydroponics Systems

Typically, with recirculating hydroponics, the only point of the grow medium is to physically anchor your plant to the system.

And there are two key advantages to investing in this kind of system for your cannabis grow…

For starters, you’ll enjoy uber-efficient delivery of key nutrients to your plants.

This is because the optimal amounts of nutrients are constantly made available within the ideal pH range…

So you can rest assured that your plants are getting exactly what you’ve intended for them to uptake.

Secondly, recirculating hydroponics systems tend to be very water-efficient

Making them a great choice for anyone growing in jurisdictions with stringent waste-water regulations.

The three main disadvantages of this system?

First, you’ll spend more time dealing with nutrient solution temperature maintenance

And because you’ve got to ensure the temperature stays at the optimal range at all times, you may need to invest in expensive chilling units to preserve it.

Second, recirculating hydroponic systems are relatively sterile and exposed. Because of this, your plants are highly susceptible to pathogens including Pythium. And when a vast quantity of cannabis plants are all sharing the same nutrient solution, those outbreaks can spread at warp speed.

Finally, nutrient solution maintenance requires a heavy reliance on instrumentation…

And because devices like pH and EC meters are prone to failure, you’ll have to stay on top of maintaining them to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Using Deep Water Culture to Grow Cannabis Hydroponically

If you’ve already started your research on hydroponics systems, you’ve likely already come across Deep Water Culture (DWC).

And you’ve also probably noticed that many growers respect DWC for its simplicity of design…

Making it far and away one of the best hydroponics setups for new growers.

But when you start to scale your grow, you may find yourself ready to take your cannabis plants in a different direction.

This is because Deep Water Culture setups require large volumes of nutrient solution, making them a less efficient option for maintaining low water usage.

Moreover, they’re logistically difficult to cool or drain because they lack a shared water source. If you do decide to use a DWC unit, you can alleviate some of these challenges by utilizing a re-circulatory DWC system (RDWC) instead.

Exploring the Ebb and Flow Option to Grow Cannabis Plants

With an ebb and flow hydroponics system, your nutrient system will flood the plants’ roots and then drain back into the reservoir in one continuous cycle.

Similar to Deep Water Culture, cannabis growers love the Ebb and Flow setup for its simplicity of design.

Because with no drip emitters or spray nozzles, you’re less likely to contend with failure due to clogging. (Of course, you still want to pay attention to your drainage ports.)

Ebb and Flow systems also tend to feature more temperature-efficient designs, because the nutrient solution spends less time exposed to the heat produced by your grow environment and your pumps.

This hydroponics setup also enables you to enjoy more canopy flexibility; when utilizing flood tables, you can move plants in net pots to maximize the efficiency of your space.

The biggest downside to the Ebb and Flow system?

Because they require a large amount of water to be moved from one location to the next, it makes your grow susceptible to leaks that could end up an all-out disaster for your crops.

All things considered, the Ebb and Flow system is still one of the more popular options for growing cannabis hydroponically.

The Pros and Cons of Aeroponics To Grow Cannabis Plants

There’s no doubt about it…

An aeroponics system features some tremendous benefits…

But bear in mind, this hydroponics system is NOT for the faint of heart.

Because on either side of the equation, aeroponics is as extreme as it gets.

As far as benefits go… Your plants are getting nutrient solution available in aerosolized form, which leads to some of the most efficient uptake possible.

And because your cannabis plants’ roots are suspended in the air, they remain highly oxygenated throughout your crop cycle.

All great things, right?

But on the other end of the spectrum, you could run into four major issues with aeroponics that can be enough to deter even some of the most experienced growers.

See, if you decide to grow cannabis plants with aeroponics…

Then bear in mind that they’re prone to mechanical failures. This is because the spray nozzles are very sensitive to particulate matter.

And while exposed roots receive higher oxygenation levels, the high level of vulnerability also means they’re more likely to introduce pathogens into your cannabis grow.

Plus, there’s no Tetris-ing of the canopy allowed in aeroponics. Due to the interlocking root structures and status grow sites, plants will remain locked in place no matter how fast or slow they move through their cycle.

Finally, because plants grown in aeroponics need a constant supply of nutrient solution, they rely heavily on electricity and pumps. In the circumstance of an electrical failure, the results would be catastrophic.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Recirculating Drip Systems?

Finally, you may consider using a recirculating drip system when growing cannabis hydroponically.

And yes, there are some distinct advantages to this kind of system.

To start, you’ll have your choice of a wide variety of grow mediums. Because recirculating drip systems are compatible with many options, it’s easy to choose one based on your preference for characteristics such as water retention etc.

And even if you decide to make big changes to your growing environment, the draining tables in this modular system make this kind of overhaul possible.

There’s just one negative about a recirculating drip system…

They tend to be prone to mechanical failures. And you’ll have to take precautions with your drip lines and emitters to prevent clogging from particulate matter.

Growing Cannabis in Soil

Now that we’ve covered the advantages and disadvantages of the primary hydroponic systems, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using soil instead.

When you grow cannabis in soil, you have two options to choose from — a true soil, or a soilless medium.

The second option is typically a pro mix or sunshine mix based on peat moss, which includes perlite for aeration and dolomitic lime to offer the pH of the peat moss.

In the next two sections, we’ll cover the pros and cons of both.

Amended Soils Are a Two-Sided Coin

Amended soils already include a certain amount of nutrients, and many soil companies consider this an advantage for the grower. Simply put, with nutrients built-in, you theoretically won’t have to use as much fertilizer to supplement your cannabis crop.

However…

There IS a flip side to that equation when you’re growing in soil.

Cannabis Roots in Soil

Sometimes, due to organic processes that occur in the root zone, the nutrients become more available than what’s expected at a specific point in time. For example, your labels may say there is enough NPK in the soil to last for the first 5 weeks of the vegetative stage… But suddenly, all of those nutrients become available to your plants within the first two weeks.

This leaves you with two major problems.

Your plants either suffer from nutrient burn…

Or you’re left trying to guess when to supplement your crop with fertilizer.

How About Soilless Mediums?

Choose to grow cannabis in soilless mediums, and you’ll eliminate the guesswork around fertilizer supplementation.

This is because sphagnum or peat are inert mediums, and don’t provide any intrinsic nutrient value to your crops. So if you want to enjoy complete control over your feeding regimen, a soilless medium could be a better option than an amended soil.

Some growers also love soilless mediums because of their amazing water and nutrient retention…

But if you do choose this route, you need to keep the following in mind:

Soilless mediums are difficult to automate.

And even if you provide every plant in your grow with equal amounts of water, they will diverge from each other and retain different amounts.

Growing in Soil and the Dangers of Over-Watering

When deciding between hydroponics or soil, there’s one other thing to consider…

When you grow in soil, you can expect to spend more time focusing on manual processes those who choose to grow cannabis hydroponically don’t deal with.

Because here’s the thing…

  • Too much water can stifle root growth. When your roots get too wet, they don’t have the motivation to expand and search for water. All too often, growers will notice an issue arise late in their crop cycle that’s actually related to this lack of root development. To prevent this from occurring, you must avoid putting your plants in oversized pots that are more likely to retain excess water.
  • Expect additional labor bottlenecks. Because soil is more dependent on transplants, sizing each one correctly to prevent over-watering creates an extra step you’ll have to build into your workflow.
  • Over-watering in soil can lead to fungus and gnats. However, you’re less likely to come across any harmful pathogens.

Hydroponics Gives You Total Control Over Your Feeding Program

And when choosing between hydroponics or soil, this can be the deciding factor for some growers.

The fact is different strains of cannabis require different types and ratios of nutrients

Something you can only precisely control in a hydroponics setup.

Now, a pure hydroponics system will allow your plants’ roots to uptake these nutrients almost effortlessly.

But even if you’re using a media-based system, these mostly inert materials still provide more nutrient control than what you’d get with soil.

To put it simply, It’s the easiest way to become the master gardener of your grow room domain…

And the best method for unlocking the true genetic potential of your cannabis plants.

Growing Cannabis Hydroponically

If you do decide in the hydroponics vs. soil debate that hydroponics is a better option for you, then make sure to check out our beginner’s guide here.

The Best Nutrient Lineup For Growing Cannabis Hydroponically

If you grow cannabis hydroponically, you’ll get the most out of your crops by feeding them cannabis-specific nutrients designed to unlock the true genetic potential of each plant

This is why growers in 107 countries turn to Advanced Nutrients’ pH Perfect Sensi Grow Part A+B and pH Perfect Sensi Bloom A+B as their ideal base nutrient lineup for their hydroponics plants…

Because it’s the only company in the world with the technology to automatically adjust pH levels to their sweet spot.

And when you use pH Perfect Technology, you’ll increase nutrient absorption for your cannabis plants, so they can reward you with the heavy, potent yields you’re after.

Next, make sure to layer in root expanders, bloom boosters, terpene enhancers to your feeding program.

These additives supply a robust menu of nutrients — in optimal types and ratios — to unleash your plants’ fullest genetic expression.

We recommend you get started with the Advanced Nutrients Starter Kit, which makes it brain-dead simple to grow top-shelf bud…

Advanced Nutrients Starter Kit Nutrients

And gives you a taste of some of our best-selling nutrients sold in 107 countries and counting.

The Bottom line is…

When it comes to choosing between hydroponics or soil, the best option is the one that works for your personal preferences and objectives.

Every method has its unique characteristics and brings something different to the table.

As long as you stay committed to getting the most out of your system – and taking the necessary precautions to minimize risk – you’ll head in the direction of big, potent, frosty buds.

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The Advanced Nutrients Team

Since 1999, Advanced Nutrients has been committed to educating the community and bringing the most up-to-date knowledge to the forefront of grows across the globe. Every article you read here has been curated by Advanced Nutrients’ industry experts, so you can continue raising your bud weight… and your reputation.

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Over time, components within the nutrients settle on the bottom of the bottle. When you pour a bottle without shaking it, you can potentially be pouring out an unbalanced solution. Shaking up the nutrient bottle ensures you are pouring the right blend into your reservoir, giving your crops the nutrition they need.

Usually, it’s not a problem. But some products are incompatible with each other and can damage your plants when they’re used together. For example, bloom boosters with high PK numbers or low-grade silica products can destabilize your nutrient mix and cause nutrient lockout.

Nutrient manufacturers design their products to be used with each other. In doing so, they include specific portions of each nutrient in each product, so crops receive the right nutrition through each stage of the grow cycle. When you stick with one manufacturer, you don’t have to worry about inadvertently destabilizing your nutrient mixture. One example of why you need to stick with only one manufacturer’s products is Advanced Nutrients’ pH Perfect line. These products are designed to keep your crops’ root zone within a specific pH range. When you use them alongside products from another manufacturer, we can’t guarantee your root zone will maintain its optimal pH level.

Yes! If you’re growing with Advanced Nutrients products, you can use our easy nutrient calculator to generate the correct nutrient chart for your crops in seconds. Check out Advanced Nutrients’ nutrient calculator here. Another great resource is our library of free custom-growing recipes. Try our expert grower-tested nutrient schedules here.

You can also download our official BudLabs app to generate nutrient schedules and receive real-time notifications for specific tasks, including feeding your crops. Upgrade to BudLabs Pro to maintain profiles on an unlimited number of crops.

If you are a grower, visit this link to find the closest Advanced Nutrients Authorized Retailer. If you are a retailer, visit this link to identify our official distributors.

Our greatest passion is growing great cannabis—and helping other growers do the same. That’s why we offer complimentary cultivation support 24/7 from Monday to Friday and from 9 AM until 7 PM PST on Saturday… With the same level of advice licensed producers would pay consultants tens of thousands of dollars to unlock.
Just call 1-800-640-9605 or email support@advancednutrients.com. For Spanish-speaking growers, email spanishsupport@advancednutrients.com.

Yes! If for any reason you are not absolutely thrilled with the results you achieve when you use our products, just bring the unused portion, along with your original sales receipt, back to the place of purchase within six months, and ask for your money back. Find out more about our Grower Guarantee here.

Advanced Nutrients has spent many thousands of man-hours developing a technology that automatically balances your pH for you — putting it in the “sweet spot” and holding it there for one week.

And the technology is so “smart” that it can account for many of the aforementioned variables in your grow room. Our proprietary pH buffering agents and stabilizing mechanisms became the foundation of a new system aptly called pH Perfect® Technology. Learn all about it here.