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Marijuana grow mediums – soil or hydroponics?

When it comes to growing Marijuana, there are two choices open to any grower – using soil or, alternatively, using hydroponics. So, what are the differences between the two, and which is the best choice for you? Here, we take a closer look at the pros and cons of both mediums so you can make a more informed decision.

Growing Marijuana in soil

Everyone knows what growing a plant in soil looks like. Soil is filled with the organic and mineral materials which is found on Earth’s surface and which is used naturally for growing plants. Of course, not all soils have the same quality. Marijuana grows best in soils which are high quality, slightly acidic, rich and which drain well. Lots of growers choose to supplement the soil they use with perlite to give extra drainage. Usually, growers who choose to cultivate their Marijuana in soil also add nutrient rich materials like earthworm castings, bat or seabird guano, manure or liquid nutrients to ensure their plants get all the essential nutrition they require.

Organic potting soil is often a good choice for growing Marijuana if it is combined with perlite, however no matter which soil you begin with you will most probably have to provide supplemental nutrients to produce optimal results.

Plants will naturally absorb the nutrients they need from the soil. However, particularly in their flowering stage, you will need to ensure you provide the optimal amount of essential nutrients so your yield will be maximized and problems arising from nutrient deficiencies prevented.

When you begin using a richer soil there will be no need to use additional nutrients for the early weeks of the plants’ growth, however once your plants reach the budding/flowering phase, you’ll still need to add extra nutrients so bud growth will be supported.

The pros of using soil include:

  • Some growers believe that marijuana grown in soil tastes better
  • Inattentive growers find it easier to grow in soil since there are already some nutrients in the soil
  • Anyone who has ever grown any type of plant before usually finds growing marijuana in soil easier – simpler than many hydroponic methods

However there are some downsides, including:

  • During the plant’s vegetative stage, marijuana will grow more slowly in soil
  • Soil growing usually has a lower yield, due to the growing environment not being carefully optimized

Growing Marijuana in hydroponics

The term “hydroponics” means growing plants in almost anything except soil, such as coco coir, gravel, misted air, water or sand. If you choose to grow Marijuana hydroponically, you will need to supply the essential nutrients for your plants during their entire grow cycle. You can achieve this through the addition of nutrients into the water supply.

One great benefit of hydroponics is that it’s possible to supply a precise amount of the optimal nutrients your Cannabis plants require so your yield can be maximized.

There are also a number of pros and cons to growing cannabis using hydroponics. The advantages include:

  • Complete control over the levels of nutrients
  • A more rapid harvest (around 2 weeks quicker)
  • Soil-borne pests, diseases and weeds are less likely
  • Coco coir and other soilless growing mediums are almost identical in terms of effort as soil growing, but with almost every benefit of hydroponics
  • Some techniques such as bubbleponics allow growers to have a virtually automated grow
  • Problems are easier to correct when using hydroponics

However, there are also disadvantages. These include:

  • Some growers believe cannabis grown using hydroponics tastes worse than that grown in soil
  • Plants show problems more rapidly
  • Some methods of hydroponics are very complicated, especially for beginners
  • Supplemental nutrients are required, and this can be quite complex when starting out
  • Hydroponics are hard to use if you grow outdoors
  • Hydroponic set-ups are a lot more expensive
  • Root problems with plants can be common

There are many different hydroponic methods available

There are several kinds of hydroponic system which you can choose from. These include:

  • DWC – the plant’s roots will be in a nutrient reservoir with bubbling air going through the water to oxygenate it.
  • Bubbleponics – similar to DWC, in this method, water is pumped via a top-feed to the plant’s roots for more rapid growth.
  • NFT – the roots are in containers which are on a tilting surface. Water is dripped from the reservoir via a water pump to the first plant’s roots, with a shallow water stream flowing down over all the plants’ roots. The water then drains back to the reservoir and is recirculated.
  • Ebb and flow – the plants’ roots are in a container which gets flooded with water then drained so nutrient water and oxygen reaches the roots.
  • Aquaponics – fish are kept in a tank and their waste is then used as the essential plant nutrients. In reverse, the roots of the plants filter the water for the fish.
  • Aeroponics – the plants’ roots are kept in misted air which allows extra oxygen to reach the roots.
  • A drip system – this is an automatic watering system which can either be used with soil, a soilless medium or full hydro. The water is fed from the top using a water reservoir.
  • Soilless mediums – although this is technically a hydroponic method, it is really a fusion of hydroponics and soil growing.

Hydroponics can be both expensive and affordable, depending on whether you’re happy to build your own system. More complex systems are naturally more expensive, and when many tubes and pumps are required, it can become costly. It is also more difficult to set up a hydroponics system than simply to plant your Marijuana plant in soil.

Once a hydroponic system is set up, you will need to still figure in costs for replacing pumps and tubing over time. You’ll also need to put more effort into maintenance while you learn more about hydroponics growing works. Some hydroponics systems require more maintenance than others while others are low maintenance, so you need to research your choices before making a decision. Hydroponic growing is usually faster than soil growing, with the most rapid growth being achieved if the roots have constant access to plenty of oxygen and nutrient-rich water.

Soilless grow mediums

Although using any type of medium other than soil is technically hydroponics, when you use soilless mediums such as coco coir, the experience is very similar to using soil.

There are several advantages to using soilless mediums:

  • More rapid growth during the vegetative stage
  • Less chance of pests
  • Simple to hand-water plants

On the other hand, there are a few downsides:

  • Growth isn’t as rapid as a full hydroponic setup
  • Working out which nutrients you need can be more complicated

When you choose a soilless medium, your set up costs are fairly low. All you require is a container and your potting mix. Your maintenance costs will also be fairly low, although you’ll need new potting mix for every grow and occasionally, used containers will need replacing too. In terms of effort, you’ll still need to add nutrients, water your plants and manage your root zone’s pH. You will, however, enjoy a faster rate of growth when compared to soil growing.

The main differences between soil and hydroponics

There are several key differences which any grower should be aware of when comparing growing marijuana in soil and using hydroponics.

  • Optimal pH to aid nutrient absorption – for soil, the pH should be 6.0 – 7.0 while for hydroponics, the pH should be 5.5 – 6.5.
  • Nutrients – different nutrients will be required depending on whether you’re growing using hydroponics or in soil. You’ll need to choose a product designed specifically for the medium you’re using. There is one product – Dyna-Gro – which can be used for either method as long as you follow the instructions on the packaging.

So, what growing medium should you choose?

There is no single answer to this question. It very much depends on your preferences and what you want from your growing experience.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you make a decision:

  • Do you want to grow cannabis in a way that is as similar as possible as it would grow in the wild?
  • Do you have suitable access to good-quality soil or are you happy to prepare your own?
  • Are you happy to supplement using nutrients when required?
  • Do you think that cannabis grown in soil tastes better?
  • Do you want a simpler growing experience?

If your answer to these questions is “yes”, then growing in soil may be for you.

  • Do you want a rapid harvest?
  • Do you want to produce the highest possible yield?
  • Do you want a convenient growing solution with no risk of pests?
  • Do you want an almost completely automated system?
  • Are you happy to supply all the nutrients for your crop?
  • Do you like to experiment with a range of methods?

If your answer to these questions is “yes”, then you should try using hydroponics.

Hopefully, you now have the answers you require to get you started with your Marijuana grow, whether you choose to use soil or hydroponics.