Hydroponics, Aeroponics, and Aquaponics ‒ What's the Difference?

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Added 22 December 2021

Cannabis buds

So, you’ve been growing cannabis.

It’s an interesting hobby, but you want to take it to the next level.

You’re not satisfied with mediocre buds anymore — you want those giant ones you see at dispensaries, similar to the ones most expert growers grow without a hitch. 

Well, if you take the time to do a little research, most growers will suggest either hydroponics, aquaponics, or aeroponics. 

All of these cannabis cultivation methods can take your cannabis culture to the next level, but which one is right for you? While these three methods sound similar, each functions differently. 

In this article, we show you what hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics mean for growing cannabis and which one is ideal for you.

Let's get started. 

Hydroponics, Aeroponics, and Aquaponics

Hydroponic cannabis

Indoor cultivation can be divided into two distinct categories — soil and soilless cultivation. As the name implies, soil cultivation uses soil to grow plants, whereas soilless cultivation does not require soil.

Thanks to an enormous increase in costs to grow plants in soil, soilless cultivation has become increasingly famous in many circles, including cannabis. While both types of cultivation allow you to control the indoor climate for cannabis plants, soilless cultivation has several benefits, including water conservation and more.

Typically there are three types of soilless cultivation — hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics systems. The primary differences between the three techniques are as follows:

Hydroponics ‒ Hydroponic systems refer to growing plants in water without using soil.

Aeroponics ‒ Aeroponics systems grow plants in the air without using soil.

Aquaponics ‒ Aquaponics systems uniquely combine fish farming and hydroponics.

Growing Cannabis With Hydroponics 


In a hydroponics system, you grow your cannabis plants in water rather than soil. The plant is grown in a soilless substrate suspended on a net pot, and the roots are submerged in a nutrient + water bath. 

Not all hydroponic systems are the same, though. In some cases, the roots are suspended in a reservoir with the water-nutrient solution circulating at set intervals. 

If you’re unfamiliar with hydroponics, you’re probably wondering how the plants survive with their roots submerged in water 24/7. Isn’t that a perfect environment for rotting plants?

Technically, cannabis plants will rot if their roots are in the water. However, hydroponic systems include another essential element — oxygen — preventing the roots from rotting. Therefore, we can prevent the roots from rotting and dying by infusing water with oxygen. 

By immersing the roots in a solution containing both nutrients and water, we eliminate the roots’ need to seek nutrition in the soil while providing proper nutrition at the right time without causing nutrient burn or deficiency. 

In fact, this direct access to nutrition also allows roots to grow faster, which means the plant will grow considerably faster and give better yields.

The hydroponics method has been in use for decades now — it’s one of the most favorite methods to grow cannabis for growers across the globe who have perfected the technique in many creative and efficient ways. 

There are many types of hydroponic systems, like the Ebb and Flow, Kratky, Nutrient Film, Drip System, and Deep Water Culture. We have explored every method in detail right here in Growdiaries. 

However, regardless of the system you choose to grow cannabis, the basic premise stays the same. All you have to do is decide which method fits your preferences, budget, and style.

Benefits of Growing Hydroponic Cannabis

Benefits of hydroponics

Now, let's take a look at the advantages of the hydroponics system for growing cannabis.

Battle-tested Method

Hydroponics is the most popular way to grow cannabis, so there's a lot of support from the community in case you ever hit a road bump.

Reduced Space

The system is also relatively compact compared to soil cultivation, and you can use this system to grow multiple plants in a small corner of your bedroom. It’s no wonder this method was the go-to option for growers before legalization. Sure, a reservoir will take up more space; however, you can grow many plants using a single reservoir. 

Easier Maintenance

Hydroponics is primarily an automated system — all you have to do is ensure the nutrient solution is good, the plant is growing correctly, and everything is going according to plan. Plus, there's less risk of pests and weeds, so you don't have to worry about that either.

Water Conservation

Despite being a water-based system, hydroponics requires less water. Once you fill the system with water, it is used for multiple sessions before the water runs out of nutrition or gets absorbed by the roots, and there's very little drain runoff.

Although it sounds counterintuitive, hydroponics systems need very less water compared to growing plants in soil.

But why is it important to conserve water? Considering how many countries are already struggling with water conservation, it is very likely that the crisis will continue over time. Most people may find it hard to find clean drinking water within just a decade from now. And the problems will only increase for traditional farmers as farming becomes less profitable.

Moreover, the plant uses very little water to grow well. The rest just drains off, wasting more water. In addition, hydroponic systems have evolved to use recirculated water efficiently to allow the plants only to absorb what they need and then return the rest to the reservoir.

Needless to say, you are actually helping the environment by utilizing hydroponic systems compared to growing plants in soil.

Precise Control

Hydroponic systems allow you to control how the plant intakes nutrition. Of course, you also control the pH, light, and humidity, but you can do the same with plants growing in soil. 

High Yields

Hydroponic systems ensure better yields because of precise control, nutrient-rich solution, and a timely schedule, i.e., bigger plants and more potent buds.

Requires No Soil

Just like water, we may soon experience a soil crisis as good soil tends to degrade due to multiple factors with time. Corrosion, degradation of soil structure and nutrition, and compaction have varied impacts on the soil.

In addition, various plants have different soil requirements. Cannabis, in particular, has various strains that may or may not adapt to the type of soil you use. This means that farmers are forced to adapt to growing plants depending on their soil. Not only does this limit their profits, but it's also unsustainable in the long run.

Drawbacks of Growing Hydroponic Cannabis

Disadvantages of hydroponics

It’s not all sunshine and roses with hydroponic systems — there are a few drawbacks. Let's take a look at them.


The first drawback is that even a minor fluctuation in the nutrient solution can immediately impact your cannabis plant because the roots are in direct contact with the nutrient solution. 

But you can avoid this problem by keeping a close eye on the nutrition solution, especially its pH, NPK, and micronutrient levels. In short, hydroponic systems require you to be diligent and quick if you face any issues.


The second problem with hydroponics is that it can be expensive. But, wait, didn’t we just say it’s inexpensive? Wasn’t that an advantage? 

Yes, hydroponics can be affordable, but only if you’re making a setup at home or purchasing a kit for small projects. Bigger commercial systems can be quite expensive if you want a full-fledged automated system. Sure, there are cheap DIY hydroponic systems, but be prepared to spend a lot of money for bigger setups.  

However, growing cannabis hydroponically is worth it regardless of the drawbacks. 

Growing Cannabis with Aeroponics


NASA pioneered the aeroponics system to cultivate crops in outer space. But before they could grow their first batch of potatoes on Mars, our brethren have outpaced them to grow cannabis in their bedrooms using the same premise. 

The aeroponics system is quite similar to hydroponics. However, one big difference is that the roots and plants are suspended in the air instead of being submerged in nutrient-rich water. 

The system uses a high-tech mister to spray nutrition-rich water at regular, precise intervals to provide nutrients and keep the roots hydrated. 

The aeroponic system is often water-tight and contains multiple misters, sophisticated lighting, and various other equipment to monitor and control humidity, temperature, PPM, etc., to ensure the plant grows healthy and produces potent buds. 

Aeroponics is perhaps the most efficient way of growing cannabis. 

Benefits of Growing Cannabis Aeroponically

Benefits of Aeroponics

If NASA does it, it must be really good, right? That's right. Here are the reasons that make aeroponics a terrific choice for cannabis growers.

Fast, Extensive Growth

With aeroponics, you can grow plants four times the size of regular plants, and these plants grow a lot quicker because the system provides the exact situation and environment for your plant to grow without setbacks or problems.

Less Space

The aeroponic system for cannabis is quite confined since the roots grow in a water-tight tank, and the plant grows above it. So, you can grow multiple cannabis plants in a confined space without requiring a lot of room for roots to grow. 

Water Conservation

The system was designed to be used in outer space where there isn't a lot of water. So, the system does not use a lot of water, either. Instead, the misters spray the right amount of water directly to the roots when required without causing any wastage or drainage. 

Large, Healthy Buds

The best benefit of aeroponics to grow cannabis is that you get to reap — literally — large, potent buds. In addition, the nutrients offered directly to the roots ensure the quick, efficient growth of the buds. Plus, aeroponic cannabis buds tend to grow ripe trichomes, too.

Better Yields

As you know already, plants growing in the aeroponics system have their roots in the air rather than water or soil. Therefore the plants’ roots enjoy better access to oxygen that further boost their health.

Soil-grown cannabis plants are often overwatered. Unfortunately, overwatering drowns the roots and deprives them of oxygen. However, aeroponics systems ensure that this never happens. Since aeroponic systems take care of the rootstock, it results in a healthy plant that produces a better yield than other techniques.

Precise Control

Like hydroponics, aeroponics systems also allow you to control the nutrient solution with accuracy. Investing in better setups will also allow you to control the mist and fine-tune everything based on your preferences.


One of the most significant advantages of growing cannabis plants in aeroponics systems is that the plants are usually free of pests. In addition, since the roots are dry during most of the growing process, they are not susceptible to pests and infections that are common for plants grown in soil.

Drawbacks of Growing Cannabis Aeroponically

Disadvantages of Aeroponics

Now, let's be honest — the aeroponic cannabis system is quite complicated, so it is prone to a few problems. 


The primary setback for many cannabis growers is that it is expensive. While the growth may be worth it for some growers, investing in an aeroponic system may not be the wisest option for cannabis hobbyists.

High Maintenance

Another problem is that the system is meticulous to the T — a random power outage or errors can completely halt the system's performance, especially the misters. When such problems occur, your cannabis plant can start showing symptoms of stress within a few hours. 

In addition, one of the most common mistakes a grower commits while growing cannabis in aeroponics is that he skimps on the lighting equipment. It doesn't make sense to invest in an expensive aeroponics setup only to buy cheap grow lights and expect the plant to perform to its maximum potential.

Make sure you buy the right kind of grow lights no matter what system you use because even the most sophisticated aeroponics system won't work if your grow lights don't provide the right spectrum of light to the plants.

Aeroponics systems can be quite complicated with various connections between pumps and tubes. As a result, it is common to experience water leaks at times, even if you manage everything properly. In addition, there can be water leaks if the reservoir cannot hold too much water.

Water leaks can be hazardous since the solution can back up and clog the tubes. The pump can also fail sometimes and force the entire system to shut down in a short period of time.

Therefore it is extremely important to calculate your pump's capacity to hold water. In addition, purchase a large reservoir with a decent water capacity, so you don't encounter issues later.

Suffice it to say that aeroponics is not meant for beginners because even experienced growers find it hard to deal with the system.

Lastly, the system takes time, effort, and skill to set up and maintain. However, if you love the technical aspects of growing cannabis, aeroponics is your go-to option.

Needs Monitoring

Most problems in aeroponics systems arise only because the grower does not monitor the system closely. If you use an aeroponics system, you will have to watch the plants and the system, including the nutrients, water pump, and reservoir frequently to ensure you don't encounter any problems. Failure to do so will result in the plants dying pretty quickly.

Needs to be Cleaned Frequently

Although you will need to clean all setups regularly, it is imperative to keep the environment clean if you set up an aeroponic system. Since the roots are exposed directly to the environment, any unclean space will quickly affect them. Failure to do so will attract algae and bugs to your system. For example, if you let the algae grow in the reservoir, the mister will spray water teeming with algae onto the roots and trigger root rot.

To prevent cleaning problems, always use a solution of at least 10% hydrogen peroxide (90 ml water and 10 ml hydrogen peroxide) to clean the system. In addition, make sure you dispose of fallen leaves and diseased plants immediately to prevent them from spreading to other plants.

Growing Cannabis in an Aquaponics System


Aquaponics is different from any other system because it uses fish! That's right — aquaponic systems use fish to grow cannabis. 

Essentially, aquaponics isn't so different from a hydroponic system, but instead of having a water + nutrient solution, the system uses a complimentary aquarium. The fish waste provides the essential nutrients for the cannabis plant to develop.

The system is quite simple to set up. First, the cannabis plant is placed in a net pot positioned atop the water reservoir. 

A dedicated filter and water pump circulate from the aquarium to the reservoir and vice versa. The filter is essential to remove the unnecessary minerals and toxins, including ammonia, from the fish waste, turning it into fertilizer for the plant. 

At the same time, the cannabis roots ensure a clean environment in the water for the fish to live. Thus, the fish help to maintain a healthy plant, and the plants return the favor — a perfect win-win situation! 

Another essential component that many veteran aquaponic users add is bacteria, including heterotrophic and nitrifying bacteria. These bacteria further break down the fish waste, making it more suitable for root absorption. 

Don't worry — you don't have to add these bacteria all the time. You only need to add them once while setting up your system, and they reproduce after that. One easy way to add them is to simply toss a few dead prawns into the tank and let them decompose. 

You may also need to invest in a water heater since the fish need warmer waters to thrive. However, don’t let the water get too hot, or the roots will suffer. The most common aquaponic fish for growing cannabis include trout, goldfish, koi, catfish, and tilapia.

Benefits of Aquaponic Cannabis

Benefits of Aquaponics cannabis

The overall benefits of an aquaponic cannabis system are similar to a hydroponic one, but it differs in a few aspects:


The aquaponic cannabis system is unique — it is a niche cultivation method that few people use to grow cannabis. So, you get to enjoy some bragging rights. But don't worry, this doesn't come at the expense of quality or potency. 

10x Yield

That's right — aquaponic cannabis, if done right, can give you ten times the yield you would get from traditional cultivation methods. A single plant can give you multiple hundred grams of buds to enjoy (and even sell).

Free of Chemical Fertilizers and Pesticides

This system eliminates any need for fertilizers or pesticides so that you can grow completely organic cannabis that tends to be quite potent, smooth, and flavourful. 


According to Green Relief, aquaponic cannabis uses 90% less water than other traditional cannabis cultivation methods. That's a terrific advantage not only for your energy bills but also for the environment. 

Who Doesn't Like Pets?

Pets are fantastic, and the ones that help you grow cannabis rank highest! With an aquaponics solution, you get to grow cannabis and maintain a stunning aquarium in your home. 

Drawbacks of Growing Cannabis in Aquaponic Systems

Disadvantages of Aquaponics


Setting up aquaponics systems is much more expensive than hydroponic and aeroponic systems. Depending on the size of the tank, even tiny counter-top units can cost more than $100-$300. In addition, fish require warm waters to thrive, which means you will have to spend more on resources and equipment to maintain the temperatures at all times.

Needs Frequent Cleaning

Like hydroponic systems, you will have to deal with lots of moisture that eventually attracts algae and other bacteria. Needless to say, you will have to clean and sterilize your aquaponics systems frequently to ensure the plants are not affected.

High Maintenance

Aquaponics systems are not recommended for beginners because it is pretty complicated compared to other soilless cultivating methods such as hydroponics and aeroponics. Not only will you have to focus on the plants, but you'll also have to take care of the fish to ensure that the plants are in great shape.

In addition, it can be tricky to manage the fertilizers going into the plants since you only have the fish to rely on. You will need to balance the pH and the nutrients at all times, so the plant doesn't experience deficiencies of any kind.

Aeroponics, Aquaponics, and Hydroponics vs. Geoponics

Geoponics essentially refers to cultivating plants in the earth or soil. Aeroponics, aquaponics, and hydroponics offer various advantages over geoponics, making them the ideal choice for taking your cannabis cultivation to the next level. 

First, these soilless systems give you enhanced control over the nutrients and water you give to your plants, making your cultivation process much more efficient and rewarding. 

Second, the systems don't rely on the quality of the soil. So, whether you grow cannabis in a desert or next to a glacier, you can grow healthy plants as long as you have tuned your system right. 

Third, these systems are much more eco-friendly as they use less water than geoponics. For example, hydroponic systems only use 10% of the water needed for growing cannabis in soil. And these systems also recycle the water, so drainage is quite low if any.

These systems also don't use a lot of chemical fertilizers, so no excess chemical waste ends up in the buds or rivers. For the same reason, the buds also tend to be healthier and smoother.

Summary: Difference Between Hydroponics, Aquaponics, and Aeroponics

Essentially, aeroponics, hydroponics, and aquaponics are fruits of the same tree. All these systems use no soil, supply water, and nutrition precisely, and isolate the plant from the external environment.

So, your choice depends on your preference, budget, and the time you're willing to invest in your cannabis culture. 

In summary, hydroponics is the most common, so you can get excellent support from the community, making it an ideal option for newbies. 

On the other hand, Aquaponics is a niche area that combines fish farming and hydroponics in an enclosed system. It is unique but requires more monitoring and initial investment.

And aeroponics is the most technically advanced system that offers complete control of the cultivation to you. But we only recommend this for experienced growers who don't mind the technicality and investment with this system.

So, choose the one that suits you the most and start growing some cannabis.


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