Soil vs. Hydroponics For Growing Cannabis — What’s Better?

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Added 22 July 2022

You will come across various methods to grow cannabis if you do a bit of research. 

Most of these techniques are based on either soil or hydroponics. 

Both categories can produce big plants with terrific yield but are completely different from one another. 

So, soil or hydroponics for cannabis— which one should you choose?

Is growing your cannabis plant in the soil better than hydroponics, or vice versa? If you’re a beginner, you’ll have most of these questions. 

In this article, find out how soil compares to hydroponics and which one could work for you. 

Fundamentals of Soil Vs Hydroponics for Weed

soil vs hydroponics

Soil and hydroponics are two fundamentally different techniques to grow marijuana, but what exactly are they? Here’s more about them.


Soil is the most common form of cultivation in the world, regardless of the plant. Here, you grow a plant in soil, as the name suggests. In a soil-based system, the roots receive nutrients from minerals and organic matter present in the soil. 

You can set up a soil-based system both indoors and outdoors, and it may include various methods like no-till or Hugelkultur. 

Soil is preferred for many growers as being a natural way to grow plants, and is relatively easy to set up and manage than hydroponics.


On the other hand, hydroponics is a system where the roots are suspended in air or water, and the plants are held in place with net pots and a growing medium like coco coir or Rockwool. 

In a hydroponic system, you administer nutrients mixed in water directly to the roots either constantly or via intermittent feeds. 

Hydroponics includes various methods like ebb and flow, aeroponics, aquaponics, DWC, bubbleponics, etc. 

While many growers may dismiss hydroponics as an inorganic modern invention, hydroponics dates back to the Floating Gardens of China and Hanging Gardens of Babylon. And it can offer results similar to soil-based systems — sometimes, even better. 

Differences Between Soil and Hydroponics to Grow Cannabis

The above section is just a starting point, but hydroponics and soil are so different that it doesn’t cover it all. So, here are some of the biggest differences between the two and how they can benefit you. 

1. Germination

cannabis seed germination

The first step in growing cannabis, unless you are cloning, is germinating the seeds. Here, both soil and hydroponics use the same techniques to germinate the seeds — you can either use a glass of water, damp paper towels, or a kitchen towel to sprout the seeds followed by transplanting them. 

The biggest difference is that soil growers can germinate the seeds directly in the soil, which is the growing medium, without requiring any transplanting. 

Hydroponic growers can also start the seeds in Rockwool cubes and net pots that need to be moved into the hydroponic system later on.

Other than these minor differences, the germination of seeds is largely the same for both systems.

2. Transplanting

transplanting cannabis

Once the seedlings mature, they need to be moved into the soil or hydroponic system. A hydroponic system uses a net pot to hold the plants and once the seedling is transplanted into the net pot, it won’t need further transplanting during its growth cycle.

On the other hand, a soil-based plant may require future transplants depending on your preferences and growing style. 

Some growers like to transplant the seedling directly into the final container, but others transplant them into smaller pots and progressively transplant them into bigger pots. The latter method helps the roots develop efficiently without wasting nutrients and water. 

3. Harvesting

harvesting cannabis

When it comes to transplanting, there are no differences between soil and hydroponic systems. Plants grown in both systems require trimming and curing, and the techniques entirely depend on your preferences and not the growing method. 

4. Growing Medium


One of the biggest differences between soil and hydroponics lies in the growing medium. 

As the name suggests, soil-based plants use soil as the primary growing medium. The soil-based plants use soil for nutrient supply, whereas the roots use diffusion to absorb nutrients from the substrate. 

Many growers use organic matter on the soil to make it nutrient-rich, while others use synthetic nutrients for faster availability of nutrients. So, the soil serves as the nutritional medium which breaks down the nutrients and makes them available to the roots.

On the other hand, in a hydroponic system, the water serves as the nutritional medium. So, you essentially mix the nutrients in the water and administer the solution to the roots either intermittently or constantly, so the roots can easily absorb the nutrients when needed. 

For example, an ebb and flow hydroponic system periodically floods the roots in water and the intervals between the floods are used to aerate the roots. And in a deep water culture (DWC), you have to use air stones to aerate the nutrition solution since the roots are constantly submerged in the solution. 

In a soil-based system, the soil acts as the structural support too. In a hydroponic system, you use a growing medium for the same purpose — you can use coco coir, clay pellets, Rockwool, etc. to hold the plant upright. These mediums are mostly inert and free of any nutrients so they don’t hamper root activities. 

5. Nutrition

Nutrients for cannabis

Cannabis plants require particular nutrients for the best growth and yield, and these nutrients belong to two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients.

Macronutrients are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (NPK), which the plant requires in large quantities. And micronutrients are other minerals required in smaller quantities that fulfill plants' physiological processes. Micronutrients include copper, iron, chlorine, manganese, boron, zinc, etc.

Both soil and hydroponic plants require the same nutrients, but the difference lies in how you administer them to your plant.

In a soil-based plant, you need to add nutrients to the soil, from which the roots will absorb them through diffusion. You can use organic matter, like manure or compost, as the primary source of nutrition. Organic matter breaks down slowly, providing most of the vital nutrients through weeks. 

Or you can use synthetic fertilizers available in powdered or liquid form to make the nutrients available to the roots quickly.

You also need to invest in high-quality soil rich in various natural minerals, so your roots don’t have to fully rely on the feeding cycle.

The same is not the case with hydroponic plants. You need to add nutrients to the water and administer the solution to your plant. You can either use bottled formulas containing the right concentrations of nutrients or add the minerals manually. You can also rely on fish manure as a source if you are growing in an aquaponic hydroponic system. 

Another major difference with regards to nutrition is that soil is a lot more forgiving than a hydroponic system. Soil acts as a buffer between the nutrients and the roots, so if you add too much or too little nutrients, the soil will compensate for it. 

Hydroponics is not as forgiving. The nutritions are quickly administered and absorbed, without a buffer, which can create various plant problems if you make a mistake during the feeding cycle. 

6. Water

watering cannabis

When it comes to water, you will be surprised at how efficient hydroponic systems are compared to soil — hydroponics use 90% less water than soil-based systems.

This is because hydroponic systems use a reservoir that contains water mixed with nutrients, which is recirculated after every feeding cycle with some occasional top-ups. This can save hundreds of gallons of water during each growing season.

On the other hand, in a soil-based setup, you need to let the water drain and you can’t recirculate it. 

7. Growing Environment

cannabis plants growing outdoors

Both soil and hydroponic systems require the same environment to grow healthy plants — optimal temperature and relative humidity, adequate light and airflow, etc. However, the major difference lies in how they perform indoors and outdoors.

If you grow your plant indoors, whether using hydroponics or soil, you get to control the environmental factors, so plants tend to grow healthy and big in either setup. However, since the soil is a microsystem on its own, it can invite various pests even indoors.

But if you are growing outdoors, using soil is a better option. Hydroponic systems are complex and external environmental factors can damage the reservoirs, pipings, pumps, etc. Plus, outdoor reservoirs can get too hot during summers, which is bad for the plant’s health.

8. Price


All things aside, price is a major decision maker for many hobby growers. No point investing a thousand dollars if you just want to enjoy a few buds during Christmas! But price depends on many variables, so it is hard to decide.

But soil is still the cheapest option if you want to grow a few plants. But if you want to grow many plants in soil, you will require a lot of high-quality soil and compost, which can significantly drive up the costs. 

But that does not mean hydroponics are inherently more expensive. Hydroponic setups like the Kratky method can be cheap as they don’t require electric pumps and other expensive equipment. 

Other hydroponic systems that are more complex, like DWC or aeroponics, can cost you upwards of a thousand dollars. These complex systems require an array of devices to feed and manage your plant.

The cost also depends on whether you are growing indoors or outdoors. Since you have to recreate the optimal outdoor environment in your grow room using lights, fans, and other pieces of equipment, indoor growth is more expensive than outdoor growth, both for hydroponics and soil-based systems.

9. User-friendly for beginners

user friendly

If you're growing cannabis for the first time, you want to choose a method that is approachable and forgiving enough so you don’t mess up the growth with minor mistakes. 

For someone who is just getting started, using soil is the ideal option because it is easy. Most new growers already have experience growing some other plant in soil. Plus, you can get high-quality potting mixes that further enhance the soil quality and improve the room for error. 

If you want to experiment with hydroponics, you can start with easy hydroponic methods like Kratky and DWC. These hydroponic setups are easier to set up and maintain and you can use bottled formulas to easily administer nutrients to your plant. 

Once you have gained enough experience in growing cannabis, you can take it up a notch with more complex hydroponic systems like aquaponics or aeroponics. These methods are expensive and complicated but can promise tremendous results. 

10. Speed 


Speed of growth is another aspect that many growers focus on, especially if they live in regions with a shorter growing season or want to fit in as many harvests as possible in a year. 

In terms of speed, hydroponics is the faster solution. 

In a soil-based setup, the plants rely on the biological activity within the substrate for the availability of nutrients. And while synthetic fertilizers may speed up the process, the soil will still act as a buffer, slowing down the process. 

On the contrary, hydroponic systems have quicker nutrient availability and you also get to micro-tune the growth of your plant as per your preferences. This leads to faster growth during the vegetative stage. 

So, if you want to grow your cannabis plants faster, hydroponics is the way to go. 

And if you are growing autoflowering plants, it does not matter how you grow them. External factors hardly affect autoflowering plants’ internal clocks. 

11. Quantity and Quality of Yield

quantity and quality

Eventually, everything narrows down to how much yield you get and how good it is. But the quality of yield depends on various factors.

When considering just the quantity of yield, you should know that autoflowering plants genetically have a low yield. And small hydroponic methods like the Kratky method will also offer lower yield compared to a plant grown in rich soil. 

But if you harvest the power of hydroponics, you can easily get larger yields than soil under similar conditions. Hydroponics has a steep learning curve, but once you get to the top of it, you are guaranteed better yields. This is because hydroponic plants, when well taken care of, tend to grow more vigorously, forming more bud sides. 

Next is the quality of the yield. And this depends more on your plant’s genetics and your growing style, not so much on the setup. How you manage your plant affects its terpene and cannabinoid profile.

Still, many soil growers dismiss hydroponics for not tasting natural. This is largely due to improper flushing methods with hydroponics, which leaves a chemical-ish taste in the buds. If you flush the plant properly before harvest, hydroponics’ flavor profile will surprise you.

So, you don’t need to worry about quality while deciding between the two. Focus on the management and growth of the plant and your buds will taste and smell fantastic regardless of how they are grown.

Choosing the Best for You

If you are growing cannabis for the first time, soil is the best for you. It is easy and accessible, and it offers many benefits that suit beginners, such as the following:

  • Soil is more forgiving than other growth setups, which leaves you a lot of room for errors — something many growers tend to make during the first growing season
  • Soil is the more “natural” approach, so if you want something that feels more in intune with nature and less with technology, soil is the way to go
  • Soil is also a lot cheaper than hydroponics. All you need is some seeds, a rich garden bed, and some basic fertilizers, and you will grow a healthy plant in no time
  • Soil-based plants grown in containers are also more mobile — you can simply move them around whenever you want without worrying about disturbing the roots or dismantling the entire setup

But if you want to take your cannabis cultivation to the next level, you should consider hydroponics. It offers various benefits, such as:

  • Hydroponics can help you grow plants a lot faster than soil-based plants because you get to control the various aspects of the growth and hasten the nutrient availability process
  • You also don’t have to worry about pests and diseases — lack of soil and other organic matter means pests won’t come to your plant unless you leave a lot of room open for them 
  • Hydroponics is also pseudo-automated — set it up, mix in the nutrients, and set the pumps on a timer, and you can rest back while the system takes care of your plant in terms of feeding and monitoring
  • It also uses a lot less water, so if you live in a region that does not have a steady water supply or you want to be more eco-friendly, go with hydroponics
  • It is discreet — you can hydroponically grow cannabis even in a bucket or in your wardrobe, so it is easier to hide your plant from others compared to soil-based systems

Both hydroponics and soil offer tremendous benefits for growers of all types. However, the final choice comes down to how good you are at growing plants. This is why we recommended beginners start with using soil.

But you can still start with hydroponics if you don’t mind investing a little more in the setup and get greasy with the learning curve. 

If you are still confused about where to start, start with the easiest method there is — soil in your garden. You will get a grasp of what it is like to grow a cannabis plant. After that, you can move to a more complex soil setup with containers and perhaps a greenhouse or a grow tent.

Eventually, you can move your cultivation to hydroponics once you get a hang of growing cannabis and learn to understand your plants well. 

Or you can simply choose coco-coir — the best of both worlds.

Coco Coir: the Best of Both Worlds

Apart from the various innovative hydroponic setups, growers love coco coir.

Coco coir, also known as just coco, is a medium made up of ground-up coconut husks and is quickly becoming the go-to choice of many cannabis growers. Coco is inert and devoid of any nutrients, so you don’t have to worry about it influencing your plant’s growth.

Plus, it is versatile and easy to work with. You can either use it as the sole medium or mix it with perlite. This makes it perfect for beginner growers too. 

But why does coco coir strike the perfect balance between soil and hydroponics? 

The first reason is that coco coir offers various benefits of both soil and hydroponics, such as the following:

  • Coco coir is forgiving, just like soil
  • It is akin to growing in soil, but it gives you far more control over the feeding cycle, like a hydroponic setup 
  • You can directly add nutrients to the water and feed it to the plant, making nutrient management straightforward 
  • It allows 70% more aeration of the roots than the soil
  • It is also easier to flush 
  • Coco coir is eco-friendly since it is produced from coconut waste 
  • And it can be reused for multiple growing cycles as long as you flush it well between each growing cycle 

The only downside with coco coir is that coco is devoid of any nutrients, so you will have to compensate for it by adding regular nutrients along with cal-mag. Treat it just like soil. 

You can find coco coir options on the market pretty easily but remember to choose only the high-quality ones. And even if coco coir is inert, we still recommend checking its pH and EC to be on the safer side. Some of the best coco coir producers are Canna, House and Garden, and Fox Farm. 

Summary: Soil vs Hydroponics for Growing Cannabis: What’s Better?

Whether you choose the traditional method of growing cannabis, soil, or something that even NASA uses, like hydroponics, you cannot go wrong with either as long as you take the right measures, follow a strict feeding regime, and take care of your plant.

And if you are unable to decide, you can always go for coco coir. 

Just remember to learn as much as you can about the method you choose and implement the best practices in your growth. You will be rewarded with big, bushy buds regardless of if the plant is grown in the best soil or fed with fish poop (aquaponics!).


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Soilless is hydroponics by definition. peat, coir, perlite exct. The process of growing plants in sand, gravel, or liquid, with added nutrients but without soil, is hydroponics. Grown in both, I prefer Soil or a hybrid mixture of the two.
@@@NobodysBuds, true, some ppl swear by soil tests. I will just add in a basic all purpose as all the shit I grow outdoors is eating everything up as varying rates. The times I have used "hydo" nutrients in soil the growth was great, massive and pretty looking plants at the start, however the plants were way more susceptible to disease for me. I don't have nearly the same issues as I once did, and this might all be related to my own individual experiences with my medium. maybe it was contaminated and needed a year to bounce back, this might not be the same experience for others who do the same thing. meh, do what is easiest and works best for you. KISS