There’s a lot of wariness around hydroponic growing, particularly for home growers looking to establish small-scale grows. But although it may be more expensive to get started with than soil, hydroponics can be a superior way of growing cannabis, and hydro technology is getting cheaper and more accessible every day, offering a range of benefits over classic soil-based cultivation.

Here we’ll take a look at its primary advantage, an increased level of control, as well as three secondary advantages: efficiency, versatility, and sustainability.

Getting Started

A basic hydroponic setup—deep water culture (Amy Phung/Leafly)

Patience is crucial with hydroponic growing. Despite all its advantages, it’s often more labor-intensive and has a higher skill barrier.

With a soil grow, your primary concerns will center around light and nutrients; with hydroponics, you still have to be deliberate in those areas, while also managing a complex and sensitive system that circulates water and nutrients among your plants.

It’s essential that you have a strong command of your system, as the health of your plants depends on it. Hydroponic cultivation is much less forgiving of small mistakes than growing in soil.

Since nutrients are delivered directly to your plants’ root systems, you’ll need to ensure you’re delivering an optimal mix, as over-fertilizing can have disastrous results. The complexity and sensitivity of hydroponics systems also means they’re an investment of time and money.

You can design and set up a relatively low-cost setup, but it requires a strong understanding of the basic principles of hydroponic cultivation. Alternately, you can forgo designing your own setup and buy premade solutions. A system capable of growing 5-6 plants can start at around $100, and quickly increase from there with features that increase control and ease of use.

Of course, once you’re set up and have a couple of grow cycles under your belt, the costs will level off, and the increased yield and quality will quickly make up your initial investment.

If you are jumping into hydroponics, just make sure to continue your research and look carefully before you leap.

Control Your Environment

A hydroponic grow allows you to exercise total control over the quality and quantity of nutrients your plants receive, whereas with soil grows, nutrients remain in the soil. The nutritional needs of cannabis plants vary throughout the grow process and with hydroponics, you’re able to dial in the mixture of nutrients and tailor it specifically to their progress.

It is worth keeping in mind, hydroponics may require a higher degree of care than a soil grow. Microorganisms in soil can help restore balance in case of issues like a pH imbalance or over-fertilization, but since hydroponic mediums don’t have this capability, you’ll need to be careful and deliberate in the ways you nurture your plants.

Closely monitoring your water’s pH and overall quality, selecting and measuring your nutrients with extreme care, and maintaining a consistent temperature are key to a productive hydroponic grow.

However, this degree of sensitivity also allows you to make small adjustments to maximize yields, which is more difficult in a conventional soil grow. You’re also be able to directly examine your plants’ root systems in a hydro grow, ensuring your plants are developing in a healthy way.

Save Time and Space

The increased level of control offered by hydroponics allows you to grow your plants more efficiently. By creating the ideal circumstances for plant growth, you’re able to maximize the productivity of each plant.

An indoor hydroponic grow allows your plants to mature faster and more evenly. Year-round hydroponic systems can yield multiple harvests annually, though strain genetics also play a role in that as well.

Since you’re going to be delivering nutrients directly to each plant, each plant’s root system requires significantly less space than with a soil grow. Less space needed for roots means you can use a grow space more effectively, whether it’s a walk-in closet or a warehouse. The only factor that will limit your number of plants and the density of your canopy is the strength and availability of light.

You’ll also be able to use less nutrients overall, as they are absorbed directly into the plants, with nothing lost in soil.

Grow Hydroponically Indoor or Outdoor

The classic image of hydroponic cultivation is large, intricate, expensive systems in industrial warehouse grows, but hydroponic cultivation is actually much more accessible than that.

If you’re a homegrower with the right equipment and expertise, you can set up a hydroponic grow in a space the size of a walk-in closet and yield far more than you would with a soil grow in a comparable space.

Hydroponics can be scaled to any grow size or type, and will confer the same advantages no matter how large or small your grow.

Most hydroponic systems are used to grow indoors. However, as long as you have a reliable power supply, hydroponics can be used to grow outdoors, particularly in greenhouses. While you’ll have to deal with factors like light, temperature, and humidity, growing hydroponically in a greenhouse will allow you to maximize yield and quality while avoiding the massive energy requirements of indoor cultivation.

Sustainability

Sustainability is an oft-overlooked benefit of hydroponic cultivation. With soil cultivation, a significant portion of the water you use never gets to your plant’s roots. With hydroponics, you’re able to precisely deliver the exact amount of water each plant needs, without wasting any.

Also, many of the insect and disease problems faced in the cannabis cultivation process are the result of soilborne infestations. Since hydroponics dispenses with soil, the reduced risk of pests means your need for pesticides will be minimized.

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