When you set up an indoor garden to grow your own marijuana, one of the first critical choices you will have to make is whether to grow your plants in soil or hydroponically. The debate over which is better is decades old, and each grower has individual preferences. In this 2-part series, we’ll look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of each method so you can make an informed decision before you go shopping for a growing medium.
What is the difference between soil and hydro?
Growing in soil is just what it sounds like. The plants roots grow in a soil mixture, just as they would in nature. Hydroponic growing means placing your established seedlings or clones in a medium other than soil. This medium might be rockwool, lava rock, clay pellets, coco coir (made from coconut husks), vermiculte/perlite, or a number of other substances. You can even let the plants' roots dangle in misted air, a method called “aeroponics.”
When you choose your growing medium, you are choosing how your plants will receive nutrients throughout the grow cycle. In hydro and aero setups, the roots are in direct contact with the nutrients. Soil, on the other hand, acts as a buffer between the roots and the nutrients they absorb, causing a slower, more naturally paced nutrient uptake.
So, which is better?
The answer to this question varies from one grower to the next. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, and which is best for you will depend on your priorities, your growing experience, and the amount of time and effort you are willing and able to put into caring for your plants.
Soil naturally provides what your plants need.
If you’re a novice marijuana grower and/or you want to minimize the amount of effort you’ll need to put into your garden, then soil is going to be your best choice. Soil is a wonderfully forgiving medium. As long as you start with a high quality soil mixture, you shouldn’t have to worry about adjusting your pH levels or adding supplemental nutrients right away (although you will have to add some as the nutrients contained in the soil are depleted and as you move into the flowering phase). Fox Farm Ocean Forest is a good organic blend that provides all the nutrients young plants need. Local grow stores are generally good resources for other soil mixture recommendations. Starting with one of these sets your plants up to thrive with much less attention from you than they would need in a hydro system.
Many cannabis connoisseurs believe soil-grown buds taste better.
The opinion that soil-grown cannabis has a better flavor is prevalent in the grower community. One idea is that because nutrients are taken in slowly (as nature intended) rather than mainlined straight to the roots, the plant is able to develop complex flavors that the rapid-growth-focused hydro process does not produce; another is that the plant takes on subtle flavors from the soil that are simply not present in hydroponic media. Not everyone, however, agrees with this perspective. (You can actually see similar conversations taking place over the quality and flavor of hydroponic vs. soil-grown vegetables.) Whichever method you choose, how well you execute it will be a primary determiner of the overall quality and flavor of your final product. For that reason, you may have better luck getting the most out of your crop by choosing the simpler route.
Soil isn’t foolproof, however.
One mistake that is easier to make with soil than with a hydro system is overwatering. To prevent this, it is important to make sure that you’re providing sufficient drainage in the soil. One easy way to do this is to add some lighter material, such as vermiculite or perlite, into your mixture. You can also place a layer of porous material (such as rinsed lava rock) at the bottom of your pots, but bear in mind that this will essentially reduce the pots’ size (from the roots’ perspective); so, if you do this, make sure your pots are large enough to still allow the roots ample soil space in which to grow.
Another challenge of using soil is that it is difficult to flush at the end of the flowering cycle. Nutrients that are left unused within the plant creates harsh flavors and smoke; flushing the nutrients out of your plants prior to harvest gives you cleaner-tasting and smoother-burning buds. Because soil is packed with nutrients, it can be hard to flush them from soil-grown plants. For this reason, High Times recommends gently removing soil-grown plants from their pots three days prior to harvest and letting their roots rest in a bucket of pure water until you cut them down. This will give them a good flush, producing a cleaner flavor and smoother burnability.
Soil is a great choice for beginning marijuana growers and those who don’t have the luxury of spending a large chunk of their time attending to their plants’ needs. Soil can also, arguably, produce some of the highest quality buds available. In part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at the particular pros and cons of hydroponic systems for indoor cannabis gardens.
While you’re waiting for you homegrown crop, Nature’s Gift Shop has you covered. Our Pueblo West recreational dispensary always has a fine selection of lab-tested marijuana as well as a wide variety of edibles, dabs, topicals, and more. Stop by and check us out! Use the coupon below to get 4 grams of your favorite bud for the price of an eighth.
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