When you set up your indoor cannabis garden, you need to decide between growing your plants in soil or a hydroponic medium. In this 2-part series, we’re examining the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you make a decision you’ll be happy with. This article focuses on hydroponic systems.
What is hydro?
Growing hydroponically basically means that you’re rooting the plant in something other than soil. There are numerous hydroponic media out there. Some of the more popular include coco coir, clay pellets, rockwool, and vermiculite/perlite. While plants absorb nutrients slowly and steadily from soil, their roots are in direct contact with nutrients in a hydroponic medium, allowing for much more immediate absorption. While this can allow you to grow bigger buds faster than in soil, it also comes with some potential drawbacks and hazards.
Hydro is less forgiving.
Soil gives growers a sort of safety net when it comes to caring for their plants. It tends to be naturally pH balanced, and it’s easy to find good, rich prepared soil that provides all of the nutrients your plants need for early growth. Soil also retains water so that your plants may go for days without needing anything from you. When you grow hydro, however, you have to actively supply everything your plants need all the time. You must feed them a pH-balanced nutrient solution, which serves as both food and water, on a regular schedule. Any failure on your part to provide for the plant can quickly have catastrophic effects because it is completely dependent upon you.
The simplest way to create your hydroponic nutrient solution is to purchase one of the many lines of fertilizers that are made for hydroponic systems and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. These can range considerably in price and in the number of products you need to buy for complete nutrition. You will need at least two separate formulas, one for the vegetative and one for the flowering stage, and most likely another to deliver micronutrient boosts. Some lines recommend half a dozen or more separate products to use in varying ratios throughout your plants’ lives for optimal results. The benefit of doing this, of course, is that you gain the power to deliver precisely what your plants need straight to their roots, where everything is quickly and easily absorbed. That’s why hydro systems have the capacity to produce bigger buds and turn around a harvest more quickly than soil.
In a hydroponic system, you should check the pH of your solution daily. Unlike soil, which naturally maintains a fairly stable pH, the pH in a hydroponic system can vary widely in a short space of time, preventing your plants from absorbing vital nutrients. Grow guides generally recommend maintaining pH in the range of 5.5 to around 6.3 in hydroponic systems for optimal nutrient uptake.
While soil will hold water for days, hydroponic media dry out quickly. You must, in some way, ensure regular and frequent watering. If you fail in this, your plants will quickly die. Many hydroponic growers choose to automate this task with a drip or ebb-and-flow system. A drip system is just what it sounds like: nutrient solution is slowly dripped from a reservoir into the growing medium. An ebb-and-flow system floods the growing medium with nutrient solution and allows it to drain on a set schedule, using a reservoir, timer, and pump. If you enjoy DIY projects, you can create your own system (many plans are available online), or you can buy any of the many kits available online or at your local grow store. A simpler option is passive watering through a wick system, in which the pots sit above the nutrient solution reservoir with a wicking material delivering nutrient solution from the reservoir to the medium. You can find detailed descriptions of all of the main types of hydroponic watering systems commonly used here.
Many cannabis connoisseurs claim that while you can get a bigger yield from a hydro system, bud grown hydroponically is less flavorful than soil-grown bud. “Hydro for cash, soil for stash” is the adage. On the other hand, hydroponic growing makes it easy to flush your plants near the end of the flowering stage, while it can be very difficult to flush the nutrients from plants whose roots are sitting in soil. Flushing is an important step to achieving the highest levels of taste, smoothness, and burnability in your buds; leftover nutrients create harsh smoke and flower that doesn’t burn well. So, while soil may impart certain desirable flavors, you may find it easier to produce cleaner buds with hydro.
Find the method that suits you.
Whether you ultimately grow in soil or a hydro system, the quality of buds you’ll produce will depend on the care you give your plants. If you’ve got the time and dedication to dive into a hydro system, you can certainly produce some wonderful cannabis that way. When choosing, carefully consider the level of commitment you’re willing to make, and then follow through on caring meticulously for your plants throughout growth, flowering, harvest, drying, and curing. You’ll be glad you did!
While you’re waiting for your homegrown to be ready, stop by Nature’s Gift Shop in Pueblo West and check out our selection of quality, lab-tested bud. Click below to get 4 grams of your favorite strain for the price of an eighth!