Hydro vs Soil: The Ultimate Guide to Growing Cannabis

As cannabis becomes more popular and the demand increases, more people are being drawn into its production, both for commercial and own use. With these come decisions about the best methods for cannabis cultivation. If you are wondering about the method to use, you have come to the right place.

Understanding the two types of growing: Hydroponic and soil

What is the difference between hydroponic and soil growing?

Soil farming:

As the name suggests, this is the type of growing where you plant your cannabis directly into the soil. Growing cannabis in soil is usually an outdoor affair though some people choose to grow in soil indoors in big pots, especially for strains that do not grow very tall. This kind of farming benefits from years of soil culture that allow your soil to accumulate minerals as well as organic matter that may be of great benefit to your cannabis plants. Soil farming is also easier and recommended for beginners as the variables are few and mostly controlled by nature.

Hydroponic farming

As the name suggests, this type of cannabis farming is water-based and can be referred to as “solution culture”. It can also be described as a type of farming whose roots are constantly in contact with a water solution. While a bit more complicated, hydroponic farming takes away the unpredictability of soil. Everything that goes into the hydroponic solution is predetermined and can be tweaked to suit the growers’ expectations.

Electrical Conductivity (EC): Hydro vs Soil side by side

Electrical Conductivity (EC) in hydroponics is how the potential for your nutrient solution to conduct electricity is measured. Checking both PH and EC is crucial for hydroponics because PH indicates the balance of available nutrients while EC gives an indication of the quantity of these nutrients. As distilled or pure water has no EC, it is imperative that when you are growing cannabis hydroponically you ensure that your medium has the right minerals to be able to conduct electricity.  The higher the minerals (salts) in your solution, the higher the EC. An ideal EC reading is between 1.2-1.6 during the vegetative state and 1.6-2.4 in flowering. A steady EC reading indicates good balance, a lower reading indicates that you might need stronger nutrients while a higher EC reading means you need to add more water to your solution to dilute it.

It is much easier to control EC in the soil as it naturally contains minerals that on average give a good balance. However, if your EC readings are out of whack, you can choose to correct them by flushing out the soil or adding minerals as needed.

Indoor vs outdoor mediums (Hydro vs soil side by side)

hydo vs soil
hydro vs soil

Cannabis is a complex plant that has very specific growth requirements. These need to be taken into consideration when deciding whether to grow indoors or outdoors in either soil or hydroponics. Depending on the medium you choose, you will also need to determine the relevant N-P-K ratios for each different growth stage to ensure that your plants do not suffer from deficiencies.

The different mediums available for cannabis growers are soil, which could be used either indoors or naturally outdoors. Though hydroponics or deep water culture is the main indoor medium, one could also use neutral mediums that are nutrient-dependent such as perlite, coconut coir, rock wool and vermiculite.

When you’re using soil as a medium, manure, which is nutrient-rich, can be added as needed. This cannot be replicated in a hydro solution as it lacks the microbes contained in the soil. In hydroponics, you will have to deliberately feed your plants all the micro and macro nutrients they need as opposed to soil where you will just need to supplement. This is the biggest difference between the two mediums.

How to grow cannabis in soil

Step 1: Choose your Cannabis Seeds

The range of cannabis strains to choose from is staggering. From indica, to sativa, to ruderalis and a number of hybrids, pick one that would do well in your kind of climate and that has the properties you are looking for.

Step 2: Germination

Now you need to break the dormancy of your seeds by germinating them. Below are some methods you can use to germinate your seeds:

  • Straight into the medium: This is where you place the seeds into the medium they will grow indirectly. The advantage of this is that you get to do away with “transplantation shock”.
  • Paper towel: Place the seeds on a moistened paper towel and put them in a warm dark place. Ensure to maintain moisture by covering with plastic or an upturned plate.
  • Plugs, jiffies, and rock wool starters: Germinates 0 seeds at a go and are easy to change over to final medium without root damage.
  • In water: You can soak the seeds in water that has been enriched by enzymes until the tap roots appear, then you transplant them into your soil.
  • Germination stations: These offer a controlled environment for the seeds to germinate.

Step 3: Transplant your seedlings

Once your seeds have germinated, you can transplant them into soil. Sometimes it is advisable to start with a small pot then later transfer to a larger pot outdoors.

Step 4: Monitoring and Pruning

During the whole growth phase, you might require to top and under-shuck your plants to encourage an even canopy for a better harvest. In this vegetative stage, you will also add nutrients as needed and ensure that your cannabis plants are well watered.

Step 5: Harvesting, Drying & Curing For Best Quality Buds

As you near harvest, you can flush out your plants with clean water to guarantee pure flavor that is free of nutrients as well as built-up salt aftertastes.

Below are some harvesting tips:

  • If you are looking for higher THC content, wait until the trichomes are 20-30% amber.
  • For a cannabinoid profile that is broader, harvest when the trichomes are 60-80% amber.

Be very vigilant as the window for change might be as small as twenty-four hours.

Pros and cons of growing Cannabis in soil


  • Growing outdoors in a soil medium generally allows for yields that are much higher.  This is because there are no growth limitations outdoors and the roots can be deep and branches wide.
  • With proper care, cannabis grown in soil can help grow up to 2m tall, which could offer more than 400g of top-quality bud for each plant.
  • Naturally occurring organic matter and microbes that may favor your cannabis plants.
  • Is less stressful as outdoor growing requires much less effort and attention because most of the factors are left to nature.
  • Easy for first-time growers as soil is more familiar than hydroponics.
  • Outdoor growing offers better flavor and natural essence for your flowers.


  • Uncontrollable conditions like temperature changes, humidity variations, and even uncontrollable wind could damage your cannabis plants.
  • Though some organic matter found in soil may be beneficial, some soils may contain harmful bacteria as well as other harmful substances that may harm the plants.

How to grow cannabis in hydro

hydro vs soil growing cannabis at home
hydroponics – growing cannabis at home

Below is a guide of how you can hydroponically grow your cannabis at home.

Step 1: Assemble the hydroponics system.

Though every system is slightly different, staples you can expect are a starter kit which includes a water tank and water pump (often part of a timed circulation system), LED grow lights, as well as a nutrient solution. You can purchase a starter kit online for below $100.

Step 2: Prepare the hydroponic solution

Combine the nutrients and water in the tank or reservoir. Start up the pump and wait about 30 minutes for the nutrients and water to blend. Add beneficial bacteria making sure the PH levels stay between 5.5 and 6.5.

Step 3: Transfer the germinated seeds

Transfer the seedlings that you had pre-germinated and closely monitor for 3-4 weeks.

Step 4: Adjust conditions as per plants’ needs

As plants move from the vegetative through to the flowering stage, you may make some adjustments as needed. One of the things you can do is defoliate during the flowering stage to accelerate healthy growth. You can also lower the nutrients in preparation for harvest.

Step 5: Harvesting

Watch out for signs of maturation as illustrated in the soil section and harvest.

Pros and cons of growing Cannabis in hydro


  • Hydroponic farming offers a higher cannabinoid presence with THC amounts of above 28% THC.
  • Though you won’t be able to fully automate your system, you can do it partially, reducing your chores.
  • You can manipulate factors such as light, nutrients, and humidity to get the results you’re looking for in quality.


  • Limited growth, therefore in some cases limited yields.
  • It is an unfamiliar method and may not be suitable for beginners.
  • Tampers with the flavor profile of the cannabis flowers and may end up tasting and smelling a bit flat.

Hydro or Soil?

Both these methods are excellent methods for growing your cannabis depending on your circumstances and available resources. Pick one that’s suitable for you and have a fantastic grow!

Photo of author

Lydia K.

Lydia K. (Bsc. RN) is a cannabis writer, which, considering where you’re reading this, makes perfect sense. Currently, she is a regular writer for Mace Media. In the past, she has written for MyBud, RX Leaf & Dine Magazine (Canada), CBDShopy (UK), and Cannavalate & Pharmadiol (Australia). She is best known for writing epic news articles and medical pieces. Occasionally, she deviates from news and science and creates humorous articles. And boy doesn't she love that! She equally enjoys ice cream, as should all right-thinking people.

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