Hydroponic vs Soil: Which Method Is Best For Cannabis Cultivation

Before starting a new cannabis cultivation operation, you need to know what kind of equipment and setup will yield the best results. There are two primary options that growers utilize to maximize their crop yields – soil and hydroponics. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, and they can work best for specific situations.

So, if you’re interested in growing cannabis, you should understand the differences between these two options to make the best decision for your needs. With that in mind, let’s break down hydroponic vs. soil cultivation. 

What is Hydroponic Cultivation?

The term hydroponic refers to growing plants in water instead of soil. This method works well because you have more control over your crops, and it’s easier to adjust your nutrient balances. When you think about it, dirt only provides the following elements for cannabis: 

  • Nutrients
  • Root and Plant Stability
  • Moisture

So, you can easily replicate these components with a hydroponic setup. However, the trade-off is that you need more materials and equipment to yield the same results. As we’ll discuss in this article, there are pros and cons to each stage of the cannabis growth and harvesting process, depending on which method you use. 

The Differences Between Hydroponic and Soil Cultivation for Cannabis

To better understand how hydroponics and soil cultivation differ (and are the same), let’s look at different aspects of the cannabis growth cycle and what it takes to cultivate plants with each option. 


The first step to growing high-quality cannabis plants is germinating the seeds. Several methods are available, including traditional (planting them in the soil) and water-based. Water germination works well for cannabis seeds because they have a hard outer shell. So, by soaking in water for one or two days, the surface softens, allowing the plant to sprout faster. 

Soil germination can take longer to see results, but a significant part of that is because the sprout is buried. So, while you can see the seed germinate immediately in water, you won’t notice anything until it grows out of the dirt, which can take a week or more. Also, the sprout may grow further into the soil or spread out, meaning it takes even longer to see any results. 

That said, you can germinate your seeds in water and then transfer them to the soil when they’re ready. Combining both methods can speed up the entire process and ensure that you only plant germinated seeds. Another downside of soil germination is that it’s harder to tell which seeds are duds since you won’t be able to see them sprout. 

Equipment Needed

One of the primary advantages of growing cannabis in the dirt is that you don’t necessarily need specialized equipment. For example, if you’re growing outside, you can rely on nature to help your plants reach their full potential. Realistically, you still need to augment the natural cycle with extra nutrients and potentially more water; otherwise, you can take a relatively laid-back approach. 

Growing cannabis indoors requires much more equipment, including lights, humidifiers, fans, and heaters. Since you must replicate the plant’s natural ecosystem, you need various machines and supplies to make that happen. Growing in a greenhouse can help you save some money on lighting, but that’s about it. 

For hydroponics, you must invest in a lot more equipment since you’re controlling everything from how the plant grows to the nutrients it receives. Overall, a hydroponic operation requires a significant upfront investment compared to soil cultivation. 

Maintenance and Upkeep Costs

No matter your method, you’ll need to spend time and resources on maintaining your plants. However, a hydroponics setup is a bit more delicate because it requires constant power. If you experience an outage when growing plants in soil, they should be resilient enough to last a while. However, with hydroponics, you might lose your crops if the outage lasts more than a few hours. 

The primary challenge of maintaining a hydroponic system is that you have to recirculate water and monitor the nutrients at all times. If the mixture is out of balance, it could hurt the plants, and you risk ruining an entire crop. On top of all that, you still need to worry about humidity levels, lighting, and pruning. 


Harvesting cannabis is easier when using hydroponics because the roots haven’t grown in the soil. So, all you have to do is pull them from the water solution and let them dry. Overall, drying and curing are a bit easier when you control every aspect of the plant’s lifecycle. When growing in the dirt, you have more work to pull the plants out, and some stalks may dry faster than others. 

Which Option is Better: Hydroponic or Soil?

Both methods have pros and cons, so it often comes down to personal preference. Let’s break down these advantages and disadvantages so you can make an informed decision. 

Pros and Cons of Hydroponics

  • Pro: Faster Cultivation – When you control all the nutrients and growth elements of your plant, you can get bigger yields in shorter times. In some cases, you can grow twice as much cannabis in the same period as soil crops. 
  • Con: Higher Costs – If you don’t have the money to invest in a hydroponic system, you’ll have to stick with soil cultivation. Also, if something breaks, repair and maintenance costs are typically higher. 
  • Pro: Larger and More Potent Plants – Because you can add more nutrients and help the plants absorb them more efficiently, you can yield bigger and better buds. Since the buds are what you’re selling, hydroponics can get you more bang for your buck. 
  • Con: More Skill Involved – If you’ve never grown plants using hydroponics, there’s a pretty steep learning curve. The best option is to learn from an experienced person and then try your skills on a small scale. As you figure things out, you can expand your system to grow more plants.  

Pros and Cons of Soil Cultivation

  • Pro: Relatively Low Startup Costs – If you’re growing outside, you don’t need much beyond the seeds themselves and harvesting equipment. Even if you’re growing indoors, you can invest in relatively cost-effective systems. Overall, soil cultivation is much more affordable than hydroponics. 
  • Con: Less Control Over Crops – Even though you can add nutrients and water to the soil, you can’t control how your plants absorb them. Some plants may take the lion’s share while others struggle to survive. 
  • Pro: Easier to Master – Soil cultivation has been around for centuries, so you can learn from generations of growers and harvesters. It doesn’t take much time to become skilled in this method. 
  • Con: Longer Cultivation Times – Growing cannabis in the soil requires patience because you can’t speed up the process too much. While high-stress training can help move things along, the process requires extra training, and it’s not foolproof.  

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there isn’t a correct answer to the question, “which is better – hydroponics or soil?” Instead, it depends on your skill level, equipment needs, and desired outcomes. Either way, you need to start with the best seeds, which we can provide. Contact us today to get your first batch and happy cultivating!

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