Soil Soilless Or Hydro Whats Best For Me

“What grow medium should I use?” This is one of the most common questions I get from growers of all skill and experience levels – basically asking, “Should I use soil, hydro, or a soilless mixture?” Obviously, answering this question is not as simple as just picking one of those three words to tell them. It is very important to look at a number of factors, least of which is how much experience do you have, as some mediums are more forgiving than others for beginners.

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Soil

If you are a beginner, soil is definitely where you should be starting, for a number of reasons. Soil isn’t just for beginners however, as many long time old school growers believe it’s the only way to produce incredible tasting and powerful buds. In my opinion some of this thinking is a little outdated as there are other methods that can produce excellent bud.

That being said I still to this day grow some of my own personal supply in full organic soil that I make and mix myself. I will be writing an extensive article in the future about my personal mix of soil.

Now let’s get to the reasons why I used soil for my first grow and continue to do so to this day!

  1. Soil is very forgiving. Soil acts like a buffer between you and your plants. The soil usually comes out of the bag with some nutrient value built into it in the form of organic or synthetic fertilizers. Organic being natural things like bat guano, worm castings, fish bone meal, and many others.

The synthetic or chemical fertilizers in soil come in many forms, but one of the most common is small balls mixed in the soil. I personally have grown with some of the worst soils on the market, simply because they were the cheapest, and still gotten decent results. But in most cases, I would recommend staying away from synthetic and chemical fertilizers that are built into the soil. There are simply too many great soil mixes already on the market to make yourself deal with that.

2.The way soil retains moisture for days on end means that you can leave your garden for a weekend trip without worrying about a hydro pump going out and ruining your crop. In the height of the flower cycle, when the plant is growing and consuming the most water and nutrients, I usually only need to water every 4-5 days using 3-10 gallon pots.

  1. Many growers including myself believe that soil, especially all organic soil, and nutrients, produces the best tasting buds. With the right organic nutrients, soilless mixtures can produce very tasty buds as well but lack some of the forgiveness that soil offers beginners.

Soilless

Soilless mediums such as coco, peat, and bark, are quickly becoming the most popular methods for growing marijuana these days. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. A soilless mix, by design, provides no inherent nutrient value to the plant. This means that, unlike soil that comes out of the bag with nutrients built in, the soilless medium has nothing in it to help the plant grow.

So to support the plant’s growth, you are in charge of feeding it everything it will get. This gives a grower incredible control over the kind and quantity of nutrients the plant receives.

Not having these built-in nutrients also means that the pH of the medium is very consistent, furthering the grower’s control over all aspects of the growing cycle.

While this is a great feature for experienced growers, it can also be a big problem for beginners. You have to feed the plant from the first day, otherwise you could kill it or see almost no growth. Providing a marijuana plant every single nutrient it needs for maximum growth can be a daunting task. Without the buffer of soil, overloading the plant with nutrients is very easy and can cause nutrient burn and unneeded stress on the plant.

  1. Marijuana plant roots are happiest in a medium that allows them lots of air. This means a growing medium that has low water retention is usually best. Soil straight out of a bag is going to have a much higher water retention than almost all soilless media.

Growers often mix in other things such as perlite in an attempt to help the water drain from the soil more quickly and allow more air to reach the roots. This is why, when using soil mixes, you don’t water as soon as the top of the soil is dry, as many do with common household plants (more on this in a later article).

Soilless mixes by design drain very quickly and, therefore, can promote faster and more vigorous growth from marijuana, especially in a high-performance indoor grow environment.

  1. This low water retention means that we can water the plant, and therefore feed the plant, more often throughout its lifecycle. If you were growing in normal soil that hadn’t been modified with the addition of something like perlite, your plants would suffer if you watered them as often as you did in a soilless mix.

This also comes back to benefit us at the end of the lifecycle of the plant, in the weeks before harvest, as we flush all of the chemicals and fertilizers from the plant to produce that extra smooth smoke.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you take two clones from the same mother plant and grow them next to each other, one in soil and one in a soilless medium, in an attempt to make a direct comparison. Since the soilless plant would dry out faster and need more water, in an 8 week flowering cycle you might water the soilless plant anywhere from 5-10 times more than the soil plant.

This ultimately translates into more feedings of nutrients which increases growth for the soilless plant. This also means that if you are going to flush the plant before harvest (which you must do for good smoke), you would flush the soil plant for two weeks, while only needing to flush the soilless plant for 8-10 days to achieve the same results from flushing.

This time saved before flushing results in even more feedings of the soilless plant while she is packing on the most weight (in the last two weeks of the flowering phase). The longer you can continue to feed the plant the nutrients it wants, the more bud you will produce while still having the time to flush the plant properly to harvest the smoothest smoke.

Hydroponics

While many might consider soilless mixes to be a hydroponic system, I am not one of them. To me, true hydroponics involves the plant’s roots being exposed to water and air, not growing in a solid medium. These types of systems come in many different varieties, but for the most part they have a few common characteristics.

They generally will all have a nutrient reservoir where the nutrients and water are combined to form a feeding solution that the plants are fed either constantly or multiple times a day.

They will also have a dark reservoir or some kind of light-tight space for the plant roots to live, as roots will have a hard time growing with constant light exposure. Just think about nature, how often are roots exposed to sunlight?

Pure hydroponics come with a number of benefits

  1. As with the soil vs soilless comparison where the soilless allowed more feeding of the plant, some hydroponic systems take this to the next level and continuously spray or flow the feeding solution over the roots. Even with the systems that don’t use a continuous spray or flow method, they will feed the plants at least 2-3 times per day if not more.

Logically, with more feedings and the right grow environment, you can produce bigger and better buds in the same period of time as other systems. However, be aware that this constant feeding is also a potential major drawback (more on this in a minute).

  1. With hydroponic systems you can flush for even less time than the soil or soilless mixtures. Within all of the hydro systems, there is a basic rule with flushing: the more you feed your plants, the less time you will have to spend flushing your plants clear of nutrients.

Systems that are continuous flow can sometimes be flushed extremely well in as little as 4 days, which gives the plants even more time to enjoy the rich nutrient solution you provide them.

  1. Compared to other mediums, the amount of labor required for planting can be greatly reduced with a hydroponic system. I remember my long days of being bent over at the waist filling 50 different 5gal pots with soil. It was back-breaking work, and that was just for one of my many flower rooms.

Soilless mixtures are often lighter than soil, but with hydro, the work of planting is generally reduced to placing a clone or small seedling in something as small as a 1in rockwool cube, and then into your hydro system. That’s it. If you are planting hundreds of plants, this can be not only a huge timesaver, but can also save hours and hours of hard labor.

However, as with the other systems, there are still a few negatives to pure hydroponics. Some of the points I’m about to make are often overlooked, especially by beginners. Because many people have grown up thinking “hydro” was without a doubt the best bud, they just rushed into growing hydro without taking the time to learn the differences and realize that any of these media can produce top shelf bud when done correctly.

  1. The biggest negative that I, personally, see with pure hydroponics is that there is much reliance on electric pumps and similar things like floats and nutrient sensors, etc. These are all things that can easily go bad while you’re away from home for two days. In pure hydro, a pump going out could mean your plants aren’t fed anything until you recognize the problem.

If this doesn’t outright kill your plants, it will hurt your yield badly. You will also have to fight to keep your plants happy for the rest of their lifecycle.

Another commonly overlooked issue I see is hydro sprayers with very small holes for spraying the solution can get clogged very quickly. These must be checked and, if necessary, cleaned often.

I often hear people say that hydro is low maintenance compared to soil and soilless, and while at times this can be true, if you believe that you won’t ever work your butt off to be successful with hydro, I would say you are destined to come across a major problem sooner than later. Proper maintenance and replacement of parts is essential.

  1. As with soilless mixtures, you can harm your plants in just hours with hydro because you don’t have the natural pH and nutrient buffer provided by soil. Soil can give you a cushion of days or weeks before harming your plants with too much or too little of any nutrients. If you were to mix your nutrients 2 or 3 times as strong as you should for your hydro system, you could see major nutrient burn in 12 hours. If you’re gone for an extended period of time, this could even kill your plants.

This is one of the main reasons I recommend that beginners not start out with hydro and even be wary of soilless mixes. There is no shame or problem with starting easier and working your way up to more advanced grow methods as you gain experience and confidence. That is perfectly normal and gives you the opportunity to make mistakes without drastic consequences.

Conclusion

Picking the correct grow medium for your needs and experience can be one of the most important factors to guarantee success or help you along the road to failure. I am trying to help you avoid mistakes that countless numbers of growers make every single day that lead to them feeling in over their head and failing to produce much bud or it being of crap quality which discourages

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