Hydroponics vs Soil – Is Hydroponics Better Than Soil?

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By Alex Harris

Anyone who has started to discover hydroponics is going to have one key question – is hydroponics faster than soil? After all, one of the most important things to consider when weighing up how to grow your plants is how quickly they will grow, especially if you’re growing food crops.

Yes, plants generally do grow faster when you use hydroponics to grow them. This can make a huge difference to growing any kind of plant, but particularly food crops, where fast growing is key to getting a good harvest.

Some plants will grow up to fifty percent faster, although it does depend on what you’re growing and the conditions you provide.

You might also like: Best Hydroponics System For The Money

Why Does Hydroponics Make Your Plants Grow Faster?

why does hydroponics make your plants grow faster

It may seem odd to hear that plants grow faster in water than soil. Plants obviously need water, but most of us think of them as needing soil to provide them with nutrients. However, there are a couple of reasons that plants grow more quickly in a hydroponics system, such as:

  • No pests/fast pest removal, meaning the plant can focus its energy on growing, rather than defending itself or repairing its leaves after an attack
  • No unfavorable weather conditions, because the plants will usually be grown indoors in controlled conditions
  • No risk of the plant drying out if it gets hot unexpectedly; they permanently have water
  • No nutrient deficiencies; your plants have absolutely everything they require

Tip: You need to keep an eye on plants that are starting to mature in your hydroponics system.

This will often happen more quickly than with plants that are grown in soil, and you may find that your plants are trying to go to seed faster than you expect. To prevent this from happening, check your plants daily.

Which Plants Are Best Suited For Hydroponics?

So, plants do grow faster with a hydroponic system – and that might leave you wondering which plants you can take advantage of this with. Which ones are best suited to growing hydroponically?

Check out our full list plants you can grow well in a hydroponic system: Best Plants To Grow In A Hydroponic System

Here are a few that great:

  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes

You should also have success with strawberries, many kinds of lettuce; leafy greens such as spinach, watercress, kale, and mustard; and herbs like basil, mint, and oregano. All of these should thrive in a hydroponic system.

It’s important to check whether a plant is suited to hydroponic growing before you try and grow it in a hydroponics system, as some don’t thrive.

Potatoes, carrots, other root vegetables, and things like melons and vine-growing plants do not do well in hydroponic systems and are better off being grown in soil.

These plants will grow hydroponically, but they are not as suited to hydroponic growing as many of the others, and often take up unnecessary amounts of space that could be better used on other crops.

How Much Faster Will They Grow?

How quickly hydroponics will make plants grow does depend very much on the kind of plant, as well as your degree of success in providing everything that the plant needs. Herbs, for example, will often grow around twenty-five percent faster if you get the perfect conditions for them to thrive in.

Some of the leafy greens mentioned may be ready in just a month in perfect conditions, sometimes a month and a half. You should make sure you are harvesting them reasonably early, and not giving them a chance to turn bitter. If left too long, some of these will become inedible and get wasted.

Tip: Make sure you know what you are growing and how it responds to being grown hydroponically so you can harvest at the right time and make the most of the crop.

If you’re growing lettuces, the variety you grow will make a big difference in how quickly they grow. Many lettuces are very fast growing anyway, but romaine and buttercrunch are particularly quick, and may be ready to harvest in just three weeks using a hydroponics system.

Other lettuces, those with big heads like iceberg lettuce, often take longer to grow in hydroponics, but should still grow faster than they do in soil. They will usually be ready in a couple of months, so don’t let them over-grow and turn bitter.

The advantage of this is that you can fit more growth cycles into a single growing season, and using light and temperature controls, even extend the growing season. This is a key strategy to maximizing your space and time, and also get more experience in growing.

What Else Do I Need To Be Aware Of?

You do have to watch out for pests on your hydroponic plants, as these will massively slow the growth of your plants and could kill them.
dangers of hydroponics

While hydroponic systems do help to protect your plants from crawling insects as they have no soil to hide in, it is still possible to get pest infestations, and you need to check your plants regularly.

Secondly, make sure you understand the balance of nutrients that your plants require. Don’t be tempted to increase the amount of nutrients just to try and make the plant grow faster. This is one of the worst things that you can do, as an overdose of nutrients could completely kill your plants in only a few hours.

You need to know exactly what feed your plant requires, and then provide that. Too little will result in slow or weak growth or even death, and too much will equally kill your plants.

Finally, you also need to keep the water clean and of good quality, and make sure the temperature is kept steady. If the environment is not suitable for your plants, they will certainly not grow faster in a hydroponics system than they would in normal soil.

Is Hydroponics Cheaper Than Soil?

When it comes to growing food crops, either commercially or for your own pleasure at home, price is a big factor to consider. If growing your plants will cost significantly more than purchasing the food at a supermarket, many people are disinclined to do it – so is hydroponics cheaper than soil?

A hydroponic system is more expensive to set up than a soil-growing system. You need to buy equipment and install it, and the upfront costs can be high, although they are slowly decreasing as hydroponics becomes more popular.

However, the ongoing costs can be lower than with soil, especially when you take the efficiency and improved yields into account.

Why Are Hydroponic Systems Expensive?

Two things make a hydroponic system quite expensive, both in terms of setup and ongoing costs. We’ll look at setup first, and then ongoing costs.

why are hydroponic systems expensive

The Setup

The setup involves quite a lot of equipment. You will have to purchase tanks, pumps, and controls, and these things can cost hundreds of dollars for just a square foot of growing space. You need to understand what is needed, and purchasing kits can be very expensive.

This cost is falling as more people move toward hydroponics and the technology to create the systems gets cheaper, but it can still be prohibitive for many growers. Getting into hydroponics is pricey.

You also have to think about lighting; you’ll need equipment that’s appropriate for your space, high quality, and reliable. This can also add significantly to the cost of a system.

Lastly, your main problem is choosing a flow system that allows for rich nutrient solution, giving your plant’s roots the best chance of absorbing everything they need to grow fast. EBB and flow system and nutrient film technique are the two most popular.

The Costs

You then have to consider the ongoing costs and the maintenance of your system. You will need to repair and replace equipment as necessary, and you’ll need to consider the costs of your system in terms of electricity. If you have to heat the space you are using, this must also be factored into your cost assessment and budget going forward.

If you are capable of maintaining and making repairs yourself, you will pay less in terms of keeping equipment in good shape, but you should still include this cost in case you need to call in an expert.

However, despite the expense of hydroponics, many people believe it contains the key to sustainable farming in the future. For example, PSCI.Princeton lists ten reasons that hydroponics may be the future of farming. These include:

  • Sustainable and increased potential for growth in a smaller area mean the ability to feed a growing population
  • More land can be restored to its natural state, decreasing the impact of climate change and allowing wildlife to flourish as ecosystems restore themselves
  • Use of black water to decrease the strain on drinking water supplies
  • Ability to grow food in areas where the land is not suitable for farming and in urban environments
  • Reduced use of pesticides and chemical sprays
  • Breaking the cycle of traditional soil borne diseases that are spread through the soil year on year
  • Full control over nutrient solution and how much your plants will soak up

What Areas Will You Save Money In?

So, where is hydroponics economically attractive and viable? Let’s look deeper at electricity and maintenance costs:

what areas will you save money in

Hydroponics vs soil: What do you prefer?

Better space use

Hydroponic gardening can firstly save you money via space-saving. It makes use of vertical space, allowing you to grow more in far smaller areas.

This can save a lot of money when compared with traditional farming, which needs vast areas of land in order to successfully grow crops.

Did you know: Plants grown in soil need more space than hydroponic gardens, as they need to spread their roots through the soil to find nutrients. With hydroponics, the nutrients are given directly to the plant roots and thus a small root network is all a plant needs.

Reduced water consumption

Water can be an extremely expensive aspect of farming, and if you don’t have a reservoir or rainwater collection system in place, watering your plants can cost a lot of money. Soil does not hold water well, meaning that you lose the vast majority of your water back into the ground.

Watering your hydroponic plants needs significantly less water and a higher quality nutrient solution, because again, the water is delivered directly to the roots. Some methods, such as aeroponics, use very little water because they only mist the roots, rather than washing them with it.

This is what sparks the “hydroponics vs soil” debate, as water is the biggest worry.

Reduced weeding

A hydroponic system does not require you to weed your plants, and if you’re growing a lot of crops, this cuts a massive expense from your system.

You no longer need to worry about losing plants to weeds, and you don’t have weeds sapping away the nutrients that your plants need.

Faster growth

If you want to make the most of the growing season and maximize the crops you get from a space, hydroponics is the way forward. Hydroponic crops can grow up to fifty percent faster in some cases.

This means that you get a great deal more value from the space you own, with far more plants being ready to harvest in much shorter periods of time.

Whether you are growing crops commercially or just for your home, a doubled production is certainly worth the financial input and should pay great dividends.

Many experts believe this is due to the dense nutrient solution that a hydroponic garden uses.

Fewer pests

Anyone who has ever grown plants outdoors will know how quickly pests can decimate your entire food crop. You can lose everything in just days. Even if you aren’t that unlucky, pests can massively reduce your harvest.

With hydroponic gardening, pests are rarer. Insect pests can certainly still be a factor, but you won’t be faced by raccoons, pigeons, rabbits, squirrels, etc., trying to munch up your plants. You may also find that there are fewer insect pests to contend with, although they can spread quickly through a hydroponic system.

Is Hydroponics Better Than Soil?

Hydroponic gardening saves space, water, and time. You can grow healthier, fuller plants in less time without needing a green thumb.

Hydroponics is also great for those who dislike dealing with pests, weeds, and dirt. Yet, you also need to pay attention to a few extra challenges.

If you plan on using hydroponics to grow plants, you may need to invest a little more time and money. Hydroponics requires more equipment compared to soil gardening. You also need to closely monitor nutrient levels.

In the end, if you’re willing to take the time to test the nutrient mix each week and monitor the health of your plants, a hydroponics system is likely to work better compared to growing in soil.

Final Thoughts

Hydroponics systems are a great way to help your plants grow faster, and maximize the use of your space.

With the right food, access to water, the correct temperature and light levels, and fewer pests, your plants should do fantastically well and you will enjoy faster cropping and healthier plants.