Hydroponics offers several advantages over planting in soil. Plants grown hydroponically tend to grow faster. Yet, hydroponics also creates a few challenges.
In nature, plants obtain nutrients and hydration from the soil. Fertilizer is occasionally used to promote fuller growth but is not strictly required.
Hydroponic systems require the addition of liquid plant food to create nutrient-rich water. Using too much or too little impacts the health of the plants.
So, is hydroponics better than soil? Both methods of gardening come with pros and cons.
In the following comparison, we’ll look at some of the main benefits and concerns of hydroponics gardening and soil gardening.
You should also read: Best Hydroponics Growing System Out Right Now
Advantages of Hydroponics
Most of the advantages of hydroponics come from the fact that you grow plants without soil. Hydroponic growers can choose from a variety of hydroponic growing methods, including aeroponic, deep-water culture, and nutrient film technique (NFT). Yet, each growing method shares a few essential features.
A typical hydroponic garden includes some type of grow tray, a reservoir, a pump, and a grow light. The plants grow in net pots containing a soilless growing media, such as coco coir or perlite.
The plant roots extend below the pot into the cavity of the grow tray. Depending on the setup, the roots are either submerged in water or rest in the path of a stream of water.
The design of a hydroponic farm provides the following benefits:
- Saves space
- Conserves water
- Fewer pests
- No weeding
- Faster plant growth
These benefits tend to appeal to novice gardeners. You can enjoy faster plant growth with minimal effort. Here’s a closer look.
1. Hydroponics Saves Space and Water
Hydroponics requires less space compared to soil gardening. The lack of soil allows you to grow more plants.
Some hydroponics methods also make it easy to arrange vertical gardens. Vertical gardening involves stacking multiple grow trays or channels to accommodate more hydroponic plants.
With a soil garden, the roots of the plant need space to grow. A general rule is to use about one gallon of soil per one foot of plant height for soil-grown plants.
Did You Know? An efficient hydroponics garden uses up to 90% less water compared to standard soil gardening.
Keep in mind that the space-saving benefits of hydroponics depend on the number of plants that you grow. As hydroponics requires a reservoir, you may not save much space when growing one or two plants.
No matter the number of plants, a hydroponics system is likely to conserve water. Watering potted plants or an outdoor garden uses more water, as most of the liquid doesn’t reach the plant’s root.
Some of the water seeps further into the soil. A small amount of the water also evaporates. Any water not used by the plant goes away.
Hydroponic systems recycle the water. The water typically travels through a grow tray and into a water reservoir where it’s pumped back into the tray.
2. Weeds and Pests Are Not a Problem with Hydroponics
Pests and weeds are two of the most annoying aspects of growing plants in soil. Outdoor gardens tend to require frequent weeding throughout the warmer months.
Using a planter or a pot allows you to bring your plants indoors and avoid weeds. Yet, you still need to watch out for pests.
Most of the pests that gardeners deal with come from the soil. Getting rid of the soil helps keep critters away. Pests aren’t attracted to the soilless mix often used in a hydroponic greenhouse.
3. Plants Tend to Grow Faster with Hydroponics
The carefully controlled environments created with hydroponic growing methods help improve plant growth and yields.
Most hydroponic techniques offer increased oxygen levels compared to traditional farming. You can grow healthier, fuller plants thanks to the oxygen-rich setup.
Growing cannabis and other plants with shallow root systems tend to result in bigger yields. Cannabis plants can receive optimal levels of hydroponic nutrients, allowing for bigger harvests.
The roots also tend to grow denser, as they don’t need to press through compacted soil. A denser root system increases nutrient uptake, ensuring that your plants receive the fertilizer that you add to the water.
Disadvantages of Hydroponics
Hydroponic gardening includes a few disadvantages compared to soil gardening:
- Higher upfront costs
- Requires electricity
- Involves frequent monitoring
- It may not work with all plants
Most of the disadvantages of hydroponic crops are related to the hydroponic setup instead of the health of the plants. Increased costs, access to electricity, and the need for frequent monitoring have more of an impact on your time and money.
1. Hydroponic Systems Cost More to Set up
Traditional soil farming is inexpensive. Depending on the condition of the soil, you may not need to buy anything other than seeds. Growing a potted plant simply requires fresh soil and a pot.
Hydroponics gardening is more expensive. You can either purchase a hydroponics system or build one from scratch. Both options require you to spend money.
2. Hydroponics Gardening Requires Electricity
Hydroponics vegetables require the use of grow lights and pumps, requiring electricity. While a small hydroponics kit may not cost much in electricity use, you still need to find an available wall outlet.
Power outages also become a risk. If the power goes out, your system stops working. A few days without nutrients may permanently damage your plants.
3. Hydroponic Farming Involves Frequent Monitoring
Hydroponic gardening is efficient and typically requires less maintenance compared to traditional soil gardening. You don’t need to weed the garden or deal with common pests. However, you still need to closely monitor the health of your plants.
Hydroponically grown plants are more susceptible to waterborne diseases and problems, including fungal infections, mold growth, and algae growth.
Plants are also quickly affected by disease and inadequate growing conditions. If you don’t quickly treat the problem, your plants may not last long.
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.
Further reading: Is Hydroponics Cheaper Than Soil?