What should beginners know about soil vs. hydroponic systems?

A cannabis plant grown in soil and a cannabis plant grown in hydroponic system

Many patients who benefit from medicinal cannabis may enjoy growing their own medicine. However, once the right strain has been chosen, the following issue arises: in which medium should the cannabis seeds be planted? This article covers the basics of the division between pure, natural soil and hydroponic systems.

Are you are interested in cultivating your own medicinal cannabis because it’s difficult to come by otherwise, you don’t feel comfortable buying your medicine from a dealer, or because the quality of the cannabis available on the streets leaves a lot to be desired?

For many patients who benefit from medicinal cannabis, these are familiar problems and growing their own cannabis can offer a good alternative. However, once the right strain has been chosen, the following issue arises: in which medium should the cannabis seeds be planted? This article covers the basics of the division between pure, natural soil and hydroponic systems.

Growing cannabis seeds in soil

The growing medium is what the plants are grown in. The most natural medium is soil and it’s what Mother Nature herself uses. When choosing soil, growers can opt to cultivate their plants in open soil or in pots. In open soil, root systems are given free range and the plants can become very large, meaning a higher yield. However, it’s practically impossible to control the growth process. Growth is easier to control in pots and the larger the pot, the larger the plant will become. Pots can also be moved, which could be useful in the event of ongoing bad weather, or if larger plants are stealing sunlight from smaller plants.

Small cannabis plants grown in pots
Medicinal Cannabis. Marijuana Leaves on Top of Plants

Soil is composed of minerals, organic material, water and air. In fact, it is an organic waste product, which is why it is so nutritious. Good soil contains everything that cannabis plants require, although growers should be sure to purchase pH-neutral potting soil. Fertilized potting soil contains too many additives, making it too acidic for cannabis plants, which require a degree of acidity of between 5.5 and 6.5. Within this margin, the plants’ roots are best able to absorb nutrients from the soil. There are also soil mixes available that have been specially composed for cannabis. They contain the right nutrients and the soil is lighter, which ensures that the roots receive sufficient oxygen.

Soil is the perfect medium for novice growers, because it is complete. It has everything the plants will need, particularly in the initial phases, and it can act as a buffer, meaning that an error, such as providing too much feed, won’t immediately affect the plant. It’s cheap, too.

That said, soil does have its disadvantages. Soil is heavy and it is hard to determine the amount of moisture it already holds, which means that overwatering is a danger. Soil could also be too dense (or could become too dense), preventing sufficient oxygen from reaching the roots. For this reason, growers should never press down their soil. If needed, soil can be made lighter by mixing it with perlite, vermiculite or expanded clay. Because soil is a natural product, it will attract vermin, but the most significant disadvantage of soil is that its pH value is difficult to determine and correct where needed.


Hydroponics entails growing plants in an artificial medium that itself contains no nutrients. This medium – and therefore the plants, too – receives its nutrients directly from water, to which the nutrients have been added. The nutritional value of the medium is zero; its primary use is to provide stability and protection. Some systems can provide an amount of buffering, but it is generally the water that feeds the plants. A wide range of hydro systems exist, but clay pellets and rockwool are the most well-known.

A person transplanting small cannabis plant in rockwool cube
Cannabis Cultivator Transplanting Baby Marijuana Plant in Rockwool Cube

The most significant advantage offered by hydroponic systems is that they provide maximum control over the amount of feed plants receive, as well as the above-mentioned, and essential, pH value. By striking an optimum balance between these two factors, plants are given ideal nutritional conditions, which highly benefits their yield. Additionally, most hydro systems are inexpensive, in part because they can be reused, and they weigh very little.

While this all sounds fantastic, there are of course disadvantages to hydroponics. First and foremost, hydroponic systems require more knowledge than soil cultivation does. There is no room for error when determining the correct amount of feed to give the plants and because the roots absorb nutrients directly, a mistake will have immediate results. The pH value is easy to monitor, but can also fluctuate easily. As such, the pH must be checked very regularly. Hydroponic systems can only be set up inside, meaning that leaks could have drastic consequences. Furthermore, the water may not be directly exposed to light, as it breaks down the nutrients and increases the risk of algae growth.

Coconut: a happy medium

Coconut is an increasingly popular medium that, as far as its characteristics and the required knowledge is concerned, is a combination of soil and conventional hydroponic mediums. Like soil, coconut is organic and it has a similar structure but is much more airy, which provides a good balance between oxygen and water. Roots love this, with a high yield as a result.

Coco peat for gardening and a garden trowel
Coco peat for gardening. Coco peat is growing medium made out of coconut husk.

Coconut doesn’t weigh much, and it is absorbent and acts like a buffer just as soil does, which makes it a forgiving medium. Coconut retains moisture well and its pH value is more stable than that of other hydroponic substrates. It can also be employed indoors, in the form of mats, or outdoors, as potting soil. However, coconut is also practically devoid of nutrition and growers will be required to follow a feeding schedule.

This basic information is enough to give novice growers an idea of what their options are, as well as the advantages and disadvantages to look out for.

  • Disclaimer:
    Laws and regulations regarding cannabis cultivation differ from country to country. Sensi Seeds therefore strongly advises you to check your local laws and regulations. Do not act in conflict with the law.


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    Sensi Seeds

    The Sensi Seeds Editorial team has been built throughout our more than 30 years of existence. Our writers and editors include botanists, medical and legal experts as well as renown activists the world over including Lester Grinspoon, Micha Knodt, Robert Connell Clarke, Maurice Veldman, Sebastian Maríncolo, James Burton and Seshata.
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