Soil vs Hydroponics

Soil Or Hydroponics?

Soil is the mineral and organic material found on the surface of the Earth which is a natural growing medium for plants.

Marijuana prefers rich, slightly acidic, high-quality soil that drains well. Many growers supplement their soil with perlite for added drainage. Soil growers also almost always add either liquid nutrients or nutrient-rich materials such as manure, earthworm castings, or seabird/bat guano to make sure the marijuana plants get everything they need.

Organic potting soils often work well for growing marijuana when mixed with perlite. Fox Farm Ocean Forest is a popular soil choice among marijuana growers. Regardless of the soil you start with, most growers will need to supplement with nutrients for the best results.

Popular Cannabis Soil Choice: Ocean Forest Mixed with About 20% Perlite

Get Fox Farms Ocean Forest for growing marijuana on! Get Organic perlite for mixing up marijuana soil on!

Plants naturally absorb nutrients from soil, though especially in the flowering stage, it’s up to you to provide just the right amount (not too much) of the right kind of nutrients to maximize your yields and prevent nutrient deficiencies.

If you start with rich soil like Fox Farms Ocean Forest, you won’t need to add any extra nutrients for at least the first few weeks of growth, but by the time your plant gets to the flowering/budding phase, it’s very important you add additional nutrients to support bud growth (since your plant will have already used a lot of the nutrients in the soil.

Hydro for Growing Cannabis

Hydroponics refers to growing plants in pretty much anything besides soil, including growing mediums like coco coir, sand, gravel, straight water, or even misted air.

When growing marijuana hydroponically, as the grower it’s up to you to provide all the nutrients your plants need throughout the entire grow. This is done by adding nutrients to their water supply.

The benefit to this is that you can accurately provide the right amount of exactly the right kind of nutrients your marijuana plants want, to maximize your yields.

Common growing mediums for hydroponics (often mixed together):

  • Grown directly in water
  • Growers often use Hydroton (clay pebbles) to anchor the roots in a hydro system
  • Coco coir (coconut shell husks)
  • Vermiculite
  • Perlite
  • Peat Moss
  • Soilless Potting Mix

Growing Weed in Soil Pros & Cons


  • Many growers claim soil-grown marijuana tastes better
  • Soil can be more forgiving for the inattentive grower since it already contains some amount of nutrients in the soil
  • If you’ve grown anything in soil before, growing cannabis in soil probably seems easier than some types of hydroponic growing


  • Marijuana tends to grow slower in soil than in hydroponics in the vegetative stage
  • Soil usually returns lower yields compared to hydroponically grown marijuana (when given the same time, lights, and environment)

Popular Cannabis Soil Choice: Ocean Forest Mixed with About 20% Perlite

Get Fox Farms Ocean Forest for growing marijuana on! Get Organic perlite for mixing up marijuana soil on!

Growing Hydroponic Weed Pros & Cons


  • Total control over nutrient levels
  • Faster harvest (you can shave up to 2 weeks off the vegetative stage)
  • Less likely to suffer from weeds, soil-born diseases or pests
  • Growing in a soilless growing medium like coco coir is almost exactly the same work as growing in soil, yet you get nearly all the benefits of hydro
  • Techniques like bubbleponics and DWC give growers the ability to pretty much automate their grow, so it takes a few minutes a week to maintain
  • Can correct problems much more quickly in hydro


  • Some growers claim hydro grown weed doesn’t taste as good, though many growers agree that taste has more to do with your nutrients and flushing methods than purely hydro vs soil
  • Plants are quicker to show signs of problems
  • Some hydro methods are overly complicated and not beginner friendly
  • No natural nutrients so you have to supplement nutrients, which can be as simple as a nutrient system like Dyna-Gro (Grow + Bloom) and as complicated as a full cannabis nutrient system.

 Biggest Differences Between Growing Marijuana in Soil vs Hydro


Generally hydroponic and soil-grown cannabis need slightly different nutrients, but there is one nutrient system that works for cannabis in all growing mediums, including soil, coco and hydro. If you’re not sure what to get, it may be worth a try.
Optimum pH for Nutrient Absorption

Soil pH: 6.0-7.0
Hydro pH: 5.5-6.5

Even if you’re growing in a potting mix, if it doesn’t say “soil” you will need to adjust the pH for hydro levels. So if your bag says “Coco Coir” then use the pH for Hydro. We recently received this question where a reader was growing marijuana in a mix of vermiculite and perlite. Because this seems soil-like, he was adjusting the pH levels as if he were growing in soil.

It’s important to note that growing hydroponically means growing in basically anything besides soil, even if it resembles soil. Question: I’m growing 3 White Widow plants in soil with High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights using cannabis-specific nutrients. The soil is made up of 75% Perlite 25% Vermiculite and I’m adjusting the pH to 5.5 – 5.9. All my plants seem to be having this problem. Any idea why? Thank you in advance.

Click sick marijuana leaf for closeup

 Magnesium deficiency, but considering your nutrients have plenty of magnesium, and what you said about your pH. I think this is really a pH problem.

Using Perlite and Vermiculite is still technically considered hydroponic (not soil), so you’ll need to use a hydroponic pH range (5.5 – 6.5). Magnesium and Calcium especially tend to get locked out when the pH near the roots drops below 6.0. If you adjust the pH to the proper levels, this problem should clear right up.

Also make sure you’re testing the pH of the runoff water that comes out the bottom of your pot. This will give you a clue if there’s something going on at the roots that is dramatically changing your pH. Good luck!
Hydro and Soil Grown Marijuana Usually Need Different Nutrients As a general rule, you will need to get nutrients specifically made for soil or hydro. This is because soil provides some nutrients, while in hydro you must provide all the nutrients. Dyna-Gro is a noted and well-loved exception that works great for growing marijuana in soil or hydroponically. Just follow their instructions at half strength. Use “Grow” or “Foliage Pro” for the first part of the plant’s life and then switch to “Bloom” after you see the first flowers growing.

Get Foliage Pro nutrients by Dyna-Gro on, perfect for growing cannabis in soil, coco or hydro!Dyna-Gro "Bloom" is a proven cannabis nutrient option for the flowering stage - get your bottle on!

There Are So Many Different Hydroponic Methods, It’s Hard to Generalize

Each hydroponic grow method has its own pros and cons, and they’re so different from each other it’s hard to truly compare “hydro vs soil.”

Some hydro growers use bubbleponics of Deep Water Culture (DWC) which means they’re growing with their plant roots directly in water.

Other hydroponic growers grow in soilless potting mixes or coco coir, which in practice is extremely similar to growing in soil besides the nutrients and optimum pH.