INDUSTRY

Hydroponic Weed: Pros, Cons, Methods, and More

How does hydroponic cannabis compare to soil-grown cannabis?
How does hydroponic cannabis compare to soil-grown cannabis?

Growing your own cannabis is truly a labor of love, and hydroponic weed has become one of the most popular methods for indoor growers all over the world. 

Whether you reside in a state where growing your own plants is legal or you have to keep things on the extreme down low, growing weed hydroponically might help your operation thrive. 

What Is Hydroponic Weed?

Hydroponic cannabis refers to a method used to grow plants, which involves a soilless yet nutrient-rich operation. Instead of soil, growers utilize mediums such as sand, gravel, or water with added nutrients – the most common approach for hydroponic cultivators. 

Hydroponics are considered to be one of the most efficient ways to cultivate, especially for indoor growing. 

Because of the extra attention on nutrient and oxygen uptake, hydroponic systems offer growers more control over the cultivation process. They’re also less likely to attract pests (resulting in no need for pesticides), and they tend to help plants mature faster.

If you’re a grower who has the time and patience to go all in on the progress of your plants, growing hydroponic weed could be a great option for you. However, if you prefer a more hands-off approach, have a limited budget, are new to growing, or just have a major old-fashioned green thumb, then you may prefer growing with soil. 

Luckily, we’ve done the research for you, breaking down the pros and cons of growing weed hydroponically so you can figure out which method is calling your name the loudest. 

The Pros of Growing Hydroponic Cannabis

Before we dive into the potentially complex mechanics of this type of operation, let’s discuss the pros of growing your weed hydroponically versus using soil.

  • Your plants tend to yield higher amounts of output from smaller growth areas due to the closer control of the process.
  • Hydroponic weed may also result in better quality plants, for the same reason.
  • You may have more of a chance to salvage weaker, at-risk plants by paying close attention to their feeding regime and nutrient diet.
  • Growing weed hydroponically allows you to avoid pesticides completely – no soil means no risk of soil-borne pests.
  • Hydroponic cannabis matures much faster, allowing you to harvest up to six times per year.
  • As long as you make sure to monitor efficiently, a hydroponic system for weed has less of a chance of being affected by water stress.
  • Hydroponic weed allows you to take up less space, which is ideal for anyone with limited growing room, or anyone trying to keep their operation under wraps. 

The Cons of Growing Hydroponic Weed

Just as there are a fair amount of cons that go along with growing your cannabis the old-fashioned way, hydroponic grow operations also come with a few negatives that may be off-putting, depending on your needs and expectations.

Here are some of the most common cons that growers have come across when growing with hydroponics:

  • A hydroponic system for weed can be quite expensive, especially the more thorough you decide to be about things. If you’re growing wholesale cannabis for the adult-use market, or specifically just for personal use, you may not find the hydroponic route worth it for your needs.
  • In order to reap success from growing weed hydroponically, you must first have a thorough knowledge of the technicality that goes into it. Again, for recreational/personal use growers, this may not be worth it to you.
  • While hydroponic growing does protect your plants from pests, pesticides, and water stress, water-borne diseases are actually more likely to occur in hydroponic systems. And when they do, it can be quite destructive and nearly impossible to corral. 
  • If your system relies on electricity and/or timers, you run the risk of things being destroyed with a power outage. 

Different Types of Hydroponic Systems for Weed

Now that you’re aware of some of the major pros and cons of growing hydroponic weed, you probably already have a good idea whether or not this method will work for you. And if a hydroponic system sounds like the right path, there are quite a few different ways to approach it as a grower.

One of the most important things to keep in mind is the difference between active and passive hydroponic methods. 

Passive methods will use a “medium,” a.k.a. a soil substitute that holds the nutrients, water, and oxygen required for your roots to thrive. Popular mediums include rockwool, expanded clay, perlite, or vermiculite. 

Alternatively, active methods involve a little more attention. In these cases, the grower will actively apply the nutrients to the plant, resulting in a more hands-on, tailored approach for the plants’ needs. 

Either method requires you to use a combination of the following nutrients and minerals:

  • Copper
  • Phosphorus
  • Magnesium
  • Potassium
  • Nitrogen
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Calcium
  • Chlorine
  • Boron
  • Manganese

As long as you have these key nutrients (and without overusing them), you’re free to get a little creative with your specific approach. Here are some of the most common hydroponic systems yielded by growers around the world:

#1) Drip System

Utilized by most hydro growers, a drip system is one of the most common ways to grow your plants without soil. In this system, the nutrients are designed to “drip” into the top of the pot, using a tube or something similar. 

Your plant’s roots will also receive timer-controlled nutrients, as well as any excess nutrients that weren’t initially absorbed by the plant. This system requires a lot of attention, as the nutrient strength levels and shifts in pH levels need to be checked frequently. 

#2) Deep Water Culture

This system is known as one of the simplest in the hydroponic cannabis world. Common among beginners or cost-wary cultivators, a deep water culture system calls for each plant to be placed in a separate pot. 

The pots are then placed in a tray and submerged in water. Nutrients will be added to the water, which is kept oxygenated with air pumps. 

Something to keep in mind with this system is dry time: you’ll have to make sure your roots aren’t constantly submerged in water and have proper access to the oxygen. 

#3) Wick System

This is another beginner-friendly system that requires no moving parts and is easy to set up. Your plants will receive nutrients through a wick made of cotton or yarn. This method is recommended for smaller plants, as larger plants might use up the nutrients faster than they can be supplied. 

This system is simple, but not very efficient, especially if you’re planning to run a large grow operation. A wick system is more ideal for a low-maintenance, personal-use grower who isn’t meeting any retail demands. 

#4) Ebb and Flow System

Ebb and flow systems are also somewhat straightforward for cultivators. These hydroponic systems operate by flooding the grow tray with essential nutrients, which then drain back into a reservoir.

Using a timer, a submerged pump will ensure the roots soak up nutrients and oxygen throughout the day. 

Although the system is quite simple, it’s also prone to power outages, timer failures, or pump failures, which is definitely something to keep in mind if your operation has high stakes to succeed.

#5) Nutrient Film Technique

The Nutrient Film Technique system is definitely for the grower with more experience, and a technical understanding of hydroponic operations. 

Using a medium, preferably rockwool, this method allows plants to enjoy a constant flow of nutrients that are pumped into the grow tray and back into a reservoir, similar to the ebb and flow system. 

However, this operation leaves your plants’ roots at risk for drying out too fast if you don’t take extra precautions to protect them from light. 

Between this, the need to constantly check temperatures and oxygen levels, and the risk of a power outage ruining everything, the NFT method is only recommended for more experienced growers who are dedicated to a fully hands-on operation. 

Hydroponic Weed: Tips And Tricks For Success 

There are quite a few different ways to make growing hydroponic weed work for you, whether you’re a long-time cultivator, a complete beginner, or somewhere in the middle. But before you embark on your new cannabis journey, make sure to keep some of these tips in mind for ultimate success.

  • Keep your equipment sterile. This cannot be overstated enough – it’s essential for your hydroponic system to be completely sterile in order to prevent the growth and spread of bacteria. Keep your plants protected from those water-borne diseases that are more likely to run rampant in hydro grows. 
  • Keep a close eye on water pH. Maintaining the recommended pH levels for your hydro grow system is also key to your plants’ success. A slightly acidic pH will help promote the growth of beneficial fungi, which is great for weed.
  • Keep just as close an eye on temperature and oxygen levels. The two go hand in hand: good airflow promotes healthy temperature levels, both of which are essential for healthy cannabis plants.
  • Make sure the right humidity levels are maintained. This can be tricky, but it’s so important for indoor operations to thrive. You’ll begin with a relatively high humidity, dialing it down as plants progress. 
  • Make sure your light setup is working for you (and your plants). Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here, but proper lighting is so important for plant growth. Assess your situation (room size, temperature, natural light exposure, plant size, etc.) and adjust from there.

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