Many cannabis growers, especially beginners, are confused about terminology and types of root media for growing marijuana. Today, we’re summarizing each type, and explaining its plusses and minuses.
Growing Marijuana in Soil
This is in some ways the easiest marijuana growing method, especially for outdoor growing, but it’s not the most precise and productive.
It’s hard to get high-quality commercial soil. Most soil sold in grow shops has something wrong in its components, aeration, on-board nutrients, and may also contain fungus gnats and other pests built in.
One big problem is it’s easy to overwater soil, and soil takes a long time to dry out.
High quality soil is almost as expensive now as other grow media, but can be reused. When used properly, it produces heavy, potent yields with less technical problems and work than other types of marijuana growing systems.
Growing Marijuana in Soilless Mix
This is similar to growing in soil with two big differences: soilless mix usually doesn’t come with a long-lasting set of embedded nutrition, and it isn’t soil, it’s a peat-based, engineered media.
Professional soilless mix has better water-holding, oxygenation, and porosity traits than soil, and gives the grower the ability to more totally control the feed program.
Soilless mix can be reused, but over time the peat becomes water repellant. It’s generally more free of pests and soil diseases than soil is. However, peat-based mixes are created using environmentally damaging practices.
Growing Marijuana In Rockwool or Coco Coir
Growing in a sterile, inert root zone media such as rockwool or coco coir is part of a large category of cannabis growing called hydroponic or hydroponics—words which indicate that the root zone doesn’t contain any nutrients except those delivered by nutrient-enriched water.
In this type of growing marijuana, growers have TOTAL control over the nutrients their plant get, and near total control over root zone pH. This helps growers push their plants to maximum growth rate and yield.
Professional coco coir such as sold by California Coco, and professional rockwool by Grodan, are precision-engineered to have the right drainage, porosity, and other factors ideal for cannabis roots.
Less expensive types of coco coir and rockwool have inferiority traits that can harm your marijuana plants.
Before you first use coco coir or rockwool, get educated about watering. It’s very different than watering soil or soilless mix.
Coco coir can be reused, but it’s hard if not impossible to reuse rockwool.
Hydroponics marijuana growing is a more fragile situation than soil or soilless mix, especially if you rely on pumps and timers that can be sabotaged by power outages.
It’s imperative that growers have excellent pH and EC/parts per million meters, as well as scientifically-engineered hydroponics nutrients.
We have articles about high-quality hydroponic nutrients and grow op meters.
Please read them, as most brands of meters and nutrients suck.
Growing Marijuana in Deep Water Culture, Aeroponics & Nutrient Film Technique
Deep water culture hydroponic marijuana growing root zones are buckets nearly filled with nutrients/oxygen-enriched reverse osmosis water.
There is no solid root zone media, only liquid. The roots hang in the liquid and get all their oxygen and nutrition from it.
In aeroponics, marijuana roots dangle in tubes where each plant’s roots are periodically sprayed/misted with nutrients-enriched water.
In Nutrients Film Technique (NFT), cannabis roots grow in tubes or troughs. The roots pull nutrients from a film of water that runs along the bottom of the tube or trough.
These hydroponics systems offer even more oxygenation/nutrition growth and yield enhancement than growing hydroponically in coco coir or rockwool.
However, they generally cost more on initial start-up and to run. They are harder to run, require precision meters, dosing, and hydroponic nutrients, and are susceptible/vulnerable to water-borne diseases, equipment failure, and electricity outages.
For example, unless a grower has a backup generator, an electricity outage of even a few hours can kill a pure hydro crop.
Which System is Best for Your Growing Marijuana Style?
I’ve seen growers fail terribly or succeed wildly with all these types of cannabis growing.
No matter if you grow in soil, coco coir, rockwool, or in pure hydroponics such as deep water culture, each system presents its own unique set of benefits and challenges.
That’s why I don’t tell growers that soil is always easier or better than hydro or vice versa, but a properly-tuned pure hydro system definitely outperforms every other marijuana growing system in terms of growth rate and yield.
A main consideration is how much money and time you want to spend growing marijuana.
Hydroponic systems, nutrients and meters cost more than soil growing, and require more time and expertise…unless you have the money to buy a fully automated hydroponics system that reduces your workload to almost nothing.
On the other hand, hydroponic growing, especially pure hydroponics including hydroponic cloning, can give you faster growth rate and bloom phase, heavier and more potent harvests, and more crop cycles per year compared to soil growing.
Before you choose to get into growing marijuana or if you already have a marijuana garden and want to explore different system options, talk to an honest grow shop and visit it if possible, or look at YouTube videos, to see the different system.
I’ve grown in all the systems described above, and for indoor marijuana growing, my best results and easiest grow ops have been hydroponic growing marijuana systems that are drip-irrigated, fed recirculated hydroponic nutrients, using Grodan rockwool slabs.
For those of you who prefer traditional root zone media, we recommend you look at Bio365 soils. We haven’t tested them yet but know professional growers who say Bio365 makes a wide range of the best amended soils available, much better than Fox Farm, Roots Organic, etc.
If you are passionate and serious about growing marijuana, I suggest trying each of these grow op types at least once. That way you will better know which type of marijuana growing is best for you.