A beginner's guide to hydroponic growing

As a cannabis cultivator, you have an array of choices when it comes to growing your own herb at home — outdoor, indoor, and greenhouse cultivation, to name a few. But what about hydroponic growing mediums? Could this futuristic-sounding, soil-free method be the right solution for you? In this beginner's guide to weed hydroponics, you'll learn everything you need to know to start your own hydroponic garden at home.

What is hydroponic growing?

Hydroponic growing is a horticultural method for growing crops, including cannabis, without the use of soil. In place of soil, growers use a mineral nutrient solution in a water-based solvent. Occasionally, growers may also use clay pebbles and sand.

cannabis hydroponic growing
Hydroponic growing is a horticultural method for growing crops, including cannabis, without the use of soil.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

How does hydroponic growing work?

A good water-based nutrient solution forms the basis of all hydroponic systems. Like other growing mediums, hydroponics requires the other building blocks of ample light, air, and space.

Is growing hydroponic easy?

While a soil-based garden may be easier to start, hydroponics facilitate easier nourishing of cannabis plants over time. Nutrient solutions allow for more precise dosing and direct feeding of the plants in a hydroponic grow system. The roots of the plant directly absorb the administered nutrients, often making growth an easier and more efficient process. Plus, once you've set up the hydro system reservoir, there's not much maintenance to worry about.

Do hydroponic plants grow faster than soil-based plants?

A hydroponic garden may exhibit a growth rate that is between 30% and 50% faster than that of a soil plant. The combination of nutrients, water, and oxygen in the roots are responsible for this faster rate of growth in hydroponic systems.

What are the benefits of hydroponic growing?

Besides the two most obvious benefits of a hydroponic garden (easier nutrient delivery and faster growth rate), there are several other advantages for cannabis cultivators to consider.

cannabis hydroponic growing
Some benefits of hydroponic growing are easier nutrient delivery, faster growth rate, water conservation, space saving, and year-round growing.
Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

Water conservation: In rain-deprived places like California, water conservation is crucial. A hydroponics system may use 20 times less water than traditional soil cultivation. Water in this type of growing medium can be reused, meaning that none goes to waste.

Space saving: A hydroponics system is a major space saver that may require 20% less room than soil cultivation.

Clean and green: There's no need for pesticides in the sterile environment of a hydroponic garden, so you can go green and organic when raising cannabis plants.

Year-round growing: Hydroponics systems can thrive in a variety of environments, but an indoor garden is especially desirable as you can grow your cannabis plants year round.

Potency: Once you harvest the buds, there's a good chance they'll be more potent than if you had grown them in soil. Some dispensaries even charge a premium for buds grown in hydroponic systems.

As many benefits as hydroponic systems offer, the growing medium also comes with some potential disadvantages.

What are the drawbacks of hydroponic systems?

It can be time-consuming and expensive for those setting up hydroponic systems for the first time. There are two other main drawbacks to consider before trying this growing medium.

Monitoring: Part of the time investment involves near-constant monitoring of the garden to ensure the health of the plants. If one cannabis plant in a hydroponics system becomes diseased, the entire crop may fail and die. Damaging microorganisms also thrive in wet environments and could threaten the health of the plants before harvest time.

Technology: Hydroponics is a good method for the tech-savvy cultivator who understands that a power outage can spell disaster. Even if the system runs on a back-up generator, an extended outage could leave you watering your garden and administering plant food by hand. 

If the pros of hydroponics outweigh the cons, you may be ready to try your hand at employing this growing medium in your home.

How do you grow hydroponics at home?

A dedicated space indoors is the best location to grow hydroponics at home. In addition to the hydroponics system, you can furnish your garden with supplemental grow lights to maximize the health and volume of the cannabis harvest.

For outdoor growing at home, a sunlit patio or deck make ideal locations. But if you live in a cold climate, it would be better to keep your hydroponic cannabis garden inside. Otherwise, the plants will be subjected to the elements and vital water could evaporate if you do not consistently monitor nutrient solution levels.

Before you get started, you'll need to gather the following supplies:

  • Hydroponics starter kit
  • Oscillating fan for ventilation
  • Carbon filter
  • Grow tent
  • Hangers for grow lights
  • Cannabis seeds with the strain of your choice

Once you've gathered those basic supplies, here are some quick steps to take to get your hydro system started at home:

  1. Assemble the hydroponics system. Each system will be slightly different, but you can expect a starter kit to include a water tank, water pump (often part of a timed circulation system), LED grow lights, and a nutrient solution. Starter kits can be purchased online for less than $100.
  2. Combine the nutrients and water in the tank or reservoir. Start up the pump and wait about 30 minutes for the nutrients and water to blend. Add beneficial bacteria and keep an eye on pH levels. Between 5.5 and 6.5 is the sweet spot for hydroponic gardens. 
  3. Plant the germinated seeds and monitor progress through the seedling stage, which lasts about 3 or 4 weeks. 
  4. As plants move into the vegetative stage and flowering stage, you may choose to make a few adjustments. For example, during the flowering stage you may opt to try the cultivator's strategy of defoliation to accelerate healthy growth. Nutrient levels should also be lowered during this phase as harvest approaches.

Bottom line

A hydroponic garden requires an initial investment of time and money but can be an excellent way to grow cannabis quickly and with minimal waste of resources.

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The information contained in this site is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical or legal advice. This page was last updated on November 17, 2020.