Hydroponics vs Soil: 7 Reasons Hydroponics Wins

If you’re like me, you probably started out in your gardening hobby by growing in soil. I started out with some pepper, rhubarb chard and herb seedlings from the local garden store, threw them in some pots and watered them every few days.

Watching them grow over the months was an amazing introduction to the magic of growing my own veggies and herbs.

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However, I was hungry for more.

I stumbled upon hydroponics through a friend and became fascinated by growing plants without using soil. I was the kid in elementary school who spent his summers at science camps and got microscopes and crystal growing kits for his birthday, so it’s no surprise that as soon as I heard about hydroponics I wanted to give it a try.

After some experimentation, I was hooked. It became clear to me that growing hydroponically was vastly superior to using soil both for commercial growers and hobbyists like myself.

I put together this list for those of you who are thinking about jumping in to hydroponics from soil gardening. There’s a lot to learn!

1. Space Savings

Hydroponics saves an incredible amount of space compared to traditional soil gardening. Usually, a plant’s roots need space to spread out through the soil. Not anymore! Instead, they are submerged in a bath of oxygenated nutrient solution.

Hydroponics Saves Space
Vertical Stacking of Lettuce – Soil Can’t Do That!

Imagine if you had everything you needed to eat in a little pill.

You didn’t need to hunt around for food or eat three meals a day – you simply popped the pill and your body was dosed with a perfect supply of nutrients.

This is what hydroponics provides your plants. Instead of using soil as a carrier for the nutrients your plants need, hydroponics uses a customized nutrient solution to surround your plants with perfectly calibrated nutrition all of the time.

Because of this, you get to pack your plants closer together, resulting in a huge space savings!

2. Hydroponics Saves Water

Let’s think about how the average soil gardener waters their plants. Usually every few days they dump a good amount of water into their soil, ensuring good penetration into the soil so the roots can suck it up.

Sounds great, right?

Well, it’s only part of the picture.

Some of that water drips out of the bottom of their container or seeps further into the ground. Some of it evaporates out of the soil.

Only a small percentage of the water is used by the plant. Hydroponics solves this problem by using what is called a recirculating nutrient reservoir in most types of systems (Deep Water Culture being one of the most popular).

This means that a plant’s roots will only take up the amount of water they need at any one time and leave the rest in the reservoir for later. The reservoir is covered to prevent evaporation and no water can seep out of the bottom.

This allows the same amount of water that was used to water a plant in soil for a day to water a plant in a hydroponics setup for days or weeks at a time. You can save around 90% of the water used in soil gardening simply by switching to a hydroponic setup.

3. No Weeding Necessary

One of the most common excuses I hear when someone tells me why they don’t want to garden is:

I don’t want to spend all of my time on my hands and knees weeding!

Easy solution. Switch to hydroponics. No soil, no weeds. Simple as that.

4. Less Pests and Diseases

Hydroponic Pests
No Soil = No More of These Bad Boys

Following that same logic, pests and diseases are drastically reduced in hydroponics. Soil is taken out of the picture and replaced with one of the common hydroponic growing media. Eliminating soil also eliminates a lot of the different soil borne diseases and pests that plague traditional gardening.

5. Double-Headed Time Savings

This is my favorite reason of all. Not only does growing hydroponically save you the time of weeding, pest control and watering, it also speeds up the growth of the plant.

If you’re growing outdoors, that means you get to squeeze in more harvest cycles before your growing season ends.

You also get to observe the growth of plants at a quicker pace and learn about all of the different things you could do to improve the growth much quicker.

For example, you can take a head of lettuce from seedling to harvest in around a month in hydroponics compared to two months in soil. Imagine how much faster you could become a gardening expert with a time savings like that!

6. Gives You EXTREME Control

All of the reasons above combine to form one uber-powerful mega reason why hydroponics (and all soilless growing, for that matter) absolutely dominates soil gardening: control.

You become the master of your plant’s environment. It’s up to you to create the perfect nutrient mixture, temperature, humidity and growing schedule.

It’s kind of like that movie “The Truman Show.” You’re the showrunner, and your plants are Truman. You turn the sun on and off. You control when your plants get fed and what they eat. You’re fully responsible for their well-being. It’s a wonderful thing!

7. You Get To Become a Guerilla Scientist

Hydroponic Scientist
Run Your Own Mini-Lab With a Hydroponics System

All of the additional control you have over your growing environment makes for a great way to learn how to grow plants. You can tweak the variables and see how your plants react. You get to customize the “environmental recipe” to whatever plant you’re growing.

Believe me when I say that each plant is unique. Figuring out what adjustments you should make to your environment when you’re growing lettuce vs. basil is like solving a puzzle: you need to make the pieces fit together to produce a great final product.

That’s part of the fun of it! Hydroponics provides a miniature lab for you to conduct any experiment you can dream up.

What Are You Waiting For?

I’ve given you seven reasons why you should at the very least supplement your soil garden with a hydroponic system. You don’t have to start big. If you’re stuck for ideas, check out my hydroponic herb guide. It’ll walk you through a basic system that produces fresh herbs year round! You can also check out the best books for beginners to hydroponics.

Also, if you have any other reasons why hydroponics wins out over soil gardening, feel free to let me know in the comments!

Photo Credits (in order): Kanu Hawaii, photochem_pa, phil and pam

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20 thoughts on “Hydroponics vs Soil: 7 Reasons Hydroponics Wins

  1. i thought your article was cool ..very informative .and easy reading …i also have been sold on hydroponics for 20 years now and i love it …more nutrients in the food your eating …better taste …better looking vegatables … but must be organic ..

    • Thanks Jeff…I agree, the plants just taste better and look better. Organic is easily done with hydroponics, but I believe in “beyond organic” as organic still allows pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides – all things you can avoid with hydroponics!

  2. Okay, the plants are bigger with hydroponics so you conclude that hydroponics is better than soil for growing plants. The flaw in your reasoning is that you “know” exactly what to feed the plants. You might know how to make them grow faster and larger but what you don’t know whether the plants are just as nutritious as soil-grown plants. This is similar to the hubris of Big Agriculture providing plants with N-P-K but stripping the soil of micronutrients with every harvest. It is likely that plants get nutrients from the soil that you cannot replicate with your defined conditions.

    • Hey Gen,

      You bring up some good points here. There have been a number of studies analyzing the nutrient composition of hydroponically grown plants vs. organically grown in soil plants, and a lot of them have found that hydroponic plants are equivalent or better in nutrient density. I agree Big Ag has a lot of hubris, but I disagree that we are “just feeding them NPK” in hydroponics. There are a ton of micronutrients included in many nutrient solutions that give most plants everything they need to survive and thrive.

      • Oh hey, Kevin. Thanks for the info. I found your site during my research to understand whether hydroponics can produce not only large, beautiful plants, but also nutritious plants. Actually, I don’t mean to imply that hydroponics is as silly as N-P-K growing of plants. But really, what the heck do you feed the plants that can approximate soil? Fish emulsion? Compost tea? We don’t really understand soil at all–can we approximate its complexity with a defined media? Do we need to?

        Here is where I’m coming from: It is late August in the Northeastern US and my thought are turning to…winter. What the heck am I going to eat this winter without my garden?

        I can plant some lettuce seeds now in my garden, which is a raised bed with compost-supplemented soil. The lettuce will grow in Aug/Sept to edible size. Then I could try to protect them from the cold during winter and harvest them over the next several months. Protection consisting of hoops and plastic i.e. row covers? Build a greenhouse-like cover made of hoops and 6 mil plastic and put a heat sink in there?

        Or should I grow greens in the windowsills of my home, which I am kind of fond of heating in winter anyway? Here are the options:

        1. I can plant a WindowFarm Garden. This method was highlighted in a TED talk a while back. It is essentially a hydroponic method that uses hanging containers with nutrient solution dripping down and recirculating. But what to feed the plants?

        2. I can grow lettuce and other greens with traditional hydroponics? Again, what do I feed the plants?

        3. I can prepare some window boxes with compost-supplemented soil [1/3 vermiculite, 1/3 peat moss, 1/3 compost (combine multiple sources of compost to cover all nutritional bases)] and grow lettuce and other greens in my south-facing windows.

        4. Is there any hybrid method that takes advantage of the complexity of compost with the powerful growth potential of hydroponics? I don’t see this information anywhere. maybe I should do the experiment?

        • Hey Gen,

          Sorry for the late response – was on vacation!

          1. Window farms are a great beginner method, but I’m not a huge fan of their design. I would feed the plants on a window farm the General Hydroponics Flora 3 part series as it has all of the macro and micro nutrients that a plant needs.

          2. Same as above

          3. Sounds like you’re using Mel’s Mix there. I worked hands on with him for a year! More is better – why not add the window boxes and grow greens in them?

          4. If you want, you can feed your hydroponic systems compost tea and get some of the benefits of compost. The reason hydroponics is so fast is because plants don’t have to work to get the nutrients out of the soil, and they’re consistently watered (with adequate oxygen as well). I haven’t seen a soil method (yet) that can grow plants as quickly, so I can’t help you out there!

          Hope those answers help!

        • Hey, I’m kind of super late the party but hopefully it helps someone. Plants basically eat nitrogen and magnesium, among other ions. Soil is an inefficient delivery mechanism, not a more complex and rich one. It actually has a detrimental effect on the plant as a whole because the plan will stress trying to survive. You’ll find that you’ll get far better results in all respects.

  3. I wish the entire world would STOP destroying our water sources and convert to Hydroponics or Aeroponics.

    75% less water in many cases even more depending on what you are growing.

    This is the only world we have and we need to take care of the waste and destruction of this planet now before it is to late.

    Thank you Kevin for the incredible article and I shared this to my entire list of social media friends and family.

  4. I am very curious- is there a way to do hydroponics without using plastic? My main concern is the chemicals that are in plastic leaking into the nutrient supply

  5. Hi Kevin:

    Two questions,: One, in soil farming, organic growers make a distinction between organic nutrients, and chemicals such as ammonium nitrate, etc. Is there any such distinction in hydroponics?

    Two, what sort of results have you gotten growing high calorie vegetables such as squash, sweet or regular potatoes hydroponically. How about lima beans or other beans.?

    The thing is, if you want a survival garden, you can’t just have greens, peppers, etc. you need high caloric and protein crops.

    thank you.

    • Hey Douglas – you CAN grow organically in hydroponics, but it’s a bit more complex since most growers use a sterile (and synthetic) environment. To your 2nd question, I don’t find any root crops to be effective hydroponically…they’re much easier grown in soil. Beans could do quite well though, but I have limited experience with those. I would never recommend a 100% hydroponic garden if you’re going for a survival garden 🙂

  6. It has advantages but… there are just a lot of limitations too. And these reasons aren’t enough for it to “win” against soil.

    And since you are talking to gardeners… one thing hydroponics really fail is in aesthetics. It just looks really ugly. You might like its sciency aspect but it is a great turn off to most gardeners.

    Also, the complicated mumbo jumbo. Hydroponics is not intuitive. I’m a science lover but I just want to raise a garden not doing a science experiment. Guerilla Scientist? Uh! Please! I want to be a gardener.

    And it is really difficult to make those nutrient solutions. You can buy them, but make them yourself? Good luck with that. With hydroponics you’ll end up really dependent on stuff because it is impossible to make a hydroponic garden by your own.

    Really, in a lot of ways. Hydroponics is a loser.

  7. One of the reasons I’ve avoided gardening is because there isn’t much space for it. I never thought about using hydroponics. It sounds wonderful since you mentioned that it saves an incredible amount of space compared to traditional soil gardening.

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