INTRO: Growing plants hydroponically sounds extremely advanced compared to the tried and true method of planting a seed in some dirt, watering it, and hoping for the best.
However, humans have been growing plants hydroponically for over 2000 years. If you have a cutting of ivy, or a succulent propagating in a glass of water, you are already nailing the concept of hydroponic gardening.
Continue reading to discover everything you need to know about what it means to grow cannabis hydroponically and how to achieve optimal growth.
What is Hydroponic Marijuana?
“Hydro” comes from the Greek word meaning water. Thus, hydroponics is essentially the practice of growing plants without soil, by using water instead.
So what is hydroponic cannabis? You guessed it, hydroponic cannabis is cannabis that is grown in water, or soil-substitutes, as opposed to soil. Many of the nutrients that are needed to grow a healthy plant like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, can be given to the plant via water solution.
Cannabis plants will need more than just water to get all of the nutrients (or, “nutes”) that they need to thrive. There will come a moment when you will decide to either buy a pre-mixed nutrient solution or mix your own. Either way, this solution is the key to giving your plants all that they need without the element of soil.
No matter where you decide to grow your plants, be sure that they are in a clean and totally sterile environment because otherwise, they will absorb dust, pests, and bacteria. No one has time for that.
There are many styles of hydroponic growth, but these methods have specifically been vetted for growing cannabis:
Stonewool Drain-to-Waste (DTW)
“Stonewool” is a finely-spun volcanic rock that looks a bit like steel wool and comes in rectangles. Also known as “rock wool”, stonewool must be soaked before use due to its extremely high pH balance.
A single, sprouting cannabis seedling gets planted in the center of a little rectangle and placed under grow lights. The rock wool is excellent because it holds water well, while also allowing air to circulate.
You will want to invest in an automatic water pump because these babies will need to be watered several times a day. Unless you are solely dedicating your precious time to your plants, it can be easy to forget your watering schedule.
There’s nothing worse than investing in a new grow system only to accidentally water incorrectly, or destroy the plant without meaning to by messing up the nutrient mix.
Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)
This method is done by placing the sprouted cannabis in rock wool and then placing the rock wool in a gutter, or a half of a PVC pipe that is angled downward. Using a water pump, water goes down the angle, constantly grazing the roots.
The water collects into a reservoir where it is then pumped back up to the top and redistributed among the plants.
The roots are always getting a little bit of water with this method, but be sure to keep an eye on the system so that none of the roots are submerged. This could lead to rot or mildew, and thus an unhappy plant.
Deep Water Culture (DWC)
DWC is done with a big plastic bucket and lid. Cut a hole in the top of the lid, and fill the bucket with water. Let your plant’s roots dangle just over the surface. Then, place an air pump into the water.
The success of this method is based on the fact that cannabis roots love oxygen. The air pump blows bubbles into the water that then burst at the surface. These bursting bubbles feed the roots.
The bucket of water needs to be changed once a week. Expect rapid and enormous growth, so make sure to keep an eye on your plant babies.
This system consumes the least amount of water but is a little more advanced.
Rather than starting your cannabis clones off in individual planters, aeroponics is a way to develop a healthy root system by growing the clones all at once using a large board that suspends the roots in the air and sprays them with nutrients.
To do it properly you must seal the roots of your marijuana plant in a pipe or a closed air container. Then pump nutrient-rich air into the vessel all day and all night.
Hydroponic Marijuana vs Old Fashioned Outdoor Growing
We humans have come a long way regarding specialty cannabis farming. It is possible to grow potent cannabis plants outside, but they need to be heavily fertilized once they flower in order to achieve those big buds we know and love.
One thing that good old-fashioned-grown-from-the-ground cannabis has going for it is that the taste of a plant that comes from the ground is usually more delicious and flavorful due to the terroir. Plants soak up the place that they grow, which is what makes things like high-end wine so special.
Another benefit of letting the plants do their thing in the ground is that you as the gardener don’t have to worry so much about the water level being thrown off. If you are the type of person who doesn’t like to do a lot of hands-on gardening, then you may not enjoy the tedium of hydroponic growing.
Hydroponic growing can also get very expensive, quickly. Between the water pumps, the pH testing, and the grow lights, it’s possible to spend a ton of cash trying to do it right.
If you are a hobbyist looking to get good at growing for the heck of it, you may want to look into some of the more inexpensive hydroponic growth methods, like Deep Water Culture, or Drain to Waste mentioned above.
Benefits of Hydroponic Marijuana
Because there isn’t a need for soil, more cannabis plants can grow in the same amount of space.
There are also fewer chances for pests or fungus to grow in the plant’s root system since the soil has been taken out of the equation. Pests and fungi have many places to thrive in soil.
Hydroponic cannabis is also good for eco-friendly folks who are trying to be mindful of water waste. Since the system is so exact, there isn’t much concern for overwatering, which is great for the environment.
Growing cannabis hydroponically is a bit like having a pet, except there’s a lot less dirt on the floor.
Unless you are starting a whole new grow operation there’s no reason to rush into the most intense hydroponic method. Be sure to choose one that is good for you, your space, and your budget.
If you aren’t ready yet to try out your green thumb, you can always stop by any of our JARS locations to satisfy your flower needs. Be part of the cannabis conversation and head to our socials at @jars_life for updated tips, tricks and to be the first to hear about events.