Everything you need to know about growing cannabis at home

Choosing the Best Medium for Growing Cannabis at Home

by | Mar 28, 2022 | Cannabis, Getting Started

Growing cannabis is a highly subjective undertaking. Some people prefer to grow in soil, while others prefer soilless mediums like hydroponics or coco coir. There are different advantages and disadvantages of each medium when it comes to growing cannabis plants. The best thing for you will depend on your personal preferences, the types of systems that are available in your area, and how much time you have to spend caring for your plants. In this article, we explore the different options so that you can make an informed decision about what is best for you.

What are the most popular mediums for growing cannabis?

When it comes to growing cannabis, there are three popular mediums that most indoor growers utilize in their grow space. These mediums are soil or compost, coco coir, and hydroponic systems. There are various methods of growing with each medium, for example, no-till growing for soil or compost and deep water culture for hydro, but we will focus on each medium as a whole. You may wonder which medium is best for you as each has its own advantages and disadvantages and with this article, we hope to answer those questions for you. Continue reading for a breakdown of each medium below.

What is the soil used for growing cannabis?

The most popular choice of medium for growing cannabis is soil. This method of growing cannabis with soil has been used by growers since the beginning of time. For traditional cannabis growing, it is still the most popular and reliable medium because of its simplicity. However, there are different methods to soil or compost growing such as organic (no chemicals), organics (with a few synthetic fertilizers and additives), and no-till although all use the same mediums. Soil is a natural material that contains minerals and organic matter and it can be used to grow plants directly or it can be amended with different materials to create give the plants nutrients. Most soil used for growing cannabis is store-bought although there are companies that allow you to build your own soil mix by adding your own amendments, which are additional nutrients.

What is compost for growing cannabis?

Compost is made of organic matter that has been broken down by bacteria, fungi, and other organisms such as worms. Compost is often added to soil as an amendment to increase the organic matter content, water retention, and fertility. Compost is different than soil or potting mix because it can be made from any organic material, not just plant matter. The main components of compost are carbon-rich materials such as leaves or grass clippings, and nitrogen-rich materials such as food scraps. When composting cannabis waste such as the roots, stems, leaves that fall off, and trimmings, it is important to have the correct carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, or C:N. If there is not enough nitrogen in the compost pile, decomposition will slow down. A good C:N ratio is 30:1 or 30 parts carbon to every one part nitrogen.

What are perlite and vermiculite and what are they used for?

Perlite and vermiculite are two different materials that are often used in soil mixes or as amendments for the exact same purposes. Perlite is a type of volcanic rock made from volcanic glass that has been heated until it pops like popcorn. Vermiculite is a mineral that has been heat-treated until it becomes spongy. These materials are added to soil to improve aeration, drainage, and water retention. They can also be used in coco coir too. Frequently, soils used for cannabis call for 10%-30% of the medium to be perlite or vermiculite that is evenly mixed into the soil and compost.

What are the advantages of growing cannabis in soil or compost?

The advantage of growing cannabis in soil is that it is a natural grow medium and contains many nutrients that the plant needs to grow. Soil can also be amended with different materials to give the plant different nutrients. Soils are usually inexpensive and easy to find, especially if you build your own soil with compost and perlite or vermiculite.
The advantages of compost are that it is made from different materials and has different nutrients than soil. Compost can be added to soils, or used on its own if you build your own compost pile properly. It is also very eco-friendly as it can turn your food waste into nutrients for your plants.

What are the disadvantages of growing cannabis in soil?

The main disadvantage of a soil medium is that it takes a little more effort than other mediums such as coco coir or hydroponics to get the cannabis plant to grow properly. Soil cannabis growers need to be familiar with different types of soils, how to amend them, and how to give the plants the nutrients they need. Soils can also be heavy and difficult to move around, especially if you are using a large pot or container. Another disadvantage is that soil can easily become contaminated with different pathogens or pests that can harm the plant. Soil also typically has smaller yields compared to other methods because they grow slower.
The main disadvantage of compost is that you need to make it yourself and it takes time for the organic matter to break down into compost. Additionally, compost can be heavy and difficult to move around. Compost also needs a good C:N ratio for the compost to break down properly.

What is coco coir?

Coco coir is made from the fiber part of a coconut husk. Coco coir looks different than soil and it does not break down like compost, but rather holds onto water very well. It is dried out first to make sure that there is good drainage in your containers or pots, then re-hydrated before use if growing cannabis in coco coir. Coco coir is an inert medium with no nutrients unlike soil and compost, so it takes different nutrients to give your plants the proper nutrition they need when growing in coco coir. Like soil, coco coir is usually mixed with vermiculite or perlite too.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of growing cannabis in coco coir?

There are different pros and cons to using different mediums such as coconut fiber for your plants.

Coco coir is a great growing medium because it holds onto water very well, has a neutral pH, and allows you to control the nutrient levels that go into the plant. The yields from coco grows are often better than soil too.

The disadvantages of growing cannabis in coco coir are that the plant doesn’t get the nutrients it needs from the medium so you need to add different nutrients every time you water them, which is also called fertigation. This can be a hassle as many coco grow methods use several different nutrients or amendments that are added to almost every watering and measuring them and adding them can be costly and time-consuming. Coco coir also needs to be watered frequently, unlike soil. Due to coco having a neutral pH level and you having to add nutrients for every feeding, the pH and EC (or electrical conductivity, it measures the salinity in the water), need to be closely monitored as fluctuations in it can lead to adverse effects on your plants.

What are the different hydroponic systems used to grow cannabis?

Hydroponics, or hydro for short, is different because the plant is grown in different liquids instead of soil. This means that you can control all the different nutrients and pH levels when growing cannabis in hydroponics, which makes them much easier to grow than other methods like coco or soil. There are different types of hydroponic systems that people use to grow cannabis. The main ones used most often include the DWC (deep water culture) system, NFT (nutrient film technique) which is often used by professional cannabis cultivators, and ebb-and-flood systems among many others.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of growing cannabis with different hydroponics?

Hydroponics is different than growing cannabis in soil or coco coir because they allow you to control all the nutrients and pH levels when feeding them all in a liquid medium. Controlling your pH levels and nutrients, which is similar to coco, allows you more control over the plant’s growth. Also, if you use a recirculating system, you will not have to take much time out for watering the plants as it is done automatically. Growing in hydro also greatly reduces the chance of pests. This isn’t even mentioning that it usually has the highest yield of the 3 grow mediums due to more vigorous plant growth.

The main problem with a hydroponic medium is that they it is typically expensive and far more complicated than the two other mediums. Since your medium is only water, nutrients will need to be added every time you change your reservoir. Also, your reservoir will need to be completely emptied and changed once a week. Just like coco, you will need to add many nutrients and amendments each time you change the reservoir water and that can be time-consuming and costly.

Which medium is best for growing cannabis?

Coco coir, soil, and hydroponics are the most common methods and the different mediums for growing cannabis all have different pros and cons. The first thing you should consider is cost and ease of setup. Hydro can cost significantly more and is very complicated to set up compared to the other two mediums so it probably wouldn’t be ideal for most beginner growers. It does however tend to yield the best so if you have some experience or are handy and money isn’t an issue, then you should give it a try. Coco coir and soil both are cheaper and are easier to maintain. Soil is the easiest, as you don’t need to fertigate, or water your soil (with extra nutrients if necessary), as often.

Growing with soil/compost though also runs the biggest risk of pests and typically has the lowest yield. Coco is in between the other two, as you have to fertigate often but you will usually have a better yield than soil and you have better control over the plant’s access to nutrients from the medium; however, you must pay attention to nutrient levels during each fertigation to ensure the plant receives the proper nutrients. It isn’t necessarily about which option is the best, it is more about which option is the best for you and your circumstances, including time and financial commitments.

Thank you for reading our article, should you have any other questions please read our other articles on getting started, optimizing your environment, and individual articles on soil, coco coir, and hydroponics.

To learn more about growing cannabis at home consider checking out our guides on: Getting Started, Troubleshooting, and Optimizing your Grow or search our Knowledge Base.

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