Last Updated on July 21, 2020
Most beginners who start indoor gardens, begin with soil.
As soil appears to be a more natural way of growing plants, it seems effortless to grow plants in soil.
However, as your garden grows, and requires more time, growing plants in soil may seem like a tedious process and this is exactly when people look for alternatives such as hydroponics.
Using soil vs. hydroponics has remained a debate when it comes to growing indoor gardens. While many people are proponents of using soil for indoor gardens, others recommend hydroponics. And certainly, there are pros and cons of using each medium.
While soil is more natural to the plants, it is gentler and produces slower results. On the other hand, hydroponics is more direct as plants have more access to nutrients. As a result, it yields more but is expensive and requires the use of technology.
However, before we conclude whether soil or hydroponics is better, it is important to understand hydroponics first and how it is different from soil, and then compare each approach so you can decide for yourself. So let’s get started.
What Is Hydroponics?
Hydroponics is a growing system where plants are allowed to grow without soil.
Since we are so used to plants growing in the soil that anything other than soil may come as a surprise. However, over the years, hydroponics has gained popularity because of its obvious advantages over soil.
With hydroponics, plants are grown in an artificially controlled environment without soil. But since plants need nutrients and water for growth, which they typically extract from the soil, they can continue to absorb both water and nutrients from an artificial nutrient-rich solution.
The roots of the plants are directly dipped in the nutrient-rich solution, so plants can easily absorb nutrients and continue to grow even without soil.
Difference between Soil and Hydroponics
Once you develop an understanding of hydroponics, the difference between soil and hydroponics is quite self-explanatory. But we give you a quick overview.
Soil acts as a foundation where a plant can stabilize itself, establish roots, and absorb nutrients and water from the soil.
In the case of hydroponics, there is no soil, but the plant’s roots are dipped in a nutrient-rich solution that continues to provide the nutrients and water essential for plant growth.
While plants have access to nutrients and water, in hydroponics, they don’t have a medium to stabilize themselves. To help solve this concern, a particular type of footing is used where plants can stabilize and continue to thrive.
A Comparison of Hydroponics vs. Soil
Now that you already know the differences between hydroponics vs. soil, it is time to compare the two approaches based on several characteristics.
By looking at the yield, space requirement, nutrients, and water needs, find out which one is better for your indoor garden.
Health of Plants
If you compare the health of the plants that grow in soil with plants growing under hydroponics, then the latter translates into healthier and stronger plants.
Also, the yield from hydroponics is more vibrant because it contains more vitamins and nutrients compared to the plants grown in soil.
And this is exactly why hydroponics is not just a popular approach among indoor gardeners but is also one of the most favorite methods among commercial farmers.
And since plants grown hydroponically are healthier compared to plants grown in soil, they are also less prone to pests and diseases.
In case, you put a sick plant right next to a healthy plant in a hydroponic setup, you would be surprised to see that the sick plant does not affect the health of healthy plant (which is generally the case in plants grown in soil).
So in plants grown hydroponically, you get to see nature working such that the strongest plants survive.
On the other hand, if you look at the health of plants grown in soil, you would be surprised to see that there is a stark difference between the health of plants grown in the soil compared to those grown hydroponically.
Also, when growing plants in the soil, you would be required to use chemical pesticides and fungicides to externally protect the plants against pests and fungi. And the detrimental effects of pesticides and fungicides are known to all.
If you compare the efficiency of soil with hydroponics, the latter is far more efficient. In hydroponics, since the plants directly get the exact nutrient they need for growth, they grow more quickly.
When you compare this setup soil, plants that grow in soil need a much larger root system that can absorb the right amount of nutrients. But since plants grown in soil do not have the same advantages as those grown hydroponically, it takes a longer time for such plants to grow.
It is evident that hydroponics results in plants with better health compared to the plants grown in soil. Another characteristic on which we can compare soil vs. hydroponics is water needs.
When growing plants in soil, we need a lot more water compared to plants grown hydroponically. Unlike water in the soil that evaporates, water in the hydroponics system continues to circulate.
As a result, with hydroponics, you can save up to 80% water compared to when you grow plants in a standard garden bed. As a result, we can say that with hydroponics, you cannot only produce plants with better health but you can also converse water which is a very scarce resource on this planet.
As we continue to compare hydroponics vs. soil, the comparison is incomplete until we compare the cost. In general, hydroponics is an expensive affair when you compare it with soil. Just like any other investment, you need to consider the initial cost as well as the maintenance cost.
You can find a variety of hydroponic systems but the ones towards the higher end can cost you more than $500. Also, maintaining a hydroponic system requires nutrient solution and water that can continue to circulate and this is also an expensive operating cost.
On the other hand, if you look at soil, it is generally less expensive than a hydroponic system. So in an indoor garden with soil, the initial investment is definitely lower.
But the maintenance cost may vary. If your soil is of poor quality, it might need a lot of fertilizers frequently and this can be an additional maintenance cost.
So though the initial cost is always lower, the maintenance cost may vary. It is also possible that the maintenance cost of soil may be even higher than maintaining a hydroponic system.
Ease of Use
And with this basic knowledge, you can go for either soil or hydroponics for your indoor garden. While many people assume that working with soil is easier compared to hydroponics, this is not really the case.
In fact, when you work with soil, you need a lot more weeding and digging, something you don’t have to worry about when you grow plant hydroponically.
So both soil and hydroponics are easy but with the latter, you don’t have to dig and weed your garden.
Perhaps the biggest difference when it comes to growing plants in soil and hydroponics is that of the yield. According to statistics, plants that grow in a hydroponic set up are healthier, more nutritious, grow quickly but they also yield more.
If you compare the yield of hydroponic plants with soil-grown plants, crops produced hydroponically yields 20-25% more than crops produced in the soil.
Impact of External Factors
When you grow plants in soil, environmental factors such as weather conditions, sunlight, and type of soil play an important role in affecting the health of the plant.
But when you go plants hydroponically, that is not the case. This means that you have more control over the growing conditions and as a result, you can end up with a better yield.
As mentioned earlier, plants that grow in soil need a larger root system but that is not the case with plants that grow hydroponically.
Since they have a narrower root system, hydroponics is a great way to save space especially when you use it to grow plants vertically. No with hydroponics, you will not just end up saving time and enjoy better yield but you can also save a lot of space.
Now that you have compared soil vs. hydroponics, it is safe to conclude that hydroponics is a better and more efficient method for growing plants compared to using soil as a growing medium.
While using soil for growing plants comes with its own set of advantages, it certainly results in lower yield and can be more expensive in terms of slower growth and lesser defense against pests and diseases.
And for people who assume that working with soil is easier, let’s repeat here that using hydroponics does not require the use of any advanced gardening skills and you can work with it even in a small indoor garden.
However, growing plants with both soil and hydroponics require some fundamental knowledge about the nutrient requirement and other essentials such as light and water needs of the plants.
So whether you are a beginner or a gardening enthusiast, you can easily try both soil and hydroponics for your indoor garden and find out the results for yourself.
Though both the approaches have their pros and cons, only you can decide which approach works best for you. We hope, that with this guide, you are now in a better position to make an informed choice.