Hydroponics vs. Soil – Pros and Cons

The choice between soil and pot gardening and hydroponic systems can seem complicated at first. Both methods for growing plants have their pros and cons and both are “right” for different situations and personal preferences. 

So, which should you choose?

The quick answer here is that hydroponic systems are more effective and produce more for less time while standard soil gardening is simpler, easier, and classic. But to get into a bit more detail, let’s first explain the basics. 

What Are Hydroponic Systems? 

What is hydroponics

Lettuce grown using hydroponics

Lettuce in soil

Lettuce grown traditionally in soil

We’ve covered hydroponic systems in detail here but to sum them up quickly – these are gardening systems that do not use soil. Instead, they deliver the necessary nutrients to the plants’ roots via a nutrient solution mixed with water. 

The reason this is more effective is that soil isn’t actually necessary for plants. It’s just the “medium” for what they need, i.e. their minerals, nutrients, and water. So, by skipping soil altogether and delivering the nutrient solution directly, hydroponic systems help plants grow ~20% quicker and create ~25% more produce. 

The main drawback here, however, is that to achieve this, hydroponics use complex systems of water tanks, water and air pumps, nutrient solution mediums, and sometimes even spraying nozzles.

Needless to say, a hydroponics system doesn’t “look” like a standard indoor garden. Once you get used to how they work, however, you’ll find out that they are not just proficient but also require minimal supervision and physical labor if they’re set up properly. 

Hydroponic Systems vs. Soil Pots – Pros And Cons Of Each

A quick and simple breakdown of the pros and cons of both gardening methods can be summed up like this:

Hydroponics Pros:

  • Significantly higher production and yield, maximizing efforts and time.
  • Takes a shorter time for produce to grow.
  • Very simple to use once you get the hang of everything.
  • A neat, contemporary gardening method.
  • Effectively saves you indoor space as it can produce equivalent quantities from fewer pots.

Hydroponics Cons:

  • Requires an initial investment with considerable equipment – air and water pumps, water tanks, pipes, nozzles and so on.
  • Higher production costs in terms of electricity and water.
  • Has a learning curve.
  • Doesn’t have the classic potted gardening feel.
  • The pumps and timers of a hydroponic system will require frequent maintenance.

Soil Pros:

  • A simple and straightforward approach to gardening.
  • Not much slower than hydroponics – ~25% is significant but it’s not the end of the world.
  • Gives you the classic look and feel of a potted garden.
  • A minimal initial investment.

Soil Cons:

  • Produces less for the space, time and effort required.
  • Takes more time for produce to grow.
  • Soil can be messy and difficult to handle.
  • Takes more space for the same amount of produce.
Hydroponics vs soil pros and cons

Which one is right for you?

As you can see, both gardening methods have a lot of pros and cons to choose from. This effectively means that while hydroponic systems are rising in popularity not only for commercial production but among homeowners as well, soil pots are far from done for either.

In short, both can work very well for indoor gardening and the choice between them falls mostly on whether you want to prioritize the faster and more substantial production of hydroponic systems or you prefer the classic look and feel of a potted soil garden.

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