First-time cannabis growers are faced with many decisions, such as what type of environment to choose or what kind of grow lights to implement, but perhaps none which will affect their growing adventure as significantly as that of growing medium. The medium you choose will ultimately depend upon as well as determine many factors in your cannabis garden, so it’s important to understand the various types, their benefits and drawbacks, as well as their most practical applications. There are many great options available to cannabis growers, but a few of the most popular include:
Coco coir (and coco mixes)
Hydroton expanded clay pebbles
Determining the Best Growing Medium for You
Deciding on the best growing medium can be tricky and usually requires making some important decisions first. For example, a gardener must first determine if they will be growing their cannabis plants indoors or outdoors. Another important consideration is whether the grow will be conducted hydroponically or not. Still, another consideration is the type and availability of light in a grow, as well as airflow. With all of the factors to consider, it can easily become overwhelming to know where to begin.
A Big Decision: Hydro vs Soil
One of the earliest determinations a grower will have to make, and one which will affect their decision on growing media, is whether they will employ hydroponics in their grow. Often referred to as “soilless” growing, hydroponic growers use mediums other than soil to anchor their plants and must supplement accordingly. Soil growers, on the other hand, are able to use a more straightforward approach to their gardening, similar to vegetable or flower gardeners.
Because soil already contains naturally-occurring nutrients in the form of compost and fertilizers, supplementation is not nearly as essential as with hydroponic systems. Whether growing in soil or hydroponics, your substrate will eventually need supplementation, another critical factor to consider when deciding on a growing medium.
Types of Growing Media
Once you’ve decided whether you will be growing hydroponically, it is time to select a medium on which to grow your plants. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of some of the most popular media amongst cannabis growers.
Soil has been and continues to be a standard in cannabis cultivation for a reason. It is easy to manage, natural, and recognizable to beginning growers as a typical gardening substrate. Potting soil mixes are widely available from both hydroponics stores and nurseries and are relatively inexpensive. Because soil is composed of composted organic matter and often supplemented with additional fertilizers, growers working in soil will need to feed their plants far less frequently than growers working in other media. While it touts many benefits, soil is not without its drawbacks as well.
Benefits of growing cannabis in soil
Nutrients – The presence of beneficial microorganisms will help your plants to thrive in their first few weeks after transplant with little or no feeding.
Beneficial Bacteria and Fungi – High-quality soil mixes generally contain various strains of beneficial bacteria, such as plant-growth-promoting rhizobacteria (or PGPR), a beneficial bacteria which helps protect plant roots from disease, assists in the uptake of nutrients, and aids in the synthesis of necessary compounds for the plant. Quality soil is also teeming with mycorrhizal fungi, which aids in the breakdown of heavy metals and organic compounds in the soil, as well as increasing soil’s water retention properties.
Water Retention – The presence of peat moss in most soil mixes makes their water retention capability outstanding, meaning you will not need to water as frequently.
Sustainable and Affordable – Soil is sustainable and affordable, especially when you mix your own at home. Many growers prefer to create their own super-soil from scratch, combining various elements and allowing them to compost to create a microbial-rich soil mixture.
Better flavour – Cannabis grown in soil tends to boast an enhanced flavour and terpene profile, making it a favourite medium among connoisseurs.
Drawbacks of growing cannabis in soil
Slower growth – Cannabis grown in soil grows slower than cannabis grown in other media, especially hydroponics.
Susceptible to Pests and Disease – Because soil is natural and usually minimally-processed, the potential for pests, dormant larvae and disease is increased in comparison with a hydroponic medium.
Uses More Water – Because soil growers tend not to reuse their water, soil actually requires more water than hydroponics systems.
Heavy – Soil tends to be heavy and difficult to move if necessary, making it less than ideal for indoor growers with limited space in their grow room.