Hydroponics vs Pot Culture

Choosing How to Grow

One of the first things that a grower new to the whole indoor gardening scene, or looking into starting, always needs to decide is whether to go with pot-culture or to go with a hydroponics set-up.

Pot culture involves growing plants in normal plant-pots and involves manual hand-watering. This type of growing lends itself better to water-retentive mediums such as soil, coco or something like a soilless medium. Other substrates such as clay pebbles dry out very quickly which would mean that the grower would need to hand-water their plants several times a day, which is simply not practical for the average person to fit into their lifestyle. This is particularly true if they have a job, kids and have other activities in their life that they need to attend to!

Growing in pots also lends itself better to growing using more natural or organic plant-feeds. Organic feeds tend to be thick and will tend to clog up and eventually block the piping used in the automatic watering systems used in hydroponics. If you want to do a full organic grow, hand-watering in pot culture is, practically speaking, the only way to go.

For larger setups, hydroponics provides the convenience of low maintenance and fast plant growth. Hand-watering tens or perhaps hundreds of plants is a time-consuming activity, even if it is only once every two or 3 days. A hydroponics set up takes care of the watering on a day-to-day basis. All that the grower needs to do is to top up the reservoir once every few days and change out the (mineral-based) nutrient solution completely once a week.

Virtually all other aspects of garden-tending are the same for both types of growing. Plants will need to be checked regularly for problems such as under or over-feeding, and also checked for diseases and pests.

Benefits of Pot Culture:

  • Lower initial financial outlay – a few pots, saucers and soil cost comparatively very little
  • Simpler growing technique suits small gardens
  • Provides a “back-to-nature” way of growing which appeals to many gardeners
  • Allows the use of Organic, biological and natural feeds
  • Allows the production of a higher quality, organically or naturally fed product

Drawbacks of Pot Culture:

  • Making up fresh feed and then hand-watering many plants regularly is time-consuming
  • Plants cannot be left for days without watering which can be inconvenient
  • Plant growth is slower
  • Pot culture usually produces lower yields

Benefits of Hydroponics:

  • Allows users to finely optimise plant feed strength and watering frequency
  • Optimised plant-feeding leads to unmatchable speed of plant growth and yields
  • Comparatively low maintenance, particularly for large gardens
  • Systems can occasionally be left unattended for a few days when necessary
  • May appeal to the technically-minded due to the high level of automation
  • Allows a greater choice of growing mediums, including clay pebbles

Drawbacks of Hydroponics:

  • Higher initial set-up costs compared to Pot Culture
  • Only chemical or mineral based nutrients can be used
  • Systems need some expertise and must be carefully set up and maintained in order to run correctly and reliably
  • If pythium (root-disease) takes hold in a hydroponic system, it will spread to every plant, typically within hours. The grower must take appropriate preventative measures or keep a very close watch.

When all is said and done, gardeners will naturally tend to gravitate towards one way of growing or the other, depending on their priorities and preferences. Those growing larger gardens for commercial profit and do not mind the initial set up cost will usually tend towards hydroponics, whereas those with smaller gardens who would prefer quality over quantity (say for growing their own high quality produce for their own consumption) and prefer lower start-up costs, will naturally tend towards pot-culture.

If you began reading this article, wondering which system would be best for you, it is likely by now that you are already leaning towards one method of growing or the other. If you haven't it may be because you want the "all and everything" best of both worlds, and none of the disadvantages of either. While products for both styles of growing have come onto the market in recent years which narrow the gaps between the two, there are still differences, and each option involves making a compromise.

Although the style of growing will fall under one of the two main categories of hydroponic or pot culture, within those two main categories there are several types of growing and system type within each. In following articles we will be discussing the different types of hydroponics gardening and the different styles of pot-culture growing. Don’t miss the next article where we will investigate the ins and out of growing in pots and the different ways of doing it.

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