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The Best Growing Medium for Weed

When you want to grow cannabis, deciding the growing medium should be one of the first decisions you make.

Your growing medium is the foundation of your garden.

It goes far in determining what nutrients you feed your plants, how and when you feed them and affects both your yield’s quality and quantity.

When you’re first designing your outdoor garden or indoor setup, the growing medium is the first thing you need to start with.

So let’s find the best growing medium for weed.

Table of Contents

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What is a Growing Medium?

Growing medium = A substance or place where your plant’s roots grow and uptake oxygen, water and nutrients.

That sounds pretty simple, but the truth is growing mediums are quite complex.

The Best Growing Medium for Weed

The best thing about picking a growing medium is also the worst thing, and that’s there is no best growing medium.

Look, there are advantages and disadvantages to all of them, and what’s best for one grower doesn’t make it best for you.

So, unfortunately, you have to do a little research.

But what’s awesome is you can pretty much find a growing medium that works needs or restrictions you have.

You can’t go wrong with any of the growing mediums as long as you set it up properly.

Picking the wrong growing medium might take a little more work to make it work perfectly.

It’s nowhere near as disastrous as picking the wrong grow light or nutrients, though.

These are the factors you’ll need to consider when picking your medium:

→ Indoor vs. Outdoor

→ Temperature & Humidity

→ Yield Quantity vs. Quality

→ Initial Cost vs. Long Term Cost

→ Setup and Maintenance

The Three Main Growing Mediums For Cannabis

There are quite a few different growing mediums as you’ll see, but we typically break them down into three main categories:

Soil, Soilless and Hydroponics.

If you’re a beginner and not sure which medium is best, we recommend you learn growing with hydroponics.

It is easy to control the nutrients, and can produce a HUGE yield.

Plus, it’s usually the most indoor friendly way to grow which is how most people will be growing.

Soil or Compost

When you’re looking to grow organically like Ol’ Mother Nature intended, soil is without a doubt the best growing medium for weed.

It’s very easy to get started with soil too.

You can buy pre-made soil formulated with nutrients and microorganisms that will feed your plant without you needing to do much work.

This is great for beginners because you don’t have to get caught up on feeding the right ratio of nutrients every day for 3+ months.

This does take some control away.

And it’s not as easy to fix nutrient issues when they happen.

But as long as you buy or make soil for cannabis, you shouldn’t run into frequent nutrient problems like you do with other grow media.

Why You Should Grow With Soil

Most growers agree soil produces bud with better flavor and aroma.

As well, we can’t stress how nice it is that pre-formulated soil makes watering simple, especially if you get adequate rainfall.

You get to just sit back and watch the cannabis grow!

You spend so much time pHing water, locking in the right amount and ratio of nutrients with other mediums but you don’t have to do this with soil.

It’s important to note that you will likely have to recharge your soil medium by adding nutrients yourself when your plants start producing bud.

But there are some super soil recipes out there that don’t even need that.

Other Advantages to Soil Growing Medium:

  • Great for growing organic cannabis
  • Cheap and simple to get started
  • Only growing medium that can grow outside without a greenhouse
  • Soil allows for temperatures over 77℉ because you do not have to worry about algae that occurs in most hydro systems.

Why You Shouldn’t Grow With Soil

When you want to grow as much cannabis as possible, soil probably isn’t for you.

With a good hydroponic system, pro gardens often see their plants grow 20-30% bigger and faster.

Plus, they get shorter veg and bloom periods, can help plants recover faster, and can use more aggressive training techniques like topping.

Other Disadvantages to Soil Growing Medium:

  • You have to make or buy soil that great for growing cannabis
  • Wet soil attracts insects
  • Super soils can burn young plants temporarily slowing their growth
  • Less control vs. other grow media
  • Can be the most expensive long-term if you always buy pre-made soil

3 Tips For Growing With Soil

  1. Soil’s greatest strength is the microorganisms that breakdown organic matter into nutrients and extend your plant’s roots for better nutrient uptake, so learn everything you can about them.
  2. Soil does well when it can dry out because it helps prevent root rot, so only water after the top inch of the soil is dry — if you pick your pots up often, you’ll get a feel for when they need water.
  3. We advise that you don’t bring outside soil inside because insect larva and eggs are often found hiding in it.

Soil is where most growers start before switching over to hydroponics.

Creating your own super soil and compost to get the best quality can get more expensive then you think.

Plus, you wouldn’t think it but hydroponics uses less water making it more environmentally friendly.

Soilless Mix (Drain-To-Waste Hydroponics)

A soilless medium is simply a medium made up of inert (nutrient-free) non-soil compounds.

It works to support a plant’s roots while retaining enough moisture for it to uptake nutrients from just like soil.

It’s important to note that soilless grow media are commonly used as hydroponic mediums, so you’ll see them used again in our Hydro section below.

The reason you’ll see soilless separated from the hydro is that you can use it as a stand-alone medium that doesn’t require traditional hydroponic equipment: water reservoir, air pumps, etc.

Also, there are a few unique places where you can incorporate growing methods you use in soil, and many growers agree it’s easier to talk about them separately.

There are two big ways a stand-alone soilless medium is like a soil medium:

  • First, you will run a drain-to-waste watering system, and this means watering heavily enough that you get 20% runoff every time and you’ll never reuse the water/runoff.
  • Second, it looks like you’re growing in soil because most growers hand water and use the same pots and containers that they would with soil.

There are several different soilless potting mixtures you’ll come across:

  • Coco Coir: Derived from coconut husks, coco coir is the most popular soilless growing medium, and you can use it as a stand-alone growing medium or mix with another for better aeration.
  • Perlite: Amorphous volcanic glass that is frequently used to help improve drainage and aeration in both coco coir and soil.
  • Peat (Moss, Reed Sedge, and Humus): Before coco coir, peat moss was the most widely used soilless medium due to its ability to retain a lot of moisture, but now you see it mainly mixed used in hydro setups.
  • Rockwool: You often find Rockwool in the form of cubes because they are great for starting seeds, seedlings, and cuttings due to its ability to hold enough water, but still allow for great aeration to build a strong rooting system.
  • Vermiculite: A soft and spongy material that’s made from heating mica, vermiculite is better at holding water than perlite and is popular for wetter soils.
  • Clay Pellets: With decent water-retention and strong root support, it’s common to find clay pellets in hydroponic systems, but it also makes an excellent stand-alone medium for seedlings and young plants.

If you’re not sure which medium you want to grow with, we suggest pre-buffered coco coir mixed with 20-40% perlite.

You can throw just it in a fabric pot, plant your seed, and be done.

Why You Should Grow With A Soilless Medium

The biggest benefit of a soilless growing medium is its well-roundedness and simplicity.

If you’re a beginner, we love the idea of starting with a drain-to-waste soilless setup.

It teaches you aspects of both hydro and soil, so it makes it pretty easy to switch if you ever want to.

Other Advantages to Growing With a Soilless Medium:

  • It balances control with ease
  • Easy to move the pots and allows for any plant training technique
  • Allows you to make more mistakes and they are easier to correct
  • When properly aerated, you won’t have to worry about algae formation like with other hydroponic systems, and you won’t have to worry about root rot seen in soil setups.

Why You Shouldn’t Grow With A Soilless Medium

While a soilless medium is easier, cheaper, and faster to set up, to get the best out of it, you need to water multiple times a day and for most people that means setting up an automatic watering system.

At that point, some growers just end up going with “full hydro” setup.

Other Disadvantages to Growing With a Soilless Medium:

  • Bud isn’t as flavorful or aromatic as buds in soil
  • Attracts insects more than other hydro systems
  • The need for frequent waterings can cause high humidity that threatens mildew and mold
  • Drain-to-waste uses a lot of water / not eco-friendly
  • Precise nutrient dosages and pH
  • Requires a greenhouse when outside as rainwater has too high of a pH value

3 Tips For Growing With Soilless

  1. Some soilless grow media like coco coir needs to be buffered with extra calcium and magnesium first as it will steal these nutrients away from your plants until it’s been charged — research CEC (cation exchange capacity).
  2. You can water every other day, but the more you can water the better because salts build up fast and CEC gets messed up, and as a bonus, you won’t need to flush your plants at the beginning or end of bloom — try and water three times daily with runoff every time by flowering.
  3. Try and match the EC (electric conductivity) or PPM (parts per million) of the water going in that’s coming out — if your runoff ppm isn’t within 100 ppm of the water that’s going in, your feeding is probably off.

Hydroponics

When most people think of hydroponics, they imagine a system where the roots are sitting directly in water, but from our last section, we know that’s not true.

Hydroponics essentially means the roots are absorbing nutrients solely through the water you give them.

If you want the biggest yields imaginable, then hydroponics is your answer.

The roots have unadulterated access to nutrients, but this means you need to be precise with the amount you give it or you’ll quickly cause nutrient issues.

The Best Growing Medium for Weed is what will take your harvests to the next level. Click here to see the best mediums compared side by side.

What’s the Best Growing Medium: Soil, Coco or Hydro?

Table of Contents

  • Soil or Compost
  • Soilless Mix (Especially Coco & Perlite)
  • Hydroponics

Introduction to Cannabis Grow Mediums

When talking about growing marijuana, what is a “grow medium”?

A growing medium or grow medium is what you’re growing your cannabis roots in, whether that substance is soil, perlite, coco coir, Rockwool, vermiculite, water, etc. Your marijuana plant will thrive as long as the roots have room to grow and have consistent access to fresh water, oxygen, and the proper nutrients in proper levels. There are a variety of ways to satisfy all these needs of a cannabis plant while growing, and each has its own pros and cons!

Every Grow Medium Must Help Roots Get What They Need: Water, Oxygen and the right Nutrients

Best Growing Mediums for Marijuana

The three main types of grow mediums for marijuana plants are soil mixes, soilless mixes and hydroponics (water). Let’s do a quick breakdown of each one, along with the pros and cons for marijuana growers!

  • Soil or Compost
  • Soilless Mix (Especially Coco & Perlite)
  • Hydroponics

Soil or Compost

Soil or compost is one of the most popular growing mediums for marijuana plants because it is natural, easy to use, and available everywhere.

Good cannabis soil naturally contains at least some amount of nutrients, which means it will provide the nutrients your plants need for at least the first few weeks of life.

Example of Great Cannabis Soil

If you decide to grow cannabis with soil, try using sterilized, loose, non-peat based potting compost. Often these are listed as an “organic potting mix.” I recommend soil mixes with at least 20-30% of a soil conditioner like perlite (little white rocks in the soil). This will provide drainage and keep higher amounts of air/oxygen in the soil, which causes cannabis plants to grow faster.

Plants in soil grow a little slower than in coco or hydro, but soil-grown buds tend to have a stronger smell/taste. Although using a standard soil potting mix and giving nutrients in the water gets results similar to coco, using amended and composted living soil tends to produce buds with a powerful and complex scent/taste profile.

Example of Amended and Composted Living Soil – Just add water!

With living soil, a colony of microorganisms in the soil creates an ecosystem that mimics the best-of-the-best soil in nature. The nutrients are slowly broken down from organic sources and delivered directly to your plant roots. For some reason, plants grown in this type of root environment tend to produce very strong-smelling buds. One thing that’s really great about living soil is you usually don’t need to use any added nutrients.

The result is strong-scented buds grown only with natural processes and all you have to do is just add water and let the soil do the magic! The biggest downside to living soil is that plants tend to grow a little slower than with other grow mediums, and some people don’t like the smell of the composted soil, especially in the house.

Common Cannabis-Friendly Soil Mixes in the US:

  • Composted and Amended “Hot” Soil (great)
  • Fox Farms Ocean Forest Soil (great)
  • Black Gold All Organic Potting Soil (good)
  • Espoma Organic Potting Mix (okay)

Example of Great Soil – Fox Farm Ocean Forest is rich and light, plus it’s packed with nutrients in the right ratio for growing cannabis!

Soilless Mediums (Coco Coir & Perlite)

Soilless potting mixtures that are composed of inert (non-soil) ingredients like coco coir, perlite, peat moss, Rockwool, and vermiculite can be a great choice for growing marijuana.

When growing in a soilless medium, you can treat your plants almost the same as if growing in soil. The main difference is you feed all their nutrients in the water. As a result of your plants getting nutrients delivered directly to their roots, you will often get quicker growth and higher yields than growing in soil (where the roots have to seek out nutrition).

Another advantage of growing in a soilless mix over soil is that you are less likely to run into problems with overwatering or bugs.

Although there are many different possible soilless ingredients, the most popular potting mixes for cannabis contain significant amounts of coco coir and perlite. This combination seems to work especially well for growing cannabis. As a result of coco’s growing popularity, other types of soilless mixes (especially the peat-based ones) have become far less common in cannabis grow rooms over the years.

Even when it comes to soil mixes, you still often see both coco and perlite in the ingredient list, because they help improve the overall properties of the soil.

In fact, I strongly recommend beginner growers start out their plants in a coco-based soilless potting mixture, and I have written a detailed tutorial on how to grow 4-7 oz. of marijuana using coco coir for first-time growers. I’ve also grown a pound of weed in a 2×4 tent using coco coir and a 315W LEC light!

I have personally found coco/perlite to be the most straightforward and forgiving growing medium for indoor cannabis, and over the years I’ve also seen that coco growers seem to be the least likely to run into problems during their first grow!

Coco coir is how I started growing, and I recommend it to anyone ? Here’s me during my first grow with my coco-grown plants:

Learn how to grow cannabis with coco coir or view the Step-By-Step 250W Coco Tutorial to produce 4-7oz on your first grow with coco using auto-flowering strains. I highly recommend this tutorial for beginner growers looking to get started with their first grow!

Common Cannabis-Friendly Coco Coir Mixes in the US:

  • Mother Earth Coco + Perlite Mix (recommended)
  • Fox Farms Coco Loco (great)
  • Roots Organics Soilless Hydroponic Coco Media (great)
  • Make it yourself with our “Coco Coir Rehydration Tutorial (low cost!)

Hydroponics

When people are talking about hydroponics, they’re usually referring to growing your cannabis with the roots sitting directly in water. The most popular style of hydroponics for cannabis plants is known as Deep Water Culture (a.k.a. DWC), and it has a very popular variant known as “bubbleponics” or a top-fed Deep Water Culture (DWC) system.

DWC is one of the few types of hydroponics that can support larger plants. Other types of hydroponics (for example NFT or Aeroponics) have a difficult time growing plants as big and nutrient-hungry as cannabis.

Example of cannabis roots growing directly in a solution of nutrient water

Two hydroponic cannabis plants in the vegetative stage

Example of flowering DWC cannabis plants. They grow so quickly that they can quickly take over your grow room!

Hydroponics can be really scary, but I’ve seen so many first-time growers get great results with hydroponics. The most important thing to remember is to follow the instructions and always get a root supplement like Hydroguard. I love hydro. After growing for several years, I think it may be my favorite grow style. You get the fastest growth and most control over nutrients of any grow medium!

What exactly is hydroponics and is it good for growing marijuana?

By the end of a hydro grow, you may find yourself with huge masses of roots!

Conclusion: What’s the Best Grow Medium for Growing Cannabis?

  • Soil or Compost – Grow in organic composted living soil for the most complex-smelling buds and a “just add water” growing experience. Or start with a cannabis-friendly soil mix such as the popular Fox Farms Ocean Forest soil mix (FFOF already contains enough nutrients to last the first month of your young plant’s life) and give nutrients in the water as plants get older.
  • Soilless Mix – Although this technically includes any grow mix that doesn’t include soil, with ingredients such as coco coir, perlite, vermiculite, etc., most cannabis growers use a mix that’s primarily made out of coco coir and perlite. All soilless mixes are technically considered hydroponic growing since there’s no soil, but most growers think of them as somewhere in between soil and hydro, and you get a lot of the best parts of both. I highly recommend a coco/perlite mix for your first cannabis grow!
  • Directly in Water / Hydroponics – Get some of the fastest growth possible, especially when combined with HID grow lights such as HPS or LECs. I’ve had many of successful grows using a top-fed DWC system, and I think it may be my favorite style of growing.

About Less Common Types of Hydro: Some people grow with plant roots suspended in misted air (aeroponics), in an assembly line (NFT), or in a tank with fish (aquaponics), but these are better suited to smaller plants, and not commonly used to grow cannabis.

So what’s REALLY the best medium? Alright, I’ll stop dancing around what you’re really here for. I’ll rank the popular mediums for different aspects, then I’ll tell you which one I think is the best overall…

Note: The contenders are Soil, Living Soil (composted), Coco Coir (soilless), Hydro (DWC – roots suspended in water)

  1. Hydro
  2. Coco Coir
  3. Soil
  4. Living Soil

Best Smell/Taste Profile:

  1. Living Soil
  2. Everything Else
  1. Living Soil
  2. Coco Coir
  3. Soil
  4. Hydro
  1. Hydro
  2. Coco Coir
  3. Soil
  4. Living Soil

Least Chance of Bugs/Pests:

  1. Hydro
  2. Coco Coir
  3. Soil
  4. Living Soil

BEST CANNABIS MEDIUM OVERALL:

Believe it or not, the best overall medium – in my opinion – is coco coir!

Allow me to explain…

Check out the rankings above; in this case, the medium with the lowest number ranks the best. If you add it all up, Coco Coir ends up being the winner and it’s clear why. Coco coir isn’t the best at anything, but it’s the second-best at pretty much everything: it grows almost as fast as hydro, it’s easier to use than soil, yields second best to hydro and gets fewer bugs than living soil. Coco coir is kind of a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.

Another cool thing about coco coir is that it’s renewable, so it’s easier on the environment. Most soils use peat which is a finite resource, and hydro can add nutrient water to the water supply. Properly used coco coir doesn’t have any of these problems so you can feel good about using it. Unfortunately, perlite – which is almost always used with coco coir – isn’t renewable, so in a sense, coco coir isn’t renewable because of its dependence on perlite.

Each growing medium that you can use has different care and watering requirements.

Best of the Best: Grow Medium Roundup

We declared coco coir the winner of this little contest, but all the mediums are the best at one thing. Get the best brand of cannabis grow medium to match your preference and grow style.

Common Cannabis-Friendly Coco Coir Mixes in the US:

  • Mother Earth Coco + Perlite Mix (recommended)
  • Fox Farms Coco Loco (great)
  • Roots Organics Soilless Hydroponic Coco Media (great)
  • Make it yourself with our “Coco Coir Rehydration Tutorial (low cost!)

Common Cannabis-Friendly “Living” Soil Mixes in the US:

  • Composted and Amended Living “Super” Soil by Kind Soil (recommended)
  • Super Soil Grower’s Mix by Coast of Maine (good)

Common Cannabis-Friendly Soil Mixes in the US:

  • Fox Farms Ocean Forest Soil (great)
  • Black Gold All Organic Potting Soil (good)
  • Espoma Organic Potting Mix (okay)

Give Roots Room to Breathe!

When growing cannabis in containers, for example with soil or coco, it’s important to give your plant roots enough room to grow. If they run out of space, it will limit the size of your plant, and often causes nutrient deficiencies and other problems like persistent droopiness. If your roots have circled around the edges of the container, it is rootbound and should be transplanted to a bigger container immediately!

Plants don’t really get “rootbound” in hydroponics because the roots are being constantly bathed in a nutrient water solution that provides both nutrients and oxygen to all parts of the roots. However, if the reservoir is too small your plants will drink all the water before you can replace it!

Your cannabis plants need a grow medium! Hopefully, today’s tutorial will help you pick the perfect one for your needs!

You Might Enjoy the Following Growing Tutorials…

More About Various Grow Mediums

  • Yields
  • Bud Quality
  • THC Levels
  • CBD Levels
  • Smell/Taste
  • Density
  • Bud Color (How to Grow Pink or Purple Buds)
  • Glitter (Make Buds Sparkle with More Trichomes)
  • Bonus: What Determines Yields?

What medium makes the best home for your cannabis plants? Is it soil? Hydro? Coco? We'll tell you all about your options and which is the best all around!