An increasingly contested debate in the horticulture world is aquaponics vs hydroponics - which of these is the better approach to soilless cultivation?
Today, we’re going to explore some key differences, and compare the pro’s and con’s of each style.
We’ll help you determine whether you should grow hydroponically or aeroponically.
At the end, we’re going to share some of the top systems for each style so you can feel confident about getting your grow up and running.
First, though, we’re going to share some of the similarities between these system types, and cover some basic information for those that are unfamiliar with either one or both of these styles.
What Are The Similarities Between Aeroponics & Hydroponics?
Aeroponics & hydroponics do share quite a few similarities, and we want to start there. First of all, let’s make one thing clear - these are both incredibly effective and efficient ways to grow plants without soil!
In both types of systems, there is no soil present - that is the whole premise behind this style. Instead, plants are anchored in place using an inert media, such as coco coir or clay pebbles, rockwool, etc. In some cases, a system won't use any grow media at all!
In both cases, plants are fed an ultra concentrated nutrient solution directly at the roots. This leads to supercharged plant growth rates, heavier yields, and better quality in most cases.
Whichever system you ultimately opt for, you can rest assured you’re investing in an efficient, high yielding system.
But, let’s now get into the real topic at hand - comparing the differences between aeroponics vs hydroponics.
What Is The Difference Between Hydroponics vs Aeroponics?
There are all kinds of little intricate differences between aeroponics and hydroponics, but they really all come down to how nutrients are delivered to the plants.
In hydroponics, the plant roots are directly suspended in water/nutrient solution - either at all times (such as with deep water culture) or periodically (such as with ebb and flow).
The one exception is with hydroponic drip systems - which use emitters to slowly drip feed your plants from the top of the system down into the roots.
However, in aeroponics, roots are suspended in air at all times - which is where the system gets its name. The reservoir contains emitters which periodically spray nutrient solution up into the root zone.
This allows for maximum aeration of the root zone. But is it as effective as hydroponics? Is it perhaps even more effective? Let’s take a deep dive into the debate of aeroponics vs hydroponics now.
Aeroponics vs Hydroponics - Which Is Better For You?
There are certain instances in which one of these system types will prove superior depending on what type of plant you’re going to grow.
For example, carrots and beets - which are root vegetables - should not be grown aeroponically.
But for the most part, plants can be grown using either cultivation style. To help you decide which is best, we’re going to weigh the notable benefits and drawbacks of each.
Keep in mind, there are so many variables affecting each and every grow.
You should consider what type of nutrients you’re feeding, the growing environment, actual plant genetics (the biggest factor affecting yield, quality, potential, etc.), and other things that go into bringing your seed to harvest.
With that said, let’s start with the benefits of aeroponics.
Benefits Of Aeroponics
The biggest benefit of aeroponics is the increased growth rates and yields you’ll achieve over hydroponics. This isn’t always the case, but in general, growers report better results in this avenue when growing aeroponically.
The reason for this is the oxygenation of the root zone. Whereas hydroponics can sometimes starve roots of oxygen, even with an air stone and air pump, this isn’t a problem in aeroponics.
This, coupled with the highly concentrated nutrient solution being sprayed up into the roots, leads to superior nutrient uptake, and thus, you’ll get more out of your nutrient package.
You should also consider the decreased water use associated with aeroponics. The emitters are ultra fine, so they don’t need to use much water in order to fully coat your root mass in moisture/nutrients.
In some cases, you’ll use up to 25% less water! If you’re growing commercially, these savings will really add up - both for your bottom line and the environment.
Drawbacks Of Aeroponics
The biggest drawbacks of aeroponics have to do with the systems themselves, and less with your crop/results. These systems are harder to come by, especially for commercial growers.
They tend to be more expensive, and growers try and alleviate this drawback by just putting their money towards a cheaper, more affordable system.
The result is often crop failure down the road, as these cheap systems implement cheap emitters and pumps, prone to breaking/failure.
If you don’t do your due diligence, you run the risk of buying a poor quality system that will fail. However, this is also true with hydroponics - so do with this what you will!
Benefits Of Hydroponics
Now, hydroponics is a great soilless cultivation style in it’s own regard - so let’s quickly cover some of the benefits you’ll unlock if you go this route.
For one, typical hydro systems are more affordable and easier to use than aeroponics.
If you’re on a budget or just getting started with soilless growing, we recommend you opt for hydroponics.
Keep in mind there will still be a steep learning curve, but not to the extent of aeroponics. Our complete guide on hydroponic growing is a great place to start.
Hydroponics is also more versatile, since there are a number of different types of hydroponics systems. While not every plant can be grown in DWC, it may be possible to grow it with ebb and flow, or with drip irrigation, etc.
We mentioned one of the benefits of aeroponics is water saved - but one of the benefits of hydroponics is water efficiency!
While you might use a bit more, you end up stretching it further with recirculation. You’ll only periodically need to change out the reservoir entirely.
Drawbacks Of Hydroponics
Hydroponics is not without its own drawbacks. Like aeroponics, hydroponics will have a learning curve, and you’ll need to closely monitor the system itself for issues.
If your pump or timer isn’t performing as intended, you’ll run the risk of underfeeding or overfeeding.
Of course, the biggest drawback of hydro is the lack of oxygenation - but this is not as much of an issue with drip systems or ebb and flow systems, where roots still have ample oxygen.
In DWC, however, plants will only get oxygen through an air stone & air pump.
Final Thoughts On Aeroponics vs Hydroponics
After covering the benefits and drawbacks of aeroponics vs hydroponics, it’s clear to see that both are excellent choices, and for the most part it is going to come down to personal preference.
If you’re a newer grower on a budget, a simple hydroponics setup is probably the best choice.
If you’ve already tried growing hydroponically and are ready for a new challenge that can produce heavier, higher quality yields, aeroponics is a great choice.
At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with either. All that really matters is you choose the best system possible, which is what we cover in our yearly review of the best hydroponic & aeroponic systems.
On this list, we discuss the best options for different situations and different types of growers. We have a soilless grow system for every grower out there, from hobbyists to commercial cultivars, and everything in between.