FAQ answered with Science

You are here: Home / FAQ answered with Science

What’s the difference in yield between plants grown in hydroponics and in soil?


Author: Diane Esvan

One of the basic principles for vegetable production, both in soil and in hydroponic systems, is to provide all the nutrients the plant needs [1]

Soil represents the mineral and organic material found at the surface of the planet which is the natural growing medium for plants [3].

Hydroponics refers to growing plants in pretty much anything besides soil, it means using nutrient solutions rather than soil substrates [4]. Sometimes natural or artificial media are used, such as peat moss, sawdust, charcoal, Rockwool, coco coir, clay granules, gravel, or ceramics to provide everything the plants require [4]. Generally, the nutrients in hydroponic system are added in the crop water supply. The benefit about this is that the right amount of exactly the right kind of nutrients can be accurately provided to the plants. This helps to maximise the yields [2].

Growing crops in Soil – Pros and Cons


Soil can be more forgiving for the inattentive grower since it already contains nutrients [6]. Growing in soil represent an easier way to grow than many types of hydroponic growing systems. [5]


Crops tends to grow slower in soil than in hydroponics in the vegetative stage. When given the same time, lights and environment, crops grown in soil usually return lower yields compared to hydroponically grown crops [7] This of course highly depends of the type of soil, the weather and the season.

Growing Crops hydroponically – Pros and Cons


Crops can be grown hydroponically in areas that unsuitable for conventional farming, such as arid and degraded soils [1]. Growing crops hydroponically also also cause them to be less dependent to weather conditions, such as Indian summer, frost, hailstorms, wind, flooding, and weather seasons. A hydroponic system is also less likely to suffer from weeds and soil-borne diseases or pests. [7] Generally, cultivation in a hydroponic system allows for year round production.

The nutrients levels in soilless systems are also fully controlled so the quality of the crops can be optimised [6]. Crops are also harvested faster than cultivation in soil [1]. Most Hydroponic Techniques give growers the ability to automate their production, so it is much less work for more produce [1]. If there is any problem during the growth of the crops it is easier to correct the problem with a hydroponic system.

As a conclusion, hydroponic cultivation can provide a higher yield, but also allows for it to be optimised and standardised, thus reducing overall production costs [1].

Some people may think crops grown in a hydroponic system are less tasty, yet this is false. The taste of crops depends on many variables like stress, light intensity, amount of the nutrients, etc… These factors can be controlled better in hydroponic systems [4]. Hence, when the crop is well studied and understood, hydroponics have the potential to make them taste even better.


In hydroponics, plants are quicker to show signs of problems. Some hydroponic methods are overly complicated and not beginner friendly, with for example a very complicated nutrient solution to add in the water to improve the quality of the crops products to benefit human conception [6][1]. Hydroponics are also generally dependent on electricity and have less of a buffer against all sorts of problems, this may cause for lower yields.


[1]  Domingues, D. S., Takahashi, H. W., Camara, C. A., and Nix- dorf, S. L. Automated system developed to control ph and concentration of nutrient solution evaluated in hydroponic lettuce production. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 84 (2012), 53 – 61.

[2]  dos Santos, J. D., da Silva, A. L. L., da Luz Costa, J., Scheidt, G. N., Novak, A. C., Sydney, E. B., and Soccol, C. R. Development of a vinasse nutritive solution for hydroponics. Journal of Environmental Management 114 (2013), 8 – 12.

[3]  Hartemink, A. Chapter two – the definition of soil since the early 1800s. In Advances in Agronomy, D. L. Sparks, Ed., vol. 137 of Advances in Agronomy. Academic Press, 2016, pp. 73 – 126.

[4]  Lee, S., and Lee, J. Beneficial bacteria and fungi in hydroponic systems: Types and characteristics of hydroponic food production methods. Scientia Horticulturae 195 (2015), 206 – 215.

[5]  Lisle, L. M., Lefroy, R. D., and Blair, G. J. Method for rapid assessment of nutrient supply capacity of soils. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 31, 15-16 (2000), 2627–2633.

[6]  Pezzarossa, B., Rosellini, I., Borghesi, E., Tonutti, P., and Malorgio, F. Effects of se-enrichment on yield, fruit composition and ripening of tomato (solanum lycopersicum) plants grown in hydroponics. Scientia Horticulturae 165 (2014), 106 – 110.

[7]  Tomasi, N., Pinton, R., Costa, L. D., Cortella, G., Terzano, R., Mimmo, T., Scampicchio, M., and Cesco, S. New solutions for floating cultivation system of ready-to-eat salad: A review. Trends in Food Science Technology 46, 2, Part B (2015), 267 – 276. Novel strategies meeting the needs of the fresh-cut vegetable sector. The {STAYFRESH} project.