One of the most important questions to ask your budtender is how the
flower you’d like to purchase was cultivated. Why does growing method
matter to you, ye cannabis consumer? Because different cultivation styles
result in significant variations between the buds you’ll eventually be
The same seed grown in various ways will result in flowers with
significantly different characteristics. A Lemon Haze grown in a bed of soil
will have some noticeably different attributes than the same strain grown
using hydroponic methods—the two main cultivation styles on today’s
Soil-grown cannabis is exactly that—cannabis grown old-school style, in
the living Earth. It’s the mother of growing styles, having been used for
over a million years as cannabis evolved into what we all love today.
Hydroponics is cultivated in anything other than soil, like mixtures using
sand, gravel, coconut fiber, liquid, or in the air. It began in the 18th century,
but didn’t become popular in cannabis until the late ‘70s, when stricter drug
laws pushed growers indoors and away from soil.
The various methods of hydroponics are by far the most popular in the
legal cannabis market today. Soil-grown approaches are more popular in
craft and organically minded grows. And unsurprisingly, soil is still popular
in outdoor gardens.
“Knowing cultivation methods is important because the compounds in the
medicine change depending on growing style,” says Cassandra Maffey,
head grower at Verde Natural. Maffey prefers soil-grown cannabis and has
crafted a large-scale, indoor system to produce the organically grown
cannabis that Verde Natural is known for.
The differences between soil-grown and hydro matter when it comes to
things like flavor, nutritive content, and even shape. Do you know if your
flower was grown in fresh soil or a bucket full of water? Here’s why it’s
1) Soil-Grown Cannabis is More Likely Organic
“If you care about organically cultivated cannabis or live an organic
lifestyle, then soil-grown is the way to go,” says Kelsey Liedman, Manager
of Verde Natural Dispensary. The nutrients in soil
have had a millennia-old, beneficial relationship to cannabis. Growing in
soil with the right mixture of these nutrients breeds plants in an all-natural
ecosystem void of pesticides or unnatural additives. Soil also naturally
maintains a steady flow of essential nutrients to the flowers. This same
level of organic care is difficult to reach using only hydro, where nutrient
flow is maintained by humans who are more prone to errors, though there
are some great hydro growers who have mastered this art.
2) Soil-Grown Cannabis Tastes Like Nature Intended
While we've tasted some delicious strains from our hydro-growing friends,
we’ve found that soil-grown cannabis most clearly expresses a strain’s
natural terpene profile. This is likely due to the ancient, natural relationship
between the organic nutrients in the soil and the plant itself. Without
additives, the plant is free to express itself most naturally. On the other
hand, hydroponics tends to alter the flavor of the flower due to the use of
synthetic additives (which increase vegetative material, not necessarily
cannabinoid or terpene profiles) or by unnaturally altering nutrient levels.
More so, the dense, crystalline buds hydroponics often produce don’t allow
or full saturation of terpenes or cannabinoids throughout the plant matrix,
creating an unbalanced flower.
3) Soil-Grown Cannabis is Cultivated for Quality not Quantity
Organic growers are more attracted to soil-grown methods while volume-
centric growers are drawn more hydroponic growing. The hyper-controlled
system of hydro-grown cannabis moves harvests along quicker than
growing in soil. Soil-grown cannabis follows the plant’s natural cycle. While
not necessarily a hard and true fact, it’s likely that the soil-grown flower at
your store was cultivated by a grower more concerned with quality than
4) Soil-Grown Cannabis Tends to Pull Smoother
While post-harvest handling affects much of the smoothness of a hit, buds
grown in soil tend to cure and dry less harshly. It’s easier for growers to
flush soil-grown cannabis of any leftover nutrients than it is for hydro
growers. The same hydro growing styles that lead to dense, crystalline
buds also leave trace amounts of salts that can take the enjoyment out of a
long deep drag.
Now that you’ve got the why, how can you tell if your budtender doesn’t
know if the flower has been soil or hydro grown?
First check out the flower’s density. Hydro-grown cannabis will tend to be
denser and give less than soil grown, which has a natural buoyancy to it.
Second, look at the stem. If it is round and white in the middle, it was
probably grown hydroponically. Soil-grown will have a more uniform color
and less curves. The reason? Hydro is fed using only manmade,
sometimes force-fed, methods, which cause the stem’s feeding tubes to
become bloated as they oversaturate the plant.