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There are hundreds of different nutrients for growing Cannabis available online and in any good grow shop. Understanding which type of Cannabis nutrition serves which purpose can be hard enough as a grower. One decision to make is deciding between organic and non organic. Growing Cannabis organically means growing without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. The advantages and disadvantages of both approaches must be considered but it is possible to optimize nutrition for marijuana plants through both routes.

Environmental Concerns With Cannabis Nutrition

There are several large practical differences between the two approaches, but for many growers environmental concerns also weigh in. While it is possible to make synthetic Cannabis nutrition out of renewable sources, a large part of synthetic nutrients is still collected from fossil reserves. Many growers choose organic fertilizers because they got into growing for more natural Cannabis. If the nutrients your plant uses are obtained through strip mining, this defeats the purpose.

Potash Mining
Potash Mining. Potassium is mined in large amounts around the world. This mine in Saskatchewan, Canada produces tonnes of potash every day.

Small Bite Sized Food

Understanding the age old concepts of organics, you will know the relaxed phrase: “Don’t panic, it’s organic”. This simply implies that no drastic overnight threats can develop due to an excess of nutrients. The organic grow medium helps break down nutrients and acts a buffer to keep the pH in a stable range. If you were to analyse the composition of organic Cannabis soil under a microscope you would notice large, block-like structures.

If you compare soil and synthetic Cannabis nutrition, you can see that synthetic systems do not contain these structures. Because nutrients cannot bind to anything in a hydroponic setup, all of them will be dissolved in the nutrient solution. By constantly supplying Cannabis nutrition to your plant in a hydroponic system, roots are encouraged to feed on a constant basis. There is however, no buffer once the application has been added to a nutrient solution.

Soil Under A Microscope
Soil under a microscope. In this picture soil is magnified 10000x which shows its complex nature. Many of the particles in the picture are able to store water and nutrients.

In practical terms, organic fertilizers are usually more bulky than synthetic fertilizers. Organic nutrients for Cannabis are usually (derived from) manure, which means that these fertilizers contain more than just the nutrients you want and may smell bad. Synthetic Cannabis nutrition is aimed to only contain useful nutrients, it is very clean and concentrated. While organic Cannabis nutrients will guarantee there are enough micronutrients, synthetic nutrients are usually much easier to use.

Organic and synthetic nutrients. This shovel of horse manure contains a similar amount of N-P-K as this measuring cup of synthetic nutrients.

Nutrient Burn

Hearing the word “synthetic” or “chemical” can make a person think twice about what they will be giving their growing Cannabis plants. Fast, active, non-buffering feeds do have a direct impact on the plant yet can often be overused leading to serious tip burn and other Cannabis nutrition issues. There are many companies who produce some very heavy feeds with more than triple the N-P-K values of what organic companies offer. Especially during flowering, chemical nutrients can have N-P-K ratios as high as 0-30-50.

Failed Hydroponic Grow
Failed hydroponic grow. This grower’s first attempt to grow in a hydroponic system failed for several reasons including problems with Cannabis nutrition. Systems that rely on synthetic nutrients are much more specific and much less forgiving than organic grows.

When using organic Cannabis nutrition it is very difficult to achieve tip burn during both growing and flowering stages. If there are slow indications that your Cannabis plant is suffering from a nutrition problem then this can be amended. However when using synthetic nutrients it can be much harder to deal with a deficiency. Synthetic Cannabis nutrition makes nutrition very precise, but getting it wrong will do much more damage than with organic nutrition.

Bigger Buds?

Do you actually get bigger buds that are worth the investment when following a set brand or line of synthetic Cannabis nutrition? One thing that is for sure is you will induce flowering much quicker than in an organic, soil-based setup. During flowering the plant will have access to very high levels of phosphorus and potassium and grow rapidly. The buds will put on large amounts of biomass, but similar amounts can be achieved by a good organic grower who knows what a growing Cannabis plant needs. Another big advantage of synthetic Cannabis nutrition is that the root mass takes up much less space. The amount of soil required for growing high yielding organic Cannabis can take up a lot of room.

Synthetic vs organic cannabis grow
Soil and coco outdoor grows. The left plant is grown organically in soil, while the plant on the right uses a coco medium with synthetic Cannabis nutrition. Even simple versions of hydro systems like this one can improve growth rates significantly.

Flushing Cannabis Nutrition

A Cannabis nutrition problem that can occur more often when using synthetic nutrients is that the flowers still contain remnants of fertilizer after flushing. You can test this by checking the colour of the ashes. If there are any impurities the ashes will be a dark charcoal black, whereas properly flushed flowers produce light grey ashes. Black ashes always reflects badly on the grower and whether you have grown grams or kilos of recreational or medicinal Cannabis, your final harvest has not been flushed correctly and the flowers are much less appealing!

Many smokers agree that organically grown Cannabis will always have the best taste. This may not always be true as an organic grower may have done a bad job flushing the medium. As a result of poor flushing, the smoke causes a harsh sensation and a tickling cough. Even in organic grows, it is just as important to flush your medium until it is clear of any salt buildup. Of course when using synthetic Cannabis nutrition, the chances of running into problems is much more prevalent. As a result, poor flushing affects the taste of buds grown with synthetic Cannabis nutrition much more than organically grown Cannabis.

Better Taste And Aroma?

Once you overcome the idea that strength and effect are the only important goals when growing Cannabis, it becomes all about taste and aroma. Well grown organic buds will smell wonderful and taste just as good. Many growers prefer to grow strains with a complex taste pallet like Spliff Strawberry or Sweet ‘n Sour organically to ensure maximum flavour. Then again a well grown and flushed hydroponically grown Cannabis plant can be just as rewarding. Overall there are certain elements and flavonoids a Cannabis plant can interact with better in an organic solution, resulting in a different taste and aroma.

A good way to find out for yourself which method yields the best taste is to try both. Grow two plants from the same line side by side and feed one only organic nutrients and the other only chemical nutrients. Two clones would be even better. Follow the same growing and flushing process for both plants and observe which seems better.

The Overall Costs Of Growing Cannabis

The overall costs can be the deciding factor for many growers who choose organic growing over growing Cannabis with chemicals. The grower who uses chemical based feeds will usually be a hydroponics grower who requires a 2 or 3 part liquid feed and then later on a powdered feed. Following general feeding charts that instruct the grower to mix, for example, up to 5ml of nutrients per litre in a 100 litre reservoir can be very costly indeed. This can be a big problem if you are not logistically and financially covered for the entire grow as there is nothing worse than running out of nutrients during the grow.

In comparison to a hydroponic grow, organic Cannabis cultivation can be a slow process. For the soil grower, running out of nutrients does not mean the end of a grow. During a financial dip, an organic grower can still resort to feeding just tap water and the medium will still contain plenty of slow working minerals for the plant to absorb. However provided everything goes well, hydroponics can often produce yields up to 400% times an organic harvest with plants growing at a rapid rate. This is another reason why hydroponic growers generally like fast, high yielding strains like AK or Mega Power Plant. A large part of choosing either route also depends on the amount of space you have for your grow. While growing organic Cannabis is relatively cheaper, it does not make very efficient use of space. The roots of similar sized Cannabis plants will take up more than twice the space in a soil-based medium than those in a hydro system.

Big Cannabis Plant In A Dwc-grow
Deep water culture grow. The root mass of this plant is contained in the bucket below. A plant this size grown in soil would likely require a container twice as big.

When you weigh it up, growing Cannabis organically is a cheap and stress free natural process. On the other hand growing using synthetic chemical nutrients, especially in a hydroponics setup is an attempt to create the perfect environment for a Cannabis plant to yield. This man made environment is totally controllable, but also relies strongly on the grower. Synthetic nutrients are often required when growing on a commercial scale. In contrast, growing Cannabis organically suits all types of growers, from bedroom to outdoor, from beginners to experts. Many old school growers stick to growing Cannabis organically as this has worked out best for them over the years. We hope this article has given you food for thought and would like to emphasize that as long as your plants are healthy, there is no wrong way to grow. Like most parts of growing Cannabis, the choice between organic and synthetic Cannabis nutrition is up to the grower!