Living Soil vs Salts – A Look at Different Cultivation Methods

Written by Caleb Summeril

For those unacquainted with growing cannabis, there can seem to be as much variation in techniques and methods as there are varieties of the plant. The success and viability of a grow is a result of multiple factors working together to create a successful harvest. And although the growing medium is an essential aspect of this success, there is no exact right or wrong way to choose this.

Living soils versus salt-based nutrition for growing cannabis are two common but different methods that can both produce tremendous end results. These two methodologies are worth closer examination as an ongoing debate between which process yields ‘better’ results has been common in growing circles for years.

Living Soil

 Living soil is commonly associated with organic growing processes. And while there is no certified organic classification in the world of cannabis just yet (there is for hemp), due to legalities at the federal level, living soil techniques represent a growing medium that more closely represents healthy soil as it exists in nature. Living soil gets its name from the many microorganisms that live within the dirt and contribute nutrition through their life cycles that can be readily used by plants growing in said dirt. These organisms vary in size from microscopic to common creepy crawlies, and through their ability to decompose organic materials, they create essential nutrients as byproducts that plants can then utilize during different stages of growth.

Good quality living soil is key to many outdoor grow operations. Some say this method yields an end product with more flavor and character. Using this type of growing medium offers plenty of nutrients for cannabis plants to feed from and limits the need for added fertilizers or chemicals, another nod to the association between living soil and organic growing methods. Downsides of living soil are that it can be hard to maintain in an indoor environment or be impractical for hydro grows and other situations where soil is not used at all.


Plants of all kinds love and need salts to grow happy and healthy. This doesn’t mean that you should start sprinkling table salt on your buds, but it is good to know as many commonly used fertilizers are salts. Growing cannabis indoors, especially in a hydroponic setup without soil, requires added nutrients to enable growth. In addition to an NPK chemical blend for nutrients, water soluble salts such as monopotassium phosphate, ammonium, calcium nitrate, potassium nitrate, magnesium sulfate, and potassium sulfate are used to achieve a custom chemical nutrient blend to aid in soil-less grows.

To the organic purest, using added salts as a grow method may seem unnatural, but in reality, it’s a commonly used practice that replicates natural processes in which the same salts would be produced in the soil. Salt concentrations may have to be reduced through flushing, however, since they can affect pH.

Talk to 100 different growers, and you’ll probably receive 100 different suggestions on the best methodology for growing cannabis. In an outdoor grow situation, living soil can provide all the nutrients the plants need for robust growth and a great harvest. To replicate that indoors, salts can be added.

Image Source: Photo by Conscious Design on Unsplash

About the author

Caleb Summeril

Caleb Summeril writes creative copy, stories and songs from the mountains of Colorado. When not working on words, he can be found on global gallivants which fuel future endeavors. Learn more about his writing services at calebsummeril.com

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