There is a lot of confusion around the differences between aeroponics and hydroponics. Let’s take a closer look at the differences, similarities, important factors, pros, and cons, and discuss the best option for your garden.
What Is Aeroponics?
Aeroponics is a method of growing plants and vegetables without soil or any other growing medium. It is a subset of hydroponics that produces plants faster and more efficiently than traditional farming methods. When growing aeroponically, the plant is suspended with the plant’s roots exposed and then sprayed with a fine mist of nutrient-rich solution.
Aeroponics allows you to be efficient with both your time and your natural resources. The plant’s root system receives more oxygen than its ground-living counterparts, as well as faster nutrient delivery, causing a rapid rate of plant growth. And, according to NASA, aeroponic systems reduce your water usage by up to 98%.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the actual discovery of aeroponics, as several researchers and biologists over nearly a hundred years contributed to its development. The term “aeroponics” was first coined by Dutch researcher Frits Warmolt Went in 1957. He was continuing the research of Russian exobiologist Vladimir Arsikhovski from the early 1900s, specifically his study called “On Air Plant Cultures.”
But it wasn’t until Richard Stoner first submitted an aeroponic patent in 1983 that the term aeroponics received the recognition it deserved. With his new systems on the market, aeroponics grew in popularity. From there, aeroponics-grown food was soon sold in national grocery stores.
Stoner was a strong supporter of aeroponics’ resource-conserving capabilities, particularly its efficient use of water. He wasn’t the only one. Aeroponics soon caught the attention of NASA and the EDEN ISS for its potential uses in future space travel.
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is the process of growing vegetables or plants without the use of soil. But it can use another growth medium, like Rockwool, coco coir, perlite, or vermiculite.
Traditionally, there is a grow tray, which holds your hydroponic plants in a growing medium. Your system’s water reservoir is placed nearby, and water is either pumped through tubes or absorbed through a wick.
With hydroponics, you replace the soil with a nutrient-rich solution that goes in the water. Plant roots can be flooded and drained on a cycle or in Deep Water Culture hydroponics, or permanently submerged in water. Hydroponics offers the advantage of no energy wasted searching for nutrients.
When choosing a hydroponics system, there’s a lot to think about. Here are some of our favorites currently on the market:
What Is The Difference Between Hydroponics and Aeroponics?
Aeroponics is typically considered to be under the umbrella of hydroponics (the same goes for an aquaponics system). Still, there are a handful of key differences between it and any other type of hydroponics.
Quick Explanation Video of Hydroponics Vs. Aeroponics
I went back and forth about adding the video below in this article. I’ve never seen someone smile so much while talking about plants dying from dehydration. But that said, she provides an incredible amount of information that’s easy to digest:
With a hydroponic garden and hydroponic systems, you use a growing medium such as perlite, gravel, sand, Rockwool (rock wool), coconut husks, or clay pellets. With Aeroponics, the critical difference is that you do not use a growing medium at all. Instead, you expose the plant’s root system directly to oxygen. The benefit here is that your aeroponic plants get direct access to nutrients, making it the more efficient way to grow plants.
Clay pebbles – often called LECA or hydroton – are a lightweight hydroponic substrate that works well in most hydroponics forms, including aquaponics.
When using a hydroponic method, your plants are traditionally either submerged in a trough of nutrient-rich water or a regular flow of water is running through the growing medium. With aeroponics, the root zone is fed with a pressurized mist of nutrient-rich water. This spray is set on a timer (at least for high-pressure aeroponics), while with most forms of hydroponics, the plants and growing medium are consistently in contact with water. Like all forms of hydroponics, you’re not using as much water as traditional growing methods.
The clear winner in terms of water efficiency is aeroponics. With aeroponic plants in a controlled environment, you can expect to use fewer gallons of water than other types of hydroponics.
That said, it’s pretty tricky to compare water usage properly. In the case of hydroponics, water is usually measured in gallons per hour. With aeroponics, it is measured by the pressure of the nutrient solution – or pounds per inch.
If there’s ever a power outage or problem with your equipment, the pressure pumps on your hydroponic system – aeroponic or otherwise – could shut off. A temporarily dead pump on most hydroponic systems isn’t a big deal, and the plants will likely be fine as long as the nutrient solution begins flowing again soon. For aeroponics, though, the plant’s roots are exposed and can quickly dry out and die without getting a regular spray of water.
With an aeroponic garden, you don’t have a growing medium to keep the plants and plants’ roots in place. To secure them, you’ll either need to use clips, foam sheets, or even boards with holes. In other forms of hydroponics, plants are held in place with various growing mediums, such as Rockwool.
With hydroponics, you need to figure out a way to oxygenate your roots. The roots need air to breathe, and it allows them to absorb hydroponic nutrients and water. To solve for this, most hydroponic systems use air stones, pumps, the Ktraky method – and a few other options.
Aneco 6 Pack Air Stones Bubble Diffuser Large Airstones Cylinder Shape Aerator for Aquarium and Hydroponics Air Pump, 4 x 2 Inch
REDGO Slient 2 Air Bubble Disk Stone Aerator Aquarium Fish Tank Pond Pump Hydroponic Oxygen with 2M Silicone Tube
4 Pieces Air Stone Disc Bubble Diffuser Fish Tank Bubbler with 12 Pieces Suction Cups for Hydroponics Aquarium Fish Tank Pump Aerator Diffuser Round Air Stone Kit (4.1 x 0.75 Inch, Blue Gray)
AQUANEAT Air Stone, 4 X 2 Inch Large Air Stone Cylinder, Aerator Bubble Diffuser, Air Pump Accessories for Hydroponic Growing System, Pond Circulation, Aquarium Fish Tank (4 Pack)
101 PCS 4 Inch Air Stone Disc Bubble Diffuser with Sucker, 52 ft Silicone Airline Tubing with Air Pump Accessories, 4 Control Valve,4 Check Valves, 12 Suction Cups for Hydroponics Aquarium Fish Tank
But with aeroponics, you don’t need to do any of that. The pressurized spray of needed nutrients on the roots provides all the aeration you need.
Hydroponics in all its forms, including aeroponics, is a great way to get faster plant growth in an eco-friendly way. That said, certain hydroponic methods are easier than others. A simple hydroponic system can be set up with minimal effort or skill. For instance, a wick system doesn’t even require electricity!
Aeroponics, though, requires a system that sprays pressurized water upon your plants’ roots – often on a timer. If you’re planning to build your high-pressure aeroponics system, you will need to consider the pressure, the pump, the water lines, the hole that sprays the water, as well as a way for keeping the plants in place and keeping the water contained.
Even if you go the route of buying an aeroponic system, you will still need to regularly test the nutrients, monitor the plants, keep the system functional, etc. It can be a complex task for gardeners who are new to hydroponics.
With many traditional growing methods, you’re using fewer fossil fuels and energy resources than hydroponics growing. Typically growing anything in an enclosed environment with pumps and electricity requires higher energy than other farming systems.
That said, the energy requirements between most forms of hydroponics (excluding the wick and Ktratky systems) are pretty similar.
Types Of Aeroponics
There are two primary forms of aeroponic systems: High-pressure aeroponics and low-pressure aeroponics, although some people would lump fogponics into this category.
High-pressure aeroponics (HPA) is the most effective and debatably the purest form of aeroponics. It requires the nutrient-rich water mist solution to be sprayed with high pressure – at least 80 PSI through a small hole – causing an incredibly fine mist (We’re talking microscopically fine). The direct access to the root system improves the rate of nutrient absorption. Misting is set on a timer and then sprayed at intervals of three to five minutes through spray nozzles.
Low-Pressure Aeroponics (LPA), much like it sounds, refers to using a lower pressure level to mist the plants. Typically, this system can be quickly built using a sprinkler head, tubing, and a pump. While not as effective as HPAs, it’s still a good option that’s relatively easy to construct yourself.
Bonus: Ultrasonic Foggers
I want to briefly bring up ultrasonic foggers. They are also being used to water plants, but the results seem pretty mixed. With foggers, a mist of incredibly small water droplets is created. Unfortunately, it appears that in most cases, it’s difficult to guarantee that the roots are getting enough water – and there are some issues with cleaning this sensitive system due to mineral buildup.
Pros & Cons of Aeroponics
Aeroponics is a highly sophisticated way to grow plants, but like all methods, there are some pros and cons to consider. We’ll start with the good news:
Pros of Aeroponics
Higher yields than traditional gardening and other forms of hydroponics
Faster growth of plants
Less time needed to feed and water your plants
Significantly lower risk of drying out
Better root zone aeration than hydroponically grown systems
Significantly lower risk of overwatering
Less water use than traditional growing methods or other forms of hydroponics
A grow medium isn’t needed
Plants can be moved without much effort
Easy to replace old plants with new plants
When growing indoors aeroponically, you don’t have to worry about growing seasons
Extended growing season
Complete Control Of Nutrients
Gardeners have complete control over liquid nutrients in aeroponic systems and all varieties of hydroponics. When compared to plants that grow in soil, your plants use less energy with these systems. Watering plants grown in soil-free cultivation systems takes up only 10% of the time it takes to water plants cultivated in traditional methods.
Cons of Aeroponics
Plants are dependent on the system working correctly to keep from drying out
The root chamber requires regular cleaning to keep diseases away from the roots of the plants
More skill level needed to successfully operate the aeroponic system
Higher initial costs than other types of hydroponic systems.
Typically grown in larger facilities where you can pay constant attention to the plants
The aeroponics system needs to be monitored for machinery fails regularly
Potential for one or more of the automatic systems/technology to fail
Can be noisy – not always great for small spaces
Managing your pH is an essential part of aeroponic and hydroponic gardening/farming. For most plants, your hydroponics and aeroponics systems should have a pH range of 5.7 to 6.3. If you keep your pH in this range, your plants will be able to absorb all of the nutrients available to them.
From there, you can modify your pH levels with a pH Control Kit. Commonly, these kits have a pH up formula and a pH down the formula. They’re a surprisingly affordable way to give your aeroponic plants access to the nutrient levels they need.
While traditional growing methods rely on fertilizer and soil quality, you aren’t using a growing medium with aeroponics. Instead, all of your nutrients must come from a nutrient solution.
While aeroponic plants receive carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen from water and air, you’ll need to provide them with other nutrients, such as nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc, molybdenum, iron, cobalt, phosphorus, calcium, and boron.
Here are some of the tip options for aeroponics nutrients available on the market.
Blue Planet Nutrients Complete Plant Food Fertilizer BlueMax 2 Part (128 oz Jugs) Gallon | Base Nutrients for All Plants & Gardens | Soil Hydroponic Coco Coir Soil-Less Aeroponic | Made in USA
Complete Plant Food Fertilizer Set | Elite High Yield System Economy (32 oz Bottles) | for All Gardens & Plants | Hydroponic Aeroponic Soil Coco Coir | Made in USA | Blue Planet Nutrients
Humboldts Secret Base A & B Bundle – World's Best Base Nutrient System – Liquid Nutrient/Fertilizer for Indoor Plants – Supports Vegetative and Flowering Stages of Plants – Set of Quarts
General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro Combo Fertilizer set, 1 Quart (Pack of 3)
How To Build An Aeroponics System
Although we won’t spend a great deal of time on it in this article, the video below does an excellent job of showing you how to build your own aeroponic system.
Soil vs. Non-Soil Growing Systems
Historically, agriculturists have mainly used soil for growing plants. But there have been advancements in technology and research that show some growing alternatives to using soil.
Growing mediums that are not made with soil are great for transferring nutrients and lack unwanted additions, like fungus, e. coli, diseases, pests, or a number of pathogens that could be found in garden soil. Most hydroponic systems use these non-soil-growing mediums.
Similarly, when growing with an aeroponic system, you don’t have to worry about soil pathogens because the plant roots are left exposed.
Soil Limitations and Problems
I don’t want to be the guy who criticizes dirt, but when you grow your plants in regular soil, many factors can slow or inhibit your growth. Here are some of the downsides of growing in soil.
Plant growth takes longer
More maintenance needed, such as regular feeding and watering
Pests can potentially live in the soil and cause a severe threat
Weeds may be present in the soil
Diseases, bacterial growth, mold, and pathogens may be present in the soil
May be too dense to allow for air or water movement in a container
Alternative growing mediums are excellent options for most hydroponic systems. Unlike the soil, they don’t generally have diseases, insects, weeds, or anything else unsavory living inside. Instead, they drain water incredibly well and are made up of materials like perlite, vermiculite, coconut coir, sphagnum peat moss.
And again, for the aeroponic system, there’s no need to choose which growing medium is best for you. Your roots will be just fine without being surrounded by dirt or anything else.
Aeroponics or Hydroponics: Which Is Better?
All said and done, the best type of growing system depends on your needs. Hydroponics is a great choice for beginners because it teaches you the essentials and has a lower barrier of entry. On the other hand, Aeroponics setups produce bigger yields, faster growth, and larger returns on the initial investment in less time.
While aeroponics systems have a slight edge in terms of plant growth and crop yield, it’s probably not necessary unless you’re growing at a commercial scale. Both alternative agricultural methods thrive in the absence of traditional soil.
Aeroponics is one of the most misunderstood methods for growing plants, and yet it grows plants quicker than other forms of hydroponics and requires less water. And while it may take a little more upfront investment, close attention, and engineering know-how, it’s a great option for the seasoned grower.
Have you had an experience with aeroponic systems? Let us know about it in the comments.
Patrick likes to pretend that urban gardening is just a hobby, but he’s actually prepping for the apocalypse. He’s a practical grower, specializing in hydroponics systems and grow lights. His dream is to one day feed his family with just the food he grows in his Chicago-based condo.