Hydroponic and aeroponic gardening systems are emerging as a response to climate change while also promoting efficient water and nutrient resource management. Years ago, as a beginner, I was curious about different ways to grow my plants. Right now, I have decided on a gardening method after considering a variety of factors.
Generally, hydroponics and aeroponics differ in terms of system design, space and water requirements, growing medium usage, environment and plant compatibility, nutrient absorption efficiency, maintenance, harvest, costs, and power outage effects. Hydroponics is ideal for home gardening while aeroponics is best for commercial production.
I understand that selecting a system is critical. This choice can either make or break you! So I will show you how to choose which system is appropriate for your circumstance. What are you waiting for? Continue reading!
The major difference between hydroponics and aeroponics is the way they deliver nutrients to the plant’s roots. In general hydroponics, the roots are submerged in nutrient water; while in aeroponics, the roots are dangling and misted with a nutrient-rich solution.
Let me start by illustrating what happens in a hydroponic system.
Hydroponics is a planting method in which the plant roots are submerged in nutrient water, which serves as the plant’s primary source of nutrition for development and growth.
For most hydroponic systems, the nutrient solution is housed in a hydroponic reservoir and is delivered through a water pump. But this component is not required for all system types. An air pump is also recommended for hydroponics to supply oxygen to the nutrient water.
An aeroponic system is usually composed of a water pump, sprayers, and a nutrient reservoir. The nutrient solution in this system is not constantly in direct contact with the plants’ roots. Instead, it is delivered via a timed water pump.
The water pump activates at regular intervals, and the sprays deliver the nutrient solution in the form of mist to the roots.
An aeroponic system consumes less space since it can be set up vertically. In comparison, hydroponic systems such as wicking and deep water culture can take up less space. But there are types of hydroponic systems that require enormous space such as the horizontal nutrient film technique.
Here’s a quick comparison.
Aeroponic systems can be grown as towers. This allows you to grow 15 to 20 plants in a 1 by 1-meter space. In terms of height, aeroponic towers range from 1.5 to 2 meters.
By contrast, you can grow 15-20 plants in a 1 by 2-meter space using a vertical nutrient film technique hydroponics. If you are going to use a deep water culture bucket system, you will be needing double of that space! The height requirement of hydroponics is not that strict since they are usually smaller.
Aeroponic systems use 98% less water while hydroponic systems can save up to 90% water when compared to traditional gardening methods.
As an example, one research on aeroponic potatoes established a water requirement of 100 milliliters (mL) of water per plant every day. Conversely, hydroponically-grown potatoes need 500-700 mL/plant/day.
We can see from the findings above that aeroponics reduces water consumption and requirements up to 7 times!
Hydroponics requires the use of growing mediums that improve the anchorage of plant roots. Examples of such growing mediums include coco coir, hydroponic clay balls, peat moss, and rockwool. By contrast, aeroponics does not require growing mediums for plants to grow.
Aeroponic systems have plant slots, also known as a flexible collar, built into their punctured platform to support the growth of aeroponically grown plants.
A growing medium aids in plant anchorage and can also serve as a source of additional nutrients and minerals.
There are numerous hydroponic growing mediums to choose from! But I won’t go into detail about those in this article.
To learn more on this topic, head to our article about choosing the best hydroponic growing medium.
Both aeroponic and hydroponic systems are following controlled environment agriculture principles. Thus, they can be situated whatever the climate is. However, aeroponics is less prone to environmental stress compared to hydroponics.
In another study on aeroponic potatoes, it was found that this system is appropriate for farming in developing countries with poor soil fertility, various plant diseases, inferior water quality, and pest infestation issues—all of which hinder the production of this commercial crop.
Aeroponics is considered appropriate for areas with arid climates because it only uses a small amount of water. Seasonal adversities do not also affect aeroponics, unlike in hydroponics where environmental conditions—such as pH, temperature, root health, and nutrients—must be well controlled.
Hydroponic systems support the growth of more plant varieties than aeroponics. Aeroponics is more appropriate for herbs, leafy greens, fruiting vegetables, vining plants, bulbs, and citrus plants.
Plants that grow best in hydroponics include leafy vegetables (lettuce, kale, bok choy), fruiting vegetables (pepper, eggplant, tomato), and herbs (basil, thyme, mint). Apart from those plants, microgreens, vining plants like cucumbers, bulbs like onions and garlic, and papaya thrive in hydroponic systems.
Citrus plants, particularly dwarf varieties, grow well in aeroponics due to the controlled release of nutrients. There is no need for a continuous supply of nutrients, just like when they are grown in soil.
Selected Trees (e.g. bonsai papaya)
Nutrient absorption is more efficient in aeroponics than in hydroponics because the nutrient application in aeroponics is more calculated and controlled. The continuous exposure to oxygen, since they are dangling, also helps the plant to push through biological processes that heightens rate of growth and harvest quality.
The calculated amount of nutrients sprayed toward the plant roots increases the efficiency of nutrient absorption in aeroponics. This means that the nutrient resources are wisely used in aeroponics.
Hydroponics, on the other hand, does not use nutrients efficiently.
Why? Because the roots are constantly immersed in nutrient water. As a result, the nutrient solution’s strength decreases over time.
How? When the plant has absorbed the nutrients, they are transported from the solution to the plant system.
The effect of temperature on the nutrient solution is another complicated aspect of hydroponics. Due to evaporating water, high temperatures may cause salt to accumulate beneath the hydroponic reservoir.
Aeroponics requires higher maintenance than hydroponic systems. This is due to the addition of more mechanical components such as light-emitting diode (LED) lights, spray nozzles, and water pumps. This is in contrast to hydroponics, which allows for growth without the use of electrical inputs such as air and water pumps.
As you can see from the illustrations at the beginning of this article, aeroponics includes more components that are not commonly found in our homes (like water pumps and spray nozzles).
In other words, it is a system that must be checked more frequently. It is possible that the nozzles will stop working due to clogging, or that the water pumps will not provide the expected water pressure.
Though these issues can also arise in more complex hydroponic systems, the interesting thing about hydroponics is that you can still grow food using the simplest and least expensive system—the Kratky system.
Gardeners can grow plants with only a bucket, some nutrient water, and a net cup using the Kratky hydroponic system. Accompanied by the right growing conditions, this is a system you can leave at home even if you’re going on a one-week trip!
Aeroponics produces more yield per unit area than hydroponic systems because more plants can be placed closer together. Aeroponics also produces higher-quality harvests because it is not heavily influenced by environmental factors such as pests and diseases.
Considering that aeroponics produces more harvest, the suggestion of having aeroponic greenhouses around city markets is a revolutionary approach since it can reduce transport costs and provide people with fresh goods.
If you have observed, aeroponics is more appropriate for commercial gardens.
But if you are looking for a gardening technique that you can apply in the comfort of your own home, hydroponics might be the one for you!
Hydroponics can produce a relatively higher harvest quantity and quality compared to the traditional soil planting method in the same given space.
Aeroponics has higher input costs, which include the system itself, spray nozzles, a timed water pump, LED lights, and even operating costs such as electricity. Hydroponics, on the other hand, can be done with recycled materials such as buckets and plastic cups, which gardeners can assemble themselves.
Some friends who built their aeroponics from scratch say the initial costs range somewhere between 200 to a thousand bucks!
However, keep in mind that this is only the cost of the system’s materials, which include grow lights, a light timer, a water pump cycle timer, tubes, spray nozzles, a water pump, aeroponic reservoirs, and nutrients.
On the other hand, hydroponics can be done using recycled materials. But if you want to invest in a long-term system, you can purchase nutrient film technique (NFT) systems on amazon like the one below.
I have also analyzed the cost and benefits of investing in a hydroponic system.
Explore more about this in our article, is hydroponics financially worth it?
Since aeroponics uses more electricity-driven components, it is highly affected by power outages. When power goes out, the whole aeroponic system will shut down. Most hydroponic systems, on the other hand, can survive for at least 24 hours without electricity.
The average aeroponic system needs a water pump and LED grow lights—both of which need electricity to work. Meanwhile, hydroponic methods such as the Kratky system, can run and grow plants even without electricity.
Power outage effects on plants in hydroponics can be mitigated with simple measures.
Here is a simple way to let a hydroponic system survive in case of a power outage.
Either way, the best solution to avoiding the negative effects of power outages on aeroponic and hydroponic plants is to use a gas generator to power their electrical components (if any).
Considering all aspects, aeroponics is more appropriate for commercial gardening whereas hydroponics is best for garden beginners. However, choosing a system must still be based on one’s personal circumstances, needs, and goals.
To help you decide, I have summarized the pros and cons of both gardening methods in the table below.
|Hydroponics||Can be made from recycled materials|
Less electrical components
More plants are compatible in this system
Not highly affected by power outages
|Needs more space|
Requires more water
Highly affected by environmental conditions
Resources (nutrients and water) may
not be used efficiently
|Aeroponics||Produces more harvests|
Requires less water
Does not use growing medium
Absorbs nutrients more efficiently
Less affected by environmental conditions
|Highly affected by power outages|
Have lesser plants compatibility
High initial costs
High operation costs
Needs high technical knowledge & expertise
When is aeroponics better than hydroponics?
Aeroponics is better suited for experienced gardeners who want to venture into commercial crop production. People who will venture into aeroponics must have technical knowledge that will aid in the establishment and maintenance of the system. Aeroponics requires a large investment that could result in large returns in the long run.
When is hydroponics better than aeroponics?
Hydroponics is ideal for beginning gardeners. There are numerous system designs available, including deep water culture, nutrient film technique, ebb and flow, and wicking systems. The majority of these designs are low-maintenance and can be created with recycled materials.
In choosing a system, it is important to consider the system design, space requirements, water consumption, growing medium usage, environment and plant compatibility, nutrient absorption efficiency, maintenance, harvest quantity and quality, costs, and power outage effects.
Hydroponics is best for beginners as it is low-maintenance, low-cost, and can produce high quality and quantity of harvest compared to traditional methods. On the other hand, aeroponics is best for commercial gardening since it is a space-saving system that can produce even higher quality and quantity of harvest than hydroponics.
- “Plant Factory Basics, Applications and Advances” by Niu, G. and Masabni, J. in ScienceDirect
- “Design of an Aeroponic System for Burkina Faso” by Sharkey, E. & Ernst, E. in Department of Engineering Messiah College
- “Progressive Plant Growing is a Blooming Business” by Boen, B. in National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
- “Aeroponic Growing” by Calori, A. in ResearchGate
- “Integral Management of Irrigation Water in Intensive Horticultural Systems of Almería” by Lao, M.T. in ResearchGate.
- “Method of pump, pipe, and tank selection for aeroponic nutrient management systems based on crop requirements” by Chowdhury, M. et al. in Journal of Agricultural Engineering
- “Hydroponics” by Shrestha, A. & Dunn, B. in Oklahoma State University