Aquaponic Vs Hydroponic: Soilless Gardening Compared

Growing plants without soil (also known as soilless gardening) using aquaponic or hydroponic systems offers many benefits like faster growth, higher yields, and less water usage. But what exactly is the difference between these two innovative gardening techniques? Aquaponic vs hydroponic, which one is better?

Hydroponic systems are generally cheaper, easier, and faster to set up. They allow more control over nutrients and growth. Aquaponic systems are more sustainable but require more space and maintenance. For beginners with limited space, hydroponics may be the better choice.

This is the key difference between hydroponic and aquaponic. Now, in this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know to decide whether aquaponic or hydroponic gardening is right for you.

But first, what is soilless gardening?

Soilless Gardening

Soilless gardening involves growing plants without soil using water-based methods like aquaponics, hydroponics, or aeroponics. It provides nutrients directly to the roots through aquatic solutions or mist, enabling faster growth rates and higher yields in small spaces while minimizing water usage. Aeroponics mists the roots with a fine nutrient spray.

Over traditional farming, soilless cultivation is becoming more popular. The reason for this popularity is that soilless agriculture has several notable advantages:

  • Farmers and gardeners can grow plants in any place, even indoors, without restriction.
  • Soilless agriculture requires up to 20 times less watering compared to soil-based agriculture.
  • The soilless method helps plants grow faster compared to the traditional method.

However, hydroponics and aquaponics are the obvious choices when it comes to selecting a sustainable alternative farming technique. Both of these soilless gardening techniques share many characteristics and operate on the same principle. Nonetheless, there are a few distinctions. That is why a comparison of hydroponic vs aquaponics is required.

Now, let’s compare hydroponics and aquaponics as farming methods and reveal the key differences, ensuring that you select the best method for your farming project.

Aquaponic Vs Hydroponic Farming

Aquaponic Vs Hydroponic

Hydroponics and aquaponics are different ways to grow plants without soil:

  • Hydroponics: the plants get their nutrients from a special water mixture. Hydroponics is quite simple, with plants, lighting, and the required nutrients as the sole focus.
  • Aquaponics combines hydroponics with aquaculture (fish farming). It creates a symbiotic ecosystem where fish waste provides nutrients for the plants, and the plants purify the water for the fish. Aquaponics is more complex but establishes a natural balance between fish and plants.

Let’s dive deeper into how those soilless gardening and farming methods work!

Hydroponic Farming

Hydroponics transforms plant cultivation by replacing soil with nutrient-rich water solutions. Plants grow in various mediums, such as rock wool, coco coir, and aeroponics. Customized nutrient solutions provide essential ingredients and help plants grow 30-50% faster and produce more.

In hydroponic farming, techniques like Deep Water Culture, Nutrient Film Technique (NFT), Wick systems, Drip systems, and Aeroponics are used to get the most out of the growth stages of plants. The plant roots receive the essential nutrients via direct delivery of a specialized solution.

Hydroponics Advantages and Disadvantages

Farmers and gardeners should remember that hydroponic systems have their own pros and cons. So, they should pick a system that will help them reach their farming goal.

Here’s a quick table with the pros and cons of hydroponic farming:

Advantages of HydroponicsDisadvantages of Hydroponics
Higher control over nutrient levels and the growing environmentDependence on purchasing nutrient solutions
Faster initial harvests – as soon as 6 weeksMore food safety risks if improperly managed
Can be done year-round indoorsSustainable, but not as much as aquaponics
Higher control over nutrient levels and growing environmentRequires electricity to operate pumps and lights
Small footprint – great for urban areas with limited spaceIt usually needs power to run
Hydroponics Pros and Cons

Hydroponics System Design

The fundamental parts of any hydroponic setup are as follows:

  • A growing medium like perlite, clay pellets, etc.
  • Growing trays and lights
  • Air Stones
  • Air Pumps
  • Net Pots
  • Reservoir
  • Nutrient solution
  • Plants

Aquaponic Farming

Aquaponics is a subgroup of hydroponics. It’s a smart way to grow plants and fish together. Simply put, it’s like having a teamwork system between fish farming (aquaculture) and soilless plant growing (hydroponics).

In aquaponics, fish live in a tank, and their waste contains organic nutrients. Helpful bacteria turn this excreted waste into food for plants. So, plants grow in water beds, and as they eat the nutrients, they clean the water for the fish.

Therefore, it’s a win-win situation where both fish and hydroponic plants help each other out and create a more holistic, sustainable, and interdependent ecosystem.

Aquaponics Advantages and Disadvantages

Here’s a quick summary of the aquaponic pros and cons:

Advantages of AquaponicsDisadvantages of Aquaponics
Organic production of fish and plantsHigh startup costs
Plants grow quicklyLong wait time for system to mature before harvesting
Highly sustainable closed-loop systemCareful monitoring of water quality and fish required
Educational for learning about ecosystemsNot ideal for plants with high nutrient needs
Appealing to consumers seeking organic produceNeeds power to run the systems
Need for more complex systems compared to hydroponics
Pros and Cons of Aquaponics

Aquaponics System Design

Some essential tools for aquaponics farming are listed below:

  • Fish Tank
  • Grow Bed 
  • Water Pump 
  • Aeration System 
  • Water Filtration System 
  • Plumbing and Tubing 
  • pH and EC 
  • Testing Kits 
  • Heater and Thermometer
  • Growing beds
  • Plants
  • Fish

Media-filled grow beds are often used. These allow beneficial bacteria to accumulate and convert ammonia to nitrates. The water is also cycled from the fish tank through the grow beds and back.

Comparing Hydroponic Vs Aquaponic Systems

Let’s start with a simple comparison table on hydroponic systems Vs aquaponic systems based on various aspects, features, and reasons. This will give you a quick overview of these two farming methods. 

Growing MediumInert growing medium like perlite, coco coir, etc.No soil is required. plants grow directly in nutrient-rich water
Nutrient SourceNutrient solution added directly to waterNutrients come from fish waste metabolized by bacteria
Fish FarmingNot typically integratedIntegral part; fish provide nutrients for plants
MaintenanceRequires regular nutrient monitoring and adjustmentInvolves maintaining proper fish health and system balance
Water UsageGenerally, uses less water compared to traditional soil farmingWater is recirculated between fish tanks and plant beds
Growth RateFaster growth due to direct nutrient deliverySlightly slower growth due to nutrient conversion process
ComplexityModerately simpler setupMore complex due to fish and bacteria components
SustainabilityRelies on purchased nutrients, can be less sustainableMore sustainable as fish waste provides nutrients
Nutrient ControlPrecise control over nutrient intakeNutrients are influenced by fish feeding and system conditions
Risk of FailureSusceptible to nutrient imbalancesFish and bacteria health are critical; imbalances can harm plants
Cost AnalysisSetup costs: nutrient solutions, pumps, grow mediumInitial setup: fish tanks, ongoing: fish feed
Crop Variety Wide variety of crops including fruiting plantsSuitable for leafy greens, herbs, some fruits
Learning CurveEasier for beginnersSteeper learning curve, especially for balancing fish and plants
HarvestCan be grown without fish-related constraintsDual harvest of plants and potentially fish for consumption (Aquaculture).
Aquaponic Vs Hydroponic – Comparison Table

Hope this short comparison table helps. Now, let’s explore the key factors of hydroponic vs aquaponic systems. 

Key Factors When Comparing Aquaponics Vs Hydroponics Method

Both aquaponic and hydroponic farming systems offer unique approaches to plant cultivation. However, understanding the key differences can help farmers make an informed decision. Let’s explore these factors of comparison in detail:

1. Nutrient Source 

  • In aquaponics: the plants receive their nutrients from fish waste. Beneficial bacteria convert this waste into nutrients that are good for plants. Thus, it creates a symbiotic relationship between the fish and the plants. The plants act as a natural filter, absorbing the nutrients and purifying the water for the fish.
  • In hydroponics: plants are supplied with nutrients through nutrient solutions added to the water. These solutions are carefully formulated to provide all the necessary elements for plant growth. The plants directly uptake the nutrients they need, which make sure efficient nutrient delivery.

2. Sustainability and Environmental Impact

Aquaponics shines when it comes to being sustainable and helping the environment. As fish and plants coexist in perfect symbiosis, the generation of waste is notably diminished thanks to this harmonious relationship. The nutrients in fish waste can be used by plants instead of chemical fertilizers.

Furthermore, aquaponics conserves water as it operates in a closed-loop system. Water, once used by the fish, is filtered and recirculated back to the plants. Therefore, aquaponic methods minimize water consumption compared to Hydroponic systems. 

Hydroponics, while also promoting water and nutrient efficiency compared to conventional soil-based farming, it requires more energy for constant nutrient circulation. But improvements in technology have led to solutions that use less energy, which solves this potential trade-off.

In addition, hydroponics can also use organic nutrient sources like compost teas. This makes small-scale hydroponics possible even in remote locations.

3. Yield and Plants’ Growth Rate

Well-designed aquaponic and hydroponic systems can both achieve high yields and fast harvest times compared to soil gardening:

  • Aquaponics utilizes nutrient-rich fish waste to enhance plant growth. This nutrient-dense environment can result in larger yields for crops, especially leafy greens and herbs. The natural processes that happen in an aquaponic system help the plants grow strong.
  • Hydroponics boasts faster growth rates due to its direct nutrient delivery system. Nutrients are readily available, which helps plants focus their energy on growth. This advantage is particularly beneficial for crops with shorter growing seasons or those that require swift growth. However, it ultimately results in a high overall yield

A few key factors influence productivity:

  • Lighting – Supplemental grow lights optimize growth and yields for indoor systems.
  • Stocking density – More plants per square foot increase yields but require more nutrients.
  • System maturity – Established systems have higher biofilter efficiency and stable conditions.

Overall, aquaponic and hydroponic systems can produce similar yields in a controlled setting. Hydroponics may produce slightly more due to higher control over nutrient levels.

4. Cost Analysis

The most practical solution for your needs can be determined by measuring the costs associated with aquaponic and hydroponic systems. 

In aquaponics, initial setup costs are required for fish tanks, grow beds, filtration systems, and associated equipment. Further, ongoing expenses include fish feed and regular maintenance to assure the wellness of the fish.

However, these costs may seem relatively higher initially. But the long-term benefits of a sustainable nutrient supply and reduced water usage should be taken into account. 

On the other hand, to set up a hydroponic system, crofters need a budget associated with nutrient solutions, pumps, grow mediums, and monitoring equipment. Besides, they should also consider the operational costs, such as replenishing nutrient solutions and maintaining the ideal environment for plant growth.

Comparing Startup Costs

Hydroponic systems generally have lower startup costs. Basic systems can be created for as low as $100-$200 using plastic tubs, growing trays, and a few other components. More advanced systems with timers and automation can cost over $1000.

Aquaponic systems start at around $1000. The main startup costs include:

  • Fish tank – $100+
  • Growing beds – $200+
  • Pump – $100+
  • Filter – $100+
  • Plumbing supplies – $100+
  • Fish – $100+

The costs add up quickly. However, hydroponic systems require ongoing purchases of nutrient solutions, while aquaponic systems are self-sustaining after initial stocking.

Note that these costs can vary depending on the scale and complexity of the system.

5. Maintenance and Complexity

Keeping hydroponic and aquaponic systems up and running takes different amounts of work and technical knowledge.

To be more specific, aquaponics demands attention to fish health, water quality, and maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Also, farmers need regular monitoring of water parameters such as temperature, pH levels, and ammonia content.

Besides, it is extremely important to ensure the well-being of both fish and plant life. However, once a stable system is established, it can be relatively self-sustaining.

In contrast, hydroponics calls for frequent monitoring of nutrient levels, pH, and water circulation. Also, farmers should make sure plants receive optimal nutrition. While it may require more frequent supervision and fine-tuning compared to aquaponics, hydroponics offers more control over the growing environment.

Aquaponics Maintenance

  • Test water pH and ammonia levels weekly
  • Clean filters regularly to prevent clogging
  • Monitor fish health and tank conditions daily
  • Supplement fish feed to balance nutrients

Hydroponics Maintenance

  • Test pH and nutrient levels 1-2 times per week
  • Replace nutrient solution every 1-2 weeks
  • Clean growing trays between plantings

The natural ecosystem of aquaponics systems helps stabilize conditions. But the presence of living fish requires more vigilance.

6. Crop Variety

Each system can grow different crops to meet different needs and wants:

  • Aquaponics is ideal for growing leafy greens, herbs, and some fruiting plants. The nutrient availability in the system promotes healthy foliage growth. To be precise, it works well with a variety of salad greens like lettuce and kale, herbs like basil and mint, and smaller-fruited tomatoes, green beans, and peppers.
  • Hydroponics, with its specific nutrient delivery system, opens up possibilities for growing a wide variety of crops. From leafy greens to larger fruiting plants like strawberries, cucumbers, and even fruit trees. In addition to this, hydroponics offers flexibility in plant selection and the potential for diverse harvests.

7. Water Quality Factors

Management of water chemistry is vital in both systems but differs in optimal pH ranges and monitoring needs.


Nutrient Monitoring

  • Hydroponics requires close tracking of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other elements.
  • Aquaponics mainly needs monitoring for excess ammonia produced by fish waste.


Electrical conductivity (EC) measures the concentration of dissolved salts and nutrients. It must be monitored closely in hydroponics. Aquaponics has lower EC since fish waste contains minimal salts.

8. Pest and Disease Management

Both hydroponic and aquaponic systems experience far fewer issues with insects, fungi, bacteria, and viruses than soil gardening. But management tactics differ.

Hydroponics Pest Control

Chemical pesticides can be used as needed since there are no fish present. Sterile conditions and consistent monitoring can help to prevent most pest problems.

Aquaponics Pest Control

No chemical pest control can be used in aquaponics because they would harm the fish. Beneficial insects and organic sprays like neem oil must be used to protect plants.

Good sanitation and introducing predator insects can help to control pest populations. The diversity of plants, fish, and microbes contributes to an environment resilient against diseases.

Hydroponics vs Aquaponics: Which one is best?

Both aquaponics and hydroponics offer distinct advantages that make them appealing options for indoor and sustainable farming. Aquaponics and hydroponics are two ways of growing plants faster and getting more crops.

Most people don’t agree on which is better. Instead of worrying about that, just think about what you have and what you would like to achieve. This, coupled with the knowledge I shared on this guide will definitively help you to make the right choice for your needs.

If you want a fast-growing system, go for hydroponics. It’s quicker because you don’t have to raise fish along with plants.

However, if you’re worried about long term operational cost, aquaponics might be better. Hydroponics needs expensive chemicals, while aquaponics uses fish waste, which is free of charge.

Deciding Between Aquaponics vs Hydroponics

When weighing aquaponics vs hydroponics, consider your goals, space, time, and skill level.

Hydroponics tends to be better for:

  • Beginners looking for an easy introduction to soilless growing
  • Maximizing growth and yields in a small space
  • Growing a wide variety of plants including fruits and vegetables
  • Indoor growing with artificial lighting
  • Those seeking faster harvests

Aquaponics tends to be better for:

  • Those interested in learning about closed-loop ecosystems
  • Backyard growing using mostly natural sunlight
  • Producing organic fish and plants
  • Growers able to closely monitor system dynamics
  • Gardeners with more time to let systems mature before harvesting

Either way, both work well, so simply pick the one that is better suited for your needs and situation!

Which is Better for Beginners?

For gardeners new to soilless growing methods, hydroponics tends to be easier to start out with. The more limited number of components and faster setup makes hydroponics a better choice for beginners.

Hydroponics has also a better tolerance to error. Imbalanced nutrient levels typically will not kill plants right away. And no livestock is at risk if mistakes are made.

For first-time growers, starting with a simple wick, DWC, or drip irrigation hydroponic system allows gaining experience before attempting the more complex aquaponic method.


Aquaponic vs hydroponic: both the growing methods offer impressive benefits over soil-based gardening. While aquaponics is more sustainable, hydroponics gives growers more control.

Let’s quickly wrap up the main differences between aquaponics and hydroponics:

  • Aquaponics thanks to a symbiotic relationship between plants and fish, this method emerges as a cost-effective and eco-friendly choice. This has also the ability to provide a rich and diverse assortment of nutrients critical for the nourishment and prosperity of plants.
  • Hydroponics is also a fast-growing soilless cultivation method. In hydroponic, plants absorb the required nutrients directly from water. 

Choosing between these two depends on what a farmer wants to achieve, what they have available, and what they like.

It is noteworthy that both aquaponics and hydroponics are important pieces of modern indoor farming that help our environment and make food production better.

Understanding the key differences in system design, maintenance, startup time, costs, and production will help you decide whether aquaponic or hydroponic soilless gardening is a better match for your needs and goals.


1. What is the main difference between hydroponics and aquaponics?

Hydroponics involves growing plants in nutrient-rich water solutions, while aquaponics combines fish farming with plant cultivation. Aquaponics utilizes fish waste as a nutrient source for plants which creates a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants.

2. Which method, aquaponics or hydroponics, is more sustainable in terms of nutrient sources?

Aquaponics is more sustainable in terms of nutrient sources. It uses fish waste to provide nutrients for plants and eliminates the need for purchased chemical fertilizers. Hydroponics relies on nutrient solutions, which may be less sustainable.

3. What are the primary crops suitable for aquaponics and hydroponics, respectively?

Aquaponics is ideal for growing leafy greens, herbs, and a few fruiting plants. Hydroponics allow for a wider variety of crops, such as leafy greens, larger fruiting plants such as strawberries and cucumbers, and even fruit trees.