Soil gardening is considered a traditional method of growing plants. The seeds or seedlings are planted in soil and establish root systems that they use to extract moisture and nutrients from the soil. In hydroponic gardening, plants are anchored in an inert material or growing medium designed to allow the roots to access nutrient-enriched water. Soil is not used in hydroponics.
A soil garden must have a specific, fixed location requiring a certain amount of space, sun exposure and access to water flow via a hose or irrigation system. The soil in the garden may need extensive conditioning before it is capable of supporting plant life. The soil garden location needs to be accessible in order to bring in large amounts of soil amendments. A hydroponic garden may be located either outdoors or indoors. Access to electricity is necessary if using automated pump systems. Water is pumped over the roots at regular intervals. An indoor garden may also require grow lights in lieu of sunlight.
Within a soil garden, plant roots burrow down through the soil in search of moisture and nutrients. If the soil is lacking in any of the necessary macronutrients or micronutrients, the plant suffers from nutritional deficiency. The plant itself must expend a great deal of energy expanding its root system in the search for food and water. Hydroponic nutrient solutions are designed to work within the hydroponic system to deliver the full array of nutrients directly to the root system of a plant. The plant then takes what it requires for growth and discards the rest. The plant can then expend energy on development of foliage, flowers and fruit.
Both hydroponic gardens and soil gardens require a certain amount of maintenance to flourish. The tasks, however, take different forms. A soil garden requires watering while a hydroponic system delivers and recycles the water to the plant roots. In a hydroponic system, however, the nutrient enriched water should be replaced every two to three weeks to avoid nutrient depletion. In a soil garden, fertilizer needs to be added with regular frequency to the soil to maintain nutritional content. Spent plants in a soil garden may be turned into the soil and allowed to decompose, adding to the health of the soil. In a hydroponic system, spent plants are not recycled and proper disposal is necessary.