Aquaponics Vs Hydroponics – What’s The Difference?

Aquaponics vs hydroponics. Here you are, pondering which direction to go. But whats the real difference? How does a budding gardener choose between one or the other?

While both are good options, they each have features that make them great for some people, and terrible for other…

This simple guide will give you clarity on the difference between aquaponics and hydroponics, and show you how to choose.

the Difference Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics

The difference between hydroponics and aquaponics definition is that hydroponics is the overall practice of growing plants without soil, while aquaponics is a subset of hydroponics where you grow plants in water and raise fish for nutrients.

difference between hydroponics and aquaponics graphic

In aquaponics, the fish and plants work together to help each other thrive.

Hydroponics = growing plants without soil

Hydroponics refers to growing plants without soil. Gardeners grow plants in other substances like water, sand and gravel instead!

The way these plants get nutrients is through the watering process. Gardeners put fertilizer into the water before watering the plants. This gives you – the gardener – complete control over the nutrients the plants receive.

For some inspiration on how you can use hydroponics to create a produce garden, check out this article on Tower Gardening

Aquaponics = a type of hydroponics

Aquaponics is a type of hydroponics where gardeners choose water as their medium in which to grow plants. They also raise fish and other water life, such as snails and crayfish, whose waste provide the plants with nutrients.

Raising fish and plants together in the same environment creates this cool cycle where the plants clean the water for the fish and the fish provide nutrients for the plants.

Hydroponics vs Aquaponics: which should YOU choose?

So which is better for your situation?

You’re probably expecting me to say: it depends on your needs and preferences since these are both great methods! But, let’s compare them to each other to give you a bigger picture.

Nutrient control

Raising plants correctly is all about the nutrients. Some gardeners LOVE to geek out on nutrients, and control what, and how much, goes into the garden. Does this sound like you? Or would you prefer to leave it up to nature?

With hydroponics, the nutrients are completely controlled and human-made. You control how much water and fertilizer you feed to the plants. So you’ll have to spend some time learning about plant nutrients, and how to use them.

With aquaponics, the nutrients are sourced from the fish you are raising. Still effective, but you need to worry about keeping the fish healthy to provide the best nutrients. Its more hands off!

Space required

Arguable the most important and first question you should ask when choosing: how much space do I have? Your situation may limit your options, based on your space available.

Hydroponics requires less space since you are not dealing with housing for fish, or the space to run pumps.

Aquaponics requires additional space since it’s a two-part system.

But, how much more space?

Well, while they can get quite large, you can still have a small aquaponics system if you’d like. This article shows, along with a few other options (and sizes!), how you can have one with a 5-gallon bucket.

Effort required

Aquaponics requires more effort initially, to set up two systems and to get used to raising fish. But after the initial setup, the effort to run these two methods would be the same.

Therefore, effort required should not be a huge determining factor. But if you’re sensitive to hard work, or are short on time, choose an aquaponics system.

Costs involved

Hydroponics would cost less because you’re not buying additional equipment to raise fish. But, after the initial costs, aquaponics would only cost the price of maintenance, seeds and fish food. 

Keep in mind, however, that the nutrients you will have to feed your plants in a hydroponics system can be costly as well. However, an overall price for either would be contingent on the size of your system and how many plants (and fish!) you would want to grow.

The pros and cons of aquaponics and hydroponics gardening systems

Hydroponics and aquaponics have many advantages and some disadvantages, when compared to other forms of gardening.


  • You don’t need to use soil to grow plants
  • Easy to move, whether around the yard or to a new house
  • You don’t have to worry about pests attracted to the soil
  • You don’t need to worry about soil contamination.
  • Using other methods to grow plants (such as water) is more cost effective than soil.
  • You can control the nutrients the plants get either through fertilizer (in hydroponics) or how well you raise fish (through aquaponics.


  • A learning curve required to pull it off
  • Extra cost to set up and raise fish (for aquaponics)
  • Plants will die fast if not properly monitored

Which method yields better crops?

Will the use of hydroponics or aquaponics yield better crops?

In general, and when implemented correctly, using hydroponics or aquaponics will yield healthier, larger, and more flavorful plants, because the plants can reach their true potential without soil getting in the way.

There are many variables in soil that can affect plant growth.

Some variables include pH levels of the soil, the amount of fertilizer as well as any contaminants in the soil.  

If you are interested in learning more about plant yield with hydroponics, check out this article.

Hydroponics and Aquaponics Systems

Systems are what makes the plants grow. They are the environments in which the plants and fish live and thrive, so it is important to know how to build them correctly!

How to Build Hydroponics Systems

Building hydroponics systems can be elaborate or simple.

Depending on your style or how much effort you want to put into growing plants hydroponically, you can use this tutorial to build a complex hydroponics system.

Or you can purchase kits for hydroponics if you want to make your life easier.

There are even indoor hydroponic systems that you can check out and build.

What is an Aquaponics System

An aquaponics system involves extra structures to house and raise fish. There are great resources on the internet to help you get started.

You check out this tutorial on how to build an aquaponics system step by step. Or you can purchase an aquaponics kit for beginners.

What’s the Verdict?

Whatever method you use, hydroponics or aquaponics can be a great alternative to growing plants.

Hydroponics gives you the reins over what your crops absorb. Aquaponics uses fish to give your crops nutrients without having to worry about mixing fertilizer.

Both methods are something to be considered when starting to grow plants.

Have you dipped your toes into hydroponics or aquaponics? What did you think?

If you have any questions, comment them down below!

1 thought on “Aquaponics vs Hydroponics (and how to choose)”

  1. Myself, I had a rough time with the solution for hydroponics. I don’t believe it would have taken long to figure it out, but I moved pretty quickly to try aquaponics. I do agree regarding more effort for the set up. Overall I am glad I did it though. It has been a fun adventure to learn about fish, their habitat, ways to use and dispose of the dirty water, learning the plants and which system (drip line, nft, floating raft…) for what your growing. Still learning as I go. Hope you all have success with whichever system you choose and grow happy!

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