Hydroponics is the art (and indeed the science) of growing plants without soil.
That goes against everything we’ve historically learned about growing plants, and it also runs us into some difficulty with terms and visualizations.
Without soil, the idea of a fertilizer feels intrinsically wrong, but in hydroponics, fertilizers and nutrient stimulants are more or less the same thing: chemical compounds that make your plants grow, how you want them and where you want them.
OK, great – but which are the best?
You might as well ask which is the best pizza – everyone will have their own opinion. Likewise, different plants will often thrive best with different foods (fertilizers or nutrient compounds).
But there are still lots of competing companies in the market for hydroponic fertilizers and nutrient compounds. How do you know which are the most suitable for you?
We’re here to help. In this guide, we’re going to go over the top rate hydroponic plant food as well as a buying guide.
Quick glance at the best hydroponic fertilizers:
- FoxFarm Liquid Nutrient Trio Soil Formula: Big Bloom, Grow Big, Tiger Bloom
- AeroGarden Liquid Nutrients
- General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro Combo Fertilizer Set
- Masterblend 4-18-38 Complete Combo Kit Fertilizer
- Advanced Nutrients 3-Part pH Perfect Grow Micro Bloom
Also Read: Best Hydroponic Nutrients
Best Hydroponic Fertilizer
Fox Farm has a big name in hydroponic fertilizers, so this is the equivalent of recommending you an iMac. It also has some pretty high prices on its products, so… well, so this is the equivalent of recommending you an iMac.
The Nutrient Trio is more or less exactly what it says it is – three separate preparations – Big Bloom, Grow Big, and Tiger Bloom.
Where this combination from FoxFarm differs from some other 3-preparation options is that there’s no simple base with all the essentials you need. Instead, you get two entirely different bloom formulae – the Big and the Tiger varieties.
Well, so each of your three formulae here give you the basic nutrients that your plants will need as they grow, but each one is also formulated for specific, targeted purposes.
Grow Big, as the name more than suggests, increases the size of green and vegetative growth during the vegetative stage of the life cycle. That will help your plants both in terms of their health and robustness, and in terms of their output.
Once your plants have started to bloom, it’s time to switch to the Tiger Bloom formulation, which has all the hydroponic goodness they’ll need for spectacular, bright, and bigger blooms.
We know what you’re thinking – if that’s what Tiger Bloom does, what the heck is Big Bloom for, right?
Well, Big bloom is the least logically named of the three formulations. It’s used more or less throughout the growing cycle, but has little to do with blooms as such. It’s a formulation that helps heal and strengthen root growth.
Yes, exactly, it makes sense if you think about it far too hard – without healthy roots, you have no chance of getting bigger blooms, so… there’s that.
Tangential naming aside though, Big Bloom does give your plants the healthy roots they need to boost the overall output of your plants. Big Bloom also helps your plants inasmuch as it’s a highly effective organic and hydroponic fertilizer.
There are easier hydroponic fertilizer treatments on the market. There are also, beyond any shadow of doubt, more budget-friendly fertilizer and nutrient treatments on the market.
But if you have the cash to splash and you want your hydroponic plants to have the strongest roots, the brightest blooms, and the biggest leaves and vegetation, the FoxFarm Trio is about as good as it gets.
- The three formulation approach allows you to give your plants the right nutrients at each stage of their growth cycle
- The Big Bloom treatment makes sure your plants roots are cared for – not just your flowers
- Bigger, healthier blooms, leaves and vegetation is promised by the combination of the three treatments
- This is among the most expensive hydroponic fertilizer and nutrient programs on the market
- It’s also fairly complicated to apply, compared to single-solution systems
AeroGarden Liquid Nutrients is the antithesis of the FoxFarm solution in many ways, in that rather than specialized nutrient formulations for different times and purposes, it’s an easy-to-apply single-liquid solution to everything your plants could need as they grow.
Ahh, but the FoxFarm reputation, you say. Yyyyeah, AeroGarden is made by Miracle-Gro, so reputation schmeputation. One bottle, one formula, all your hydroponic nutrient and fertilizer needs.
But isn’t that significantly less effective than the careful planning of a three-stage hydroponic solution? Mmm, arguably, but if you’re a beginner in the hydroponic world, chances are you’re not going to care enough to fret about the relatively miniscule performance differences between the systems.
You are going to care about the ease of application that comes with the AeroGarden option though, so if you’re new to hydroponics, and you don’t want to sell a kidney to afford the finicky but precise FoxFarm system, we’re thinking the significantly more budget-friendly, hassle-free AeroGarden option from Miracle-Gro is going to suit you right down to the entirely soilless ground.
Simply mix the formula with water in the ratio as described on the bottle, then fertilize at will. Over 100 times, out of a single bottle of AeroGarden. That’s got to make good financial sense.
As we say, what AeroGarden is not going to give you is all the precise, time-sensitive nutrient take-up of the likes of the FoxFarm solution. There’s little about AeroGarden that’s customizable to ensure you get big blooms when they’re due, or extra lush foliage if that’s your hydroponic bag.
But for newbies in the hydroponic world, it’s a much more user-friendly grab-and-go solution to nourishing your plants than any of the precisely-graded, task-specific nutrient packages on the market.
- It is much more user-friendly than some solutions available, being a simple diluted solution
- It’s also much easier to apply as needed, because it’s one formula, rather than the likes of three
- Giving 100 applications per single bottle of AeroGarden, it’s comparatively cost effective
- All of these factors make it ideal for those who are new to hydroponics
- It lacks the finesse of some other systems, that allow you to use precise nutrient doses when they’re most needed
General Hydroponics is a firm that really knows how hydroponics works and has a strong reputation specifically in this area.
The Flora series of nutrients and fertilizers is pretty much its flagship set of products, so what you have here is the best of one of the best.
Where the AeroGarden gives you an easy introduction to hydroponics though, the Flora series is what you move onto once you’ve taken your hydroponic training wheels off.
It’s a sequence of three hydroponics nutrients formulas – Flora Grow, Flora Bloom, and Flora Micro, and as you’ll suspect from the fact that they exist separately, they each have different effects, for use at different points in your plants’ growing cycles.
That’s customized plant nutrition, right there. It’s the kind of thing you graduate to if you’re no longer freaked out by the fact that hydroponics works, and have moved on to a degree of understanding of how it works.
Flora Micro is the base of the nutrient pyramid here. It has trace minerals, calcium, and nitrogen – the things your plants will need more or less to stay alive throughout their growing cycle. Without Flora Micro, you have very little hydroponic game here.
Flora Grow takes your plants off the nitrogen equivalent of the paleo diet – there’s a lot more nitrogen in Flora Grow, which makes sense as increasing their nitrogen supply encourages plants to grow. Flora Grow also gives your plants a taste of potassium to boost that growth effect and channel it.
And finally, Flora Bloom doubles down on the joy of phosphorus, while adding in a host of other fruit- and flower-building chemistry like magnesium and sulfur, for vivid results with the vibrancy turned up to 11.
Now, as we said, this gives you stunning results, but it’s not a solution for the unwary or the newcomer. You need to know more about the points in the life cycle at which your plants need, or will be receptive to, particular chemicals if you’re to make the most out of the system. But if you can master that, then the Flora system will undoubtedly give you phenomenal results.
- The precision of the three-stage system gives you reliably excellent results
- The labelling is clear, building from micro-growth, through more visible growth, to blooming, so it makes the application as straightforward as it can be
- The chemistry involved is easily understandable – and easy to learn
- The three-solution system can be complicated if you’re new to hydroponics
- It also takes more knowledge and work to correctly dose your plants at the right time
Liquid, liquid, liquid, it’s all about the liquid with hydroponic fertilizer, right?
Well, no, not always.
The Masterblend 4-18-38 Combo Kit is a solid hydroponic fertilizer and nutrient bundle.
Yes, liquid options tend to come further to the fore with most hydroponic plant-growers, simply because of their ease of dilution and application, but the Masterblend Combo Kit takes solid fertilizer and gives it a shake-up, making it both effective and, importantly, significantly more pocket-friendly than some of your liquid options.
That’s because preparing, storing, and shipping solid hydroponic fertilizer is a lot more cost effective than it is with the liquid versions (there being no water to increase bulk), so stores can pass the benefit onto you, the hydroponic gardener.
There are three components to the Masterblend kit. The basic 4-18-38 MasterBlend fertilizer includes all those things that make up a plant banquet – nitrogen, phosphate, magnesium, etc, along with some elements of copper, iron, and other micronutrients.
Then, as a kind of booster pack, you get a bag of calcium nitrate. As you can easily deduce, that gives your plants both a calcium fix and a heap more nitrogen to help them grow strong. that provides additional calcium and nitrogen as needed. And thirdly, there’s an old but impressively effective addition – Epsom salts.
Epsom salts include lots of elements that are useful to your plants in the final stage of their life cycle, the all-important flowering and fruit-bearing stage. Elements like more magnesium, sulfate, and sulfur give your plants that extra, complex, energy they need to put out the brightest and the biggest flowers and fruits, meaning they give you more of the pleasure you’re looking for.
But what if you run out of one bag before either of the other two? Well, there’s a good deal of chemistry and math involved in bagging up the Masterblend Combo, so if you read the instructions that come with the kit and follow them, you shouldn’t run out of anything until the growth cycle is complete.
All round, the Masterblend Combo is less straightforward than some liquid fertilizers, but also a good deal cheaper, and, if you read the instructions, it shouldn’t give you any problems with your hydroponic plants.
The price is significantly less steep than many liquid hydroponic fertilizers
It still contains a three-stage approach to getting the best out of your hydroponic plants
There’s less hassle with the solid fertilizer because you don’t need to dilute it
The three-stage approach brings its own complications
If you like the Flora series from General Hydroponics, but you have significantly less cash to spend on hydroponic fertilizers, you’d be well advised to check out Advanced Nutrients’ 3-part Perfect Grow Micro Bloom range.
General Hydroponics of course has a strong reputation, and Advanced Nutrients is still making its mark, so the more established company gets more attention, but the Advanced Nutrients range actually mirrors the General Hydroponics Flora series pretty closely.
As with the Flora series, the Advanced Nutrients series is broken down into Micro, Grow, and Bloom formulas, with the make-up of each formula sticking closely to the General Hydroponics mix.
That means you can do the same kind of customized feeding of your hydroponic plants with the Advanced Nutrients system as you can with the General Hydroponics Flora system – but it will cost you a little less.
In terms of noticeable results, there’s very little to choose between the two, so the Advanced Nutrients option exists if you need to trim your bills, but still want an above average result for your plants.
- This system is structured very similarly to the General Hydroponics Flora system
- It also delivers very similar results to the more expensive system
- The price makes it more accessible than some others to hydroponic gardeners on a budget
- The company has yet to really make its mark in the niche, so it can feel like a leap in the dark
Hydroponic Fertilizer Buyer’s Guide
There are a handful of things to remember when you’re looking to buy hydroponic fertilizers.
Be honest about your experience – and your commitment
The three-stage fertilizers that largely dominate the market require a good deal of knowledge about the life cycle of your plants, and what nutrients they will most need at which stages of that cycle.
They also demand some commitment and time-management skills to make sure you feed the plants the right nutrients and fertilizers at the right time.
By comparison, the single-solution option exists to guide newcomers into hydroponics. Be honest with yourself about how much you know and how strong your commitment to hydroponic gardening is. This will tell you whether you’re currently a “one-bottle wonder” or a “three-phase wunderkind.”
Solid Or Liquid
If you go the three-phase route, ask yourself whether you feel more comfortable using liquid fertilizer or solid. This is not as arbitrary a question as you might imagine, because three liquid phases feels inherently more like a chemical experiment than three solid phases, which feels more like traditional, soil-based gardening. There’s also the fact that the solid fertilizer is usually considerably cheaper than its liquid counterpart.
The Cost Of Hydroponics
Touching on the price differential brings up another significant point. How much do you have in your horticultural budget for hydroponic fertilizer? It might often be the price that determines whether you go for one formula or three, and whether you go for solid fertilizer or liquid.
If you’re on a budget or just interested you could create your own fertilizer and nutrient mix. Check out our guide here: DIY Hydroponic Nutrients
What Nutrients Should I Be looking For In A Hydroponic Fertilizer?
Nitrogen will be key in terms of getting your plants to do anything at all. Phosphorus and magnesium will also be useful in getting you bigger and brighter flowers, foliage and vegetation.
If I Have No Soil, Is Solid Fertilizer Safe For Hydroponics?
Yes, but it’s just as well to choose a well-known solid fertilizer. You can still use solid fertilizer, but it should be geared specifically towards hydroponic growth, rather than, for instance, soil enrichment because that’s mostly a waste of your fertilizer dollars.
Why Is Hydroponic Gardening Better Than Traditional Gardening?
“Better” is subjective here, but it uses significantly less water than traditional gardening. On the other hand, it can be expensive to set up and use more power, so there are cons as well as pros to going hydroponic.