Challenges With Hydroponics: Pest Management, Nutrient Deficiencies and More

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By Jeff Hale

Whether you’ve been growing hydroponic plants for many years and you’ve just started out. You will have setbacks and minor issues, maybe even big issues that completely kill your plants.

In this guide, we will discuss the 12 hydroponic problems you might face on a regular basis.

Nutrient deficiencies, pest management, seeding problems, salt burn, and root rot are all potential hurdles that can arise when growing hydroponically.

Pest Management

Pest infestation is one of the most common problems that a hydroponic grower will face. If you take a look at commercial hydroponic farming, they are drenched in pesticides and other chemicals to keep growing plants that are healthy.

One thing I’ve noticed is how many insects like spider mites or fungus gnats will come crawling out when it rains because there aren’t any chemical sprays killing them off (at least for outdoor plants). That being said, you don’t need to use all of the chemicals that are used on commercial farms.

Seeding Problems

The majority of plants can be seeded directly into your grow systems without any problem, but some require pre-soaking or even special treatment before they’re ready to go.

For example, you would soak seeds in water for 24 hours and then put them between wet paper towels before you put them into your grow medium.

Nutrient Deficiency and Toxicity

With nutrient deficiencies, you will typically see yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and the plant may even stop growing altogether.

You will need to provide your plants with a balanced fertilizer (nutrient solution) that has all of the essential nutrients for healthy growth including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) & potassium (K), as well as calcium, magnesium and sulfur.

For example, You can use a 15-15-15 fertilizer, which provides you with the perfect amount of each nutrient.

With toxicity problems, your plant may have brown or yellow leaves that are crispy to touch and appear burnt.

You should stop fertilizing them immediately until they recover from this problem because excess nutrients can be very harmful for your hydroponic system as well as your plants.

Bad grow lights

Using cheap or incorrect grow lights will lead to all kinds of problems for you and slow down your hydroponic gardening, including a nutrient deficiency.

If you are using HID lights, make sure they have the correct wattage and color spectrum that is ideal for plant growth without adding any extra CO² or nutrients into the air surrounding them.

The best choice would be LED grow lamps because they don’t give off a lot of heat and they have a 70-90% higher efficiency than any other grow lighting.

Not Monitoring PPM/EC/TDS

It’s very important to monitor the PPM/EC/TDS levels in your hydroponic garden because you need a specific ratio between all of these values for healthy plant growth and development.

If they are too low, there won’t be enough nutrient ions available in the water, while an excess will prevent plants from absorbing them and can cause toxicity problems.

Pro tip: This is why you should always use a TDS Meter to monitor the PPM, EC, or TDS levels in your reservoir as these devices will give you an accurate reading within seconds.

If they are low, increase your nutrient dosage by adding fertilizer directly into the water (you need to change it every two weeks) or you can add a Cal-Mag supplement to help your plants recover from any nutrient deficiencies.

Avoid overwatering by checking the EC levels daily and only adding water if they are below 0.75, while testing pH once every week will also ensure that it does not get too high or low in your reservoir.

Using the Wrong Growing Medium

Most first time growers don’t understand the importance of choosing the right growing medium and they end up choosing the wrong one for their specific hydroponic system.

When you use a growing medium in your grow bed, make sure it has excellent drainage and is able to hold water without becoming soggy because this will prevent the plant root from being submerged under too much water or dried out completely.

Hydroponics system leaks

Checking for leaks in your hydroponic system on a weekly basis is essential for preventing nutrient lockouts, root rot and other problems.

If you notice that some water has been lost from the reservoir, add more to bring it back up to capacity so plants don’t get stressed out or begin suffering from deficiencies.

Pump and spray nozzle issues

It’s not a case of if, but when your pumps will get blocked or break unexpectedly. So you need to be prepared for this and have a spare one ready at all times.

It’s also important that your spray nozzles aren’t clogged up with debris or excess fertilizer because this will prevent the water from reaching your plants, which can lead to nutrient lockouts, salinity issues and more problems on top of it.

Using The Wrong Fertilizer

It goes without saying that using the wrong fertilizer can cause a wide range of problems for your hydroponic garden, including nutrient deficiencies or toxicity.

If you are using chemical-based fertilizers, make sure they do not contain any chlorine because this can prevent plants from absorbing nutrients and causing growth issues as well as serious damage to the root system over time.

Using Hard Water

Distilled water is the best option when growing hydroponics because it will never add anything into the system and can be reused until it becomes too dirty.

You should also avoid using hard water as much as possible, especially if you have a high TDS reading in your reservoir or grow bed because this can cause nutrient lockouts and other problems with growth.

Not Adjusting the pH Levels

Your pH levels are the lifeblood of your hydroponic system and without them, plants will not be able to absorb everything in your nutrient solution no matter how much of it is available.

But if the pH levels are too high or low for more than a few hours, you can expect serious damage to roots that can result in nutrient lockouts, wilting leaves and other problems with growth.

Not cleaning and flushing the system

It’s recommended that you clean and flush your hydroponic system every two weeks to remove all the excess salt build-up and mineral deposits from your grow bed, but some growers decide not to do this because it is a time-consuming process.

But if you don’t clean out these systems on a regular basis, expect nutrient deficiencies as well as mold growth that can harm plants over time.

You’d be surprised at how many problems can actually be fixed by cleaning and flushing properly.

Pro tip: Always check your levels by gradually adding nutrient solution after a cleanout. Too many people just dump in any nutrient solution without monitoring anything.

The three biggest problems that can be prevented are:

1) Salt Burn

This occurs when the pH levels in your system are too high because you have been using a lot of fertilizer or if there’s a buildup of toxic salts around plant roots which limits their oxygen supply and makes it difficult for them to absorb nutrients from the water.

2) Root Rot

This is caused by a fungal infection and it’s the last major problem with hydroponics.

If you see your plants drooping or wilting, chances are they have root rot because their roots cannot properly absorb water from the reservoir anymore.

You will need to remove those infected plant parts immediately as well as any soil that has been affected by the fungus so that it does not spread.

Then you will have to clean your hydroponic system and replace any lost soil with fresh potting mix before restarting your plant from scratch in a new grow bed filled with a brand new medium.

3) Algae growth

Algae in hydroponics is caused by excess light, heat or nutrients in your system.

The best way to prevent this problem is by keeping the temperature of your reservoir at a steady level and giving plants just enough water for them to absorb what they need without being too wet all the time.

And it’s also helpful if you use an algae barrier that prevents growth while still allowing your plants to get the light and nutrients they need.

Conclusion: Reducing Hydroponic Problems

The biggest mistake that you can make is not learning as you go. If you’re seeing the same issues crop up over and over again and you’re not learning and adapting, that’s your fault.

You’re going to waste a lot of time and money that way. The other way to reduce the potential problems you have is by paying for high-quality products.

Everything from the pumps you use, to the nutrients you put in the esovior. Whatever system you’re using to grow plants, make sure everything is high quality.

I understand that some of you are on a budget, but you’ll actually save more in the long run if you fork out more in the beginning.