Hydroponics is a process that uses mineral-enriched water to provide plants with their nutrients.
Plants absorb the water and minerals through their roots, which are suspended in the solution.
The nutrient solution circulates throughout the plant's growing system, providing all of its essential needs for growth. Hydroponics can be used indoors or outdoors, depending on your preference.
So that's how plants get their nutrients.
But does it mean that hydroponics is better than other methods of growing plants? Maybe so for most plants, let's explore why hydroponics systems can help you give your plants more amino acids and micronutrients than other methods.
- What is hydroponics, and how does it work?
- Nutrients in soil vs. nutrients in the water
- Why you should use a nutrient solution for your plants
- The 4 most important factors to consider when choosing a nutrient solution for hydroponic gardening
- How to calculate the pH of your nutrient solution
- How do you know for sure if your plant needs more or fewer nutrients?
- Conclusion: Are Hydroponic Systems Worth The Hassle?
Also read: Nutrients Needed for Hydroponics
What is hydroponics, and how does it work?
Horticulture is the science of growing plants. Hydroponics uses a water solvent as a base for plant growth instead of soil, allowing gardeners to grow specific crops in areas where soils are poor or not available.
In hydroculture, nutrients dissolve into the solution and are absorbed through the roots via osmosis. Because no soil is present, hydroponics can be used with almost any crop production.
There are six major types of nutrient solution methods used in hydroponic systems:
- EBB and flow system (flood and drain)
- Deep Water Culture (DWC)
- Drip irrigation systems
- NFT (nutrient film technique)
- Wick system
A container holding an inert growing media is filled with nutrient solutions in the flood and drain method. As the water drains away, it carries dissolved nutrients into the plant's root zone, where they are absorbed through osmosis.
The process then repeats itself as new nutrients flow in from overhead emitters to replace the roots of the plants.
Check out our top recommendations for hydroponic systems
Nutrients in soil vs. nutrients in the water
The best way to think about nutrient uptake in hydroponics vs. soil is by understanding the difference between mass and volume. In soil, there is a lot of material available for plants to use as nutrients (soil).
Plants can take up these nutrients from this large amount of "mass" around them. However, when growing hydroponically, plants can only draw on the water and nutrients' "volume." This is precisely why it's crucial to monitor your nutrient levels when growing with a hydroponic system.
Why you should use a nutrient solution for your plants
Using a nutrient-rich solution for your plants when growing hydroponically can be beneficial for several reasons.
The plant's ability for growth is improved when they are given a nutrient-rich solution.
Your plant can also grow at an increased rate in hydroponics compared to another growing medium such as soil, which is excellent if you want quick results.
You will have less maintenance since the water-based system does not accumulate dirt and dust over time, so clean-up is easy.
It's kind of a no-brainer when you think about it. Less time, money, and dirty fingers.
The 4 most important factors to consider when choosing a nutrient solution for hydroponic gardening
The four most important factors known as "essential elements" to consider when choosing nutrient solutions for hydroponics are:
- pH (potential hydrogen)
- EC (electrical conductivity)
- TDS (total dissolved solids)
- N-P-K ratios.
pH is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline your water is, which affects plant growth. The ideal pH level range you should look for is between a pH of five to six. If the water's pH levels are outside this range, it can harm or kill your plants.
EC measures how much salt content there is in the nutrient solution and affects plant growth as well. An EC meter will provide you with a reading for how many millisiemens per centimeter.
How to calculate the pH of your nutrient solution
The hydroponic nutrient solution comprises three main ingredients: water, nutrients, and pH. It has to be within a range in order for your plants to grow healthy.
- If the hydroponics solution's pH is too high or too low, then it can cause damage to plant leaves.
- The hydroponic nutrient solution has to be at a pH of about six and a half (between five and seven) for the plant roots to absorb the hydroponic nutrients. This really helps with the flowering stage.
- If your pH levels are too high, it will damage plant leaves; if it's low, then that means you're wasting money because the hydroponic nutrients will not be absorbed and won't do any good for your hydroponic garden. In other words, those leafy greens will be dead.
- If the solution is too acidic, you need to add hydroxide (a base) like calcium hydroxide; if it's too basic, you need to add an acid such as muriatic acid or nitric acid.
- You can also neutralize the hydroponics solution's pH by adding hydrogen peroxide; this will raise the hydroponics pH to a range between six and seven, which is beneficial for your plants' roots.
How do you know for sure if your plant needs more or fewer nutrients?
Plants can't talk to you, but there are other ways to determine if your plant needs more or fewer nutrients.
The pH balance of the nutrient solution is a quick way to determine if your plants need more or fewer nutrients.
The ideal range for hydroponic solutions is between pH levels of about six and seven, but it varies depending on what exactly you're growing. If there isn't enough potassium in your plant's system, they will show signs like yellowing leaves, curling the leaf edges, and stunted growth.
If there is too much potassium in your plants' system, then you will see signs like black spots on their leaves or burnt tips at the ends of them.
To adjust pH levels, all you have to do is change out some water with a fresh nutrient solution with a lower pH.
For best results with your hydroponic nutrients, you will want to test their pH levels first thing every morning and then again on their last watering before going to bed at night. You can use litmus paper or an electronic meter for this process.
Monitor EC/PPM levels
You should also monitor EC/ppm levels as well as temperature, humidity, and light.
The EC/ppm stands for Electrical Conductivity, another way to measure the number of nutrients available in a solution. We'll discuss this shortly, when we talk about adding necessary nutrients to your hydroponic system.
Don't forget about high temperatures.
The temperature will affect the speed at which plants grow, so it makes sense that you want to keep track of it.
Humidity is another factor you will want to monitor because plants lose water through their stomata, so if the humidity levels seem too low, they can't replace what they have lost. If it is too high, your plant may develop fungal diseases or rot at the base where its stem meets the soil.
Also, light is essential to produce good plant nutrition.
Light is an essential factor in growing plants indoors because that's where they will be spending their time.
However, you need to pay attention to the intensity of your light and the length of exposure to it.
If there isn't enough light, your plant won't grow very fast, and its stems may become weak. If there is too much light, your plant will grow leggy, and its leaves may become sunburned or develop spots on them.
If you see any of these tell-tale signs in your plants, it means that they need more nutrients to help them thrive and grow properly.
Conclusion: Are Hydroponic Systems Worth The Hassle?
If you ask me, yes, they are.
As long as you're patient, make sure your nutrient formulas are correct and tend to your plants in a controlled environment. Plants grown with hydroponic systems seem to be of better quality.