Hydroponic Maintenance: Keeping Your System Clean

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By Jeff Hale

Keeping your hydroponic system clean is one of the most important aspects of proper maintenance.

It’s not enough to just feed your plants, you also need to make sure that all other components are functioning properly.

The following guide will provide some helpful tips for keeping your system clean and operating at peak efficiency!

How do you maintain a hydroponic system?

Maintaining a healthy hydroponic system involves two things that you must repeatedly do to give your plants the best chance of flourishing.

1) Nutrient management

The first thing you will need to do is make sure that your nutrients and pH levels are always correct.

It’s important to remember: without proper nutrient management, the best-built system won’t be able to support healthy plants!

Keep in mind that it can take several weeks for a hydroponic system (or any other system) to stabilize.

This means that you may need up to three weeks of monitoring before things are really in line and working properly!

It’s important not to get frustrated during this time, since if your plants don’t have everything they need it will show very quickly through nutrient deficiencies.

2) Flushing and cleaning

The second thing you will need to do is make sure that your system is flushed and cleaned properly.

This ensures that the recirculated water has no nutrient residue, which can cause an imbalance in pH levels or leftover salts.

Flushing also allows you to remove any build-up of organic matter (such as dead plant material) from the reservoir and growing medium.

How to manage your nutrients

One of the more important things to consider when growing with hydroponics is nutrient management.

In soil, nutrients are continuously leached from the root zone and replaced by organic matter decomposition.

However, in a soilless system, this doesn’t occur because there isn’t any source of natural replacement for water-soluble elements such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous.

Therefore it’s necessary to add these nutrients in a controlled manner from the beginning of the plant life cycle until harvest.

Why are my hydroponic plants wilting?

Wilting is a sign of undernourishment and can quickly lead to death, especially in the flowering stage.

There are many possible causes: incorrect pH level, too much or not enough light, lack of nutrients (including micro-nutrients), root rot, and disease attacks.

If your plants grow slowly despite optimal fertilization levels it’s always best to check the pH level.

If it’s between the range for optimal plant growth (pH=0-14) you may need to add some dolomite lime, but if your plants are already in the upper ranges of this scale then adding more will only make matters worse.

Why are my hydroponic plant roots brown?

Roots turning brown in hydroponically grown plants means, in most cases, that the pH level of the nutrient solution is too low.

You will need to increase it by adding some calcium hydroxide (hydrated lime).

If you’re growing in containers filled with an inert substrate like rockwool or clay pebbles, then try using a liquid fertilizer containing trace elements and micro-nutrients that are easily absorbed by growing plants.

Flushing and cleaning your system

A simple way to keep your nutrient reservoir fresh is by doing a “flush” every two weeks.

Break up the process into three steps:

  • Remove half of the solution from each container
  • Replace it with water containing no nutrients
  • Then add back in just enough mineral nutrients

This helps eliminate excess salts that build up in your plant’s root zone and keep your nutrient filled water at a healthy level.

When should I clean my hydroponic system?

Once per month, you need to drain your system, use distilled white vinegar and baking soda to clean it. This gives your system the best chance of growing healthy plants.

You will need to change out the reservoir water entirely at this point but leave any growing media in place – do not flush with fresh water. If you do, you will wash away all of the nutrients that are currently available to your plants.

Only use distilled water when refilling your reservoirs because it is free of the chlorine and other minerals that tap water contains.

How often should hydroponic water be changed?

Most growers agree that you should change your reservoir water once a week.

A good rule of thumb is that if your plants start to show signs of nutrient deficiencies, it’s time for a water change.

Hydroponic growing systems are not always the most forgiving ones – you need to be extra diligent and attentive when caring for them!

Is chlorine bad for hydroponics?

Yes, chlorine is bad for hydroponics because it kills beneficial bacteria that your plants need to survive.

The best way to rid the system of any chlorine in tap water is by letting it sit out overnight or using a dehumidifier.

You can also use store-bought drinking water like Pelican Water which has no chlorine and is safe for your plants.

How do you prevent mold in hydroponic gardening?

Mold build-up is caused purely by not keeping your system clean enough.

If you’re not keeping up with water changes and cleaning, the reservoir will end up getting filled with organic matter that can potentially cause mold to form.

Take it as a sign that you’re not doing a good job if you see mold.

How do you stop root rot in hydroponics?

Root rot is caused by pathogens that can enter the system via water or soil.

The best way to prevent root rot is through sanitation measures and keeping your growing medium as clean as possible.

Root rot will kill your plants, so be sure to take preventive steps before it’s too late.

How do you get rid of powdery mildew in hydroponics?

If you’re inspecting your hydroponic system regularly, you might notice a powdery mildew, this is a sign that you aren’t maintaining your system and giving it enough attention.

To get rid of powdery mildew, just follow the same cleaning steps as above.

Conclusion: What to do next

When it comes to cleaning, all mildew, mold or bacterial build-up can be prevented just by cleaning out your system properly. The better you maintain your system, the easier it will be, seeing healthy plants grow.

The same goes for adding and monitoring your nutrient solution. Keeping an eye on your levels after you’ve cleaned everything is vital to help your plants get all the nutrients they need to survive.