The Essential Hydroponic Nutrients for Plants: What You Need to Know

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By Jeff Hale

A hydroponic garden is a great way to grow your own plants without having to worry about soil. But what hydroponic nutrients do you need?

Keep reading to see our essential nutrients list, and how to use them.

The hydroponic nutrient solution is the most important aspect of how well your plants will grow.

Without it, they won’t be getting the proper nutrition that they need in order to thrive!

Some of the nutrients needed for hydroponics are composed of macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) as well as micronutrients (choline, iron, zinc).

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The Most Important Hydroponics Nutrients

most important hydroponics nutrients

Here’s everything your plants need to thrive:

Primary Macronutrients

  • Nitrogen (N) – Promotes healthy, green plant growth.
  • Phosphorus (P) – Helps strengthen the roots and helps with flowering/fruiting plants.
  • Potassium (K) – Helps maintain a steady supply of sugars to your hydroponic plants which helps them grow as quickly as possible!


Nitrogen is such an important hydroponic nutrient that some plants even turn carnivorous to obtain it. Nitrogen helps plants:

  • Create chlorophyll, a vital pigment that absorbs sunlight
  • Grow healthier leaves and stalks
  • Build protein chains from amino acids

In short, without nitrogen, your plants will not grow sturdy stalks and will struggle to photosynthesis sugars.


Plants need phosphorous to maintain their complex root systems and create new seeds. It also plays a role in producing new proteins that build:

  • Flowers
  • Plant Roots
  • Buds
  • Immuno-defenses

Without phosphorous, your plants will not grow seeds or, if they do, the seeds will be too weak to grow into adult plants.


Whereas nitrogen plays a role in producing chlorophyll for photosynthesis, potassium helps your plants regulate CO2 intake throughout the process of photosynthesis. Without potassium, your plants would not get enough CO2 to produce food and they would starve.

Potassium also helps with osmosis, so your plants can control how much water they absorb. Low potassium levels can lead to slow growth and dehydration.

Secondary Macronutrients

Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur, Iron, and Copper.


Just as we use calcium to build bones, plants need calcium to build their cell walls. Strong cell walls allow your plants to grow quickly and develop healthy leaf and flower structures. Calcium is also good for neutralizing acidity within the cells, helping other nutrients penetrate deeper into the cell.


Magnesium works to help your plants absorb more phosphorous. This, in turn, helps your plants better photosynthesize sugars for food. Additionally, magnesium is another key element in chlorophyll, which makes it a double dose of photosynthesizing magic.


Micronutrients are also present but only needed in tiny amounts such as Chlorine, Manganese Zinc, and Boron. Micronutrients in hydroponics refer to elements that plants need for healthy growth, but only in very small amounts.

So, chlorine (Cl), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), and zinc (Zn). The micronutrient Boron is often added as a nutritional supplement because it works as a natural antioxidant and increases cell wall strength.

Liquid Nutrients

Using liquid nutrients in hydroponics guarantees that your plants get the nutrients they need.

Liquid fertilizers provide all of the essential macronutrients and micronutrients for healthy growth in a form that is easily absorbed by plant roots.

Dry Nutrients

Dry nutrients are usually cheaper to buy initially, but they require more work to maintain since you need to mix them into your reservoir regularly using pH-adjusted reverse osmosis (RO) water solution.

Liquid vs Powder Nutrients

Which is better, dry nutrients or liquid nutrients? Well, that depends on your grower and what kind of hydroponic system you’re using.

Dry nutrients are great for drip systems because they don’t require much setup or regular maintenance, but liquid fertilizers work better with other types such as ebb-and-flow and deep water culture setups.

But liquid nutrients, on the other hand, although more expensive initially, offer superior nutrients that will help your hydroponic garden thrive.

Water Top-ups And Changes

Changing your water level is another important aspect of hydroponics that can make or break your growing project.

Hydroponic systems require you to top up the water level in reservoirs and change it out entirely at least once every two weeks. If you don’t do this, toxic salts will accumulate around plant roots and cause problems with nutrient uptake while also limiting the oxygen supply.

This is why you need to check pH levels regularly so that they stay within the range of between five and six. This will ensure your plants get optimal nutrient uptake while keeping them safe from toxic salt build-ups.

Keep in mind that some systems require more frequent water changes than others like ebb-and flow setups for example.

How to Mix Hydroponic Nutrients

Before you start mixing nutrients, understand that you will need a good selection of solutions to give your plants exactly what they need.

If you are missing even a single nutrient, your plants will end up going without them. So, as you start, you’ll need two different types—base and additive nutrients.

Base Nutrients

A solution of base nutrients is basically your plants’ biggest meal of the day. It provides them with the full range of vitamins and minerals they need to stay healthy and grow.

The exact amount of nutrients you need will depend on your plants, what stage of growth they are in, and your overall setup but, preferably, one single solution should give all of your plants their daily nutritional needs.


Sometimes your plants need more nutrients than just their basic solution. This is where you can start mixing in additives. Additives are supplemental nutrients that help maximize plant growth and recovery after they become sick or deficient.

Picking the Right Base Nutrient Solution

As you start picking base nutrient solutions, you should first check the nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ratio.

This ratio is normally listed on the side of the solution using three separated numbers, such as 5-4-4. These numbers show the total percentage for each of the three main nutrients.

Generally speaking, base nutrient solutions normally have balanced nutrients, such as 6-6-6, meaning that the solution contains 6% nitrogen, 6% phosphorous, and 6% potassium. Varying these amounts will boost your plants’ flowering abilities, seed development, overall plant growth, and even photosynthesis.

  • High nitrogen will help your plants grow stronger tissues, such as leaves and stalks.
  • High phosphorous will boost flower production and create healthier seeds
  • High potassium and phosphorous will create strong plant roots

Play around with different solutions and find the best mixture for your plants.

Organic or Synthetic Nutrient Solutions?

Along with a balanced hydroponic solution, consider whether you will use organic nutrients or synthetic hydroponic fertilizer. Generally, organic nutrients will produce better results for your plants, but they can cause clogs due to small particles left over from their production process.

Most organic solutions are made from bones or animal emulsions, which leave behind specks of debris that can clog your nutrient delivery system. However, a synthetic hydroponic nutrient solution will often be full of sulfates, phosphates, nitrates, and other non-organic substances.

Which Type of Solution?

Nutrient solutions come in a variety of types—liquid, power, and even grains. Pick the type that best suits your hydroponic growing medium. If you use a mister, you will need to use a liquid solution, however, if you use a deep water or ebb and flow system, you can use a powder solution.

How To Choose Hydroponic Additives

picking the best additives

Hydroponic additives are used for a variety of different reasons and come in all shapes and sizes.

They are used to change the pH balance, nutrient concentration levels and water salinity.

If you’re using a hydroponic system for the first time, you will probably want to buy base nutrients that come with additives so you don’t have to worry about which ones are best just yet.

Depending on what your want for your plants, consider using the following additives:


Added enzymes can help your plants digest and absorb nutrients faster, helping them to maximize their base nutrient solution. Enzymes can also prevent algae growth by regulating the pH level.


These are small fungi that you can organically grow to your plants’ roots. They share a symbiotic relationship as the fungus helps your plants gather nutrients in exchange for some sugar.

Flower boosters

If you are growing flowers, flower boosters will increase the overall density and number of flowers each plant produces. They work well with nearly all base nutrient solutions but, for an added punch, mix them in with a high potassium/phosphorous solution.

Root stimulants

If your plants need a stronger support base, we recommend adding some root stimulants to your nutrient solution. As their name suggests, root stimulants help plants grow thicker root structures, helping your plants absorb more nutrients and stand taller.

Vitamin B1

Vitamin B1 is essentially an energy drink for plants. It helps them produce more sugar to be converted into energy and promotes faster growth. Additionally, Vitamin B1 plays an important role in fighting off disease and pests.

Flushing agents

Sometimes plants hold onto more nutrients than they need. Flushing additives can help your plants push out excess nutrients that could affect the flavor of your fruits or vegetables. Flushing agents also help remove heavy metals and salts that could damage your health.


Along with flushing agents, sweeteners are another good additive if you’re growing fruits or vegetables. Sweeteners will help growing plants absorb more of the nutrients needed to naturally enhance sweet flavors.


Hydroponic gardening may seem overwhelming at first but picking the perfect nutrient solution for your hydroponic garden can be easy and even fun.

Just be sure to check the nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ratios for your base nutrient solutions and adjust them to get the results you want. Over time, you can make slight changes if your plants do react well.

If they need a little boost, you can also mix a few extra additives to help your hydroponic plants grow to their full potential. Do some digging to find out the specific requirements for your plants and then go from there.