Anyone who has started to discover hydroponics is going to have one key question – is hydroponics faster than soil? After all, one of the most important things to consider when weighing up how to grow your plants is how quickly they will grow, especially if you’re growing food crops.
Yes, plants generally do grow faster when you use hydroponics to grow them. This can make a huge difference to growing any kind of plant, but particularly food crops, where fast growing is key to getting a good harvest.
Some plants will grow up to fifty percent faster, although it does depend on what you’re growing and the conditions you provide.
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Why Does Hydroponics Make Your Plants Grow Faster?
It may seem odd to hear that plants grow faster in water than soil. Plants obviously need water, but most of us think of them as needing soil to provide them with nutrients. However, there are a couple of reasons that plants grow more quickly in a hydroponics system, such as:
- No pests/fast pest removal, meaning the plant can focus its energy on growing, rather than defending itself or repairing its leaves after an attack
- No unfavorable weather conditions, because the plants will usually be grown indoors in controlled conditions
- No risk of the plant drying out if it gets hot unexpectedly; they permanently have water
- No nutrient deficiencies; your plants have absolutely everything they require
Tip: You need to keep an eye on plants that are starting to mature in your hydroponics system.
This will often happen more quickly than with plants that are grown in soil, and you may find that your plants are trying to go to seed faster than you expect. To prevent this from happening, check your plants daily.
Which Plants Are Best Suited For Hydroponics?
So, plants do grow faster with a hydroponic system – and that might leave you wondering which plants you can take advantage of this with. Which ones are best suited to growing hydroponically?
RHS offers the following list of plants you can grow well in a hydroponic system:
You should also have success with strawberries, many kinds of lettuce; leafy greens such as spinach, watercress, kale, and mustard; and herbs like basil, mint, and oregano. All of these should thrive in a hydroponic system.
It’s important to check whether a plant is suited to hydroponic growing before you try and grow it in a hydroponics system, as some don’t thrive.
Potatoes, carrots, other root vegetables, and things like melons and vine-growing plants do not do well in hydroponic systems and are better off being grown in soil.
These plants will grow hydroponically, but they are not as suited to hydroponic growing as many of the others, and often take up unnecessary amounts of space that could be better used on other crops.
How Much Faster Will They Grow?
How quickly hydroponics will make plants grow does depend very much on the kind of plant, as well as your degree of success in providing everything that the plant needs. Herbs, for example, will often grow around twenty-five percent faster if you get the perfect conditions for them to thrive in.
Some of the leafy greens mentioned may be ready in just a month in perfect conditions, sometimes a month and a half. You should make sure you are harvesting them reasonably early, and not giving them a chance to turn bitter. If left too long, some of these will become inedible and get wasted.
Tip: Make sure you know what you are growing and how it responds to being grown hydroponically so you can harvest at the right time and make the most of the crop.
If you’re growing lettuces, the variety you grow will make a big difference in how quickly they grow. Many lettuces are very fast growing anyway, but romaine and buttercrunch are particularly quick, and may be ready to harvest in just three weeks using a hydroponics system.
Other lettuces, those with big heads like iceberg lettuce, often take longer to grow in hydroponics, but should still grow faster than they do in soil. They will usually be ready in a couple of months, so don’t let them over-grow and turn bitter.
The advantage of this is that you can fit more growth cycles into a single growing season, and using light and temperature controls, even extend the growing season. This is a key strategy to maximizing your space and time, and also get more experience in growing.
What Else Do I Need To Be Aware Of?
You do have to watch out for pests on your hydroponic plants, as these will massively slow the growth of your plants and could kill them.
While hydroponic systems do help to protect your plants from crawling insects as they have no soil to hide in, it is still possible to get pest infestations, and you need to check your plants regularly.
Secondly, make sure you understand the balance of nutrients that your plants require. Don’t be tempted to increase the amount of nutrients just to try and make the plant grow faster. This is one of the worst things that you can do, as an overdose of nutrients could completely kill your plants in only a few hours.
You need to know exactly what feed your plant requires, and then provide that. Too little will result in slow or weak growth or even death, and too much will equally kill your plants.
Finally, you also need to keep the water clean and of good quality, and make sure the temperature is kept steady. If the environment is not suitable for your plants, they will certainly not grow faster in a hydroponics system than they would in normal soil.
Hydroponics systems are a great way to help your plants grow faster, and maximize the use of your space.
With the right food, access to water, the correct temperature and light levels, and fewer pests, your plants should do fantastically well and you will enjoy faster cropping and healthier plants.