Plants need more than just sunlight and water to grow. They also need a unique blend of nutrients to help them survive. Normally, plants get their nutrients from soil but, if you’re growing in a hydroponic system, you’ll have to be more precise with which hydroponic nutrients you deliver and in what quantities.
Plants grown hydroponically will only absorb nutrients you deliver directly into their water. Without the proper nutrients or concentrations, your hydroponic system will not reach its full potential. This is why you should know every nutrient you need to grow plants hydroponically.
It may seem like a lot of pressure to get the nutrient balance just right, but it doesn’t have to be. With a little research, your plants will grow and thrive beautifully. If you are wondering “what nutrients do I need for hydroponics,” we’ll walk you through everything you need to know.
You should also read: Which Hydroponic System Is The Best For Vegetables?
The Five Most Important Hydroponics Nutrients
Although no two plants are exactly the same, they all need the same five essential nutrients – nitrogen, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and magnesium.
That being said, not all plants need these five nutrients in the same concentrations. Let’s go through each one and explore how they help your hydroponic system.
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:
- Plant Roots
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.
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.
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.
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.
Picking the Best Additives
Additives come in all shapes and sizes, or at least for all purposes. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.