The Critical Differences Between Aeroponics and Hydroponics

Differences between aeroponics and hydroponics

New trends have risen among innovative gardeners, hydroponics and aeroponics having been some of the biggest uptakes in the industry. Like many uninitiated, you’re probably wondering what each involves and what the critical differences between aeroponics and hydroponics are. Many of the differences come from the method of delivering nutrients, applications, and growing medium (or lack thereof). It gets more confusing when you do a little research, only to find out that aeroponics is technically a type of hydroponics. So let’s take a look at what the difference is in regards to what people consider traditional hydroponics (ebb and flow, DWC, wick method, etc) and aeroponics.

The first big difference: Roots

Both hydroponics and aeroponics deal with growing plants without the traditional growing medium of soil. How the plants’ roots are situated determines how they receive nutrients (as you probably know if you know anything about plants). Just like you learned early in your first years of school, plants growing in the ground absorb nutrients from the soil.

So, because the plants don’t get nutrients from the soil, hydroponics and aeroponics systems have to deliver nutrients in another way. That also means that gardeners have to situate the roots in a way that allows nutrient absorption. Hydroponics systems more or less have the roots submerged into water (with or without a growing medium).  In aeroponic systems the roots are exposed and sprayed with a mist containing nutrients. 

How hydroponic systems deliver nutrients

Hydroponics systems deliver nutrients via the water in which plants are absorbed. Nutrient solutions are added to the system’s water reservoir and the plants then absorb nutrients and water when the water cycle floods the roots.

How aeroponics delivers nutrients

Aeroponics, naturally, also delivers nutrients through the water given to the plants but the format is very different. Plants are grown in a humid, fog like environment where continual or timed misting keeps the roots from drying out and supplies the nutrient solution.

Hydroponics and aeroponics require different set ups

While it sounds like an obvious point, there are critical differences in how both of these systems need to be set up. Because the plants are receiving nutrients in different ways, care has to be taken to set the system up in a way that not only doesn’t kill the plants, but encourages healthy growth.

Back to the roots

Plant positioning may look similar in some set ups, if you don’t know what to look for. But don’t let that fool you. Hydroponics and aeroponics systems have plants positioned and secured to keep them stable and ensure nutrient delivery isn’t wasted.

Hydroponics systems often use a type of chemically inert growing medium (so it won’t affect water or nutrient concentrations negatively). This medium helps keep plants in place and deliver a more consistent flow of both moisture and nutrients. Plants are also sometimes grown in vertical towers where plants are secured.

Aeroponic systems have to have a way of securing plants while leaving roots stable but exposed. Often special aeroponics clips are used to achieve this and allow for more movement if you need to tweak your system later on. If clips aren’t used to secure plants, usually gardeners use foam sheets or boards that they’ve modified (adding holes or slats where needed).

To really illustrate the differences between the setups of these two systems, here’s a brief look at the basics of hydroponic and aeroponic systems:

The basics of a hydroponic setup

Hydroponic systems first have plants typically positioned in a growing tray. A water reservoir is kept nearby, and a fill line, tube, or wick goes from the reservoir to the grow tray. A pump located in the reservoir (if it’s a submersible pump) or connected outside of the reservoir (it it’s an inline pump) then powers water through the line and up to the grow tray.  An overflow drain then returns unused water back to the reservoir or tank.

The basics of an aeroponic system

Aeroponic systems are typically set up with roots hanging down (as is most natural for them anyway), positioned below a board or tray that secures the plants up top. The roots are often contained in a ‘basket’ that keeps them from tangling with other plants’ roots. Below the plants is the water/nutrient reservoir (although some gardeners choose a more complex setup where the reservoir is detached and water lines go across to reach plant roots).  A submersible water pump is housed in the reservoir and pushes the nutrient solution through to the nozzles. Special misting nozzles are used to make sure the roots get a fine mist, and not large droplets. Then, any water run off naturally drips back into the reservoir.

It is worth noting that because roots are never submerged, gardeners must make sure they have enough nozzles (and that they’re optimally positioned) to reach all areas of the roots:

Water supply and resources used

Both aeroponics and hydroponics are known to be more efficient and less resource intensive than traditional soil gardening. But because they’re both such different systems, they use different amounts of resources. Some of this is because of their nutrient delivery, and some because of the needs of powering cycling and maintaining the system.

Hydroponics uses greater quantities of water to produce its water cycles. However, because water is reused to a certain extent, water waste is kept to a minimum. So if a gardener cycles every couple of hours, and has 50 gallons of water go through their system, that doesn’t mean all 50 gallons are then disposed of. At the same time, it still uses more water than an aeroponic system.

Aeroponic systems rely on a fine mist of water to maintain plant roots. While some setups do have more mist spraying, and at more frequent intervals, the water usage is lower than in a hydroponic system, though it may seem counter intuitive. You can kind of think of it like a shower (aeroponics) vs a bath (hydroponics). Aeroponics, like the shower in this example, uses less water over less time.

Maintenance

A common beginner mistake when setting up their alternative growing system often only comes to light after some use, when it’s already too late to make a change. So what is it? System maintenance. Once you’re growing, it’s going to be one of the most critical aspects of keeping your plants healthy (and alive!). Whether you grow using hydroponics or aeroponics, you need to perform regular system maintenance. This includes doing water and nutrient testing as well as cleaning the components of your system such as nozzles (in the case of aeroponics), your water reservoir, changing out growing medium (in the case of hydroponics), and much more.

The majority of your maintenance time will be spent on different aspects of your system depending on whether you choose hydroponics or aeroponics.

In hydroponics, you’ll have to do routine water changes and top offs. That means when the water in the reservoir becomes lower you’ll have to add in water, and do larger water changes every couple of weeks. Because water evaporation causes chemicals from the nutrient solution to become more concentrated, you’ll have to test the water to maintain pH and nutrient levels and ensure there isn’t too much solution in the water. Once your system is established, you can test less frequently, usually a couple times a week. The water reservoir, or tank, will also have to be regularly cleaned. In addition, any extra equipment like pumps and water lines, will have to be cleaned and inspected for damage and degradation regularly.

Aeroponic systems can have fluctuating levels of pH and nutrient solution as a result of their constant mist flow and you will have to test your solution more often as a result. While the frequency you test with will go down over time, you’ll still need to more often than in hydroponics. That means eventually you will still need to test several times a week.  Especially when an aeroponic system is newer, roots need to be inspected frequently to ensure they aren’t drying out. If roots seem dry or withered, that means you’ll have to adjust the spraying cycles. Aeroponic systems also need special attention to the nozzles that supply the mist. They can frequently become clogged with scaling or mineral deposits and need to be inspected and cleaned regularly to avoid a clog that prevents roots from getting sprayed.

They’re measured differently

Well, kind of. First of all, the pumps are measured differently. If you’re looking into equipment for a home set up, you’ll quickly see a ton of different abbreviations: GPH, PSI, HP. So what does it mean and why does it matter? These units all determine how much water your pump will move through your system.

In hydroponics, pumps are typically graded in GPH, or gallons per hour. This is a measure of again, how much water will move through your system in a cycle. In some cases, hydroponic pumps are graded in HP, or horsepower. Pumps that grade in HP are inline type, and used more for larger systems.

Aeroponic pumps are graded in PSI units. PSI stands for, pounds per square inch, which is a unit that measures the amount of pressure exerted. Because aeroponics doesn’t ‘flow’ water through the system and instead uses pressure to produce water in mist form, using gallons per hour as a measurement wouldn’t make sense. The amount of PSI the pump can produce, in addition to the nozzle, determine the droplet size. The most common droplet size for household aeroponic systems is 30 to 80 microns.

Differences in cycling

Both aeroponic and hydroponic systems have to use a means of regulating how nutrients are provided to plants, and the biggest way this occurs is through timed cycling. So how do these different systems cycle?

Hydroponic water cycling

Hydroponic systems have water cycles that basically measure the time it takes for the grow tray to fill with water and subsequently go through a gradual draining. A typical cycling time is about 1 ½ to 2 hours, although it can vary a bit depending on the needs of the plants. The water cycle allows the plants ample time to absorb the nutrients they need, while also helping to provide the roots with oxygen thanks to the rotation of the water. When a growing medium is used, it helps retain oxygen and moisture in between cycles.

Aeroponic cycling

First, it should be said that not all aeroponic systems technically cycle. In a LPA system, or low pressure aeroponic system, sprinklers pretty much run constantly. A few smaller sprinkler heads simply spray the roots continuously. HPA systems, or high pressure aeroponic systems, do cycle. The point of cycling in a high pressure system is to keep the smaller droplets from forming larger droplets, that in turn make nutrient absorption more difficult for the roots. To prevent larger droplets, misting is done for 5 seconds or less, in intervals of about 5 minutes.  

Other differences to consider

So, while we’ve discussed the major differences between the two, there are some other differences between traditional hydroponics and aeroponics that are worth a mention.

Level of skill involved

While both hydroponics and aeroponics are great, eco friendly ways to grow plants, there is something to be said about the skill level involved in either of them. Hydroponic growing offers gardeners a wide variety of systems to choose from, and many people choose to construct their own at home, or even in the classroom. These DIY hydroponic systems can be very cost efficient and simple to assemble. After you know the basics, hydroponic gardening can be easily continued by any beginner.

Aeroponic systems require a little more technical ability, and a lot more in terms of properly setting up and maintaining them. Yes, beginners can grow aeroponically regardless of their skill level, but it’s going to take more work. Because of not only the equipment, but also the need to frequently test your nutrient solution, monitor your plants, and deal with any arising issue with the plants or equipment, it’s going to take some dedication. Not only that, aeroponic systems tend to be more costly, and which may cause hesitation among new growers. 

The types of systems

Okay, it’s true that aeroponics is a type of hydroponics. That being said, there are still some different kinds of systems and set ups you can use with each of them. Currently, traditional hydroponics offers more variety, but we’ll still take a look at the basics of some of their different system types.

Hydroponic system types

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

In deep water culture system, plant roots are continuously submerged. Plants are typically placed on a board or tray that allows roots to hang beneath. The root are held in netted pots (typically also containing a growing medium) and hang directly into the nutrient solution. These systems are simple, but they do need an airstone in the reservoir to ensure plants don’t ‘drown’ without proper oxygenation.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

In NFT systems, like DWC systems, the roots are constantly in nutrient solution. However in NFT systems, the roots aren’t entirely submerged. They sit in and just above the growing channel, where nutrients are pumped and then flow across the channel because of a slight slope. Run off water goes back into the reservoir for reuse.

Wick

Wick systems are one of the simplest kinds of hydroponic system, and can even be used with or without a pump. Plants are arranged in a tray with growing medium, and situated directly above the nutrient solution. Then, a wick (typically made of a fiber that can absorb a lot of liquid) connects from the nutrient solution up to the growing medium. The growing mediums used need to be absorbent enough to work, so vermiculite and perlite are popular choices.

Drip

Drip systems employ a similar set up to many of the other systems, but in this case plants are given nutrients through a drip line. The plants are still placed in growing medium, but a drip line typically goes to each individual plant. Run off can either be ‘recovered’ (aka reused) or ‘non recovered’ (aka disposed of).

Aeroponic system types

Traditional aeroponic system

While aeroponics is an increasingly popular form of hydroponics, there’s still a typical set up that comes to mind with aeroponics. Plants are suspended to expose the roots while special nozzles spray intermittently using a very short burst. Droplets are generally in the size range of 30 to 80 microns.

Fogponic systems

Fogponics is a new take on aeroponics, although it’s set up in a very similar manner. In this case however, more specialized nozzles are required and may be positioned differently as fogponics also targets leaf nodes and stems. In these systems, the nutrient solution is delivered as vapor that reaches more areas of the plants. How? Basically, the droplets produced are so tiny (5 to 30 micrometers) that they qualify as vapor.

Do Hydroponics Need Sunlight?

Is sunlight needed?

There are vast numbers of people who have heard of hydroponics, and the majority of those know that systems can be set up indoors. This leaves a begging question by some. Do hydroponic plants need sunlight?

The answer to this simple question could be answered very quickly in one word. However, it wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Rather than saying ‘yes’ plants need sunlight, it is more correct to say plants need light to grow, and in the same breath, you can add, they also need the dark.

In hydroponics, we can now provide all the light we need to plants to help them grow, so in this case, no they don’t need sunlight. What plants really need is the right kind of light, and the correct amount of light for them to reach their full potential.

Here we will take a look at what light plants need to grow, what artificial lighting does in replacing sunlight and its downfalls, and why a mixture of both might be the best option.

How Light Affects Plant Growth

There is no question, we all take light for granted, and it is when we become gardeners that we appreciate the value of good light (especially sunlight). Aside from fungi and mushrooms, there is no way we can grow anything in the dark. Understanding light requirements are vital for your plants, and if you are using artificial lighting rigs, it can have a direct impact on your pocket.

Here we will run through the essential elements of lighting requirements and photosynthesis that plants need to enable them to grow to their full potential.

Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis – you probably learnt about it in school, here’s a quick recap of the important bits and how it related to hydroponics.

Plants are what is known as autotrophs. This means they are capable of creating nutrition inside their bodies. To do this, they need to perform the following through absorption from the atmosphere:

  • Absorb minerals and nutrients through the rooting system
  • Take up water through the rooting system
  • Absorb carbon dioxide through the pores in the leaves

For a plant to combine all these together for food, they require energy, and this they get from light via the green chemical in their leaves called Chlorophyll.

Oxygen molecules and glucose are produced when carbon dioxide and water is mixed with sunlight and chlorophyll. Here the glucose is used for the plant’s growth and the bearing of fruit, as a byproduct of this, oxygen is released into the atmosphere.

Seasonal Lighting Effects

The one major downside to sunlight is that it isn’t the same during every month of the year. The length and intensity will change during the different seasons. Plants have adapted to this, so, when there is plenty of light in spring and summer, the plants focus on growth and bearing fruit or blooming.

During the times as winter approaches, plants focus more on conserving energy and reducing growth. Photosynthesis is diminished, and leaves begin losing their chlorophyll, and this is why we see leaves which are turning brown, yellow or red during the fall.

Why the Light Spectrum is Important

This is where things begin to get interesting because this is where we see what we need to do to replace the spectrum of light the sun produces.

The visible light falls between the wavelengths of 390 – 700 nanometers. The different wavelengths inside this range produce different colors to the human eye. These colors are scattered in what is more commonly known as ROYGBIV, or Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Red possesses the longest wavelength with the lowest energy, and at the other end of the spectrum, the blue and violet lights contain shorter wavelengths and more energy.

Leaves on plants respond to light that falls within the 390 – 700-nanometer wavelengths, where the chlorophyll in the leaves absorbs light as a means of creating food. Plants actually only focus on one part of the spectrum, and this is the 495 – 570 nm range, where the chlorophyll reflects the green part of the spectrum, and this is why leaves are green.

Blue Light Spectrum

The wavelength of light here is 400 – 500 nm. This light is packed with energy and affects leaf growth which we know as ‘vegetative’ or ‘veg’ growth.’ Chlorophyll production is affected by this blue light, and only small amounts are required compared to red light.

When plants don’t receive enough blue light, they will begin growing weaker and will have yellow streaks in the leaves rather than green.

Red Light Spectrum

This low energy part of the spectrum is essential for plants blooming and flowering, and if there is a deficiency in this spectrum, there will be delayed, or weak flowering.

It is vital for growers to understand the spectrum, because when they are growing indoors, it is up to them to replace sunlight, and from the next part, you can see this isn’t as easy as it appears.

Challenges of Replacing Sunlight with Grow Lights

With all the above, we can see as long as plants receive the right sort of light which covers the full range of the spectrum, they should develop.

The 3 crucial factors are:

  1. Spectrum: Both red and blue are required for plants to flourish.
  2. Intensity: This is the brightness of the light and how much energy will fall on the leaf in the form of photons. This dictates the rate of photosynthesis, and the higher the intensity, the higher the rate of photosynthesis.
  3. Duration: This is the amount of light a plant will face during the day. Seasonal light affects plant growth so changing these patterns will affect the overall growth of the plants.

When we are replicating the sun by using grow lights, these must be able to reproduce all of the above. Out of the three, the duration is the easiest to reproduce because it only requires the grow lights to be left on for longer.

Intensity can be a significant challenge when using some grow lights. Although this can be altered by moving the lights closer to the plants to increase intensity, it comes with the downside of the lights producing more heat where plants can begin to wilt or die.

The types of bulbs in use can also be challenging because the sun offers one source that produces the full spectrum of light via these different blue and red wavelengths. With artificial lighting, it isn’t yet possible for any light bulb or single source to produce both ends of the spectrum, and to cover the blue and red ends of the spectrum.

Indoor growers do often have a workaround for this and use a mixture of colder and warmer light sources.

Trying to replicate sunlight isn’t easy, but when you find the right balance using multiple light sources and some trial and error. Growers can achieve outstanding results with an indoor hydroponic system.

Common Grow Light Options

Here is a quick rundown of common grow light options indoor growers use with their indoor hydroponics systems.

HID (High-Intensity Discharge): These incandescent lamps are common for indoor growing. They are power hungry and throw out lots of heat. This means you are limited to how close you can place them to the plants. HID lights include both High-Pressure Sodium (more red), and Metal Halide (more blue). These are used more often by commercial hydroponic farms.

Fluorescent: These lighting options are easier to manage, produce less heat and are longer lasting while being more cost-effective to run. The major downside to these is they produce cooler light (more blue), so they don’t provide all of a plants requirements. This lighting type is used more in home-based growing systems where they are mixed with other red-spectrum grow lights if they are growing fruits or flowering plants. For herbs, this lighting type is more than ideal. The most common variety being T5 grow lights.

LED: LED grow lights are gaining popularity because they can be designed to emit light at both the blue and red ends of the spectrum. These light sources can be included in the same lighting panel, so there is no need for mixing and matching of light sources. For indoor growers, these are the most cost-efficient to run.

Calculating Garden Lighting Needs

Now we see that lighting is crucial for plant growth, we need to look at how we can calculate the amount of light required for a given growing space, and for any of the given lighting types.

This is vital because lights only throw out specific amounts of light, and adding more or less of them in the hope they will help plants grow isn’t a solution. Doing this can actually harm plants, or stunt growth rather than delivering the right amount of light they require,

This phase is also crucial when it comes to purchasing a lighting system because all of them are very different in operation, purchase cost and running cost. One other thing to consider is each lighting type throws out varying amounts of light, and this can be vital for growing various plants, as well as overall healthy plant growth.

Calculating Lighting Requirements for a Hydroponic Canopy

Although plants have different requirements, there still needs to be a general way of calculating your hydroponic lighting requirements. Many growers, in the beginning, make the mistake of calculating against their entire growing room, it is only the growing space that needs to be included for this calculation.

Without going into plant types at the moment, the typical lighting requirements for an indoor hydroponic system will be 20 – 40 watts per square foot, with almost all plants falling into this range. Additionally, the type of lamps being used will also affect their placement above plants.

HID lamps should be placed at least 24 inches away from your crops due to the amount of heat they produce. Aside from this, HID’s are the easiest lamps you can use to calculate your lighting requirements.

Fluorescent bulbs, although more energy efficient are not as ideal for larger plants unless a higher number of lamps is used. This comes down to the fact, fluorescents only emit around 10W per square foot. This means they need to be placed closer to plants to have an effect, and the ideal distance being 6 – 12 inches away. Any further than this and light intensity decreases considerably.

To replicate the light output of an HID light with fluorescent lights means you can quickly lose your energy efficiency and cost savings. T5 fluorescent tubes are the most effective because they have more power than other tubes, and can be placed closer to plants because of lower heat output.

If you were to replace a HID light with fluorescent, for plants which require 40W per square foot, it would need four T5 tubes to be used.

LED lights can also be hard to calculate because of the way they are marketed. Because they are shown to have a longer lifespan than other lighting types, they don’t run at their advertised wattage. If you have a 5W blub, this will only consume 3W of power.

When you translate this to your growing area, you need to take the power input to make your calculation. As an example, if you had a growing area of 10 square feet, and you have plant that requires 40W per square foot to grow. This would take 400W, but when purchasing your LED’s, this would be advertised as 1000W.

This again can affect running costs, and in most cases, the cost savings come from the longevity of the bulb, and low heat output which requires no additional cooling.

As all lighting systems have a different fall off, growers can place these lights in optimal positions by using reflectors as we will see here.

Lighting Reflectors

Once upon a time, these reflectors were never considered, but nowadays, the use is more common. The type of reflector can also be an important decision because they can help dispel heat away from your growing area.

In most cases, these lighting reflectors are based on the wattage of your lighting system. This means you have 400W for smaller reflectors, 600W for medium, and 1000W for use with larger reflectors.At this stage, controlling heat emitted from the lights can be crucial, and if you have no external means, then you will require air-cooled reflectors.

Reflector Cross Patterns

Two reflectors will overlap where they cast their lights, and to obtain the most efficient set-up, these cross lighting patterns must be taken into consideration, because when there is an overlap, the energy will be combined.

Cross patterns can be used to a growers advantage and can help increase productivity and also maximize the efficiency of the lighting system. Much of this decision is down to the grower. You find some growers, place their lights closer together to increase the higher wattage for each square foot, while other growers move their reflectors further apart to improve cost efficiency.

Plant Lighting Requirements

All plants have different lighting requirements at various stages, and it is for this that some lighting systems are more suitable. Here is a run through of where each light can be beneficial in different circumstances.

 Best forPlant Types Which BenefitAdvantages
HIDSeedlings, vegetative growth,Tomatoes, peppers, fruit trees, spices, and herbsCan provide most of the lighting spectrum. Good for larger gardens
FluorescentSeedlings & leafy green vegetablesHerbs, lettuce, wheatgrass, and other leafy ediblesCool to run. Ideal for propagation. The only bulb needed for simple plants
LEDNon-flowering plants or vegetative growthBasil, lettuce, and herbs or anything in small grow tentsLong lasting, can produce most of the lighting spectrum, cheap and cool to run

Sunlight and Grow Lights Working Together

Where there used to be trains of thought for indoor growing and outdoor growing, things are changing.  Now, many growers are making full use of the available sunlight and combining the practice of using supplemental lighting to produce a cost-effective means of delivering the ideal lighting conditions for crop production.

Although some of the methods of operation are geared to commercial enterprises. Growers can make the best of both no matter how large or small their hydroponics system. The energy of the sun is used to power the essential plant functions, while indoor conditions are mimicked to further control the environment.

This means almost any place can be used that has access to sunlight, when this level drops, light sensors, blackout tarps or other means of blocking out light, take over, and with supplemental lighting, heaters and dehumidifiers the ideal conditions are given to the plants for the optimal length of time.

With a combination of the two elements, there can be a massive cost saving compared to growing indoors and only relying on artificial lights. With a lighting system which might only be used for a few hours per day compared to 12 – 14, can make a massive difference in running costs.

When a system swaps over, and the indoor elements of growing take over, the plants will be getting the exact amount of light, and other environmental factors they require.

Conclusion 

There is no doubt, at present there is no substitute for the full spectrum of light that can be obtained from the sun during the summer. And, as many indoor growers are now realizing, this is free. If you take a 1000W grow light, this is still no comparison against a warm summer day.

It is still crucial for hydroponic systems to be located in the right place. Sheltered areas or greenhouses which have access to a southern facing exposure are ideal. These can be suitable for most hydroponic system types from NFT, aeroponics systems and ebb and flow grow beds.

These conditions can be made ideal for growing a vast range of plants from herbs, tomatoes and all the way to hydroponic strawberries.

When you hear the question, does hydroponics need sunlight? You now have the knowledge to know that plants don’t need sunlight in the actual sense, but they do need the equivalent of what sunlight will deliver to them.

What we can see from indoor growing techniques, growers are now capable of building on what nature offers and having the opportunity to reap more benefits than was ever before possible.

What is the Best Fertilizer for Hydroponics?

Best fertilizer

As hydroponics grows without soil, plants miss out on a vast number of nutrients that are contained in the ground. This is where hydroponic nutrients come into play and are replacements for all of the micro and macronutrients that are found in soil. There are two types of fertilizers you can use, liquid or powdered, and these can come in organic or non-organic varieties. Here we will take a quick look at which one is the best, and also the possibility of making your own instead of buying.

What is the best fertilizer for hydroponics? The best fertilizer you can choose, needs to be one you are most comfortable with as a grower, and at the very least, the best fertilizer for hydroponics is one that delivers all of the micro and macronutrients at each phase of a plants growth.  

If you want to find out the best fertilizer choice you can make for your plants, or you want to find out whether to go organic or not, read on and all your questions will be answered.

What do Plants Need from Fertilizer to Grow?

Macro and Micro Nutrients

The three core macronutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium (N-P-K), and these are absorbed in the most substantial quantities. Here is a quick breakdown of the role of each during plants growth:

  • N (Nitrogen): Responsible for leaf growth, Leaf color and providing proteins, amino acids, chlorophyll synthesis, and nucleic acid.
  • P (Phosphorus): This is responsible for the synthesis of plants RNA and DNA. It also dictates the proper development of Stems, flowers, roots, and seeds.
  • K (Potassium): The primary role is to synthesize proteins and carbohydrates, and in a smaller degree it helps develop stems, roots, and flowers.

Micronutrients are required for plant growth, albeit in smaller quantities than the above. These are Boron, Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Sulfur and Zinc.

Fertilizer Types for Hydroponic Use

Now we have seen what components plants need, we will take a look at powdered nutrients and the liquid type before taking a look at organic, and also how you can make your own.

Powdered Fertilizer

Although fertilizer in a powder form is customarily used in commercial scale hydroponics, there is nothing to prevent anyone from using these. One of the significant differences, when you compare them to liquid fertilizers, is, you are not paying for water to be shipped.

Powdered fertilizers come in different ratios for N-P-K, and the one you choose will depend on the plant types you are growing. An example being, the ratio will be very different for lettuce as it is for tomatoes.

With this aside, you will have three core mixes to fertilize your hydroponic system:

  1. N-P-K fertilizer mix
  2. Calcium Nitrate
  3. Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom salts – never buy with added dye or scent)

Your plants and crops will be pulling oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon from the water and atmosphere, so there is little need for worrying about these apart from making sure your roots are not waterlogged.

The N-P-K primary nutrients will be provided by your first fertilizer, and are then followed by your secondary nutrients which are your calcium, magnesium, and sulfur. The magnesium and sulfur are supplemented by the Epsom salts.

After this, all you need to worry about will be the micronutrients, and rather than purchasing a system that will automatically add these, we suggest monitoring your plant’s growth and dealing with any deficiency as it arises.

With these components, you can mix them all together, or you can add them to your system one by one, but the crucial part is making sure they are all thoroughly dissolved. The quantities you are adding will be on the product packaging, as will the amount of Epsom salts which will be included.

Liquid Fertilizer

For many home growers, it is well-known liquid fertilizers hold the edge slightly over powdered fertilizers. This can be for ease of use because it is much easier to measure out than figuring out the ratios of powders to add.

Liquid fertilizers come in 1-2 or 3 part solutions and depending on your plants, or the phase of their growth, the amount from each bottle will be changed. Along with this, there is no adding of additional supplements because everything is already included.

There are many brands on the market, and growers prefer one brand over another. This, of course, is down to the grower who has found the best liquid fertilizer for their use. Mixing is as easy as adding to water and stirring it before you add it to your nutrient reservoir, and on most occasions, the quantity is per gallon of water which makes it easier than needing a weighing scale.

An often overlooked benefit of liquid fertilizers is that there is less chance of residue build-up in piping or water trays within your system.

Out of these two, a lot of it depends on the scale of operation. Buying in bulk for commercial farms makes more sense, and they will be geared up to face the minor problems which come with using this type of formula. Liquid fertilizers for many are highly convenient and eliminate a lot of the issues. Many also come with pH level buffers so there won’t be as much need to adjust pH levels manually.

Now, we will take a look at if it is better to use organic fertilizers and lastly, how you can make your own. There is a massive debate if hydroponics can be entirely organic, but, leaving that aside, you need to see what using organic fertilizers means for you, and how it affects plant growth.

Organic Fertilizers for Hydroponics

Although nutrients can be organic, it is difficult to get a full range of nutrients from one source alone. It is common for growers to blend two or more fertilizers which are organic to reach the desired levels. Base products often come from a concentrated fish emulsion that is then combined with liquid calcium. After this, there is the chance a source of organic nitrogen might be required.

The most significant downside of using organic nutrients in hydroponics, is that it can be difficult to reach high enough levels of nitrogen and calcium. What happens is that the systems rely on microbes which are found in the root zone to convert organic compounds into nitrogen sources which are ideal for plants to use. In many cases, this process doesn’t happen fast enough for the nutrients to be taken up by the plants.

Although there are many commercial products available which are organic based, the most reliable method for smaller farmers is to use vermiculture (worm farming). It should be noted, plants are none the wiser where their nutrients came from, and if you use inorganic, or organic, they have no preference. Must of the debate about being organic is for the benefit of what we do to obtain the healthiest food possible.

Before Making Your Own Organic Fertilizer for Hydroponics

The best process a grower can use is as we have just seen, vermiculture. This is a highly effective way of processing raw materials into solutions that are fit for use in a hydroponic system. Materials such as manure, blood and bone, seaweed meal, fish meal, and limestone can all be mineralized.

The vermiculture process relies on two components. The vermicast process must be carried out all the way to completion, and then from this, all of the goodness needs to be extracted into water. Growers can purchases worm juices, but, many of these are already diluted and not balanced to use as a standalone solution.

Although many food scraps, weeds, and vegetation can be used, these end up containing lower levels of the nutrient than liquids being produced from high-mineral sources such as the fish blood and bone meal. Another area which causes problems is that of concentration because many organic solutions are not as concentrated as regular salt-based fertilizers. This can leave plants more vulnerable to disease while not growing vigorously.

Whilst this is fine for more experienced growers, who can detect nutrient deficiencies, and even then to adjust these, it might take the addition of further additives like humic and fulvic acid to aid in nutrient uptake.

DIY Organic Liquid Fertilizers

Here are two quick ways of producing organic nutrients for your hydroponic systems.

Worm or Compost Tea:

  1. In a 5-gallon bucket, place 1 pound of either compost or work castings.
  2. Fill the bucket with water and stir well.
  3. Aerate the mixture continuously. Aquarium air pumps are ideal for this.
  4. Sit the bucket out of direct sunlight for 3 days. Be sure to mix every day.
  5. Filter the liquid through a disposable filter to remove all of the solids.
  6. This compost or worm tea can act as your fertilizer.

Plant and Animal Byproducts

  1. In a 5-gallon bucket add one gallon of water.
  2. Add 1 1/2 tsp of fish emulsion
  3. Add 1 1/2 tsp of seaweed extract
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of blood meal
  5. Mix well and use as your fertilizer. Check for any sediment and filter is required.

Related Questions

Should I use Epsom Salts for hydroponics? Epsom salts are used to treat magnesium deficiencies, and not only for hydroponics. They are commonly used in soil based gardens also. Epsom salts consist of oxygen, sulfur, and magnesium (magnesium sulfate).

What is required for hydroponics? Aside from the N-P-K ratios, you need a consistent temperature between 50 -70 degrees for fall crops. Spring plants require 60 – 80 degrees. Additional oxygen is necessary for optimal nutrient uptake.

Can I use my hydroponic nutrients in the soil? Hydroponic nutrients will increase the potency of buds. Plants will also grow too fast. These shouldn’t be used in the soil as soil fertilizers shouldn’t be used in hydroponics.

Can You Use Miracle-Gro in Hydroponics?

This question doesn’t really have an easy answer because there are a few variables at play. To be entirely sure if Miracle-Gro can be used in a hydroponics system, we need to see if it contains all the elements which plants need for proper growth.

There are also other factors which might determine, not only its effectiveness for hydroponic use but also its suitability. This comes from the fact Miracle-Gro needs to be dissolved in water before use, whereas hydroponic nutrients in most cases for hobby or home growers are already in liquid form. This in itself might cause problems with hydroponic systems, which we will see.

There is also a vast difference in price between the two, and this reason alone can help you see why people decide to opt for Miracle-Gro rather than more expensive nutrients. Again, we will quickly find out if this is justified, or it is a false economy.

Does Miracle-Gro Contain the Correct Nutrient Composition?

Too Many or Too Little Nutrients

When growing in hydroponics, we need to be sure everything the plants need is delivered to them. Roots are unable to reach out in search of nutrients because they are growing in a soilless environment. For any nutrient solution to be considered, there are two factors we need to think about.

Does the nutrient solution contain all of the elements which are required for robust and healthy plant growth, and are they in the correct ratios? Secondly, these complete balanced solutions will be running at an EC (Electrical Conductivity) strength for different phases of plant growth, type of plant, and also the type of hydroponic system you are running.

When looking at this, we need to see if Miracle-Gro contains everything plants actually require for proper growth.

While not looking at individual crops, many hydroponic growers prefer ‘pre-mixed’ nutrients which only require being added to water. It is larger growers who have commercial systems which tend to opt for powdered variants and to mix their own. These ‘pre-mixed’ nutrients can be purchased in packs of 2 or 3 parts, and what this allows a grower to do, is alter the ratios for each phase of their plant’s growth.

When you look at Miracle-Gro, there is no option to do this as it only comes as a 1-part-solution, and already we can see there will be problems during some stage of plant growth. Miracle-Gro isn’t designed to be complete plant food, and it isn’t possible for regular fertilizer to deliver what plants want at each stage of growth.

What Elements does a Complete Plant Food Require?

As we have seen, Miracle-Gro isn’t designed as being complete plant food. However, hydroponic nutrients are designed to be complete plant foods, and to be ‘complete’ a nutrient solution must contain the following:

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)
  • Calcium (Ca)
  • Zinc (Zn)
  • Sulphur (S)
  • Iron (Fe)
  • Copper (Cu)
  • Manganese (Mn)
  • Magnesium (Mg)
  • Boron (B)
  • Chlorine (Cl)
  • Molybdate (Mo)

There are secondary elements many of these nutrient solutions contain, and although not essential, they can be beneficial to plant growth. These are:

  • Nickel (Ni)
  • Cobalt (Co)
  • Silica (Si) and/ or Selenium (Se)

Out of this list, the primary three nutrients are Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium. You will see this everywhere you look, but they will be related to most often as N-P-K. Without these, plants will die.

When you purchase hydroponic base nutrients, these ratios are displayed on the bottles. This is important because plants not only need the correct nutrients, they also need them to be in the proper ratios.

There are two stages a plant goes through during its life, and each of these requires a specific ratio of N-P-K for the best overall growth.

  • The Vegetative phase (growing): Nitrogen (high), Phosphorus (medium) and Potassium (high)
  • The Flowering stage (blooming): Nitrogen (low), Phosphorus (medium) and Potassium (high)

On an additional note: in the flowering stage, growers were led to believe the Phosphorus levels were to be much higher than is actually required.

Now, when we take a look at Miracle-Gro as a hydroponic solution, things take a downturn because there is no way to tailor any nutrient for your plants. This means they will be fed the same ratios of all nutrients through both phases of growth.

When we take a look at Miracle-Gro, it is easy to see they are missing quite a few essential elements, a couple of which are Calcium, Magnesium, Sulfur, and Chlorine. With this in mind, we have two phases of plant growth where you can only feed your plants the same nutrients.

Even adjusting the quantities, elements are missing, and you will end up altering the compound levels in the fertilizer without a way of controlling them.

Nutrient deficiencies which occur from using Miracle-Gro can display symptoms like, younger leaves becoming distorted, staying small in size, and with dead areas from a lack of calcium. Magnesium deficiency symptoms are common in tomatoes where the older leaves develop yellow areas between the veins. This is very similar to leaves which wilt and yellow with dead spots that indicate a lack of chlorine being delivered to your plants.

Hydroponic Nutrients Vs. Miracle-Gro

As a quick example of how growers would use the two formula’s, here is how they would be added to a hydroponics system.

Miracle-Gro: Mix 2 teaspoons for each gallon of water, and then add 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts for each gallon. Mix until dissolved, and only mix what you will use because the effectiveness wears off. When combined, the solution will be blue. Check and adjust pH levels with the right solution.

Hydroponic nutrients: Using one of the most popular hydroponic nutrient packs, you would take the three bottles which make up the ‘Flora’ line by General Hydroponics, and consists of: Grow, Bloom and Micro. All instructions are on the bottles for ratios to be mixed for each phase of your plant’s growth.

Add to your solution, no need for dissolving or mixing, and it is easy to make as you need it.

These can be adapted for different hydroponic systems and plant types at all of their growing phases to obtain the maximum growth possible. When you follow the instructions as indicated, your plants will grow fine, and there is no need for adding any additional nutrients. Check pH levels, but these nutrients do come with an included pH buffer to prevent spikes or drops in these levels.

Hydroponic nutrients also contain chelated trace elements, and although Miracle-Gro has some trace elements, these might not be chelated because this occurs naturally in a soil growing environment.

Feeding Your Plants and Nutrient Problems

As we feed plants, nutrient solutions are taken up, and water evaporates with EC levels rising. When this begins to happen, plants will start lacking nutrients. To measure the concentration of elements in our nutrient solutions, we perform an EC check, and although it isn’t possible to test for the concentration of each component, we can test for the overall PPM quickly.

When we submerge a digital PPM meter into the solution to take a reading, a normal EC level should range from 1000 to 1500 ppm. This can vary due to crops being grown, and also at the stage of their growth because you do need a higher PPM as your plants increase in size.

As this feeding pattern changes, pH levels can change, and it is crucial to adjust levels to balance them out. If the pH levels drift too far in either direction, our plants will start to suffer from nutrient lock-out where they are unable to absorb.

Again going back to Miracle-Gro and it being a 1-part-solution, we are unable to change any of these levels individually, and all that can be done is to increase or weaken the overall EC of the solution. This might sound as if we are doing the right thing. However, the individual nutrients will all be adjusted, instead of us being able to change specific areas.

This can result in using a weak solution, and because the ratio of certain nutrients was low to start with, our plants might be receiving next to zero. Additionally, the feeding time that is recommended when using Miracle-Gro in conventional gardening is every 7 – 14 days. With a feeding schedule more frequent than this in a hydroponic system, it can be, you overfeed your plants with a supply of nutrients which isn’t complete.

Other problems can stem from using Miracle-Gro because you are unable to control the levels of nutrients delivered, and it lacks in certain nutrients. The issues can be as follows:

  • Underfeeding: Plants appear pale due to a lack of nutrients.
  • Overfeeding: You will be overfeeding certain nutrients without being aware. This leads to either nutrient burn, where your plants end up with dark spots on the tips of their leaves. Or, nutrient lockout where your plants are unable to absorb the nutrients they need.

When there is a nutrient deficiency, which will occur using Miracle-Gro further into a plants growth. Plants begin to droop, and if you have fruits, these can start to drop before they are ready. This happens because there aren’t the right nutrients in Miracle-Gro to support and sustain the production of fruit. Many hydroponic growers have tried Miracle-Gro and state that everything can appear okay in the first few weeks, but from this stage onward, it can go downhill where buds will not flower and end up falling.

This is though, dependent on your crop, but it shows there is a severe lack of nutrients at this stage of your plant’s growth.

Chasing your pH

As we know, pH levels will change when nutrients are added, or as water levels drop and the EC levels rise. Most often, hydroponic nutrients come with a pH buffer which helps maintain pH levels, although they do still need checking, and adjusting as required.

Miracle-Gro on the other hand, comes with no pH buffer, and the majority of Nitrogen (N) that is provided in the fertilizer is derived from urea. As a result, pH levels can drop significantly in your solution, and unfortunately, you have no way to adjust Nitrogen levels in a Miracle-Gro solution. Using a weaker concentration is not an answer because all other trace element levels will also be lowered, and can lead to many other problems.

Miracle-Gro and the Kratky Method

We have seen that Miracle-Gro much like other regular fertilizers isn’t suitable for hydroponic systems. Systems such as hydroponic drip or aeroponics systems can become clogged in nozzles and pipes due to the solution not being fully dissolved. There is then the lack of nutrients, and the inability to change the N-P-K levels for different phases of plant growth, and salt build up that can occur quicker than if using the proper nutrient solutions.

With all of this information, we can easily say not to use Miracle-Gro at all, but, there is one area of hydroponics where you can use Miracle-Gro where none of these problems should arise or cause too much concern.

This is with passive hydroponics. For anyone who is looking for an effortless way to grow, so they can have a hands-off experience, or they are looking to venture into hydroponics but want to save on the expense until they are confident. This can be an ideal introduction, and because Miracle-Gro costs next to nothing, and can be found anywhere, there is nothing to lose.

This passive hydroponics system doesn’t use any electricity, pumps or air stones, and can be placed outdoors in a growing area, or indoors if you have the right grow lights.

The Kratky method was developed in the University of Hawaii by Bernard A. Kratky (horticulturist), is super simple and can be ideal for growing lettuce, spinach or herbs. Plants like tomatoes or anything similar won’t grow to their full potential.

How to Grow Using the Kratky Method 

Although this method is very straightforward, it does need steps to be followed. Here are the items you will require, and the steps you need to try this passive hydroponics method with Miracle-Gro.

Items required

  • Plant seeds of choice
  • Container with a lid you can cut – Styrofoam containers are ideal and easy to work with
  • Water and your Miracle-Gro/ Epsom salt mixture
  • A pH testing kit
  • Net pots and growing medium. Rockwool or coco coir is ideal for this system

Steps for system construction

  1. Taking the lid of your container, you need to cut holes large enough for your net pots to sit, so they are flush with the cover.
  2. Fill your net pots with the growing medium and plant your seeds
  3. Mix your nutrient solution and fill the bottom part of the container. Be sure to test the pH and adjust if necessary. Smaller plants require shallower or smaller containers.

How this passive hydroponics system works

Once the seedling starts drawing water and solution into the net pot, the water levels in the Styrofoam container drop. This then creates a space where roots can obtain their oxygen. Once the water in the container has gone, it is time to harvest your plants.

One of the crucial parts of this easy system is the container lid. It creates the area for moist air to circulate around your plant’s roots, and secondly it provides the required support for plants above water level. The final benefit is the space between the lid increases the containers aeration and allows heat to be removed from the nutrient solution.

For plants like lettuce and other leafy greens, this is one hydroponic solution where it is possible to use Miracle-Gro. For new growers, or as an introduction to hydroponics for children, there is nothing easier and as cheap to set up.

Conclusion

Armed with all the above information, you can see the use of Miracle-Gro is not recommended for use in hydroponics systems for quite a few reasons. Because it is a foolproof method of providing nutrients to soil-based gardens, this doesn’t make it ideal for hydroponics no matter what levels of concentration you use.

If your system becomes clogged and your solution flow is restricted, this has far more implications than merely flushing your system. Plants will be starved of nutrients and will no doubt suffer before you spot there is something wrong. You will also see toward the end of your plant’s growth, they lack the fullness and yield they deliver when using the proper nutrients which are designed for use in hydroponics.

One final thing to consider is the acquisition of General Hydroponics by the company who owns Miracle-Gro, via one of its subsidiaries, Hawthorne Gardening Co.  If Miracle-Gro were a decent substitute for a hydroponics system, they would no doubt have either marketed Miracle-Gro as such, or would have produced a variant which was suitable. Instead, they bought the most highly-regarded nutrient manufacturer. Is this a move to produce their own brand of nutrient, or is there another reason why they have purchased this company, along with the many other companies in this field?

Until the day arrives, growers are far better leaving Miracle-Gro for soil based gardens or using it in the Kratky method for some hands-off hydroponic gardening.There is too much at stake with your system and your plants, to advise using a lower quality and cheaper form of fertilizer as a replacement for hydroponic nutrients that are proven to work.

Why Hydroponics Fail: 8 Common Mistakes Growers Make

Hydroponic Mistakes

People enter the world of hydroponics for many different reasons, these can be for fun or profit, and in both avenues, it will pay to know what you are doing before you make any form of investment. Like any form of gardening, the more you do, the more knowledgeable you become and the better you are at knowing the requirements and complexities of growing plants in a soilless environment.

It does take an abundant amount of planning and research when starting, and by doing so, you can save on making several common, time-consuming and costly mistakes. These are unfortunately made over and over again by new growers.

Here we will take a look at the top 8 mistakes made by hydroponic growers, and hopefully, you can use this information to avoid making the same mistakes in your hydroponic venture.

Why do we focus on hydroponic mistakes and failures?

There is a learning curve when first starting out in hydroponics, and it is a curve many individuals might try and take shortcuts or rush, rather than taking their time and correctly doing things. We focus on these common mistakes because as humans, we learn more from errors and failures than we do if something is running successfully.

We can also take these mistakes and use them as opportunities to learn and improve our hydroponic systems, from the first beginnings to scaling up operations. There will still be hiccups along the way, but knowing what the most common areas for failure and mistakes, go a long way to making your hydroponic venture a success.

Mistake #1: Grow Space and Hard to Use Systems

Although a hydroponic system can be set up in almost any location, this is no reason to think any space is suitable. This is one thing which catches many growers out because they design systems which become hard to manage.

When a system isn’t designed with the growing space in mind, things like workflow and efficiency are often forgotten. This leads to growing areas that:

  • Use space ineffectively
  • Are difficult to harvest
  • Can require lots of tending to and transplanting
  • Are not ideal for pest control
  • Access to vital components is difficult

These can vary if you are growing indoors or utilizing a greenhouse. However, all variables need considering before you build your system. This can fall into two categories, growing needs being one, and user needs being the second.

Growing needs

  • Lighting
  • Watering
  • Nutrients
  • Pest control
  • Heating & humidity

User needs

  • Access
  • Convenience
  • Automation
  • Redundancy

A prime example being growers who design systems in a basement. They have their nutrient reservoir sat at the side of their grow table, and when it comes to the time of flushing a system, they have no means of draining their reservoir without the use of a bucket.

Mistake #2: Underestimating System Build Costs

For home growers, a hydroponic system can be built for as little or as much as you want to spend on it. Underestimating these costs regardless of system size can leave growers out of budget, and with a system, they are unable to use.

Different system types do cost varying amounts of investment. Some systems can even be built without the need for purchasing certain production items and using products from local hardware stores. Grow towers and NFT systems being good examples.

Following on from mistake #1, it is better to fully design your system and calculate costs before you being installation.

Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong Crops 

Thinking every crop will grow the same in every type of hydroponic system is one quick way to failure. Not only do all plants have different needs, but some also are not suitable for specific environments. Growing indoors, or outside in a greenhouse or other growing space will have a distinct bearing on this, but, there are three quick questions to ask yourself before purchasing any seeds to grow in your systems:

  1. Are you facing any climate constraints?
  2. What are your growing techniques?
  3. Can you grow the desired crops with your production techniques?

All crops come with very different needs. There are tall plants and short plants, and all these can only be cultured in a certain way. If you are using a raft system, then there is no use in looking to grow tomatoes as an example.

Climate is also one limiting factor. If you are battling against high heat, then you have little chance of growing cool weather crops, and vice versa. Unless you can control temperatures affordably, there is little reason to attempt growing crops that stand a good chance of failing before you begin.

Mistake #4: Ignoring PH Levels

The first three mistakes can all be attributed to setting up a system before actually growing. Now we are at the stage where plants are at risk when things go wrong. This is one of the most crucial areas of any hydroponic system, and it happens to be one area which is often ignored or mismanaged.

This mistake stems from growers wanting to see results as fast as they can and mix up nutrients and begin watering their plants. The urge for results prevents growers from even considering all the formulas and acronyms they need to know, and the effects of what comes with them.

Knowing about PPM, pH, 18/6 and others can be overwhelming, but they do play an important role. Many of these terms can be somewhat ignored, but pH definitely can’t at any cost. When pH levels are out of balance, it is the plants that will suffer, and they can suffer faster than many growers fully understand.

pH determines when nutrient solutions or plain water are acidic or alkaline. Ordinary tap water has a pH level which in most cases is suitable for use in hydroponic systems. Growing media in most cases is already pH balanced, although something such as Rockwool is more alkaline than other growing media such as coco coir.

pH neutral is a level of 7.0, which is what most soil grown plants prefer. In hydroponics, you tend to find plants prefer a little below this level and have a range of 5.5 to 6.5 depending on the plants in question. Many nutrient deficiencies come from pH problems, so making sure these are in check is vital. You can be chasing issues in other areas, and gaining no ground in solving them because your pH is wrong.

Both a pH testing kit and also pH adjusting compounds are advisable, so you can quickly adapt your nutrient mix to the correct level (check on a daily basis). Once you do so, your plants can take up all the nutrients they need.

Mistake #5: Using Too Many Nutrients or the Wrong Nutrients

Not all fertilizers are the same. First off, conventional fertilizer won’t dissolve entirely and can quickly block pumps and pipes. Additionally, they don’t contain the same nutrients as a good quality hydroponic formula.

With the correct nutrient solutions in hand, you then need to make sure your mixes are at the proper levels. The addition of too many nutrients is way too easy, and it is a mistake a vast number of growers make way too often.

A lot of this problem is not always the fault of the grower, some of the blame is down to the company supplying the nutrients. These nutrient companies often include feeding schedules with their products. Unfortunately, these feeding schedule dosages are set too high.

This quickly leads to nutrient burn (nute burn), and although it doesn’t kill your plants, it will have an impact on how they grow from that point forward.

To overcome this problem, you can follow the same feeding schedule which comes with your nutrients, however, cut the dosage to a quarter of what is recommended.

An example being, if the guide is for 2 teaspoons of nutrient solution per gallon of water, only use 1/2 a teaspoon. By doing this, and your pH levels are in range, you will quickly see if there are signs of nutrient deficiency. If this is the case, you can increase the dosage up to half of the recommended dosage per gallon.

Following this methodology, you can also cut down on the salt buildup that occurs when your nutrient mix is too rich.

Mistake #6: Watering Too Often

Most of us were raised to think plants need sun and water every day. When this attitude is coupled with growers wanting to provide everything for their plants, they often end up overwatering their plants.

This overwatering can cause plants to droop, and in extreme cases, it can cause plants to suffer from root rot and die. If you can catch it in time, you can make adjustments to your watering, and plants can restore themselves to their full glory.

The climate or growing environment can affect this, and you will need to allow for external temperatures and evaporation. One easy way to tell if you have your watering schedule set correctly is to test the top inch of your growing medium. Using coco coir as an example, if your finger pulls away dry and there is no sign of moisture, then it is time to water your plants.

When using a hydroponic pump, it will take some trial and error to find the best balance, depending on your system.

One thing which is worth noting is for DWC (deep water culture) systems is to make sure you have sufficient air stones in your solution. Overwatering is basically a plant being deprived of oxygen, so you can have everything set correctly, but without oxygenating your solution, you are in effect overwatering your plants.

Mistake #7: Not Enough Light

This can be seen as the second most crucial area in a hydroponic set-up. Growers who don’t choose to invest correctly in their lighting rig, more often see their systems fail, or at least they don’t deliver on the yields they receive.

You can easily make or break your hydroponic garden by ignoring the importance of lighting. Here are three reasons getting it right can make a world of difference:

  • Buying too little (small or low power) lighting solutions, and your plants will suffer
  • If you purchase the wrong blubs, then your plants won’t grow
  • If you decide on the cheapest options for your lighting, they might not perform

Lighting will be one of the most critical investments growers can make for their systems, so it is vital some research is carried out to see which is the best solution for your growing space, and for the plant types you are hoping to grow.

Fluorescent lighting: Many growers are led to believe these light types are suitable for all plants at all growth phases. They are also attracted by their low price.Unfortunately, these types of tubes only emit a kind of light. White light doesn’t deliver the full spectrum of light needed by plants at the different stages of their growth.

Fluorescent lights are ideal for your seedlings, but once these enter vegetative and flowering stages, they need all of the blue, red and orange parts of the spectrum.

HID Lamps: these are among the top choice by many serious growers. They also come in two varieties HPS (High-Pressure Sodium) and MH (Metal Halide) and are often seen lighting large areas, such as streets or parking lots.

Although bigger, they are actually more efficient than regular light bulbs. These bulbs also come with a mechanical or electronic ballast that has the function of starting and maintaining the arc in the lamp. These lights do produce lots of heat and are often found inside ventilation chambers.

A good rule of thumb is to hang your lights around two feet from the top of your plants, and to find if this is ideal, put your hand on the top of your plants and see how hot your hand is. If it is too hot for you, then it is too hot for your plants.

LED Lights: These are new to the world of hydroponic lighting. Being energy efficient, they are powered by an external power supply. This power supply in most cases fails before any of the LED grow lights do, but it can be quickly replaced.

LED’s produce less heat and deliver a unique light spectrum that is conducive to photosynthesis.

Choosing the right lighting

When looking at your lighting options, there are a few factors which need looking at. These include budget, enclosure type, ventilation, and plant types.

Low budget growers can opt for regular fluorescent tubes (T5 type) while small-scale growers are better suited to use the newer compact fluorescent tubes. Once you have a more extensive system, you can then opt for the HID lighting systems, but because of their heat output, you need to check ventilation, and also your feeding times might change.

Ventilation also needs to be away from your grow room, cooling costs will increase, and it will be hard to regulate temperatures.

At present, LED’s are left for long-term growers, but over their lifetime, they will save thousands of dollars in electricity bills.

Mistake #8: Sanitation, or Lack of It

One final mistake many growers make is sanitation in their growing area. Because hydroponic systems are a sterile environment, this extends to the entire area, and not only the systems plants are growing. Once there is an element of disease anywhere in a system, this can quickly spread and affect not just one or two plants, it will affect all of them.

Floors should be clean and dry, and all the tools you might use should be for the sole purpose of your hydroponic system or cleaned thoroughly before use. All this is before you even consider the condition of your systems.

Nutrient reservoirs can have algae buildup over time, so when you flush your system, these should be inspected and cleaned as required. The same goes for piping and grow beds.

There will be salt buildup from your nutrient mix, and this will cling to pots, and your growing medium, and if these are not thoroughly cleaned, it can exasperate problems when you add your next batch of nutrients.

Plant waste can be one of the most crucial, and as soon as you see signs of a problem, this plant should be removed as quickly as possible, because any diseased plant will pass it onto the others.

Conclusion

It can be too easy to say it is common sense to avoid making these mistakes. But, this is not the case, and no matter how careful you are, there are elements which creep in you might be unaware of. All growers do make mistakes, and in many cases, it is not through lack of trying.

There are a vast number of variables at play in a hydroponic system to have it running effectively at all times.

Hydroponics doesn’t have to be difficult, but learning everything can be overwhelming while you are first learning. Hopefully, you can use all the information above to design and implement a well-functioning system that can bring you hours of happiness and bundles of healthy plants.

Can You Use Regular Fertilizer for Hydroponics?

Fertilizer on hydroponics

Regular fertilizers are much cheaper to purchase than hydroponic nutrients, and for this reason, many new growers consider using them in their hydroponic systems. On paper, this seems all well and good, but there are reasons why this might not be the best solution.

Can you use regular fertilizer for hydroponics? Yes, it is possible to use regular fertilizer for hydroponics, but in reality, you shouldn’t. Regular fertilizers lack many compounds that purpose-built hydroponic nutrients contain, and they can cause problems at different stages of growth.

If you are considering using regular fertilizer in your hydroponic system, you should read the information below because a couple of questions are answered as for why this could be a big mistake.

Understanding Plant Nutrition

Nutrients in conventional growing

Before even considering using regular fertilizer as a replacement for hydroponic nutrients, every grower needs to understand what plants need for proper plant growth. The first nutrients are non-mineral such as oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen, where carbon dioxide and oxygen are received from the atmosphere, and water providing the hydrogen.

All these are created during photosynthesis which all plants need to do to survive.

In the cycle of life, dead things fall to the floor and are broken down which returns all of the nutrients back into the soil. If the earth is lacking in nutrients, or they are growing in container gardens, gardeners can supplement the missing nutrients by adding fertilizers.

Fertilizer and Nutrients

All fertilizers need three primary nutrients, and when you look to purchase any form of fertilizer, you need to check the packaging to ensure they are included.

Nitrogen (N): This helps make plant cells and chlorophyll (green leaves) which is required for photosynthesis. Nitrogen makes up between 40 – 50% of plant cells dry matter and promotes healthy foliage, and proper plant development through root absorption. Nitrogen levels are increased in growth nutrients.

Phosphorous (P): This is needed for photosynthesis, and a plants root development as well as when the plant blooms. Another function is the creation of nucleic acid which is vital for any living cell. This is important all through a plants growth, but uptake is increased during the flowering phase.

Potassium (K): This is also required for photosynthesis, and protein and carbohydrate creation. It also helps with a plants internal liquid movement in the roots and stems. This compound aids in overall fruit quality.

There are many other minerals and trace elements which are included in fertilizers, but their impact will be less than the three mentioned above. You can also see each of these can be tailored for different stages of plant growth.

It is for this reason, many hydroponic nutrients are sold as a 3-part solution, and each is used at a specific time as a plant is growing. Regular fertilizers are unable to do this because they are just a mix of nutrients and trace elements used as a supplement of what is already in the soil.

Because there is no soil in hydroponic systems, a regular fertilizer can leave plants lacking in some areas while overloading them in others.

What Should Hydroponic Fertilizers Contain?

To make sure your plants receive all they require, the following elements should be in the fertilizer you choose to purchase. It should be noted there can be different varieties of fertilizer for different plant types, so levels of certain nutrients will be higher or lower, and in most cases, this will be the N, P, K ratios which differ.

These two lists cover the essential elements of what needs to be included.

Macro-nutrients

  • Nitrogen (N)
  • Phosphorus (P)
  • Potassium (K)
  • Calcium (Ca)
  • Sulfur (S)
  • Magnesium (Mg)
  • Iron (Fe)

Micro-elements

  • Manganese (Mn)
  • Boron (B)
  • Zinc (Zn)
  • Copper (Cu)
  • Molybdenum (Mo)

Regular Fertilizer and Hydroponic Salt Buildup

There are small amounts of salts present in all nutrient solutions. If the compounds are not set at specific levels for use in a hydroponic system, there will be an increased accumulation of salts and minerals.

What happens is when the growing media is repeatedly soaked, and there is evaporation occurring before the plants have a chance to be absorbed by the plant’s root system. On each feeding cycle, small amounts are left behind once the cycle has ended.

Moisture evaporates and leaves behind these minerals, which includes these salt particles. The EC (Electrical Conductivity) increases in the growing media and on the root system. Once this happens, there is an increase in osmotic pressure on the root system which prevents osmosis, and the plant’s ability to take in water and nutrients. To stop this happening make sure to regularly test the EC of your solution – we’ve written a full guide to testing can be found here.

Regular fertilizers are not balanced so there can be an excess of these salts remaining. Plant growth can be retarded, and they darken and harden. In more extreme cases, roots take on a burnt appearance as they slowly die.

Flower Drop Using Regular Fertilizer

Aside from the visible salt build up which can be seen as white crystals forming on top of the growing media, and around pipes and pots in the ebb and flow systems. There are severe consequences for the plants themselves as a result.

Because a regular fertilizer doesn’t have the increased levels of N, P, and K as you find in a 3-part nutrient pack, and the EC levels will rise with the salt build up as mentioned earlier. Plants can quickly suffer from vital mineral deficiency. This, in turn, causes slower plant and fruit development, and causes this ‘flower drop.’

Flower drop can also be caused by water stress which comes from high EC levels and lack of irrigation. As we saw, both of these are symptoms of salt build up from using unbalanced nutrients.

Testing for Increased EC Levels

Regardless of what fertilizer you use in your hydroponic system, you should periodically check the EC levels of your nutrients. This can help forewarn you of any salt build up. The EC of your nutrient solution should not vary much as it flows through your plants rooting systems. If you have an EC which increases as it flows from your plants, it is a sign you have a potential salt build up problem.

Higher EC levels indicate there is more salt in the water, as an example, distilled water doesn’t have an EC level because it contains no salts.

Preventing Excess Salt Accumulation

Minimizing excess salt accumulation in a system helps growers avoid potential problems. So, by paying attention to feeding schedules and how it affects growing plants and root zones. There are many products which are highly concentrated or imbalanced. Regular fertilizer being an example of an unbalanced fertilizer for hydroponic use. It can be easy to increase levels in certain elements in the root zone of your plants without realizing.

Too much fertilizer often leads to not only all the problems mentioned but also wasted nutrients and lower yields overall. When you research what nutrients are required by the plants you are growing, you can choose, or formulate your own nutrient solution which delivers the right amounts of every element your plants need for a healthy growth phase.

Feeding schedules might need decreasing, so there are less evaporation and more uptake from your plants. Choice of growth media can also help to minimize these salt buildups, so a growing medium which offers good drainage is required.

Conclusion

With all of the information above, you can see that using regular fertilizer in hydroponic systems doesn’t really offer any benefits aside from being cheaper alternatives. Price alone should be no reason to opt for one nutrient solution over another.

One final thing which hasn’t yet been mentioned are pH levels when you add nutrients. A regular fertilizer can drastically raise or lower your pH levels, whereas, purchased nutrients or fertilizers which are explicitly designed for hydroponics often come with pH buffers built in. You can learn how to test the pH levels of your setup with our handy guide.

Regular fertilizers are an all in one solution, but as we already know, there is no all in one solution when it comes to hydroponics. To get the best from our plants, we need to provide them with the best of what they need, and choosing a good liquid nutrient solution can help prevent all of the problems above from using regular fertilizer.

Related Questions

Can you make organic hydroponic fertilizer?

Yes. Take 6 ounces of seaweed and wrap it in a piece of cheesecloth and tie it with twine. Soak for 5 days in 5 gallons of water in the sun. Add 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts for each gallon (5 spoons). Add all or 1 gallon at a time to your hydro reservoir. We’ve laid out our favourite DIY hydroponic nutrients in this article.

What is the best fertilizer for Hydroponics?

Commercial farmers might opt for dry fertilizers and mix their own. Hobby growers tend to choose the liquid variety which is already blended and more convenient. 3-1-2 NPK ratios work well.

Do organic nutrients make hydroponic food healthier to eat?

No, although plants need these nutrients and minerals, they have no preference as to where they come from. To them, organic is precisely the same as non-organic varieties. Organic nutrients are more about making us feel better where they came from.

Can Hydroponics Grow Everything?

Growing everything hydroponically

There are countless numbers of people, who are either just starting hydroponics, or considering giving it a go. This can be for any number of reasons, but the main aim is to grow vegetables or specific plants at home rather than purchasing them from the supermarket.

One question which passes through most people’s mind is what can be grown, and what isn’t possible using hydroponics.

The answer is straightforward, but the results tell a very different story.

It is possible to grow almost everything hydroponically, but once you reach some types of plants, it isn’t feasible. Some things will grow, but they are actually hindered in their growth when raised in a water-based environment.

Here we will take a look at what can be grown, what shouldn’t be attempted due to various reasons, and we will also look at a couple of high-value crops you can grow in a hydroponics system that might surprise you.

Factors That Can Determine What Should Be Grown Using Hydroponics

Before delving into what we can grow, and what is best left to other growing methods, we will look at what factors are involved for either decision.

All plants grow by different means, and if these are mixed in a hydroponics system, it won’t be possible to tailor the nutrients to match each variety. Even if you separate nutrients, the overall growing conditions might suit some plants, such as warmer climates, or you have ones that prefer a cooler environment.

There are shallow rooting plants and vegetables which are ideal, and then you have deep rooting tubers which require lots of depth and plenty of support. Things such as potatoes, carrots, and turnips among others can be grown when the conditions are tailored for them, but you can find they don’t taste any better than the varieties you can purchase.

Vegetables of this type also take up more space in your system, although they can be grown if you so wish.

In the same vein are vegetables like squash, zucchini, and corn. All these can be grown, but again, these are not suitable because they are surface growing vegetables and spread outward. This makes any hydroponics system unfeasible for vegetables of this type.

Trees are pretty big, and on trees comes fruits. But, once again, these can be grown using hydroponics. However, there are plenty of trees which are too big, and it makes no sense for any grower. But, there are some fruit trees which make very real sense to grow in a hydroponics environment.

Mother Nature has one thing up her sleeve which we can’t mimic as passively, and this is pollination. There are many plants which have both male and female flowers. These become labor intensive because there won’t be any bees inside your hydroponics environment, and learning how to manually pollinate plants can become a painstaking task.

One other factor which needs considering is, if you are growing indoors, or you have an outside area. Some vegetables can’t grow as easily under grow lights as they can outdoors, but because you have limited space, taller crops make very little sense.

To summarize all this, you can grow whatever you wish, but the most significant limiting factor is the practicality of doing so.  

Now, we will look at some of the best things you can grow in hydroponics in certain conditions.

Indoor Hydroponic Growing

Indoor hydroponics systems are used for a multitude of reasons. It can be that the local weather is harsh and growing outside doesn’t give plants much of a chance, or the growers live in the city and have no access to an outside area.

A system can be set up anywhere, as long as you provide everything plants need to grow. An indoor  hydroponics system need not take up too much space, and can even add to the aesthetics of your home. Here we will run through all you need for indoor growing, and which plants are ideal for this type of system.

Space requirements

The space requirements can be as small or as large as you want. From a windowsill to a spare room or a basement, they all make ideal growing areas once you plan correctly. This is where plant size affects what can be grown, but for shorter plants, you can use shelving, or make use of an old table with lighting suspended from above.

One system that works effectively is growing towers because they use vertical space along an interior wall rather than flat growing areas.

Lighting

One thing plants need to do is photosynthesize. This they must do to survive, or they will wither up and die, no matter how well you have your nutrients mixed for them. Even if you have some natural light, this may not be sufficient, so you need to supplement this with grow lights.

With this, you now have one more element which is under your control, and with the correct types of lighting, you can deliver plants with the ideal amount without relying on the sun. Most vegetables grow best when they have access to 14-16 hours of light, and this can be sunlight or simulated (artificial) light.

There are many lighting options, and it can become confusing which ones to opt for. To make things a little easier, we have listed all the lamp types:

  • Incandescent lamps: inexpensive and can be purchased from hardware stores or nurseries. Sufficient for houseplants but not indoor garden systems.
  • Fluorescent lights: ideal for growing herbs and plants which are not light hungry. While inexpensive, they are not ideal for budding or flowering plants because they don’t deliver enough light.
  • Compact fluorescent lamps: these are bright while being efficient, and in some cases are better than the more expensive HID (High-Intensity Discharge) lighting systems. These are suitable for all plants, and because they run cooler, they can be placed closer to plants. Ideal for shelving systems.
  • HID lamps: efficient but expensive. They are the brightest, and one 1,000 watts grow light can throw out the same light as 50 forty watt fluorescent bulbs.
  • HPS (High-Pressure Sodium): These are one of the best bulbs you can use. However, they do have a few downsides. They are expensive to purchase, but they are economical to run. They produce a lot of heat, so they need to be used in air-cooled reflector kits. Lastly, they are not suitable for all growth stages. They don’t produce light in the blue spectrum which is needed for leafy growth.

Metal Halide (MH) bulbs are great to start plants off with, but when you reach the flowering stage, it is advisable to switch to an HPS bulb.

Lamp placement

  • 400 Watt: A five foot, or eight-foot square growing area needs lighting placed 1 to 4 feet from the plants.
  • 600  Watt: A seven or ten feet square growing area needs lighting set 1.5 feet to 5 feet from the plants.
  • 1000 Watt: An eight feet or twelve feet square growing area needs lighting set 2 to 6 feet from the plants.

Temperature and Humidity

Most plants and vegetables prefer temperatures in the 65 – 75F range. It might be the case you need heating or cooling depending on your location. This can be controlled by a cooling thermostat.

Humidity is also a crucial factor, and quick ways to see if you have a humidity problem are: brown leaf tips, your plants are looking puckered and withering, or they are losing their leaves.

To raise humidity, you can quickly mist plants daily, place a tray of water filled with lava rocks close to your plants, or make use of a humidifier or misting unit in extreme circumstances.

Plants Which are Ideal for Indoor Hydroponic Systems

  • Vegetables: Chard, Kale, Salad greens, peppers, carrots, onions, cherry type tomatoes, and beans.
  • Herbs: Basil, Parsley, Oregano, Chives, Cilantro, and Rosemary
  • Fruits: Blueberries and Strawberries

All other elements such as growing medium, nutrient mixes, and watering will follow the same patterns as other hydroponic spaces where you might possibly grow.

Everyday Hydroponic Vegetables

The list of vegetables which can grow in a hydroponics system is endless. We have seen which are ideal for indoor gardening, but when you have space in an outside area such as a hydroponic greenhouse, then the possibilities are endless.

It is easier to say you can grow everything, but vegetables which grow below the surface will need some extra care and tending to. Parsnips, potatoes, and radishes being some obvious culprits, although it is still possible with the extra effort.

We can go back to squash or vining plants, and in most cases, these are impractical for space reasons. However, beans are a great vining plant which takes really well to hydroponics without taking over. Seeds will germinate in around 2-weeks, and no special formulation of nutrients is required. They grow fast, and you will be picking plump beans like crazy.

Hydroponic Fruits

Succulent plant varieties don’t take well to hydroponics because they thrive in drier conditions. Water-loving plants make excellent choices to grow in your hydroponic set-up. Melons are one of the best examples of fruit which will thrive in this situation. If you have space and can support the plants as they grow, it is well worth checking cantaloupe and watermelons as two varieties.

Berries are a handy crop to grow, although out of all, it is the strawberry which is the easiest. One fruit which is very similar and can be grown using hydroponic methods is grapes, both varieties have been successfully grown so if you want some juicy table grapes or fancy a go at making your own wine, you only need a large area.

Almost all fruits can be grown in this manner, but it becomes astonishing when you learn you can grow banana’s in a hydroponic system. Such is their liking to this system, there is the Super Dwarf Cavendish variety which produces small dessert banana’s.

Citrus fruits are also capable of being grown, although these are in the dwarf tree variety rather than the full-grown versions. Either way, if you have space and can support the rooting system in your growing medium, there is no reason not to find an area to grow your own oranges, limes or lemon trees.

Lastly, you can follow in the dwarf tree vein and find small apple trees that can be successfully grown hydroponically. Again, as long as you provide all the tree needs in the way of nutrients, support, and light, then there is no reason you can’t have your own miniature apple tree orchard.

High-Value Hydroponic Crops

Although you might be growing hydroponically for your own pleasure, if you have an established system, nothing is holding you back from venturing out and growing crops which can bring in some extra money.

With this in mind, you do need to be selective in what you grow, and not offer what can already be found. Choosing crops which offer a higher return than lettuce or leafy greens make any venture worthwhile without added competition.

The following three crops can be profitable, but depending on where you live, there might already be a grower who is covering them. A little market research to what is, and what isn’t available can help make your decision, but for now, here are three great crops to ponder over.

Mushrooms

This has to be one crop which doesn’t pop up on most people’s lists of what to grow in their hydroponic systems. In a way, they are a contradiction because they require less light rather than needing more. This can make them a tremendous indoor crop.

Mushrooms require a soilless growing medium and moisture. You can purchase ready-to-use kits, or you can learn how to create your own mycelia. The only light mushrooms need is for triggering their fruiting (they don’t photosynthesize).

It is easier to purchase a mushroom kit which comes with colonized media (compressed sawdust, hulls or hardwood shavings). All you need to do is remove this from the packaging and submerge it into a bucket of water for between 6 – 12 hours.

These are then placed in a dark area which has a temperature of around 60 – 75F until it begins producing in several weeks. Once you have fully grown mushrooms and harvest, you can re-submerge your brick again and repeat the process.

Most kits can be used around four times. The fun is in doing the entire process on your own. You can purchase commercial mushroom spawn. Here are brief direction how to hydroponically grow mushrooms.

  1. Place mushroom spawn in a sterile petri dish. This will go to form mycelia.
  2. When this has happened, take a clear container and mix the mycelia with sterile grain or rice. This acts as the food source while the mushroom colonizes. You can see colonization when it looks white and has surrounded the grain substrate.
  3. Now mix the mycelia with some vermiculite and a little water until it is like clay. Form this into cakes.
  4. Place in a hydro tank with clay pebbles and an air stone
  5. The water shouldn’t reach the surface, so the cakes sit on top of the pebbles. Water should be over 60F, and well oxygenated.

Basil

Basil is one of the best herbs to grow using hydroponics. It is sensitive to cold climates so for indoor growing or heated greenhouses where you have a hydroponic system, it is ideal. Basil is only available for a few months of the year, so a fresh supply out of season is welcome by many a chef.

Hydroponic basil also comes with more flavor than conventionally grown, and you might find you can sell it by the pound rather than a few ounces here and there.

Basil delivers the highest yields in an NFT set-up, and likes things on the warm side. Temperatures around 70 – 75F and humidity at between 40 – 60 percent. They also love as much light as you can give them, be it sunlight or artificial lighting.

Strawberries

These are always a hit, even if you can only sell them to friends and family. In a hydroponics system, you have a good ten-month growing season, if not all year round. There are reports of yields being higher than conventionally grown strawberries to a staggering 4x what is usually harvested.

Red Gauntlet is a familiar favorite for indoor hydroponic growers which appears to deliver exceptional results. These are great for indoor systems when you are growing vertically, so a plant doesn’t need to give high yields because you have more plants in the same growing area.

Temperatures should be no higher than low 70F’s during the day, and no lower than the high 50’s at night. When you pick hydroponic strawberries, do this in the morning when they are at their sweetest.

Conclusion

As you can see, with space, time and the effort it is possible to grow most things using hydroponic methods. This doesn’t mean they should all be attempted. Because of the beauty of how the system works, when there is a need for plants to be grown using these methods, we already know it is possible, and all that needs changing are the means of supporting larger plants and trees.

Although growing some varieties is not practical for the home grower, it isn’t to say these things aren’t practical, in areas where it is hard to grow nourishing foods and fruits.

We can make fruit trees smaller to fit into our hydroponic systems, but the time will come when the systems become larger to accommodate full-sized trees.

The Top 5 Pros and Cons of Hydroponics Every Grower Should Consider

Hydroponics has become one of the hottest and most popular ways of growing crops and plants. You do this by using a nutrient-rich solution, rather than the more conventional means of using soil. With these methods, crops can grow all year round, and with the right equipment, they can be grown indoors and are not reliant on natural sunlight.

Hydroponics has been termed the farming of the future, and it does have some great benefits for bringing food to people who would otherwise not be in a position to have such crops.

However, like many things, there are upsides and downsides for anyone who is considering growing hydroponically. If you wish to have healthy crops, these are things that you need to consider because they can help avoid many common mistakes.

Below, we will list the top five advantages and disadvantages of growing hydroponically. We will also address some common questions asked about hydroponic systems and growing without soil.

Top Advantages of Hydroponics

No Soil Required

Crops can be grown where there is limited land, it doesn’t exist, or the growing conditions are far from ideal or contaminated. Because you mix nutrients into the water, all a plant needs after this is something to support them while they grow. Inert growing media such as perlite, coco coir, horticultural grade Rockwool or Hydrocorn (clay pebbles) are common favorites.

It is the function of these growing mediums to allow proper aeration to plants roots while giving support and allowing nutrients to locate the roots of the plants. There are also many types of hydroponic systems, which are suitable for use in different areas or regions, such as wick systems, ebb, and flow (flood and drain), nutrient film technique, continuous drip, and aeroponics systems. When compared, at least 20% less space is required than soil gardening, delivering higher yields.

Uses Less Water than Growing in Soil

This is one of the things which attracts many people to growing hydroponically. Water usage drops by 90% when compared to growing crops in soil. As well as growing in areas where there is little soil, areas such as countries with arid (drought-ravaged) climates such as central Africa can have the ability to grow crops.

Crops or plants in a hydroponic system take water and nutrients as needed, and the run-offs are caught ready for recirculation by means of a high quality water pump. Because of this, water loss only comes from two areas, evaporation and system leaks. Evaporation will vary depending on the systems implemented, but it is still minimal when compared to conventional farming methods.

All other water usage comes from what the plants need. As it stands, there is an estimation, that agriculture in the US uses 80% of ground and surface water, so it is obvious why hydroponics is an excellent solution in areas with limited water supplies.

Controlled Nutrient Application

Although the growing methods are very different, the principles are the same for both soil gardening and hydroponic gardening when it comes to fertilizing crops. Soil fertilizer can lose its effectiveness when it leaches into the soil, whereas, in a hydroponic system the nutrients circle around the system and plants take what they need.

With only a few tablespoons of nutrients per gallon of water, these are more cost-effective and are tailored for different stages of growth. Nutrients can differ for the growing phase and the flowering stage. There have been debates about if hydroponics is organic in the past, but now it is possible to purchase organic nutrients, although with a slightly higher cost.

Nutrients come in two varieties, powdered nutrients which is the cheaper option, but takes more work when mixing solutions, or the ready mixed which is more expensive, but they fully dissolve in water and also come with a pH buffer.

Better Growth Rates

There is a slight misconception when it comes to plant harvesting from hydroponic systems. This is that, people think hydroponics will produce larger plants that can be obtained when growing in soil. This isn’t the case, but what hydroponics does do is allow plants to reach their full genetic potential. In turn, this does equate to more abundant and healthier crops because there are fewer limiting factors, which reduce a plants growth.

Now the grower is in control of the entire growing environment, all of the grow lights, temperatures, moisture, and nutrients are all directed at delivering the ideal conditions for the plants. Once this happens, and unlike soil, plants no longer need to search for nutrients as they are delivered directly to the roots.

Here is a quick overview of what determines higher yields from hydroponic systems

  • Year round gardening – crop yields can be increased by 2x to 8x when growing year round and utilizing indoor growing.
  • Higher plant density – plants can be grown closer together than in soil, and they can be grown vertically or in layers. Plant density can increase from 4x to 16x in hydroponic systems.
  • Sufficient lighting – with full spectrum grow lights, which deliver an abundance of light, plant yields, can increase by 1x to 2x regardless of what the sun or weather is doing outside.
  • Water management – because plants can take what they need, there is no waiting for rainfall and no chance of drought. With correct water management, yields can increase by 1x to 2x.
  • Temperatures and CO2 – growers can see an increase in yields of 1x to 2x if the temperatures are kept in the 75F to the 85F range. Additionally to this, with higher CO2 levels, plants can flourish by 1x to 2x in hydroponic systems.

Weeds, Pests, and Insecticides

If you have previously made any type of soil gardening, and have made the switch to hydroponics. When you have a system set up and running, there are a few things you will notice. The first thing you will see is, you have no weed problems. This not only makes gardening more comfortable by not having to pull them, but weeds are also one of the things, which prevents a plant from reaching its full potential of growth due to stolen nutrients.

Next up are pests, even though pests are less with hydroponic plants, they are still attracted to hydroponic plants (spider mites). With the right conditions, these can be easier to regulate because you are dealing with a limited environment that you control.

Because there are no weeds and pest number are reduced, there are far fewer chemicals in use, and insecticide or herbicide usage can be cut, which is one of the primary benefits of growing hydroponically. This cuts down on cost, work, and plants are healthier as a result.

Main Disadvantages of Hydroponics

Hydroponics isn’t a perfect form of gardening by any degree, and although you might find the concepts cool, this type of gardening might not be for you. There are advantages, which can outweigh the disadvantages depending on what you’re looking for.

Initial Set Up Costs

Depending on the type and size of the hydroponic system you want, this will have a bearing on your set-up costs for materials. If you are growing indoors, you need to consider ventilation and grow lights as two of the primary factors. Grow lights can soon become expensive, and ventilation will be required because of excess heat.

Compared to soil farming, which only takes a handful of seeds and a shovel to get going. Pumps, reservoirs, nutrients and grow lights, etc. do work out expensive, but this is a one-off cost, and the increase in yields can make this investment worth it.

Time and Commitment

In soil farming, you have some room to maneuver with your plant’s growth. If you forget to water on one day, you can quickly water the following day. Weeding can also be left for another day if you don’t feel the urgency to do it.

Luckily, there is no weeding with hydroponics, but if your plants go without water for any reason, you will be left with dead plants. The amount of time you spend tending to your plants can be vastly reduced, but if your engagement with your garden isn’t reliable and punctual, you will fail very quickly. Hydroponics can be easy and demanding at the same time, and you do only get out what you put into it. With plenty of time and commitment, you will reap the benefits.

If you are new to hydroponics, then you need to be ready for some setbacks early on. Trying to keep the right balance all of the time can become stressful, and many farmers, in the beginning, do have crops, which are unsuccessful.

Water Borne Diseases

Soil-borne pests are eliminated in hydroponic systems, but this doesn’t mean there are no pests or diseases present. This is very far from the truth because there are pests and fungi, which spread through water. To help prevent this, there is a need for an additional filtration system and thorough cleaning of all the components in the system.

If untreated, the generated moisture and heat in your irrigation system is the perfect place for water mold to develop (Pythium and Phytophthora). These pass around the system due to circulating water, and it can take as little as 20-hours for the entire system to become infected. Hydroponics uses a sterile environment, and keeping it this way with regular cleaning can help to combat these fungi, which lead to invasive root rot.

System Failures

First up, water and electricity don’t mix very well, so you need to take precautions to make sure you have no vulnerable areas where the two can meet. Additional to this power outages can be a nightmare for hydroponics growers, almost all hydroponic systems rely on electricity at some stage. The levels of reliance on electricity can increase to full automation of systems for watering, lighting and to automatic windows in greenhouses when it gets too hot.

Although these can be for the more serious grower, the impact of a power outage is the same for anyone unless there are standby generators in place. A hobby or home grower won’t go to the added expense of generators and backup batteries initially, but as soon as you have a power out, you can quickly see how vulnerable a hydroponic system is. A full crop can wither and die within a few hours as soon as these electronic items are not working for an extended period.

Grower Experience and Technical Knowledge

Hydroponics is a long-term investment in both a financial and from the grower. The investment from the grower will be repaid through experience and gained knowledge that will be required to maintain efficient systems.

There is little point deciding to implement a system without understanding what it entails. Many elements can affect success, such as designing a system that is ineffective, to mixing the wrong formulation of nutrients that can set a grower off down a path to failure.

It will be when faced with problems that knowledge can really pay dividends. Not all plants need the same nutrients, so seeing the signs of something being wrong is crucial. Aside from this is the different effect region can have on systems. Cooler environments, for instance, can have problems with iron deficiency when roots are saturated in water, and with a pH level that is too high.

In this scenario, there is the nutrient mix, and the pH levels to attend to which will need very different problem-solving skills and understanding of what really makes a hydroponic set-up tick.

Weighing up the Pros and Cons of Hydroponics

When you look at the upsides and downsides of hydroponic systems, the negatives can be more of a quirk more than a reason for people not to try it. Systems can cost as much as you want to spend, but on a small scale, you can set up a system for next to nothing. Many individuals, in fact, build their own systems from everyday materials and are highly successful.

Once you find the plants you can grow, and the ones you can’t in hydroponics or in your region, you can tune your system to grow crops that will thrive. If you have an interest, your time and commitment will bring experience and knowledge. This leaves power outages and waterborne disease, both of which you can do something about.

Hydroponics has lots to offer, but at the end of the day, failure or success comes down to the grower, and how much they want their systems to succeed.

Top Questions Asked by Hydroponic Growers

There is no question about it; there are many failed attempts of hydroponic growers. These can have also resulted in plenty of lost investments, so knowing answers to some of the most common questions asked can help to make your hydroponic venture a success rather than it being another statistic.

We learn more from mistakes than we do from things that go right, so looking at mistakes as a tool for further learning, you can see areas where you can save heartache and financial loss.

How often should I flush the system and change nutrients?

The only way to be entirely sure of nutrient levels is by mixing a new batch. Water is lost through evaporation, and what plants use for nutrition. If water levels drop too quickly, the nutrient solution becomes concentrated and can lead to root burn. The safest way of knowing is to know how many gallons you first added, and then top up with plain water as needed until the total reaches half of your first tankful, this is then a good time to change.

What is the difference between an inorganic fertilizer and one that is organic?

Organic fertilizers come from fish bones, worm castings, and numerous other organic compounds. Inorganic fertilizers (nutrients) are inorganic compounds and made through a chemical process.

It is these inorganic fertilizers, which cause individuals to question hydroponic crops as being organic, but as far as your plants go, they have no concern whether you are using organic or inorganic nutrients.

What is the ideal grow room temperatures?

This is where plant variety and region can play a massive part because not all plants like the same temperatures. More tropical plants like temperatures around 80F while plants like broccoli and kale like lower temperatures of about 60-65F. The most common range of growing is between 70-75F so choosing plants that like these temperatures can give you a head start.

Additionally, to this, it is worth noting insects thrive more over 80F. Growing medium will dry out quickly as you lose more water due to evaporation (nutrients become toxic faster) and there is a reduction of oxygen in the nutrient solution.

I have scum in my tank. How do I get rid of it and prevent it?

The buildup in your tank (nutrient reservoir) might be bacteria, algae or fungi. These organisms rob reservoirs of oxygen and nutrients, and can also clog pumps and drip feeders if not attended to on a regular basis. The usual cause of this, is light entering your reservoir along with high mixture temperatures.

To fix this, you should first make sure your reservoir is covered, and your nutrient mix is running cooler. It might be the whole room needs cooling, or you need a reservoir chiller. The addition of hydrogen peroxide when you change your nutrients can help prevent this buildup, but making sure your system is clean between crops helps the most.

When should I change my HID bulbs?

These come in various strengths and provide a variety of spectrums that meet many needs for indoor gardens. With continual use, the lumens and PAR will drop quickly. You can see the difference in yields from using bulbs that are new, to ones that are between 8-12 months old. It is at this stage your HID bulbs should be changed for new ones.

How do I stop the powdery mildew on my leaves?

This fungal infection is caused by poor ventilation and high humidity. You can prevent this by keeping humidity below 65% and having plenty of air circulation. Ceiling or oscillating fans can make a huge difference. If you already have this on your leaves, you can spray or dust the leaves with Sulphur. Neem oil and pine tree oil are also suitable for preventing and removing powdery mildew.

Is Hydroponics Really Good for the Environment?

Environment - Is hydroponics good?

As an alternative method to cultivating and growing plants, hydroponics is an industry that is blossoming into the mainstream gardening niche. As interest in hydroponics increases, so do the questions regarding its sustainability and effects on the environment.

Is hydroponics really good for the environment? Yes, hydroponics is good not just for the environment, but for several other reasons such as higher yield, water conservation and the removal of pesticides and herbicides.

What Is Hydroponics?

Before delving into the many benefits of hydroponics, let’s explore what exactly hydroponics is first. The simplest explanation is hydroponics is gardening without soil. Plants are grown in sand, gravel or liquid with nutrient-rich solutions as ‘food.’

While the popularity of hydroponics is growing rapidly, it is not a new concept, by any means. The floating gardens of the Aztecs and the hanging garden of Babylon are two examples of ancient hydroponics.

Hydroponic gardens are maintained through a special system – either purchased or built by hand – that allows the roots of the plant to come in direct contact with the nutrients and oxygen that it needs to grow.

5 Environmental benefits of Hydroponics

1.Higher Production

There are two reasons for the higher production in hydroponics than in soil-based plants. Both come down to space. Outdoor gardens require a lot of land, whereas hydroponic gardens can fit into the smallest of apartments.

Furthermore, the roots of the plants have access to all the nutrients they need in the reservoir tank. The roots won’t need to expand or stretch out in search of food, meaning you can grow plants much closer, resulting in a higher yield.

2. Saves Water

With a worldwide water crisis on the horizon, saving water is at the forefront of everyone’s agenda. Hydroponics is the perfect solution for reducing wasteful water consumption. The plants are hydrated by a nutrient-rich water solution that can be reused for weeks at a time.

3. Less Land Erosion

Common estimates say that the earth is 71% water. That leaves 29% of earth’s surface as land, over half of which isn’t habitable, let alone sustainable for farming and gardens. When land is used for gardening, the soil must constantly be tilled and eventually, that spot of land becomes useless.

Some consider hydroponics to be the farming of the future, as the idea of inhabiting other planets grows. There isn’t any viable soil in space.

4. Reduced Use of Pesticides

While hydroponics isn’t completely insect-free, there are significantly fewer pests involved in soil-less farming, as most pests tend to need the soil to survive. Pesticides are not only harmful to the environment, but they can also be harmful to people – either through air exposure or ingestion.

Given the way plants are grown in hydroponics, weeds don’t have a chance to grow.  This reduces the need for any herbicides, which are used to kill weeds. It also removes any physical labor in pulling out weeds.

5. Works in Any Climate

Depending on where you live, the ground could be frozen for half the year, making outdoor gardening a six-month Spring/Summer activity. Hydroponics allows you to grow plants regardless of how wet or dry your climate is.

Common Hydroponic Systems

There are 6 main types of hydroponic systems – wick, continuous drip, Ebb and Flow, deep water culture, nutrient film technique and aeroponics. All the systems involve a reservoir of nutrient-rich solution underneath a tray or basket where the plants are growing and each uses a different technique to feed the solution to the roots.

  • Wick

The wick system is the most rudimentary system. It uses a wick — a rope or piece of felt, for example – to draw the solution toward the roots. The solution is then absorbed by the roots directly.

  • Continuous Drip

The most widely used system, the drip system uses a timer that is connected to a pump that drips the nutrients onto the plants at a pre-set time. The drip method ensures that the plants aren’t drowned in the solution.

  • Ebb and Flow

The ebb and flow system has a pump as well, but the pump temporarily floods the grow tray with the required nutrients and then catches the run-off back in the reservoir, which is then recirculated at the next feeding.

  • Deep Water Culture

The most low-maintenance of the systems, the plants are housed in styrofoam containers on a platform above the solution. The platform is continuously immersed in the solution. This system works best with small plants that grow quickly, such as leaf lettuce.

  • Nutrient Film Technique

NFT for short, the nutrient film technique is a little different from the others. The plants are held in net pots high above the reservoir in a channel and the solution flows directly over the roots via a pump. The solution then drains back into the reservoir for reuse.

  • Aeroponics

Like NFT, the plants in the aeroponics system are held above the solution in baskets.  A timed pump lightly mists the roots on a schedule. The pre-set feature is what makes the aeroponic system the most technologically advanced.

Aquaponics

It would be remiss not to mention the practice of aquaponics – the combining of hydroponics with aqua farming. This technique uses snails and other fish to fertilize the solution that is then used to feed the plants.

The symbiotic relationship between the animals and plants allows for efficient, environmental-friendly gardening where the animals purify the water and their waste provides food for the plants.

Which Plants Work Best with Hydroponics?

You might be surprised to know that you can grow more than just vegetables in your hydroponic garden. The best plants that work best in hydroponic systems are ones that are durable and fast growing. When you first begin indoor gardening, it is best to start with the easiest plants to prevent becoming frustrated and giving up your dreams of having an indoor garden altogether.

The three types of plants mostly found in hydroponics gardens are:

  • Vegetables

The best types of vegetables that grow in hydroponic gardens are leafy vegetables (spinach, lettuce) and vine plants (tomatoes, technically a fruit.) While it is possible to grow root vegetables such as potatoes in hydroponic systems, it takes extra care and experience.

Vegetables grown hydroponically tend to grow bigger than those of the soil-based method because the plant has to exert less energy in reaching out to its nutrients. The nutrients are fed directly to the roots, giving it more energy to grow quickly and at a larger pace.

  • Herbs

Who doesn’t like to use herbs to add flavor to their homemade dishes? Hydroponics is a great method of growing thyme, basil and oregano, to name just a few. The herbs can be pruned as needed to encourage growth, but it’s not necessary.

One benefit of growing herbs in your indoor garden is you will be assured that they are truly organic and pest-free.

  • Houseplants

Yes, even some houseplants can be grown using hydroponic systems! The best way to grow houseplants indoors is by using the hydroponic system that entails hanging the plant and misting, which ensures the roots won’t be oversaturated.

The best houseplant for hydroponic gardening is the spider plant. The advantages to hydroponic-grown houseplants are reduced allergens in the air and mold prevention.

While herbs, vegetables and houseplants can all be grown hydroponically, they should all be in their own separate systems. Herbs typically can be grown together, but mint does best in its own system, as the roots need more room to grow than other herbs.

What About Fruit Trees?

While vegetables and vine fruits such as tomatoes are the most common plants grown in a hydroponic system, it is possible to grow fruit trees such as bananas and apples indoors.

It will take some finagling, patience and a lot of expertise, but with the right equipment (heat lamps and seeds) and extra room to grow, you can have yourself an indoor fruit tree.

Related questions

What Are the Disadvantages to Hydroponic Gardening?

There is something to consider before beginning your hydroponic garden. And that is how reliable is your power source? Hydroponic gardens can fall victim to a power outage that could potentially kill all of the plants. Many of the systems rely on pumps, which need electricity to run.

So, if there is one advantage soil-based gardening has over hydroponics is that you don’t have to worry about power outages, but you do have to worry about mother nature.

Is Hydroponics Better Than Soil?

The answer to this question comes down to preference and the reasons you are considering hydroponics. If your climate is the main reason for your desire to garden indoors, then yes, it is better than soil because with hydroponics, you don’t have to consider frozen ground/soil.

Plants grown using hydroponics instead of soil-based grow quicker because the nutrients are delivered directly to the roots.

Are Hydroponic Plants Healthy?

Healthiness of hydroponic plants depend on what solution is being used to grow the plants. Soil is naturally rich in the nutrients necessary for plants to grow. The solution used in hydroponics is created to replicate that nutrition, but if you don’t use the correct ingredients, your plants won’t be healthy enough to prosper.

Can Trees be Grown Hydroponically?

Hydroponic Trees

Hydroponics are a great way to grow a garden, as can be seen from the sharp rise in its popularity. There’s a lot of speculation about what exactly you can and can’t grow in a hydroponics system. So let’s look at trees and logistics of growing them hydroponically.

Can trees be grown hydroponically? Like the majority of other plants, trees can be grown hydroponically if you do it right. That also means that while you can grow trees hydroponically, you can’t grow all trees in a hydroponic system.

While it’s possible to grow a tree hydroponically, if you want to do it successfully you need to look at things like the species of tree you want to grow, the size of your set up, and the method you’ll use you grow your tree. We’ll go over the main factors you need to consider before you start growing a tree hydroponically.

What trees can and shouldn’t be grown hydroponically

You have to remember that when you grow a tree, you’re growing a long term plant. Some trees live hundreds of years, like oak trees, and they grow very large. Even if you have a big hydroponic greenhouse, it just doesn’t make sense to grow a tree like that. Nor is it likely even possible to keep a tree like that living in your set up for its lifetime.

Basically, full size tree species shouldn’t be grown hydroponically. Ever. Aside from all the other issues, their root systems don’t handle it well and often choke healthy roots.

So, if you really want to grow a tree hydroponically, what options do you have?

You still have plenty of choice, but you need to look for dwarf species. A lot of hydroponic gardeners prefer growing small, dwarf fruit trees like lemon and banana trees. These miniature trees still produce fruit, often the same size as regular fruit, as long as they’re cared for properly. As long as you’re growing a dwarf species, you have pretty limitless options.

Methods you can use to grow trees hydroponically

If you want to grow a tree hydroponically, you can try the liquid culture approach. Chances are if you go this route you’ll end up switching your set up to one that uses a growing medium. This will help make up for the density and mass of the tree’s root structure.

Going forward, we’ll assume we’re talking about methods using growing mediums.

Flood and Drain

The flood and drain system is also commonly called the ebb and flow method. In this simple system the main container holds the plants and medium (if you’re using it). Then, usually by timer, the container is flooded slowly to a preset level before slowly draining the water and nutrient solution back out.

Drip irrigation

The drip method, or constant water drip (CWD), is more common for growing trees hydroponically. That’s due a lot in part to the fact that it’s more flexible and easier to adjust to the size of a growing tree. Basically, in a drip system there’s a portion that holds the plant and growing medium while a container underneath provides the nutrient solution. From there, you pump it a bit and let gravity take care of the rest.

Using different growing mediums

Because of the weight and size of the tree, using a growing medium is the only practical way to grow a hydroponic tree. When choosing your growing there are a few choices that stand out for tree growth:

Rice husk

Rice husks or hulls are made in the process of farming and preparing rice and the husks are then processed for use in hydroponics. They’re a natural substrate of medium weight, and they last through quite a bit of use before they start to degrade. Note: always ensure the rice husks have been boiled and processed to avoid contamination issues like fungus and disease.

Vermiculite or Perlite

These are pretty common, lightweight mediums. Made from expanded mica and volcanic rock respectively, they’re often used together. However, because they’re so light it’s better to use them for smaller plants like seedlings and saplings.

Rockwool

Rockwool is made of rocks melted and reconstructed into an insulation textured medium. It’s a good solution for trees of any age and weight, plus it helps retain both water and oxygen.

Requirements for growing trees hydroponically

Once you’ve got your hydroponic system up to grade to handle a tree, you still have more work to do. Like basically any other plant, your tree will need nutrients, light, temperature regulation (and sometimes humidity regulation too), and more.  Here’s a quick rundown of the considerations and basics you’ll need to add in:

Lighting

Your tree will need plenty of like to grow, no surprise there. How much light your tree needs can vary, but expect to be providing a solid 8 to 12 hours daily. No, your regular house lights don’t count either.

You need to provide your tree with some special growing lights. That means you’ll need to invest in either metal halide lamps, high pressure sodium lamps, or LED growing lights. The good news is that the lights will help with your issue of keeping enough heat around your tree.

Temperature

With your lighting, you should have less work to do in maintaining heat. To be sure your tree is warm enough, keep a thermometer in your growing area and routinely check the water temperature. Remember, different species have different temperature preferences, but so do trees of different ages. Seedlings prefer being grown in a solution with a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Older trees can tolerate a wider range, usually anywhere between 65 and 80 degrees.

Ventilation

Your ventilation doesn’t need to be a super advanced system, but make sure you’ve got adequate air movement. This helps your tree get CO2 to convert, and it gives the helpful bonus of preventing harmful mold and fungi.

Humidity

This is where you’ll need to do a little research on the type of tree you’re planning on growing. While many trees do well with an ambient humidity level, some have specific requirements or just plain do better at certain level. For example, the Meyer lemon dwarf tree can handle most ambient humidity, but it really thrives at 40 to 50%.

Future Transplants

At some point in the future, you’ll have to move your tree into a bigger container. It’s better to plan for this in advance and set up your system accordingly. Factoring in the weight of materials and ease of access in your system early on means an easier time when you have to transplant.

Nutrients

If you’ve already got an established hydroponics system, you’re no stranger to adding in a nutrient solution. Make sure your nutrient combo is right for the tree you’re growing, and always remember to start at lower nutrient levels and work up.

Testing

Yes, you have to test your pH and nutrient levels as well as practice proper maintenance. While you probably already knew that, the acceptable levels are different from other hydroponic plants. Most plants do well in a slightly acidic solution with a pH range between 5.5 and 6.5. That being said, always check for your tree’s optimal pH. As an example, an apple tree prefers a pH range of 5.0 to 6.5, while a crab apple tree needs a pH range between 6.0 and 7.5.

Pollination

If you’re already planning on growing a tree hydroponically, you may have wondered what you’ll do if you don’t have pollinators at work. Pollinators, like bees, naturally distribute pollen from tree to tree. If you’ve only been growing self pollinating plants like lima beans and peas, you’ve never had to worry about this before. To pollinate your tree, swirl a small paintbrush in the blossoms of the branch of another tree of your same species. Then transfer the pollen to the blossoms of your tree, and you’ve done it.

Related Questions

What are the easiest trees to grow hydroponically?

Trees are always going to be a skill level up from say, growing lettuce. That being said, some trees are easier. Meyer lemon dwarf trees, miniature cherry trees, dwarf banana trees, and dwarf apple trees tend to be less temperamental  for less experienced gardeners.

Can I use my hydroponics system to grow saplings you transplant into soil later?

Absolutely! Keep in mind when you’re using hydroponics for saplings only that while you won’t have to modify your set up as much as for a dwarf tree, you will need to make plans to safely change its environment without causing shock.

How long until my hydroponic trees produce fruit?

Hydroponically grown fruit trees will produce fruit regularly as long as you’re pollinating them. Just like any other fruit tree, if you start with a younger tree (and for a hydroponic system you’ll have to), you can expect to care for it for 2 to 3 years before you see any fruit.