How to Test EC in Water – Complete Guide to Electrical Conductivity

Hydroponic growers are faced with many challenges when it comes to monitoring their nutrient solutions and pH levels. We know this can affect how plants grow because some plants require very different ratios to grow to their full potential.

If these two factors were challenging enough, there is one more element in nutrient solutions that needs constant monitoring and adjusting when required. This is the EC level, and here we will see how it affects your plants, how you can test it and how you can adjust it if needed.

Understanding EC Levels

What is the EC in a Nutrient Mix?

EC is the measure of electrical conductivity in any solution. You might also see it as CF which stands for the ‘Conductivity Factor.’

On many occasions, you will see this EC written in conjunction with nutrient solutions pH levels. At this point, you need to know the difference between the two.

The pH levels of your nutrient mix give an indication of nutrient balance in your mix. EC, on the other hand, is an excellent guide to the quantity of available nutrients in your solution.

To make this easy to understand, distilled water contains no EC because it has no minerals contained in it. Once there is an introduction of minerals, salts are dissolved, and then the solution can conduct electricity. The higher the amount of salts, the higher the EC level or the electrical conductivity.

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One thing worth noting with EC levels is, it doesn’t tell you what nutrients, and at what levels they are at, it is an overall number of nutrient concentration.

EC Levels in Hydroponics and Why They are Important

Just like pH levels in your hydroponic system, and some plants prefer different levels. It is the same with EC levels, and various plants prefer different levels. On top of this, most plants like the EC level to be in the range of 1.2 – 1.6 in their vegetative stage, and once they reach flowering, they like the EC to be in the range of 1.6 to 2.4.

These levels are worth knowing because, from the following three plants, you can see a vast difference between what levels they prefer.

  • Basil & other herbs – EC 0.8 – 1.4
  • Tomatoes – EC 2.2 – 2.8
  • Spinach – EC up to 3.5

Now we know what can affect EC levels, we need to understand why they are essential. These levels provide a detailed indication of what is happening in your nutrient solution, especially when tests are carried out as an addition to testing pH levels alone.

Here is a brief overview of what is happening with plants when the EC levels change:

  • EC level remains the same – the plants are absorbing the same amount of water as nutrients. When this happens, and reservoir levels drop, you need to top up with a nutrient mix of the same strength. This does still require checking once it has stabilized and run through your system.
  • EC levels drop – when this happens, it shows the plants are using more nutrients (salts) than they are using water. When this happens, you need to top back up your reservoir to the level it was, and it might mean you need to make the concentration of your newly added nutrients a little stronger. This does need to be checked after topping up in case your solution ends up too strong.
  • EC levels rise – this happens when your plants are using more water than they are using nutrients. You may have seen this and know the symptoms as ‘Nutrient burn.’ To resolve this, you need to dilute the solution with more water. Again, your solution will require checking in case it falls off and goes in the opposite direction.

EC Levels and Plant Growth

There are a few things growers should know about EC levels, and this is what happens to a plants growth, and what factors can make EC levels change. There are elements which can affect these levels aside from the amount of nutrients plants are absorbing.

We have seen why these levels are significant, and here is how it affects plants during different stages of their growth.

How Conductivity Levels Will Affect Plant Growth

Seedlings, cuttings or delicate plants will suffer from nutrient burn when the EC level is too high. This ‘too high’ doesn’t mean you have it wrong because even a nutrient mix that is suitable for larger plants can be too strong. To make sure your plants don’t suffer from nutrient burn during these stages, it is advisable to run your nutrient levels at half strength or lower.

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Once plants become more substantial and are entering their vegetative stage, you can increase the nutrient concentration. This is still dependent on the type of plant you are growing. If you have a mixture of plants, you need to separate these into light feeders, medium feeders, and heavy feeders if possible. If you have three different types of plants which all feed at different rates, this means you will need three separate reservoirs.

This might seem too much, and it might not fit in with everyone’s hydroponic system, but as a good example. If you feed lettuce with high EC levels that are suited to tomatoes, then your lettuce will become bitter. At the other end of the scale, if you feed tomatoes with low EC levels intended for lettuce, then your tomatoes won’t have any taste.

Can Water Temperature Affect EC Levels?

Nutrient solutions in your reservoir should fall inside the temperature range of 65 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Plants don’t like a rapid change in water temperature. This is more important around the root zone. When you are about to add water to your reservoir, you should make sure it is at the same temperature as what is already in the reservoir.

If your grow room is indoors and you fill from an outside hose, this could cause too much of a difference.

Ambient temperatures will also have an effect, so depending on where your system is situated, you might need to make use of an aquarium heater for colder regions, or a suitable chiller for your nutrient solution if you live in warmer climates.

How Does Air Affect EC Levels?

All growers know that plants require airflow to grow correctly, but many are not aware that ventilation plays a significant part in EC levels.

One thing to note is that airflow isn’t the same as ventilation. Airflow is the moving of the same air while ventilation is discarding of old air while introducing fresh air. When you have improved ventilation in your growing area, this aids much higher rates of transpiration. From this, plants will increase their rate of nutrient absorption and uptake.

EC Management

When you have a good EC management procedure in place, you are in a position to help your plants deal with changing conditions. Many growers use low-light conditions and raise their EC levels. This restricts vegetative growth and helps counteract stretching.

When plants are in low humidity areas with high heat, growers can reduce their EC levels to ease any stress on their plants.

Testing EC Levels in Hydroponics

Testing EC levels is no harder than testing pH levels in your solution, but there are a few terms and things you should know.

Terminology Related to EC Levels

  • EC Electrical Conductivity. A measure of the total dissolved salts/ solids in your nutrient solution.
  • CF – Conductivity Factor. Another term for the above EC.
  • TDS – Total Dissolved Solids. This is read in ppm (Parts Per Million)
  • PPM – Parts Per Million. This is a standard measuring unit of elements which are in your nutrient solution. When you have one ppm, this equates to one part of the (solid) weight of any given mineral in one million parts of the solution.
  • MilliSiemens – this is a measure of electrical conductance

Converting Between TDS and EC Values

Again, this might sound complicated, and when you come to take readings, your testing meter will do this conversion for you for whichever value you are using.

When you want to find the approximate values of sodium chloride (salt) TDS in your solution, all you need to do is to multiply your EC reading (in milliSiemens/cm) by 1000, and then divide the result by 2.

If you want to convert the other way to find out an EC level from a TDS reading, it is a matter of doing things in reverse. All you need to do here is multiply your ppm reading by two, and then divide the result by 1000.

It is far better to rely on a meter when it comes to taking readings than converting manually.

The EC vs. TDS Debate

There has been a debate in the hydroponics world, and this is because you can test nutrient solutions with different TDS meters and come up with mixed results. This purely boils down to there being different conversion factors, and some manufacturers use different calculations to come up their results. No matter which meter you use for TDS readings, you should only take the results as what they are, an approximation.

These TDS meters use an internal conversion formula to display the EC level as an average ppm. In most cases, this comes out at a 700:1 ratio. This will mean that when you have an EC of 1, you then have 700 ppm. Other makers of these meters use 500:1 ratios for their calculations, and with this difference, it is easy to see why there is such a debate.

The safest route for growers is in using the 700:1 ratio and the reason for this being it is safer and better for your plants to add too little nutrients. If they begin showing signs of nutrient deficiency, then it is much easier to add more than to dial back the strength to a weaker solution.

To reiterate about nutrient strength during different stages of plant growth, you are far better to keep things simple and using nutrient solutions at half-strength during any vegetative phase, and then increasing them to full strength during flowering and fruiting stages.

To keep things on a level, it should also be standard practice to empty and refill your reservoir on a regular basis

The good news is, when you read EC levels, this will return the same results no matter who manufactures the meter.

EC Meters

Testing meters come with many names. They can be EC meters, CF meters, and Truncheon meters. These are all basically the same device, but in looks, they might appear very different.

Digital EC meters can take readings and do all the calculations for you internally. A Truncheon meter, on the other hand, does a reading, and on the side, there are 3 scales, so when the mark stops, you then have your three levels.

For new growers, these digital meters are the better option. They can be faster in operation, and although the Truncheon meter is manually read, it is a lot more expensive than digital.

When taking EC readings, this needs to be performed on a daily basis because things can change rapidly, and as we saw earlier, weather and ambient temperatures can play a large part in these changes.

Here are some simple use and maintenance steps for using a digital EC meter.

Maintenance of an EC Meter

  1. Always be sure to stick to the manufacturer’s instructions and recommendations
  2. Once you have used the device, always clean the electrode with distilled water and carefully dry with a lint-free cloth.
  3. On a regular basis, you should clean the electrode with rubbing alcohol. To do this dip and swirl around before giving it a good rinse with distilled water, and drying is as above.
  4. If there is any reason you need to store it for extended periods, always remove the batteries.

Using an EC Meter to Take Readings

  1. Remove the end cap which protects the electrode.
  2. Dip the probe into your reservoir and hold in place for up to 2 minutes or as advised by the maker of the meter. During this time, the meter will be reaching the same temperature as your nutrient solution.
  3. Once done, you can pull out the device and take the reading from the digital display. Many meters come with various buttons you can press to reach the other readings.

Organic Fertilizers and EC Levels

While reading EC levels can be very beneficial for your hydroponics system, when growers use organic fertilizers things can become very misleading. This is because the molecules in organic fertilizers usually don’t conduct any electricity.

Growers are still recommended to take EC readings with the aim of determining the soluble salt levels.

It is the case though that many of the nutrients won’t register on EC readings due to the form they are in. In most cases, they won’t have been broken down into simple salts. When readings are taken with EC meters, the gained results will more than likely read much lower than if they were using non-organic nutrients.

What growers tend to find is that although readings are lower, plants are showing no signs of deficiency. This means that nutrient profiles must be adjusted for use with these organic fertilizers.

Calcium can be one mineral which is lacking and can sit at around 100 ppm which is a long way from the recommended 200 ppm for leafy green vegetables. But, with the level at only half of the suggested, these leafy greens don’t show signs of calcium deficiency. One compound that can be added to rectify this is calcium sulfate.

It has been found both calcium and magnesium lacking when using organic fertilizers, but, if growers are using regular water, these deficiencies can be made up. However, this doesn’t help if you are using pure water.

Regular water contains 30 ppm of both calcium and magnesium, and over extended periods (several months) calcium levels naturally increase inside your reservoir, and can almost reach the recommended 200 ppm. Magnesium can naturally increase over time in the same way.

One thing which has been found when using organic fertilizers is that the smaller the reservoir, the more frequent testing must be carried out.


As you can see, on paper EC levels, look hard to control, but in reality, they are as easy to test for and to adjust as pH levels are.

Learning how to fine tune your hydroponic EC levels brings many more benefits than choosing to ignore it, and this can be evident when you have symptoms such as nutrient burn, or you are beginning to have vegetables with little taste.

All the formula are best remembered, but with a digital meter to take the readings, adjusting your EC levels works out to nothing more than dilution. As long as you can keep the EC levels on the right side, it is straightforward to adjust so your plants can grow to their full potential.

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The Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Hydroponics

Hydroponics can either be fairly simple or implicitly complex depending on how you choose to grow your plants and set up your system. That being said, there are some basic tenets that every hydroponic gardener needs to follow. Without these basic do’s and don’ts, no hydroponic system will be able to thrive, regardless of how it’s arranged. So without further ado, here’s the top 10 do’s and don’ts of hydroponics:

Do your research

But that’s what you’re here for right? So you’re already getting the first do of hydroponics right. Before you start your system, make sure you look at available system types and the kinds of maintenance and special considerations they require. For example, if you choose to use a Wick system you really don’t need a pump, but can choose to use one. If you choose a NFT or Ebb and Flow system, you’ll definitely need a pump. It seems like a small thing now, but it won’t be when you’re mid set up and realize you’re missing a critical component.

Decide on the kinds of plants you want to grow and make sure your system set up will support them. Then figure out what ideal pH and nutrient levels will be, in addition to the necessary temperature, humidity, and light requirements. Make sure you’re equipped to support your type of system’s water, electric, and monitoring needs too.

With research, comes planning. Set up your hydroponic system wisely and make sure it won’t be difficult to do water changes and maintenance as a result of a hasty set up. Allow enough space to account for potential future transplanting and make sure you’ve planned for your plant’s full growth size and weight to be accounted for. 

Do make lighting a priority

Too many hydroponic gardeners have made the mistake of relying on natural sunlight because their growing area seems ‘pretty light’ to them. While we, as humans, may see a bright, airy room, there are factors important to plants that this superficial assessment doesn’t consider. And when you’re growing hydroponically, it can be easy to let water take focus and accidentally ignore lighting concerns. Even if your growing area is really light, you’re still going to need supplemental lighting. Period.

You’ll need to install special growing lights to either supplement natural light or completely provide your plant’s light. Growing lights can be fairly inexpensive and they come in a variety of options: LED, halogen, and HID. Make sure you place them close enough to the plants to be effective, but far enough away that you won’t have singed or wilting plants from the lights.

Pay special attention to plants that may be at risk of receiving less light. Plants in the corner, behind another plants, or that have been surpassed in growth by another plant, are more likely to suffer a light deficiency.  That, in turn, means that the plant will suffer and fail to grow as well. You may have to adjust lighting in your system if you see that certain plants aren’t getting as much light as others.

Do change your water!

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Seriously, change your water appropriately. It’s a big deal for the plants, as missing several water changes can lead to disease and chemical burns on plant roots. The key with this do, is to do it appropriately. Overchanging your water can be just as bad as under changing it.

So how do you change the water correctly? While different systems will run through water reservoirs and systems differently, and evaporate differently as a result, you can tweak your routine from this rule of thumb: When the water reservoir is visibly lower, add your treated, clean water to top it up, but keep a log of the amount. You’ll typically need to top up your water every few days or less. When the amount you’ve added reaches half the total amount of your reservoir capacity, drain half the water currently in the reservoir and replace it with fresh water.

Why should you be careful of overchanging your water? Because it can stress the plants and result in dramatic fluctuations in pH and nutrient levels.

You might be interested in:

How often should you change your hydroponic water?

Do monitor your system

Testing and monitoring your system isn’t just good practice, it alerts you of any water quality issues. That means if you read a sudden spike or drop in pH or nutrient levels, you can correct the problem before it negatively affects your plants. Daily pH and EC level tests will go a long way in preventing water quality issues.

How can you test and monitor your solution? There are plenty of options, so there’s no excuse not to do it. For pH testing, you can use strips or drop testing kits that grade pH in colors that you then compare to a chart included with the tests. Or, if you want to get a little techy, you can buy a digital pH monitor that you simply place into the water for a pH reading.

For testing nutrient levels, you’re actually testing the salt content (ion concentration) in the water that results from adding nutrients, and from evaporation that causes them to become more concentrated. The most common method of monitoring nutrient concentration is EC testing. EC, or electrical conductivity, raises and lowers with the level of nutrients (and their resultant salts), so you can use it as a measure to determine your nutrient concentration.

Like pH testing, you have a lot of options for how you test. The main ways to test also mirror those of pH testing. Because you have to test again and again, you may choose the route of most convenience: a combination testing meter that tests both pH and EC.

Yes, the ideal levels for pH and EC vary from plant to plant and across the various growing stages. Just for reference, the typical ideal levels are:

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EC: Between 1.2 and 2.0

PH: Between 5.5 and 6.5

You might be interested in:

How to monitor your pH levels (Complete Guide)

Do make sure you understand your nutrient solution

Nutrient solutions can be either hand mixed or bought as a ready for sale mix. Either one is fine to use, but you need to understand some things about nutrient solution before you grab the first nutrient mix that catches your eye.

Different plants have different nutrient requirements to grow their best. You’ll see many nutrient solution mixes that are sold as just general ‘plant food,’ or that claim to be safe for all plants. While they may not destroy your plants, they may not be giving you the most growth for your dollar either. Hydroponic fertilizers are specifically designed to work with these systems, and the plants therein. They’re either sold as liquid concentrates or granules.

For the sake of simplicity (and to avoid the rabbit hole that can come from a very long talk about all nutrients and manual mixing), we’ll focus on NPK nutrients. NPK stands for N- Nitrogen, P- Phosphorus, and K- Potassium. These are the three main nutrients that plants need that they cannot obtain from water and oxygen. When you pick out your hydroponic nutrient solution you’ll see three numbers on the front.

You see a lot of different number combinations here, and it can get confusing quickly. Because plants need certain nutrient concentrations depending not only on the type of plant, but also the growing stage, there’s a lot of choice. Here are the basics of what you need to know:

The first number shows Nitrogen concentration, the second shows Phosphorous, and the third shows Potassium. The number shown indicates the percentage of the solution that is made up from said nutrient.  The growing stage of your plants will have the greatest impact on the NPK ratios you need. Thankfully, most hydroponic fertilizers come labeled with their best use, so it’ll be easy to find the one you need.

Here’s another important thing (and a big don’t of hydroponics) to remember:

Don’t use regular fertilizer in your hydroponic system. Ever.

Why not? First, the fertilizer you get from the garden and hardware store is not going to dilute properly when it’s pumped through your system. Not only that, you can be doing serious damage to your system and equipment. Regular fertilizer can clog up your system and cause an even bigger nutrient delivery issue. It seems like a small thing now, but in the end it’ll be a pretty big deal if you destroy your equipment over a hasty fertilizer purchase.

Related reading

Can you use miracle-gro in a hydroponics system?

Don’t overplant

It’s easy to get excited and get carried away with planting, especially when you’re setting up a new system. In the excitement, you might end up with more plants than your system can sustain. Not only that, even if your system can handle the nutrient flow issues, the plants might not be able to handle the crowding. Yes, hydroponic systems can be much more space efficient that soil gardening, but that’s not an excuse to overfill your grow tray.

There are a ton of reasons that having too many plants can wreak havoc, but when it comes down to it, it’s just plain bad for the plants from top to bottom. First, you’re going to have issues with providing sufficient light to all your plants. When they’re crowded and leaves overlap too much, that’s just taking away from the covered plants that need as much exposed leaf area to absorb light as possible. Then, you’ll have to worry about roots tangling and creating blocks to critical nutrients which then, as you can guess, leads to dead or dying plants.

When you overplant, you also get yourself into situations where you may be mixing incompatible plants. While many plant types grow suitably well next to each other, you’re going to run into a problem if they have conflicting pH and nutrient ratio needs.

For example: if you’re growing mint (with a pH tolerance from 7.0 to 8.0) alongside sweet potatoes (with a pH tolerance from 4.5 to 6.0), you won’t be able to meet suitable pH levels for both, and one of the plants will suffer as a result.

Don’t neglect the growing environment

Beyond lighting, you need to pay special attention to your growing area. That means you can’t always rely on ambient temperature and humidity levels to fit the bill. Since you’ll have taken care of one of the first do’s (taking care of lighting), it won’t be a whole lot of extra work to maintain temperature, depending on your lights and how much heat they give off. Likewise, the humidity shouldn’t require too much work because, yes it’s a hydroponic system and you’ll be producing heat to maintain the needs of your plants.

While plants are going to have specific needs, the best ranges for humidity and temperature in hydroponics are:

Humidity: 40% to 70%, with 50% being optimal

Temperature: 65 to about 80 degrees, with most plants comfortable at about 77 degrees

You don’t need the fabled thermostat detector found in the minds of dads everywhere, but you do need to monitor the temperature regularly. For most growers (with plants that aren’t excessively sensitive to small temperature changes), that’s as easy as installing a thermometer or two in their growing area. Just check it once or twice daily to ensure temperature are in the appropriate range for your plants.  If you’re struggling to keep the temperature up, a small space heater can be used as long as it isn’t too close to the plants and circulates heat evenly.

At night, it’s ideal to give your plants a lower temperature, just like they’d experience if grown outside in soil. You should aim to reduce the temperature by about 10 degrees for 12 hours at night.

To monitor your humidity, you can purchase a hydrometer. Alternatively, you can invest in a combination thermometer/hygrometer device. And increasing humidity in your growing area is no big deal either. In most situations you can use a cheap room humidifier, and that’ll be enough. 

You also need to make sure your growing area gets plenty of ventilation. Ventilation not only helps prevent mold and fungi, but it also helps strengthen plant stems by causing gentle movement. Just as plants would strengthen through growing to resist the wind outside, they grow stronger with a little ventilated adversity. Really, an oscillating fan will do the trick for most systems.

Don’t put in unsuitable plants

Okay, most plants actually grow very well in hydroponic systems regardless of their sensitivity to and preference for certain conditions. But sometimes, there are plants that just plain aren’t going to work. Or they don’t work with the specifics of your system, available resources, or experience level. Don’t be stubborn about this one, either. Most plant species have variations that are more suited to hydroponic growth if the main species isn’t. For example: trees. No, you cannot grow a full size tree in a hydroponic system, nor should you try to. In this example, there are dwarf species that actually can be grown hydroponically. So be prepared to compromise.

Related reading

Can you grow Avocado in a hydroponics system?

Can Trees be grown hydroponically?

This don’t actually goes hand in hand with not over planting. Really, it’s about plants that fit your system, and fit well together.

Which means:

Don’t ignore your plants

Hydroponic systems offer a lot of advantages over soil gardening, but reduced plant maintenance isn’t one of them. Many a novice hydroponic gardener has had unhealthy or failing plants as a result of neglecting routine plant care. So that means you can’t let them run amok. You still need to trim and prune your plants. Remove dead leaves, stems, and flowers, cutting right below the head. When you need to remove stems, cut right before leaf nodes, and cut as close as you can to the main trunk when removing larger stems.

You also need to routinely observe your plants for any signs of distress, illness, or infection. If you’re doing it regularly, you’ll be able to catch potential problems before they destroy your plants and you won’t have to spend nearly as much time doing more in depth observations and later problem solving.

So how do you look for problems, and what are you actually looking for when you do?

Try and do a methodical observation. Whether observe then top down or bottom up, be consistent and systematic. Most people start at the roots, but whichever you choose is fine. For the purposes of this example, we’ll start there. Make sure the roots aren’t strangling each other, first of all. Then, make sure you don’t see abnormal discoloration or dry, withered spots on the roots. Roots are most susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections, so make sure you don’t see any signs (visible fungi, fuzzy appearance) beginning on the roots. Healthy roots are a pearly white color; discoloration is often a sign of impending issues like root rot.

Then, inspect the stems. Does the stem look thinner or weaker in some spots? Is the color uniform? Look for inconsistency in the stem thickness and coloring.

Now to the leaves. Leaves are often the first thing growers notice when plants aren’t doing well. Make sure you look at the leaves of all your plants. Don’t just inspect one plant, see that it’s healthy, and call it a day. Check the leaves for drooping, discoloration, dryness, visible lesions, and abnormal curling.

Any of the above mentioned symptoms can indicate much larger problems, so you need to take steps to figure the cause and correct it as quickly as possible. 

You might also be interested in:

Why is my hydroponic lettuce bitter?

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How to Test The pH Of Water (Complete Guide)

When hydroponic growers first begin running their systems, there is one aspect that is so very often overlooked. This is the importance of the pH level of the water and nutrient solution. If this isn’t around the ideal levels, it can have a dramatic impact on your plants. The most significant thing with a solution pH is it can go up as well as down rather than only in one direction.

If this wasn’t enough, some plants require different levels, so setting the pH to one level can cause harm so some plants if they’re fed from the same reservoir.

Here, we will take a look at all you need to know about the pH of water, how you can adequately test it, track it, and control it for the benefit of your plants.

Understanding a Hydroponics Systems pH Levels

An Introduction to pH

What is it, and why is it so crucial in hydroponics? The meaning for the term pH means Potential Hydrogen, and it is one of the most essential parts leading to healthy plant growth.

All types of water have a different pH level. Tap water to bottled water and water in your system will all vary. When we measure this, there is a scale which reads from 0 – 14, and zero being the most acidic while at the other end of the range, 14 is the most alkaline.

Neutral levels are found at number 7, and this like our body is the region which plants thrive best. With this being said, there are a few plants which prefer a pH level slightly outside the range we consider neutral.

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When we look at what this means for our systems, the ideal or standard pH for plants to thrive is under a neutral level, roughly around 5.5 and 6.5. But, there are a few plants that like the other side of the scale and grow best in the region of 8.

When the pH level is correct, it allows plants to absorb all of the essential micro, and macronutrients they need through their root system. Additionally, it is in this ideal range when there are higher uptake levels of the all-important NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) which maximizes plants growing ability.

Understanding the pH Levels of the Plants You are Growing

Plants which are grown in the soil, grow equally well in soils that have varying pH levels and will range from around 6 (slightly acidic) to 7 (neutral). In a hydroponic system in most cases, plants need pH levels which are a little under the recommended for soil.

Here is a list of ideal hydroponic pH levels for a range of plants:

PlantIdeal pH range
Asparagus6.0- 8.0
Broad Bean6.0-6.5
Brussel Sprouts6.5
Chili peppers5.5-6.5

This list is by no means extensive and these are indicative of the levels required.

Testing and Measuring the pH of your Hydroponic Nutrient Solution

If you are a new grower, you will need a daily check of your solution to check the pH levels. After a while, you will come to understand your system and how all of the nutrient concentrations and water type you are using will affect the levels.

Before heading off with testing methods, it is essential to know the effect that different water types can have on a hydroponic system, and why many growers decide to use reverse osmosis water rather than tap water.

EC levels are the amount of conductivity the nutrient solution can have, or in simple terms, the amount of electricity that can pass through the solution. EC is dictated by the salt levels that are in a solution. EC though doesn’t tell you what salts are in your mix, and hence the reason for growers using reverse osmosis water. They want a clean slate where to begin so there is no guessing.

Once they have this water, they can take their nutrient bottles, and will then know precisely what will be in their solution. A point to note here is, never purchase nutrients that don’t come with a guaranteed analysis, or they are from a highly reputable company. All too often cheap nutrients can cause more harm than good to your plants.

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By using good water, the levels of pH will require less adjusting, and by doing so will give less shock to your plants. Now, you can either decide to use reverse osmosis water from the beginning, or you can adjust the EC levels and then focus on your pH levels.

Ways of Measuring pH Levels in Hydroponic Systems

There are three ways in which you can measure your pH levels in your system. Here is an overview of methods available.

Litmus Test Strips

The simplest way is by means of litmus paper strips. Litmus paper contains a dye which is sensitive to the liquid it is dipped into.

In this case, it would be a sample of your nutrient solution. Once you have this sample and you have dipped your strip, you wait until the color changes, and this is then compared to a chart which shows the pH level.

Although this method is the cheapest, it isn’t the most reliable. Some of the colors for the different levels are very close, and comparing a small squab can leave you guessing at which one it is. For some plants, this approximate measure of the difference in pH might not be significant, but for others it can leave your plant battling for survival!

For a quick means of testing, they are handy to keep close to your growing area, but shouldn’t be relied on.

Liquid pH Testing Kits for Hydroponics

This liquid pH testing kits cost slightly more than their litmus counterparts, but with this price increase, there is more accuracy. This form of testing is commonly found for people who have swimming pools, so the process has been well tested over the years.

The way you perform this test is to take a sample of your nutrient mix, and then place a few drops of sensitive dye into the container. After a short while, the color changes and is then compared to a chart representing the pH levels similar to the first method.

Like the first option, there are drawbacks and the most significant being the color shades can be hard to detect and interpret. Both these tests should be carried out in good lighting conditions so as not to affect reading the colors.

Testing Hydroponic pH Levels with an Electric Meter

The final option is the most expensive, but it does give exact results without growers misinterpreting the reading of a color chart. These electronic pH testing meters vary in design, size, and price. One of the most common varieties is a digital pH pen. Once this is placed in the sample of the nutrient mix, it will give a digital reading of the exact level.

Although these are precise in their readings, this can vary over time, and they do need calibrating on a regular basis. In some cases, this can be weekly. This might seem to be a little overkill for some growers, but when it can be the difference between healthy plants, and ones which are suffering from a nutrient lockout, it can be a chore worth doing.

What you Need for Calibrating a pH Pen

There are two forms of calibration for these pens. One is digital, and the second being ones which can be manually calibrated. We will run through calibration of both, and first off is the equipment you will need:

  • Your pH Pen
  • Calibration solutions: One at pH 4, pH 7 and pH 10
  • Distilled water
  • Small measuring cups
  • Gloves
  • A small screwdriver will be required if you have a manually calibrated pH Pen

Digital pH Pen Calibration

Many of the pens use similar methods for calibration, so these steps will more than likely suffice for whatever digital pen you have.

  1. While wearing gloves, pour a small amount of the calibration liquid into separate measuring cups (solution must be room temperature). Now you will have one for 4, 7 and the third for pH 10. This solution should be as fresh as possible, so when purchasing, refrain from thinking a large bottle is leading to a cost saving.
  2. Before commencing, ensure the pens probe is clean, (Refer to cleaning pH pen section).
  3. Check the pens instructions for performing the test on the pH 4 solution. Most pens have a guide marker where you should submerge the pen too, when it as at this level, gently swirl it in the solution.
  4. Rinse the probe with distilled water, and then test on the two higher pH solutions.
  5. Not all pens require a 3-step test, but the more calibration points, the more accurate your pen will be.

Calibrating a Manual pH Pen

Although it might sound harder to calibrate your pH device by using a screwdriver, the process is straightforward. The actual testing phase is exactly the same, and all you do with the screwdriver is adjust the dial to match up with the pH.

Again, the more often you perform this calibration, the more accurate the results you will obtain. For anyone with an average sized garden, a period of between 2 to 3 feeds should be okay for pen calibration.

Cleaning of a pH Pen

Before use and in between calibration tests, the probe on the device needs to be clean. For 15 minutes before you conduct your solution testing, the electrode needs to be soaked in a buffering solution. If you have none of this solution, refrain from using any other water, because even distilled can erode the glass membrane.

If your pens electrode has been allowed to dry, you must soak it in the storage solution or a cup of pH 7 buffer solution before performing your testing. If the pen has been in storage, gently shake it up and down to disperse any bubbles which may have formed.

Keeping the electrode clean is one way not to affect the operation of the device. You should never wipe the electrode because this can affect any static charge in the device. Gently blot the device and bulb with lint-free paper. You should also be sure to never touch the bulb with your fingers, if you don’t damage the device probe, you can leave behind a residue that will stop the device from giving accurate results.

Some devices need storing in a recommended storage solution. These can be purchased, and when the device is stored and cleaned as instructed, they will deliver fast and accurate results.

pH Levels of Different Hydroponic Systems

Now we have seen the equipment you can use to test your solution, and how you need to calibrate your device. We will take a look at how different systems can have different pH levels. NFT is straightforward because the solution is in direct contact with the roots.

If you have a media based system, the readings can be a little more intense. Two readings need to be taken, one from your reservoir, and the second from the runoff solution (the leachate). If you have large plants, then there will be a difference in this before and after scenario. When you come to adjust your solution, you need to base the adjustments to your reservoir based on the pH of the leachate solution. This adjustment is required because it will be the level of PH your plants will be experiencing rather than the pH which is in the reservoir.

Adjusting Hydroponic pH Levels

There are a few reasons why your pH levels will rise or fall, and luckily, it can be quite easy to fix them. One of the easiest ways to avoid any spikes or drops in levels is to make sure your nutrient solutions contain pH buffers.

Many of the nutrient suppliers will also offer solutions which can raise or lower pH levels as required. One of the most well-used is pH UP and pH Down from General Hydroponics. When using these, it is crucial to follow the recommended doses, and in relation to how close to the desired levels your solution is when you test.

If your pH levels swing too far in either direction, plants can suffer from the nutrient lockout, so it is vital to regularly test these levels until you have a better understanding. When it comes to making these adjustments, there are only a few steps involved:

  1. Depending on your reading – add 1-2 ml of pH Up or pH Down per gallon of water.
  2. Stir your solution and wait for 30-minutes before testing your solution a second time
  3. Repeat as necessary until you reach the desired range for your plants

Your pH levels will change when you add nutrients, so you should always test once these have been added to a fresh tank. Apart from that, it is advisable to check around the same time on each day. There are a couple of natural methods to adjust pH if you are out of any pH Up or pH Down. These are a short term fix and should only be used if it is absolutely necessary.

Citric acid or white vinegar can be used to lower pH, while baking soda can be used to raise your pH levels.

Maintaining pH Levels in Hydroponic Systems

To finish off, here is a quick recap of how you can maintain your pH levels:

  • Check levels on a daily basis until you understand your system. After this, and you gain experience, once or twice per week might be enough.
  • Use the best testing kit you can. Litmus strips are best used for quick periodic testing.
  • If you see your pH levels are between 5.8 – 6.5, don’t be tempted to adjust anything. This is ideal for the majority of plants.
  • If your solution is too high then lower it with pH Down (phosphoric acid).
  • If the level is too low, then raise it with pH UP (potassium hydroxide).
  • Don’t rush for a quick fix to your pH levels, too much too quickly will shock your plants.
  • Keep records of how much solution you add to your tank.

Depending on where you live and are using tap water, you might not require too much adjustment, but for hard water areas, the change can be more significant.

Overdosing with either of these pH adjusters or nutrients can be harmful to your plants. Additionally, if your solution levels drop in your tank, then the pH levels will be changing at the same time. Much can be said if you are topping your tank with water, again your levels will vary.

Understanding pH levels is one of the best skills any hydroponic grower should take the time to learn.

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How to Prevent and Treat Root Rot in Hydroponics

Many problems face hydroponic growers at different stages, and one of the most common can go undetected for a while and can cause severe amounts of damage to plants.

Root rot is a disease that can affect every single grower, and the symptoms can lead us all to think it is a deficiency in another area. Plants can begin wilting or showing signs of nutrient burn, or they might die altogether. There are many reasons these symptoms can happen from lighting, pests nutrients or feeding cycles, but in the end, it is a case of root rot.

Once we gain some experience, and if our plants have suffered from root rot, it’s a thing we always know to look out for. But, if we are unaware of what to look for, there is no way we’ll know how to prevent it, and how we can treat root rot in our hydroponic systems.

What Causes Root Rot in Hydroponics?

Root rot can affect plants in different ways. This will depend on if they are a flowering type, or they are crops such as lettuce or herbs. You will see plants can have symptoms such as curling leaves in an upward or downward direction, plants have slow growth, or there is yellowing in the leaves.

One of the reasons that makes root rot hard to detect can be that, it might be affecting all of your plants at the same time. All plants can suffer from stunted growth at the same time, so it might appear there is another problem.

The primary cause for root rot is insufficient levels of oxygen reaching your plant’s root systems. This is more often found in Deep Water Culture systems or systems where roots are exposed to water for extended periods.

You can quickly see if there is a problem by lifting your tank lid and see if it smells funny, this is a clear sign you have root rot in your system. Next, you can look at your plant’s roots. Some roots can become tinted from the nutrients they are absorbing, but if they appear to be brown and slimy, then this is a clear sign root rot has already set in.

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It might sound like a simple problem to overcome. Monitoring your water levels and making sure there is plenty of air won’t be enough, because at this stage, something else will most likely be occurring.

Mold and pathogens such as Pythium and Phytophthora are water molds which can attack plants when the conditions are right. Nutrient solutions which are too warm produce the ideal conditions for these molds to grow, and they will rapidly infect all your system.

The spores of Pythium and Phytophthora become immobilized and can survive for several months. They take up home in the dying roots and are dispersed via reused growing media, polluted water or a system which has become contaminated. Even other equipment or things you handle can be enough to reintroduce these spores back into a clean system.

Either during this stage, or the first stages of root rot, a coating of slime will form around the roots. This barrier is strong enough to prevent any oxygen from reaching the roots, and it is this that allows these pathogens to worm their way in and smother any part of the root system.

Treating Root Rot in a Hydroponics System

A lot of what you can do to treat root rot will be the same as what you can carry out for prevention. But, there are a couple of things you can do to immediately tackle the problem is there are only a few plants which are infected.

If plant leaves are showing signs of dead matter, all this should be removed and discarded away from your growing room. You can remove your plants and physically clean the root system. If you do this over a sink, you can remove anything that is dead or slimy from the roots.

The next stage is to soak the root bed in a sterilizing agent up to a maximum of 12 hours. One product which is ideal for this is Physan 20. It should be noted, this product doesn’t know the difference between bad bacteria or good bacteria. This can also be an excellent time to begin sterilizing any growing equipment you have.

The addition of root builders can also be beneficial in helping roots grow stronger. These are packed full of good bacteria and help to aerate your nutrient solution. Many growers also use this as an addition to their regular feeding schedule as a way to boost plant growth and claim impressive results.

One other type of compound which can be added are microbial inoculant mixtures, these also help with new growth in the rooting system, and also aid in the eradication of diseases. The bacteria in these lead to the breakdown of what is causing the root rot.

Both the root builders or the microbial inoculants can be added as a prevention rather than a cure. However, these methods should not be relied on as the overall way of preventing root rot, this will come down to many other factors which will need your attention.

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If you are looking for a natural remedy for root rot rather than using any of the above chemicals. The following natural recipe was devised by Heisenberg, who is a member of the rollitup forum. The following methods help breed beneficial microbes in DWC systems.

The following recipe needs to be added after you have performed the previous root sterilization, and system clean with Physan 20. This formulation isn’t added directly to your nutrient solution but formulated as a tea, which you then add as required. To make this tea, you do need to purchase a few ingredients, some of which are discontinued so we will provide alternatives.

Hydroguard or any solution that contains the bacteria Bacillus genus can be used. Hydroguard has plenty of good reviews, but the Hydroguard solution requires use within six months of opening, so it is better to order the smallest bottle required.

Great White comes from the same company as the root builder specified above, it delivers explosive root growth and contains mycorrhizal fungus that is well suited for a variety of plants.

Ancient Forest consists of 100% pure forest humus and contains a high diversity of microorganisms. This can be replaced by any earthworm casting product, but this is produced by General Hydroponics who are well renowned for superior products.

Before proceeding with the formula, there was an edit to the post. Both the Hydroguard and the Great White solutions can be replaced by Mycogrow soluble as a cheaper alternative.

Heisenberg Natural Formula Steps (Edited)

  1. Add 2 gallons of non-chlorinated water to a clean bucket, and add two air stones. For this to be effective, you need as much air as possible.
  2. Now, add 15-30ml of Hydroguard and about 1/4 to 1/2 scoop of the Great White powder (these are approximate, just don’t go overboard).
  3. Take an old pair of stockings or pantyhose and place 2 handfuls of Ancient Forest (or EWC alternative) inside.
  4. Tie off and place over one of the air stones in the solution. You can also put one air stone inside the stocking to give more stimulation. This method is more straightforward than straining two gallons of tea if you add the Ancient Forest directly to the bucket.
  5. Add one tablespoon of molasses. This wakes the microbes and gives them something to eat. Never add molasses to your nutrient tank. The beneficial bacteria will die in the tank due to starvation, but you will be replacing these, so it is okay.
  6. Let your tea solution bubble for 48-hours at room temperature. You can use it after 24, but it is more effective at 48. If you are using EWC, the water will foam, this is normal.
  7. After 48 hours, you can store your tea in the refrigerator where it can stay fresh for up to 10 days. If it begins to go bad, you can smell a bad odor. If you smell anything like rotting or sweaty socks, throw it away and make a new batch. Your fresh tea can smell of earth or slightly mushroomy.
  8. To start, add 1 cup to your nutrient tank for every gallon of water.
  9. Add 1 cup to the tank at 3-day intervals.
  10. You can drizzle a little of the tea at the base of your plant stalks. This helps inoculate the root crown (plant dependent). The solution can become cloudy, but your roots will remain white and highly stimulated.

When you multiply microbes with this method, your products will last longer. Once you have ridden your roots of slime build-up from root rot, you can add 1 cup for every 10 gallons at one-week intervals to help prevent future outbreaks.

Prevention of Root Rot in Your Hydroponic Systems

As we can see from the above information, root rot is a culmination of different elements and organisms. Before looking at how we can prevent root rot in your systems, here is a quick recap of the factors which can lead to its appearance:

  • Dead or decaying matter in the reservoir – any dead leaves can start something terrible.
  • Lack of oxygen – Once water becomes stationary, it becomes stagnant, and there is no oxygen passing to your roots.
  • Heat – Warm nutrient solutions make it easy for bacteria to reproduce. A cool reservoir makes it harder for bacteria and fungi to survive.
  • Agitating young roots: When roots are young, they need a chance to build up their defenses. Moving them will weaken these and expose them to pathogens that can quickly attack.
  • Light leaking into the reservoir – This can be a boost to any unwanted growths.

Solutions to Prevent Root Rot

To not only get rid of but to also prevent root rot, you need to take a two-pronged approach. This includes:

  1. Directly treating the plant’s roots – same as above in treating against root rot.
  2. Changing your plant’s environment – changing how plants are growing, so root rot is unable to.

Some of the following procedures will be the same as the treatment steps above but are crucial steps nonetheless.

Adding Beneficial Root Bacteria

As prevention, these beneficial bacteria can be added throughout your plant’s growth. Once mixed with the water, they are a handy way of preventing and treating root-related diseases while making sure nutrients are available to your plants. Subculture B, Rooters and Piranha being alternatives to the preferred formula Hydroguard.

The one bacteria that is most beneficial is Bacillus Amyloliquefaciens because it will survive better in reservoirs than other forms of Bacillus bacteria while fighting a vast number of root ailments.

Plenty of Bubbles

Because lack of oxygen in your system is the primary cause of root rot, it is essential to make sure you have plenty of bubbles. If everything appears to be okay in your system, and you are still showing symptoms, it might mean you need a secondary air pump, or a larger unit altogether.

Root rot can’t thrive in an oxygenated environment, but, it is also crucial to make sure your roots are not being overly disturbed. You can never have too much oxygen in your water, so finding the ideal position for your pump will bring nothing but benefits. You can find some air pumps with dual outlets. These can either be placed in separate tanks or different locations to maintain healthy air flow.

One pro tip is to make sure your hoses are black so no light can penetrate.

A Cool Grow Room

It is essential your growing area is under 80F with the ideal being under 75F if possible. This is the easiest way you can lower your reservoir temperature without the use of a chiller unit. The warmer solutions become, the less dissolved oxygen they can retain, and then can’t pass the highest oxygen amounts to your plants.

Using one of the supplements mentioned, you can let you run your system a few degrees warmer, but it is far better to try and maintain around the optimal 72F for your water.

Being Clean and Sterile

Any dead leaves or debris that find their way into your reservoir will become a breeding ground for bacteria. Cleanliness extends way beyond your reservoir and includes all of your growing areas. One bit of advice is to thoroughly clean all of your growing tools either in between growing periods or on a routine basis. Hydrogen peroxide only delivers a temporary solution. Anything stronger and you need to make sure it doesn’t find its way to your system.

When you have a regular cleaning routine, this goes a long way to letting any pathogens survive in your growing area and hydroponic system.

Stop Disturbing Roots

With the way a hydroponic system works, it is essential for you to change your water on a regular basis. When you do this, you can disturb the rooting systems. In the later stages of plant growth (flowering stage), these become sensitive to pH and nutrients. Changing water between one week and ten days helps plants access nutrients easier.

What is crucial is do not disturb plants when they are seedlings or clones and are trying to become established in your system. At this stage, they lack a colony of beneficial bacteria and have not developed their own biofilm which helps protect their roots against pathogens.

If you are in need of changing a full reservoir, this can severely upset the balance, and young roots might find they have to start again from scratch.

During the first few weeks of a plants growth (plant dependent), it is advisable to only top the reservoir up with additional nutrient water before making a full change and system flush. It is, for this reason, it is a continual struggle against root rot.

Prevent Light Entering Your Reservoir

As much as harmful bacteria and organisms love the light, roots hate it in equal amounts (think air pruning). If you are using grow lights, this problem is worsened because you are giving everything these bacteria need to thrive.

DWC reservoirs are kept in almost pitch black by a lot of hydroponic growers. To be sure you have a reservoir which is capable of fending off any light, there are a few things you can do to help.

  • Use black tubing – This stops light leaks which might not be obvious.
  • Reflective coverings – Your reservoir lid could be getting warm from your grow lights if it is dark in color. However, using a reflective material can prevent heat seeping through the cover and warming your reservoir interior.
  • Reservoir construction – there are many reservoirs which have a thin wall construction. The thicker you can get the better because these are less likely to let any light soak through.
  • Taping light leaks – light can get in all sorts of cracks and gaps. Be sure to tape these with thick tape that will prevent light seepage.
  • Net pot light seepage – you can cover the tops of net pots to prevent light soaking through the growing media. Net pot covers are a quick and easy way to avoid this.
  • Black tubing – dark tubes can prevent light exposure to your reservoir. This often goes unnoticed.


There are plenty of hydroponic growers who throw in the towel if they find out they have root rot, and get rid of all their plants and start again. However, not all occasions require anything this drastic, and the same problem can occur if there are no preventative measures in place.

It can be more beneficial to get root rot and save your plants, because this way, you will know the symptoms, and best of all, you will know how to tackle the problems. There will be occasions when you can’t save your plants, but when you know there is something you can do, it will reduce the chances of losing any crops at a later date.

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The Critical 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

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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

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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.


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 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 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.

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What is the Best Fertilizer for Hydroponics?

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

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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

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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.

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Why Hydroponics Fail: 8 Common Mistakes Growers Make

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.

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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.

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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.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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