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

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

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

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

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

Top Advantages of Hydroponics

No Soil Required

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

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

Uses Less Water than Growing in Soil

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

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

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

Controlled Nutrient Application

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

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

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

Better Growth Rates

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

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

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

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

Weeds, Pests, and Insecticides

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

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

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

Main Disadvantages of Hydroponics

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

Initial Set Up Costs

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

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

Time and Commitment

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

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

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

Water Borne Diseases

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

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

System Failures

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

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

Grower Experience and Technical Knowledge

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

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

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

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

Weighing up the Pros and Cons of Hydroponics

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

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

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

Top Questions Asked by Hydroponic Growers

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

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

How often should I flush the system and change nutrients?

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

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

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

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

What is the ideal grow room temperatures?

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

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

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

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

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

When should I change my HID bulbs?

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

How do I stop the powdery mildew on my leaves?

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

Is Hydroponics Really Good for the Environment?

Environment - Is hydroponics good?

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

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

What Is Hydroponics?

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

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

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

5 Environmental benefits of Hydroponics

1.Higher Production

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

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

2. Saves Water

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

3. Less Land Erosion

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

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

4. Reduced Use of Pesticides

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

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

5. Works in Any Climate

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

Common Hydroponic Systems

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

  • Wick

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

  • Continuous Drip

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

  • Ebb and Flow

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

  • Deep Water Culture

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

  • Nutrient Film Technique

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

  • Aeroponics

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

Aquaponics

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

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

Which Plants Work Best with Hydroponics?

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

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

  • Vegetables

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

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

  • Herbs

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

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

  • Houseplants

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

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

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

What About Fruit Trees?

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

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

Related questions

What Are the Disadvantages to Hydroponic Gardening?

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

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

Is Hydroponics Better Than Soil?

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

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

Are Hydroponic Plants Healthy?

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

Can Trees be Grown Hydroponically?

Hydroponic Trees

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

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

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

What trees can and shouldn’t be grown hydroponically

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

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

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

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

Methods you can use to grow trees hydroponically

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

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

Flood and Drain

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

Drip irrigation

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

Using different growing mediums

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

Rice husk

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

Vermiculite or Perlite

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

Rockwool

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

Requirements for growing trees hydroponically

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

Lighting

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

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

Temperature

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

Ventilation

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

Humidity

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

Future Transplants

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

Nutrients

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

Testing

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

Pollination

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

Related Questions

What are the easiest trees to grow hydroponically?

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

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

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

How long until my hydroponic trees produce fruit?

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

What’s the Difference Between Hydroponics and Aquaponics?

Hydroponics vs Aquaponics

For a few years, there have been two means of growing crops of all varieties without the use of soil. These are hydroponics and aquaponics, and while they both follow some very similar principles, there are a few differences between the two.

Both systems use a nutrient-rich water solution as the growth medium for everything the plants or crops need for nutrition. The most significant differences are how plants receive these nutrients. Because of this, considerable debate has been going on for a few years as the method, which is superior.

Here we will look at the differences, similarities, and difficulties of each type of system. We will also see if one does come out on top as a clear winner. First off, we will take a quick look at the basics of each, so we know where we are a level playing field while comparing information.

Hydroponics and Aquaponics: An Introduction and Comparison

Basics of Hydroponics

Hydroponics use nutrient-enriched water and depending on the system type, they use inert growing mediums such as pea-gravel or perlite. You can identify the different types of hydroponic systems such as aeroponics, ebb and flow, nutrient film technique and Wilma systems.

The nutrient delivery changes throughout the different systems, but the principle is the same, there is no soil used, and the roots have contact with these solutions. However, in an aeroponics system rather than the roots sitting in a body of water, a nutrient-rich mist feeds the plants as the roots hang in suspension.

In all the other systems, oxygen is introduced to the water via air stones. These are the same as ones used in fish tanks for aquariums. Hydroponic systems can also make use of grow lights where they can be taken indoors and run in basements, patios or any area where there is enough space to erect systems.

Aquaponics: The Basics

Aquaponics is a blend of technologies. First, there is an aquaculture where fish are grown in tanks or fishponds rather than being caught in the wild. In this setting, the water becomes dirty and needs to be disposed of. This is an enormous waste of precious natural resources, while at the same time; it becomes harmful for the fish.

Next, you have the hydroponic way of growing which is ideal apart from the need to refresh the nutrients on a regular basis. Now, when you marry these two together, you have a closed loop system.

Plants feed off the bacteria in the fish waste and all of the nutrients it contains. This step in the loop cleans water from all elements toxic to the fish. At this point, water flows back to the holding tank where fish can grow in ideal conditions. There is still the need to oxygenate the water via the air stones as in hydroponic systems.

What Hydroponics and Aquaponics Have in Common?

Because the two systems are closely tied together, there are many similarities. Here is a quick rundown of what both Hydroponics and Aquaponics have in common with each other.

  • They are both agricultural methods to grow crops without the use of soil.
  • Both system types rely on water as being the delivery system for the plant’s nutrients.
  • All nutrients will be artificially provided to crops.
  • Both types of systems are stable and can produce higher yields than soil-grown crops.
  • Both growing methods suffer less from pest damage.
  • Water and nutrient levels are lower for each plant than when grown in conventional methods. There is less wastage and crops are delivered what they need rather than roots fighting to find nutrients.

Hydroponic Vs. Aquaponics an Overview

 HydroponicsAquaponics
DefinitionCultivation of plants in waterCultivation using fish and plants in a closed loop system
Nutrient typeChemical nutrientsOrganic matter produced by fish waste supplies nutrients
Cost effectivenessLess cost effective due to purchasing nutrients. Chemical nutrient costs are increasing due to mineral scarcity.Highly cost-effective as organic matter is used to supply nutrients. There is a natural balance.
Startup speedFast to start upThese are slower to set up than a Hydroponics system
Operating temperaturesAside from growing lights, the overall temperatures are lower to prevent the growth of bacteriaHigher temperatures are encouraging to induce growth of nutrient-rich bacteria
ProductivityHydroponics produce lower yieldsAquaponics produce higher yields. With an aquaponics bio-filter in place, growers can see even larger yields
System unloadingThese systems require flushing at intervals. Nutrient-rich water needs replacing because of salt build-up, and where the solution becomes toxic to plants.As it is a looped system, nutrients pass around the system and are used. Only water from evaporation and feeding the plants needs replacing
Ease of maintenanceThese have a higher degree of maintenanceThese systems are easy to maintain

Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics: The Advantages and Disadvantages

Hydroponics Advantages

There are many commercial growers, who turn to hydroponics as their preferred growing technique due to the levels of control, and that it can fit quickly and easily into their business models. This happens for a few reasons:

Consistent Costing

Costs will vary depending on system size, management and product sourcing in a hydroponic system. Nevertheless, these scale in relation to production and are more consistent, thus giving an element of predictability.

Financial stability can be found because accounting and ordering become easier. This isn’t just the case for commercial ventures, but also for home hydroponic growers. The hydroponic nutrients are manufactured, and prices will remain steady across all months in the year. Compared to Aquaponics, the amount of fertilizer that needs to be used can be estimated in a narrower margin than food and supplements that are required in an aquaponics system.

Ease of Operation and Training

The learning curve can be much more natural with a hydroponics system. If there are additions to a system, the steps are straightforward and consistent. This can be from a home system to a commercial venture where training becomes more leisurely.

Because there are fewer elements in a hydroponic system, the operation can be much easier. Once you have lighting, nutrient levels and growing media sorted; there is not much else that needs tending to.

Space and Location

A hydroponic system can be virtually any size you wish. This can encompass one pot to multiple pot flood and drain systems and nutrient film systems. Because there is a tendency to grow indoors, and making use of grow lights, any spare area is a possible growth area.

Aquaponics, on the other hand, needs space for a fish tank, and although it is possible to use an indoor aquarium, this won’t equate to a large growing area. Grow beds can also be smaller in a hydroponic system as all they need is a six-inch deep bed to hold the pots compared to the required twelve-inch minimum for flood and drain systems in aquaponics.

Effective Use of Nutrients

Hydroponics gives growers ultimate control of their plants nutrients. Many of these are customizable for each plant type all through a growth cycle. Along with this is the control of the pH levels. As nutrients are adaptable, the water pH levels can be monitored, raised or lowered as needed by pH controlling chemicals. With this, the environment becomes more sterile in a hydroponic system than an aquaponics system.

Hydroponic Disadvantages

Time and Commitment

Like most things in life, you get out of it what you put in. Hydroponics is no different, and to obtain the highest possible yields, you do need to put the time in and have the long-term commitment. When growing in soil, plants can be left to their own devices for days on end. Mother Nature will take care of them, and regulates the plant’s exposure to what they need to grow.

In hydroponics, there is nothing of this, and it is the grower who acts as Mother Nature. Without the correct care and the right amount of knowledge, plants can quickly die. Things can be automated to an extent, but even then, they do require supervision on a regular basis.

Experience and Knowledge

Although it can be straightforward to learn, a degree of expertise and knowledge will be required. The principles can be straightforward, but it is when you run into growing problems where experience shines. Nutrient mixtures for plant types can take a while to learn, and knowing when you need to adjust the pH, or drain and flush a system can be elusive to newer growers.

Being Organic

There is no question; hydroponically grown vegetables can be healthier than store-bought varieties. However, some people argue it isn’t possible to grow hydroponic vegetables organically.

There are some methods, which are suggested to grow organically. These suggestions are using coco coir that has added worm castings, or organic nutrients made naturally from fish bones, alfalfa and cottonseed among other things.

Research continues, but eating healthy vegetables is the primary goal, and that is what hydroponics is good for, regardless of the nutrients not being organic.

System Failure and Electricity Risks

A hydroponic system relies on electricity to run. This could be for your grow lights, water pumps, and aerators to heating or cooling depending on your growing circumstances. The other main component is water, and as we know, the two don’t mix.

On most occasions, this isn’t a problem when precautions are in place. Additionally, because the use of electricity is the primary power source, if this stops for any reason; or equipment fails, you can have plants dying in a matter of hours if no action is taken. Pumps need to run efficiently to make sure plants have their nutrients, and lighting needs to be available for the correct periods.

Startup Costs and ROI

Depending on the type of system you want, you can spend a couple of hundred dollars as a bare minimum. You need growing pots, growing lights, pumps and timers along with your growing media and nutrients.

Once you have all this in place, your costs do come down dramatically, and all you need will be nutrients and your electricity. The ROI is seen as being long-term because of these costs, but once you begin growing, the initial investment can be easily covered and justified.

Disposing of Nutrients

This can be seen as one of the significant downsides to a hydroponic system. This is for the cost, and the impact it can have on the environment. Systems do need flushing because there can be a buildup of salts which turns the solution toxic for plants.

Aquaponic Advantages

Fish Food Replaces Expensive Nutrients

The primary input of nutrients in an aquaponics system is fish waste. To make sure there is enough fish waste is by feeding them fish food. Depending on the system size, the cost for the year can be the matter of a few dollars.

When you compare the cost of fish food to nutrients, the fish solution is the most cost-effective.

Aquaponics is More Productive

Once an aquaponics bio-filter is fully established in a system. Growers can see faster and more profound growing results when compared to hydroponic systems. Even without these filters, aquaponics still holds the edge in yield size.

Aquaponics is Organic

While hydroponics is all about using a sterile environment to grow, aquaponics is the exact opposite and uses the closed loop eco-system to full effect. With bacteria and worms being used to break down ammonia and solid waste that is produced by the fish, these nutrients are then passed to the plants. These systems are organic in every sense of the word, and if any pesticides were used, this would be immediately harmful to the fish.

No More Root Rot

In hydroponic systems, “Pythium” can run amok and cause all sorts of problems. In an aquaponics system, the onset of this Pythium that results in root rot is almost non-existent because the plants build up tolerances against it.

Aquaponics Disadvantages

Although aquaponics does have plenty of positives, there are a few downsides.

System Construction is Complicated

Compared to a hydroponic system, the construction of an aquaponics system is far more complicated. There is the addition of fish tanks that come with additional plumbing, and requirements for more space. One other aspect to that needs considering is the size of the growing area available, is in proportion to the size of the fish tank. Calculating the balance between the two can be difficult for new growers.

Compared to the grow beds of a hydroponic system where pots are used. Aquaponics uses grow beds that are almost double in height at around twelve inches, and these are filled with the growing media. Also there needs to be a bell siphon as the draining mechanism rather than letting water drain back through the pump once it is turned off between fill phases.

Cycling Time is Longer

Aquaponics systems create a closed loop eco-system, and because of this, it takes a while for pH levels to adjust as the water is continually pumping around the system. Systems should run without fish for a few weeks (up to six) before anything is planted. Even then, it can take a while for microbial populations to become stabilized.

Until these levels of bacteria have risen, yields might be lower than anticipated in the first twelve months. During this time until a system is running correctly, the water needs periodic checking for the pH levels.

More Points of System Failure

Hydroponics can have two main areas that can quickly fail. These are your nutrient levels and your water pumps. In aquaponics, there are now multiple areas where things can go wrong. Fish can die for no reason, and if all are affected, this means no nutrients are getting to the plants.

Power or pump failures can affect both plants and the fish in the same manner, and if these are, off for extended periods, then both elements will suffer.

Due to system size, aquaponics is more often carried out in greenhouses or under canopies. These can introduce other points of failure if temperatures change too much in either direction.

Higher Initial Costs

You can design and build aquaponics systems out of recycled materials, and some of the most popular are PVC drums or the larger caged totes that can be modified. However, even these still add more to the overall build cost compared to a hydroponic system.

Electricity costs for fish pumps will be higher because they run around the clock to keep the water moving which delivers the right environment for your fish. These costs will be offset against growing lights if they are being used in a hydroponic system.

Conclusion

Both hydroponics and aquaponics follow many of the same principles while the methods of delivery are very different. Apart from the addition of fish tanks, system designs can be used for both. If there were to be one means of soilless growing which was to be the winner, then aquaponics might inch in front due to the higher yields growers can expect to see.

For average growers who want a system around their home, much of the decision comes down to available space and practicality. Startup and running costs for both systems will quickly be negated once you begin growing around the year compared to visiting the supermarket for a supply of fresh, healthy vegetables.

Does Pot Size Matter in Hydroponics?

Hydroponic Pot Size

Hydroponic growers have many things to consider. First is the type of system they will be using, what are the best nutrients, and are they growing indoors or outdoors. All of this can create an intricate balance to make sure plants receive the best of everything. One factor, which might be overlooked, is the pot size, and how it affects plant growth.

Does pot size matter in hydroponics? Yes, pot size does matter in hydroponics. Incorrect pot size can hamper growth, and bigger isn’t always better. There are different pot construction types; and other factors like temperature, space, and most of all the plants themselves to consider.

If you are struggling to know how to choose the correct size and type of pot for your plants and your system, carry on reading the information below so you can quickly select the right size and type of pot for maximum plant growth and health.

Choosing and Using the Best Hydroponic Pots for Strong and Healthy Plants

Determining Factors for Pot Size

To make sure plants are presented with the best opportunity to flourish, there needs to be a delicate juggling act by the grower in three distinct areas. When these are combined, they all help determine pots sizes to be used throughout plants growing cycles.

Space – This will be determined by the type of hydroponic system. Indoors hydroponics systems can have reduced area compared to outdoor systems. Not only would these restrictions be overall floor space, but height is something else to consider. When you have a height restriction, you will need to use shorter pots, and this equates to shorter plants.

Temperature – This variable catches many growers out when they are first starting. If you are growing indoors and using HID grow lights, or your plants are in an area of direct sunlight, you could find your pots drying out too quickly. To solve this, you might need to increase your flood time in an ebb and flow system, or you can opt for a drip irrigation system to prevent drying. On the other end of the scale, you have areas which are cooler. Larger pots can remain too moist, and with this comes suffocation and rotting of the roots.

Plants – Your plants will be one of the most distinct areas that dictate pot size. If you are planting seedlings or cuttings, then pot size will be much smaller than when they are healthy growing plants. At this early stage, pots of around 4-inches are sufficient, and once their roots are taking hold, you can transplant up to pots of 6-12 inches to encourage fast root growth.

Basics of Growing Pots and Why Size Matters

All forms of gardening that use growing pot’s fall under the same rules. Growers will pot up their plants into a smaller container, and then transplanting them as they grow.

In hydroponics, the only difference being, this process of potting up is used to encourage plant growth, and also maximize growing space. Once nutrients hit the growing media, they need to spread across the surface so plants can absorb all they need. At this point, pot size comes into play for two reasons.

A pot that is too small will mean plants can be standing in waterlogged growing media for an extended period. This is not good, and roots can suffocate, and then if left, they can start to rot. Pots which are too large allow the nutrient solution to evaporate before the plant has a chance to absorb all the nutrients it requires fully.

Root growth is dramatically affected by pot size, and this is where transplanting helps with faster growth. Roots spread across pots in an outward fashion rather than searching downward, and because they are in containers, they quickly hit the side and can’t go any further. At this point, they circle back on themselves and start bunching up. Plants become root bound, and can’t take up nutrients in an efficient manner which leads to stunted growth.

In larger pots, roots tend not to seek out the sides of the pot, and their root growth becomes limited, again this prevents plants growing to their maximum because nutrients have further to travel before reaching the plant.

Using Different Sized Pots in a Hydroponic System

Once you have a hydroponic system, there is a limit to how many pots you can use for the space you have available. This can be even more restrictive if you are growing indoors and using grow lights. A simple formula can help to determine pot sizes you can use for a specific space.

The growing light can be the starting point, and for each 600W of light, you should use 50-60 liters of growing media. This can be sufficient for pots which will be placed in a 1.2 meter squared growing bed. For a bed of this size, you can use the following as a guide as to what pot sizes will fit into this area.

  • 6 x 10L (3 gallons) growing pots
  • 4 x 15L (4 gallons) growing pots
  • 2 x 30L (8 gallons) growing pots
  • 1 x 60L (16 gallons) growing pot

As you can see, all of the above reach to 60 litres (16 gallons) of growing media. Now, we need to look at how this will equate to your plant size, so they obtain the maximum amounts of benefits. A growing pot should be 1 gallon for each foot your plant grows in height. Looking at the above information, a 3-gallon pot is suitable for a plant which is no more than feet in height. When gardening indoors, most of your pot sizes will be 3 or 4 gallons in size.

For outdoor growers, pot size needs to be considered due to atmospheric evaporation. When a pot holds the right sized plant, you can water less often. However, when a plant isn’t large enough, the roots won’t seek out the pot, and you will waste both growing media and nutrient solution because it evaporates before reaching the plant’s limited number of roots.

Perched Water Tables and Pot Drainage

Because of the way hydroponic systems work, nutrients and water are fed to plants at set intervals using a hydroponic timer. As a result, the pot’s drainage needs to be sufficient to allow time for oxygen to reach the roots. Pot shape or size has no bearing on how adequate nutrients enter or leave the growing pots; all this is down to the growing media you are using.

When a pot drains between fill cycles, there will always be a section at the bottom which remains saturated, this is known as a perched water table. Something many growers are unaware of is, water isn’t evenly distributed through a growing pot. There are capillary action and adhesion where water is attracted to particles. Because of these two factors, water defies the forces of gravity when draining (matric potential), and these forces increase the lower you go down the pot.

Pot height has a bearing on the air to water ratio, and regardless of pot size, these perched water tables will be the same when the same growing media is used. Depending on growing media in use such as coco coir, some growers add pebbles to the lower portion of their pots to aid drainage. With the principles of perched water tables mean this situation isn’t resolved, and what actually happens is the perched water table level is raised.

This addition of pebbles can prevent run-off from being sucked back into growing pots by the natures of capillary action, and this in itself helps plants get the oxygen they need.

Smart Pots and Air Pots

Pot size is crucial, and aside from wasting hydroponic nutrients from oversized pots, it is healthy root growth which is the most critical. Plants that don’t seek out the pot, or become root bound will not grow to their potential. There have been a few innovations in pot design, and these can significantly help with crop yields.

Smart pots – These pots are made of a porous fabric that allows nutrients to flow in and then to drain excess water. Water travels by capillary action from the wetter parts to drier parts, so there is less chance of perched water tables causing problems, and roots have the opportunity to grab the oxygen they need.

Other areas these Smart Pots can benefit is from air-pruning. Roots reach the side of the pot and stop, they no longer circle back on themselves and become root bound, but the plant sends out new feeder roots, these absorb nutrients faster which leads to larger healthier plants. If there is a downside, it could be larger plants might need additional support.

Air pots – These plastic pots have been developed over a decade, and their primary goal is air-pruning. The sides are constructed in a cone-shaped fashion which encourages roots to seek out the pot. Once they hit the side, they are air-pruned, and then new feeder roots are sprouted by the plant. Air Pots build on the features of Smart Pots and can increase yields by significant quantities.

If there were a downside, it would be highly efficient draining the pots have, so you might find you need to water more frequently.

Although these pots can drastically improve your plants, the same rules of pot size should be followed, but with the efficient air-pruning, slightly smaller pot sizes can be used to no detriment of your plant’s health.

Related Questions

Do Plants outgrow their pots?

Roots, which are starting to grow out of the drainage holes, is the first sign of a pot-bound plant. Healthy plants will outgrow their pots, and the best way to reinvigorate growth is to transplant your plant into one that is two to four inches larger in diameter.

How high does water go in flood and drain system pots?

Once you set your system, fill each pot three-quarters full of growing medium. You should run the system until water reaches the level of your growing media. This should be the maximum water height. If water rises above this level, add more growing medium before adding plants.

Can you reuse smart pots?

Smart pots are reusable once growing cycles or transplants have been completed. Before reusing a smart pot, they should be thoroughly washed and cleaned. The most important thing any gardener should do is make sure the pot is thoroughly dry.

Can You Grow Avocado in a Hydroponics System?

Avocado in Hydroponics

When people think of growing in hydroponic systems, they tend to think of more popular vegetables and fruits like lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, and strawberries. However, with some careful tweaking, it can be possible to grow an Avocado tree in a hydroponic system.

Can you grow avocado in a hydroponics system? Yes, you can grow Avocado in your hydroponic system when you give them the right growing conditions to thrive. The major drawback being the size of the tree when it reaches maturity, but tackling this early on can give you bumper crops of Avocado.

If you are up for the challenge and you want to start growing avocado in your hydroponic system, carry on reading, and all will be explained about how you can have a healthy tree that won’t take up too much space.

Growing Hydroponic Avocado – Where to Start

One of the first things that you should know when starting to grow an avocado tree is, you should be looking at growing two, the reason being when your trees finally reach pollination. There are two types, type A which sheds its pollen in the afternoon and is receptive to being pollinated in the morning, and type B which sheds pollen in the morning and is responsive to being pollinated in the afternoon.

If you are growing from seeds, you should note your tree won’t give fruit of the same variety because they don’t breed as true to seed. When you have two types of avocado trees, these will grow and breed true to their variety.

With this in mind and the fact you will be running your hydroponic system for four years upward before seeing any fruits, you need to mimic everything for your trees as if they were growing in their natural habitat.

You will need warm temperatures and plenty of light. This is one reason why they are ideal for growing in sunny parts of the house or in an enclosed patio to avoid cold winter chills. One thing that is a must is your grow lights; these will need to be either LED growing lights, metal halide lamps or high-pressure sodium light fixtures. We’ve written a complete guide to grow lights here to help you understand what to look out for and get your head around the terminology.

In the beginning pot size isn’t an essential factor, but it is discussed later as they do play a crucial part in the growth of your tree. The main thing is if you wish to grow from seeds or purchase trees which are already on their way. If you aren’t sure about what pot size to use, try our pot size guide. Trees taken from grafts are much better for growing fruit than ones which are grown from seeds. Varieties of avocado can be purchased directly from specialty retailers that deal with colder climates.

Steps of Growing From an Avocado Seed

If you decide to grow from seeds, you can find these online from tropical seed retailers or at a local nursery. Growing from seeds does take much longer, but there could be a higher sense of satisfaction when your tree starts sprouting up. 

  1. Buy an avocado and remove the large seed from inside. Wash off any of the flesh but preserve the brown skin on the seed. Pat dry and set it aside to dry for a few days.
  2. Avocado pits have tops and bottoms. Look for the end which is more pointed. You should also notice the base has a slightly flat shape compared to the top. This is crucial because if you place it the wrong way up, your tree will be doomed from the start.
  3. Place the seed with the larger end at the bottom inside an AvoSeedo floater and float the container in a container of warm water at around 65 degrees. Change this frequently.
  4. Within a few days a root will begin to form, and then from the top, the first signs of a tree will poke from the top.
  5. When roots are almost filling the container, it is time to transplant to a pot.

Dwarfing Your Avocado Tree

This is the actual secret into growing avocado trees in hydroponic systems. Fully grown trees can grow up to 80ft high, but when you dwarf your tree, it can be a more manageable size while still providing fruits. To do this, restrictions on the tree growing space need to be imposed, the available water and also the nutrients provided must be strictly controlled.

These three elements will be a juggling act to let the tree grow as fast as it can while stunting its growth, and making sure it doesn’t die. If you are purchasing from a specialist tree dealer, don’t try to save time by buying a larger tree, the smaller, the better so you can shape its growth.

The growing pot at this stage should be as small as possible, but large enough to carry the plant for its first 12-months. Eighteen inches (45cm) is an ideal size to start, and then you will need to increase the size. This growing space will dictate the size of your final tree, so once the roots are well formed, you can move to a five gallon (20-25L) sized container. As time runs on, you might be able to go larger in pot size so your tree can reach its full potential while remaining small.

The containers should be filled with either perlite, vermiculite or coco fiber. A flood and drain method will be the most effective because any growth of algae will be prevented. Other systems used can be a drip irrigation system and would need three emitters per avocado tree.

With either method, the crucial part is preventing the root ball from drying out. Likewise, when you are transplanting to the growing pot, be careful not to damage any roots. Avocado likes to have their roots carefully tended to.

Pinching will be a necessary step to keep your tree fuller and shorter. The terminal bud needs to be pinched out and as a result, the buds which are dormant along the branch spring into life. These branches grow outward rather than upward, thus keeping the shorter height.

Even with a shorter height, the dwarfed plant will still be producing full-sized leaves. The final height of your tree will be around four to five feet in height.

Modifying Your Hydroponic Growing Setup for an Avocado Tree

Two things which need controlling are the acidity (pH) and the salt content in the growing medium and the nutrient mixture. For optimal growth a pH of between six and seven is ideal, but salt content needs to be as low as possible. Dwarfed avocado trees don’t take to higher levels of salt, and this is one reason growers like the flood and drain because it helps to keep salts to a minimum. You can learn how to build a flood and drain (also known as ebb and flow) system with our comprehensive guide.

In the early stages, your nutrient mix should be half strength and your pH levels controlled with a digital reader, our guide to measuring and controlling your pH may help here. Once your tree starts to get bigger and stronger, you can increase your nutrients to full strength.

Depending on the species of avocado, they might need a cold spell once they are at the fruiting stage. This can vary, and it will also affect how you control the temperature of your nutrient mix.

Although you can grow these trees indoors, the aim is to get fruit. Indoor trees might not fruit, so this type of project is more suited to a greenhouse where you can control the temperatures and the humidity. One final thing to remember is, even with a tree which is much shorter than a wild grown variety, it will need a form of secondary staking.

The hydroponic growing medium doesn’t have the same sort of support as the earth, and with the upper weight of the tree increasing, it can quickly force your growing pot to capsize.   

Related Questions

Does an avocado tree need full sun?

Because the trees herald from Mexico, they do prefer full sun, but they do need protection from the western sun over the first few years. Once they develop strong root structures and dense leaves to protect the bark, they become much better at resisting strong sun.

How often will an Avocado tree produce fruit?

A full-sized avocado tree can produce up to 300 fruit per tree when it reaches around seven years of age. They do sometimes have alternate bears and have a bumper crop one season, and a smaller crop the following season. Dwarf avocado might be different to in volume due to their more diminutive stature.

Will my avocado produce fruit?

Trees which are sold from grafts produce fruit quicker than ones which are grown from seeds. Growing from seed could take an extra three or four years before they bear fruit if not longer. When grown from a graft, you might see fruit after three to four years.

Can Hydroponic Nutrients Go Bad?

Nutrient Soil

Because hydroponics plants are grown without soil, the only way they can obtain their nutrients is through additions to their water supply. Bottles of nutrients are often purchased by the gallon to make it cost-effective, and as a result, they might be standing for an extended period. New users might be concerned, and they have wasted money purchasing larger bottles. Is this the case?

Can Hydroponic Nutrients Go Bad? The good news is, hydroponic nutrients won’t go bad. However, nutrients need caring for and using correctly. If you overdose nutrients, symptoms are nutrient burn, salt build up, possible plant death, and you might dispose of nutrients you think are bad.

If you see these symptoms and need to know how to put things right without throwing out your nutrients, it is possible to save your unhealthy looking plants, and also save your bottles of nutrients, so carry on reading and find out all the answers.

My Plants Look Sick, So I Must Have Bad Nutrients?

Why Are My Nutrients Separating in the Bottles?

When you purchase your nutrients, there is a chance you might not see any expiration dates on the bottles, although this does depend on the quality of nutrient and the supplier. You might think no expiration date is a bad thing, but it is the first sign that your nutrients won’t go bad.

Once you open your bottles and start using them, you might see precipitates forming on the bottom. These solids are nothing to worry about, and in most cases giving the container, a good shake is enough to dissolve them again, so they become suspended back in the mixture.

These precipitates are compounds which are less soluble than other nutrients, and when left standing, they recombine to form solids. Calcium is the biggest culprit for this. Storing nutrients in a cool dark area with the top firmly fixed is a good practice.

Checking Nutrient Levels

We have determined nutrients don’t go bad for many years, and even then they might be okay to use. Having the correct nutrient levels is crucial because this is what provides your plants with the best chance of growth to their full potential.

Once you begin growing hydroponically, you will need to know what the optimum levels are for your plants, and this determines the levels of nutrients you will be adding. There are a few things that need checking when you come to mix your nutrients and add them to your hydroponic system:

  • Parts Per Million (PPM) – This is a standard form of measurement, but in the world of hydroponics, it is a measurement of the total dissolved solids in your nutrient mix. It can also be used to measure how much CO2 is in the atmosphere.
  • Electrical Conductivity (EC) – This is the measurement of how conductive a solution is. Using an EC meter, an electrical voltage is passed to your nutrient mix and reads the how high the conductivity from mineral ion motion is being produced. If your EC levels rise too much, it shows your plants are using water faster than the nutrients.
  • pH – This is the level of alkaline or acidity of a solution. On most occasions, these readings are taken for water alone, but it is advisable to take readings once your nutrients have been added. While 7.0 is neutral, nutrient solutions are better around 6.5 because nutrients are at their most soluble at this level. You can purchase pH adjustment chemicals which can raise or lower the pH level, and also a digital pH reader so you can do quick readings and adjust as necessary.
  • Solution temperature – Temps should be between 65 – 75 degrees. Depending on your climate, you might need to either insulate your reservoir. It is worth noting, if your nutrient mix is too hot, it can breed harmful bacteria, and it won’t do your plants roots any good. If it is too hot, a reservoir chiller might be needed, but these are expensive components to purchase.

Cause and Effect of Nutrient Burn on Plants?

There is a delicate balancing act of 16 different micronutrients and macronutrients to achieve the best plant growth.  If your plants become exposed to too many of these, they can get nutrient burn. This more often than not happens when fertilizer salts reach high levels (can be measured by EC meter).

In hydroponic systems, it can be difficult to control because all the plants have the same exposure. To make things more difficult; plants can get nutrient burn when your levels are as they should be. This occurs when a plant is stressed by another factor. This can include pests or disease, and the plants can’t make use of the nutrients they are offered.

One of the first signs is brown or dead spots that run along the leaf tips and can be separated from the healthy part of the leaf by a yellow halo. Too much nitrogen can make your plants look over lush, and they are full of foliage, but, any fruits can drop early, and a final sign is shriveling root clusters.

If you are growing under grow lights and your plants are too close to the source, the ends of the leaves can burn which gives a very similar symptom. The fix for this is easy, raise the lights or move the plants further away from the source.

Adding Nutrients to Hydroponic Reservoirs Effectively

Nutrient burn can be fixed, and although the affected parts will remain the same, any new growth will be back to normal. This is a case of flushing the system and then re-establishing the correct amount of nutrients. Old nutrients should be flushed from the system, and then clean water is run through for 24-hours.

Once you have fixed your nutrient burn problem, you need to know how to add nutrients most effectively. Here are a few pointers you can follow that will guide you in maintaining the most optimum nutrient levels for your plants:

  • Mark the highest point the water reaches in your reservoir (don’t forget to measure the number of gallons you add). Check the level daily, and when you need to add to the tank keep a count of the gallons you add.
  • Only top up with pH balanced water, if you add nutrients, you rerun the risk of nutrient burn.
  • When you can see you have replaced 50% of your initial nutrient solution through re-filling. Stop adding water and allow the water level to drop until it is just above the top of your water pump. At this point, you can drain and refill with a new batch of nutrients.

If you have an ebb & flow system, you should take this opportunity to flush your pots to remove salts that might have built up. Carefully drench each pot and plant from the top with clean water and let them drain. Clean this out of your reservoir ready for your next batch.

Always fill your reservoir first and then add your nutrients one at a time. These should never be mixed in concentrated form as it can cause lock-out, and prevent some of the minerals being available.

There are many nutrients on the market, and not all are suitable for each plant type. It is recommended to go for 3-part nutrients. An all in one nutrient mix might be convenient, but it can’t give your plants everything they need for their full potential of growth. These deliver the right nutrients at each stage of your plants growing life.  

What are the Best Hydroponic Reservoir Tips

It doesn’t matter what type of hydroponic system you are using; the nutrient solution is the one thing they all have in common. Here are the best tips to keep the optimum nutrient levels for your plants:

  • If the water from your faucet is chlorinated, fill the reservoir or separate mixing bin and let the water sit for 24-hours so the chlorine can dissipate.
  • Once you have added your nutrients, let them settle for a couple of hours before checking your pH levels. 6.5 is the ideal pH level.
  • The solution needs to be aerated 24/7 to prevent any bacteria building up. This also helps to pass oxygen to the plant roots. An effective aquarium air pump can suffice for this job.
  • One tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide added to your reservoir weekly can help cut down on bacteria and algae growth.

Related Questions

Are hydroponic plants healthy?

This has been a debate for many years. It does depend on the nutrients the plants are being grown in. They can be as nutritious as any soil grown vegetable. Many vitamins are self-made by plants, so these levels don’t vary too much regardless of whether the plant is hydroponically grown or soil grown.

Do hydroponic vegetables need pesticides?

There is no need to use pesticides in hydroponics. Plants grown by this method are less prone to pest attacks. Many growers make use of companion crops, ladybugs and other useful insects as more natural pest control methods to combat any pests which might attack their crops.

Can I use liquid fertilizer in hydroponics?

Many commercial fertilizers only supply plants with potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen. Because no soil is used, there is a lot of other nutrients that need adding to the hydroponics liquid fertilizer to help with plant growth.

Why do Hydroponics Grow Faster and Increase Yield?

Increase Yield

Many people have heard the term hydroponics, and a few of these might have heard that it is an excellent way of growing vegetables without using soil. What they might not know, is these vegetables can grow much faster while delivering larger yields when it comes to harvesting. Something else they often ponder over is the reason why this is possible.

Why do hydroponics grow faster and increase yield? The answer is straightforward. With the right hydroponic system, balanced nutrient mixes, and perfect light exposure. The right plants grow fast. When you negate pests, bad weather and use automation to best effect, your yields will go sky high.

Are you interested in finding out what it takes to grow crops twice as fast as in soil, and do you want to see how you can grow all year round, and in less space that it would take in your garden? Carry on reading, and see how easy it is to answer these questions with your system.

How do I Grow Faster and Bigger with Hydroponics?

Types of Hydroponic Systems

There are many types of hydroponic systems you can purchase, or build and each can be better for some plants than others. When you have the right system, plants can mature 25% faster while delivering a 30% increase in yield. Here are a few of the more common system types.

  • Deepwater Culture (DWC) – This reservoir method is seen as the easiest hydroponic method of growing plants. Roots are suspended in the nutrient solution while they are oxygenated by an aquarium pump. A Deepwater Culture system has fewer parts which can clog and require cleaning.
  • NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) – In this system, there is a continual flow of the nutrient solution which runs across the top of your plant roots. The system is slightly tilted, and gravity is used once the water has been pumped to the highest level. Because root tips are the only part in the nutrient film, plants receive more oxygen which aids faster growth.
  • Wicking System – For this hydroponic system, you need a container for your plant, a reservoir to hold your nutrient mix, a growing medium (coco coir or perlite),  which absorbs water from the wicks and your wick material like rope, string or a strip of felt. This is the easiest method because there are no moving parts. Nutrients move up the wick and into the root system of your plants.
  • Ebb & Flow – These flood and drain systems are a great way to grow plants. The grow bed becomes flooded at intervals, and then the nutrients drain back to the reservoir. The pump can be put on a timer so the process is automated and plants get the correct nutrients. The dry spells encourage roots to grow longer while they search for water. As they grow, they absorb more nutrients and grow faster.

Lighting for Hydroponics Systems

Lighting is one key element that dictates plant growth. Plants require up to sixteen hours per day of light. When using grow lights, you are in control of the light plants receive, so this is why all year round growing can occur regardless of what is happening outdoors.

  • Blue light – around the 430 nm range is where plant photosynthesis occurs
  • Red light – around 660 nm a plants germination, growth in its stem and flowering can thrive
  • Infrared light – around 735 nm also helps with a plants growth from germination to harvest

White fluorescent tubes or the newer LED light panels cover these wavelengths and are ideal for mimicking the suns natural light. When you have a good hydroponic lighting system, hydroponic yields can increase by 1x – 2x.

Control Nutrients for Faster Hydroponics Growth and Higher Yields

When plants grow in soil, the roots have a hard time finding the right amount of nutrients. The earth can be compacted, so the speed of growth is slow, and this has an overall effect on the nutrients plants can find. The spacing of plants also has an impact because once they grow too close together, there is contention for nutrients in that growing area.

In soil growth, there is only a small proportion of water which is used by the plants and the rest goes by the wayside. This is the same for nutrients which enter the soil from such watering. When there is a recirculating reservoir of nutrients, such as in Deep Water Culture kits the plants have the opportunity to take as many nutrients as they need.

Now, when you choose the best hydroponic nutrients for the type of plants you are growing, you can increase yields significantly. Conventional fertilizer lacks the correct ratio for a hydroponic setup. When you purchase the optimum nutrients, you then need to look at maintaining the strength of nutrient mix (PPM’s or EC), the correct pH levels, and the nutrient temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit to give you faster growth and larger yields.

Hydroponic Plants For Fast Growing And Big Yields

Many elements affect how fast plants can grow, and how big your yields will be. With this in mind, there is one element which often becomes overlooked, the plants themselves. Hydroponics isn’t suitable for all vegetable types, but some excel when grown hydroponically. Here are a handful of the best yielders and fastest growers when grown in a hydroponic system.

  • Leafy greens – This variety can be ready in as little as one month after germination in an effective hydroponic system. These can include watercress, spinach, mustard greens, kale, and Swiss chard. Because they grow so fast, you need to harvest earlier, so plants have no chance to bolt and become bitter.
  • Herbs – These are ideal for growing indoors with natural light. When raised in a hydroponic system, they can benefit from a 25% growth rate. Basil, oregano, marjoram, peppermint, and spearmint are the most common varieties. Many can be plucked as needed, and in the case of mint, the more you pick, the more it grows.
  • Lettuce – Head lettuce varieties take longer when grown in soil, but when they are grown in a hydroponic system, they will be ready in around 6 – 8 weeks. Most common head varieties are Iceberg.
  • Leafy Lettuce – Romaine, Bibb, and Buttercrunch are rapid growers when grown with conventional methods, but put them in a hydroponic system, and they become supercharged and can grow in as little as three weeks.

It should be noted; plants won’t grow or yield any extra by being in a hydroponic system, they merely can develop to their genetic maximum.

Weather, Pests, Automation and Growing Space

Although mother nature does wonders for every living thing, she can make it hard for plants in specific regions. Hydroponics is excellent because it can be carried out in a greenhouse, undercover or a hydroponic grow tent where there is no impact from the weather outside. As an aside, this not only enables your plants to grow faster, you can grow all year round when you control the environment and increase yields dramatically.

When you have a hydroponic system, the space required is far less than is required by conventional growing methods. Now the roots are not fighting for nutrients in the soil, the only limiting factor to how close they can grow together is being shaded by the next plant. Hydroponics can return yields almost four times as much as similar space in the soil.

Compared to soil gardens, a hydroponic system is a pretty sterile environment. Pests and infestations are drastically reduced which are introduced through the soil. Plants are given an easier route to grow faster and to produce yields from leaves that would commonly be damaged or eaten by pests.

Automation, is one of the hydroponic beauties once you have set it up. Pumps can be set on timers and depending on where your system is located; you can configure your lighting timer to come on as the sun goes down. Even temperatures in your growing area can be automated to heat or cool as required. It might cost money, but these costs are well worth it when you see bountiful crops in half the time of a natural garden.

Related Questions

Is hydroponics growing better than in soil?

If you are growing with similar conditions, then your hydroponics plants can grow from between 30% – 50% faster than soil-based plants. The nutrients you add are as good as anything in the soil and are available precisely as your plants require them.

Can you grow hydroponics outdoors?

Outdoor hydroponics will provide half of what is required for your plants to thrive. All you need to make sure is your reservoir is under cover where rain won’t dilute your nutrient mixture. There is also the fact you can grow plants closer together, and there will be no weeds you need to fight.

What is the best fertilizer for hydroponics?

Conventional farmers use dry fertilizer whereas home growers find liquid fertilizers serve their needs much better. A good premixed liquid fertilizer can deliver high amounts of nitrogen and essential minerals which will help increase the yields of your plants while being economical to use.

Why Is My Hydroponic Lettuce Bitter?

Bitter Lettuce

Lettuce is one of the easiest things to grow in hydroponics. You have taken up the challenge and nurtured your seeds into germination and transferred them to your hydroponics system. You have your first harvest washed and sitting in the salad bowl, but something isn’t right.

Why is my hydroponic lettuce bitter? Lettuce might be one of the easiest things to grow hydroponically. However, if you have either a nutrient-rich solution, a growing environment which is too hot, or your lighting setup isn’t at its most optimum, you will get bitter lettuce.

Do you want to grow lettuce which is full of flavor and has no aftertaste? Do you want to know what is causing it, what you can do to resolve the problem, and is it too late to save your current batch of lettuce? Find out with the answers to the questions below.

Why Does my Hydroponic Lettuce Taste Bitter?

With Hydroponics, you have full control over growing conditions, and because of this, it means there are no outside influences so you can narrow down where to start looking. The first area to check will be your nutrients.

Lettuce doesn’t require too many nutrients to flourish. So, if your mix is too rich, it can lead to the bitter taste you have experienced. Although flushing your system is not vital to grow tasty lettuce, it can help improve flavor and remove the bitter taste.

System flushing can be more critical in ebb and flow systems. These continually fill with nutrient-rich water, and then once they drain they begin to dry out. It is during the drying process when mineral salts and nitrates start sticking to everything, including the roots of your lettuce. Veteran hydroponic growers recommend flushing a system before harvesting, even though it isn’t necessary.

Flushing the Hydroponic System

It is these nitrates and mineral salts which can be the most significant cause of bitter tasting lettuce. Flushing depends on the type of hydroponic system you are using. The first thing to do is drain all the nutrient solutions from your tank. Once you have emptied the system, you then need to proceed by rinsing your tanks and hoses with plain water.

If you have a nitrate-rich nutrient mix, you will need to rinse the system two or three times. Once done, you then need to adjust your pH levels to 6.0. Both pH Up and Down plus a Testing Kit can be found online from Walmart, or they will be available from your local hydroponic supplier.

Now, you should leave your system to run for a few hours. If it is the last flush before your lettuce harvest, you can let the plain water run through your system for up to one week.

After doing this, you need to drain the system again and thoroughly rinse your hoses. You should also flush the sides of your tank and check for any buildup or debris. If there is debris, or your system doesn’t appear to be as clean as it should. Then fill the system with your pH adjusted water, rerun your system for a couple of hours, and then finally drain the system.

Any algae or nitrate buildup needs removing, and all sides of the tank wiped. Hoses need cleaning inside, as far as you can reach. Once done, mix a new batch of your nutrient solution while checking it isn’t too rich for your lettuce. Once done, refill your system and let it run.

Items for Flushing the System

Here are some of the things you will need when you flush your system.

Heat Can Cause Lettuce to Taste Bitter

Lettuce is a cool weather plant. If the air temperature rises over 75F (24°C), your lettuce begins producing chemicals for flowering and producing seeds. It is this which can be one of the causes of for the bitter taste depending on the location of your hydroponics system and your region. This will determine how you can control the temperature of your growing environment.

To be accurate in your temps, it is worth investing in a Digital Hygrometer Indoor Thermometer. You can then periodically check your temperatures and humidity. If you are growing inside a greenhouse, there is one mistake many people make, and that is to shade the plants. Shading, unfortunately, isn’t the answer and you should be looking at ventilation or a form of cooling.

Evaporative cooling is the best option and can be from either a fan and wet-pads system, a low-pressure misting system or high-pressure fog system. All these should be used in conjunction with mechanical or natural ventilation. As a last resort a shade curtain can be used, but for no more than up to four hours and only during the hottest part of the day.

Incorrect Lighting Can Make Lettuce Bolt and Taste Bitter

If you are growing indoors and using artificial lighting, then things can be easier to control. Generated heat comes from your lighting, and the worst culprits being HID (High-Intensity Discharge) growing lights. You can help combat this if you see the overall room temperature is increasing.

You can place your lights inside an air-cooled reflector where the coolest air possible is ducted to the reflector, and then vents from inside your room via insulted ducting to prevent heat transferring back inside and affecting the ambient temperature.

You have seen, heat generated from grow lights raises the temperature of indoor grow rooms. There are three basic elements included in this section. One, the lights are not the best type and produce too much heat. Two, the length of time your grow lights are turned on is too long, and there is little or no adjustment of lights when required. Finally, the best bulb or tube type isn’t being used.

The positioning of lights can be the quickest variable to resolve, and no matter what artificial lighting method you are using, light sources should be around 4-6 inches above your plants. As they grow, the distance needs adjusting to maintain this gap. Because lettuce is a fast grower, it is crucial to keep a constant check on their progress so you can manage the optimum growing distance.

Light Quality Affects the taste of Lettuce

For lettuce to grow successfully, it requires a minimum of 12 hours of light. The ideal amount of light for most plants is 14 – 16 hours. If your growing location makes use of natural light, this needs to be used in your calculation for how long you will be using grow lights. Winter time has fewer sunlight hours, and this means you will be using your grow lights for longer. If you either leave them on too long or even forget to turn them on at the correct time, it plays havoc with your plants growing schedule.

The final element is the type of grow lights you are using. There are a few types to choose, and these include LED grow panels, HID lamps and Fluorescent tubes. LED’s are finally catching up and require further discussion which leaves HID and Fluorescent.

HID grow lights are the lighting type which generates lots of heat. These are recommended for more experienced users and are the lighting types which require cooling. Fluorescent tubes are more suited to growing lettuce because they run much cooler, but even differences in these lighting tubes can affect the growth of lettuce.

T5 fluorescent tubes are the best choice over T8 or T12 tubes, even though they require different fittings. They also give off more heat than these other varieties, but allowing for this, it is the Kelvin rating which can be a reason you are finding bitter tasting lettuce.

T5 fluorescent grow lights are the most efficient of all fluorescent tubes. However, tubes with a 6500 Kelvin rating deliver a full spectrum of light, which is excellent for overall growth. Lighting tubes with a 3000 Kelvin rating produce more red spectrum light which helps encourage flowering or bolting too early.

Related Questions

How Can I Get the Bitter Taste Out of Leaf Lettuce?

It can help to separate the leaves and put them in a bowl of cold water with a pinch of baking soda. Soak for ten minutes, rinse and soak again in plain water. Drain and serve. You can also use a salad crisper, or place the lettuce leaves in the refrigerator overnight.

What is the best lettuce variety to grow hydroponically?

Many growers choose leaf lettuce (Lactuca Sativa) along with the Tom Thumb variety. The Tom Thumb variety is easy to handle and grows large enough for one head to be enough for two people. Romaine lettuce, on the other hand, takes longer to mature, so it could be more prone to becoming bitter.

How long does hydroponic lettuce take to grow?

Nearly all varieties of lettuce can be grown in a hydroponic system. Leafy lettuce varieties are the recommendation because they can grow to harvest in half the time of head varieties of lettuce. When conditions are right, you can expect to be harvesting lettuce in three to four weeks.

How Often Do You Change Water for Hydroponics?

Changing Water

If you’re just getting into hydroponics, or you just want to make sure your plants are healthy, you need to maintain your water system. A big part of that is making sure you have appropriate nutrients, pH level, and clean water.

How often do you change water for hydroponics? A general rule of thumb is that hydroponic water should be changed out every two to three weeks. Depending on your system you may change it more or less often to maintain optimal pH and nutrient levels.

The frequency with which you change your hydroponic water is important, but so is how you change it. In fact, the timing of the of the water changes is more complex than simply dumping and replacing the water bi-weekly.

How your set up affects frequency of water changes

How frequently you need to change your hydroponic water can also be affected by the specifics of your set up. Your water reservoir will inevitably lose some water volume due to evaporation and plant use.

You’ll lose more water due to evaporation if your set up has a lot of light and heat. This is even more so if there’s not sufficient coverage on your reservoir, or if your reservoir is placed relatively close to light and heat sources. Likewise, if you have a high plant density or plants that use more water, you’ll lose water faster. So if you plan on growing something like irises, lettuce, or spinach, you’ll need to add water more frequently.

Smaller water reservoirs need to be topped off with fresh water more frequently than larger reservoirs. We’ve written a complete guide to water tanks with size estimation along with everything we think you need to know.

In most cases, you’ll need to add water to your hydroponics in between water changes. If you have a fair amount of water loss, plan on topping up the water as frequently as daily. If you don’t notice much difference in the water level from day to day, plan on topping up the water every few days. Every two to three weeks you will have to change out more water. Once you’re more familiar with your hydroponics system you’ll be able to develop a steady routine for topping up the water and doing partial water changes on a schedule.

How to change out your hydroponic water

When you change out your hydroponic water, you’ll be doing it in two ways. It’s important to use both ways of replacing water, and to do both regularly. We’ll cover more about the reasons for this later but for now, you need to know what the two methods are and how to do them.

The first kind of “water change” is when you top off your water reservoir. When you notice your water getting lower, you need to top it off. The best way to do this is using pH balanced, clean water. You will end up adding water several times weekly, if not daily. When you top off the water, be sure to measure and log the amount of water you add. You’ll need these logs later to help determine when to do a bigger water change.

The second type of water change is much less frequent, and switches out a much larger volume of water. Once your logs show that you’ve added about half of your total reservoir volume by doing top ups, you need to do a larger water change.

To do this, empty or drain 50% the total volume and replace it with fresh water (example: if your reservoir holds 100 liters, and over a couple weeks your logs show you’ve added 50 liters by topping up the water, it’s time for you to take out 50 liters and add the same amount clean, pH balanced water). Most hydroponic systems need this larger water change as frequently as every two weeks, although smaller reservoirs may need it as often as every week to ten days.

Water changes to manage pH and nutrients

Maintaining your pH level and making sure you provide your plants with enough nutrients is part of the reason that regular water changes are so important. Over time, the pH of your water will change. If your pH isn’t in the acceptable range for your plants, they won’t be able to absorb any of the nutrients you’ve added to the water. If you aren’t sure how to check the pH of your water you can read our full guide here.

Only changing out the water in its entirety isn’t ideal for your plants. First, because other compounds, such as ammonia or nitrites, can accumulate to harmful levels that ultimately kill your plants. Second, without an infusion of fresh water, the water in your reservoir can become a stagnant haven for bacteria and fungi. That, combined with roots made susceptible by chemical damage, creates an ideal situation for root rot to move in. If you aren’t sure about the best ways to prevent and treat root rot then we’ve written a guide for you here.

The most important reason you need regular water changes to maintain pH, rather than a single and infrequent water change, is to prevent shock to your plants. Regularly adding clean water, in between bi weekly water changes allows you to maintain a steady pH level.  Sudden, drastic changes in water conditions (like what happens when water is completely changed) can cause more harm than benefits to plants.

Managing nutrient saturation

While water changes help when you’re adding nutrients, they also help prevent damage to plants from over saturation of minerals. When nutrients are used by plants there are still traces of minerals and compounds left behind. Plants use up more water volume than they do nutrients, which creates a situation where nutrients are more saturated than when you first added them. Too much of these leftover trace minerals can burn plant roots or kill your plants. So if you’re not sure if your nutrient levels are helping or harming, always test for it.

Testing to determine water changes

There are situations where you’ll need to change water more or less frequently than you usually would. This switch in water change routine is typically a response to correct harmful conditions for plants. With regular testing, you can monitor the water quality of your reservoir and correct problems before they become urgent.

Different types of testing

There are two main types of water testing you need to be familiar with to properly maintain your hydroponic water. There are other more in depth tests you can use for your water, but for the average hydroponic gardener pH and EC testing are more than sufficient.

pH testing

pH tests help monitor the pH, or potential hydrogen, levels of your water. For most plants the ideal pH is between the range of 5.5 to 6.5. While this fluctuates slightly between water cycles, it shouldn’t change drastically. You should test your pH every three days or so, unless you notice your plants showing signs of wilting, illness, damage or discoloration. pH test kits can be purchased in either paper strip or liquid solution form. Now, digital pH testing pens are being used more frequently due to their convenience and accuracy.

EC testing

EC testing, also known as electrical conductivity testing, will help you monitor and maintain the strength of your hydroponic nutrient solutions. While your ideal EC level will vary depending on your chosen crop, most plants thrive at levels between 1.2 to 2.0. If your EC is below that, you know you need to add more nutrients to your water. Likewise, if your EC level is too high, you need to add in clean water to dilute the solution. In extreme cases, you may have to remove some water and replace it with fresh water, gradually lowering the level over several days. The most common EC testing method uses a digital pen, and some testing pens can test for both EC and pH. Some people test daily until they’re more familiar with their water levels. At the very least you should be testing EC levels every three days (when you test your pH), and every time you add nutrient solution. We’ve got a comprehensive guide to testing the EC in water if you aren’t sure.

Related Questions

How often do I need to clean out my water reservoir?

Much like with water changes, this can vary depending on your set up. Smaller reservoirs require more frequent cleaning. A good rule of thumb to follow is this: once the water you’ve been replacing or topping up with equals your total tank capacity, it’s time to clean it out.

Do I need to add extra aeration to my hydroponics system?

Using an air pump or stone isn’t required for every hydroponics setup. However, if your plants’ roots are fully submerged, it’s a safe bet to oxygenate your water. This not only keeps plants from “drowning” without oxygen, but also helps inhibit the growth of bacteria, algae, and fungi, thus reducing plant disease.