You may have heard of the word “hydroponics,” but what does that mean? Hydroponic plants are different from regular plants in their method of growth. Instead of soil, hydroponic plants are grown in a water-based solution with nutrients. Their stems are suspended by an alternative medium such as peat moss, clay pellets, perlite, or rockwool. This lets them simultaneously absorb oxygen and nutrients for optimal growth. Because they don’t require much space to grow, hydroponic plants are a great choice for a small area like a windowsill or shelf. They use less water than soil-based plants, and they can grow more quickly too. Hydroponic plants are less prone to damage from pests and diseases, and they’re less affected by weeds.
While there are many benefits to hydroponic plants, they also need certain growing conditions to flourish. If you’re just getting started growing hydroponic plants, here are some tips and information to keep in mind that will help you successfully raise hydroponic plants.
Finding a Balance
When hydroponic plants are growing in prime conditions, they can grow at rates up of to 25% more and end up 30% larger than soil-grown plants. However, this is only possible if they have the proper conditions. At a minimum, your nutrient solution should include the macronutrients – potassium, nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, and magnesium. Boron, zinc, copper, manganese, and iron are micronutrients that are not essential but will help plants thrive if they are added to the mix.
Along with nutrients, the right pH balance is essential for success when you’re growing hydroponic plants. If the pH solution is not in the right range, the plant might not be able to absorb all the nutrients that it needs to grow. For hydroponic plants, a mid-range pH level is ideal. Most plants need a pH level between 5.8 and 6.2. The exception is plants that grow in rockwool, which do best with a pH level closer to 5.5. Plants grown in an environment that’s too acidic may suffer from hydrogen, manganese, or aluminum toxicity. They may also develop magnesium or calcium nutrient deficiencies. Plants grown in environments with too high of an alkaline content, in contrast, can suffer from slower growth rates if they have reduced levels of iron, manganese, zinc, cobalt, copper, and phosphorous. The pH level is important to keep an eye on, and it can be monitored in several ways. Liquid pH test kits, digital pH meters, and paper test strips, which turn certain colors based on the pH level, are all good ways to watch the pH level.
Regulating the Temperature
Like the nutrient composition and pH level, temperature regulation is critical for making sure that hydroponic plants grow as they’re supposed to. The proper water temperature for hydroponic plants is somewhere between 65°F and 80°F. When plants are in this temperature range, their roots will be strong and healthy, which allows them to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients. Within this temperature range, the root area gets plenty of dissolved oxygen. Furthermore, an added benefit of maintaining the proper temperature is that plant diseases are less likely to develop.
Problems can arise if the water temperature gets too hot or too cold. At certain times of the year, namely summer and winter, you might need to take some extra precautions to make sure the temperature range stays where you want it. To keep water from getting too warm in the summer, you can enlist the help of ice packs, cooler water, and chillers. You can also paint the container white to deflect heat.
If your hydroponic growing garden is smaller, (and if you want to cut down on cooling costs), a good option is to use ice packs. Going this route, aim to keep at least ten ice packs available for use in your hydroponic reservoir. If you replace an ice pack every 15 minutes, you should be able to keep the temperature at the correct level. Keep an eye on the water temperature so that you can adjust the ice pack schedule if needed.
For larger gardens, adding cooler water is a good way to maintain the proper water temperature. However, be sure to check the nutrient solution if you do this, as nutrient levels can get diluted when the new water is added to the system. Another option for controlling the temperature is a chiller. A chiller is also ideal for larger gardens. A chiller works quickly and efficiently to control the temperature in your hydroponic container. This method is preferred for large-scale operations because it requires little oversight and monitoring on the gardener’s part. Learn more about this method of temperature control here: https://northslopechillers.com/blog/best-temperature-for-hydroponics/.
Regardless of garden size, painting the surrounding container white is a good way to deflect sunlight and in turn, keep the water temperature lower. While painting the exterior might not get the water quite as cool as you want, it can at least reduce the temperature enough so that you only need to use minimal secondary tactics to keep the water temperature within the right temperature range.
Choosing a Hydroponic System
As you’re starting out, you’ll want to make sure that you have the best system for your hydroponic plants. As with soil-based plants, there are some hydroponic systems that you can choose from. One of the simplest ones (which is ideal for beginners) is a Deep Water Culture (DWC) or reservoir system. The reservoir system keeps the roots suspended in the nutrient system so that they neither drown nor miss out on getting important nutrients. If you use the reservoir, remember to keep the unit away from direct sunlight. Otherwise, algae may start to grow and ultimately ruin your plants.
Another option is called Nutrient Film Technique (NFT). In this system, the nutrient solution is allowed to run at a regular interval over the system’s roots by using a slight tilt and gravity. With this system, your plants will be able to get more oxygen than they would with other containers. This can help them grow larger and faster than they would otherwise.
A third growth option is called aeroponics. This growing method works by keeping the roots suspended in air and gently misting the nutrient solution over them using either a pond fogger or a spray mist. The pond fogger is a bit more maintenance-intensive, which is good to keep in mind if you’re short on time or looking to have a hydroponics garden that needs minimal work. Either way, you can use programmable settings on the container to control factors like water temperature and monitor the nutrient solution.
Depending on the type of plants you’re growing, you might also look into a flood and drain (or ebb and flow) system. This method uses a controlled release mechanism to deliver nutrients to the plant at specific times. If you have plants that prefer drier conditions, using this type of system can cause their roots to expand during dry times, which in turn makes the plants grow more.
Hydroponic plants are a great way to add a bit of greenery to your life without dealing with the time and hassle of potting and planting. Hydroponic plants can grow in many places, and it’s easy to get started. When beginning a hydroponic system, remember to check the nutrient solution and water temperature to ensure your plants grow healthy and strong. Many types of flowers, herbs, and vegetables do well with a hydroponic growing method, so you have no shortage of options to get started.