Hydroponic Nutrients Guide

Ed Wike
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What are Hydroponic Nutrients?

According to definition, hydroponics is a method of growing plants in a container without using soil. The rooting medium in hydro is almost always a kind of growth medium that has no nutrient value, even though the word "medium" does imply that. Generally, these mediums contain no nutrients and they are inert, which means they aren’t chemically active and they don’t decay.

What Do Plants Need to Grow?

Plants require nutrients to grow. When plants are unable to obtain the amount of nutrients they need, they will not grow to their full potential. If you do not provide your plants with the correct nutrients, they will be stunted, pale and unhealthy.

Plants take the nutrients they need to grow from both the air and from the soil. Unfortunately, the soil that we use does not contain all of the necessary nutrients that plants require to grow. Conversely, the air around us contains all the nutrients that plants need.

This happens everyday and this is how plants grow. In soil, the plant absorbs air from the soil and from the air and the plant uses nutrients in both sources to help the plant grow and, ultimately, reproduce in some cases. In other words, farmers spray soil nutrients in the air to make plants grow.

This type of growth relies on the soil as the main source for air and nutrients. We live in an atmosphere that plants use to grow.

To replicate this, it will be necessary to use a hydroponics nutrient system.

This will provide the necessary nutrients to your plants, in the air and will also provide the water that your plants will need to stay alive.

Macro Nutrients

Here's a run-down of the three main groups of nutrients used to feed your plants:

Nitrogen (N) … Responsible for overall vegetative growth.

Fatty Acids (Oils) … Responsible for the development of seeds, resins and essential oils.

Carbon (C) … Responsible for the metabolism and energy transfer.

These elements are absorbed from the nutrient solution and transported from the root zones to the plant's cells. To access nutrients the plant must have a series of tiny pores called capillaries. These capillaries are where photosynthesis takes place.

Some of the macronutrients that get the job done are:

Nitrogen (N) … Along with the minerals, H2O, and CO2, it is one of the main elements of photosynthesis, which helps produce plant food.

Calcium (Ca) … Necessary for cell division and growth.

Sulfur (S) … Necessary for the formation of essential amino acids used to make proteins.

Magnesium (Mg) … Necessary for photosynthesis and cell growth. It is also used to prevent cell damage.

Nitrogen (N)

Nitrogen is important in plant development. It is in protein and green vegetables which are essential for a healthy diet. Nitrogen is also crucial in DNA and RNA, membranes, chlorophyll and photosynthesis. Nitrogen is a very important nutrient for a plant during its early growth.

Nitrogen is naturally created by microbes and algae. This means that nitrates and ammonia are created by plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi.

The nitrogen cycle is a process in which nitrogen is obtained naturally in the environment.

Nitrogen is then used by plants and animals for their own purposes which means that something is alive. This cycle starts with the plants absorbing gaseous nitrogen as a source of nitrogen through the air.

Then it is passed on to insects and animals. After that, it is released into the air. When the plants die, it releases nitrogen back into the air.

First, it was assumed that plant roots and bacteria take up nitrate or ammonium, next to gaseous nitrogen, but it's now proven that they aren’t actually using nitrate or ammonium. That’s because root hairs and root-associated bacteria take up nitrogen compounds embedded in air, such as ammonium.

Gaseous nitrogen is used by the plant as a source of nitrogen and then distributed towards the rest of the plant.

Phosphorus (P)

This is the major nutrient in the plant's reserves and therefore one of the most critical nutrients for the plant to take up to ensure healthy growth. Roots are especially attracted to a P source, as they seek to feed on it in order to produce sugars. A P deficiency is often first detected in roots by a roughening of the root end turns, leaf tips, and sometimes a yellowing of new branchlets. Severe deficiency can lead to decreases in both root mass and the physiologically-active root tips. In extreme cases, P deficiency can result in a necrosis (rotting) of root tips and death of whole plants.

Potassium (K)

Potassium is a key and limiting nutrients, especially for flowering plants. Phosphorus and Magnesium are the dominant nutrients during the vegetative period, but when it comes to flowering potassium is king.

K is one of the three main macronutrients that plants need. Out of the three macronutrients, Potassium is the second most important one after Nitrogen. The plants need at least 2800ppm of potassium to be healthy.

Potassium is the primary nutrient in the plant that aids in photosynthesis, stress management, fruit and flower production, and it helps to prevent blossom end rot.

It is important to make sure that the leaves of your plant are green and healthy during flowering. If the leaves turn yellow it means that you need to give your plants more potassium. Yellow leaves can also point to magnesium deficiency or a reaction to an excessive level of calcium.

In most hydroponic setups, Mg and Ca are normally in excess in relation to K. For this reason, you can encounter some of these yellow-leaf symptoms, but most likely it’s a potassium deficiency.

A prominent sign of potassium deficiency is if the edges of your leaves tend to get brown.

Micro Nutrients

Macro Nutrients.

Choosing the best nutrients for your hydroponics garden or indoor plants can be a daunting task. One of the trickiest parts of the process can be picking the right balance of the right nutrients and trace elements.

A nutrient’s “macronutrients” are the CA(Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen), or C.H.O.H. Include water in there, and you have the three main ingredients for life. The remaining nutrients for plants are called the “micro nutrients,” or M.O.H. for short.

M.O.H. guide is to be familiar with the name of specific nutrients so you can match them with the recommended amounts of macro nutrients. What that takes is consistency with your brand of hydroponic nutrients so that you always apply the right proportions of nutrients.

Now, some key factors to consider before we get into the breakdown:

Macronutrients are the foods that plants use to live.

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From the moment your seedlings start to emerge, they use more and more phosphorus, a major macronutrient. The phosphorus keeps the nutrients in a form that is available for plant use.

Types of Hydroponic Nutrients

The three major types of hydroponic nutrients are liquid, powder, and rock based. Each has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of ease of use, consistency in quality, and purchase costs. Liquid nutrient systems are by far the most popular choice for hydroponic gardening systems. For true beginners and veteran hydroponic gardeners alike, liquid systems are often the most utilized because they are simple and user friendly.

By contrast, rock-based nutrient systems, like the popular Eco-Complete, are high maintenance but offer concentrated blends that last a long time, result in great tasting produce, and are readily available for seasoned gardeners and hobbyists.

Powder-based systems like GroCo are extremely easy to use. Gardeners may opt for powder-based systems if they are more interested in quantity than quality and purity, like those who grow larger veggies like tomatoes (which can be 95% sugar) or corn. If you are growing sensitive plants, such as lettuce, you may wish to steer clear of powder-based systems.

Get Started!

Assemble your supplies. Many indoor gardeners have the best luck using some sort of hydroponic system. Hydroponics is a process by which the plants are maintained in an inert growing medium, such as perlite, and the nutrients are pumped directly to the plant's root system.

Organic compost, vermiculite, perlite, worm castings, termite soil, or similar inert medium can be used to grow the plants. Once the organic soil is in the growing containers, hydroponics can be used. There are many small hydroponic systems from which to choose.

  • Make sure you clean your proposed system well before using it.
  • Aquarium Air Pump or submersible pump.

This is used to pump the nutrient and water mix up and through your system.

Air Stones.

If you are using a hydroponic system that requires oxygenation, you will need air stones.

Nutrient Solution.

The nutrient solution is a mix of water, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.

  • The Nutrient solution usually contains:
  • |-Phosphorus
  • |-Potassium
  • |-Calcium
  • |-Nitrogen
  • |-Magnesium
  • |-Phosphorus
  • |-Sulfur
  • |-Magnesium Sulfate
  • |-Calcium Sulfate