Understanding Hydroponic Nutrients for Plant Growth

If you’re a hydroponic gardener, you understand the benefits of using hydroponics to grow plans versus soil. They can produce higher yields and require fewer pesticides while being more nutritious and tasty than those obtained in the supermarket. They can also save money in the long run. However, with hydroponically grown plants the quality of your crop does depend on using the right nutrients in the right proportions at the right time and with the correct pH balance. Get it wrong and you can ruin your plants.

Whether you make your own homemade nutrient solution or buy one ready-mixed, the solution should contain the essential macro and micro elements required for plant growth and health. The macro elements that should be present in the water solution in the highest proportions include nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Nitrogen is important in the development of leaves, stem growth and cell creation. Phosphorous is important during bud development and the creation of flowers and fruits and aids in the growth of healthy roots. Potassium is used by plant cells during the absorption of energy produced during photosynthesis.

Other important macro elements include magnesium, calcium and sulfur. Elements such as hydrogen, oxygen and carbon are obtained from the air and water. The micro elements or trace elements that occur in smaller amounts are copper, zinc, iron, manganese, boron, molybdenum and chlorine.

Any homemade or readymade solution should contain these macro and micro elements. You can make your own homemade nutrient solution using fertilizers and fertilizer salts such as Magnesium sulphate/Epsom salts, potassium sulphate, potassium nitrate, calcium sulphate, sodium nitrate and superphosphate. You can find these fertilizers for sale online or at most local garden centers and nurseries.

If you don’t want the fuss of making your own hydroponic solution you can always buy hydroponic nutrients readymade from various hydroponic suppliers or their retailers. The top hydroponic brands don’t just provide the essential macro and micro elements but also include more exotic ingredients called crop enhancers. These can include humates, fulvates, amino acids, non-ionic surfactant, and beneficial microorganisms. Additionally, the essential elements in these brands are normally chelated. Chelation is a process that makes nutrients more available to plants on a molecular level ensuring maximum nutrient uptake; under the widest range of growing conditions. A good nutrient solution will also use pH perfect technology that will automatically create the optimal pH once all the components are added to water. These formulations contain a proprietary “smart” release of acid and alkaline molecules that will correct the pH to optimum and keep it there.

If you’re growing vegetables, adjusting the nutrient solution during the bud development stage can improve yields. A hydroponic solution may provide the ratios of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium as a series of digits such as 20-20-20. During the bud development stage it is a good idea to add a nutrient solution with a higher ratio of phosphorous such as 20-50-20 as it can aid in bud development. Using a readymade hydroponic solution is more manageable and the nutrient concentrations are easy to identify. You can simply remove the previous solution, flush out any of the mineral deposits with water and add a nutrient solution specifically developed for the bud development stage of the plant.

Simon Ashley is an avid hydroponics grower and My Garden & Greenhouse contributor.

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