Your plants need nutrients in order to grow, thrive, and survive. Just as each plant’s makeup is different, the nutrients that those plants require are also unique.
If you have a hydroponic system, you don’t use soil to deliver nutrients. You deliver all of the plants’ nutrients through the solution. Your plants will only get those vitamins and minerals that you actively give to them. That means you need to choose the right solutions for the right plants at the right growth stage.
But if you look at the “Nutrients” tab on our HydroPros website, you’ll see hundreds of types of nutrients you can buy. That’s a lot of options…and a lot of pressure.
So how do you know which nutrients are right for your plants? How can you choose the right solutions for your garden?
5 Key Nutrients
All plants basically need the same 5 key nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. The difference is that some plants and growth stages require more of one nutrient than another.
Nitrogen is used for basic stalk and leaf growth in plants. Nitrogen is a major component in chlorophyll, which is the component that allows plants to turn sunlight into energy during photosynthesis. Nitrogen also helps build amino acids that create plant proteins. Without nitrogen, your plants wouldn’t have a stem structure and wouldn’t be the ability to photosynthesize their food.
Phosphorous is the key component of your plants’ root systems and seed creation. It’s part of protein synthesis, so it builds the tissues of your plants like flowers, buds, and roots. It also helps your plants defend against pests and disease. When phosphorous is low, flowers and seeds are often absent or weak. Learn more about the importance of phosphorous in plants here.
Potassium regulates the plants intake of CO2 during the photosynthesis process. Without CO2, the photosynthesis process doesn’t work. Potassium also helps regulate your plant’s water levels and activate growth enzymes. When potassium levels are low, plant growth slows because they can’t take in CO2 or water appropriately.
Calcium is a key part of the cell wall of the plant. A durable cell wall strengthens and develops tissues at a faster rate. Calcium can also neutralize cell acids, which allows for greater water and nutrient penetration. A lack of calcium leads to a break down of the cell structure, causing a withered, browned look.
Magnesium increases the plant’s intake of phosphorous, which assists with the photosynthesis process. Magnesium is also a building block of chlorophyll, the key growth component that makes your plants green. Without magnesium, your plants start to lose their color and slow their growth.
Your plants need all five of these nutrients. However, different plants and situations call for different solutions.
Keep in mind that you want a moderate level of these nutrients. Too little and your plants don’t have the building blocks they need to survive. Too much and it will suffocate your plant.
The Basics Of Hydroponic Nutrients
The Hydroponic Way
In a traditional growing system, the soil helps to provide additional nutrients to the plants. Quality soil can be a useful growing medium because it provides your plants with the nutrients it needs in a natural way.
However, with a soil system, you have to worry about pests, soil-borne diseases, weather changes, and a loss of growth control. Hydroponic systems are easier, cleaner, eco-friendlier, and a better solution for most growers. Learn more about the benefits of hydroponic systems here.
With a hydroponic system, you completely control your plants’ nutrient intake. This control also ensures that there aren’t any diseases, pesticides, chemicals, or other problems with your plant’s growing medium. The water and nutrient solutions you provide are pure and direct.
But this also means you have to provide everything that you want your plants to eat. If you don’t give it to them, they won’t get those nutrients.
You need a strong selection of nutrient solutions on-hand to provide your plants with the appropriate vitamins and minerals.
There are two types of nutrients you should use in a hydroponic system: base nutrients and additives.
Base nutrients are the main meal for your plants. These are solutions that provide a range of multiple vitamins as a complete diet for your plants.
There are different base nutrients for different types of plants. There are also different bases based on the stage of plant development, like the vegetative/growth stage versus the blooming stage.
Ideally, one base solution would provide all of the nutrients your plants need daily. However, in some cases, your plants need a little extra TLC. That’s where the additives come in.
Think about when you get sick. When you have a cold, you need a little extra vitamin C to boost your immune system. When you have a cough, you drink hot tea to soothe your throat.
You may supplement things to your diet even if you aren’t sick. For example, you might add salmon to your diet to make your skin glow.
Plants work in the same way. If they are deficient, sick, or need an extra boost, additives can help fill in supplemental nutrients.
How To Choose Base Nutrients
When choosing base nutrients, you want to look at the N-P-K ratio first. You’ll see this on the packaging as three numbers separated by dashes, like 6-5-5. This represents the percentage of nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K) in the solution.
Most base nutrients will have a balanced N-P-K ratio where all the numbers are the same. For example, it might say 5-5-5, which means it is made up of 5% of each nutrient. This is a good general base for plants.
If your plants need more protein and stronger stalks and leaves, you’ll want a higher nitrogen ratio, like 20-6-6.
If you want to improve your plant’s flowering and seeds, like during the blooming phase, you want a strong phosphorous count like 6-20-6.
If you’re looking to strengthen the roots, like during a plant transplant, you want high phosphorous and potassium counts, like 6-20-20.
Organic vs Synthetic
You also want to choose whether you want your nutrient solutions to be organic or synthetic.
In general, organic solutions are a better option. These are made from plant or animal byproducts, like fish emulsion (high nitrogen) and bone meal (high phosphorous).
However, some organic solutions have small particles that clog pumps, tubes, and misters. Thus, synthetic nutrients are often a common choice because they won’t clog hydroponic systems. Synthetic solutions are often filled with nitrates, sulfates, phosphates, and man-made chemicals, though.
Ultimately, organic and synthetic have the same volume of nutrients in them. Synthetic nutrients are pre-broken down, though, so they have a faster release. Organic nutrients are a slower release, but they introduce fewer chemicals (and chemicals impact growth and taste).
In the long run, organic nutrients are better for your garden and plants, even if they require a little more patience. If you’re worried about clogging, contact HydroPros for nutrient advice.
Solutions come in a variety of forms, like powder, granular, and liquid. You want to make sure the nutrient base you pick will work with your hydroponic system. For example, if you use a spray and mist system, you’ll want a liquid solution.
You’ll also want to take budget into account as well. Keep in mind that your plants will need continuous nutrients. When you start them on one nutrient plan, you want to try to keep them on it with consistency, unless they become deficient or react poorly. Thus, keep your ongoing budget in mind when choosing your solution.
How To Choose Additives
1. Flower Boosters
Flower boosters help maximize the density and yield of your bloom. They can be used with just about any base nutrient, especially those high in phosphorous and potassium. They’re best to use during the blooming stage.
Mycorrhizae are tiny fungal filaments that naturally attach to plant roots. They feed on the plant’s sugars while helping the plant gather nutrients and moisture. This is a mutually beneficial relationship that occurs naturally in nature. Thus, adding this to your hydroponic garden throughout the life cycle can simulate the benefits of this natural relationship.
Supplemental enzymes help your plants break down their nutrients for easier absorption. They can also prevent overgrowth of algae and Pythium. These enzymes work at any time in the life cycle.
4. Vitamin B1
Vitamin B1 thiamine helps power plant energy and growth, encouraging the absorption of phosphorous. It also strengthens the plant’s immune system against disease and improves root development. You can add vitamin B1 at any time during the lifecycle.
5. Root Stimulants
Root stimulants help the plant roots grow, which improves the plant’s structural support and encourages a greater intake of nutrients. You can use this at any time, but it’s especially important during the beginning stages of the life cycle or if you have structural concerns like root rot.
Sweeteners enhance the taste of flowers and fruits by encouraging a greater absorption of nutrients. Use these during the flowering phase for a delicious yield.
A flushing agent can help the plant get rid of stored nutrients, which otherwise can result in a bitter or chemical taste. Flushing out the extra nutrients, heavy metals, and chemical salts create a fresher and healthier yield. Use flushing additives 4-7 days before harvest.
The Bottom Line
Choosing the right nutrient solutions for your hydroponic system can be overwhelming.
Check out our nutrient bundles and kits to easily and simply add a collection of vitamins to your hydroponic lineup.
You can also contact HydroPros for a free consult to find the perfect nutrient solution for your plants.