How do I Choose the Best Hydroponic Nutrient Solution?

Kaitlyn N. Watkins
Kaitlyn N. Watkins
Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

A popular method of indoor gardening is hydroponics, which involves the use of lighting systems, water reservoirs, and soil-less nutrient solutions to grow plants. In order to achieve the best results, the correct hydroponic nutrient solution must be used to ensure that the plants receive the right amounts of the nutrients they need to grow. The best hydroponic nutrient solutions are designed specifically for hydroponic systems and contain all of the macronutrients and micronutrients needed. Solutions should also be pH balanced and water-soluble.

Hydroponic growing systems do not use soil because it is too variable a medium. Instead, plant roots are supported by an inactive medium like sand or rock pellets and the roots are dangled in water and nutrient solution which has been specifically formulated for the plants. Find a hydroponic nutrient solution that is made to be used in a hydroponic system, not regular garden fertilizer. Garden fertilizers may have certain essential nutrients, but a hydroponic nutrient solution will have all of the nutrients needed by plants.

Macronutrients are the six main nutrients that all plants need, including the three most important: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Fertilizers and nutrient mixes found in garden centers that have “NPK” ratios on the package, like 30-10-30, refer to the ratio of each of these nutrients in the product. The other three macronutrients are calcium, sulfur, and magnesium, which are also found in correct proportions in a good hydroponic nutrient solution. Micronutrients are trace nutrients that are normally found in the soil and should be included in the hydroponic nutrient solution. A few examples of these micronutrients are chlorine, iron, manganese, and zinc.

Quality hydroponic nutrient solutions must be mixed with water before being added to the growing reservoirs, which is why water solubility is very important. If a nutrient solution is too strong, it can have negative effects on the plants. The pH balance of the nutrient-enriched water should be neutral, or the plants may not be able to access the nutrients. This means that generally the pH range should be between 5.5 and 6.5, or as close to 6.0 as possible.

While some highly experienced hydroponic growers who have access to chemicals make their own hydroponic nutrient solutions, it may be too difficult for the new gardener to attempt the exact ratios on his or her own. Plants also require different nutrients during different parts of their lifecycle, so the best hydroponic nutrient solutions will come in about three different formulations: a growing solution for the early stages, a blooming solution for the production stages, and a micronutrient booster to distribute the trace elements. Clear instructions for mixing with water and what signs to look for to determine the current plant stage should be included with a good nutrient solution.

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