Just like the human body requires nutrients to stay healthy and productive, so do plants for the same reasons. Plants require up to 17 nutrients for the critical development of different parts at different stages of growth.

Naturally, plants actively derive nutrients from the soil and fertilizers through roots before sharing them with respective parts of the crop.

However, when plants are grown hydroponically, that is, in a soilless environment, essential nutrients are supplied in a mixed solution that is in direct contact with the roots. Direct access to nutrients steers plant growth leading to high yields.

This is an essential guide to hydroponic nutrients, preparation, and application for the best plant performance. Remember: when you grow plants away from their natural soil environment, their survival primarily depends on hydroponic nutrient application.

What are hydroponic plant nutrients  

Hydroponic nutrients are regular soil-based nutrients applied directly to plants as a solution. Here, the farmer removes the burden of the crops’ searching for and synthesizing nutrients from fertilizers and soil by providing only water and nutrients.

Related: Hydroponic Fertilizers

The main types of hydroponic nutrients

Hydroponic nutrients are divided into two: – Organic and Mineral hydroponic nutrients.

1. Organic hydroponic nutrients

When most people think of growing hydroponic plants, they think of nutrient-induced chemicals. However, using nutrients derived from natural animals, plants, and natural ingredients in a hydroponic system is possible.

Organic hydroponic nutrients are those taken from naturally occurring byproducts such as manure, fish products, guano, compost tea, bone meal, and gypsum, among other organic content. Aquaponics are the best organic hydroponic nutrients.

The major challenges of using organic hydroponic nutrients are system clogs and bacterial infection from the dense manure solution. To avoid these, most farmers prefer readily available mineral hydroponic nutrients.

2. Mineral hydroponic nutrients  

Also known as inorganic nutrients, mineral hydroponic nutrients are mined and synthesized salts packaged as separate nutrients. They are mixed with water in a designated ratio and fed into the hydroponic system.

This guide will focus on mineral hydroponic nutrients as their application and effects on plants are measurable compared to organic nutrients. They are easy to use and fit well with the solution-based hydroponic system.

What specific nutrients do plants need to grow effectively 

As we’ve already discussed, hydroponic nutrients can be organic or mineral. Despite the type used, it must contain macro and micronutrient components that support various stages and aspects of the plant’s growth.

Macronutrients are consumed by plants in large quantities.

The five macronutrients required by all plants are nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), potassium(K), calcium (Ca), and magnesium(Mg). Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are the primary macronutrients, while the other two are secondary.

Conversely, micronutrients are supplementary salts consumed by plants in small quantities.

Micronutrients include iron, manganese, zinc, boron, copper, nickel, and molybdenum. Together with macronutrients, they are mixed with water to make a nutrient-rich solution that replenishes hydroponic plants directly from the roots.

Individual benefits Of macro nutrients  

Each of the five macronutrients plays a specific role in plant growth. The ratio of 15-15-15 NPK mixed with water and micro-nutrients is recommended. They are the most important hydroponic nutrients needed to support soilless growth.

Here are the individual benefits:

  • Potassium (K)

Unlike other nutrients, Potassium is not responsible for plant compound formation but acts as a catalyst speeding up enzyme activation, photosynthesis, protein synthesis, and starch formation.

Leaves turn yellow from potassium deficiency. In extra amounts, Potassium expends the power of micronutrients like iron and zinc, a concept known as nutrient antagonism.

Nutrient antagonism occurs when the designated nutrient ratio is out of balance, with excess nutrients lowering the potency of other nutrients.

  • Nitrogen (N)

This is considered the most important nutrient largely responsible for the growth of stem, leaves, and Chlorophyll formation. Nitrogen also forms enzymes, proteins, and amino acids that steer the growth of cell walls.

Nitrogen is best used before plants flower and start bearing fruits. Lack of Nitrogen leads to yellow leaves and shedding of older leaves. Excess Nitrogen is noticed when the plants look healthy but do not flower or bear fruits.

  • Phosphorus (P)

Responsible for plants’ DNA, Phosphorus also helps in cell division and tissue formation of roots, seeds, flowers, and fruits.

Phosphorus deficiency in plants causes retarded growth. Supplying in excess interferes with the plant’s ability to intake other nutrients such as zinc, calcium, magnesium, and copper.

  • Magnesium (Mg) 

Magnesium is a secondary macronutrient that breaks down oxygen during photosynthesis and chlorophyll formation. It is needed in plants with rapid growth and usually in large quantities.

  • Calcium (Ca)

Responsible for compound growth and cell division, calcium is particularly important in the early stages of plant growth. High intake of calcium leads to leaf death, while deficiency slows down crop growth.

Note: Micronutrients mainly supplement the primary nutrients discussed above, speeding up photosynthesis, chlorophyll formation, nitrogen metabolism, and cell growth.

Also Read: How to Grow Hydroponic Tomatoes

How to prepare and apply hydroponic nutrients 

The preparation and application of hydroponic nutrients determine the plant’s performance and yields. Water PH, temperature, and a good mix of nutrients depending on the crop type are the most important factors to consider during the process.

The water PH should range between 5 to 7, while a temperature of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit is effective for most vegetables.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the correct ratio of hydroponic nutrients mixture and respective stage of plant growth to apply. This will help form an optimal hydroponic nutrient solution poured into the reservoir and supplied to plants.

One should stick to the standard nutrient ratio designated for the plant to prevent nutrient antagonism where some nutrients are in excess, lowering the potency of other nutrients.

Remember, the type of crop determines the preparation and application of hydroponic nutrients.

How to get the best hydroponic nutrients

In large-scale growth, mineral hydroponic nutrients are better hydroponic than organic ones. This is because they are easily manageable in the hydroponic system and are more synthesized for direct root intake, leading to higher yields.

For small-scale growth, preparing high-quality hydroponic nutrient solutions using organic byproducts is cheaper than buying packaged mineral compounds.

Hydroponic nutrients speed up plant growth and increase productivity. Micronutrients should diligently complement the supply of the three primary  nutrients i.e Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. They help plants to stay healthy and productive while bearing nutritious produce.