Hydroponic Gardening Basics

If you're thinking about trying hydroponics, you'll be happy to know that going hydro isn't hard. Even if you're new to growing, you can enjoy the faster growth, bigger yields and year-round harvests hydroponics bring. But first, take time to learn what you'll need to succeed with the crops you want to grow. These hydroponic gardening basics can help you understand your options and successfully go hydro:

In deep-water systems, plants seated in rafts float in hydroponic pools.

What are hydroponics?

Hydroponics involves more than growing plants in water. Hydroponic gardening is a method of growing plants without soil and feeding them through nutrient solutions. Hydroponic plants may grow in the nutrient solution itself, in a soilless growing medium, or even with roots suspended in air.

Nutrient delivery is key to understanding hydroponics. Plain water may work for rooting vining houseplants, but vigorous growth and abundant harvests require nutrients that water alone can't provide.

With hydroponics, you can ensure your plants get the nutrients they need at every stage of plant growth — from vegetative to flowering to harvest. With optimal nutrients, you can prevent and treat nutrient deficiencies. You can even boost productivity and attributes such as essential oils, resins and fragrances by supplementing core nutrients.

Hydroponic production allows tomato growers to maximize their harvests.

What are the different types of hydroponics?

Hydroponic growing systems fall into two main categories: those that use a soilless growing medium, often called a "substrate," and those that don't.

Substrate hydroponics look a lot like soil-based container gardens. But instead of soil, plants grow in media such as perlite, rockwool or coco coir such as Earth Juice Procoir. These substrates support plants and hold them upright in their growing containers. But they don't provide nutrients like soil does. Some substrate-based hydroponic systems include:

  • Drip irrigation uses irrigation lines and drip emitters like those seen in outdoor landscapes to deliver the nutrient solution to plants in containers.
  • Ebb-and-flow involves containers on trays or tables that get flooded periodically with nutrient solution. Substrate absorbs the liquid, then the excess drains away.
  • Wick systems use wicks to draw nutrient solutions from a reservoir up into the substrate where plant roots grow.

Non-substrate hydroponics don't use containers and soilless media. They may use rafts and net-like cups to hold plants above water. These water-based systems include:

  • Deep water culture (DWC) seats plants in floating rafts that keep roots suspended in nutrient solution. Many large-scale commercial lettuce growers use this method.
  • Nutrient film technique (NFT) places plants in rectangular troughs; roots grow in a thin film of nutrient solution below. Plants with shallow root systems work well.
  • Aeroponics involves plant roots suspended in air and misted regularly with a nutrient solution. Many growers root cuttings in aeroponic systems.

Whatever system you choose, it's a good idea to start small and grow as you learn. Talk with a hydroponics expert at your local garden center or hydro shop. They can help make sure you get the best setup for your intended crop.

Many retailers now offer complete hydroponic growing kits that contain everything you need to get started. These may include containers, growing media, reservoirs, circulating pumps, grow lights and air pumps to ensure roots get plenty of oxygen and thrive.

Strawberries grown hydroponically are plentiful and clean.

What can you grow with hydroponics?

Hydroponic methods work with almost any plant if you match the growing system to the crop. Your system must accommodate the plant's roots and provide any extra support the plant needs as it matures. For example, NFT and plants with large root systems don't mesh well. Similarly, hydroponic tomatoes need sturdy supports to produce fruit-laden vines. But when parts work together, hydroponics even allow for topping and other training techniques.

Some of the most common commercial hydroponic crops are the easiest to grow at home. These include leaf and head lettuces, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, strawberries and cucumbers. Hydroponics work exceptionally well for ground-hugging fruits such as strawberries. Not only do the precision-fed plants produce abundantly, the soilless berries stay extra clean.

Many herbs, including basil, mints and watercress, excel in hydroponic gardens. Crops that don't do well include most root crops, such as potatoes, yams, carrots, beets, turnips, onions and garlic.

Small, simple hydroponic systems can keep you supplied with fresh produce.

What do you feed hydroponic plants?

As your plants mature, their nutrient needs shift. So should the nutrient solutions you feed them. Earth Juice fertilizers are formulated to deliver stage-specific macro and micronutrients to maximize your plant's growth and performance at every phase.

Highly concentrated fertilizers in the Earth Juice SeaBlast Nutrient System simplify the process for you:

Super-concentrated Earth Juice Elements Nutrient System is a multipart liquid system that works as a complete nutrient system when used together. Its individual elements act as boosters when used alone:

You can tailor your feeding programs to match your growing goals at every stage. Earth Juice Feeding Charts include recommended application rates for constant or periodic feedings, as well as growth phases from veg to transition and blooming, and solution strengths from mild to strong.

With high-quality Earth Juice products, you can ensure your hydroponic garden gets optimal nutrition right from the start. Gardeners and growers have been trusting Earth Juice to give fruits and vegetables the best nutrients for 30 years. Let us help you reap the benefits of hydroponics and bring in the harvest of your dreams.

Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions, including dilution rates and recommended feeding frequency for your plant phase and feeding method.