Every plant either grown in soil or in hydroponics, they need nutrients to thrive. As hydroponics allows growing a bunch of veggies in small spaces, more urban gardeners are turning towards this subset of hydroculture.
Now, the question arises can you use regular fertilizer for hydroponics?
Though regular fertilizers add nutrients to hydroponic system, it is not recommended as it can result in salt build-up and flower drop.
However, University of Florida states you can grow greenies in hydroponics using regular fertilizers, while other University extension web sites recommend using only hydroponic formulated fertilizers.
Unlike water soluble hydroponic fertilizers, regular soil fertilizers don’t release essential nutrients at once.
In some cases, soil fertilizer may release more nitrogen that can lead to deficiency of other nutrients. Eventually leading to stunted plant growth and flower drop.
Unlike common fertilizers, hydroponic fertilizers release certain nutrients into the water, which are rightly available to the plants to absorb.
To conclude, as building hydroponic system is expensive compared to growing plants in backyard, it is not worthy trailing with regular fertilizers to grow these plants.
What Fertilizer to Use for Hydroponics?
Before dwelling on the perfect fertilizer, let me answer this query, do you need fertilizer for hydroponics?
Yes. You should add fertilizers to hydroponic plants.
Plants in your backyard can survive even if you don’t fertilize them. But, that is not the case with hydroponics.
Unlike soil-based veggies, plants grown through hydroponic system solely depends on the nutrients in the water.
It is essential that you add appropriate water soluble fertilizer to enrich hydroponic plants.
Nutritional needs of hydroponic plants are similar to plants grown in the soil.
- Macro nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients like calcium, sulfur, iron, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, boron and zinc are needed for optimal growth.
- Plants in the soil may get nutrients through natural source in the form of organic matter, but in case of hydroponics it relies on water which doesn’t contain any nutrient.
Can I use Regular Fertilizer for Hydroponics?
As listed, plant needs 13 different types of nutrients to grow. For hydroponic plants these nutrients are provided by “nutrient solution” which is a mixture of water and fertilizer.
The trickiest part is to calculate, mix and maintain nutrient solution.
Depending on the plants or greens you’re growing, you can get water soluble fertilizer from local hydroponic companies.
While fertilizing hydroponics you should consider plants growing stage.
Fortunately, there are bunch of organic fertilizer derived from worm castings, kelp and guano.
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Why You Shouldn’t Use Regular Fertilizer for Hydroponics?
Regular fertilizers are packed with salts and fillers that keep the nutrients stable and easily available for plant roots.
But, repeated application of the soil fertilizer can result in nutritional imbalance, salt buildup and flower drop in hydroponic plants.
It is enticing to grow plants without soil. But, using the same bag of garden fertilizer to enrich hydroponic plants can be ruin plant growth.
Regular fertilizers, which has an arsenal of essential nutrients required for plant growth, can hold potential pitfalls for your precious hydroponic plants.
Below listed are the reasons why it is not recommended to use common fertilizer to enrich hydroponic plants:
Regular fertilizers are packed with primary and secondary nutrients that are made to serve complex world of garden soil, where the plant have uninterrupted supply of nutrients from various sources.
While hydroponic system is more of a controlled environment. Using regular fertilizer may create imbalance of nutrients and can affect plant growth.
Regular Fertilizer and Salt Build-up
Salts and fillers housed in fertilizers helps to stabilize nutrients, improve its flow and prevent clumping.
Frequent use soil fertilizers overtime can result in salt buildup in hydroponic system. Excess salt buildup eventually results in stunted plant growth.
It can also clog liners and pipes, turning your system a gurgling mess which was once efficient.
Regular Fertilizer Can Cause Flower Drop
Nutritional management is the trickiest part of growing hydroponic plants. Flower drop may occur due to several factors including inconsistent nutrient supply, inadequate micronutrients and over-fertilization.
As hydroponic plant roots are in direct contact with the water, adding highly concentrated fertilizers can burn delicate roots and hinder plant’s ability to uptake nutrients.
Increased EC levels
EC called as “Electrical conductivity” in hydroponics refers to measure nutrients in the water.
For a healthy plant growth, it is important that you maintain ideal EC levels. Similar to over-fertilization, high levels of EC harm plant growth.
As regular fertilizers are packed with fillers and additives that may increase EC levels, it is not termed as safe for hydroponic plants.
Can I use soil nutrients in hydroponics?
If you’re transitioning from soil-based gardening to hydroponic, it might be tempting to use the regular soil fertilizer to hydroponics, but as mentioned earlier it is not recommended.
Hydroponic plants require a certain nutritional solution that is specially designed for it and which easily get dissolved in water.
You can purchase commercial hydroponic fertilizers from local store.
Soil nutrients are made to severe the complex world of soil-based plants. They may include high levels of nitrogen, which can result in nutritional imbalance.
However, University of Florida says you can use regular fertilizer to enrich greenies.
Important Tips While Fertilizing Hydroponics
Soil based plants can extract nutrients from various sources but hydroponic plants solely depends on nutrients in the water.
So, it is very essential that you regularly monitor EC levels, pH and nutrients in the water.
Without adequate nutrients supply, plant won’t thrive and your hydroponic journey won’t be as interesting as it should be.
- Based on the plant and its growth stage, choose the specific hydroponic nutrient solution.
- Stick to the dilution ratio recommended by the nutrient manufacturing company. It will avoid over-fertilization and ensures the plant gets its share of nutrients.
- Regularly monitor EC levels. This helps to measure the number of nutrients and salts dissolved in the water.
- Regulate pH as most plants opt for alkaline pH.
- To remove excess salt, it is recommended that you regularly flush the hydroponic system.
- Ensure proper aeration of the nutrient solution to provide an adequate oxygen supply to plant roots.
- Consider environmental factors like temperature, humidity, and light intensity, which can influence nutrient uptake.
- Adjust nutrient concentrations accordingly to optimize plant growth under varying conditions.
Most important avoid using regular fertilizers.
In rare cases you can use regular fertilizer for hydroponics, but it is not recommended.
Frequent use of soil fertilizer can trigger nutritional imbalance, salt buildup and flower-drop in plants.
Regular fertilizers are made to serve the nutritional needs of soil based plants. That can’t fit in the controlled growing environment of hydroponic system.
Instead, you should opt for nutrient solution specially designed for hydroponic plants.
While fertilizing hydroponic plants you should consider the growth stage of the plant and the recommended ratio labeled on the product.
Over-fertilization, inaccurate measuring of fertilizer, ignoring nutritional imbalance and using soil-based fertilizers are common fertilizing mistakes of hydroponic system.
Khaja Moinuddin, a computer science graduate, finds joy in gardening and homesteading. Join him on this blog as he shares his experiences in homesteading, gardening, and composting