Have you ever wondered how to grow plants without depending on weather conditions or soil peculiarities? This is a popular question that finds the answer in hydroponics – the special way of cultivating plants without the conventional ‘ground’ used as their homes. In this method, growth relies only on the nutrients you ‘feed’ this plant with.
Hydroponic nutrients are great helpers when it comes to nourishing
plants with the necessary elements for their healthy growth and development. Nutrient mixtures are available for purchasing and are quite handy to use, but there is one minus of utilizing ready-made solutions: you don’t get the real understanding of what a plant needs, what quantities of minerals you should supply, and how to mix such ‘power drinks’ in a correct way.
The truth is that every gardener can make a good hydroponic nutrient solution after some time of studying and practicing. For all of this to be both useful and enjoyable for you, we created this simple guide. Here we will tell you how to make a hydroponic mixture that meets all the requirements for the plant to receive maximum benefit.
If gardening is your passion, and you’re interested in ways to make a healthy growth cocktail and use this skill, later on, follow this step-by-step educational guide and get this valuable experience.
Before you start growing herbs, veggies, leafy greens, and flowers hydroponically at home, you’ll need to pick the right system to start with. Here are our suggestions: Our Picks for the 5 Hydroponic Bucket Systems and Our Picks for the 5 Grow Tent Kits with Buyer’s Guides.
What You Will Need to Follow This Tutorial
To facilitate the whole process, make sure you are equipped with the following instruments, which are an absolute must if you want an effective outcome:
- pH tester + set for pH adjustment
- Electric EC (Electrical Conductivity) meter
- Measuring cup or cylinder of appropriate size
- Stirring stick
- Accurate weighing scales (to the gram)
- Teaspoon (better stainless steel)
- Several mixing cups or other containers
- Any fertilizer soluble in water
- Clean (filtered) water
- Substances for pH adjustment (potassium hydroxide or phosphoric acid). For easier use, buy ready pH Up or pH Down solutions in the store.
Be careful, however, when adding water to activities in a mixing container. Add it in small amounts to avoid spilling over the brim and, on the other side, remember that water can be often absorbed by elements or turn to vapor. To avoid disproportions, only use drops of pure water if you see the water level reduce.
What Is Hydroponic Nutrient Solution?
A hydroponic nutrient solution is basically the liquid that contains essential nutrients to influence this plant’s root and stimulate growth.
To have a long lifespan and remain healthy, plants need a set of nutrients that are casually divided into macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are, as a rule, used in bigger concentrations and mainly include:
- calcium (Ca);
- magnesium (Mg);
- nitrogen (N);
- phosphorus (P);
- potassium (K);
- sulfur (S).
Essentials categorized as micronutrients cover:
- iron (Fe);
- chlorine (Cl);
- boron (B);
- manganese (Mn);
- zinc (Zn);
- copper (Cu);
- nickel (Ni);
- molybdenum (Mo).
Both element groups make a vital part of any hydroponic system and, although micronutrients are required in lower percentages, they are as vital for plant cultivation as macronutrients. To be effective, these elements must come in the right concentration and be soluble in the liquid with specifically defined parameters.
Hydroponic Nutrient Solution Recipe, or What Goes Into the Nutrient Solution for Hydroponic Systems?
As was already said, DIY nutrient solutions allow you to get more benefits, and it’s not just the knowledge of how to make it correctly. Another advantage is that a fresh-made mixture lets you adjust the solution according to the needs of plants and avoid some unwanted additives that are often found in store-bought mixtures.
The general composition of a nutrient solution requires calcium, nitrogen, and phosphorus in the form of salts. Mixed, they make the fertilizer’s base. As a result of this mixing, the elements get split into vital elements.
So, the basic salts we use for preparing the hydroponic nutrient solution include potassium and calcium nitrates, ammonium phosphate, and magnesium sulfate, otherwise known as Epsom salt.
Hydroponic Solution Formula for Different Plants: Using Hydroponic Nutrient Solution Formula Calculator to Get Precise Formulas
The recipe we share later in the article is a general one, consisting of very basic components. Still, the choice of elements may change, depending on the factors such as:
- Plant type
- Conditions this plant grows in (light, temperature, etc.)
- Growth stage
- Parts of the plant you need to grow (root, leaf, or fruit).
In this guide, we are focusing on hydroponic solutions for vegetables mostly. Since every plant logically changes its demands for nutrients and their quantity in every season, we have to drive our nutrient solution making with regard to these needs.
Most vegetables require stronger nutrient cocktails during cold months than warm ones since in summer they take up and transport more water.
Still, considering the stages of growth is an absolute necessity. During the vegetative phase, experts don’t recommend changing the nutrient correlation to guarantee smooth and healthy growth. This primarily concerns leafy greens and most herbs.
However, once the fruiting stage hits, you may adjust this ratio to balance the quick shift between vegetative and reproductive stages of growth because fruiting crops usually require more nutrients.
We strongly recommend you to use the hydroponic nutrient solution formula calculator, where you can take the basic recipe as your foundation and customize it according to the plant you cultivate, the initial pH of the water, etc. In the next few paragraphs, we will give pro tips on growing particular vegetables hydroponically.
Hydroponic Nutrient Solution for Tomatoes
The concentration of essential nutrients in a hydroponic nutrient solution for tomatoes must be regulated depending on the stages of the growth cycle. What makes such nutrient solution recipes special for tomatoes is that, as fruit crops, the veggies don’t need high levels of nitrogen in comparison to leafy greens.
The widely accepted formula of microelements for cultivating tomatoes is the following:
- Chlorine – 0.85
- Copper – 0.05
- Boron – 0.44
- Iron – 2.5
- Manganese – 2.62
- Zinc – 0.09
- Molybdenum – 0.06
All element concentrations are measured in PPM – parts per million, or mg/L – milligrams per liter.
Don’t forget to make changes in the microelements concentration after tomatoes exceed 60 cm in height and their fruits grow to 1-1.5 cm in diameter.
When the light exposure is increased, which typically happens in the summer months, make sure you top up the amount of nitrogen. And vice versa, when the light is rare, like in winter and fall, increase the level of potassium.
Electrical conductivity is another essential parameter to look at. It shows the correlation of nutrients in the formula to the water and is measured in mS/cm (milliSiemens a centimeter) by the EC meter. For tomatoes, EC must be lower than 0.5 mS/cm. In case it is too high, water makes it drop.
PH required for the nutrient solution: 5.5-6.0.
Lettuce Hydroponic Nutrient Solution
You should be the most careful when supplying the lettuce with nutrients during its vegetative phase when it is most vulnerable to algae. So, here are the key requirements for the lettuce hydroponic nutrient solution that you might appreciate:
- pH level: 5.5-6.0.
- Keeping enough calcium and limiting direct sun exposure in the solution to prevent tip burn.
- Efficient aeration.
- Maintaining the right level of nitrogen for your lettuce type.
- Adjusting pH according to the growth phase (6.4 for seeds and 6.0 for older plants).
- Ensuring cool air temperature: 45-70 degrees.
Hydroponic Cucumber Nutrient Solution
Cucumbers are one of the easiest plants to cultivate in the hydroponic environment where it gets enough moisture, warmth, and nutrients and effortlessly brings impressive crops. It is, however, advised to pay attention to these peculiarities:
- pH level for cucumber nutrient solution: 5.0-6.0
- Concentrations of nitrogen can be lowered once the plant reaches the flowering phase. Instead, increase the level of potassium and phosphorus in the nutrient solution to make sure the flower develops as intended. Potassium concentration should be 50% higher than nitrogen’s concentration in the fruiting stage.
- Cucumbers grow best when the temperature varies from 70 to 80 degrees during the day; however, to mimic outdoor conditions, you might try lowering the temperature by 10 degrees.
- They need enough space, so ensure that each cucumber patch is at least 60 cm apart from one another (better – about 1.5 m). It also depends on the type of cucumber you grow: container and bush sorts can live well, being less than a meter apart.
Hydroponic Strawberry Nutrient Solution
Strawberries need nutrient solutions that are rich in nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus to grow and thrive in the hydroponic surroundings. You should not forget to include increased amounts of vital micronutrients such as calcium, sulfur, and magnesium, as well as little higher concentrations of copper, cobalt, zinc, molybdenum, chlorine, and manganese.
Make sure you keep an eye on the following hydroponic system conditions:
- pH between 5.5-6.0.
- Electrical conductivity: 1.8-2.0 mS/cm during vegetative period and 1.8-2.5 mS/cm in its fruit stage.
- Low humidity.
- Enough light (12-16 hours).
- Temperature 65-75 degrees. Allowing a too hot or cold environment, you risk slowing down the strawberry’s growth.
- During the flowering stage, decrease nitrogen and increase phosphorus and potassium in your nutrient solution.
Hydroponic Strawberries: Other Peculiarities and How Much Growth Solution Is Needed per Given Amount of Water
Water requirements for strawberries also vary, depending on the growth stage. To determine how much nutrient solution you need to add to the water, we need to look at daily EC first.
The higher the EC – the fewer nutrients and the more water the plants take up.
What Hydroponic Solution Works Best for Basil
The most significant factors for a hydroponic solution for basil include:
- pH: 5.8-6.2, moderately acidic.
- Electric conductivity: 1.0-1.4 mS/cm varying from season to season (the last, fruit stage, in the cold season requires a higher EC).
- Light: at least 14 hours a day.
- Temperature: 65-80 degrees. A temperature under 55 will make the plant go black and perish.
Concerning micro and macronutrients, the requirements for nutrient solutions are rather simple since our main goal is basil’s vegetative stage. At this phase, we will just need to increase the proportion of nitrogen. Still, like most of the herbs, basil might need more calcium and magnesium.
How to Make Hydroponic Solution at Home: Hydroponic Solution DIY Made Easy
Step 1. Check your water’s pH level.
Take a small amount of filtered water into a container and check the pH according to the instruction (and the type of pH tester you’ve got). If you use filtered water, its pH varies from 5 to 7. Tap water with its 8 pH will create more difficulties when you want to stabilize it.
Step 2. Measure the nutrients and mix base salts.
To be precise, you will need to mix these salts in a container with water:
- Ammonium phosphate, 2 tsp
- Magnesium sulfate, 4 tsp
- Potassium nitrate, 4 tsp
- Calcium nitrate, 4.5 tsp
But first, make measurements with teaspoons, as suggested.
Every element in the recipe plays its own role in a plant’s development: phosphorus is essential for photosynthesis, magnesium and nitrogen are involved in chlorophyll formation, sulfur provides vital amino acids and proteins, while potassium and magnesium are responsible for generating starches and sugars.
Step 3. Mix salts with water.
After the salts are ready, take 35 liters of filtered water and add salts to it, just one kind of salt at a time. This procedure will need you to shake the container to ensure salts get mixed with the water well. As a result, you get the macronutrient solution.
Step 4. Add micronutrients (trace elements).
Use a separate container to dissolve 0.1 tsp of manganese chloride and 0.25 tsp of boric acid in 1 liter of water. Half a cup of this liquid should go to the ready macronutrient solution.
Once you’re done with this, mix 0.5 tsp of chelated iron with 1 liter of water in another container and use ⅗ of this mixture to add to the big container with macronutrients.
Organic Hydroponic Nutrient Solution: Is It Easy?
While there is no unanimous opinion about if hydroponic growing methods can be completely organic, today more and more enthusiasts and commercial organizations started to grow vegetables and fruits hydroponically.
This means no toxic substances like pesticides or fungicides are being used to produce crops. However, if you look at organic hydroponic solutions, you should know that this is not an easy road. Imagine switching to purely organic nutrient sources, which, for example, do not include calcium nitrate and other important elements. In this case, the risk for deficiency increases, so the greatest concern of organic hydroponic veggie cultivation is low levels of calcium and nitrogen.
How to Adjust pH in Hydroponic Solution
Step 5. Test the pH of the nutrient solution.
Once the solution is ready, don’t neglect to measure pH once again right after making it and after a few days. The best moment to test pH at this stage is in 15 minutes after the latest ingredient was mixed. For this, you just need a clean container to take 5-6 drops of your fertilizer and place them on the electronic pH meter.
Many pH meters show if pH is right by the color. We should aim at seeing the yellow liquid. If not, make adjustments by adding 1 ml of pH Up or Down per 3.7 liters of fertilizer until you see the testing liquid turn yellow in your pH meter.
If you want a simpler and more visual demonstration of preparing homemade nutrient solutions, check out this video.
Why No Light On Hydroponic Solution
Light exposure is a controversial topic within the area of hydroponics. The key takeaway for you is that when the nutrient solution gets exposed to the sun very much, it loses vital oxygen and in the longer perspective, ruins your plants. The good temperature that can easily be handled by your nutrient solution is 70 to 75 degrees (in the daytime).
Carefully monitor the temperature in the room where you store hydroponic nutrient solutions. Some proven ways to keep the cocktail cool include:
- Storing in cool places in the shade.
- Increasing the volume of your container with the solution.
- Use a chiller.
Ice packs or frozen bottles of water are also effective. They can save the solution if the temperature rises suddenly. Just add little ice cubes (gradually, not to shock the plant roots) to the reservoir with plants and let it reach the normal temperature.
How to Change Hydroponic Nutrient Solution
The key factor of your success is how often you change the nutrient solution and how it influences the whole hydroponic system. Hydroponic nutrients can last from 7 to 10 days in a clean system. So, within one hydroponic system, you should change the nutrient solution in this period of time or if you notice unhealthy signs such as bacterial contamination, withering, and yellowing of parts of plants.
If we speak globally about replacing the whole nutrient solution formula you’ve been using for some time, you should make a new one anytime there are changes in pH and EC. This is often accompanied by plant reactions like yellow or brown spots of the leaves or problems with newly formed species.
How to Maximize Nutrition Hydroponic Solution
As mentioned before, a few factors can make a profound impact on the nutrition hydroponic solution. These factors are temperature, light intensity, and relative humidity. But there are several things we can do to keep the solution fresh and beneficial for plants and get amazing crops.
A nutrient solution is quite a complex substance where we usually have 13-14 elements, the proportion of which decides what outcomes we get. As a gardener, you can change their correlation depending on the desired result. Here we will dwell on the method that we partially touched previously – changing proportions based on the growth phase.
So, the following proportions for 3.7 liters of water will make perfect formulas for three main growth stages:
1. Vegetative stage nutrient proportion.
6 g of calcium nitrate
2.42 g of magnesium sulfate
2.09 g of potassium nitrate
1.39 g of monopotassium phosphate
0.46 g of potassium sulfate
0.40 g of 7% iron chelated trace elements
2. Flowering stage nutrient proportion.
4.10 g of calcium nitrate
2.40 g of magnesium sulfate
2.80 g of potassium nitrate
1.39 g of monopotassium phosphate
0.46 g of potassium sulfate
0.40 g of 7% iron chelated trace elements
3. Fruiting stage nutrient proportion.
8.00 g of calcium nitrate
2.80 g of magnesium sulfate
2.40 g of potassium nitrate
1.70 g of monopotassium phosphate
0.39 g of potassium sulfate
0.40 g of 7% iron chelated trace elements
Chelated trace elements in this case include 7% iron (Fe), 2% manganese (Mn), 0.40% zinc (Zn), 1.30 boron (B), 1.10% copper (Cu), and o.o6 molybdenum (Mo). They are combined and added to the nutrition solution in a form of powder for maximum efficiency. Ph and EC should also be measured after this and adjusted if needed.
What is the best nutrient solution for hydroponics?
Both experienced and new gardeners can use products like General Hydroponics Flora Grow, featuring a set of fertilizers and containing purified concentrates. Other options include the same company’s Concentrated Blend of Calcium and Magnesium or Maxigro and Maxibloom Fertilizer, which show amazing results in saving plants from nutrient deficiencies and helping them through all growth stages.
What kind of water should be used to make a hydroponic nutrient solution?
It depends on whether you know the water in your region. If the PPM level and other parameters of tap water are okay, you can use tap water. In case you aren’t confident in it, use filtered water.
How do you make nutrient water for plants?
The procedure includes measuring and mixing ingredients for salts, mixing them with clean water of balanced pH, adding micronutrients, and testing the essential parameters – pH, EC, and PPM if necessary.
What chemicals do you need for hydroponics?
Calcium nitrate, potassium nitrate, magnesium nitrate, copper sulfate, and ammonium phosphate are absolute essentials among chemical substances to grow plants in a soil-free way.
What PPM should a hydroponic solution be?
PPM, or parts per million, indicates the concentration of nutrients in a reservoir, showing the number of mg per 1 liter. A good hydroponic nutrient solution should be no weaker than 800-1500 PPM based on the type of plant and growth phase. The PPM should be higher when the plant is about to bloom and give fruit.
When to use hydroponic rooter solution?
Rooter solutions are recommended to use if you want to speed up the rooting process and, despite common misbelief, can be applied right to the hydroponic system when the transplant is ready. They work effectively both in soil and water. We advise you to use routers together with your nutrient solutions but before adding them to the tray, let the rooter plug get soaked in the hydroponic nutrient mixture.
How to calculate nutrient quantity in hydroponic solution?
You can calculate the required proportions of nutrients specifically for your plants, both manually and automatically. The most convenient way to do it is to use a nutrient solution formula calculator to get the most accurate results.
Do I need to aerate the hydroponic nutrient solution?
Yes, it’s a good way to keep the mixture stagnant-proof. It also prevents bacterial contamination and makes the solution stay fresh longer, and transfer all the necessary nutrients to plants, so we absolutely recommend you do it.
How often do I need to change a hydroponic solution?
The substance of hydroponic nutrient solution should be changed every time you take notice of changes in pH, PPM, and EC, which means that the liquid no longer contains vital elements in the right concentration and its strength isn’t enough anymore.
Has this guide been useful for you? We hope you found the answers to the questions that bothered you concerning the DIY version of the hydroponic solution, and now you see how easy it is to create such a solution at home.
With this step-by-step tutorial, you can repeat the procedure again and again, every time you need a new nutrient solution and perfect your skills. Have you got any ideas or thoughts to share about homemade nutrient solutions? Feel free to air them in the comment section and share the article if you admire it.