Hydroponic Nutrient Guide

What plants require are still the same in any environment – organic compost (C, O, N, H), macro and micronutrients. However, plants grown hydroponically don’t have the similar ways to get the necessary nutrients they need.

What Plants Need

hydroponic vegetable

To survive and grow, plants need:

  • Oxygen
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Lights
  • Water
  • Nutrients

Plants get oxygen and carbon dioxide from the environment for respiration.

Lights supply plants with energy, which is used in the photosynthesis process to make foods. They get lights from the natural lights of the sun or artificial lights from grow bulbs.

Water gives plants moisture.

Nutrients in the water are what the soilless growers are in total control to let plants reach their full potential growth. They are what we are going to discuss.


As the name implies, Macronutrients are the ones that plants need in large amounts.

Nitrogen (N)

Nitrogen is the primary food for plant growth, especially the vegetative growth phase. No nitrogen, no leaves produced. Essentially, it plays the vital role in:

  • Leaf and stem growth. And its colors and sizes.
  • Chlorophyll, amino acids, co-enzymes and protein synthesis

Phosphorus (P)

Phosphorus is vital for photosynthesis and is one of the components of DNA, the genetic memory unit of plants, which is involved in seed production and plant vigor. Plants require Phosphorus in large amounts at the early phase of seedling, germination and flowering stage. So it is responsible for the formation of:

  • Seeds.
  • Roots.
  • Flowering.
  • Fruits

Potassium (K)

Potassium is used in all stages of plant growth. It helps synthesize sugar, starches, and carbohydrates. It also plays a certain role in the development of roots, stems, and flowers. Plants with sufficient Potassium have good resistance to bacteria and insects.

Calcium (Ca)

Fast-growing flowers and vegetables need Ca nearly as much as macronutrients. It is necessary for cell formation and development.

Magnesium (Mg)

Again, fast-growing plants also need Mg in large amounts. Mg is essential to chlorophyll production. It helps create the oxygen through photosynthesis and is recognizable in healthy and vigorous plants.

Sulfur (S)

Sulfur the components of 21 amino acid that form protein, many hormones, and vitamins, including vitamin B.

Micro Nutrients

Micronutrients are required in smaller amounts. Yet, they still play an important role in plant growth.

Zinc (Zn)

Zincs work other elements to form chlorophyll. Important for stem growth, and vital catalyst for most plants’ enzymes.

Manganese (Mn)

MN aids in nitrogen utilization along with iron in the production of chlorophyll.

Iron (Fe)

Needed for chlorophyll synthesis and is important to the enzyme system.

Boron (Bo)

Combined with Calcium in forming cell membranes, and chlorophyll

These are by no means a complete list of micronutrients. But take care of the macronutrients first, and don’t let plants get too deficient and excessive of these micronutrients, and you are going fine.

However, getting to know all the required nutrients that plants need are not enough. In reality, certain nutrients are only soluble at different pH levels, which are going to go into details.

How does pH affect nutrient availability?

pH and nutrient availability

The chart shows vital plant nutrients and the levels of pH to which plants can take up the nutrients.

As you can see, not all nutrients are available at the same pH level. Normally, macronutrients (N, P, K) are soluble in the middle of the lines. Meanwhile, micronutrients (trace elements) are available mostly in the pH middle level, and some are at the lower left end of the pH level.

You will notice that there is a sweet spot. That is a little left of the pH chart, namely from 5.5 to 6.5. So the good rule of thumb for plants to absorb necessary nutrients is to keep your solution at the above level.

How to Create/Mix a Hydroponic Nutrient Solution

Anyone entirely new to Hydroponics should start with a proven and already made nutrient package for your Hydroponic systems. If you want to save the time and want the nutrient step as simple as possible, sticking with the Hydroponic available nutrient products from your local store also makes sense. You can learn how to choose the best hydroponic nutrients for your system from our post.

If you accumulate some experiences, you can make your nutrient mix.

There are some recommendations when choosing the nutrient items from the market:

  • Get the nutrient designed specifically for Hydroponics. Nutrients for the soil are not the same as these for Hydroponics.
  • Choose the 3 part solution. You can create and mix different formula later for the different growth phase.

After you have mixed the nutrient solutions in appropriate dosage based on the manufacturer instruction, don’t forget to

  • Measure the pH level of your solution, and adjust it to the 5.5 to 6.5 level.
  • Check the nutrient mix temperature. Too high of the temps can cause plants’ death. Too low and it can stun plants’ growth. So keep it at 68 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Regularly check the pH level, the ppm of the nutrients in order to adjust it accordingly. Change the reservoir water and nutrient solution several times a month.
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