Hydroponic Nutrients For Beginners

Thomas Angas by Thomas Angas | Last Updated: April 27, 2020

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While hydroponic nutrients might seem intimidating at first, once you get your head around the basics then it’s actually pretty easy to understand.

To make things even easier, we’ve given a quick cheat sheet within the “How To Pick The Right Hydroponic Nutrients” that you’ll read later on.

So without further ado, let’s get started!

a picture of hydroponic nutrients in a test tube

Understanding Hydroponic Nutrients

If you’re new to hydroponic nutrients then you might be tempted to feel overwhelmed thinking you need a PHD to understand the complexities of nutrients. Well, I’m here today to tell you that this is certainly not the case. As you’re about to see it’s actually incredibly simple with only a few concepts to get your head around.

Basic Nutrients

We start with those things that are essential for your plants to grow, these are:

The good news is that these nutrients don’t need to be added to your system as your plants will absorb them from the air and water.

Macro Nutrients

Up next are the macronutrients which are nutrients that your plants need in large quantities and help promote growth.

Nitrogen (N)

Nitrogen is without a doubt the real superstar when it comes to your plant’s development including the development of leaves, stems and Chlorophyll which help the plants absorb light.

Additional nitrogen is used during the growth stage of the plant’s development before it starts to flower or bear fruit.

There are some telltale signs that a plant is lacking in nitrogen with the most obvious being that leaves look yellow rather than green and it’ll start to lose lower leaves.

You can also have too much nitrogen in your hydroponics system. This is much harder to detect as it’s not very obvious – the clearest sign is that your plant will struggle to flower or bear fruit.

Phosphorus (P)

Phosphorus is another essential nutrient that’s necessary for the development of your plants and like nitrogen, phosphorus is used in the early stages of development and helps promote the growth of:

You can tell when a plant is deficient in phosphorus as the plants won’t be as tall as expected and the leaves will be extremely weak. It’s extremely difficult to tell when a plant has had too much of the nutrient as one of the main problems is that too much phosphorus stops your plants absorbing other nutrients so it’s easy to believe that your plant is deficient in them rather than has too much phosphorus.

Potassium (K)

Next up we have Potassium – another of the nutrients our plants need in large quantities to help with their development and reproduction. Unlike other nutrients, potassium doesn’t form compounds in plants but rather it helps with the development of everything from photosynthesis to enzyme activation.

You can normally spot a deficiency as your plants will have yellow leaves, while the effects of having too much potassium are very similar to those of phosphorus.

Calcium (Ca)

Calcium is used by plants to develop cells and help with development.

Sulfur (S)

Sulfur is used to create proteins.

Magnesium (Mg)

Finally, Magnesium is used by your plants during photosynthesis to create oxygen.

Micro Nutrients

Micro nutrients are still crucial for your plants development, however, they aren’t needed in such large quantities compared to macro nutrients.

Zinc (Zn)

Zinc is an excellent micro nutrient to add to your system as it helps plants process nitrogen. Zinc is also used in the development of chlorophyll.

Boron (B)

Boron is used by the plant to help process calcium which helps to aid in the development of cell membranes.

Iron (Fe)

Iron is used by your plants to form chlorophyll and help with photosynthesis.

Manganese (Mn)

Finally, we have Maganese which is used during photosynthesis to produce oxygen.

How To Pick The Right Hydroponic Nutrients

When it comes to hydroponic nutrient solutions you have a couple of options – you can mix your own formulas or you can purchase pre-mixed solutions such as those featured in our guide to the best hydroponic nutrients.

When you buy pre-mixed hydroponic nutrients you’ll see percentages listed for the 3 most important nutrients contained within the solutions – these are usually Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K) and the normal ration is 10% / 10% / 10% with the remaining 70% made up of water and micro nutrients.

What you’ll find is that you can buy 3 part solutions where the ration will change depending on which stage of development your plant is in.

The Bottom Line

So there you have it, our guide to hydroponic nutrients. Hopefully, this has now given you the confidence to start adding nutrients to your system as and when needed.

Thomas Angas, the founder of Authority Gardening lives with his wife and two darling pups. He spends his free time writing, hiking and learning how to become a better gardener. He launched Authority Gardening in 2017 to help people all over the world their gardens grow.