The Best Hydroponic Nutrients for vegetables
How do choose hydroponic nutrients for vegetable plants?
First, you need to know how much of each nutrient your plants need. Then, you should be sure if they can use them in a liquid or dry form. As a beginner grower, you should have detailed instructions from someone who successfully grows vegetables using hydroponics.
- Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient – The best nutrients for DWC
- General Hydroponics – The best DRY hydroponic nutrients
- Advanced Nutrients Bloom – The best hydroponic nutrients for TOMATOES
- GH5100 General Organics – The best ORGANIC hydroponic nutrients
- General Hydroponics Fertilizer Set –The best hydroponic nutrients for LETTUCE
If you are new to gardening, you should not do this. You need to measure the nutrients carefully and add them to the water in your reservoir.
Commercialized hydroponic formulations can be strong and might make your plants die or not grow.
TOP Rated Hydroponic Nutrients – Reviews
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Plant Nutrient Deficiency
Homemade hydroponic systems are especially susceptible to a plant nutrient deficiency. It is all too easy to ‘forget your count’ when adding teaspoons of nutrient mix to water and accidentally ‘short changing’ the plants.
I know this from experience … In fact, I had to learn this the hard way when running my first hydroponics system. After changing my nutrient water my once-thriving plants slowly started showing dark green leaves with splotches and all the lower leaves which started turning yellow.
Of course, I had no idea what was going on. First I thought some pest found my plants but could not find any indications of one. Next, I thought ‘disease’ but really couldn’t find a match for the symptoms.
Finally, I realized the problem began right after changing the nutrient water so I changed it once again, being careful this time, and my plants slowly turned healthy. What I had was most likely a phosphorus and nitrogen plant nutrient deficiency.
When you build your system and something like this happens maybe you will be a little better prepared than I was. That is the reason for the following table showing symptoms of plant nutrient deficiency, nutrient by nutrient.
|Nitrogen||Leaves turn a very light color and start to turn yellow starting at the base of the plant first. Plants’ growth slows dramatically.|
|Phosphorus||Leaves turn a dark green or grey with blotches. Long-term deficiency results in poor root formation.|
|Calcium||New leaves never develop and stay small and dry. Long-term deficiency stunts growth and causes poor root formation.|
|Magnesium||Leaves turn yellow and develop brown spots but leaf veins stay green. Buds do not develop.|
|Potassium||Leaves turn brown with dark splotches then yellow and they curl up.|
|Sulphur||Leaf veins turn yellow and leave become very dark near the stem of the plant.|
|Boron||Stems become torn with brown tips and leaves become spindly.|
|Iron||Leaves dry out and turn crinkly while veins stay green.|
|Manganese||Leaves develop a mottled appearance and growth virtually stops.|
|Zinc||The growth rate of plants slows or stops entirely.|
|Copper, Molybdenum, and other trace elements||Leaves turn dark brown and fall off.|
Here is a recipe to create your own hydroponic plant nutrients mix. I have not personally tried this recipe so I can make no guarantees as to whether it will work or not. Make it and use it at your own risk – or should I say at the risk of your plants… Use it at 1 t per gallon of water. In any event here it is:
|Potassium Nitrate||9||255||An ingredient in gunpowder; also called Saltpeter|
|Calcium Sulphate||7||198||Plaster of Paris|
|Magnesium Sulphate||6||170||Epsom Salts|
|Ammonium Sulfate||1.5||43||The principal source of Nitrogen in the recipe|
|Iron Sulphate||–||—||Use a pinch only; maybe 1/2 t|
Here’s another one…
|Chemical||Dry Ounces||Grams||Nutrient Added|
|Potassium Sulphate||4||113||Potassium, Sulphur|
|Super Phosphate||5||142||Phosphate, Calcium|
|Magnesium Sulphate||3.5||100||Magnesium, Sulphur|
Mix all ingredients very well and store in an air-tight container. When needed use ‘1 t’ for each gallon of water. In the table below the following apply: ‘1 teaspoon = 1 t’, ‘1 tablespoon = 1 T’ and I calculate ‘1 t’ to be equal to 10 grams. Be careful with your measurements or you could very well create a mixture toxic to your plants. As for trace elements, these are usually accidental by-products of commercial fertilizers so here is another recipe solely for trace elements:
|Manganese Sulphate||1 t|
|Boric Acid powder||1 t|
|Zinc Sulphate||.5 t|
|Copper Sulphate||.5 t|
Mix together well and store in another air-tight container. When needed add ‘.5 t’ to 1-quart water and mix well. Add 1 liquid oz of this solution to 3 gallons of your plant nutrients solution from above.
Sources containing hydroponics information on plant nutrition and plant biology will cite each specific nutrient and explain, in detail, what it does.
Don’t worry, that is not my intention here… but it is necessary to understand in a basic way what each nutrient is good for to gain a better understanding in how you pick or mix your own nutrients. The following table does just that:
|Potash||The same as potassium. Used to help with the assimilation of energy resulting from photosynthesis.|
|Nitrogen||Needed for stem and leaf growth and used for other basic functions as well.|
|Phosphoric Acid||Used in the development of flowers, fruits, and plant roots.|
|Calcium||Helps root growth and aids in the absorption of potassium.|
|Magnesium||Help spread phosphorus throughout a plant and is an essential part of chlorophyll.|
|Sulphur||Increases a plant’s sensitivity toward phosphorus letting it work more efficiently and used in the production of glucose.|
|Boron||No one really knows what it does but it is needed in small quantities by plants.|
|Copper||An essential part of chlorophyll production.|
|Iron||Also essential in chlorophyll production.|
|Manganese||Helps a plant absorb nitrogen.|
|Molybdenum||Helps plants use nitrogen.|
|Zinc||Aids the essential functions of a plant.|
A typical Hydroponics Fertilizer Mix
When growing plants without soil, they must be fed with a hydroponics fertilizer which is a different mixture than what is contained in a ‘soil garden’ fertilizer.
Plants in a dirt garden need certain trace elements which can be commonly found in soil almost anywhere – therefor most commercial garden fertilizers do not include these elements in their fertilizer mix. Such elements include calcium, magnesium and sulphur, to name a few.
Here is a sample list of a good fertilizer mix with the percentage of each chemical in the mix.
If you do your own comparison of the above mix with a soil garden fertilizer you may find different chemical names from above – such as Phosphate and Potassium.
Phosphate is a salt of Phosphoric Acid so in this situation both of these chemical names can be viewed as equivalent. The same applies to Potash and Potassium. Potash is really potassium carbonates mixed with potassium salts.
So I must stress, once again, that if you do not use a fertilizer specifically made for hydroponics, you are asking for trouble. Of course, those of you may wish to experiment with your own mixtures.
A sample mixture could be made from a combination of ‘Miracle Gro’ powder supplemented with some extra chemicals to make a good mix… or a garden fertilizer supplemented with some extra chemicals.
Later I will compare what is found in ‘Miracle Gro’ with my hydroponics nutrient mix.
Hydroponic Nutrients vs Soil Garden Fertilizers
This page will compare a typical hydroponic nutrients fertilizer blend with three commercial fertilizers for soil gardens. The comparison is between my ‘generic coverage’ brand of the hydroponic nutrient mix, ‘Miracle Gro’ in powder form, ‘Miracid’ which is basically ‘Miracle Gro’ for acid-loving plants, and ‘Osmocote’ which is a special blend for vegetable bedding and early propagation. You may find this to be rather interesting…
|Element||Hydroponic Blend||Miracle Gro||Miracid||Osmocote|
With the exception of some missing elements, the 3 commercial blends aren’t too far off from the hydroponics nutrients mix – but they are ‘off’ enough to mean the difference between success and failure when growing hydroponics plants.
So… if you do not choose to use a commercial blend of hydroponic fertilizer nutrients then the next best would be to mix your own. It would certainly be possible to measure and add in the missing elements to get a balanced hydroponic fertilizer but not advisable – that is a science all its own.
The Best nutrients for dwc
Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio Soil Formula – Big Bloom, Grow Big, Tiger Bloom Pint Size (Pack of 3)
Big Bloom Plant Food concentrate is ideal for all flowering and fruiting plants. This product will make your indoor or outdoor space shine brighter than a field of daffodils with its nitrogen boost to give you an even, lush canopy of leaves that covers the ground like the nestle chocolate bunny on Easter morning.
-This potent formula streamlines the growth process so your time spent in gardening will produce delicious harvests day after day, week after week, month after monotonous month.
-Perfectly formulated for vegetables, fruit trees, vines and ferns Big BLOOM plant food contains thirteen essential elements including micronutrients as well as hormones to create a flourishing medium where everything explodes like an Amazonian
The Best dry hydroponic nutrients
General Hydroponics 718281+718301 Maxigro and Maxibloom Fertilizer, Each 2.2 lbs
Maxigro and maxi bloom are stand-alone, water-soluble fertilizers with a high rate of growth stimulants. Once applied to the soil, Maxigro will provide superior results when used with a wide variety of crops in all hues. Use for years without any side effects as long as the directions were followed or else there may be trouble!
The Best hydroponic nutrients for tomatoes
Advanced Nutrients Bloom, Micro & Grow, Pack of 3, 1 L Each
This is not just some 3-in-1, this is a three-part nutrient system designed specifically and scientifically for high-value plants. Low PH levels will never be a problem with these state-of-the-art carrier molecules that deliver more nutrients to your plant.
You have everything you need in these 3 packages: The Advanced Nutrients Bio Bloom, Micro & Grow. Guaranteed lush sturdy growth from one trusted nutrient company that has been growing green solutions since 1994!
The Best organic hydroponic nutrients
General Hydroponics GH5100 General Organics Go Box GH,Black
Organic food producers are the bee’s knees. No, really- these guys have been around since the earth was young- and they’re still doing what they do best: producing organic foods for people like you to enjoy. No pesticides or freaky chemicals here- just natural goodness that’s good for your body and mind! So whether you need lightning-fast delivery or some tasty recipes – these lovely folks make it happen on a daily basis.
Their newest product is the General Hydroponics GH5100 General Organics Go Box GH,Black which offers all of their premium biological plant foods in a convenient kit that includes everything someone needs to successfully grow happy plants minus any assembly required.
The Best hydroponic nutrients for lettuce
General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro Combo Fertilizer Set, 1 pint (Pack of 3)
Our flora series is the original building block nutrient system imitated but never duplicated. It contains complete primary, secondary, and micronutrients for enhanced yields and better crop quality.
You can adjust mixtures to suit specific plant needs with our carefully engineered flora line enhancing flavor, nutrition, aroma, and essential oils in both hydroponic or soil cultivated plants. But choose wisely because the flora series has some serious benefits as well. Scientists NASA choose it for their Antarctic research base simply because of its superior formulation and reliability.
They know that they’ll get everything they need from a single product line without any surprise ingredients lurking in other products on the store shelf
Plenty of other gardeners have made the wise decision as well–just ask your friendly neighborhood cultivation expert.
How to make hydroponic nutrients
These are my steps for a brand-new water change. This can be done in the DWC water reservoir or a separate container and then transferred to your water reservoir. I recommend having a second container the same size as your primary DWC container. This way you can swap containers, allowing you to clean one while the other is holding the plants and roots.
- Use cold tap water only. Hot water tanks are rarely cleaned and often have pathogens sitting in the water tank. You do not want this in your DWC system.
- If using distilled water add Cal-Mag (I wouldn’t bother with distilled water unless you tap water is very hard or you are on well water).
- If your groundwater is cold use a fish tank heater or immersion circulator to bring up to a minimum of 62F. Water below 60F will stunt the plants growth.
- Add nutrients. Use this nutrient calculator to determine the nutrient quantity.
- For Veg only: Add Silica to improve cell wall strength.
- Adjust pH to 5.50
- Record starting pH and EC in grow journal
How to mix water for hydroponic nutrients
- Always do a full water change if there is excessive organic matter (root fragments) floating around
- If the water/reservoir smells musty do a full change
- If your temps hover around the high end of the acceptable range (69-72F) you should do more frequent water changes
- If you have any signs of root-rot, do a full water change
- Do a full water change within 2 weeks of flipping to 12/12
- If possible sanitize the water reservoir with star-san when doing a full change.
NPK in fertilizers
Every package of fertilizer lists an NPK rating on the label. So what exactly does it mean? It is the percentage of Nitrogen (N), the percentage of Phosphorus(P), and of Potassium(K) found in that particular mixture of fertilizer; the ‘backbone’ nutrients found in all fertilizer. My hydroponics fertilizer shows “10-8-22” for an N-P-K rating meaning that by volume it contains 10% Nitrogen, 8% Phosphorus, and 22% Potassium. Since this adds up to 40%, it means that the remaining 60% of the fertilizer is made of inert compounds. This extra inert matter helps dilute harsh chemical nutrients in the fertilizer protecting plant roots.
So don’t take the rating too literally for it is really just a general guideline as to the potency of the fertilizer.
In fact, the same fertilizer in liquid form will have a lower overall N-P-K rating than it’s exact counterpart in powder form due to the fact that in liquid it is a little more diluted by volume and this rating is also misleading because it does not show any other nutrients at all such as the all-important trace elements.
For example, my favorite nutrient powder is 10-8-22 which seems rather low for a complete fertilizer when in fact it contains many other nutrients making it a complete fertilizer but you would never know this by the N-P-K rating alone. Another fertilizer with the same N-P-K may lack the other nutrients and would not be able to be used alone.
So, when checking the quality of fertilizer, use N-P-K as a very rough guideline and always check the actual percentage of all nutrients listed on the back of the package.
Guano for hydroponics
Guano has been used for centuries in South America as a plant fertilizer for it is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus. It is an Incan meaning ‘the excrement of seabirds’ but is now used to describe the excrement of seals and bats as well.
And it has become big business. In fact, a war was fought over its taxation in South America and it is becoming more and more important with each passing year because at current consumption levels, experts now predict the world’s resources of phosphorus used in commercial fertilizer to be depleted somewhere around 2036 leaving it as one of the few phosphorus fertilizers left.
So what exactly is it? It is the nutrient-rich excrement of seabirds such as the cormorant and pelican and is also gathered from seals and bats in South America.
It is collected from caves where it has not been broken down by sunlight and usually contains other organic materials such as bits of feathers or bones as well as beneficial bacteria and fungi that act as a fungicide protecting plants against disease.
Typically it contains somewhere around 6% phosphorus, 9% nitrogen, and 2% potassium (NPK rating of 9-6-2) which makes it one of the most nutrient-rich fertilizers you could buy (of course NPK ratings can vary widely by species and diet).
Commercially it is processed, aged and ready for instant use as a supplement in a dirt garden, conventional hydroponics, and organic hydroponics growing systems and is relatively cheap and readily available and is fast becoming a booming business.
For organic hydroponics, combine it with compost tea and seaweed extract for a complete fertilizer. I highly recommend it and suggest you give it a try.
Advanced nutrients vs General hydroponics nutrients
I’ve found that more is not always better. Take nutes for example. I had bought a 1-gallon jug of Dyna-Gro Grow Big, and when I saw the “dilute to mix” line on the label, I decided to cut it with tap water instead of distilled (which you’re supposed to use). The result was that my plants grew like weeds, but they were all short and squat with no internodal length. In addition, they were very stretchy and had delayed flowering times. And don’t even get me started on what happened after I accidentally spilled some of this nutrient/water mix onto my carpet; it almost immediately turned brown! Here’s what I did wrong: First, I was watering my plants with too much Grow Big, which caused them to grow like weeds. Second, I watered with it every time I watered my plants, no matter what the pH or TDS level was (which is way too often). Finally, I had used tap water instead of distilled. Since then I’ve started watering with a weaker nutrient solution and giving the plants more time before watering again.
1.) Dyna-Gro Nutes: The main difference between these and other nutes is that these are made from organic sources such as bat guano! Bat guano is one of the few things that can produce large amounts of growth hormones in plant tissue because it contains so many nutrients and is naturally very high in nitrogen and phosphorous.
The only downfall of these nutes is that they are very high in phosphorus, which if left un-checked can lead to a condition known as “pinching”. This occurs because there’s too much nitrogen and potassium (N&K) for the plant so it stops growing upwards and starts focusing on building up more leaves instead. There are a few ways you can prevent this from happening, mainly by not using too much Grow Big or monitoring your pH very closely. Ideally, make sure your grow has an N:P ratio around 10:1 and don’t let your pH get above 7.0
2.) Advanced nutrients Big bloom & Tiger bloom: I have used these two products quite extensively with my DWC system; in fact, I used them in all but two of my plants for this grow. They come pre-mixed and have no’start numbers’, which means that you can just go ahead and use them without worrying about balancing your pH later on. Big Bloom is a nutrient with very high levels of potassium (K), phosphorus (P) and magnesium (Mg), so it should be used sparingly. However, unlike Grow Big it won’t pinch your plants if you use a bit too much of it, making big bloom an excellent choice for the flowering/budding phase of your plants life. Tiger Bloom is similar to Grow Big in that it has very high levels of nitrogen (N). In fact, Tige rbloom has a 30-0-0 ratio with no P or K, making it great for speeding up growth and increasing the size of your colas. The only thing that some people don’t like about advanced nutrients is that they aren’t completely organic, but if you take good care of your plants you won’t have any problems!
3.) General hydroponics Flora series: These nutes are very similar to Advanced Nutrients in their nutrient ratios and I’ve heard a lot of positive things about them. They come in packs just like Dyna-Gro’s grow big does, so there’s less chance of overdosing your plants by mixing too much. And t here are less expensive than advanced nutrients as well, which is always nice!
4.) Fox Farm nutrients: These nutes are very similar to Advanced Nutrients, but their Flora line comes in smaller bottles with less volume to them. Another thing that I don’t like about this product is that it has two of the same ingredients as Grow Big (Mycorrhizae and humic acids), which just seems kind of redundant to me!
5.) Botanicare Hydroguard & Pure Blend Proteins : These are organic-based nutes that are made from “natural” sources such as kelp meal, fish emulsion and a few others. The only problem with these is that if you have well water you might get some buildup within your plant’s root structure because they’re not water soluble and they’re very powerful nutrients. Personally though, I’ve never had any problems with them. One thing to note is that you can use them in all 3/4 of your plants life cycle because they don’t contain magnesium (Mg), phosphorus (P) or potassium (K)
6.) House & Garden nutrients: The main problem with these nutes is that the come separately and need to be mixed together before you feed them to your plants, so if you’re new at growing this may not be a good choice for you! That being said, there’s nothing wrong with this nutrient line as it contains large amounts of trace minerals which help strengthen the plant against diseases such as root rot. Also, mixing it yourself gives you the ability to easily tweak your nutrient ratios as you go, which can be useful if you have a sick plant that needs more P and K or something like that.
Another thing I really liked about these nutes is how they smell, if you’ve ever used them before then you know what I’m talking about!
7.) The Fox Farm duo: This is my favorite starter because it contains all 5 of the major nutrients (N-P-K-Ca & Mg) each in 1/2 cup measurements, so there’s less chance of mistakes when mixing up new batches. Also, it doesn’t contain any trace elements or secondary nutrients which are usually needed in small amounts anyways. Fox farm duo is mainly geared towards soil growers, but it can be used in hydro as well. One thing to note is that Fox farm products have a tendency to create soft, watery soil (or in this case media), which can lead to root problems if you don’t pack the holes your plants are growing in
8.) Water soluble nutrients: These nutes usually come as a separate solution from your water and need to be mixed together before you feed them to your plants. This makes tit very easy for beginners because there’s less chance of over or under feeding your plants, however they do cost more money than the “mix-ins-water” types do. Also, some people find it easier on their back having to mix 2 solutions instead of just throwing all 4 nutrients into the reservoir.
9.) Peaceful valley brand: This is a great product for beginner growers because it comes in small, easy to use bottles with clear instructions on how much you should use per gallon of water and how often to feed your plants! One big downside is that it tends to make your soil (or rootzone) very soft, so if you have an older or sick plant then this might be a bad choice for you since they’ll probably have problems taking up nutrients properly without good roots!
10.) General hydroponics FloraMicro : Unlike most other 3-part nutes which contain both major and minor nutrients, this bottle contains only micro nutrients like magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), sulfur(S), and iron (Fe)
The main advantages of using this brand is that it’s made by General hydroponics, which means that you can easily get more nutrients from them if you need to. Also, these nutes are water soluble so they’re easier on your back and don’t require mixing together before feeding like the “mix-in-water” type do. The only downside to this product is the price, but since you have 2 or 3 different nutrient bottles with some brands, it’s not really an issue in my opinion!
11.) Fox farm trio: This grow formula contains a mix of major nutrients (N-P-K), secondary nutrients (Mg & Ca), as well as Mycorrhizal fungi, which are a VEGAN alternative to fish emulsion and other animal-based products that claim to help your plants growth. This is my favorite all-around beginner nutrient because it’s got everything you need in 1 bottle and it works fast! The only downside is the price…it costs more than some of their other nutrients but there’s a reason for that: It works better!
12.) Tiger Bloom: This grow formula is made specifically for fruiting / flowering plants like tomatoes, peppers, fruit & nut trees etc. This means that if you’re planning on growing herbs or something else edible then this probably isn’t the best choice since these types of plants have different nutritional needs from veg-only plants during flowering. As far as a fast-acting nutrient goes, this stuff is going to work very quickly and give you results in about 3 days or less. The upside here is that it’s cheap & easy to use, but as previously stated these types of products are geared towards flowering plants only so if you’re just growing veg then you might be wasting your money!