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Know your Plant's Nutrient Needs


This is Part 4 of an 8-part series on becoming a Hydro Pro:

Nutrients are very important for plants. They are the ones responsible for your plants' lush green leaves, beautiful flowers, and fresh yields.

Needless to say, having too much or too little nutrient concentration will greatly affect your plants' growth and yields.

In this episode, we will discuss everything you need to know about nutrients.

So get your reading glasses on and let start learning about plant nutrients.

Kinds of Plant Nutrients

There are two main categories when it comes to the elements or nutrients that plants essentially needs. They are the non-mineral nutrients and mineral nutrients.

Non-Mineral Nutrients

These nutrients are found in air and water and help plants breakdown the other nutrients it needs. These are:

  • H - Hydrogen
  • C - Carbon
  • O - Oxygen

Mineral Nutrients

Mineral nutrients, on the other hand, are found in the soil. As for hydroponic set-up, it is included in most nutrient packages. These nutrients are further subdivided into two categories - the macronutrients and micronutrients.

The macronutrients are the following:

N - Nitrogen - this element is vital for our plants as it promotes:
- Chlorophyll production (the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis)
- Rapid plant growth
- Fruit production
- Leaf production
K - Potassium - is also important as this element has the largest absorption rate in plants. It also helps in:
- Photosynthesis process
- Maintaining fruit quality
- Reduce the chance of disease
P - Phosphorus - this element is an essential part of photosynthesis. It is involved in the formation of
  • sugars
  • oils
  • starches
... and also encourages fruit growth.


Secondary Macronutrients

Ca - Calcium - this element is responsible for cell wall structure and determines the overall strength of the plants
Mg - Magnesium - a part of chlorophyll and activates many enzymes needed for growth.
S - Sulfur - also plays an important role in plants growth. It is essential in the following areas:
- Production of proteins for plant food
- Development of enzymes & vitamins
- Photosynthesis
- Root growth
- Resistance to cold


These nutrients are consumed by plants in a much smaller quantity but none the less important. They are the following:

B - Boron
Cu - Copper
Fe - Iron
Cl - Chloride
Mn - Manganese
Mo - Molybdenum
Zn - Zinc

How to Use Nutrient Solutions

Now, for the second part of this episode, we will discuss the step by step process of using a nutrient package for your hydroponic grow system

Supplies that You’ll Need

  • Hydroponic System
  • Nutrient Solution Instructions
  • Nutrient Solution
  • PH Testing Kit
  • TDS Pen
  • Measuring Instruments

Let's jump right into step one!

Adding Nutrients to Your Grow System

1. In adding nutrients to your grow system, the very first step is determining if your water is suitable for indoor gardening. Do not forget to test the PH level and determine the TDS level.
2. Pour water to your reservoir. In doing this step, it is important to the ratio of the water vs the nutrient recipe.
3. Meticulously review your instruction material. Remember, missing out a step or misinterpreting it could have detrimental effects to your plants.
4. Always properly dilute your nutrients individually. Do not premix them as it may alter the desired effects. It is recommended to use 75% strength of these nutrients to avoid having unmanageable TDS level in your reservoir.
5. Once you have added all the nutrients in your reservoir, always, always test the PH level. The introduction of nutrients in the water can greatly affect its ph level. Example, if the water has too much alkaline, can result to fail and sickly plants and if it is too acidic, it may result to slow growth and small plants.
Moreover, it is important to check your PH level frequently. Plants absorb elements in different rates causing the PH level to fall out of range. A good rule of thumb is to check every day or every couple of days.
6. Aside from the PH level, it is also imperative to check your reservoir's TDS level every now and then. Take note that in each stage of plant growth, a plant’s nutrient needs also varies, for example a small plant will need low nutrient concentration as compared to matured and big plants.
Recommended TDS level (part per million)
200 - 400 Developing Plants
600 - 800 Vegetative
800 - 1200 Mature Flowering Plants


What to do in case TDS levels are too high?

Simple! Just add a PH conditioned water to dilute the solution.

Water and Air Temperature

Do not forget to consider the water and air temperature. The temperature is going to dictate how much each of the minerals is being absorbed through the roots. The temperature will affect the effectiveness of the solution.

Always keep the temperature in the ideal zone (78F - 83F or 26C - 28C).

Nutrient Overdose and Deficiencies

A nutrient overdose or deficiency happens when your plants have had too much or too little nutrients.

Nutrient Overdose

Nutrient overdose is quite easy to detect as it involves yellowing or crisping at the tip of the leaves. If this occurs, simply add PH conditioned water to your reservoir to dilute the solution.

Nutrient Deficiency

Now, this is a little bit harder to diagnose because the visible symptoms of many deficiencies are similar. If you are not careful in diagnosing these deficiencies, it may result to inappropriate corrective action, thus worsening the situation.

Major Nutrient Deficiency

Here are the characteristics of plants whose is experiencing major nutrient deficiency.

Nitrogen Deficiency

  • Pale green-yellow leaves
  • Not enough chlorophyll
  • Symptoms begin in lower leaves
  • Very slow growth

Potassium Deficiency

  • Brown scorching & curling of leaf tips
  • Chlorosis - yellowing between the leave veins
  • Possible purple spots
  • Plant growth, root development, seed & fruit development are greatly reduced

Phosphorus Deficiency

  • Purplish blue tinge
  • Stunted growth
  • Small and potentially foul tasting, smelly fruits & veggies

Magnesium Deficiency

  • Chlorosis
  • Leaves have a marbled appearance
  • Symptoms appear in older leaves
  • Necrosis & dropping of older leaves
  • Produce very small fruits and flowers

Calcium Deficiency

  • New growth is affected first
  • Localized tissue necrosis or brown crisp spots
  • Severe cases will show curling of leaves
  • Death of root tip
  • Lead to stunted discolored, bitter, fruits, and vegetables

Sulfur Deficiency

  • Uniform pale green chlorosis
  • Pale vein, do not retain a green color
  • Severe cases, purple or reddish pigmentation
  • Severe stunting, reduce size, less branching

It is extremely unlikely that you will face deficiency in micronutrients since plants only need them in small parts.

I hope you had fun learning about nutrients! Stay tuned for our next episode when we discuss the plant’s vegetative stage.

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