Growing vegetables, flowers, and herbs in a hydroponic garden is economical. You’ll save time, water, and effort. But just like for plants in soil, you need the best nutrients to achieve the biggest harvest possible.
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Hydroponic nutrients can present a challenge to a new grower because every component must be water-soluble. You can’t use the compost from your bin. You need nutrient solutions. That’s why we researched the best hydroponic nutrients and reviewed them in this article for you.
The Truth About Flavor: Do hydroponically-grown veggies taste different?
You may have heard that hydroponically grown vegetables have a bland flavor. If you’ve heard that supermarket veggies from commercial greenhouses are grown this way, it might make you reconsider growing your own at home. But remember that big commercial growers may be raising hybrids that are bred for the ability to ripen at a certain time, or look tasty in supermarket displays.
If you plant the same tomatoes in soil in an outdoor garden and hydroponically in an indoor garden, you probably won’t notice a difference between their flavors. The one thing that might make them taste a little different is the selection of nutrients you use to raise them. But don’t worry, you won’t have the bland flavor of mass-produced vegetables.
Can you make your own nutrient solutions?
You can brew your own nutrient solutions using compost and chemicals if you like, but this is not an easy task for someone new to hydroponics. One example is nitrogen, an essential building block for growing plants. You can get it from various sources like urea or even grass from your lawn. But you can’t just mix grass with water and feed your hydroponic garden. You need to create a nitrate solution.
It’s really much easier and quicker to use bottled solutions from a reliable manufacturer. You can purchase certified organic nutrients as well as other commercial kinds. They come with directions for mixing them with water and for appropriate doses depending on the growth stage of your plants.
Selecting the correct kinds of fertilizer according to growth stage
In the vegetative phase of growth, your plants will use a lot of nitrogen to grow tall and leafy.
As the plants start to flower or mature, you’ll stop feeding as much nitrogen. They will need more phosphorus and potassium, plus calcium and magnesium to bloom. Give them a ratio of approximately 15-30-30 for fruiting and flowering, as in 15 percent nitrogen to 30 percent each of phosphorous and potassium. All the products we chose for this review have directions for which solutions to use for different growth stages of a plant’s life. Plus, some of them are supplements to increase the yield of your crop.
Cautions for hydroponic gardens using nutrient solutions as fertilizer
There are a few things that novice growers may not know. Here are a few cautions or tips for you to have the best gardening experience possible:
- Temperature matters, but not just for the plants themselves. Plants will get more out of the nutrient solution you use and the water if both liquids are kept to between 68 to 72 degrees F.
- If temperatures get too high, algae may grow in your reservoirs. If they are too low, it shocks the plants every time they are fed.
- Keep your reservoirs and pots covered so parasites, disease, and algae don’t grow there.
- For best results using nutrients, find out how hard your water is in PPM. That will help you manage alkalinity and acidity.
- If you must use chlorinated tap water, leaving it sit out for 24 hours at room temperature will reduce the amount of chlorine in it.
- While metal may seem like a more durable material for a hydroponic garden system, don’t use it unless you know exactly how the metal will interact with the nutrient solution. Stick to plastic. You can buy hydroponic garden systems made with BPA-free food-grade safe materials.
- At the end of each harvest, clean every part of your system so no old nutrients get mixed in with new crops.
Now let’s dig into the best hydroponic nutrients for your indoor garden.
The best nutrients for healthy growth
General Hydroponics has some of the best products on the market, rich formulas that are safe to use on your herbs and designed to keep your emitters and irrigation lines clog-free. They have good instructions, too.
General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro Combo Fertilizer set, 1 Quart Each (Pack of 3)
General Hydroponics says in the advertisement for the Flora Fertilizer Set that scientists working in extreme places like an Antarctic station and on the International Space Station have used their nutrients to raise plants successfully.
The Flora Series is the base package you’ll need for your hydroponic garden. You can adjust the mixtures of nutrients in to suit your plants. FloraMicro is a mixture of nitrogen, potassium, and calcium. FloraGro builds root structure and helps during the vegetative stage. FloraBloom helps vegetables attain a larger weight and size and flower blooms to grow large and colorful.
You can get the Flora Series in various sizes of container, from pint, quart, and gallon, up to 55-gallon drum and 275-gallon monster drum.
Take a look at the FloraMicro quart bottle label here. It’s a 5-0-1 formula with 5% nitrogen, 1% soluble potash (a potassium derivative), and 5% calcium, plus other ingredients like boron, copper, cobalt, iron, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc. It does not contain phosphorous. General Hydroponics recommends not mixing FloraMicro with their other formulas in their undiluted form so that none of the ingredients cancel each other out.
Recommendations for mixing FloraMicro: Shake the bottle, then measure out the solution and mix it with pure, room-temperature water.
- Cuttings and seedlings need ¼-teaspoon per gallon of water
- For regular-speed growth in vegetative plants, add 1 teaspoon per gallon.
- For speedy growth, add 2 teaspoons per gallon.
- When the plant is ready to bloom or fruit, and while it’s blooming or producing fruit, add 2 teaspoons per gallon.
The recommended quantities for FloraGro and FloraBloom are different, so please consult their labels as well before using them.
General Hydroponics General Organics Go Box
If you like General Hydroponics so far, their Go Box is a convenient assortment of organic nutrients for almost every plant you can imagine growing. It comes with instructions plus a schedule to teach you how to use them. The box contains pint bottles of BioThrive Grow and Bloom and 8 ounce samples of CaMg+, BioRoot, BioWeed, BioBud, BioMarine, and Diamond Black. Each nutrient has a specific purpose.
For example, tomatoes need calcium to keep from getting a nasty disease called blossom end rot. The CaMg+ (or CALiMAGic) supplement protects tomatoes from that disaster.
But General Hydroponics isn’t the only brand in the business. Check out the next company below.
Fox Farm FX14049 Liquid Nutrient Trio Soil Formula: Big Bloom, Grow Big, Tiger Bloom (Pack of 3 – 32 oz. bottles)
Fox Farm’s three-pack of quart-size bottles lets you try out their Grow Big, Tiger Bloom, and Big Bloom formulas. Some customers have reported using these nutrients to raise medical cannabis with very positive results. That’s impressive because medical cannabis is grown under strict controls to achieve uniform results.
Fox Farm recommends beginning with Grow Big to encourage vegetation and leaf growth. Then when your flowers begin to fruit, switch to Tiger Bloom. You can use Big Bloom throughout the whole growth cycle as a supplement to raise your crop’s yield. Just be sure to filter Big Bloom for aeroponic systems so as to avoid clogs. Also note that Fox Farm recommends leaching your system every two weeks to keep everything clean and fresh.
Miracle-Gro 1001233 All Purpose Plant Food
Miracle-Gro says their formula is safe to use on all flowers, vegetables, trees, and shrubs. You only need to add it to their water once every week or two to see results. They say it won’t burn leaves when you mix and apply it according to directions.
Note that this is probably not the ideal nutrient for your hydroponic system unless you’re using the wick method. You might prefer the next product below.
Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Liquid Nutrients
Even better for a hydroponic setup is Miracle-Gro’s AeroGarden. It contains a mix of nitrogen, phosphate, calcium, and magnesium for quick growth.
Humboldt’s Secret Golden Tree
Humboldt’s Secret Golden Tree is a pint-size product that makes up to 250 gallons of nutrient solution when mixed with water. It hurries your plant through the vegetation stage to increase your harvest.
Humboldt recommends adding 2ml or less of nutrient to each gallon of water in your hydroponic reservoir. Mix in your base nutrient as well. Then make sure your mixture’s pH is between 5.5 and 6.5 before you feed your plants. This fertilizer works well with plants in Deep Water Culture and Aeroponics systems.
Humboldt also makes Base A and Base B, essentials to be used alongside Golden Tree, plus other supplements like Flower Stacker, Plant Enzymes, and CalMag & Iron.
Advanced Nutrients Bloom, Micro, & Grow
The big advantage of using this three pack from Advanced Nutrients is that it keeps your pH in balance automatically. (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check, just to be sure.) Besides the regular necessary ingredients, the formulas have amino acids and fulvic acid. Fulvic acid is found in humus, the very nutritious stuff that feeds plants in nature.
Follow the instructions from Advanced Nutrients to provide the right amount of nutrition. Generally, their Micro, Grow, and Bloom formulas are combined in a 1:1:1 ratio, in that order.
In conjunction with them, you can add in their other fertilizers to help your plants grow faster right from the start.
Advanced Nutrients B-52 Fertilizer Booster
Consisting of water-soluble hamates like hormones and vitamins, the B-52 fertilizer increases root growth and speeds up seed germination. It does well on moss in a hydroponic system.
Advanced Nutrients Overdrive Fertilizer
In the last phase of your plants’ growth, use the Overdrive Fertilizer from Advanced Nutrients to help your vegetables take in extra nutrients to gain more weight and size.
Botanicare PURE BLEND PRO Grow Soil Nutrient 3-2-4 Formula
Based on the original experimental blend created in the back of a gardening store in Arizona, PURE BLEND PRO nutrients are what launched Botanicare into popularity. They come in both 2-3-4 and 2-3-5 formulas.
The company has a lot of helpful information on their website including how to blend their products for best results based on the growing medium and hydroponic system you’re using. Their products aren’t hard to use, but they are targeted at advanced growers.
Botanicare Liquid Karma Plant Stimulant
Liquid Karma from Botanicare is a probiotic compound that has a mix of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium to accelerate plant growth. It can be used throughout a plant’s lifetime. Users say it works well in hydroponic systems with coco coir and peat.
Botanicare HYDROGUARD Bacillus Root Inoculant, 1-Gallon
Botanicare’s HYDROGUARD root inoculant uses Bacillus Amyloliquefaciens to speed up and protect root growth in hydroponic gardens. It protects against root rot without altering pH levels.
The Vitamino is packed with vitamins and nutrients to feed your plants once they are in the vegetative stage and through their fruit and flowering phases.
Botanicare HYDROPLEX Bloom Enhancer Plant Supplement 0-10-6 Formula
The HYDROPLEX formula from Botanicare is designed to create maximum flowering and fruiting for harvest time.
Nectar For The Gods Medusa’s Magic Plant Nutrient
Medusa’s Magic is the base nutrient in the Nectar for the Gods series. It has both calcium and iron plus organic acids, and it’s a 2-5-2 formula.
Nectar For The Gods is a company based in Oregon. They hand-craft their own brews of nutrients in a low-waste, eco-friendly way.
Nectar For The Gods 1-Quart Gaia Mania Nutrient for Home Gardeners
Gaia Mania from Nectar For The Gods is a 1-5-1 supplement nutrient contains organic acids, amino acids, calcium, and natural chelating agents.
Nectar For The Gods Athena’s Aminas for Plants
Athena’s Aminas is a 0.5-0-0 supplement formula with nitrogen in amino acid form.
Maxicrop Liquid Seaweed (Kelp Extract)
Liquid seaweed is an important supplement that you may choose to use with certain other base formulas. It provides plant hormones for healthy plant growth.
General Hydroponics FloraKleen QT – Mineral Salt Clearing Solution
Our last nutrient product isn’t a nutrient at all. It’s Flora Kleen from General Hydroponics. It’s the perfect way to flush out salts and clean up your hydro system without hurting your plants.
FAQs about hydroponic nutrients and hydroponics in general
Hydroponics isn’t as quick and simple as dropping seeds into a pot with soil, but it’s a fast and efficient way to grow plants up to five times as fast. Here are some things you may or may not know about using nutrients in hydroponic gardening.
Q: What is chelation?
A: Chelates are organic molecules like amino acids that form bonds with some metal ions so that the metal doesn’t react with other elements. This is very important when you consider liquid nutrients. If you want to add both sulfur and calcium to your solution, they would normally interact and form gypsum, an inert material that won’t feed your plants but will clog your drip lines. Humic acid and fulvic acid (also made from humus) are two common natural chelates you’ll see mentioned on nutrient labels. Sometimes you’ll see synthetic chelates like EDTA and DPTA, but those will break down when exposed to UV light, so they aren’t as good to use.
Q: Why would I want two reservoirs instead of just one?
A: You’ve heard about the pro hydro gardening trick of having two reservoirs—one with nutrient solution and another with plain water. Leaving tap water out to sit for a day or two dissipates the chlorine. Then you’ll have water ready for your next nutrient solution change.
Q: How often should I change my nutrient solution?
A: Most growers recommend changing the nutrient solution every week to two weeks. Use a TDS or EC meter to test the PPM of your solution to see if it’s getting too full of salts.
Q: Which is better, organic or synthetic nutrients?
A: There are pluses and minuses to both organic and synthetic formulas. Some growers find that organic solutions cause them to have more buildup and more clogs. Other growers prefer the little bit of extra work because they want the healthiest, safest crop they can achieve.
Q: What is PPM, and why does it apply to more than one thing?
A: PPM is “parts per million,” a measurement of total dissolved solids (TDS) in your nutrient solution. It can also apply to how much carbon dioxide you have in the air of your grow tent.
Q: Is it true that I can tell ahead of time which seeds will germinate?
A: You might be able to tell in advance which seeds will germinate, and which ones are duds. Put distilled water in a glass container. Put your seeds into the water and leave them overnight. Within a day’s time, some seeds may have remained afloat while others will have sunk. The floaters are probably duds.
Q: Can I grow from cuttings and clones instead of seeds?
A: Yes, you can raise plants from cuttings in a hydroponic system just like you can in soil. It’s called asexual reproduction. When you first take the clones or cuttings, they should be treated with cloning gel for best results, then transplanted into your growing medium, like coco coir. Keep them watered, but don’t let them sit in water. You don’t need your own nutrient solution if you use a cloning gel, or you can skip the gel and use your own solution at 25% strength. It takes about a week for a cutting to grow roots, then they can be managed like any other plant you’re raising.
Q: Why do some growers use hydrogen peroxide?
A: Food grade hydrogen peroxide is a 35% solution and it’s quite corrosive. Some growers treat their plants with it like when they have root rot or other problems. Unfortunately, although it’s effective at disinfecting, hydrogen peroxide can kill the organics in your nutrients. It’s not a great idea to mix it into your plant’s food. But you can use it to sanitize your system after you’re done growing your crop.
Accessories to maintain a healthy garden
Feeding your plants nutrients means you need to keep an eye on acidity levels. Here are some tools to help you:
Hydrofarm GH1514 General Hydroponics pH Control Kit
We mentioned that Advanced Nutrients says you won’t need to worry about pH levels if you use their fertilizers as directed. Well, we think it’s still a good idea to check the acidity of your plants’ solution especially if you’re growing hydroponically.
These liquids from General Hydroponics help you test pH and fix it if it’s out of whack. They come with the test tube you need to measure the fluids.
Benestellar Digital pH Meter with 3 Set of pH Buffer Powder
The Benestellar Digital pH meter has an LCD display that tells you down to 0.01 pH how acidic or alkaline your nutrient solution is. Great for hydroponic setups.
Kany 3-in-1 Soil Moisture Meter, Light and PH acidity Tester
The best part about the Kany meter is that you can stick it into soil, not just liquids. It measures acidity as well as moisture so it’s a very handy tool to have.
Digital Aid Professional Quality Water Test Meter. TDS, EC and Temperature Meter. 0-9990ppm
A test meter like this one from Digital Aid isn’t expensive and it will save you a lot of trouble. It measures the PPM of your nutrient solutions.
We hope we helped you find the best nutrients for you to get a great harvest from your hydroponic garden. Check back soon to see new reviews of the best products for raising your own food and keeping your home in top shape.