The Hype Behind Hydroponic Plants: What They Are and 3 Top Choices for Starting Your Own System Today

If you have ever sprouted a seed in a glass of moist paper towels, you have grown hydroponic plants, or at least sprouted them. Hydroponics is one of the most fascinating ways to grow indoor or even outdoor plants.

Instead of using soil, hydroponics relies on the use of an imminent medium such as clay pellets, peat moss, vermiculite, perlite or Rockwood. This has many advantages which will be discussed in this article along with some of the disadvantages as well.

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What Are the Basics of Growing Hydroponic Plants?

Growing hydroponic plants might seem counter intuitive. Almost every plant you've ever seen has grown out of the soil which is the one component missing in a hydroponic system. The roots of the plants soak in nutrients through the soil that the plant uses to grow. The roots also take in water, necessary for the plant to live.

As growing hydroponic plants uses no soil, nutrients have to be added to the hydroponic growing system. Instead of the plant getting the nutrients it needs from the soil, the nutrient solution will come in direct contact with the plant's roots.

There are several different types of hydroponic systems and they range in costs from quite cheap to prohibitively expensive. For those just starting out in hydroponics will offer a brief guide to the different types of hydroponic systems including their advantages and disadvantages.

Deepwater Culture

Deepwater culture, which is also known as the reservoir system, is one of the simplest methods for growing hydroponic plants. In the deepwater culture method, the roots of the hydroponic plants are suspended in a nutrient solution.

Without any additions to a deepwater culture system, the hydroponic plants themselves would drown. To prevent this, a deepwater culture system utilizes an aquarium air pump to oxygenate the nutrient solution and prevents the roots from drowning.

The main benefit from the deepwater culture is that there are no drip hoses or spray emitters that can clog. For those wanting to experiment with organic hydroponic plants, this makes Deepwater culture one of the best options as the organic nutrients are the ones most often to cause a clog.

The only main downside from the Deepwater culture method is that light must not be allowed on the nutrient solution. If light does find its way to the nutrient solution, algae will probably grow which can do a lot of damage to your system for growing hydroponic plants.

Nutrient Film Technique

This is a method of growing hydroponic plants that require a little more space and planning. The nutrient film technique is a system that uses a continuous flow of the nutrient solution over the plant's roots.

One of the best ways to achieve this is to use gravity to assist the flow of the nutrient solution. Having your hydroponic pad at a slight tilt will allow the nutrient solution to simply flow downhill.

One of the main benefits of the nutrient film technique is that the roots of the hydroponic plants are not just subjected to the nutrient solution. They are also open to the air, allowing the hydroponic plants to absorb more oxygen which enables them to grow at a much faster rate. The downside is the space needed.

In order to use gravity to move the nutrient solution, a long line of hydroponic plants is the best and easiest way to use the nutrient film technique. Many people do not have the space to use this method.

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Wicking

Another one of the more inexpensive methods of growing hydroponic plants, wicking uses a material such as cotton that has a wicking ability. Cotton can draw in a liquid and through capillary action transport that liquid throughout the wick of cotton.

The wicking method of growing hydroponic plants is similar to the Deepwater culture method. As with deepwater culture, an aquarium air pump oxygenates the nutrient solution, but instead of the plant's roots being immersed in the nutrient solution itself, the wicks transport the oxygenated nutrient solution into the growing medium.

The simplicity of the system is one of the biggest advantages of using it to grow hydroponic plants. On the downside, some mediums for growing your hydroponic plants such as Rockwool, peat moss, and coconut coir, absorb too many nutrients and might starve your plants. If you decide to use the wicking method, a growing medium such as perlite or vermiculite would be the best solutions.

Aeroponics

Aeroponics is one of the more intriguing methods of growing hydroponic plants. In an Aeorponic system, the roots of the plants are suspended in the air. The nutrient solution is then misted over the roots. There are two methods that the nutrients can be misted.

A fine spray nozzle can be used to mist the roots. Other systems use what is known as a pond fogger. If you decide to go with a pond fogger, it is suggested that you use a Teflon coated disc. Pond foggers can clog but a Teflon coated disc will help prevent this.

For those interested in starting to grow hydroponic plants with the Aeorponic method, the AeroGarden is a commercially available Aeroponics system and might be the perfect starting point.

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Ebb & Flow Method

An ebb and flow system to grow hydroponic plants relies on flooding and draining the growing medium at specific intervals. The nutrient solution then drains back into the reservoir. The ebb and flow method relies on the use of the timer to control these floods and drains. Depending on the type of plants you are growing, you can adjust the timing to optimize it.

The best types of hydroponic plants to grow in Evan flow system are those that are accustomed to naturally grow in areas where there are periods of dryness. Plants from drier climates and chili peppers which can be grown hotter by depriving them of some moisture are ideal for an Evan flow system.

What Are the Best Hydroponic Plants to Grow?

The variety of plants that can be grown in a hydroponic system is almost endless but there are several vegetables and fruits that are incredibly easy to grow in a system designed to grow hydroponic plants these include leafy greens such as lettuce or spinach, bell & chili peppers, and strawberries.

Lettuce and Other Leafy Greens

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Leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach have shallow root systems when grown in soil, making them ideal hydroponic plants. They do not need to have a guide or be tied to stakes in order to control their growth, making them one of the most hassle free of the hydroponic plants.

Lettuce has a grow time of about 30 days and is best grown in a pH of 6 to 7. Spanish, takes 40 days to grow to maturity but uses the same level of pH as let us. In order to produce sweeter spinach, lower the growing temperature to be between 65° and 72°F. Note, however, that this will likely lengthen the growing time.

Strawberries

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If you have ever eaten a strawberry from your local grocery store out of season, you understand the lure of growing your own strawberries. Strawberries have a short growing season in most places. Because of this, out of season strawberries are grown across the world and picked when under-ripe. By the time they get to your supermarket, they are almost tasteless.

Growing your own strawberries using a system to grow hydroponic plants can give you juicy and tasty strawberries year-round. Plus, you can grow your hydroponic strawberries off the ground, meaning no bending over to pick them.

An ebb and flow system is often the best system to grow hydroponic strawberry plants. They take about 60 days for growth time and need a pH between 5.5 and 6.2. It is best not to go from seeds instead, buy cold-stored runners at your local garden supply store.

Bell and Chili peppers

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Here, we are moving into the more advanced of the hydroponic plants. Bell and chili peppers can't be grown to full height indoors so they will need to be pruned and pinched to keep them from growing too large.

They take about 90 days to grow and need a lower Ph of 6 to 6.5. These are warm weather plants so 18 hours of light and a warmer environment is often best.

In order to grow hotter chilis, the plants can be stressed in order for them to add more of the heat producing Capsaicin. This can include adding more heat or limiting their water. Make sure you know what you are doing when attempting this.

How Do You Grow a Hydroponic Fruit Tree?

Once you've got the basics of growing hydroponic plants down, you might want to consider growing hydroponic fruit trees. Obviously, growing fruit trees takes a lot more space than growing lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, or even strawberries with your hydroponic system.

That said, not only is it possible to grow your own hydroponic fruit trees but as many fruit trees require a specific climate, growing them hydroponically indoors or the greenhouse might be the only way you could grow such a tree and get it to fruit in your area.

In order to grow fruits trees using our system to grow hydroponic plants, you will need to reproduce all of the things that a tree would need to grow outdoors. This will require heat, and very bright grow lamps such as high-pressure sodium lamps or LED growing lamps. Do not try to grow fruit trees in your hydroponic setup if you do not have these tools.

Should You Use a Stock or Seeds

After you have your system to grow hydroponic plants sufficiently ready to grow a fruit tree, you need to decide if you're going to use seems or purchase a stock tree from your local nursery. While trees can be grown from seeds, they often do not produce fruits for their first 2 to 4 years of life.

That is a long time to grow your fruit tree without any of the rewards. If you do decide to go from seed, make sure to soak the seeds in a wet paper towel for a few days before you move it to your growing medium. This will help make it easier to remove the external coating of the seed.

Should you decide to go the easier route and purchase a stock seedling from your local nursery, look for ones that are close to bearing fruit. The ideal types of fruit trees to grow hydroponically are dwarf species. These have been bred to be much smaller than with their natural counterparts, perfect to grow in your system

The Hydroponic Setup for Trees

To begin with, start your hydroponically grown fruit tree in at least a container of 5 gallons or more. You might have to increase that size as your hydroponically grown fruit tree grows. Fill this container with a medium such as rice husk, vermiculite or perlite. The flood and drain method of growing hydroponic plants is often the best to use when growing fruit trees.

With a hydroponic setup for fruit trees, the vital aspect is keeping the root ball from getting too dry. This will damage the tree, lessen its ability to fruit and ultimately kill it if the root ball gets too dry. Remember, pampered roots lead to a better tree.

When you start growing your hydroponic fruit tree, keep your nutrient solution at half strength. As the tree grows, increase this to full strength but make sure to keep an eye on the Ph level and keep it in the right area. Too high or too low of a Ph could have detrimental effects on your hydroponically grown fruit tree.

It is vital to know your tree and the climate it comes from. Some trees benefit from cold periods, needing them to help the tree fruit for the next year. Each type of fruit tree is different so this will vary by their type.

What Are the Advantages?

There are a number of advantages to growing hydroponic plants. The biggest, no pun intended, is the phenomenally large growth rates. A growth rate in excess of 25 to even 30% faster than growing in the soil is completely possible with a well set up a system to grow hydroponic plants.

The reason hydroponic plants grow at a much greater rate is that they do not have to expend as much energy in obtaining the nutrients that can be difficult to find in the soil. Instead of building up a larger root system, searching for more and more nutrients, the plants grow up above their roots. Flowers will flower quicker and vegetables or fruits will be harvestable quicker.

Remember, to get these phenomenal growth rates your plants need to get the correct amount of nutrients and light. Overall, a hydroponic system will also use much less water than growing plants in soil. This is because there is much less evaporation in an enclosed system and there is no water loss to the soil itself as there is no soil.

What Are the Disadvantages?

With all the advantages of growing hydroponic plants, there had to be some disadvantages as well. Of these, the cost involved in growing hydroponic plants is often the biggest disadvantage. Dirt, well dirt is dirt cheap. Even the smallest system will probably cost more than growing plants in soil.

Larger hydroponic systems often take a great deal of time to set up and maintain which can be difficult if you're not an experienced hydroponic grower. As the plants get all the nutrients from the nutrient solution, they have to be monitored much more closely than non-hydroponic plants.

The largest disadvantage to a system for growing hydroponic plants is that the failure of the air pump or timers could quickly kill the plants, sometimes within hours but that depends on the plants and their size. Without the soil to hold the water, hydroponic plants need to get that fresh supply of water almost constantly.

Conclusion

If you love fresh vegetables and fruit but can't grow them the conventional way or you are just up for an interesting challenge, growing hydroponic plants can be a rewarding hobby.

Use the information provided above to get into the hobby or to move into a more advanced hydroponic growing system.

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Bailey Longhurst
 

I am amazed every day by the beauty that this world provides for us and think it is important to preserve it! Taking care of ourselves and our earth is crucial and I want to help people discover new ways to do both. Publishing for Green and Growing is a unique way that I can get my message across, and I hope you all enjoy what we write about!

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