Hydroponic systems deliver nutrients to plants via a solution of water and liquid nutrients. The solution is absorbed by and passes over the wicking strip in the vertical tower and comes into contact with the root systems where the plants take up nutrients as needed. Managing appropriate levels of each required nutrient is key to plant health and development.
Plants require an assortment of nutrients (as many as 17 different elements in fact) to survive and thrive. In fact, all plant processes rely on nutrients to occur. Nutrients are used to reproduce, sprout, root, and fruit. Plants convert nutrients into their most basic components and synthesize them into energy to power the various processes that are required for subsistence.
What nutrients are used in a hydroponic system?
Nutrients are elements, vitamins, minerals, and gases that give the plants life and foster specific processes and biochemical reactions. Nutrients are categorized into two groups: micronutrients and macronutrients. Typically, these essential nutrients are delivered in a single nutrient solution that contains a specific balance of N-P-K, ideal for specific varieties, and containing sufficient amounts of the additional micronutrients required for plant development.
These nutrients are most essential to plant development and are required in larger quantities than micronutrients. The most common macronutrients are nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus.
- Nitrogen (N) – Necessary for the formation of amino acids, co-enzymes, and chlorophyll.
- Phosphorous (P) – Sugar, phosphate, and energy production. Helps to produce flowers and fruits, as well as stimulates root growth.
- Potassium (K) – Required for protein synthesis. Helps to manufacturer sugars and starches, as well as contributes to root development and plant hardiness.
- Sulfur (S) – Synthesizes protein, helps with fruiting, seeding, and water uptake. Also, acts as an organic fungicide.
- Calcium (Ca) – Combined with the element boron, calcium helps to form cell walls in plants.
- Magnesium (Mg) – Catalyzes the growth process and makes oxygen during photosynthesis.
These nutrients are required in smaller quantities but play specific roles in the development of plants. Many micronutrients are naturally present in rain and tap water.
- Iron (Fe) – Used to form chlorophyll and in the respiration of sugars for energy.
- Molybdenum (Mo) – Forms a crucial part of an enzyme in plants called sulfite oxidase which breaks down incoming sulfites and turns them into food.
- Boron (B) – Combined with calcium, boron helps to form cell walls in plants.
- Copper (Cu) – Activates enzymes and is required for plant respiration and photosynthesis.
- Manganese (Mn) – Supports various biological systems including photosynthesis, respiration, and nitrogen assimilation. Also involved in pollen germination, pollen tube growth, root cell elongation, and resistance to root pathogens.
- Zinc (Zn) – Helps to form chlorophyll, along with assisting respiration and nitrogen metabolism.