What is hydroponic gardening? How can plants grow without soil? Why should you try it? What is necessary to keep it running?
We presented all of these questions and more to Amanda Lander.
Amanda is an enthusiastic gardener with experience gardening in two very different climates. She has a passion for all things green and growing, especially native plants and their many uses. She tries and tests all she learns and loves to share that practical, proven knowledge with others
Amanda, what does hydroponic gardening mean?
Hydroponic gardening means plants are grown in a nutrient solution without soil. It is generally considered a modern technique but has a rich history spanning thousands of years. Now we have a better understanding of plants and their nutritional needs so you can successfully use hydroponics in your own home.
Plants can grow without soil as long as they receive enough physical support, nutrients, moisture, and oxygen around the roots. We can provide these necessities in surprisingly simple ways.
Many gardeners are familiar with water propagation and aquatic surface plants like duckweed. These are examples of natural hydroponic growth, but we can grow many plants without soil. Modern home hydroponics systems have made the process even easier.
A nutrient bath provides for plants’ specific nutrient and moisture needs. Water, a gravel substrate, or a specialized pod provides support. The amount of oxygen needed at the roots for each plant is supplied by adjusting how much and how often they are exposed to the nutrient bath.
Almost all plants can be grown in your home hydroponics system, though some will be easier than others. Many popular houseplants and most fruiting and flowering plants- including some trees in large enough systems- thrive in hydroponic gardens. Opt for dwarf varieties where possible.
Houseplants that are well- adapted to hydroponic growing include:
- English Ivy
- Lucky Bamboo
Most vegetables are easy to grow hydroponically. Root crops, like potatoes, do not adapt well to growing in water but most fruiting, flowering, and leafy plants may even produce better in a hydroponics system. Try these easy vegetables for hydroponics beginners:
- Hot Peppers
- Green Beans
Plants that have been grown hydroponically are perfectly safe to eat. The nutrients added to the system are the same nutrients they would receive from the soil if it were present. Organic nutrient solutions and methods to produce your own nutrient supplements are also available.
Wash hydroponic vegetables before consumption like any garden produce.
Hydroponic plants grow very quickly because home hydroponics systems provide the optimum nutrient levels and maintain optimum growing conditions. Some plants reach maturity 30-50 percent faster than those grown in soil. Leafy produce like herbs, lettuces, and greens are particularly productive, often being ready for harvest in as little as a month.
The benefits of hydroponics include higher yields, space efficiency, and decreased water usage. It takes about 20 percent less water than a traditional soil garden and reuses the same water over and over.
Automated hydroponics systems reduce the labor involved in gardening and increase success rates. Your automatic garden controls temperature, light, water, and nutrient levels for optimum production.
Home hydroponics gardens like AeroGarden suspend the roots above the water in the base and mist them with the nutrient bath to maintain the needed moisture, nutrients, and oxygen.
Other types of hydroponic gardens use a pump to circulate water over the roots of plants at timed intervals. Others remove the need for a pump altogether. They submerge the roots entirely or use capillary action to draw water up to the roots.
Most automated systems include integrated grow lights and a reservoir base for water and nutrients. Hydroponic kits like AeroGarden can be controlled and monitored with a phone app for added convenience.
Follow these basic steps to use a hydroponic garden at home.
- Sow your seeds in the thoroughly moistened germination medium and water with plain water until the first true leaves appear or insert into the grow deck as instructed.
- Aerogarden units come with pre-seeded pods that simply need to be inserted into the grow deck. Follow the instructions and turn the unit on.
- Transplant your seedlings into your hydroponic garden system’s pots or grow deck. Turn the system on.
- Adjust the light and pump settings and fill the unit with room temperature water.
- Fill the reservoir with water and add the appropriate amount of nutrient concentrate. Follow the instructions carefully because if you add too much, you’ll burn your plants, but if you add too little, your plants will starve.
- Walk away and let your automated garden do the work for you!
To keep an automated home hydroponics system running, ensure it has continuous electricity. The garden will monitor itself until you harvest the produce. Depending on your crop, you may need to top off the tank with more nutrients and water when the system notifies you.
To keep a homemade or manual hydroponic system running, monitor the needs of your plants closely. If using a pump, attach a timer to keep the water flowing at the correct intervals. Test the ph, temperature, and nutrient concentration regularly. Maintain each of these important elements for a bountiful crop.
How do you feed the plants in a hydroponic garden?
Feed the plants in your home hydroponics with the recommended nutrient concentrate, not commercial fertilizers. Fertilizers developed for traditional gardens will not provide all the necessary micronutrients because they are usually already in the soil. It is possible to mix your own nutrient solution, but uniform growth is not guaranteed so pursue this option with caution.
The nutrients produced by integrated fish, crustacea, or even ducks can also feed your hydroponic plants. This type of system is a branch of hydroponics commonly called aquaponics.
Small-scale aquaponics gardens, such as the Huamuyu Hydroponic Garden Fish Tank, are available for home and classroom use. These small units are geared toward learning, decor, or sprout gardening. They are easy to maintain and add interest to your home.
You can place your home hydroponic garden anywhere convenient for monitoring and harvesting. Smaller systems work well in a kitchen or living room. If your unit does not have integrated lights, place it in bright indirect sunlight or purchase a grow light.
Hydroponic gardens can work well outside, on a patio, or in a greenhouse as well. Keep in mind that your system needs consistent conditions for optimum plant growth. You may need to make adjustments more often in these less controlled environments.
Hydroponics is not messy because there is no soil and no danger of overwatering. It’s a good idea to inspect and rinse the unit between crops. Gently scrub away algae growth and clear any roots from the reservoir and pump if necessary.
- The most highly recommended hydroponic garden to buy online is the AeroGarden Harvest. This fully automated hydroponic garden comes with 6 herb seed pods and instructions so any beginner can garden with confidence. It is compact and versatile.
- Vegebox is a low-tech hydroponic garden option. The T-Box model has room for 9 pods and comes with additional grow baskets and an integrated automatic grow light. Vegebox does not have a pump because it utilizes deep-water immersion hydroponics. It does not come with seeds but doesn’t require expensive seed pod refills and you can grow nearly any variety of herbs, greens, and flowers you want.
- The Garden Starter Kit by Moistenland is a great choice for beginners on a budget who want to grow a variety of plants. This garden kit can hold 12 plants and has a larger water tank so it doesn’t need to be refilled as often. It is equipped to circulate both air and water and has 2 automatic settings to simplify hydroponic gardening for beginners.
Home hydroponics is an exciting, clean, efficient modern gardening method that is fun for beginners and experienced gardeners alike. Hydroponic gardens are more productive than traditional soil gardens. To grow your plants without soil, add the required nutrients to water according to the included instructions.
Modern garden kits make hydroponic gardening easy. Choose a low-tech option or a fully automated system to fit your lifestyle and enjoy this compact and productive gardening in your own home!
We asked Amanda a few other questions you might find interesting: