2020 proved to be a dynamic year, and more people are starting to recognize the immense benefits of indoor hydroponic gardening.
Being able to grow your own fruits and vegetables has a certain appeal, and who doesn’t appreciate the vibrant, lush beauty radiating off of a healthy bed of their favorite flowers?
Hydroponic growing is all about maximizing efficiency – squeezing every bit of productivity out of your garden, whatever that may be. If you grow vegetables, hydroponics will enable you to grow them bigger, faster, and in greater abundance. If you grow flowers, be ready to see more blooms per plant; twice as big and vibrant as you ever saw in soil.
Indeed, hydroponic gardening allows for perfect root health, maximum nutrient delivery, and most efficient growth at any stage. There is, however, one caveat.
You must monitor your nutrient solution. Plants cannot live on running water alone.
You’re in the right place, though, because we have put together some information to shed a little light on the hydroponic nutrient situation. Keep reading to learn more!
As more people have caught on to the benefits of hydroponics, more products have been developed to meet individual needs. Identifying your specific needs is going to be an important first step in selecting the right nutrients for your garden.
Why is nutrient choice important?
Did you know that there are over 390,000 species of vascular plants in the world, with 90% of them being flowering plants?
With all of that variety, you can imagine how different plants have different nutritional needs. I mean, a tomato plant is obviously going to need to eat differently than an oak tree.
Another important consideration is your actual hydroponic system. Because nutrients are essentially salts, they can crystallize and clog jets and nozzles. If undetected, this could result in delays to plant growth, damage to the plant, or damage to pumps and other circulation equipment.
We will go into more detail when we discuss “Liquid or Powder?” below, but suffice it to say that with any hydroponic gardening system –
an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The best nutrients available
General Hydroponics Flora Grow, Bloom, Micro Combo Fertilizer, 1 gallon each, Pack of 3
- GH Flora Series contains all necessary primary, secondary and micronutrients for optimal yields and larger fruit and vegetable production.
- Users can adjust their nutrient mixtures to suit specific gardening needs.
- Improvements to flavor, nutrition, aroma and essential oils due to optimal health.
- Contains highly purified concentrates for maximum solubility.
- Ph balanced for ease of use. Nasa and Antarctic research scientists chose the Flora Series due to its superior formulation and reliable consistency.
First up we have a popular favorite from General Hydroponics, an industry mainstay whose products have a reputation for being among the most soluble of available nutrient mixes.
The best thing about this product is that it works! It receives regular praise from both beginner and advanced growers for its simplicity and ease-of-use. Already in liquid form, the nutrient solution is pH balanced to prevent needing other additives. Once you see how good it works, you can even throw it in your soil plants too!
It’s as simple as drawing up the required amount of the appropriate nutrient into a syringe (or pouring it into your favorite measuring device) and adding it to your nutrient solution. As always, we recommend the regular use of a nutrient meter in order to prevent accumulations of a particular nutrient.
The Flora Series is a collection of nutrient mixes that are each engineered for a particular phase of plant growth. FloraGro is your vegetative fertilizer, FloraBloom is applied during the flowering or blooming stage, and FloraMicro is, of course, your micronutrient supplement.
If you’re looking for a simple, easy-to-use nutrient mix that is backed by top industry research and engineering – look no further than the GH Flora Series!
FoxFarm Dirty Dozen Starter Kit: 12 Pack Small Bundle + Twin Canaries Chart & Pipette – 9 Pints & 3 6oz
- This order includes : 9 Pints of Fox Farm Liquid Plant Food: Kangaroots, Microbe Brew, SledgeHammer, Flowers Kiss, Boomerang, Bembé , Big Bloom , Tiger Bloom, Grow Big
- Three 6 OZ Soluble Fertilizer: Open Sesame, Beastie Bloomz, Cha Ching
- Custom green Fox Farm Measuring Spoon included.
- Twin Canaries Chart & Pipette included.
Otherwise known as “the ones with the really cool labels,” Fox Farm is another industry leader in nutrient solutions that develops their products with hydroponic growers specifically in mind.
They are a very popular choice for growers just getting started, as they include detailed instructions and a feeding schedule that is designed to optimize the effects of their product. Specifically, this starter kit is perfect for the beginner that is curious to learn about the different hydroponic nutrient products that are available because it includes both powder and liquid fertilizers in amounts that allow you to see the results of each.
This sampler pack is a great choice for beginning hydroponic growers, but may also appeal to more seasoned gardeners as well. It offers a chance to try several of the more advanced nutrient mixes, including specialized Fox Farm products they may not normally purchase.
The value alone for getting the complete lineup of powder and liquid fertilizers is enough to make it worth a try.
Best budget hydroponic nutrients
General Hydroponics GLCMBX0008 Maxigro, Maxibloom, Koolbloom Combo, 2.2 Lb Fertilizer
- Maxigro and Maxibloom are stand-alone, water-soluble, dry concentrated nutrients
- Maxigro and Maxibloom will provide superior results with a wide variety of crops in all hydroponic gardens.
- Use to encourage growth of seedlings and cuttings and to stimulate rapid growth through the vegetative and flowering stages.
- KoolBloom is specially engineered to maximize the size, weight, and yield of all flowers and fruit in hydroponic gardens.
The Maxi Series is a slightly cheaper alternative to the Flora Series; both are manufactured by General Hydroponics.
While the high Nitrogen content of MaxiGrow has brought high yields to many hydroponic gardens, there are some murmurings about the undissolved residue this product leaves in mixing containers.
It doesn’t seem to have any effect on the results whatsoever, but could be an issue if you need absolute solubility in your garden’s nutrient delivery system.
The KoolBloom product is a flowering enhancer, which is a different approach than we typically see with the hydroponic nutrient packages. Specifically, KoolBloom is intended to maximize the size and weight of all flowers and fruits. If you grow flowers or produce you are likely to benefit most from this product, perhaps more than you would from the normal micronutrient supplement that comes with most nutrient trios.
Advanced Nutrients Bloom, Micro & Grow, Pack of 3, 1 L Each
- Your order contains: Advanced Nutrient’s 3 Part solution in 1 package: you get Bloom, Micro and Grow – each in 1L
- Proprietary carrier molecules are used to ensure that plants get the maximum amount of nutrients they can absorb.
- This product is pH neutral, so you won’t need additional testing equipment or chemicals.
How to check hydroponic nutrient levels
Checking nutrient levels is an essential part of maintaining a hydroponic garden.
It can also be the task that most intimidates gardeners away from starting their own hydroponic system. Even using the incredibly simple Kratky Method that removes pumping and mechanical circulation from the equation, you still need to know what the strength of your nutrient solution is.
The good news is, the nutrients that plants need are minerals – this means we can dissolve mineral salts into good, clean water and create an optimal nutrient-rich plant food.
As we’ve already discussed, different plants need different amounts of N-P-K (and the other nutrients as well) at the various stages of their growth. Sometimes our solution will be Nitrogen-rich and other times it will be Phosphorous-rich. One of our hydroponic garden beds may need a boost of Calcium, but that same boost could upset everything else in the greenhouse.
There are essentially two ways to check the nutrient levels of a hydroponic nutrient solution: Electroconductivity (EC) and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS).
Bluelab PENGTB Grower’s Toolbox with pH Pen, Conductivity Pen and Probe Care Kits
(This Grower’s Toolbox by Bluelab includes a pH meter, an EC meter, and some tools to care for your test probes. It serves as a great example of everything the new hydroponic gardener needs to keep their nutrient solution at optimal levels.)
When we dissolve our mineral salts into water, the water breaks the bonds and releases the mineral ions. A property consistent amongst minerals is that they are generally conductive. Many people think water is conductive, but it is really the minerals in the water that conduct electricity – pure, clean H2O isn’t very conductive at all.
Therefore, our EC meter is testing the volume of minerals in the water by measuring the electrical conductivity of the solution.
The Total Dissolved Solids measurement is a little more misleading. It gives the impression of being more accurate than an EC measurement, or at least more specific. I mean, that is the number we want, after all. How many Parts-per-million (PPM) of a given mineral we have in our solution is what tells us whether we need more N, or less P (well, that measurement and a reference chart).
The value for TDS is actually a calculation that is derived from taking the EC measurement and applying one of several industry accepted conversion factors. The result is an approximation of the PPM of minerals in your solution. In other words, two different TDS meters could read two very different numbers while testing the same solution.
If you’re interested in the relationship between TDS and EC, you can read more about it here.
So, which to use? Do you go with the EC or the TDS meter?
Honestly, most commercial gardeners go with EC. It is the base measurement, after all, and knowing which conversion factor to apply to your scenario comes from research and experimentation. There is nothing wrong with using a TDS meter, but you should at least learn which conversion method it is using so that you know when to trust it and when to learn how to calculate TDS yourself.
Learning to work with Electric Conductivity from the start will ensure that you can easily apply whichever conversion factor works best for your garden – when you’re ready.
Organic vs. synthetic hydroponic nutrients
General Hydroponics GH5100 General Organics Go Box GH
(The Go Box from General Hydroponics is an amazing choice for the hydroponic gardener looking for all-organic hydroponic nutrients. They offer the three main nutrient solutions in 16 ozs. and every other organic supplement the company offers in 8 ozs.)
Hydrofarm Super Bat Budswel Hydroponic Soil Organic Nutrient, 1 Gallon GUBS128C
- This organic nutrient solution is made of a high phosphorous mix of bat and seabird guano as well as earthworm castings. No synthetics are used.
- The Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium (N-P-K) ratios of this solution are: 0.01 – 0.1 – 0.01
(This is a truly organic nutrient solution with a more rustic look than most mainstream options. “Budswel” from Humboldt County is a grassroots hydroponic supplement that has a lower N-P-K ratio than most, making it safer to gardeners new to mixing their own nutrients.)
When you’re deciding on which nutrient product is right for your hydroponic garden, whether the nutrients are derived from organic or synthetic ingredients may be very important to you.
Generally speaking, the only reason to go with organic nutrients is if you are certifying an organic end-product and want to make the claim “100% Organic”. However, this is not necessary to produce a certifiable organic product – and I’ll explain why.
When deciding between fertilizers deemed organic or synthetic, look at it like they are unrefined and refined, respectively.
The organic fertilizers are usually composed of unrefined natural ingredients such as fish meal, bat guano, compost, or manure that have been ground into a powder. This powder may look very finely ground and may appear to fully dissolve into your solution, but organic powders are notorious for inadequate solubility that can accumulate and clog systems with misting nozzles and the like. They can also resist releasing ions into water alone, needing the enzymes of soil (or nutrient additives) to assist them.
Synthetic nutrients, on the other hand, take those same unrefined components and process them into a refined product. This process can differ, but one example would be diluting the ground-up ingredients with water (or alcohol) to break the mineral bonds and then evaporating or distilling to reduce back into a powder. Grind it back down and you have a once-refined mineral-rich powder that is more efficient than what you started with.
It is now more soluble and full of loose mineral ions looking for a new home (like our tomatoes and peppers!).
By comparison, the mineral bonds in the organic ingredients can actually take years to break down fully. Most organic nutrients are therefore targeted at soil growers, where the long-term results are more viable as soil substrate enzymes break down the mineral bonds over time. This is changing in recent years with companies like General Hydroponics and Fox Farm offering pre-mixed organic liquid solutions that are more water soluble.
They are, however, slightly more expensive and still yield typically inferior results compared to their synthetic counterparts.
To bring it home, whether you choose organic or synthetic is up to you. If you are a commercial hydroponic grower already, then you are likely already familiar with the fact that organic production costs more. If you are a hobbyist or home grower, on the other hand, it may very well be worth it to you to pay a little more for simplicity or extra guidance.
Liquid or powder nutrients?
True Base A+B Set Complete Plant Growing Nutrient Formula Gallon (2 x 128 oz)
(True Plant Science is another major competitor in the hydroponic nutrient market that emphasizes their scientific roots. True A + B offers the complete array of macro and micronutrients, as well as a proprietary blend of organic acids at N-P-K levels that are safe enough for beginners to hydroponic gardening.)
Whereas some people get stuck on the “Organic or Synthetic?” question, others put more time and energy into whether to purchase a liquid or dry nutrient mix.
It’s a very good question – one worth a good answer!
See, both products have their strengths and weaknesses and they shine at what they are intended for. Therefore, it really comes down to your individual goals and what you want to get out of your hydroponic efforts.
Best hydroponic liquid nutrient solution
Blue Planet Nutrients Elite 3-Part Base Nutrients for Plants (128 oz Jugs) Gallon | Indoor Outdoor Soil Hydroponic Coco Coir Soil-Less Aero Gardens | Fertilizer Plant Food
- The order contains 1 quart each of Elite Grow, Elite Micro, and Elite Bloom. Also included are mixing instructions and a cool custom measuring glass!
- Designed for easy use in all soilless mediums, all hydroponic systems, aeroponics/ aero gardens, coco-coir, vermiculite, perlite, and rockwool. Can be used in soil substrates as well.
- You can even simply dilute a small amount of each nutrient (INSTRUCTIONS INCLUDED) into a gallon of water and use it to water your plants! Suggested dosages are found right on the back label.
(Blue Planet is an up-and-comer in the hydroponic nutrient world, offering a quality product in its simplest form. They provide instructions that are incredibly easy to follow, with plants needing some amount of all three solutions at various growth stages. The product is versatile, and with a little knowledge you could easily craft your own custom blends of the three hydroponic nutrient solutions included. )
Liquid nutrient mixes are available from all major hydroponic nutrient vendors, with each company offering their proprietary “recipe” or formula. Virtually all nutrient mixes are offered in a base pack of 3 – a vegetative supplement, a flowering or “blooming” supplement, and a “micro” supplement. The first two are for their respective stages of growth, while the latter is intended to supply the necessary micronutrients for plant health.
You will notice some manufacturers offer a special “bloom” or flowering product instead of a micronutrient mix. This is done to satisfy the needs of hydroponic gardeners that produce fruits, vegetables, herbs, and other harvest plants. These special bloom blends are all solid nutrient formulas that will increase size, weight, and yield of flowers (and therefore, of fruits).
The strengths of liquid nutrient mix mostly relate to solubility and how quickly you can test your solution’s new mineral content. Given that the minerals have already been dissolved (and thus the ions are free within the concentrated solution), then applying them in the necessary amounts becomes as simple as referring to a feeding schedule and transferring the liquid.
Fox Farm, notably, has modeled much of their competitive liquid nutrient business around including highly detailed instructions and feeding charts with their nutrients – a consideration that has proven very appealing to beginner hydroponic growers especially.
Fox Farm Liquid Nutrient Trio Soil Formula – Big Bloom, Grow Big, Tiger Bloom Pint Size (Pack of 3)
- The Grow Big product brings lush, vegetative, and compact growth of plant fiber.
- Tiger Bloom is an ultra-potent, fast-acting, high-phosphorus solution.
- Big Bloom concentrate is the answer for increasing size and weight in all flowering and fruiting plants.
- Your order comes with : 1 Gallon of Big Bloom, 1 Gallon of Tiger Bloom, 1 Gallon of Grow Big, 1 Twin Canaries Reference Chart & 1 Pipette for transferring solution
(Fox Farm is a well-known hydroponic fertilizer vendor, and their reputation is well deserved. This is their trademark lineup of products, in an affordable size that makes it convenient to try their formula. If you know you want Fox Farm, this is the best “bang for the buck” for their trademark products.)
For advanced gardeners, horticulturists, and botanists that want complete control over their hydroponic garden and its yield, liquid has its advantages. Being able to affect a solution and test it immediately offers opportunities for incredible control over the fine-tuning of your plants’ growth.
Best dry powder nutrients for hydroponics
Ten Green Fingers Hydroponic Nutrients Dry Fertilizer Powder 6 Variety Grow Box
- You receive fertilizers for a wide range of plants and vegetables, along with detailed instructions and f
- ormulas for different growth stages.
- Also included are Calcium Nitrate and Epsom Salt (required additions for some of the recommended formulas).
(This is an incredibly versatile mix that the beginning hydroponic gardener can use to quickly learn the different nutrient requirements of the plants they grow. The kit includes several recipes that are specific to gardening niches such as vegetable or flower growing. There is a lot of powder here for the price, and combined with a little bit of knowledge, can go a very long way.)
Powder is the base form that nutrients come in, and will be the most cost-effective method of feeding your hydroponic garden. This is mainly because when you buy a liquid nutrient solution you are paying to ship mineral water, in a sense. Granted, you may be investing that expense into the overall solubility and testability of your system, which is why plenty of people choose liquid for their own hydroponic gardens.
There are other considerations to powdered nutrients. If moisture or humidity reach the powder mix, it can cause portions to crystallize into unusable solid chunks. Even so, large-scale commercial growers rely almost exclusively on powdered hydroponic nutrients. Any loss is negligible compared to savings on bulk rates for both product and shipping.
Powdered hydroponic nutrients are also popular with beginner growers. They can be cheaper up-front, in case one is unsure they are ready to go all-in. They can be easier to measure and transfer from one container to another and easier to clean up spills.
There is little to no concern of hydroponic solubility in modern synthetic powder nutrients.
The technology behind hydroponic gardening has come a long way, and the industry has grown substantially. As more hydroponic gardeners become involved with technologies like aeroponics and fogponics, the demand for highly-soluble minerals has increased – dramatically.
As such, top competitors in the hydroponic nutrient supply industry have been steadily and quietly raising the bar and improving the quality of even the most economical of these nutrients.
So Which Is It? Liquid…or Powder?
What we’re saying is – it’s up to you! It’s all about your hydroponic garden and the goals you have in mind for it. Powdered nutrient is an all-time industry favorite, while liquid nutrient solution is an up and coming star.
If you’re just starting out, you can get a small 3-pack of name-brand powdered nutrient mix for around $20 dollars. See if you like it. If you have a meter, use it. Test your solution before you add, right after you add, and again 4 hours later.
If you have two tables and a few dollars to invest, run powder on one and liquid on the other and see which you prefer.
In closing, the hydroponic nutrients you choose are important. We all want our gardens to thrive, and nobody likes to waste money. The good news is, the mainstream hydroponic nutrient products have come so far that it’s very much a “Coke or Pepsi?” situation.
In other words, it’s a matter of taste and personal preference.
There are certain products that excel at one thing or another, which is why it’s important to have a clear understanding of your needs and goals. Ultimately, they are all good products, so there is really no “wrong” answer.
Thank you for reading, we hope you found what you needed here and that you’ll continue to learn more about the fascinating art of hydroponic gardening.