What is Hydroponics and How Does a Hydroponic System Work?

Bet you didn’t know that you could grow plants without soil?

Well, you can with hydroponic gardening.

This makes it the perfect solution if you live in an apartment or don’t have a yard. In fact, with hydroponics, you’ll be able to grow all sorts of plants indoors or on rooftops.

To learn more about it, the guide below will explain all you need to know to get started with hydroponic gardening.

 

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is growing plants in water instead of soil. More specifically, it’s growing plants in water that’s rich in nutrients.

In place of soil, the plants’ roots are supported by an inert medium. This allows only the plant’s roots to touch the nutrient-rich solution. Doing so allows it to absorb the nutrients it needs to live and grow. At the same time, the space between the medium and the solution gives plants access to oxygen.

One of the most common misconceptions about plants is that they need soil to grow. And, while they do offer the plants structural support and nutrients, these can be replaced by other alternatives.

In the case of hydroponics, inert mediums like vermiculite, perlite and peat moss provide the structural support for it.

Similarly, the mixture of nutrients in the water provides it with what it needs to grow. These include nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium as well as a host of secondary nutrients like calcium and magnesium.

 

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How Does Hydroponics Work?

Hydroponics, much like traditional gardening, is all about controlling the environment your plants grow in.

It does so by allowing your plants to receive optimal nutrients when they need it. You’re able to do this since you can customize the nutrient mix to each plants’ specific needs.

This gives it a unique advantage over the soil since you’re directly able to manipulate how much nutrients and what combination of nutrients your plants need at each stage of growth.

Just as importantly, you’re able to make changes and adjustments immediately. That’s not something you can control with soil.

Also, you’re able to give them the exact amount of light they require to grow. And, adjust the environment so that they receive the proper temperature, humidity and pH level they need.

This combination allows your plants to grow faster. And potentially yield 20-25% more than what they would if grown on the ground.

Similarly, controlling the environment also reduces the risk of disease and pests.

 

Should You Grow Hydroponics Indoors or Outdoors?

That said, you’re free to choose whether to grow your hydroponic garden indoors or outdoors. Both work. But, they do have their differences.

 

Hydroponic Gardening Indoors

Growing hydroponics indoors gives you the distinct advantage of controlling much of the environment. It also allows you to garden all-year-round even if you experience cold winters.

But, the biggest drawback of indoor gardening is you need to supply light. This is mostly because your garden isn’t likely going to get as much direct sunlight exposure as it would outside.

Here are a few important tips to consider with indoor hydroponic gardening. We’ll discuss them in more detail in the sections below.

  • Grow lights are your best friend when it comes to indoor hydroponics. But, you do need to monitor how long they’re kept on. And, limit the amount of heat they give off.
  • For very small to small systems, you may be able to get away with keeping them by the window. But, unless you have a huge window that’s south-facing, it’s very unlikely that an average size hydroponics system will receive enough light. If that’s the case, then supplementing with grow lights works just as well.
  • Speaking of heat, you’ll want to keep temperatures between 65-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Do take into consideration the extra heat emitted by artificial lighting as well. Ideally, you don’t want the temperature to get too far above 80 degrees.
  • For larger, taller plants, you may not be able to set horizontal grow lights from above. At least, not without significantly reducing the amount of light it’s able to deliver to your plants. In such cases, take a look at vertical grow lights. These let you set them to the side of your plants.
  • In addition to light and temperature, most plants like humid environments. Thus, keeping the relative humidity between 50 and 70 percent gives them what they need.
  • One of the biggest advantages of hydroponics is the ability to control pH levels better. In this case, keeping it between 5.8 to 6.3 suits most plants.

 

Hydroponic Gardening Outdoors

The biggest advantage of outdoor hydroponic systems is sunlight. But, along with access to sunlight, your plants also experience all the other elements, including wind, rain and snow. As such, the weather in your area plays a much bigger role in gardening success.

More importantly, you’re less able to control or manipulate these conditions. At least, compared to growing indoors.

Here are some important things to consider with outdoor hydroponic gardening.

  • Location is key. That’s because where your plants are positioned determines how much sun they get and what kind of light exposure they receive.
  • And, with regards to light exposure, there’s also such a thing as too much. Too much direct, intense sunlight for prolonged periods of time can overheat your system. Here’s where insulation comes in.
  • Because of the heat from the sun and the temperature in your locale, you’ll need to monitor your system’s water level more than you would indoors. The reservoir will get depleted much faster due to more evaporation.
  • Water is key since it balances the amount of mixture by diluting it. Too little water means the solution will get saturated with fertilizer resulting in nutrient imbalances.
  • Finally, if you live in a state what experiences cold or snowy winters, it will affect your ability to garden during these times. The temperature drop, as well as the frost, reduced sunlight and dry air all, affect plant growth.