Common errors while growing hydroponic plants

Making wise, timely decisions and avoiding errors are essential for success when growing plants hydroponically. Having a basic working knowledge of the hydroponic method as well as how plants grow is essential. In this appendix some of the common errors that I have observed and experienced are described, as well as those factors I have found that lead to successful growing. These factors are arranged by category.

  • Nutrient solution formulations
  1. The use of so-called “pure water” for formulating a nutrient solution or for irrigation use is not necessary for most hydroponic growing systems, unless the source water contains fairly high concentrations of potentially damaging elements.
  2. Most hydroponic nutrient solution formulations are more concentrated in elemental content than needed and frequently lack the proper balance among the elements, particularly the major elements—K, Ca, and Mg—in solution.
  3. Phosphorus (P) concentration excess is probably the most frequently occurring insufficiency in most nutrient solution formulations, while Mg and Zn are the elements most frequently inadequate in concentration.
  4. Combined with the hydroponic growing method, the use factors, volume applied with each irrigation, and frequency of irrigations associated with a nutrient solution formulation are as important as the elemental content of a nutrient solution formulation.
  5. With increasing volume of nutrient solution applied with each irri- gation and increasing number of irrigations, the more dilute the nutrient solution formulation should be.
  6. The inclusion of nonessential plant nutrient elements in a nutrient solution formulation is not needed; the only exception may be for the element silicon (Si)


  • Errors in Hydroponic growing systems


  1. Not all hydroponic growing systems are well suited for a particular use and/or plant species. A good example is the NFT growing system, which is not suitable for use with long term crops such as tomato, cucumber, and pepper, as the root mass will fill the NFT trough and impede the flow of nutrient solution down the trough. The root mass becomes anaerobic, resulting in the death of some roots, which results in a reduction in plant growth or even possible death of the growing plant.
  2. Most hydroponic growing procedural recommendations are wasteful in their use of water and reagents. Therefore, application procedures need to be designed in order to obtain maximum utilization of applied irrigation water and the nutrient solution. This will require careful monitoring of water and nutrient solution use coupled with experimentation in terms of adjusting timing and quantity applied based on plant requirements for water and/or nutrient elements.
  • Errors in Rooting media
  1. The physical and chemical characteristics of a rooting medium may affect the nutritional status of the growing plant either by contributing to the nutrient element requirement of the plant or by participating in the interactions that may occur between the rooting medium and the applied nutrient solution.
  2. Some of the commonly used rooting media may contain sufficient quantities of a plant essential element so that element does not need to be included in a nutrient solution formulation. The elements that may be sufficiently supplied by the rooting medium are K, P, Mg, Cu, Mn, and Fe
  3. With the drip irrigation hydroponic growing method, there occurs an accumulation of elements in solution and as precipitates. The common procedure is to monitor the EC of nutrient solution being discharged from the rooting medium or from an aliquot of solution being retained in the rooting medium. When the EC exceeds that of the applied nutrient solution, the rooting medium is to be leached with water. This accumulation of what is known as “salts” can be minimized by reducing the elemental content of the nutrient solution and/or by alternating between a nutrient solution application and water only. The accumulation of “salts” in the rooting medium is an indication of poor management of the use of a nutrient solution formulation. Accumulation of elements in solution as well as precipitates can also occur in the rooting medium with the flood-and-drain method and in the root mass for plants being grown using the NFT method.
  • Plant growth and maturity
  1. Insufficiency of an essential plant nutrient element may not appear as a visual symptom, although plant vegetative growth and product production (flowers and fruit) will be less than the potential. Monitoring the nutrient element content of the growing plant can be used to determine nutrient element sufficiency.
  • Disease and insect control
  1. A commonly occurring error is not to be prepared to deal with the occurrence of an insect infestation or disease occurrence as well as not seeking professional assistance for identification and recommendations for best control treatments. Avoidance is the best control measure, followed by knowing when to apply an effective control treatment.

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