Hydroponics growing can achieve impressive yields and in record time, however it is a lot more complicated than growing in soil. Read our comprehensive guide on how to grow using hydroponics to guarantee your success in achieving big yields!

A guide to hydroponics

Whether you’re a novice grower or an experienced cultivator, your plants are sure to benefit from learning about hydroponics. With this beginner’s guide, explore the basics of how soil-free cultivation is done, take a look at different hydroponic setups and how they function and discover useful tips and tricks to ensure your success. If you’re interested in growing just a few plants for personal use or hoping to jump-start a new business venture, we’ve got your back!

What is hydroponics growing?

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants using mineral nutrient water instead of soil. You will need a reliable hydroponic system, lighting, plant nutrients, and a secure growing environment. Not only is growing cannabis using hydroponics a great way to grow year-round, but you’ll have more yield with fewer plants. Hydroponic systems minimize the amount of space needed to grow, making it easier than other gardening methods.

The basis of hydroponics is a water-based nutrient solution. Light, air, and space are the other building blocks of successful hydroponics.

In a soil-based garden, you can use only water cannabis with the nutrients already in the soil. Even if you add extras, your plants will only receive what’s already in the dirt. In a hydroponic system, you can provide more precise dosing and target specific elements needed for more robust growth by administering nutrients directly to your plants through a water supply.

Just like humans who need vitamins and minerals to keep their bodies functioning properly, so do plants! A hydroponic garden allows for much-targeted nourishment so that cannabis plants can grow correctly.

Nutrient deficiencies can result from many issues, but the nutrient burn is often the first sign of problems in hydroponic gardens. Signs of burnt plants include yellow or white streaking on the leaves and the tips turning hard and brittle. If you spot this, you will need to flush your plants with clean water immediately to remove any salts or other chemicals built up. Later, if you want to amend your mix, do so with nutrients designed for hydroponic use only.

What are the different growing mediums used with hydroponics?

Rockwool

Rockwool is lightweight and inert. Its porous structure allows for good drainage as well as air space. It knows no pH preference, which makes it a good choice for hydroponic gardeners who have not adjusted their pH levels. Hydroponic Rockwool is made very soft and crispy. And it becomes necessary for hydroponic growers to have any medium that could easily wick moisture into the plant roots while remaining loose and airy.

Also, hydroponic growers prefer having a well-aerated medium for their plants, and one of the main advantages of Rockwool is that it allows extremely good root aeration.

Rockwool is a sterile, nutrient-free soil alternative made from molten rock spun into fibers. It is used as a growing medium for starter seedlings and promotes germination, root growth, and plant vigor through aeration and drainage properties. Growers can use it with or without the addition of supporting mediums such as perlite, coir, or peat.

Perlite

Perlite, along with vermiculite, is also an excellent medium for use in soilless mixtures. They arrange themselves into loose, open-pore structures because they are virtually non-absorbent and airy. So, as a planted layer in a reservoir or planting tray, these materials provide great drainage and good water holding capacity.

Starter plugs

Starter plug trays allow hydroponic gardeners to start seeds or clones in a clean environment and give them the ability to create as many plants as desired. They are also known as seedling starter cubes or plant starters.

These are extremely effective in reducing the use of plastic and increase soil savings. Usually, these are made of cocoa shells, peat moss, coco fiber, or coconut husk. Composted starter plugs have become one of the alternatives in promoting environmental sustainability.

Starter plugs must have a quality medium to hold water and nutrients for the plant’s use. The best starter plug material is one that holds moisture well, can drain excess water, and at the same time absorbs oxygen into the growing medium.

Oasis Cubes

Oasis Cubes feature a simple and innovative design. The unique multi-chamber format is better than traditional Rockwool cubes because it provides your seedlings with the proper balance of oxygen, moisture, nutrients, and root space. It absorbs less water, is easier to use than multiple smaller blocks of Rockwool and other hydroponic substrates, and provides consistent results.

This medium provides the perfect growing environment for plants to thrive. Like real soil, the Oasis Cubes have a pH-neutral formula that makes the growth medium ideal for seeds or cuttings. The open cell structure allows sufficient water and air absorption, while the specially designed individual cells provide excellent air-root ratios.

Pumice

Pumice can be used on its own as a hydroponic growing medium or mixed with perlite, vermiculite, or clay pebbles. It is lightweight and does not compact over time, so it must be “topped up” with water every few weeks to make sure the roots never dry out.

It is also relatively cheap, which makes it easier to pore over large growing areas. Pumice wicks water well but tends to have more air pockets than other substrates, which means you must use a medium containing moisture, like expanded clay pellets or coconut husks.

Rice Hulls

Rice hulls are a soilless growing medium that brings balance to acidic soil. They add many elements such as calcium and potassium and improve aeration for really healthy plants. Rice hulls are light in weight, porous, and inexpensive because they are a by-product of rice farming.

This medium is primarily a sponge, so it holds water well, allowing for free flow of irrigation water through the medium. It’s not pH neutral, so you would want to monitor and adjust the pH by mixing it with your nutrient solution in a hydroponic system. Also, it would help if you replaced them regularly because they decompose quickly

Growstones

Growstones are lightweight, non-toxic, porous, and have two special advantages. First, unlike other spheres or balls which float, grow stones don’t float, so you can use them in ebb & flow or drip systems. Second, they will not grow bacteria since they are non-soluble. These are the simplest mediums you can use to grow plants in the hydroponics system.

The grow stones are made from glass. These recycled glasses are hardly crushed, melt, and sometimes mixed in some calcium carbonates, making them very smooth and slippery.

Sand and gravel

Some hydroponic growers use sand for plants to root in and grow. It is lightweight, attractive, durable, and (in many cases) free of charge. Fill a few terracotta pots with clean earth and mix in some small chunks of gravel or pebble. Add the growing medium to the pots, up to an inch from the top of the pot, and place your plants on it.

Sand is an easy-to-find medium to use at home or for experiments. It acts as a great seed germinator because of the many different minerals and nutrients it contains. Although it is heavy and doesn’t have good aeration qualities, mixing it with other media will help to fix that.

When creating a sand medium, it’s important to ensure that the particles are small enough to drain evenly. If your sand is too coarse, your roots can get ‘clogged’ and restrict water flow into your medium.

Sawdust

Sawdust and similar wood products are a great and cost-effective starting medium. Most hydroponic growers start with this medium since the initial cost is low. The material is lightweight and water-retentive, so you don’t have to water often.

It comes in three different types, pine, spruce, and hardwood. The recommended sawdust for your system should be dark brown and rich in nutrients. Pine sawdust is more acidic, which will work with most plants. The darker, the better. At least 6 inches deep of sawdust is required to water effectively.

For a long time, sawdust was the most recommended growing medium used for hydroponic systems. It is inexpensive and readily available. However, its poor air-standing characteristics and the difficulty of maintaining a consistent pH limit its use in hydroponic systems.

The advantages to hydroponics growing

Hydroponics uses less water

Compared to traditional gardening, hydroponics uses up to 90 percent less water. Less water is used because there is no evaporation from dirt, the plants’ roots aren’t competing with weeds that are also seeking water, and the roots can be kept cool by the insulation of the growing medium.

Save space

As a hydroponics gardening method can be more productive per square foot than growing in soil, you need less room.

Perfect growing conditions

Growing weed the organic way can pay dividends for the health-conscious marijuana grower, especially if you desire a high THC percentage. Because you can clone only female plants, it’s easy to rid a garden of pests and other undesirable plants. Spraying harmful chemicals is unnecessary when using 100% organic methods, producing a better quality crop.

Grow anytime

The climate-controlled environment of a hydroponic garden also allows you to grow cannabis plants year-round without worrying about outdoor temperatures, wind, and other weather conditions.

High yield, potent produce

In addition to the economic incentive to grow in a hydroponic system, the quality of the end product can be higher than with soil growing. The finished product may contain more THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids. That’s because they all developed in healthy leaves that weren’t bogged down by soil-borne diseases, pests, and weeds.

The different types of hydroponics methods

Aeroponics

With its roots in NASA rocket science, Aeroponics is an advanced form of hydroponics that allows for a 99.96% evaporation rate and uses less water than other systems. Also, since roots are constantly being misted and the solution can be recirculated, there is almost no waste. Aeroponics uses air pumps to spray the roots and does not need to grow mediums like gravel or rock wool.

Continuous flow / Top feed system

The Top feed system is a great choice if you have a small grow space or only a couple of plants as it is easy and inexpensive to set up. With this system, the roots are always in contact with the nutrient solution, so there is no need for a timer pump controller system.

Water is fed into the reservoir, which holds it until the plants use it. The nutrient-rich water is pumped up from underneath the bed into the top of a tube. The water trickles down from each hole in a PVC pipe, over the roots of each plant, and back down to the reservoir.

Deep Water Culture (DWC)

In the deep water culture system, the roots of plants are submerged in nutrients. . Each plant has its container with nutrient solution. The solutions contain approximately 5 to 20 times more oxygen than the average hydroponic solution, which encourages root development and helps prevent root rot. They’re ideal for growing multiple small plants at once and can keep them alive and healthy with the amount of oxygen they provide.

Drip Irrigation

Drip systems are a great way to feed your plants. The nutrients drip directly onto the medium. There is no misting. Feeding is consistent as well as completely silent when using the dripper method. Using the drip method saves water, time, and nutrient solution. It also allows more control over the delivery of nutrients to the plants since you can regulate the drip rate and flow.

Ebb and Flow

This a type of hydroponics that utilizes a water reservoir to flood plant roots after the nutrient solution is pumped into the system. By acquiring a reservoir alongside your pump, you can control your nutrient solution easily.
It’s a well-balanced system because the water level remains constant at all times, while the nutrients are gradually washed into the growing containers as the nutrient solution recedes in each cell. The Ebb and Flow hydroponics method also permits you to arrange your plants in a grid pattern to simultaneously grow many plants.

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT)

The NFT method has two kinds of channels, growing and distribution. Both channels are just the right dimensions for the 1-gallon or 2-gallon net pots. This is important because it makes it easy to manage how much water and nutrients the plants get. The plants are placed in the net pots when they are very small, so all of them are equal size and have plenty of room to grow.

The method has several advantages over traditional growing methods. Nutrition is provided to the roots in a consistent, controlled manner. There is no build-up of internal PPM (Parts per Million) due to the consistent feeding by the pump and head. The use of net pots allows for better drainage to reduce many root diseases.

Wick system

Wick systems for growing plants indoors are very easy to use. The plants sit in the ground material, which in turn is placed into the water. The wicks will draw water and nutrients from the bottom up into the pot and allow the excess water to drain back down into the reservoir. If you would like to keep your plant looking healthy, you will want to drain the container every day and refill it with fresh water. You can do this manually or use automatic wicking.

Sea of Green (SOG)

Sea of green (SOG) is a hydroponic method where multiple plants are grown together in one container. With Sea of Green, the plants are arranged in a grid pattern, with each seed placed at the same distance from the others. Plants that are more susceptible to light pollution should be positioned at the back, while those better able to tolerate it go to the front.

Many people use Sea of Green (or SOG) as a method to increase their harvest yields. It is one of the most productive ways to grow plants in large quantities. SOG avoids the need for pruning, staking, or training plants to grow in a single plane and saves both time and space. The name “Sea of Green” refers to the sea of green plant growth resulting from this technique.

The screen of Green SCROG

Screen of Green (SCROG) is a training technique that uses any horizontal screen to control the height of multiple marijuana plants. Plants are usually trained to grow horizontally through netting or chicken wire. The vertical growth of each plant is limited, and its energy is distributed laterally across the screen. It is a variation on the standard Screen of Green (SOG)

In a SCROG setup, plants are placed in their final position and grown while trailing over a suspended screen above the growing medium. Scrogging is especially useful for home cultivation because it allows your plants to grow 1–3 feet long and wide without any need to trim them, which can negatively affect your yield constantly.

Keys points to remember when hydroponics growing

  • Stay on top of your watering schedule and check the moisture level in your soil.
  • It is essential to have a container with holes in the bottom that allow nutrients to enter the water stream.
  • Make the pH of the nutrient solution balanced {6.0 to 6.8}.
  • Air circulation is important.
  • Keep the temperature consistent and warm {15 C to 20C}.
  • Use pots and hoses that comply with the hydroponics laws.
  • Keep your system clean to reduce the chance of pathogen growth and contamination.

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