Best Nutrients You Should Use in Hydroponic Systems

Best Nutrients You Should Use in Hydroponic Systems
External Guest Writer
July 14, 2022

Plants traditionally take in soil nutrients from the medium they are planted in. Without soil, plant growth is stunted, particularly as the roots cannot absorb any organic nutrients to allow plants to thrive. Soil nutrients are added into potting mediums to ensure plants have an ample supply to develop lush leaves and fruit. However, hydroponic plants take nutrients elsewhere.

Hydroponics is a field of gardening and plant growing that needs no soil to grow lush and vibrant plants for consumption or as a resource material. Hence, most hydroponics make use of nutrient solutions that can deliver the necessary nutrient-rich water throughout the hydroponics systems. 

These hydroponic nutrient solutions contain a balanced formula of essential plant nutrients needed in the development of new leaves, root health, and fruiting. Without these plant nutrients, the hydroponics systems would not be successful in growing different varieties of crops.

What Are Hydroponic Nutrients?

Hydroponic nutrients are nutrient solutions containing measured ingredients that plants need to grow lush foliage. Hydroponic nutrients are similar to liquid fertilizers that are added into soil or potting mix, but are carefully measured to provide plants with the exact nutrient levels they require to grow.

Hydroponic nutrient solutions are the elements, beneficial bacteria, and amino acids that mimic nutrients found in soil-based systems. Without a nutrient solution in a hydroponic system, plants would not grow to their full potential, or may not bear fruit at all. Herbs will also have a muted taste, and plant roots may not fully develop.

Hydroponic plants need all the nutrients they can get, and the hydroponic system was created to deliver nutrient solution directly to the roots of the plants for optimal absorption. In general, hydroponics rely on a top-quality, water-soluble hydroponic nutrient solution to grow their harvest. 

woman pruning plant

How Do They Work?

Hydroponic systems were built to be used with nutrient solutions - which are dissolved in the water for easy absorption. A commercial grower would add the liquid plant food fertilizer to their water reservoir according to the manufacturer's instructions, and let the hydroponic nutrients do the work.

As water passes through the plant root zone, the dissolved plant food is consumed by the roots and distributed throughout the plant. A grower should see new growth appear after a few days to indicate that the plant food has provided the plant with the nitrogen, magnesium, and other nutrient-rich minerals it needs to grow.

In hydroponics, organic gardening is a usual preference for growers, so farmers stick to organic and natural solutions instead of commercially-created ones. The best hydroponic nutrients should include base nutrients, beneficial microbes, and dissolved oxygen to aid in plant development and leaf growth.

woman inspecting plant

The Best Nutrients to Use in Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponic gardens need nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, and more to grow. In soil-based gardens, these are delivered through fertilizers like vermicast, compost, or even through nitrogen-rich coffee grounds. However, hydroponics uses only liquid to grow plants, which does not hold solid compost well.

Instead, liquid solutions are the preferred method of incorporating nutrients into hydroponic gardens. These hydroponic nutrients are must-haves for any commercial grower, and are filled with nutrient-rich fertilizer solutions to be mixed into the water reservoir. 

Essentials: Nitrogen (N) and Potassium (K)

Nitrogen is one of the base nutrients plants need to survive. In soil-based gardening, growers add compost material to the soil to provide the plants with nitrogen, created as organic material decomposes. Nitrogen is responsible for the overall health and growth.

Potassium is an essential hydroponic nutrient responsible for developing the capacity of flora to take in CO2, and is essential for photosynthesis. Potassium is usually found in soil, but hydroponic systems will need to add this nutrient to the water supply.

For Growth: Calcium (Ca) and Phosphorus (P)

Calcium is essential in maintaining a cell wall, which is needed for growing new foliage and budding sprouts for all types of vegetation. This nutrient enables plant growth by aiding in the production of plant tissues.

Phosphorus gets the photosynthesis system going, and is essential in keeping vegetables leafy and green. Phosphorus is also essential for energy transfer and the development of strong roots. It is an essential nutrient for ATP, and regulates the energy production of plants.

Metals: Iron (Fe) and Copper (Cu)

Iron develops the rich color and taste of vegetation, and iron travels through the vegetation to provide consumers with nutrients as well. Iron aids in the formation of chlorophyll, which gives plants their green pigment. The nutrient availability of plants when consumed depends on the amount of iron the plant receives.

Copper develops chlorophyll in all types of vegetation, and acts as a terrific fungicide to keep destructive fungi away from the foliage. It also promotes seed generation, which is especially important for fruiting plants.


There are other essential elements in keeping vegetation alive and healthy, but these may differ from species to species. Growers will need to know and understand the needs of their garden to be able to supply the right amount of nutrients in their hydroponic systems. 

Certain crops, like strawberries, require zinc and boron for pollen production, while cucumber yields more fruit when given manganese and chlorine. These micronutrients differ per plant, but all contribute to overall plant health. Hydroponic growers need to take note of these elements when adding their nutrient packages into the water supply.

Why You Should Use Nutrients in a Hydroponic System

Unlike traditional gardening, hydroponic systems do not use soil, which can deplete the plants of the essential nutrients they need to thrive. Instead, a nutrient solution is needed to keep the plants thriving, and to provide plant nutrition.

Commercial growers would research and measure out the nutrients their plants need to grow, but urban gardeners can purchase ready-made nutrient solutions with the base nutrients needed to provide adequate nutrients to crops like lettuce and tomatoes.

Nutrients are a non-negotiable part of a hydroponic system, so don't expect to gain large harvests using only water in hydroponics. While plants create their own food with sunlight and water, added nutrients enhance their resistance to diseases, and aid in fruit production. Plant nutrients are essential for growth, and will determine the nutrient composition of crops.

Grow, Grow, Grow

Adding extra nutrients for vegetation to grow is part of proper farming practices. In traditional farming, nutrients are added into the soil to promote soil health, and boost the beneficial microorganisms in soil. Hydroponics uses the same concept, adding nutrient solution to the water reservoir to keep plants healthy, and grow optimal harvests.