DIY Hydroponic Nutrients (How To Make Your Own Formula)

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Hydroponic cultivation is all about control, so it should come as no surprise that many people make use of DIY hydroponic nutrients for their setups.

But with all of the readymade nutrients out there, why would you want to go through the effort of making your own DIY hydroponic formula?

Anyone who has a hydroponic system – or is looking to build one – knows, or will discover, that premade nutrient mixes are costly.

Growers may also become so well-versed in hydroponics that they want to be able to customize their nutrient formulas to optimize the growth of their plants.

However, doing this may seem rather overwhelming – this is where this article comes into play.

In this post, you’ll learn about the basic elements of DIY Hydroponic nutrients, the equipment you’ll need, and the importance of ph levels and electrical conductivity.

This will be followed by some general nutrient formulas that you can make use of.

Lastly, you will learn how to identify common signs of nutrient deficiency and how to remedy them.


Equipment Needed To Make DIY Hydroponic Nutrients

To begin, here is a list of general items that you will need in order to make your DIY hydroponic formula:

DIY hydroponic nutrients for a formula.
Distilled water, water-soluble fertilizer, Epsom salts & sodium benzoate, making up a DIY Hydroponic Formula.
Credit to: ChilLED Grow Lights channel on Youtube
Looking to purchase a grow tent but not sure where to start, have a look at our article – 7 Grow Tents For Beginners (On a Budget)

Essential Elements Of DIY Hydroponic Nutrient Solutions

Plants require 13 essential elements for their growth – you will be using these elements as part of your DIY nutrient formula. In addition to these elements, they need carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O), which come from water and air.

These elements are categorized into two groups:

  • Macronutrients – or macro elements that are required in larger amounts.
  • Micronutrients – or trace elements that are required in smaller amounts.

The following table illustrates the 13 essential elements and groups them.

MacronutrientsMicronutrients
Nitrogen (N) Iron (Fe)
Phosphorus (P) Manganese (Mn)
Potassium (K) Copper (Cu)
Calcium (Ca) Boron (B)
Magnesium (Mg) Zinc (Zn)
Sulfur (S) Molybdenum (Mo)
Chlorine (Cl)

But how and where do you source these elements?

Fertilizer salts are the answer. You can buy these online, food stores, or from your local nurseries/garden centers.

The most essential fertilizer salts for DIY hydroponic nutrient solutions are:

  • Magnesium Sulphate/Epsom Salts – These contain magnesium and sulfur. Magnesium is a component of chlorophyll and is involved in the process of distributing phosphorus throughout the plant. Sulphur is responsible for the production of plant energy and facilitates the use of other elements.
  • Potassium Sulphate – This provides potassium and sulfur. Potassium is used by the plant to produce energy from photosynthesis.
  • Potassium Nitrate – This supplies nitrogen and potassium. Nitrogen is necessary for the creation of stems, leaves and plant cells.
  • Superphosphate – Phosphorus and calcium come from this. Increasing levels of phosphorus during bud development can improve yields as plants use higher levels of phosphorus during this stage of development. Calcium facilitates root growth and helps the plant absorb potassium.
  • Trace Elements – Additional elements required for plant development. They include boron, chlorine, copper, iron, manganese, molybdenum and zinc

Importance Of pH For DIY Hydroponic Forumulas

The pH scale measures the relative acidity or alkalinity of a solution or a medium. This scale ranges from 0 (extremely acidic) to 14 (extremely alkaline)

A diagram illustrating the ph scale.
Picture Illustrating the pH Scale

Plants mostly prefer slightly acidic conditions that range between 5.8 and 6.5

The pH level affects the plants’ ability to absorb essential elements from the nutrient solution. Additionally, it influences the solubility as well as the capacity for the nutrient solution to retain its essential elements.

With the above in mind, it is incredibly important that you test the pH of the water that you are using for your DIY hydroponic formula, and ultimately your nutrient solution as a whole.

NB: If you’re in the market for a pH test kit, click here. You can also purchase pH adjustment solutions that’ll go a long way in maintaining optimal pH levels.

Electrical Conductivity Of DIY Hydroponic Nutrients

After you have adjusted the pH level, it is time to pay attention to the electrical conductivity.

Electrical conductivity measures the concentration of the nutrient solution based on its ability to conduct electricity. Pure water does not actually conduct electricity, only water with solutes (elements) added to it is capable of doing that.

In order for you to measure the electrical conductivity of your solution, you will need an EC meter. This special meter measures the electricity conducted by the nutrient solution, which is directly related to the level of total dissolved solutes in the solution.

The scale is commonly expressed as millimhos (mMhos)or millisiemens (mS).

An EC meter measuring the electrical conductivity of a DIY hydroponic nutrient solution.
A Tri-Meter in action. This measures EC, pH, and temperature.

Your EC should bet between 0.8 to 3.0 mMhos, though in most cases, 1.5 to 2.5 mMhos is more appropriate. If you find that the EC is too high, you should add more water to bring it down.

For best results, test your solution as soon as you make it. Make a note of this value and then test and record the EC, daily. Doing this will allow you to identify and remedy any weakening of your solution over a period of time.

If you are interested in learning about Hydroponic Kits, read this article

General DIY Hydroponic Nutrient Formulas

The nutrients below make up general-purpose DIY nutrient mixes. These mixes are used for the vegetative, flowering, and fruiting stages.

Please Note: These nutrient amounts are scaled to 1 gallon of solution. You will need to adjust quantities accordingly if you plan to scale up.

Vegetative Stage Formula

Amount (grams)Nutrients
6.00Calcium Nitrate
2.42Magnesium Sulfate
2.09Potassium Nitrate
1.39Monopotassium Phosphate
0.46Potassium Sulfate
0.40 7% Fe Chelated Trace Elements – see below

Flowering Stage Formula

Amount (grams)Nutrients
4.10 Calcium Nitrate
2.40 Magnesium Sulfate
2.80 Potassium Nitrate
1.39 Monopotassium Phosphate
0.46 Potassium Sulfate
0.40 7% Fe Chelated Trace Elements – see below

Fruiting Stage Formula

Amount (grams)Nutrients
8.00 Calcium Nitrate
2.80 Potassium Nitrate
2.40 Magnesium Sulfate
1.70 Potassium Sulfate
1.39 Monopotassium Phosphate
0.40 7% Fe Chelated Trace Elements – see below

Chelated Trace Elements

These need to be added together and mixed into a fine powder before you can add them to the above formulas.

  • 7.00% – Iron
  • 2.00% – Manganese
  • 1.30% – Boron
  • 0.40% – Zinc
  • 0.10% – Copper
  • 0.06% – Molybdenum

Mixing Your Nutrients

Now you will learn how to take the above elements and turn them into your very own DIY hydroponic nutrient mix.

Here are the steps to do so:

  1. Firstly, fill your container/s with the appropriate amount of warm water.
  2. Before you continue, test the pH level of your water as well as its total dissolved solids. Your pH level will change as you add your elements, so keep these readings as they will help you find the real concentration levels after your final reading.
  3. Add your measured out salts for each compound, one at time, and allow for each one to dissolve before adding the next one.
  4. Once all of them have been added, let your solution stand until fully cooled.
  5. Now test and compare your pH against your initial reading.
  6. Adjust your pH so that it is suitable for your plants.

Nutritional Deficiency Signs And How To Remedy Them

While a DIY hydroponic formula can assist you in catering to the specific needs of your plants, it also means added responsibility. If you do not get the balance of nutrients right, your plants will suffer greatly.

Fortunately, plants – much like humans – show visible signs of strain if they are suffering from an imbalance of nutrients. Both their growth and general well-being will be affected.

Some of these signs include a reduction in vigor, strength of the stems, and the color of the leaves. You’ll also end up with poorer yields.

Plant deficiency guided used for DIY Hydroponic nutrients
Credit to: growrealfood.com

Two sets of elements are responsible for symptoms in plants. They are:

  • Mobile Elements – symptoms first seen on the older leaves
  • Immobile Elements – symptoms first seen on the younger leaves at the top of the plant.

Here is a table illustrating the various mobile and immobile elements:

Mobile NutrientsImmobile Nutrients
Nitrogen (N)Calcium (Ca)
Phosphorus (P)Sulfur (S)
Potassium (K)Boron (B)
Magnesium (Mg)Copper (Cu)
Chlorine (Cl)Iron (Fe)
Molybdenum (Mo)Manganese (Mn)
Zinc (Zn)
If hydroponics with fish (aquaponics) fascinates you, read this article.

Mobile Elements

Nitrogen Deficiency

  • Symptoms – Lower leaves become yellowish-green and growth is stunted.
  • Remedy – Add calcium nitrate or potassium nitrate to the nutrient solution.

Phosphorus Deficiency

  • Symptoms – Stunted growth, distinct purple color on the undersides of the leaves and leaves fall off prematurely.
  • Remedy – Add monopotassium phosphate to the nutrient solution.

Magnesium Deficiency

  • Symptoms – Older leave have interveinal (between veins) chlorosis from the leaf margins inward. Nectrotic spots also begin to appear.
  • Remedy – Apply a foliar spray of 2% magnesium sulfate, or add magnesium sulfate to the nutrient solution.

Immobile Elements

Calcium Deficiency

  • Symptoms – Upper leaves start yellowing. This progresses to leaf tips, margins wither,
  • and petioles curl. The growing point no longer grow and the smaller leaves turn a purple-brown color at the margins. The leaflets remain tiny and deformed.
  • Remedy -Apply a foliar spray of 10% calcium nitrate solution, or add calcium nitrate to the nutrient solution.

Sulfur Deficiency

  • Symptoms – Upper leaves become stiff and curl down, while the leaves begin to turn yellow. Plant growth is restricted and the stems, veins and petioles begin to turn purple.
  • Remedy -Add potassium sulfate or other sulfate compound to the nutrient solution.

Iron Deficiency

  • Symptoms – The terminal leaves start turning yellow at the margins and progress through the entire leaf, eventually resulting in necrosis. Initially the smallest veins remain green, this produces a reticulate pattern. Flowers begin to abort and fall off, growth is stunted and spindly in appearance.
  • Remedy – Apply a foliar spray with 002%–005% solution of iron chelate every 3–4 days or add iron chelate to the nutrient solution

Boron Deficiency

  • Symptoms – The growing point withers and dies. Upper leaves curl inward and are deformed, showing interveinal mottling (blotchy yellowing patterns). The upper, smaller leaves become very brittle and break easily.
  • Remedy – Apply a foliar spray of 01%–025% borax solution, or add borax or boric acid to the nutrient solution

Copper Deficiency

  • Symptoms -Young leaves remain small, margins turn into a tube toward the midribs in tomatoes ,petioles bend downward, and growth is stunted, giving off a “bushy” appearance of at the top of the plant.
  • Remedy – Use a foliar spray of 01%–02% solution of copper sulfate or add copper sulfate to the
  • nutrient solution.

Manganese Deficiency

  • Symptoms – Middle and younger leaves turn pale and develop a checkered pattern of green veins with yellowish interveinal areas. Later, small necrotic spots form in the pale areas. Shoots will become stunted.
  • Remedy – Apply foliar spray of 01% manganese sulfate solution or add manganese sulfate to the nutrient solution.

Zinc Deficiency

  • Symptoms – Older and terminal leaves are abnormally small. The plant may get a “bushy” appearance due to the slowing of growth at the top.
  • Remedy – Use a foliar spray with 01%–05% solution of zinc sulfate, or add zinc sulfate to the nutrient solution.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to the nutrients for your hydroponic system, what you put in is what you get – that goes for both personal effort and nutrient quality.

Initially, the DIY route may seem a bit challenging but once you’ve done the research and gathered all of the necessary materials, you’ll be able to forge ahead with creating your own DIY hydroponic nutrients.

Don’t be upset if you make a mistake or two along the way, it is all about learning. Rest assured, once you’ve mastered the art of making your own nutrients, you’ll be better off for it!

Robert Wortrich

Robert is a content creator and editor. His passion for researching and the environment led him to joining the Climatebiz team. When he isn’t busy writing articles or learning more about everything Green Technology-related, you’ll find him spending time with friends or hiking one of the many wonderful trails that his home – Cape Town – has to offer.

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