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:
- Bucket, tub, or another container
- Accurate scale
- Gallon jug or large measuring cup
- pH test and adjustment kit
- Stirring rod or spoon
- An electrical conductivity (EC) meter is advised to measure the total dissolved solutes in the solution
- Gloves (optional, but recommended)
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.
|Nitrogen (N)||Iron (Fe)|
|Phosphorus (P)||Manganese (Mn)|
|Potassium (K)||Copper (Cu)|
|Calcium (Ca)||Boron (B)|
|Magnesium (Mg)||Zinc (Zn)|
|Sulfur (S)||Molybdenum (Mo)|
But how and where do you source these elements?
Fertilizer salts are the answer. You can buy these online, from food stores, or from your local nurseries/garden centers.
The most essential fertilizer salts for DIY hydroponic nutrient solutions are:
- Magnesium Sulfate/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. Sulfur is responsible for the production of plant energy and facilitates the use of other elements.
- Potassium Sulfate – 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 Formulas
Understanding pH for hydroponic growing is critical!
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)
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.
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).
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.
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.
Vegetative Stage Formula
|0.40||7% Fe Chelated Trace Elements – see below|
Flowering Stage Formula
|0.40||7% Fe Chelated Trace Elements – see below|
Fruiting Stage Formula
|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:
- Firstly, fill your container/s with the appropriate amount of warm water.
- 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.
- Add your measured-out salts for each compound, one at a time, and allow for each one to dissolve before adding the next one.
- Once all of them have been added, let your solution stand until fully cooled.
- Now test and compare your pH against your initial reading.
- 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.
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.
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 Nutrients||Immobile 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)|
- Symptoms – Lower leaves become yellowish-green and growth is stunted.
- Remedy – Add calcium nitrate or potassium nitrate to the nutrient solution.
- 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.
- Symptoms – Older leaves have interveinal (between veins) chlorosis from the leaf margins inward. Necrotic spots also begin to appear.
- Remedy – Apply a foliar spray of 2% magnesium sulfate, or add magnesium sulfate to the nutrient solution.
- Symptoms – Upper leaves start yellowing. This progresses to leaf tips, margins wither,
- and petioles curl. The growing point no longer grows 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.
- 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 compounds to the nutrient solution.
- 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
- 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
- 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 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.
- 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 a foliar spray of 01% manganese sulfate solution or add manganese sulfate to the nutrient solution.
- 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.
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!