What Plants Crave

Understanding Basic Plant Nutrition and the Role of Fertilizers

Each hydroponic nutrient manufacturer has their own system of products for delivering an optimal blend of nutrients. Usually, this involves a two or three part system that gives you a proprietary blend of everything your plant needs to grow in the correct ratios for each stage of growth. These nutrients include:

  • Macronutrients -  stuff your plant needs lots of : nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K). This is the N-P-K ratios on fertilizer labels.

  • Secondary nutrients -  stuff your plant needs some of : Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Sulfur (S)

  • Micronutrients -  stuff your plant needs a little of : iron (Fe), boron (B), chlorine (Cl), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn), copper (Cu), molybdenum (Mo)

Each system is different and has its own strengths and weaknesses. Follow the nutrient guidelines from whichever brand of nutrients you choose to use. These are always readily available on their website. Advanced Nutrients even has an amazing app that will keep your feedings right on schedule. 
Below are links to these manufacturer's calculators:

Russ' Tip:
When using a two-part base nutrient, the order you add nutrients to your water can make a huge impact on their effectiveness. Always dilute Part A in your water before adding Part B. If you add them in the wrong order or mix them together before diluting them in your water, you will cause "nutrient lockout" making some nutrients unavailable and starving your plants.

Nutrient lockout occurs when plants are unable to absorb the basic nutrients needed to remain healthy. This typically happens as a result of a chemical reaction that takes place between the nutrient solution, the growing media and your plants themselves

Common feeding Issues to look out for

  • Underfeeding : If your plants are looking pale green instead of vibrant, then you could be underfeeding them. You need to give them more nutrients.

  • Overfeeding : Likewise, you could be overfeeding your plants and not know it. This is often accompanied by nutrient burn and could be caused by problems like nutrient lockout.

  • Nutrient lockout : This occurs when the nutrients you’re feeding your plants are unable to be absorbed and so they can’t feed.

  • Nutrient burn : When you give your plants too many nutrients and they end up with brown/black/dark burn spots on the tips of their leaves. This often  happens if you don’t recognize signs of nutrient lockout and think plants are underfed, so you add more nutrients.

  • Overwatering : Your plants can be drooping because they’re starved of oxygen if their roots are sitting in stagnant water caused by overwatering. This is one of many plant root problems you can run into.

  • Nutrient deficiencies : Often looks like underfeeding in the form of droopy, sad, sick-looking plants. Goes hand in hand with underfeeding, but you could be lacking specific micronutrients even if you’re feeding them enough.

  • pH problems : Your pH levels are critically important to your plant feeding program. Check your pH daily, especially in hydroponic systems.

  • Don’t forget to flush! Many nutrient and feeding issues can be fixed by flushing your plants. Flushing is the process (usually right before you harvest) of trying to flush out all the excess salts, nutrients and other contaminants that build up in your plants. By getting rid of excess nutrients left over from the growing process, you improve the smell and taste of the final product. You will often even see your buds swell. You can do this by cutting off nutrients and feeding your plants clear water, or only using a flushing agent like Advanced Nutrients' Flawless Finish

Russ' Tip:
Nutrient manufacturers tend to give you the absolute maximum amount of nutrients/gallon that your plant can withstand. It's not uncommon to "burn" your plants following their guidelines. Start with around 50-60% of the recommended dosage and see how your plants do. Slowly increase the mix until you start to see the very tips of your leaves turn brown or "burn", then dial it back for the perfect nutrient blend for your crop.

The Ph Balancing Act.

pH is the measure of acidity/alkalinity of a solution and is measured on a range of 0-14. Pure water's pH is a neutral 7. Most plants like a slightly acidic pH in the 5.5-6.5 range. If your hydroponic nutrient solution falls out of that range, it will adversely affect the ability of your plants to absorb nutrients. When pH falls below this range many of the macro elements (N, P, K) have less availability, and absorption of the micro nutrients can reach toxic levels. 

Your pH should be checked at least once a day in a hydroponic system. Dakine 420's, Advanced Nutrients' and General Hydroponics' line of nutrients are designed to help you keep your plants growing in the sweet spot, but as the plants use nutrients, the pH of your solution changes. If you see a rapid rise or fall in pH, it usually is a signal that it's time to change out your solution.

Russ' Tip:
Russ has used them all and he is a big believer in Advanced Nutrients' pH Perfect system. If you are new to growing, or if chemistry just isn't your thing, go with a pH Perfect nutrient from Advanced Nutrients. Russ has found them the easiest to use and the yields speak for themselves.
 Advanced Nutrients hydroponic food for your plants.
General Hydroponics nutrient solutions for hydroponic systems
DaKine 420 Cannabis Nutrients

Base Nutrients & Nutrient boosters

Nutrients are the key to hydroponics. Your plants can't get what they need from living soil, so all your plants' needs have to be fulfilled by the nutrients you add. What you add and when you add it will determine the health and productivity of your plants.

Base Nutrients 

Base nutrients are the primary nutrients for your plant. They supply the macronutrients and a universal mix of secondary and micronutrients that your plants need to grow healthy and strong throughout their growing cycle. You can achieve strong results if you only use a good base nutrient for your plants.

There are several systems of base nutrients for you to choose from based on how you are growing your plants and your personal goals as a grower. Be aware that most systems will have a specific formulas for the vegetative phase, as the plants' nutrient requirements are very different during this initial growth phase.

General Hydroponics'  three part base nutrient system is the original approach to hydroponic nutrients, and is still very popular.  Three part systems use three different formulations, one each for the veg, flower, & bloom stages . Each provides different nutrient mixes based on the growth needs of your plants in that stage.

General Hydroponics' system is designed to work with any family of plant and is a great choice for those that want to grow different varieties of plants using a single nutrient system.

Advanced Nutrients  ' two-part systems (like Sensi-grow & Sensi-bloom) uses a two-part base nutrient (part A & B) that must be mixed together in equal proportion to create your base nutrient. While the three part is somewhat easier, the Advanced Nutrients' binary system allows for better pH control and a different range of nutrients than would be possible in a single bottle (and still be shelf-stable).

Advanced Nutrients' line of products are specifically formulated for Cannabis, but are a great choice for many other plants as well. Russ often uses this in his own garden.

PLEASE NOTE: When you mix the two together binary nutrients together, you MUST mix part A into your water before you add B or you may cause nutrient lock, where chemical reactions bind the nutrients in a way that prevent them from being absorbed by the plant.

Dakine 420  powdered nutrients are a newer competitor that has been making waves in the industry. Their nutrients are dry, making them more shelf-stable. They also use a two part base nutrient, but with slight twist. They have a Base nutrient that is always used, but paired with a Grow or Bloom secondary nutrient to give the full nutrient package for each phase of growth.

Dakine's products are also specifically formulated for Cannabis cultivation, but are exceptional nutrients for a wide range of plants. Russ' customers have seen amazing results with Dakine 420's products and Russ considers it on par with Advanced Nutrient's product line.

Russ' Tip:
Russ is a big fan of the Advanced Nutrients' two-part systems for base nutrients. Advanced Nutrients' pH Perfect system makes your life immensely easier. He personally uses Advanced Nutrients' two-part Connoisseur base nutrient, but recommends the Sensi-Grow / Sensi-Bloom system for beginners.

Choosing the right base nutrient system 
This is mainly a matter of personal choice. There are lots of great options available based on your goals as a grower. It's hard to go wrong with any of these systems, but here are some things to think about when choosing your base nutrient system.

  • Do you want to use a three part or binary system?

  • Do you want to grow a variety of plants in a single garden, fed by a single nutrient system?

  • Do you want to grow organically?

  • How are you growing? Do you use soil, coco coir, or an inert growth medium?

Learn more about Advanced Nutrients       Learn more about Dakine 420       Learn more about General Hydroponics

Nutrient Boosters 

Nutrient boosters are added on top of the base nutrients to help meet very specific needs during the different growth phases of your plant. Nutrient boosters are specifically designed to help you tweak your nutrient mix to give your plants an abundance of exactly what they need, exactly when they need it.

Each nutrient booster will promote a different type of growth and is used in different times in the growth cycle. Many of these boosters actually trick a very healthy plant into thinking it is stressed out and putting more and more resources into it's fruit, creating bigger and sweeter harvests!

For example, you may add a nutrient booster that adds carbohydrates to help produce bigger fruit during the flowering stage. Or you may add a nutrient booster that feeds the rhizosphere microbiome. (The rhizosphere microbiome is the healthy bacteria in the root zone that help promote healthy root growth and feeds the plant from it's byproducts. It is what makes living soil so healthy.) 

There are lots of different types of boosters for different applications, such as:
  • Creating more buds per plant during early development
  • Growing bigger fruits during prime growth
  • Keeping the bud/fruit growth going later
  • Promoting root growth & a healthy rhizoshpere 
  • Developing cellular walls that create stronger stems
  • Flushing boosters which clean out built up salts and nutrients before harvest
  • And lots more!

Fish Sh!t organic booster adds live bacteria to roots for incredible growth.
HydroLogic MicRO75 Reverse Osmosis filter

It all starts with your water.

Regardless of the hydroponics system or the nutrients you use, water is the central medium for feeding your plant. The better your water is, the better your results will be. If you don't have a reverse osmosis system already, you can just use distilled water.

The dirtier your water, the less nutrients you can get to your plants.
Water can only hold so many dissolved solids (TDS). If your water has 200ppm of Calcium, Magnesium and other junk your plant can't use, that's 200ppm that can't supply nutrients to your plant.

Russ' Tip:
Russ recommends always using Reverse Osmosis water or distilled water whenever possible. There are affordable systems out there, like the HydroLogic MicRO75 Reverse Osmosis filter system that retails for around $100. Use it for everything including your own drinking water and you may find your own health improving as well.