Although most hydroponic gardening involves controlling the immediate environment of the growing plant, there are still problems that arise in this type of gardening.
Several problems arise in hydroponics gardening, and these include the nutrient deficiency of plant, the inability of the plant to acclimatize and the presence of pests and pathogens. Problems encountered among hydroponic gardeners are often reflected on the overall physique of the plant. Below are listed several examples of the most commonly faced problems in hydroponic gardening and their likely causes.
Most common faced problems
- Root death – The most common problem in hydroponic gardening, root death is caused by a lot of factors which include starvation suffocation due to an algal bloom, chemical damage, salt build-up, and temperature changes. Although most plants quickly die due to the lack of dissolved Oxygen in the nutrient solution, there are some plants (tomatoes) that adapt to the situation by producing aerial roots.
- Flowering and fruiting problems – Fruiting problems in hydroponic gardening is quite common and can range from the lack of fruit development to physiological disorders such as end rot.
Moreover, gardeners also experience uneven coloration on their fruits as well as fruit splitting. Although the flowering and fruiting problems are attributed to the lack of essential nutrients, this problem may be caused by several other factors, such as the environment and the genetics of the plants.
- Excessive vegetative growth – Some plants are grown in hydroponic systems are propagated for their fruits specifical plants like tomatoes and bell peppers. Another problem experienced by most hydroponic gardeners is that their plants have excessive vegetative growth. This means that the plants are mostly producing leaves and are not showing signs of reproductive maturity. Excessive vegetation usually occurs whenever there is a deficiency of the concentration of essential nutrients in the solution.
- Overall malaise – Overall malaise of the plant is displayed by having yellow leaves and stunted growth. There are many reasons for this particular problem, and it can be a nutrient deficiency, suffocation, or salt build up.
- Plant Necrosis – In worst case scenarios, many hydroponic gardeners have reported high plant necrosis. Plant necrosis is attributed to different factors from suffocation to the infection of pathogens and pests. Learning about the different types of problems encountered in the hydroponic system is crucial for you to be able to understand how to deal with them.
The succeeding sections will tackle the different problems encountered in hydroponic gardening and ways on how to troubleshoot them.
Plants grown in a hydroponics system are reliant on the formulation of the nutrient solution thus, it is essential for the solution to contain the essential elements that are necessary for the optimal growth of plants. However, nutrient solutions are complex and that the composition of the solution changes from time to time as more mineral ions are extracted when the solution flows through the roots. In most cases, the roots also release exudates that also change the concentration of nutrients as well as the pH of the solution. When plants are subjected to nutrient deficiency, they display a myriad of symptoms. It is essential to take note that the lack of different elements shows different symptoms on different plants.
Moreover, different plants seem to have different uptakes of the elements that often result in depletion in the nutrient solution. For instance, fruiting tomato plants tend to uptake more potassium while vegetative crops such as lettuce take in more nitrogen. On the other hand, it is also complicated to determine whether a particular symptom in plants indeed arise due to nutrient deficiencies and it usually takes years of experience to tell whether a specific plant is suffering from a nutrient deficiency or some other forms of toxicity. Nutrient deficiency in hydroponic systems is more common than different types of problems, and this is the reason why it is essential to solving this type of problem. So how do you tell whether a particular problem is brought about by nutrient deficiency or not.
It follows a a brief guide on what to consider once determining whether your plant is suffering from the following deficiencies.
Plants that suffer from iron deficiency often result in having their root system becoming damaged. This type of mineral deficiency is common during cool growing conditions and is often associated with high pH values of the nutrient solution. It is crucial that you monitor and add more soluble iron to the solution if needed.
Calcium is essential in plants. The lack of this particular nutrient often results in the development of tip burns and blossom end rot in lettuce and tomatoes respectively. The lack of Calcium is usually induced by high humidity levels which restrict the transpiration of plants and hinders the distribution of Calcium throughout the plant.
Plants that lack Magnesium often develops yellowing in the leaves. In most cases, magnesium deficiency is induced by the uptake of high concentrations of potassium. To solve nutrient deficiency, it is crucial for hydroponic gardeners to make sure that the environmental conditions of the plant are monitored at all times. Moreover, applying the nutrient solution regularly is essential to prevent deficiency.
Another problem encountered in hydroponic gardening is the tendency for salt to build up near the base of the plant stem, which can cause salt burn damage. Aside from salt burn damage, the increasing concentration of salt also results in the higher osmotic pressure around the plant; thus, this leads to the plant losing water instead of drawing it in. Salt deposition is caused by different factors. This particular problem is straightforward to detect even on its onset as you will see noticeable streaks or crusting located in the base of the stems. On the other hand, there are also noticeable physiological changes in the plant, which include stunting of growth, darkening of the tips and hardening of the tissues. Aside from evaporation, it is also caused by the rapid evaporation of the liquid nutrient as well as the type of growing media. Growing media that have porous structures often contribute to water loss that results in salt crusting. To prevent salt build up, using the non-porous growing medium is essential. Moreover, covering the media beds with a plastic film to discourage high rates of evaporation is also very important. Addressing the problem of salt deposition is easy, and all it takes is for you to do constant monitoring and flushing the system from the old nutrient solution regularly to prevent this problem.
If you notice green growth in your nutrient solution, then you are experiencing algal growth. These tiny “plants” – protists – do not only appear green but they can also appear as black, red or brown slimy growth on your medium. Algae grow naturally in nutrient-rich waters, and unfortunately, the reservoir of your hydroponic system is full of it. These tiny plants are aggressive, and they cling to pumps, gullies, channels, or even on the damp media. Aside from making your hydroponic system look unsightly, they also compete for the dissolved oxygen in the water.
Moreover, they also compete with the nutrient uptake of the plant. Unfortunately, algae have an evolutionary advantage because they have better mechanisms to absorb nutrients from their surroundings than plants. Controlling the spread of algae in your hydroponic system can be challenging. If you notice a growth, in your reservoir, then you need to regularly clean your system. You can manually remove the algal film, or you can apply algaecide, but the problem with the latter is that it may also cause damage to the sensitive root system of your plants. Therefore, the best solution to this problem is to do manual control of algae in your hydroponic system as well as to install an aerator to increase the concentration of dissolved Oxygen in the solution.
Just because plants grown using the hydroponic system are propagated using the most advanced gardening technologies does not mean that they are no longer susceptible to pests. Depending on the type of plants cultivated, pests still find ways to threaten the plants. Common garden pests such as gnats, worms, and fruit flies still pose a threat to the plants even if the hydroponic system is enclosed inside the greenhouse. If there is an infestation of pests among the plants, it is crucial to apply organic pesticide to control the pest population. Moreover, it is also crucial to ensure the greenhouse or growing area is properly clean at all times.
Bacteria and Mold Infestation
Due to the moist environment of the hydroponic setup, bacteria and molds can quickly proliferate inside the greenhouse. Although the bacterial population in the hydroponic system is impossible to get rid off, it can still be kept at a minimum by controlling the atmosphere inside the greenhouse. Installing a dehumidifier can lessen the moisture content inside the greenhouse, thereby restricting the proliferation of the pathogens. The problems in hydroponic systems are unavoidable, but this does not mean that there is no solution. With proper cultural practices such as keeping the cleanliness of the system and continuously monitoring the pH and nutrient concentration, it is possible to enjoy raising healthy plants using hydroponics.
It is crucial for us to be always aware of how our plants are growing, looking closely to all the details, aiming to prevent to have bigger problem on the whole plantation. Acting fast is crucial, once a problem is noticed and sometime the solution may be applied immediately and simply.
Cleaning is Key for Success here and it must be one of our top priorities when leading with hydroponics, also the quality of our own seeds and the way we treat/store them.