If you’re thinking about starting a hydroponic garden or expanding your current garden to include hydroponic growing media, then you’ll need to choose the right growing media. Instead of groundwater, hydroponic growers employ several grow media which provide an anchor and help the plant in the delivery of water nutrients and oxygen.
If we think about growing plants we imagine that they will grow well on the nutrient-rich ground. Hydroponic systems do not require soil. Instead, the plants mainly use water-based mineral nutrients. But they require a growing medium, namely materials for growth, sometimes called the substrate.
There are many different types of hydroponic growing media available, and it can be difficult to know which one is best for your plants. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the best hydroponic growing media for 2022, so that you can make an informed decision about which media to choose for your plants.
Why You Should Switch to Hydroponic Growing Media
There are many reasons why you should switch to hydroponic growing media. Here are some of the top reasons:
1. Increased yields – One of the main benefits of using hydroponic growing media is increased yields. Plants grown in hydroponic growing medium often produce larger fruits and vegetables than those grown in soil.
2. Less water usage – Hydroponic growing media requires less water than soil. This is because the roots are constantly submerged in water, so they don’t need to search for moisture. As a result, you can save water when you switch to hydroponic growing media.
3. Less nutrient uptake – Another benefit of hydroponic growing media is that plants take up less nutrients. This is because the roots are constantly exposed to the nutrient solution, so they don’t need to search for them. This can save you money on fertilizers and nutrients.
4. Fewer pests and diseases – One of the biggest benefits of hydroponic gardening is that it’s much less prone to pests and diseases. Hydroponic systems are enclosed, so there’s no way for pests or diseases to enter the system. This means that you’ll spend less time and money dealing with pests and diseases.
5. No soil needed – The final benefit of using hydroponic growing media is that you don’t need soil. Soil is not necessary for hydroponic gardening, which means that you can garden in any location, even if there’s no soil available.
How to Choose the Best Hydroponic Growing Media for Your Plants
There are many different types of hydroponic growing media available, and it can be difficult to know which one is best for your plants. Here are some tips on how to choose the best media for your garden:
1. Consider the type of plants you want to grow – Not all plants grow well in hydroponic systems. Make sure that you choose a growing media that is suitable for the plants you want to grow.
2. Consider the climate – Not all growing media work well in all climates. Make sure that you choose a media that will work well in your climate.
3. Consider your budget – Not all media are created equal. Some media are more expensive than others. Choose a media that fits within your budget.
Below is a comparison of some commonly used growing media and more information regarding maintenance considerations, like sterilization and flushing, which helps with selecting the right water-based solution.
What is the nature of rock wool? Rockwool was used by hydroponic growers for decades. They can be created using melting rock and turning it into very thick and long fibers similar to that used in fiber. This fiber is then pressed into cubes in various shapes. Rockwool can be easily removed if it is melted and lasts practically forever. It must be soaked and hydrated before use.
Perlite has been widely acknowledged by traditional soil gardening. It is a soilless medium that has helped with the aeration of soil mixes. It is created by air pulverizing volcanic glass resulting in extremely lightweight & porous material. The porous nature gives surprisingly stable oxygen retention. In certain hydroponics systems, its weight can pose challenges. Perlite is therefore rarely used alone and is incorporated into coconut coir soil or vermiculite.
Pumica is a mining mineral similar to Perlite formed through superheated and highly pressured volcanoes. The color of these pigments varies depending on the mineral content. Often pumice has darker shades than perlite. This is a lightweight metal that has excellent airflow because there’s room between the pieces. The material tends to float on water, but has good water retention, though not as good as vermiculite.
Vermiculite is a laminar mineral that is similar in appearance to mica. Similar to perlite, vermiculite has been processed through exposure to extreme heat to expand it into clean odorless flakes. Vermiculite is a great soil-free plant material. It is non-toxic, stain-resistant, and has a very low pH.
In addition, it is extremely lightweight and can retains water very well in comparison to Perlite. Nonetheless, this doesn’t give aeration like perlite. These growing materials also have surprisingly strong chemical exchange capabilities that allow for the storing of nutrients later in the day.
Gravel comes from fragmented materials with hardwearing minerals such as clay or granite. It was used very early and with great success. Popular systems are gravel-based ebb and flow systems. The root aeration ratio is high due to the large spaces between particles supplying air to plant roots compared with other growing media.
The downside is that the material does not hold water properly, so the roots can dry easily. Because the rock of sand makes gravel-type structures difficult to transport and heavier. However, it has advantages that can be reused. Once you wash and sterilize it, it will begin to grow and, if necessary, you may reuse it.
Sand consists of very tiny, highly separated minerals. Their particle size is small and water does not dry out very quickly. The most effective way of using sand for this purpose is to try another medium as these media are extremely heavy and lack aerative quality, and need cleaning frequently. You can add vermiculite, perlite, and coconut coir to increase oxygenation in the medium.
7. Starter plugs
Starter plugs (sponge starting) are the latest entry in the hydroponic media field. This material contains organic compost that does not break apart like the soil, because the organic materials are biodegradable. If you want to improve your organic farming and environmental practices, the sponge starting is the easiest way to start seeds and integrate them into hydroponic systems.
This method is great for starting seedling clones and they are the most convenient way to start a new plant. Place the seeds on the tray, with the roots growing directly to the bottom.
Sawdust is produced at sawmills and retail hardware shops and is easily sourced. It is light but keeps water in its place so don’t water the fabric. Sawdust can be biodegraded but can disintegrate. It is not pH neutral so always do a proper pH check before germinating seeds or transplanting seedlings. Always check that the sawdust does not come from lumber that is chemically pretreated as it may be toxic to your plants.
9. Wood Chips/Fibers
Similar to sawdust, hardwoods are another good source of hydroponic media. Ensure the wood chips are not sourced from contaminated wood. Wood chips need to be sterilized before use. It doesn’t hold as much moisture and is not as compact as sawdust. However, used with peat moss, it will help with moisture retention and reduce evaporation.
10. Coconut Coir
Coconut coir (coconut fiber) is becoming increasingly popular with hydroponic gardeners. It is produced from ground-up coconut husks and represents another significant leap for hydroponic growing materials. The husk is a good growing medium as it allows airflow for your plant’s root system and reduces mold infections and root rot due to its natural antifungal properties.
11. Rice Hulls
Normal waste materials from rice crops can also be used to grow in soilless conditions. This material has an acidic pH. You will need to increase the pH to between 5 to 7.2. Rice hulls do not cause waterlogging and is good for hydroponic growers who overwater their plants! Rice hulls should be replaced regularly as they tend to break down over time.
12. Lightweight Expanded Clay Aggregate
LEGED Clay Agglomerate (LECA) is an extremely well-used hydroponic growth medium. Also commonly known as grow rock, expanded clay pellets, and clay pebbles, and under various brands, LECA substrate can be produced with round clay pellets which are heated to a size similar to popcorn.
This expands into a porous and heavier clay. It’s a sterile pH-neutral medium, and it does not compact. It is reusable, although cleaning the material and sterilizing is a task some people may find tedious.
The article above provides a list of different types of hydroponic growing media, as well as their benefits and drawbacks. Many hydroponic growers will have their favorite grow media. It is important to choose the right type of growing media for your plants.
Some of the most popular types of growing media include sand, starter plugs, sawdust, wood chips/fibers, coconut coir, rice hulls, and lightweight expanded clay aggregate. Use the tips in this blog post to help you choose the best media for your garden.
Do I need to sterilize the hydroponic growing media
Sterilizing your hydroponic medium and cleaning your system helps remove nutrient residues on trays and equipment. It also eliminates pathogens and removes debris. Generally, it depends on the system type and the crops you are planting that determine how often you should clean your growing environment.
To sterilize hydroponic growing media, soak the medium in a 5% bleach solution for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, rinse the medium thoroughly with clean water. Allow the medium to air dry before using it in your hydroponic system.
Can I reuse hydroponic growing media
It is possible to reuse hydroponic media, but it is important to clean and sterilize the media before using it again. If you are using a recirculating hydroponic system, you will need to clean and sterilize the system regularly to prevent nutrient build-up.
Why is growing media important?
Growing media are reservoirs for water holding, storage and nutrient retention and exchange system, a gas exchange zone, and provide anchorage points for plants roots.
How often should I replace the hydroponic growing media
It depends on the type of hydroponic system you are using and the type of plants you are growing. In general, it is a good idea to replace the media every 12-18 months.
What is the best hydroponic growing media for beginners
The best hydroponic growing media for beginners is coco coir. Coco coir is a good choice for beginners because it is easy to use and does not require a lot of adjustment. It is also a good choice for plants that need high levels of oxygen.
What is the best substrate for hydroponics?
Rockwool is widely considered by commercial grocers as an ideal substrate in hydroponic productions. Because of its unique structure, rockwool is capable of holding water and preserving a good amount of air for root growth.
What is a water culture system
When growing plants in a tank where roots can develop in an enriched oxygenate environment you just need a growing medium to start your seeds. You might be interested in using a medium to produce a starter cube. When the water becomes too damp it can cause stem rots. Rockwool is a medium commonly used for growing in water.
Are hardwood fibers good for my hydroponic garden
Hardwood fibers make great hydroponic materials with good performance. It is biodegradable and easy to recycle once you have harvested your crop of vegetables.
What is the difference between using plugs and soil mix in hydroponics
Some hydroponic materials come rolled into bags or containers. Other media include separate plugs or pieces such as disks and slabs. Unlike potting soil plugs the primary advantages of the plant grow in the form of small-sized plugs that have divots holding each seed and grow into larger clumps without removing them. Potting seeds helps in limiting transplant shock and reduces the risk of infection.