The Easiest Plants for Hydroponics

Some of the easiest plants for hydroponics are herbs and greens. Here’s why they do so well, and why you should consider adding them to your hydroponic garden. You have a surprising amount of variety to choose from!

Herbs

Many herbs do extremely well in hydroponic systems, and that’s in large part due to their natural ability to grow in wet areas. They’re fairly tolerant of different conditions, grow quickly, and don’t require very much space or maintenance. Herbs grown in water culture can also be harvested much faster than those grown in soil. That’s not the only reason growing herbs hydroponically is great, though. It turns out they pack in a lot more flavor than what you’re buying at the grocery store. In research done by the University of Minnesota, hydroponic herbs have a significant increase in their aromatic oils. In fact, they have between 20 and 40% more!

Growing Herbs in Hydroponics

Herbs that do well in hydroponic systems include:

  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Watercress
  • Cilantro
  • Baby Dill

You have plenty of choices when it comes to the type of system you grow herbs in. That said, most herbs thrive in ebb and flow systems. The majority of herbs prefer a somewhat acidic pH, ranging anywhere from 5.8 to 6.4. While herbs also do well with medium or low EC, around 1.2 to 1.8, some prefer higher EC and others lower. The good news is that herbs are hardy plants, and often adapt well to other conditions, as long as it isn’t too far outside of their preferred range. All these things make most herbs the easiest plants for hydroponics.

Herbs do best when given nutrient solution with a higher nitrogen to phosphorus ratio. Because they’re more or less vegetative by nature, the higher amount of nitrogen facilitates their continued growth.

Lighting should be placed between 12 and 24 inches above your herbs. Keep in mind that you may need to raise your lights as your herbs grow, to prevent burning and drying out their leaves. Herbs tend to prefer lighting on the blue end of the spectrum, although full spectrum lights will help you get the most out of your herb garden. You can choose to use fluorescent lights (as long as they’re full spectrum), although HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights are more powerful, and extremely efficient.

Herbs in hydroponic systems need anywhere between 10 and 16 hours of light daily; most do well with around 12 hours.

Another important note about growing herbs in hydroponics:

Some herbs can be continually harvested, and even come back after a full harvest. Other herbs have to be replanted after each harvest (if you intend to continue growing them). Cilantro, for instance, won’t come back after you’ve harvested it. Herbs like basil and rosemary can continue to produce for an extended time.

One good rule of thumb for harvesting herbs is to take only about 30% of the plant. Leaving that other 70% allows your plants to continue to grow and produce. Remember, they need those leaves to get enough light to fuel their growth!

Leafy Green Vegetables

Leafy greens are another favorite for hydroponic systems, and they’re easy to grow, even if you’re just starting out. In fact, greens are widely considered the easiest plants for hydroponics. Another rewarding thing about greens (especially for beginners) is that they grow very quickly. Many greens can be harvested in a little as weeks after they’re planted and begin to sprout. Leafy greens can usually be continuously harvested, as long as you leave some of the plant to regrow.

Leafy Green Vegetables in Hydroponics

Some of the best, and easiest leafy greens to grow hydroponically include:

  • Lettuce
  • Chard
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Chives
  • Arugula

While greens do well in ebb and flow systems, they’re also well suited to NFT (Nutrient Film Technique) and DWC (Deep Water Culture) systems. Growing greens in DWC systems is a great choice for beginners, or people that just want an extra simple setup. Water quality remains more stable, and there’s very little maintenance needed. Most greens require little pruning, if they need any pruning at all.

Greens can handle a fair range of temperatures (between 65 to 75 degrees fahrenheit), although 70 to 75 degrees is best. Note that night temperature should be cooler, falling around 60 to 66 degrees (which is easily maintained when grow lights are turned off).

There are differences in the exact pH and EC that various greens require, although most fall within similar ranges. An optimal EC is around 1.4 for lettuce and most greens, with a pH level that falls between 5.5 and 6.0.

Another benefit to growing greens hydroponically is that they require less light than many crops. A 10 to 14 hour photoperiod is ideal for most greens; if they receive too much light or heat, greens begin to bolt. This means they are leaving the vegetative (or growth) stage, and begin to shoot up as they prepare for their reproductive phase.

Much like herbs, greens are primarily vegetative. That means that when it comes to nutrients, they need higher nitrogen content, with less phosphorus. While they won’t need as much potassium, they still need a higher ratio of phosphorus to potassium.

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