Understanding N-P-K Ratio Of Hydroponic Nutrients

An understanding of  N-P-K ratio is especially important when hydroponic gardening. Since we’re not just supplementing nutrients like in traditional dirt gardens, it’s critical that the correct nutrients are added in proper amounts for optimal growth. Fortunately, understanding N-P-K ratio is not complicated.

What Nutrients Are Needed For Hydroponic Plant Growth?

Before discussing N-P-K you must first understand what a plant needs to grow. Plants require different nutrient amounts throughout their life cycle but need more of some nutrients that others. Nutrients that plants require more of are called “macronutrients” and those nutrients that are required in smaller amounts are “micronutrients”.  N-P-K stands for Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium. These are 3 of the 6 macro nutrients that plants require to live. The other 3, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, are provided by water and the air. While hydroponic nutrients also contain the micro nutrients, the focus is on the macronutrients. The numbers of N-P-K represent the percent of each nutrient in the solution.

For example, if the N-P-K ratio of a hydroponic nutrient is 7-9-5, then the nutrient contains 7% nitrogen, 9% phosphorus, and 5% potassium. The rest of the solution is made up of micro nutrients.

The Nutrients Hydroponic Plants Need In Each Stage

During the vegetative stage, plants need higher amounts of nitrogen for foliage production. Nitrogen is the reason for the deep green color of your plants leaves when they’re healthy. Higher nitrogen levels speed up a plant’s growth rate.

vegetative nutrients

This 7-9-5 ratio is a great all around vegetative nutrient for growing hydroponic vegetables.

During the flowering stage, plants require a higher amount of phosphorus for flower and fruit production. At this point, the plant doesn’t need to keep producing leaf growth, so you decrease the nitrogen level while increasing the phosphorus level. (Phosphorus is also needed for healthy root production so can be important in the early stages for root development also)

Flowering nutrients

This 3-12-6 ratio is good for vegetables that flower.

During the different stages of the plant’s life, you can also give your plants a supplemental boost.  For example, plants in the fruiting stage use larger amounts of potassium and can often benefit from a potassium booster supplement. Potassium also assists with cell wall strength and overall health of the plant.  This is only one example of the many supplements available to customize the N-P-K ratios and give your plants a boost.

Potassium nutrient supplement.

This 0-0-3 ratio potassium supplement boosts fruit production and overall plant strength.

There are many different types of hydroponic nutrients and supplements on the market with different N-P-K ratios. If you’re unsure what would work best for your garden I would suggest starting with a simple 1 part nutrient solution such as Dyna-Gro “Grow ” and “Bloom”, like pictured above. When you have a better understanding of N-P-K ratios and the specific nutrient needs of the plant type your growing, you can use a more customize-able nutrient solution such as General Hydroponics “Flora” series to tailor the nutrients to your garden.

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