How Hydroponics Works
Traditional gardeners usually involve getting down and dirty. Applying fertilizers, pesticides and rooting around in the soil is just a part of the job. They plant, divide and re-plant. They do all this for the rewards of producing beautiful and nutritious plants to view and eat. There is, however, another way of growing plants that doesn’t involve coming into contact with soil at all.
That’s what hydroponics is all about.
Hydroponics is the science and practice of growing plants without using soil. Water is used in place of the soil instead. There are of course more specific and technical definitions. As far as the average hobbyist gardener is concerned though, that’s pretty much there is to it.
You might wonder how hydroponics gardening is possible. Don’t plants need soil for nutrition, heat, support, water and all the other things they need to grow and reproduce? Not necessarily.
Plants definitely do need water. They do not necessarily have to get their water from the soil. There are species of plants out there that can grow in sand, gravel or even on or in a body of water.
Plants need a certain amount of energy, in the form of sunlight and/or heat from their surroundings. But soil warmed by sunlight isn’t the only way to get that. Direct sunlight still works on leaves, the same way it does for plants in soil. Leaving the upper part of a plant exposed to sunlight supported by a string atop a container will allow vital photosynthesis to occur. As with nearly anything in botany, there are exceptions. Some plants survive and reproduce with no light, though they still need some energy to drive biochemical reactions.
Most plants that interest the home gardener or hobbyist do require physical support. Soil is a commonly known and quite effective way to provide this support. This is partly why plants have evolved wind resistant stems, and roots that spread. If they hadn’t evolved that way, those types of plant wouldn’t be here to discuss. You can provide artificial support to your plants by use of ice cream sticks, chop sticks and many other methods.
One of the most important elements for a plant is without question proper nutrients. Nutrients that stimulate plant growth include phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium and other trace elements like copper, iron and zinc. In nature, these ingredients are absorbed through the soil. But, here again, nutrients can be fed to plants in a number of ways.
Immersing the roots in a container of water that is periodically fed a liquid nutrient solution is one popular hydroponics technique. There are alternative methods as well. Some involve growing plants that are fed through a container that simply retains and controls moisture. The roots are then sprayed often with a mister that douses the roots with a nutrient solution. This crosses into the gray area known as aeroponics.
There are few limitations when it comes to what you can grow with hydroponics. This includes growing strawberries, lettuce, orchids, tomatoes and a host of other fruiting and non-fruiting plants. Most soil-based plants can thrive with hydroponics if they are taken care of. The hydroponic effort can be fun and instructive. It can also produce beautiful or nutritious plants without many of the drawbacks of soil-grown plants.
As far as the average hobbyist gardener is concerned though, that’s pretty much there is to it.