Flower gardeners spend a great deal of time thinking about the soil in their land. They turn it, tend to it, amend it, admire it, and curse it. Rich, black, loamy soil is at the heart of most successful gardens, and novice and pro gardeners alike will do almost anything that it takes to master that ideal blend.
Because of this passion for soil, few flower gardeners consider hydroponic gardening as a serious alternative to conventional gardens that grow in containers or in the ground. To most, hydroponic systems are simply something one ponders at a science exhibition; curiosities that consist of a maze of tubing with unknown chemicals piped throughout. However, what many fail to realize is all the unexpected benefits that come from tending to a hydroponic garden—suppliers have even expanded their offerings to make it easy for novice gardeners to get involved in the hobby.
Benefits of Hydroponic Flower Growing
Hydroponic gardening systems have some advantages over conventional soil culture. If you like quick results, you'll likely want to choose to grow your blooms using hydroponics. Growing flowers in a hydroponic system gives you complete control over both nutrient delivery and pH balance, allowing you to tailor the environment to the needs of each species. Without the physical barrier of soil, plants don't need to expend as much energy drawing nutrients into their roots. There are also no weeds, insects, or diseases to contend with in a self-contained hydroponics system. All of these benefits contribute to the fact that plants grow up to 50 percent faster in a hydroponic environment compared to those growing in soil—and they boast a greater flower yield as well.
The Basics of Hydroponic Systems
If you're new to hydroponic gardening, consider starting with a complete hydroponic system as an introduction to soil-free flower culture. A hydroponic system is a self-contained growing unit that usually consists of a growing container, a water reservoir, growing media, and a pump that recirculates the water. It's on you to add the hydroponic nutrients and flowering plants.
Hydroponic kits vary widely in size and price, but most systems accommodate a static number of growing pots. This means if you purchased a kit that only features 12 growing stations, you can only grow 12 plants at a time. Unless you have severe space restrictions, your best bet is to buy a hydroponic system that grows at least 24 plants or more so your hobby doesn't outgrow the system too quickly.
Some all-inclusive hydroponic kits include lighting, but if not, don't forget this important part of the growing equation. High-pressure sodium bulbs will provide the full spectrum of bright light that all flowering plants need, and adding a reflective hood will help to increase the efficiency of your bulbs. Another tip: consider using a timer feature to control your lights. By doing so, you may be able to induce repeat flowering in plants like poinsettias and Christmas cactus that have very exacting lighting requirements by season.
Unlike the complicated chemical soups hydroponic gardening suppliers offered in the past, most companies now recognize the value of growing plants using naturally-derived nutrients. Hydroponic fertilizers often come in a liquid or powder form, allowing you to dilute it and add to your growing system as needed. The mixtures include organic ingredients similar to what is used when feeding and fostering rich soil, including additives like earthworm castings, blood meal, fish meal, kelp, or guano.
In addition to fertilizer, hydroponic gardeners must add the trace elements normally found in healthy soils, as the growing media will be inert. Look specifically for products that advertise trace mineral content on the label. If you're growing plants that have a fussy pH range, you can also alter this with a sulfuric acid preparation or dolomite lime.
Hydroponic Growing Medium
Hydroponics systems may eliminate soil and digging, but plants still require a growing medium to anchor their roots. Some of the growing media used in hydroponic growing are the same materials flower gardeners might use to amend their soil, while others are used specifically for hydroponic applications. You can use perlite, coconut fiber, rock wool, or even sand. Whatever you choose, you will enjoy one of the advantages of hydroponic gardening, which is the ability to dodge soil-borne diseases.
Flowers to Grow in Hydroponics
Flowers that are popular in the florist trade are usually good candidates for hydroponic culture. Varietals like carnations, gerbera daisies, snapdragons, and lisianthus are picky about their growing conditions and frequently suffer from fungal diseases like fusarium wilt. This makes them excellent candidates for a more controlled growing method, and they usually respond very well to the structure of hydroponic growing. Don't stop with your typical outdoor garden flowers though: houseplants are also excellent candidates for hydroponic culture. With just a few cuttings, you can start a hydroponic collection of peace lilies, hoya, Rex begonias, or flowering jasmine vines.