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Because hydroponics depends on growing plants without soil, many nutrients that are normally found in soil are not readily available to a hydroponic grower. That means soilless growing requires complete nutrient solutions that give plants everything they need for strong growth and maximum yields. These nutrients supplies are available at your local hydroponic supply store. When mixed with water, hydroponic nutrients are designed to replace all of the macro and micro nutrients found within soil. So, exactly what makes up a bottle of nutrients?

When browsing through aisles of nutrients in a hydroponic supply store, be on the lookout for a set of three numbers on the label, known as the Nitrogen-Phosphorus-Potassium ratio, or simply the N.P.K. ratio. This set of numbers determines exactly how much of each of these nutrients are contained within the bottle.

Understanding the N.P.K. Ratio

Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium are the most important nutrients absorbed by plants. These nutrients are known as "macro nutrients." Each serves a vital role in the plant's health and growth. Obtaining the proper ratio of nutrients at each stage in a plant's growth will help them reach their maximum growth size and yield. Here is a bit of detail about each of these macro nutrients:

Nitrogen (N)

This chemical is most abundant in plants, and is needed forming vital amino acids, co-enzymes, and chlorophyll within plant cells.

Phosphorus (P)

This chemical helps with a plant's ability to produce sugar and other phosphates. It also contributes to a plant's production of energy. Phosphorus also stimulates root growth, and helps plants produce their flowers and eventually, their fruits.

Potassium (K)

This chemical also helps a plant to manufacture sugars and starches. It also is required for for plants to maintain protein synthesis. Potassium also helps a plant's root growth, and helps maintain the overall hardiness of the plant.

These three nutrients are vital for a plant's survival. A plant without the proper balance of these three chemicals is less likely to reach its maximum potential. A major imbalance, or a lack of any of these chemicals, will probably lead to a plant's demise.

Other Necessary Nutrients

Of course a plant requires more than just these three simple chemicals to thrive. There are also other "micro nutrients" that are necessary for a plant's survival. Although they are required in smaller amounts than nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, they are still required to keep plants healthy. A lack of any of these nutrients usually causes major problems with a plant's growth and yield.

Boron and Calcium are used by plants to build, form, and maintain the walls of plant cells. A lack of these chemicals may cause a plan to wilt.

Iron, copper and zinc are used in the formation of chlorophyll and other plant enzymes. These chemicals are also used in a plant's exchange of sugars for energy. Zinc also helps plants with nitrogen absorption.

Magnesium is used during photosynthesis to create oxygen for the plant. Magnesium is also used for maintaining a plant's growth.

Sulfur helps a plant synthesize proteins, and also helps a plant with it's water intake. It also helps with a plant's fruit and seed cycles. Sulfur also acts as an natural fungicide, protecting plants from mold and other fungi.

Small Amounts Make a Big Difference

Much like our body, plants require minute amounts of several different chemicals to grow and thrive. And, just like our bodies, different ratios of these nutrients are needed at different times during a plant's life cycle. However, without soil to hold these essential nutrients, a constant flow must be provided throughout the hydroponic system. Special nutrient products available at your local hydroponic supply store are used to maintain this delicate balance as it changes during a plant's life cycle.

Nutrient supplies at your local hydroponic store usually come in two different varieties: powdered and liquid. They both work equally well. Liquid nutrients are more convenient. Powdered nutrients take up less space in storage. The liquid varieties are more popular with beginners, since they are easier to use and mix.

With either type, their use is generally the same. An amount of nutrients is a thoroughly mixed in water. This mixture is then introduced into your hydroponic system. Nutrient solutions are highly concentrated, so it's important to avoid spilling them on yourself or your clothes. It is also important not to place the nutrients, especially unmixed concentrated nutrients, directly on plants.

Different Nutrients for Different Stages

Your local hydroponic supply store will generally recommend a series of nutrients for use throughout a plant's life cycle. For example, during a plant's early growth, one would use a product such as FloraNova Grow to start a plant's growth, then later switch to FloraNova Bloom as the plant matures. A good hydroponic supply store can help you select the best nutrient supplies for your hydroponic system.

Different plants require different amounts of nutrients. Your local hydroponics store can help you determine the best product for your needs. If you're in the Los Angeles area, drop by Pacific Coast Hydroponics for complete customer care and support. Online customers can get the same help by phone or email. This way, you'll be assured that your hydroponic system is at the optimum levels for maximum growth and maximum results.