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When plants are growing like gangbusters in your hydroponic garden, it’s smart to keep on using the same nutrients and techniques to keep the big harvests coming. If you notice that your results are slipping, it can begin a trial and error process to get back to peak growing conditions. If you’ve had trouble figuring out why your plants aren’t thriving all of a sudden, it might be because you’re overlooking pH balance in your growing medium. Unlike problems like spider mites, you can’t see pH balance, only the effect it has on your plants. The good news is that hydroponic supplies to measure and correct pH balance are inexpensive and easy to use.
What Exactly Is pH?
If the term pH sounds like chemistry class, that’s because that’s probably where you first heard the term. Balancing the pH in your growing medium is really important, but the concepts involved are really simple and easy to understand. When you measure pH, you’re determining exactly how acidic or alkaline the water in your hydroponic garden is.
The scale for pH is from 1 to 14, with 1 meaning the water is very acidic, and 14 representing extremely alkaline water. A plant won’t thrive in a growing medium that’s not pH balanced for it.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All for pH
It would be easy to assume that the ideal pH for growing plants would be halfway between acidic and alkaline, but plants don’t work that way. Not only do different plants like different pH balance, the same plant will grow differently depending on the range of pH it’s exposed to. That’s because plants depend on up to 17 different nutrients to survive and thrive, and changing the pH will favor the intake of some nutrients and limit the intake of others. For instance, if you’re raising a plant that craves iron in its growing medium, you’ll have a hard time feeding it enough if the water is very alkaline. On the flip side, if your plants like phosphorus, they’ll be unable to get any from a growing medium that’s acidic.
It’s a standard rule of thumb for gardeners to keep the pH in their water between 5.5 and 6.5 on the scale. That will give the best results for the most different types of plants, but it might not be right for your crop. Your plants might thrive in a very narrow range, and different pH balances can encourage different types of growth. If you’re getting lots of foliage but not many buds or flowers, or a lot of roots but not much plant, the wrong pH could be the problem.
Measure Growing Medium and Water
Different gardeners use different growing mediums. It’s really easy to measure pH in the water you’re using with inexpensive hydroponic supplies. Don’t overlook the effect of different types of growing medium on pH as well. Many hydroponic gardeners have favorite growing mediums that might seem chemically inert, but can affect pH balance. For instance, some growers used clay pebbles or recycled pea glass as a medium, and assume that they’re perfectly stable. These and other mediums can raise pH levels over time.