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Seven Hydroponics Root Zone Tips

Rockwool is just one of many root zone materials your hydroponics roots can grow in. Rockwool is just one of many root zone materials your hydroponics roots can grow in.

We’ve talked before about rockwool, soil, and coco coir…three of the most popular root zone media you can use in your hydroponics garden. But hydroponics growers have flooded me with queries about the many other types of root zone media, while also mentioning that aeroponics growers don’t need any media at all (except maybe a small amount to provide plant anchoring). So first I must apologize for not making it clear in my other articles that root zone media choices are a lot more diverse, and complex, than most hydroponics growers realize.

Here are seven tips for you to use when you’re choosing root zone media. These aren’t the only tips you’ll need, but they’re the ones I can fit into this article…

Decide what kind of growing system you want to use before you decide what kind of root zone media you want to choose.  Hydroponics irrigation is a key factor in what kind of root zone media you need. Some systems feature top-fed drip irrigation. Others go for an ebb and flow approach. Or maybe you’re hand-watering. Each method has unique characteristics when it comes to how much water hits your media at a time, and for how long. This influences what kind of root zone material you should use.

Decide if the hassles of using root zone media are so annoying to you that you might consider using aeroponics, deep-water culture (DWC), or a nutrient film technique (NFT) system. Other than a minimal amount of root zone media right at the base of the plant, these systems provide water and nutrients via mist, via a stream of nutrients in water, or via several inches of nutrients water. As added benefits, these systems offer more oxygen to your plants' roots, and more efficient delivery of nutrients, which results in faster growth, faster rooting of clones, etc. For the base zone of plants in aero, DWC or NFT, most hydroponics growers use perlite, hydroton, Sure to Grow, diatomaceous earth, or clay pellets.

Decide if you want to install beneficial root zone bacteria and fungi that increase the size, efficiency and yield-boosting power of your roots. Some root zone media don’t do well with beneficial microbes. On the other hand, quality coco coir often has Trichoderma (beneficial fungi) built in, or you can add Trichoderma and other beneficial fungi by using Piranha. You also increase root size and yield-boosting power by using Voodoo Juice and Tarantula beneficial microbes. But remember- it’s harder to install beneficials in coarse, inert materials such as perlite or vermiculite, which is one of several reasons these materials are not generally used by themselves in root zones but are blended with denser materials.

Decide if you want to have to pre-treat and/or pre-soak your root zone materials. Until major rockwool manufacturers started making neutral pH forms of hydroponics rockwool, you’d have to soak rockwool in pH Down to lower it from its original pH of 7.5 or even higher. The soaking process costs you some time and money, and rockwool fibers can be a bit irritating to the skin. Still, you’ve got to get your rockwool down to a pH of about 5.6 before you put plants in it. The same for other root zone media. Be aware of the originating pH of any root zone media before you choose it. Ask the manufacturer or your hydroponics retailer about originating pH, or if the media has any known problems with inherent pH fluctuation.

Decide if you want to have to pay close attention to how your root zone media interacts with your nutrients. If you don’t want to have to pay close attention, don’t use coco coir. It sends out potassium while interfering with proper feeding of calcium and other secondary hydroponics nutrients. To get great results with coco coir, you might have to use a coir-specific fertilizer, or at least a nutrients program tested on coir. Yes, coir has some good features, but it’s tricky to use, so know that going in.

Decide if you have a risk of overwatering, poor drainage, or high humidity. Some hydroponics root zone media are very forgiving of overwatering, because they drain easily and/or have good air-holding capacity. These include hydroton, perlite, vermiculite and other large-grain materials. On the other side of the spectrum, if you use materials that don’t store water well, you run the risk of wilting plants. A lot depends on your irrigation choices and hardware, as well as your ability to control hydroponics grow room humidity. Waterlogged root zones are a breeding ground for diseases and pests that can severely harm your roots, and thus your plants.

Decide only after putting your hands and eyes on the materials. As I advise in many of my articles, go to your local hydroponics store and personally inspect systems and materials before you make your buying decisions. As regards cultivation techniques such as nutrients feeding, cloning, harvest timing and other hydroponics strategies, we can give you great advice via this website and our print magazine. But for choices regarding materials such as root zone media, you really need to go to a grow store and look at different products in person. Touch and feel, and ask questions. Perhaps store personnel will provide you the opportunity to water-test the materials so you can see how they absorb, hold and release water, etc.

Rockwool is a hydroponics tradition, but there are other root zone materials you can choose

Hydroponics root zone media is a major choice for you. It influences, and is influenced by, what kind of hydroponics system you want to run. What your hydroponics plants’ roots grow in makes a big difference in plant health and harvest size. In future articles, we’ll talk about Sunshine Mix, other “soil mixes,” and other types of root zone materials. For now, just remember that healthy hydroponics roots are a key to your bigger and better yields!

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Last modified on Thursday, 04 November 2010 19:29

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