I’ve been doing hydroponics since mid-year 2020. I started because I was honestly concerned about the food chain, and being able to grow my own veggies, as I was eating so many of them at that point.

I started with two little kale plants. One of these kale plants is still with me, almost three years later.

However, I managed to kill a lot of plants in the meanwhile. Here are some of the things that I wish I’d known about hydro before I started.

Some plants need half-strength nutrients

In particular, thyme. I killed at least four (maybe six?) thyme plants before I finally read somewhere that thyme plants only need about half the nutrients as most plants. I have other plants as well, in particular, the society garlic, which thrives on half nutrients. Chard and sage also need half nutrients.

I now watch for the warning signs of too many nutrients with new plants. The primary indicator is that the leaves start to brown and appear to be “burning.” I had originally thought those plants were too close to the light. Nope. Too many nutrients.

For the first time, I have a lemon thyme that’s thriving. It’s so exciting to see it growing, instead of killing it. Again.

Water the leaves

Most plants in hydro don’t care if they get any additional water on their leaves. They’re perfectly fine with the air as it is, and just water with their roots.

Some of the plants, though, do a lot better if I wash their leaves at least once a week. The two, in particular, are the cherry tomato plant and the Yerba Mate.

The other time when watering the leaves matters is when you’re transplanting something from dirt into hydro. Instead of growing everything from seeds, we often buy plant starts, wash away all the dirt from their roots, and put them into hydro. If you mist the leaves of these plants every day for the first week or two, they appear to have less transplant shock than if you don’t.


Though we washed away the dirt on the plants we brought in, we didn’t wash the leaves completely. Plus, we originally kept some of the plants we’d bought in dirt.

This was a mistake because the plants we brought in had bugs on them. I’ve lost SO MANY plants to those dang bugs!

Use water instead of insecticide

Washing plants daily will sometimes be as effective as trying to spray any type of bug killer. Not all the time—sometimes you just can’t get rid of the bugs and the plant has to be killed. But other times, I’ve been able to drive off all the bugs just washing everything daily for a couple of weeks.

At first, I’ll see lots of bugs in the sink while I’m spraying the plant. Then no bugs, but I’ll see eggs. (The bugs are white flies and green aphids. The eggs are all small black dots.) Then a mixture of bugs and eggs. I might go a couple of days without seeing anything. You’re not bug-free, though. After a couple of days, you’ll get another batch of bugs and/or eggs.

As I said, it takes about two weeks of diligent washing every day before your plants will be consistently bug and egg free.

Right now, we appear to be bug-free. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Parsley is carnivorous

One of the things we learned when we were infested is that the parsley can act as a buffer between the infected plants and the ones that aren’t infected.

I would find bugs on the parsley. Dead bugs. Perhaps the plants are just poisonous to the white flies and aphids. Or perhaps the parsley was eating the bugs. Don’t know, don’t care. Just always found it funny that the parsley never succumbed to the infestation, and instead, appeared to eat the bugs.

Keep the plants trimmed

My husband is the one who trims the plants regularly. However, we’ve learned that by keeping the plants trimmed, they’re much happier, and are going to continue to grow how you’d like them to. The tomato in particular needs trimming, but so do a lot of the other plants. In addition, some plants will be more flavorful if you trim them often enough.

Hydroponics is cushy compared to being outside. You have to “piss off” the plants for them to produce the flavor that humans are looking for. They generally produce that flavor to keep themselves from being eaten. So trimming them makes them more tasty.

Most of what we grow thrives on a single formula

When I first started my hydroponics facility, I was using at least half a dozen different formulas for all the different plants. That meant it took hours every time I did hydroponics.

However, there are these pre-made hydro kits you can buy, with all kinds of different plants, and they all take the exact same formula. Eventually, I settled on a “lettuce” mix that I use for almost everyone.

I still have some specialty blends of nutrients that I do. The tomato, blueberry, and rose all get their own mixes. Everyone else gets either full-strength lettuce mix or half-strength. And my plants are all thriving on this.

Roses and blueberries need double strength

If you’ve ever grown roses or blueberries in soil, you know that they prefer a more acidic soil. Given the nutrients I use, it’s pretty easy to achieve that. What surprised me, though, was how strong the formulas are for these plants. They’re almost double the lettuce formula.

I have a single rose growing. My husband bought me roses for my eye surgeries, back in mid-March. (It’s now mid-April.) One of the roses started sprouting leaves along the stem just from being in water.

So I cut off the blossom, sliced the bottom of the stem so it was more open, and stuck it into the deep water container (DWC) that has a bubbler flowing into it, so the water gets lots of oxygen.

Then, I changed the water in the DWC to a rose blend.

As of this week, the rose is starting to root. It’s very exciting. I’d tried growing roses in a plain Kratky pot, with no bubbler, and they all died. This is the first time I have a rose rooting. Pretty exciting, particularly since those flowers were so pretty and smelled so nice.

I had three parsley plants already growing in the DWC. I didn’t know how they’d do on just about double-strength nutrients.

They’ve all decided to become parsley trees instead of plants. Their stems were all spread out across the top of the DWC. Now, they’re all standing up. It’s pretty amazing how well they’re doing.

Possibly they’re becoming more carnivorous. We’ll see.

Not all seeds sprout in rockwool

I generally use rockwool cubes for sprouting new plants. Most seeds do well in rockwool and sprout like crazy.

Spinach in particular doesn’t do well in rockwool. I generally have to sprout spinach in dirt first, then transplant it to hydro. I haven’t been able to successfully sprout a new rosemary plant in rockwool. However, the rosemary I’ve planted in dirt isn’t coming up either, so I’m suspicious of the seeds I bought.

And that’s it! All sorts of nuggets of wisdom if you’ve ever considered doing hydroponics yourself.

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