Base nutrients – complex, yet undervalued?
Whether you’re growing in soil, coco or hydro, we often take base nutrients for granted and mostly concentrate on fancy products like PKs, boosters, stimulants and additives. But the base nutrient is the key nutrient your plant requires in the early stages of its life - so it probably deserves more credit than we tend to give it.
What are base nutrients?
Plants need many different things to grow: light, air, water and food to name the most important. When it comes to food, just like humans, plants need a ‘balanced diet’. That implies a properly balanced fertiliser containing all essential elements for growth, aka your base nutrients, which form a solid foundation for healthy plant growth. All kinds of additives can be added throughout the growing cycle, but your base nutrients are the building blocks for strong healthy plants.
The most important elements for plant growth contained in base nutrients are nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium(K).
Nitrogen is the most important one, it is vital for building amino acids, chlorophyll and just about everything else in the plant.
Phosphorous is hugely important as it is used as a component of DNA and is used as an energy carrier inside plant cells.
Potassium is important for moisture regulation, formation processes of carbohydrates and proteins and in the activation of enzymes.
After those three most important elements, there are three additional important ones: calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and sulphur (S).
Calcium is vital for building cells and cell walls and for regulating the transport of other nutrients into and around the plant.
Magnesium sits at the centre of chlorophyll which is the molecule responsible for photosynthesis.
Sulphur is a components of various molecules found in plants like vitamins, amino acids and aromatic oils.
The third set of important elements such as boron (B), copper (Cu), cobalt (Co), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn).
Think of these like the trace minerals that we humans need to have as well. We don’t need much of them but the small amounts we require are vital for our health.
In most base feeds, all of these necessary elements are provided as salts. They are easily soluble in water and easily taken up by plants.
Organic nutrients are slightly different from these mineral-based ones. They tend to be made from extracts of plants (often seaweed) or other types of biomass like fish droppings or bat guano. They contain a lot of the necessary minerals but those are often bound up in ways that the plants need to break down first to access.
Why are there parts A & B?
In order to provide value for the grower while maximising control, nutrients are provided in concentrated form. At those high concentrations, some of the components of nutrients start reacting with each other and form insoluble aggregates. (Picture of aggregated nutrient) You may be familiar with them as lime scale. The aggregates are completely harmless but unfortunately they are unavailable to the plant as food and therefore wasted. To prevent this kind of aggregation from happening, they are kept in separate bottles. In general, the part A bottle contains calcium, magnesium and nitrogen while part B contains most of the rest. There are some one-part nutrients out there, for example our Plant Magic soil grow and bloom. But they cannot be applied to all nutrients and it’s easier to just make two bottles and not have to worry about aggregates.
What’s the difference between grow & bloom and what about straight through nutrients?
In the grow phase plants need more nitrogen than phosphorous and potassium. That allows for lush leaf growth and promotes healthy green colouring. Therefore, a grow nutrient will have more nitrogen relative to the other components. This is reversed in the bloom phase: Nitrogen is less important (but not irrelevant) compared to phosphorous and potassium and hence present in a lower amount. Don’t be confused though: A grow and bloom nutrient may contain the same amount of nitrogen.
Some nutrients are available as straight – through versions that do not distinguish between grow and bloom, for example our Plant Magic DWC. These nutrients are balanced to suit both phases. Allowing additives to improve growth and bloom.
Hard water? Soft water?
If you are in an area with “hard water”, your tap water already contains reasonable amounts of calcium and magnesium. Therefore, a “hard water” nutrient will contain less of these than a “soft water” nutrient in order to compensate for the difference in water. (picture of softwater/hardwater nutrient) It may also have a lower pH to help achieve the 5.8-6.2 pH target
If you accidentally use a soft water nutrient in a hard water area, you may experience build-up of lime scale in your grow system. This isnt a bad thing but can clog up pipes so you should look into using a cleaning product like Pure Clean. If you use a hard water nutrient in a soft water area, your plants may show signs of calcium or magnesium deficiency. The best way to combat this is by adding an additive containing exactly those, like Plant Magic Magne-Cal+.
What is the difference between soil, coco and hydro nutrients?
The three most common growing mediums among growers are soil, coco coir and water (hydro). The base nutrients on the market vary for each of these mediums. But what is the difference between them?
The difference between these materials is in how they interact with salts and other minerals that act as plant food, often referred to as “cation exchange capacity” (CEC). Cation exchange allows the medium to hold onto and release cations (pronounced cat-i-ons) as necessary.
A high CEC provides a growth environment that is easier to manage but leads to slightly slower growth whereas an environment with low CEC requires more care but can lead to higher yields. One has to be cautious though: Some nutrients (phosphorous, sulphur) come as anions, not cations. They are not held onto as easily by mediums and can “leech”, i.e. get flushed out which can create an imbalance.
Soil has a very high CEC, so no need to worry about the pH of soil nutrient. Coco coir has a much smaller CEC than soil, but still significant. Water (hydro) does not have any CEC at all. The different base nutrients are formulated to reflect these environments and deal with the differences in CEC. That is why you should always try to match up the correct nutrient with the right medium.
This is just a glimpse of all the magic that goes into base nutrients. Getting your base nutrients right helps to promote healthy plant growth!
Whether you are an expert who already has a thriving crop of healthy plants, or you are trying to grow your very first hydroponic yield, we can help you to grow the strong and healthy crops you have always wanted.
Here at Plant Magic Plus, our team of gardening experts work very hard behind the scenes to provide you with the high quality nutrients, additives and growing media that will help you to get the most out of your growing plants.
But we understand that successful horticulture is about more than just having good quality chemicals, nutrients or fetilisers, that's why we have written this blog to provide you with the insights, tips and techniques you will need to give your garden that extra magic touch.
From helpful advice about watering your plants in soil and a guide to magnesium nutrients, to top tips about growing hydroponic vegetables and a comprehensive overview of microbes, we’ve got everything covered.
Search through our previous blog posts by month.View All
If you have a question or query about a product of ours, or you want to know more about the fascinating plant growing cycle, why not contact us via our contact form or reach out to us on our Facebook page? Or do you want to suggest a new blog topic for to us to write about? If we haven’t covered a topic that you want to learn more about, we want to know!
Alternatively, you can read through our extensive list of the most frequently asked questions in our FAQ section.