Commercial growers and home hobbyists are adopting hydroponic methods at an increasing rate. The reason behind this trend is the desire to speed grow cycles and increase crop yields, as well as eliminate some of the problematic elements of conventional soil gardening.
Some crops are better suited for hydroponics than others. Herbs – which are plants with leaves, flowers or seeds used in foods, medicine, fragrances, and flavoring – are among the easiest plants to grow with hydroponic methods. Many gardeners are recognizing the benefits that hydroponics offers to grow herbs, and thus, are making the switch from soil-based gardening. Let’s look hydroponics as a gardening technique, and then review the 5 best herbs for hydroponics.
The Advantages of Hydroponics
Broadly speaking, hydroponics is a method of growing plants in nutrient-rich water rather than in soil. While this technique may seem like a new phenomenon, hydroponics dates back as far as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (600 BC)! Today, hydroponics is more popular than ever before, mainly because there are more efficient LED grow lights, better hydroponic fertilizers, and host of great components which make growing without soil an extremely effective endeavor.
Besides the recent improvements in growing equipment, more people are recognizing the inherent benefits that hydroponics brings to the table. One of these key advantages is a 30% – 50% faster growth rate versus soil-grown crops. Because hydroponic plants get their nutrients in a more efficient manner, the roots of hydroponically grown plants do not need to expand nearly as much as the root systems of soil-grown plants. This efficiency allows hydroponic plants to maintain a smaller root system and devote more energy into foliage growth instead of root growth. As a result, plants grow faster in hydroponics.
Hydroponics increases yield because smaller roots also means crops can be planted closer together and in horizontally or vertical rows. Furthermore, hydroponics allows for several plant-to-harvest cycles per year versus just one for most soil crops. How is this possible? Well, since hydroponics can be conducted indoors, year round, and an in any geographic location, you are able to produce an abundance of produce without the same limitations of field gardening. While soil-grown crops are dependent on the whims of Mother Nature, hydroponics puts the grower in totally control of creating the perfect microenvironment.
Hydroponics nearly eliminates pests and bugs, weeds, and soil-borne diseases. It also dramatically cuts down on water usage because most hydroponic system recycle the nutrients and water over and over again. Additionally, studies have shown that hydroponic herbs have more flavor and aroma.
As far as negatives, Grow lights will undoubtedly raise your electricity bill, but you can maximize the efficiencies of your lighting by using Mylar-lined grow tents. Power outages can be problematic if your system is dependent on electricity to function properly. And there is a large upfront cost to buying hydroponic equipment, but longer term cost efficiencies can make hydroponics quite inexpensive in the long run. All in all, there are more benefits to growing crops using hydroponic methods in comparison to growing crops in soil.
5 Best Herbs for Hydroponics
Herbs may just be the easiest crop to grow with hydroponics. However, it must be done correctly. Here are a few pointers:
- Don’t allow your hydroponic herbs to get too leggy. Trim (or pinch off) the tops of your herb plant when it reaches 6” – 12”. The goal is to get them to as bushy as possible.
- Remember to feed your plants regularly (with a “nutrient solution” fertilizer and water mix).
- Monitor pH so it stays in the 6 range (give or take depending on what variety you grow).
- The best hydroponic growing mediums for herbs include coco coir, clay pebbles, lava rock, grow stones, perlite, and Rockwool.
- Always give your herbs plenty of light (at least 10 hours per day). Full spectrum LED grow lights are probably your best bet in terms of effectiveness, ease-of-use, and energy efficiency.
Here are the top 5 best herbs for hydroponics:
Basil is probably the single-most popular herb to grow in hydroponics. It’s appeal is understandable; basil adds an earthy sweetness to all types of culinary dish. Basil is has been grown for over 5000 years and is especially popular in Asia, Europe, and in the USA. Some of the most common basil varieties include Thai lemon, sweet basil, purple basil, lettuce leaf basil, and Siam queen basil.
Who doesn’t love mint? Mint is another popular herb to grow in hydroponics because of its alluring aroma and refreshing taste characteristics. It can be added to cuisine, teas, and alcoholic drinks. Mint is also used in medicines, cosmetics, insect repellents, and aromatherapy, The most popular varieties of mint for commercial growers and hobbyists include peppermint, spearmint, and scotch mint. There are around 15 varieties of mint to choose from.
Native to the Mediterranean, parsley is one of the most beloved garnishments and seasonings in cuisine today. It is widely used in Middle Eastern, American, and European dishes and its praised for its earthy bitterness. Parsley is thought to add balance to savory dishes. As for gardening, parsley is one of the easiest herbs to grow in hydroponics. Italian (flat leaf) and curly leaf are the two main types of parsley.
Dill is another highly prized herb. Its native to southwest Asia and India, but is now grown all over the world today. The long stems of dill are chewy, so most people discard these and instead use the tender and flavorful fern-like leaves of the plant. Dill can be used in the form of fresh or dried leaves, and is often added to soups and seafood. As for growing dill in a hydroponic system, it grows beautifully and very quickly!
Rosemary is another herb native to the Mediterranean region. It is an aromatic herb that is found in a host of beauty products and culinary recipes. Rosemary has needle-like leaves which possess an interesting astringent flavor which adds a nice flavor to Italian dishes. Rosemary leaves are used both in fresh or dried form, and are often added to herbal teas. As far as growing rosemary in hydroponics, this is an herb that is best grown from a cutting or established plant because starting from seed is difficult task. With that said, it makes a good herb to grow in a hydroponic system once the juvenile plant is ready to transplant.
Best of luck with your hydroponic herb grow!
About the Author
Jonathan de Araujo is a lifelong gardening enthusiast. Since discovering hydroponics, he has devoted his free time to growing edible crops in his home and writing about the benefits of this interesting gardening technique. See more of Jonathan’s hydroponic gardening articles at uPONICS.com.