Hydroponics or soilless farming is a way to grow plants without soil. It is a subset of hydroculture. In hydroponic farming, plant roots are grown in liquid solutions with essential nutrients in them. Alternatively, moist and inert nutrient media like Vermiculite or Perlite may be used as well.
There are several advantages to hydroponic farming. These include:
- Zero wastage and higher yield as compared to conventional farming
- Due to it being a controlled climate system, plants can be grown all year
- High utilization of water when compared to traditional farming methods
- Less susceptibility of plants to disease, pests, etc.
Plants like strawberries thrive in hydroponic systems. Even if you do not have much experience growing strawberries in soil, you can get started on growing hydroponic strawberries.
In this article, we illustrate everything you need to know before growing your very own hydroponic strawberries: the pros, cons, when and how to do it, and FAQs related to it.
Why Grow Hydroponic Strawberries? – Quick Pros and Cons
Many people don’t know that growing hydroponic strawberries has several advantages. Apart from the general pros of a hydroponic system, strawberries grow more efficiently when planted using this method.
There are multiple reasons for this. Firstly, the water does not have to be constantly supplied. You can simply recirculate the nutrient media and keep the strawberry plants thriving. There is higher usage of water since the nutrient solution does not have to be changed out often.
Moreover, the plants grow quicker. As a result, there is a higher yield and faster production which is a huge perk. Not only can the strawberries be harvested sooner, but they can also be grown vertically, which means a higher number of plants can fit in the same space.
Apart from this, plants grown hydroponically are superior with respect to resistance to pests and disease. Therefore, hydroponic strawberries are superior to soil-grown strawberries. The system is less messy, and all kinds of pests are less likely to attack your plants.
However, there are a few cons to hydroponically growing strawberries as well. Unlike a traditional farming system, hydroponic systems require a full setup to get started. This can be a bit expensive and time taking.
It can also take beginners a while to learn how to effectively use a hydroponics system. Generally, it is recommended to start growing your plants in the soil before progressing onto hydroponics systems. This helps avoid issues like overfeeding the roots, maintaining the pH of the nutrient solution, and making sure that the nutrient solution is changed out at appropriate intervals.
What You’ll Need To Grow Hydroponic Strawberries
To get started with your very own hydroponic system, you have to first set up a good hydroponic system. Depending on your gardening needs, there will be various factors you need to take into consideration like price, plant count, and performance among others.
Initially, it is advised that you invest in either an ebb and flow, deep water culture, or drip system. While multiple systems come ready to use and grow, you can even try building your own.
For that endeavor, you will need to purchase a garden tray, water pump, reservoir, and a few other hydroponic elements. This will help greatly reduce the cost compared to buying a readymade system.
The actual construction of the system is fairly easy. You can follow these easy steps:
- Place your water reservoir under the garden tray carefully
- Set up your water pump and timer for water flow into the tray
- Select your growth medium. Commonly used media include clay pebbles, coconut coir, rock wool, etc.
Additionally, you can use hydroponic nutrients to give your plants an extra growth boost.
Growing Hydroponic Strawberries
In this section, we explore the many factors that have to be kept in mind when planting hydroponic strawberries. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know!
There are two ways to start planting your strawberries. You can either use seeds or starts. Seeds tend to take a lot of time to develop and fruit, so this is a much slower alternative.
Starts are baby plants. If you use strawberry starts, you merely have to place them in the nutrient media and plant them in your hydroponic system.
Get some net pots and fill them partly. Then, you have to place your baby plant in the pot and fill it up the rest of the way. This will help hold the plant in one place. Water the plant well and it is all set to grow.
Light & Temperature
One thing to note about hydroponic systems is that they are climate-controlled. This means that you will have to provide the ideal conditions that your precious berry plants need to thrive.
For strawberries, the best temperature ranges from sixty-five to eighty degrees Fahrenheit, along with eight to twelve hours of light. This is a consistent lighting period that does not vary depending on which growth phase the plant is in.
In case you plan on setting up your hydroponics system in a greenhouse, your plants will naturally get all the light they require. Otherwise, you may want to invest in supplemental lights, like fluorescent grow lights or LED grow lights.
Water Quality & pH Levels
Water quality is of supreme importance in hydroponic systems. This is because plant roots are directly exposed to the water, and the pH levels can impact plant growth on many levels. The best way to ensure that your water quality is good is by using a water filter. This will help filter out harmful impurities like chloramines that are often present in tap water.
As for pH, the ideal range is between 5.8 to 6.2. It is vital to stick to this range as alterations can hamper plant growth and development. A pH meter can assist you in controlling pH levels.
Many types of growth media are available on the market for hydroponic systems. Technically, they all serve the same purposes. However, some work better than others and are also easier to obtain.
Commonly Used Hydroponic Growth Media
- Coco peat or coco coir: Easily available, inert, sustainable
- Clay pellets or pebbles: Reusable, pH neutral, porous
- Perlite: Lightweight, highly aerating, porous
- Vermiculite: Similar to perlite, highly water-retentive
- Starter Plugs: Sustainable, compactable, best for starting seeds
- Wood Fibres: Organic, long-lasting
- Sand: Holds no water, cheap, easy to find
- Rockwool: Easy to dispose, high water retention, long-lasting
- Pumice: High aeration levels, lightweight
- Growstones: Good aeration, sustainable, lightweight
- Oasis Cubes: Similar to rock well cubes, do not presoak, inexpensive
- Brick Shards: Drain well, cheap, easy to clean
- Packing Peanuts: Good drainage, inexpensive, easily available
You can purchase whichever growth media suits your garden type and personal preferences, best from a trusted supplier.
Whether the growth conditions of your strawberries are organic or not, nutrient solutions are essential for them to thrive. A sufficient supply of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus along with other secondary nutrients and micronutrients is important to keep your strawberry plants healthy.
Liquid nutrients are best suited for hydroponic systems since organics can clog and clump up in the hydroponic system. Apart from the mentioned macronutrients, strawberry plants also require micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, sulfur, chlorine, cobalt, and copper. Although these are only required in trace amounts.
A good nutrient solution that is beginner-friendly, cost-effective, and contains all essential nutrients can help simplify the process of feeding your plants. Use feeding schedules to determine when to feed nutrients to your plants.
Sometimes, you may want to cross-breed a few varieties of the strawberries you are growing. To achieve this you will have to pollinate them. Since your hydroponic plants may not have access to traditional pollinating agents like insects, you may need to do it yourself.
There are two ways to pollinate plants yourself. First, you can find a supply of bees to pollinate and benefit your indoor hydroponic system plants.
Alternatively, pollinating plants by hand is an option. Simply use a cotton swab to transfer pollen among plants. Repeat the process on all your plants with the same swab. The method might be time-consuming but it is highly effective.
For healthy growth and development, pruning is vital. Strawberries are stolon-producing plants, which means they regularly grow runners. Runners are leafless stems that grow from the main plant, and may produce a new plant at the tips.
Stolons grow horizontally in the soil, either parallel to the ground or just below it. They form adventitious roots at the stem nodes and have buds to produce new plantlets. Stolons are routinely used as a plant propagation technique in plants like ginger, mint, rosette plants, and some types of grass.
To prune strawberry stolons, simply cut the runners as close to the plant base as possible. However, if they have a new baby plant at the tip, you can propagate it for more plants.
As mentioned above, strawberry plantlets produced by runners or stolons are commonly used for propagation. All you need to do is take the cuttings and place them in moist potting soil. Make sure the base of the plant is secure and keep it in medium humidity. Do not forget to provide average lighting and watering as well.
If you want to use seeds for propagation, you need to first purchase high-quality seeds from a reliable supplier. Then, place the seeds in potting soil and keep them moist and warm. Not to forget, provide ample light to make the plant grow healthier and quicker.
Whether you use seeds or stolons, you need to replace them into your hydroponic system once they develop two-inch long roots. Finally, unpot your plants with utmost care, rinse off all the soil front the roots, and place them in the growth medium.
Common Problems and Their Causes
If you are a beginner at growing hydroponic strawberries, there are chances you might face some issues. Most commonly, these are nutrition or pH-related issues. They are caused by underfeeding, overfeeding, imbalances, or low-quality water.
Sometimes, pests or diseases can be the root cause of plant issues.
Overfeeding can be caused by extra-strong nutrient solutions. To remedy this, simply dilute your nutrient solution with water. Choose solutions optimized to grow hydroponic strawberries. Additionally, regular scheduling for feeding and meters to check on pH and water quality are imperative to prevent these problems.
Take notice of any changes in your plants so that you can easily diagnose whatever issues may arise.
Hydroponic systems are not only safe from pests that arise in soil, but they are also less susceptible to airborne pests since they are grown indoors. However, there are still a few pests that can harm your plants.
Some of the pests that can infiltrate your garden include spider mites, thrips, and gnats. All of these pests can be dealt with by spraying neem oil over your plants. Alternatively, an organic pyrethrin-based spray can help.
As with pests, hydroponics eliminates most soil-related diseases like fungal or bacterial root rot. But there are still many diseases that can affect your plants’ growth and development.
Rhizopus and Mucor fruit rot are diseases that affect overripe strawberries. These thrive in warmer temperatures, and can quickly spread. Remember to pick your fruits when they are ripe to prevent any of these diseases.
Botrytis cinerea is another type of fungal disease that affects fruit and flowers. Also known as grey mold, this is most commonly found in greenhouse plants. Copper-based fungicide or neem oil can take care of most similar infestations.
Lastly, your hydroponic strawberries may be susceptible to powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a spore-based disease. This can also be treated by neem oil sprays or copper fungicides.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Do hydroponic strawberries have pesticides?
If you decide to apply pesticides, they may. Otherwise, there are no pesticides present in hydroponic strawberries. However, plants can be bred to have a natural immunity to some diseases – whether or not the gardener uses pesticides for this purpose is based solely on their unique gardening goals.
Q2. How many strawberries are produced by a hydroponic plant?
Depending on the number of plants you grow, growing conditions, water quality, and other aspects, one plant can produce anywhere from 150 to 400 grams of strawberries.
Since hydroponics allows for year-round growth, this amount greatly increases if you maintain your plants well. Keep in mind that you have to replace older plants with new ones from time to time.
Hydroponics is a great way to grow many different kinds of plants. It is worth the initial costs and set-up efforts, and is increasingly sustainable. Not only does it make plants disease and pest resistant, but it also guarantees better yield and higher quality produce.
Once you get started with hydroponic farming, you can see for yourself that there are multiple benefits to it that cannot be found in conventional farming systems.
If you are someone who wants to try this system of farming, hopefully, this guide has answered all the questions you might have related to the art of strawberry-based hydroponic systems.
Bonus Read: Wondering which plants can be grown alongside your strawberry plants? Here is a list of companion plants for strawberries.