Pest and Disease Control

As with soil-based gardens, hydroponic plants require good pest and disease maintenance controls. Failure to do so creates the same results as with 'ordinary' gardens (i.e. spindly or dead plants). Since the majority of hydroponic plants are fruits and vegetables, that means the plants are not worth eating.

However, managing the hydroponic garden is even trickier, since disease and pests have it much easier in this setting. Plants are continuously kept wet, either immersed in water ('true' hydroponics) or continually sprayed (aeroponics) or reside in a permanently wet medium such as perlite or sand. Fortunately, as with soil-based gardens, there is a large array of available methods to manage the problem.

Steps to Prevent Pests and Disease

Using beneficial life forms is one popular way to control unwanted pests, including certain types of bacteria and fungi. These can help to control spider mites and other invaders by crowding them out, eating them or releasing compounds toxic to the pest. They're known as beneficial organisms because they do all that without damaging the plants themselves. 

» Different types of pesticides are available, too. Pesticidal soaps have been in use for centuries and still provide effective and non-toxic ways to keep the pests down. One category, called botanicals, is compounds released by plants themselves that have been combined into an easy-to-use pest control method. Botanicals break down naturally from exposure to air and water and are brilliant because they leave no harmful chemicals behind.

» Neem oil can control over 400 different types of pests that commonly invade gardens, including hydroponic ones. A simple spray to the leaves can often eliminate common pests. The bugs absorb the oil, which limits their ability to reproduce, leading to a lower population. For more serious infestations, many commercial pesticides continue to work well.

» Pyrethrum continues to be a safe and effective means of control. Though it sounds man-made it is actually derived from flowers. This class of natural compounds released by plants are extracted and used in many commercial insecticides. Dosage is low, so the compound is very safe when used correctly (always read the label). Azatrol is a broad spectrum insecticide that provides another easy control method over most common pests.

White flies, aphids, mites and other pests can be a problem in hydroponic settings, just as in soil-based gardens. Powdery mildew is common. In fact, because of the continual moisture, bugs and pests have a 'friendly' environment. Making it 'unfriendly' is straightforward enough, using fungicides and organicides. Sulfur-based compounds can help control white flies, mealy bugs, thrips and more.

Hydroponic gardeners have to exercise additional care when using any disease or pest control method, though. Since no soil is present to hold on to the roots, it's easier to damage a plant when manipulating the leaves and stems. That means that if you pick off pests by hand, an effective method for low-number infestations, it's important to exercise extra care.

Since moisture is present, mildew and other fungi are more common in hydroponic gardens. Keeping leaves dry and just the roots wet will help. Any insecticide sprayed on to your plants or vegetables should be allowed to dry under the grow lights. Aeroponically grown plants, for example, may require a temporary relocation out of the indoor garden.  

Hydroponics - The Future

"Gas and food prices are increasing, persuading people to take matters into their own hands." The National Gardening Association expects 43 million American households to grow their own fruits, vegetables, herbs and berries this year." That's up 19 percent over last year, according to a household survey the group conducted in January (Sutter, 2009).

People are enjoying the satisfaction of growing their own food, the enhanced flavor and the saved money they benefit by doing it themselves.

"Environmentally friendly" has become a mantra amongst those wanting to preserve our planet and stop the exploitation of the very land we depend upon. With this, many are utilizing the benefits of composting and growing their own food. This trend to protect and sustain our fragile planet is one that will continue to grow in the future. The movement towards a more health conscious society is on the rise, providing an unmeasured opportunity for hydroponics and organic gardening.  

Not only are individuals growing their own food, but restaurants and even grocery stores have implemented their own gardening centers to offer fresh, local produce to their customers. They have heard the voice of the people wanting uncontaminated foods grown in their own community.