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Whether you’re a hydroponic newbie who’s just invested in a cutting-edge tower system, or a veteran gardener branching out into new methods, one thing’s for sure: To keep harvesting season after season and maximize the returns on your investment, you need to master the art of maintaining your hydroponic tower effectively.
To ensure your hydroponic tower thrives, you’ll need to prioritize regular cleaning and pH monitoring, along with nutrient and water management, keep an eye on plant health, pest removal, and harvesting, check mechanical components like pumps and tubes, and replace bolted plants to maintain a flourishing system.
This comprehensive guide will walk you through each of these essential maintenance tasks to keep your new or existing hydroponics tower running smoothly. Let’s dive right in.
Hydroponic tower maintenance checklist
To streamline the maintenance of your hydroponic tower and optimize its performance, I’ve crafted a detailed checklist for your convenience.
In the following section, we’ll delve into each of these essential tasks, helping you secure consistently abundant harvests while keeping additional costs at bay.
Key maintenance tasks for hydroponic towers
This comprehensive list outlines all the maintenance tasks essential for sustaining a well-functioning hydroponic system that yields crops year-round. While some tasks require frequent attention, others may only need to be addressed semi-annually, ensuring the longevity and productivity of your setup.
Ongoing maintenance tasks
These tasks need to be performed regularly when your hydroponic tower system is in use.
1. Checking pH levels
When starting out, it’s a good idea to check the pH of your reservoir every day.
Monitoring the pH level of your nutrient solution is critical to ensure healthy plant growth. The ideal pH range for most hydroponic systems is between 5.5-6.5.
To check the pH, you can use a digital pH meter for accurate and quick readings. I’d recommend getting a 3-1 meter that also measures temperature and nutrient density.
Always remember to recalibrate your pH meter regularly for the most accurate results, and clean the probe after each use to prevent contamination.
Simply dip the meter’s probe into the nutrient reservoir and wait for the reading to stabilize. If the pH level is outside the optimal range, you’ll need to adjust it using pH up or pH down solutions.
2. Topping up nutrient solution
Typically, this should be done at least once a week.
Measuring the nutrients can be done by first measuring the electrical conductivity (EC) of the water with an EC meter to gauge the nutrient concentration.
During the vegetative stage, you’ll generally aim for an EC measurement in the range of 1.2 to 1.6, while in the flowering stage, an ideal EC value would fall between 1.6 and 2.4 for most plants.
To top up the nutrient solution, always prepare the mixture in a separate container before adding it to the main nutrient reservoir.
Avoid pouring concentrated nutrients directly into the reservoir, as this could harm or even kill your plants.
3. Changing the nutrient solution
Changing the nutrient solution entirely should be completed once every 3-4 weeks.
To do this, first turn off the pumps to halt the circulation. Drain the existing nutrient solution from the reservoir, disposing of it safely or using it to water soil-based plants, as it still contains some nutrients.
Next, clean the reservoir to remove any residue or build-up. This prevents potential problems like algae growth or nutrient lockout.
Fill the reservoir with fresh water and add your nutrients following the manufacturer’s guidelines, mixing thoroughly to ensure even distribution. Some of the best are the General Hydroponics FloraSeries.
Before restarting the pumps, use your pH and EC meters to check the levels, adjusting as necessary to fall within the optimal range for your plants.
4. Monitor plant health and pest removal
Monitoring the health of your plants should be done every day.
In a controlled environment like a hydroponic tower, the risk of pest infestations is generally lower than in traditional soil gardening. However, you should still be checking for pests and signs of disease constantly.
Perform regular inspections of both the upper and lower leaf surfaces where pests often reside and check for discoloration or signs of mold in your hydroponics plants as well as any evidence of root rot.
Harvesting should be completed regularly whenever plants are ready to be harvested.
It seems obvious, but regular harvesting is a crucial yet often overlooked aspect of maintaining a healthy hydroponic system.
Timely harvesting encourages new growth and helps to prevent plants from becoming too large and overcrowded, which can lead to reduced air circulation and increased susceptibility to diseases and pests.
What to know about the best plants to grow in your hydroponic tower? Read my other article.
By keeping a regular harvesting schedule, you not only maximize your yield but also monitor your plants more closely, allowing you to spot potential issues before they become major problems.
6. Monitoring temperature
Air and water temperatures should be monitored every day.
Temperature affects everything from nutrient absorption and oxygen levels in the water to plant growth and susceptibility to diseases. Most plants thrive in a temperature range between 65-75°F (18-24°C), although this can vary by species
Check out my article about how air temperature affects hydroponic growth for more information.
Use a reliable water and air thermometer to check temperatures regularly and ensure they are within the optimal range for the plants you’re trying to grow. You can use a simple digital aquarium monitor for this.
7. Replace plants when they bolt
Replacing plants when they bolt is another key aspect of maintaining a successful hydroponic system. Bolting occurs when a plant prematurely enters its flowering stage and produces seeds, often making the plant bitter and less palatable.
Once a plant bolts, it’s generally best to remove it from your hydroponic tower to make room for new, more productive plants.
This also prevents the bolted plant from taking up valuable resources like nutrients and water that could be better utilized by other plants in the system.
Less frequent maintenance tasks
These tasks need to be performed less frequently but are nonetheless important to perform.
1. Cleaning & sterilizing
Thorough cleaning and sterilizing of your tower only needs to be completed between growth cycles. However, you should keep your tower clean regularly to prevent disease and algae buildup.
Over time, nutrient residues, algae, and potential pathogens can accumulate in your hydroponic tower, leading to reduced plant health and increased vulnerability to diseases.
It’s advisable to perform a thorough clean every time you change the nutrient solution, which is typically every 2-4 weeks.
To clean, first, drain the existing nutrient solution and disassemble any removable parts. Scrub the interior of the reservoir, pipes, and other components with a non-toxic cleaner or a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide.
Top tip: Read my step-by-step guide on how to clean your vertical hydroponic tower.
Make sure to also clean and sterilize grow trays, net pots, and any tools like scissors or pH meters that come in contact with the plants or nutrient solution.
2. Hand-pollinate fruiting plants (for indoor towers)
Hand pollination is an important consideration for those growing fruiting plants like tomatoes or cucumbers in a hydroponic tower, especially if it’s located indoors where natural pollinators like bees can’t access it.
To hand-pollinate, you can use a small brush or even a cotton swab. Gently brush the bristles or cotton tip against the male flower’s stamen to collect pollen, and then transfer it to the pistil of the female flower.
3. Check the water pump & tubes
Checking the water pump and lines should be completed once per week.
A malfunctioning pump or clogged tubing can interrupt the nutrient and water flow, leading to stressed or dying plants. At least once a week, visually inspect the pump and tubes for any signs of wear, tear, or blockages. Listen for any unusual noises coming from the pump, as this could indicate mechanical issues.
Make sure to read the manufacturer’s guidelines for periodic maintenance and cleaning.
Some of the best affordable water pumps for hydroponics systems are made by VivoSun.
Common problems with hydroponic towers
Navigating the world of hydroponic towers can be exciting but also comes with its own set of challenges. To give you a well-rounded understanding, I’ve outlined some key potential hurdles you might encounter.
1. Cleaning Challenges
Hydroponic towers can be hard to clean, especially non-modular designs that don’t disassemble. Consistent cleaning is necessary to prevent issues like algae growth.
2. Lighting Complications
The vertical design of hydroponic towers complicates artificial lighting. Unlike horizontal systems that fit easily into lighted racks, towers need 360-degree light coverage. If not, rotating the tower becomes essential for uniform plant growth.
3. Pump issues
The pump size is directly related to the tower’s height, and it must be sufficient to circulate nutrients to the top. A taller structure puts more strain on the pump, increasing the risk of failure if not well-maintained.
4. Energy consumption
As active systems, hydroponic towers need a water pump, which draws electricity. Adding artificial lighting increases energy usage. For details, check my article on the electricity demands of hydroponic systems.
Check out my article on how much electricity hydroponics uses if you’re interested to know more.
5. Initial investment
Building or buying a hydroponic tower is often expensive due to the required materials and the complexity of the system.
Prices can range from $100 to $300, as evidenced by my $350 purchase from Vertical Horizon.
6. Plant Comptability
While hydroponic towers excel at growing leafy greens, they can be less effective for certain fruits, vegetables, and especially root crops or heavy, vining plants due to the tower’s vertical layout.
I’ve written a whole article on my best plants to grow in a hydroponic tower.
Conclusion & next steps
Maintaining a hydroponic tower may seem like a complex task, but it boils down to routine checks and preventive measures. From monitoring the pH, nutrient solution, and temperature to ensuring the cleanliness of the water pump and tubing, each step plays a vital role in the overall health of your system.
Don’t overlook the biological aspects either: hand pollination, pest control, and regular harvesting are all essential for maximizing yields and plant health.
- Create a maintenance calendar: Make a weekly and monthly checklist of tasks. Consistency is key for successful long-term hydroponic gardening.
- Invest in quality tools: Reliable pH and EC meters, a good water pump, and quality tubing can make your maintenance tasks more straightforward and effective.
- Continuous learning: New methods and technologies are always emerging. Stay updated by reading hydroponic journals, joining online communities, or even taking specialized courses.
- Keep spare parts: Having extra tubes, connectors, and even an additional water pump can save you in a pinch, minimizing downtime in case of unexpected issues.
By committing to regular maintenance, you ensure that your hydroponic tower stays in excellent condition, providing a thriving environment for your plants.
This, in turn, leads to better growth and higher yields, making all your efforts truly worthwhile.