The function and management of nitrogen in hydroponics

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients in plant development. All vital processes in plants are associated with protein, of which nitrogen is an essential constituent. Therefore, nitrogen management can have a huge impact on crop production.

Some of the most important effects of nitrogen in crop production are:

  • It improves food quality
  • A direct effect in yield
  • Optimum rates of N can increase photosynthetic processes by increasing leaf area
  • Promotes vegetative growth: Leaf, stems, branches, etc.
  • Encourages uptake of other nutrients such as K, P, etc.

How to recognize if the crop needs more nitrogen
To understand N deficiency, it is important to understand how N moves within a plant. Nitrogen moves from old tissue to new tissue, meaning all remaining N will end up in new leaves. As a consequence, when there is not enough N, old tissue will be the first to show symptoms. The symptoms of N deficiency include: chlorosis, slow growth and general discoloration. To apply nitrogen to the crop, a selection needs to be made between different N sources. Plants can uptake nitrogen as nitrate (NO3) or ammonium (NH4). Nitrate is an anion (negatively charged ion) and ammonium a cation (positively charged ion). The differences between these two molecules can differentially affect our crop performance. The behavior of nitrate and ammonium can be a little different between soil-based systems and hydroponic systems, so let’s focus on hydroponic systems.

Read more at Hort Americas.


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